While we do love us some books, believe it not, we do have a life outside of reading. So to highlight our other pop culture interests, on the last Monday of each month, we each will highlight three other “happenings” from the last month. Big events on favorite TV shows, new movies we’ve watched, old movies we’ve “discovered,” etc. Pretty much whatever we found of particular interest outside of the book world during the last month. Share your own favorite things in the comments!
In a perfectly timed moment of pure luck, I happened to read an article about an apparently super popular podcast called “Binge Mode” that releases its episodes in a Netflix-like style where you can then “binge” an entire “season” of podcasts. An intriguing idea, sure. But even MORE intriguing when I realized that they started this podcast/format to review each season of “Game of Thrones.” And, as we all know unless we’ve been living under a rock, the final season of “Game of Thrones is almost upon us! So what better time to go back and re-experience all 7 previous seasons in podcast format? And really, this podcast is excellent. It really deep dives into all the intricacies of the show and the books in ways that I haven’t seen other reviewers attempt. And as I only got through the first book in the series, there’s been a lot of really interesting background information that I’ve picked up while listening to this. So, if you have, oh, 60-ish hours of free time before the final season drops, I definitely recommend checking this out!
This is one of those series where I both love it and hate it. When it popped up on Netflix, my husband immediately turned it on and I was like “Yaaayy…??” Because, let’s be real, I cry at the drop of a hat where animals are involved and yes, yes, I know “circle of life” and all of that. But that literally has zero impact on my crazy-immediate and intense attachment to any animal that pops on the screen, and then watching the predator/prey reality play out…it hurts me! But I also love animals! And there’s no denying the sheer wonder that is the cinematography and crazy moments that they somehow managed to capture on film. So yes, while I spend a stupid amount of time covering my cat’s eyes so he “doesn’t witness the violence” (an obvious ploy to simply distract myself from said crying), I also can’t deny how incredible this series is.
Omg, I’m WAY too excited about this. Which is also simply terrifying given the absolute dumpster fire that was the first attempt at bringing this story to the screen. At least this time, they’ve started out on the right foot by admitting that the sheer scope of this trilogy necessitates a TV series rather than a simple movie format. And while I will always think that Nicole Kidman was perfectly cast as Mrs. Coulter, and it’s a shame she was in such a wreck of a movie, I’m also pretty excited about this cast, especially the excellent Dafne Keen as Lyra, who I loved in “Logan.” This is just a teaser trailer, so there’s not a whole lot to go on. But like I said, I’m way too excited to NOT feature it on this list. Be prepared for various other iterations of this to show up here in the future as things progress!
Back in college I remember a friend referring to the show “Monk” as ‘a show I love in spite of me not being part of the target demographic’. And my equivalent, I said, was the show “Medium”. I love the crime procedural/fantasty/family drama about Allison Dubois, an Arizona wife, mother, and psychic who helps the District Attorney with her visions of crimes and victims. The center of the show is Patricia Arquette, who played Allison with so much heart, empathy, and realism that she won an Emmy for her portrayal. While the mysteries and cases are always well done and unsettling, the true strength of this show is the Dubois Family. Allison’s wonderful and devoted husband Joe (played by Jake Weber) is a great foil for her, and when you add three psychic daughters into the mix (who are all wonderful actresses as well) you get one of the best and most realistic portrayals of family life I’ve seen on TV. And it’s streaming on Amazon Prime right now, so you KNOW that I rewatched it and took joy in doing so (though I refuse to watch the finale. Fans know why.).
