Book Review – Black Widow: Forever Red by Margaret Stohl (No spoilers)

Because I have not had time* to do a BEA review post, and now it would be sort of pointless, I’m going to review the first ARC (that I have finished) from my BEA haul:

DRUMROLL PLEASE

Margaret Stohl’s Black Widow: Forever Red 

it’s so (appropriately) mysterious that the Goodreads blurb is only this:

“This novel features all the thrilling adventure readers will expect from the Marvel brand, backed up by the young-adult cred of #1 New York Times bestselling author Margaret Stohl. Uncover a new side of the Marvel Universe, accessible to old fans and new readers alike, as Stohl weaves an unforgettable story through the world of the Black Widow.” 

First: This cover is GORGEOUS. My cover is sort of boring (still cool though), without this fabulous artwork ——->

<——–But more importantly, it’s a signed copy 😉 I can forgive it for lacking the awesome art.

  And yes, this ARC was generously given to me by the lovely people at Disney and Marvel press in exchange for a fair and honest review.
Gifs are from Tumblr.com and belong to respective copyright holders.
When I first heard this was happening, I was so excited. Natasha Romanov a.k.a. Natalia Romanova a.k.a Natasha Romanoff a.k.a you get the picture, is one of my favorite Marvel characters (comics and movies) in both the classic and modern Marvel storylines. Her no-nonsense efficiency, her awesome skills, and her troubled past make for a fabulous character in the right hands.
Which leads in to the next part: I read three chapters of Beautiful Creatures once. Suffice it to say that I am not a fan.
I don’t do sappy, drippy, really drippy witch/teenage-angst novels. Period. So I was all, Marvel, really
But then I met Margaret Stohl at BEA. She was fabulous – humble – and filled with trepidation about the general populace reading her take on Black Widow. That made me feel a little better. And she geeked out with us about how awesome Black Widow is in the comics, and then she signed my book.

And honestly, I shouldn’t have worried so much, because I really liked the book.

So people of the world, here is a brief, spoiler free summary of Black Widow: Forever Red

Forever Red starts in Ukraine, 8 years in the past (you can actually read the beginning online). The Black Widow is hunting down her old mentor/trainer, Ivan Somodorov. The mission goes south, but not before Natasha rescues the girl that Ivan was experimenting on, turns the girl over to S.H.I.E.L.D., promises she’ll come if the girl needs her, and leaves.
8 years later, we are introduced to the primary characters (other than Natasha): teenagers Alex Manor and Ava Orlova. Ava is, of course, the little girl that Natasha rescued eight years earlier. Ava had been living in a (dreadful sounding) secure S.H.I.E.L.D. facility before she escaped, and she currently lives in the bottom of a Brooklyn YWCA. Both of them have strange dreams, but Ava’s are about Alex (she’s never met him). Ava has also nurtured hatred against the woman who saved her life, and then left her to fend for herself in a strange world.
But children are disappearing again, and the Black Widow suspects that Ivan survived their confrontation. That means he is after her, and after Ava, so Natasha heads back into the field, and back into Ava’s life. However, things are far more tangled than Natasha realized: her memories are leaking into Ava’s head, thanks to Ivan’s experiments in “quantum entanglement.” Ava absorbs Natasha’s skills, and the Black Widow can’t feel it. As frustrating as this is, it’s also incredibly dangerous. They aren’t the only Entangled pair that Ivan left behind.
To disentangle themselves, Ava and Natasha must find Ivan, face their childhoods, and go back to where it all began. And what does Alex Manor have to do with everything?

My thoughts – without spoilers

5 things that worked:

1. I loved the book’s format. Each present-day chapter is followed by a S.H.I.E.L.D. Line-Of-Duty Death (L.O.D.D.) case document. They are interviews (often with Natasha) and other files that tie into several plot threads. I love how these were worked in to the story
2. Margaret Stohl does a great job with Natasha’s character. She’s the hard edged, sensible, and capable assassin/spy we all love, but she’s also human (but with a very messed up past).
3. Ava and Alex were both likable (surprisingly so), and I was interested in their character arcs. Ava as Natasha’s “mini-me” provided some humor and insight into the Black Widow.
4. The plot. It was old-school spy stuff with gadgets, disguises, mad scientists, and chase scenes, but with an awesome heroine instead of a suave, suit wearing James Bond type.
5. The covert peeks into Natasha’s classified past. Black Widow is mysterious, and that’s one of the things I always liked. I was worried that a novelization would take away too much of that mystery, but it didn’t. Natasha is given just enough history, just enough name-dropping (I didn’t grin stupidly at everyone in the airport when I read a certain case note**), to both reconcile her comic/cinematic character, and leave a lot of interesting openings. Oh, and Coulson is in there a bit 🙂
BONUS: The Russian. I never forgot that I was reading about Russian characters, and it gave both realism and grounding to a book with a crazy mind-meld plot.

5 things that didn’t work as well:

Image Credit

1. While I liked Ava and Alex, and was rooting for them, but they weren’t why I was reading the book. I just didn’t care as much, and I was far more engaged when Natasha was on the scene.

2. This was a minor part of the book, but the predictable Alex/Ava romance (while believable) didn’t do anything for me. Sure, they were cute and not annoying, but (see above), I didn’t really care. But hey, they’re kids.