I was raised by two “Star Trek” geeks, so it’s no surprise that I have inherited a huge love for the franchise and the universe that Gene Roddenberry created. Like other “Star Trek” fans, I was very happy to hear that we were getting a new TV show, but sad that it was going to be on a streaming service that I couldn’t justify to purchase with my other streaming services (that said, I’m wavering on that). But now “Star Trek: Discovery” Season 1 is on DVD, and you KNOW that the hubby and I tore through it! Set before “The Original Series”, “Discovery” shows the origins on the war between the Federation and the Klingons, with a focus on the science vessel The Discovery. I like the overarching mystery of the first season regarding what Captain Lorca of The Discovery is actually motivated by, and while I am getting a little sick of all the Klingon re-designs that happen I do love seeing things from their POV, as they are my favorite alien species in the mythology. It’s a bit darker than past series, and I LOVE our main character Michael Burnham, the intelligent and complex former Star Fleet officer AND first African American woman main character “Star Trek” has seen.
It’s not “All Stars” this time, it’s the regular show! Which means a whole new set of drag queens and a whole new set of challenges, runways, fashion choices, and drama! I’ve been watching the show as it airs since season 4, and now we’re at season 11 and I don’t know where the time went. I always prefer the regular show to the “All Stars” format, as the new talent and new dynamics are always fun to see unfold. My favorite so far is Yvie Oddly, an avant garde queen who pushes the limits on glamour and creepy, but there are so many talented contestants this year it’s hard to predict who is going to make it to the top 3. And while it’s true that the move to VH1 has potentially led to some, uh, QUESTIONABLE format changes, overall I still quite enjoy watching all of the queens doing what they love to do.
Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, October 2000
Where Did I Get this Book: own it!
Book Description: The Animorphs and Ax have managed to contact the Andalite home world. But the battle is far from over. Visser Two has arrived on earth, and he’s not happy about the state of things. He decides the best way to take over Earth is to have the humans destroy the people and the land the Yeerk’s don’t need. He decides to start World War III.
Ax and his friends know that Visser Two means business and there will probably only be two ways to keep him from destroying everything they know: Find a way to stop the war. Or, find away to stop him …forever..
Plot: Another “beginning of the end” book where we see the start of the expansion of what, to this point, has been a very small war up on to a much larger, global scale. And poor Ax really embraces his role as being of two people and what that means, and it’s just rough.
The story picks up right off the back of the last with the Animorphs reaching out to the Andalites. In no surprise to anyone, even, notably, Ax himself at this point, the Andalites are huge dicks and immediately question the validity of the information the Animorphs are providing about the Yeerks preparation for the Andalite fleet. They accuse the Animorphs of potentially just trying to make things up to re-direct the Andalite fleet back towards helping Earth. Ax even gets on at one point and they say that while they’ll take what he says “under consideration,” he “might have confused his loyalties” by all of this time on Earth at this point, so they can’t completely trust him. Again, Andalites, showing their true colors as just the worst (all the more so for always strutting around claiming to be the best).
Later, Ax, Marco and Tobias overhear a garble report from the Yeerks on the transmitter. Ax manages to hack the transmitter into the NSA computer system and with its greater power is able to more fully receive the full Yeerk report: Visser Two is on his way to Earth to begin to put Visser Three’s (now Visser One) more grand plans into action. They overhear a set of coordinates and immediately need to make a plan.
They discover that the location is far out over the Pacific Ocean, and with the short amount of time before the plan, whatever it may be, is set to be put in motion, they won’t have time to make it out there using any of their morphs. This sets off the moral debate about whether or not they’ve finally reached the point where they will need to compromise on their general practice of not morphing humans. Cassie protests, but Jake is able to convince her that by this point in the war, they have to make these tough choices.
They make their way to an air force base and there Rachel and Ax knock out two pilots, morph them, and commandeer a fighter jet. The other morph flea and hang on for the ride, their small bodies able to survive the increased pressure from the incredible speeds the jet reaches. They make their way out to a large nuclear carrier ship in the middle of the ocean. But by the time they’ve gotten there, the original pilots have been discovered and everyone is on high alert. Ax manages to execute a controlled crash into the ocean and they all morph seagulls and make their way to the ship.
Jake, it turns out, has an almost encyclopedic knowledge of huge military ships like this, and using this information, they infiltrate the ship with Ax morphing another human sailor and making his way around. The problem is: they don’t know what they’re looking for! Until they spot some new arrivals who include a familiar face: Chapman. Alongside an officer called Admiral Carrington who they quickly discover is Visser Two, Chapman approaches the ship’s captain and says they have a special delivery for him. Ax slips two of the roach!Animorphs into the captain’s pocket and they are able to get in the room with him, but they are too late and the captain is infested. Ax and the others go to battle morphs to try and help, witnessed by several sailors around them. They barge in and Ax upends the portable Yeerk pool. In the madness, human soldiers barge in and the Animorphs have to bail to avoid hurting innocents.
Cassie and Ax end up together and Ax once more morphs his human sailor morph and, with Cassie on board, makes his way through the ship to an information deck that Jake had mentioned. There, they overhear an announcement of an incoming Chinese missile which shortly after hits with a massive explosion. Ax is quick to put together the Yeerk plot: they are planning on setting off WWIII by instigating a war between the Chinese and the U.S. Ax frantically calls out to Jake who orders him to do whatever he has to to reverse the admiral and captain’s orders to retaliate. Ax shoots the admiral/Visser Two in the leg. When the medics arrive to take him to medical bay, Ax follows them and quickly knocks them out when they are in a private room. He acquires the admiral and returns to the control center where he orders the captain to reverse the order for a counter attack.
Chapman and the captain return to the room where Visser Two is lying, but the room is now also full of the rest of the Animorphs in their battle morphs. They demand to know what the rest of the plan is. In the way of any true villain, Visser Two immediately spills the rest of the plan: in a few hours, the US will hear that the ship has been attacked by the Chinese, and a specific sub, manned by Yeerks, will set out with a nuclear weapon to attack China. They try to threaten Visser Two into telling them which sub is the one controlled, but Visser Two is a true believer and zealously wackadoodle with his visions of Yeerk glory and refuses to tell them.
They are interrupted by the arrival of a bunch of Bug Fighters carrying Hork Bajir. Pandemonium breaks out on the ship with the human crew fighting against the Controlled crew and the alien invaders. Several members of the crew begin to recognize that the Earth animals that have suddenly appeared on the ship are fighting on their side and try to team up with the Animorphs. However, they are all badly outnumbered and it is hard to tell which humans are Controlled and which aren’t in the madness. In the madness, Visser Two escapes.
Ax sets off through the battle to track him down. To do so, he decides to follow Chapman and to do that, he gets another human morph, this time asking the individual in question who quickly agrees. He tracks down Chapman and, holding him at gun point, tries to get him to reveal the location of Visser Two. But before he can make much progress, he gets knocked out. He comes to, returns to his Andalite body, and makes his way back through the ship where he discovers the dying Captain. The Yeerk slithers out, but Ax knows it won’t make it far. The Captain says he tried to fight it, and Ax reassures him that he did all he could and stays with him until he dies.
Ax meets up with Tobias who has also acquired another human morph. All around them, the battle is being lost, with more and more of the ship falling under Yeerk control and the real humans being massacred. They meet up with the others and debate what to do, knowing that Visser Two, in his mania, can’t be threatened into revealing the Yeerk-controlled sub.
It’s at this point that Ax realizes the only way forward and privately thought speaks Jake. He tells him that in this situation, they only threat that could work against Visser Two is a threat against the Yeerk pool itself. And fighter jets on the ship has some pretty strong bombs…Jake is horrified, knowing that they’d have to kill thousands of humans to drop a bomb through the middle of their city to reach the Yeerk pool. Ax realizes that Jake can’t make this decision, but he, Ax, the alien and outsider, can. He knocks Jake out and tells Cassie that he’s been injured.