3. I felt like it occasionally suffered from trying to be too cryptic and mysterious. There were a few details that needed further explanation/examination for the plot’s sake. The only major example of this was all the disappearing children.***

4. Ivan. He had a bit of Marvel Movie Villain Syndrome: Ivan was evil, sadistic, and had quite the past, and yet he felt a little flat. But again, only Loki and Wilson Fisk (Daredevil) have truly escaped this.****

5. This one is 50/50 for me (because sometimes it worked better than others): the constant reminders that we are in a very normal, modern, but alternate Earth where superheroes are an acknowledged thing and Avengers destroyed/saved New York once.

Overall:

4 out of 5 Spiders. 

I’m just one of those annoying people who wanted more Black Widow. Maybe a novel that takes place in the past now? With Winter Soldier or Daredevil cameos?<—YES

Footnotes:
*I know that having time and making time are directly related.
**(not really a spoiler but just to be safe) Black Widow’s file has her age redacted. And there is a footnote that says to reference the files of Rogers, Steve and Barnes, James. Which means that they haven’t thrown out her backstory from the comics. There is still a chance that Natasha will be more like her real age (just rewritten every time) and has trained under the Winter Soldier. So I grinned at strangers ( I was reading in a busy airport, people).
***Seriously, where did all those kids go? If this was really addressed in the book, I must have missed it. I think it was just mentioned in passing toward the end.
****If you count the Winter Soldier as a villain [which in CA:TWS he technically is), then that makes three.

So, have you read this? Will my review be whisked away into secret S.H.I.E.L.D. files even though I avoided spoilers? 

Do you love Black Widow, or think she was less deserving of a novel than other Marvel ladies? 

How do you feel about her treatment in the movies? Would you like to see a Black Widow and Daredevil or Winter Soldier team up in the cinematic/novel/TV universe?


The Week in Review (or Why I Sort of Reverted Back Into a Hermit This Week)

After a strong run of blogging, I have fallen prey to two weeks of intense work stuff and preparing (feverishly) to go to NEW YORK (screaming inside-in a good way) next week. But in between freaking out and scrambling around the store, I did find a few books to read, and some tv to watch.

I won’t bore you with descriptions of all the chocolates/chocolate treats I made [for work] this week, or maybe . . . nah, I’ll get distracted if I start with chocolate.

What I read/started reading (all pictures and links are from Goodreads):

I read the first one of these as an ARC, and then was bummed to find out it was a series, and that I had to wait for the next one. They are borderline MG/YA ghost hunting/paranormal mysteries that are surprisingly well written. (Why surprisingly? Look at the cover).
The first one was creepier (so far), but I love the ghost hunting team of the mysterious Lockwood, the talented ghost-sensitive Lucy, and the smart but hardly personable George.

Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

I picked this up randomly, and it is fascinating so far. As the regulars at the store where I work are mainly seniors, this book is one they have been buzzing about. Gawande tackles tough topics with wisdom and good sense, and he isn’t afraid to call people out. That being said, this book isn’t ranty, but gentle. He looks at both sides of the medicine debate, as well as end of life care, in an easy to follow fashion.

Expiration Day by Willam Campbell Powell

A great premise: People on earth are no longer fertile, so a tech company bio-engineered robots to act/think/look like kids to stop riots. The catch is that these robots have an “expiration day,” after their eighteenth year.

I am still only about a third into this. It is a little boring for me, and skews middle grade in the characters/depth, but the plot is interesting enough to keep me going.
Link
Link
As for these two: I just started The Darkest Minds, so all I can say is that the writing draws me in. I finished The Intergalactic Adventures of Queen Bea, but I am still digesting it, and plan on writing a full review.

In the non-reading, non-work world (small part), I managed to get ten pages of writing logged, which is really good for two weeks of crazy. My current project (post-apoc parody/adventure) is still going strong, and I have very good feelings about it. But I have to be careful, and nurse that enthusiasm to the end of the book.

Pippin is cautiously optimistic for me.

When I wasn’t writing, I was finally able to catch up with/finish The Flash Season 1, which was excellent. That finale . . .

^Me, seriously impressed by the finale.

Sacrifice, emotions, courage, bad decisions, *so many emotions,* consequences Time Travel, paradoxes, black holes . . . but no spoilers here, you’ll have to watch it yourself. However, I have been really impressed with Flash overall, (especially since it is on CW!), and you should definitely check it out if you’re into superheroes. 

In that same vein, I finally got around to watching the Legends of Tomorrow trailer (CW spinoff of both Arrow and The Flash) and it looks epic, and cheesy, and epically cheesy. AND RORY WILLIAMS IS A TIME LORD. I am not kidding (hence the all caps).

Okay, so maybe he’s Rip Hunter, time traveller (but we all know what that really means). But it is still Arthur Darvill in a cool coat playing mentor to a strange group of heroes (there is time travel!). I am in. Unfortunately, it doesn’t premiere until next year. But it is up there with Captain America: Civil War and Agent Carter Season 2 for me (excitement level).
You can’t fool me, Rory. 
I still have to catch up on Arrow S3 (more than halfway through). It has had its ups and downs, but I still am really enjoying it.
I must say that DC has thrown the gauntlet for the superhero shows. I still haven’t watched MARVEL and Netflix’s Daredevil (high on my to-watch list), but I have heard a lot of good things. In my opinion, MARVEL still wins in movies, but DC is ahead in television (at least for now).

So that was a fraction of my week. How about you? Did you find any interesting books? Did you start any new ones. Do you watch superhero shows, or are you 100% done with superheroes in general. If you are a Whovian, what do you think about Arthur Darvill’s newest role, and will you watch Legends of Tomorrow?

I am off to BEA next week, so my blogging will probably be nil, but I’ll be back after that (hopefully with pictures and adventures!) with books and thoughts to share.
Cheers!
R