He spots Visser Two and calls out to Rachel, Tobias and Marco that he needs there help; he needs to steal a plane and Visser Two needs to be one it with him. Tobias and Rachel don’t stop to question him, but Marco is suspicious asking not only where Jake is but what Ax plans on doing once he’s in a plane with Visser Two.
<You Andalites. You people have a tendency to destroy what you want to preserve.
And that plane is carrying a nuke. I saw it being fitted up by some of the visser’s
Ax acknowledges that he and Marco have not always trusted each other, but that he, Ax, knows that Marco has always been one to put the mission first, to do what needs to be done in the face of horrible choices. Rachel looks to Marco, and Tobias looks away. Marco finally agrees to help, asking whether they ever really had any choices in this war.
With Marco, Tobias and Rachel’s help, Ax manages to get Visser Two on a plane and take off, right as Cassie and Jake run up. In the plane, Ax lays out the situation for Visser Two: either contact the submarine and have it stand down, or he will drop a nuke on the Yeerk Pool. At the very last moment, Visser Two agrees and Ax lets him use the radio to contact the submarine. He releases Visser Two and makes his way home, wondering how he will be received by his friends.
E.T./Ax Phone Home: This is a big book for Ax, with a lot of important notes for his character. One of the smallest ones, but one I still found interesting, was seeing just how far Ax has come in his understanding of human behavior. Throughout this story, instead of the general confusion and bewilderment at “strange humans” like we’ve seen in past books, instead we saw more and more evidence of how thoroughly Ax has come to understand humanity. From little things like know what rhetorical questions are and even using them himself, to larger things like being able to imagine facial expressions alongside comments made by his friends while in morph, thus increasing his knowledge of what is truly being communicated beyond the words themselves.
We also see in the very beginning of the book how much Ax has had to readjust his perceptions of his own people. He’s no longer completely surprised by the Andalites’ poor response to pleas for help from him and his friends. And, when asked by Jake later, he admits to not knowing whether the Andalites will ultimately listen to their warning.
Throughout the story, we hear more and more about how much Ax now sees himself as both Andalite and human. He is horrified by the evils of each race, but also loyal and and values them both as well. The destruction on the ship and loss of human life hurts him just as much as it does the others. But then, in the end, he also realizes the unique role he has come to inhabit on the team. He has adopted humanity as his own, but he is also still an alien, still the only one capable of making a decision such as the one to drop a nuke on the Yeerk Pool. That being the case, however, we see how much this decision tears him apart. Marco accuses him of perhaps doing it for Andalite glory, but as a reader, inside of Ax’s head, we see how terrible this decision weighs on him the entire time. And, given that Marco, Rachel, and Tobias ultimately agree to help him, we have to imagine they sense that his real reasons are still in the right place: trying to avoid WWIII.
Our Fearless Leader: It’s pretty lucky/convenient that Jake has so much knowledge of the layout and organization of a massive battleship like the one they end up on. But on the other hand, as someone who has been leading an underground war for years now, it’s also probably not surprising that he may have spent his down time researching other military avenues.
The moment between Ax and Jake where Ax brings up the suggestion to bomb the Yeerk Pool is exceptionally good. We see that while Jake has come far in his ruthlessness and willingness to bend moral lines to do what needs to be done, he still has a pretty hard and fast line with regards to the loss of human life. Ax, to his credit, is quick to realize this as well and to even conclude that it hadn’t been right of him to even ask or expect Jake to be able to grapple with a decision like this. This is pretty close to the end of the series, and I think from here on out, Jake’s progress down this ruthless path goes faster and faster.
Xena, Warrior Princess: Rachel doesn’t have a whole lot in this one. Of course, she’s in on the action the entire time and is chosen to be the other Animorph to morph another person to operate the fighter jet with Ax in the beginning. Ax mentions that she was elected to this role for her “nerves of steel,” since the incredible speeds of the plane would be pretty intimidating to most. It’s also worth noting that in the end, when confronted with Ax’s plan, she looks to Marco to make the ultimate decision about whether they will help Ax.
A Hawk’s Life: Tobias, too, doesn’t have much other than his involvement in Ax’s plan in the end. Looking at the three who end up involved in this, I think it makes a lot of sense. Of the entire team, Rachel, Tobias and Marco have a pretty solid history of making big, often ruthless decisions. Let it not be forgotten that Tobias and Ax were the ones to ultimately decide the fate of an entire alien species back in Megamorphs #2.
Peace, Love, and Animals: One of the more notable moments for Cassie came with the discussion about morphing humans. She immediately resists the idea, but Jake is able to convince her that it has to be done (though, notably, she doesn’t do it herself). She also says that Jake is the only one she would trust to know if the time has come where this type of moral compromise is truly necessary.
The Comic Relief: As I said, it makes sense that Marco, Tobias, and Rachel end up being the three to ultimately decide to go with Ax’s plan. It’s also great seeing just how quickly Marco figures out what is going on. Ax even notes that he had prepped for Marco to ask where Jake was, but even with that prep, Marco jumps immediately to the correct conclusion about Ax’s use of the plane as well. It’s interesting to see Marco accuse Ax of potentially doing this for Andalite glory. Being in Ax’s head, especially in this book, we’ve seen the transformation he’s underwent with regards to the naivety he used to have about his own people. We see how much he values Earth and sees the Animorphs as his family. But from an outsider’s perspective, especially someone as naturally cynical and suspicious as Marco, it’s interesting to note that a motivation like this could still be assigned to him. But Ax’s direct reasoning, that WWIII can not be allowed to happen, is exactly the sort of Point A to Point B line of thinking that would resonate with someone like Marco.
Best (?) Body Horror Moment: There wasn’t a whole lot as far as body horror goes in this one, other than your usual morph descriptions. I will say that it’s interesting to see just how “all-in” they went on the morphing humans thing once they decided that was the way to go. Ax ends up acquiring something like three human morphs over this entire book, and he’s the one of them that even has a human morph already that couldn’t be traced (though, of course, the fact that he’s a kid would stand out). And then Tobias and Rachel each morph people. Rachel’s makes sense, but I’m not sure that Tobias really had to. It almost seems a bit too easy, morally speaking. Like once they got the go-ahead, any moral qualms were immediately out of the window, making it seem like the only one who truly cared about this particular issue was Cassie herself. The others just start morphing people willy-nilly. Couples Watch!: Not a whole lot in this one, unsurprisingly given it’s an Ax book. Marco notes at one point, after riling Rachel up, that he doesn’t know how Tobias does it. And, of course, we see Cassie’s trust in Jake’s judgement when he gets her to agree to them using human morphs.
If Only Visser Three had Mustache to Twirl: Whelp, it has happened: Visser Three has become Visser One. And we get the introduction of yet another Visser, Visser Two. For the most part, he’s played for pretty comical effect. I mean, the title of this topic area pretty much fits him perfectly. He immediately reveals the Yeerks’ entire plan under very little pressure. And he randomly starts saluting and genuflecting throughout his various speeches about the coming glory. For all of this, he’s also set up as a pretty unmovable foe as far as being threatened into giving up any real advantages. Unlike Visser Three who values his own life above anything, it’s made pretty clear that Visser Two would die before giving up the submarine, which ultimately forces Ax’s hand at the end to take things to a much more extreme level.
Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: There are a handful of pretty sad scenes in the last third of the book when we see the poor human sailors fighting against the Hork Bajir. Ax’s own encounter with the dying captain, and his last words essentially trying to apologize for everything, was pretty heart breaking. But there’s also another scene where at one point a sailor solutes gorilla!Marco, having noted that the Earth animals seem to be on their side. And later in the battle, Ax spots Marco kneeling over the body of this same soldier. Scenes like these also prompt Ax further into action, as well as the others, who all see how badly this individual battle is being lost and are, for the first time, losing fellow human fighters alongside them.
What a Terrible Plan, Guys!: A lot of people see them morph in this book. Like…a lot. Pretty much immediately it seems they all throw caution to the wind and start morphing/demoprhing in front of pretty much anyone. I don’t get this! For one, it’s pretty well established that they don’t know who is Controlled and who is not. And for two, it’s also pretty well assumed that almost everyone will be eventually Controlled once the Yeerks show up and start laying the smack down. So all of those people who saw kids morphing…not only is now really obvious that its humans morphing, but after the close call with Marco in the last book, it’d be really easy to figure out the exact identity of these kids. Obviously, the whole secrecy thing is going to go out the window pretty quickly now, but the Animorphs themselves have no reason to assume this, so their lack of caution is pretty strange.
The other really strange thing is the idea that somehow preventing the Yeerk-staffed sub from launching an counter attack will do much to stop a domino fall that’s already been started. I mean, it would already be communicated back to who knows how many bases that the Chinese attacked this ship. So…isn’t the mission already successful for the Yeerks? Theoretically, the US on its own would launch a counter attack, no need for a Yeerks-only sub at all!
This line from Jake to Cassie when they are discussing the morality of morphing humans is a pretty good summation of the general thought-process/experience of every one of the Animorphs that we witness playing out in each of their books in the entire series:
“But…doesn’t it always come down to each one of us, all alone, asking ourselves: Am I right in doing whatever it takes for the greater good? And, do I trust myself enough to know I won’t become evil in the process? It always comes down to something that personal.”
There are so many good lines from Ax as he reflects on his choices at the end of the book, but he concludes with this simple, but sad, realization.
I would accept the consequences of my actions. I would accept full responsibility. I was the alien.
Scorecard: Yeerks 12, Animorphs 16
I’m going to give this one to the Animorphs, since preventing WWIII is a pretty big win (regardless of whether or not it’s believable that they actually accomplished this.)
Rating: This was a really good book. It reads a lot differently than other Ax books, which, at this point in the series, is pretty great to see. We see how fully he’s come to embrace his role as belonging to both species and how that effects the way he thinks and interacts with each.
The story does drag a bit in the middle when it feels like they just spend a lot of time running around a huge ship with no real idea of what to do. But then it concludes with a massive battle on the ship, with humans teaming up with the Animorphs for the first time really. And then the excellent, huge moral dilemma that Ax finds himself in at the end of the book.
I didn’t remember that this one ended without really resolving how Ax’s return to the group plays out. I’m not sure I like the cliff-hanger like ending here, though. I get that there’s potentially a lot that would need to be gone through with that reunion, but it also feels wrong to not get that scene from Ax’s perspective in particular, after spending so much time in his head for the rest of it. Oh well, still a great book!
Note: I’m not going to rate these books since I can’t be objective at all!
Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.
Book Description:Boys are being trained at one school for geniuses, girls at another. And neither knows the other exists–until now. The innovative author of Bird Box invites you into a tantalizing world of secrets and lies.
J is a student at a school deep in a forest far away from the rest of the world.
J is one of only twenty-six students, who think of their enigmatic school’s founder as their father. And his fellow peers are the only family J has ever had. The students are being trained to be prodigies of art, science, and athletics, but their life at the school is all they know–and all they are allowed to know.
But J is beginning to suspect that there is something out there, beyond the pines, that the founder does not want him to see, and he’s beginning to ask questions. What is the real purpose of this place? Why can the students never leave? And what secrets is their father hiding from them?
Meanwhile, on the other side of the forest, in a school very much like J’s, a girl named K is asking the same questions. J has never seen a girl, and K has never seen a boy. As K and J work to investigate the secrets of their two strange schools, they come to discover something even more mysterious: each other.
In Inspection, the masterful author of Bird Box crafts a sinister and evocative gender equality anthem that will have readers guessing until the final page.
Review:Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel!
I am going to sound like an insufferable hipster for a moment, so bear with me; I liked “Bird Box” before it was cool. A few years before Netflix dropped their thriller hit, I read the book it was based on, written by Josh Malerman. I know the reception of the film was hit or miss, but I legitimately think that the book is terrifying. It kept me on the edge of my seat, and I could barely put it down even as it stressed me out. So when I saw the new book by Malerman was available for request on NetGalley, it caught my eye. And when I found out it took place at a boarding school with malevolent intentions… Well….
While evil or mysterious boarding schools have been done before, Malerman leans into the concept and makes it feel wholly original. We first see it from the perspective of an experiment that involves all boys, in which the man heading the experiment, who refers to himself as D.A.D., has taken twenty four boys at birth and raised them isolated from modern society with no knowledge of the female gender. The hypothesis (and trust me, I will absoLUTEly be addressing this later) is that if they are not distracted by women/sexuality/attraction, they can reach their full potential as the next great thinkers and scientists of the world. Malerman covers pretty much all of his bases in this regard, accounting for the need for space, control, and isolation, and did it in ways that felt as realistic as they could be in a story like this. We follow one of the subjects, J, as he and the others start to reach puberty, and we see how he is starting to question his place at this school, and the world that is being presented to them. I liked J quite a bit, and appreciated that Malerman gave him the right amount of rebellious nuance and a believable curiosity, along with a fear and anxiety about his questions, and his fear of being ‘spoiled rotten’ and sent to The Corner, a place where two boys who questions, A and Z, never returned from. I also appreciated that Malerman took into account other aspects of this experiment that I never would have thought of, specifically the role that propaganda would have to play. I thought it was genius to have a specific propagandist on staff, a failed writer named Warren who writes morality tales for the boys that will help keep them in line and under control. It never occurred to me that propaganda would need to play a role in this kind of situation, but this subplot was so, so intriguing, especially as the propagandist starts to question his own culpability.
It’s at the halfway point that “Inspection” really grabbed me. That was when we switched to another boarding school, this one with twenty four girls. This is where Malerman made this story truly all his own. D.A.D.’s wife, who calls herself M.O.M., naturally, is running the same experiment, this time with girls, in hopes of unlocking creative potential. In this part of the story we meet K, the girl who is at the top of the class, but has potentially seen something that she shouldn’t have. Her journey is far less hesitant than J’s, and I loved seeing her creative thinking, as opposed to J’s more rigid thinking, help bring her to conclusions about her situation in a different way. And by the time the two stories converge (though I don’t want to spoil anything here), that is when this story shifts from a vaguely dystopic thriller into a full blown horror novel. While in some ways it felt a little late for the horror elements to arrive, I was so enthralled by the rest of it that I didn’t mind it.
There was one aspect of this story that I couldn’t quite swallow, and that is based within the premise that D.A.D. and M.O.M. have for their awful experiment. They both believe that by isolating the genders, they will be able to unlock the full potential of their subjects, as to them sexuality and attraction are the distractors that keep humans from the highest intellectual levels. This story takes place in a modern-ish time or perhaps a very near future. As two scientists, I don’t understand how they didn’t think about as to whether, within twenty four boys and twenty four girls, there may be the possibility of subjects who were attracted to the same gender. Given the odds, you’d think you’d get at least one, if we’re being conservative in our estimates. I wasn’t sure if Malerman was trying to say that D.A.D. and M.O.M. were so corrupted by their devious and unethical thinking that they would also be biased against LGBTQIA+ people as part of their experiment, or if such a development would immediately call for The Corner, or whether he just didn’t think of it at all. Because it doesn’t come up. And to me, it’s a pretty big question that probably should have been addressed.
That aside, I quite enjoyed “Inspection” in all of it’s creepy and unsettling glory. Malerman continues to surprise and shock me in the best ways, and my hope is that he just keeps getting more attention as time goes on.
Rating 8: A propulsive and then eerie thriller/horror novel, “Inspection” is another triumph from Josh Malerman.
Maid Marian doesn’t know how she’ll go on, but the people of Locksley town, persecuted by the Sheriff of Nottingham, need a protector. And the dreadful Guy of Gisborne, the Sheriff’s right hand, wishes to step into Robin’s shoes as Lord of Locksley and Marian’s fiancé.
Who is there to stop them?
Marian never meant to tread in Robin’s footsteps—never intended to stand as a beacon of hope to those awaiting his triumphant return. But with a sweep of his green cloak and the flash of her sword, Marian makes the choice to become her own hero: Robin Hood.
Review: As I mentioned in my brief description of this book in our “Highlights” post for March, I was a big fan of Spooner’s wholly unique take on “Beauty in the Beast” in her YA novel “Hunted.” Now, obviously these two stories aren’t connected, but it is clear by the stylization of the cover art that we’re meant to make associations between the two: both feature a strong, independent female main character and both are reinterpreting a story in which that character had varying levels of agency. I’m definitely not one of those readers who subscribes to the whole “Stockholm syndrome” group fret about Belle/Beauty’s role in her story, but there’s no denying that “Hunted” gave this character a bunch more to do. And here, we have a legitimate side character in Marian being firmly placed in the lead role of the classic Robin Hood tale. It was great to see this book live up to the expectations I had placed on it given my feelings for “Hunted.”
Marian has made the best out of a bad situation: she loves her bow, fighting, and generally running wild and has very little interest or skill in the more “womanly” arts. Luckily for her, her childhood friend Robin has always been her partner in crime in these pursuits, and their engagement seems an obvious route to making the best of out of an inevitable situation. That is, until he rides off to the Crusades and news reaches her of his death. Devastated by the loss, Marian still sees herself as responsible for the livelihood of the people living on both her own and Robin’s land and when the Sheriff’s taxes rise beyond reason, she finds herself donning not only male garb, but the persona of her deceased fiance, Robin of Locksley. Now, pursued by the Sheriff’s right hand man, a man whose desire to catch “Robin” is only matched in his wish to marry Marian, Marian must lead a double life, and one that can only have a catastrophic end.
I really enjoyed this version of Robin Hood. While I’ve read a fair share of stories that insert a female character as a stand-in for Robin, typically Robin himself is still present in the story, often the love interest. That being the case so much of the time, I truly didn’t trust the book description or the first chapter that laid out the concept that Robin died while at the Crusades. It was probably up until about half way through the book before I really let myself trust that he wasn’t going to just pop up. Not that I have a problem with the Robin character typically, but even by a quarter into the story, Marian herself and the way her story was unfolding was already so intriguing that any addition of the more famous Robin could have only detracted from her. Plus, as I said, in those past versions, even a Robin relegated to a love interest role often rubbed up wrong against what the author was trying to do with the actual main character who was supposedly supposed to be taking on the primary role in the action.
Marian was an excellent lead. Her grief for Robin’s death is real, and I appreciate that this wasn’t glossed over. Instead, we see how his loss affects throughout the entire story, first as a hindrance and further on as a motivation. Over time, she also has to re-assess what she knew about the man she was to marry. We, the readers, get a few extra glimpses into past moments between the two, and it is here, too, that we see small, but very important, differences being laid out between who this Marian and this Robin are compared to what we expect from the typical versions of the story. We also see the foundation for how Marian came to possess the skills necessary to take on the role she does here.
Wisely, Spooner leans in heavily to Marian’s skill with a bow, a talent that, while unusual, wouldn’t fall completely out of the realm of something a lady might have learned. Marian is also described as being exceptionally tall. But that aside, it could still have read as unbelievable for her disguise as a man to be fully bought by those around her had the author not carefully crafted every interaction that “Robin” goes into in a way that plays to hiding Marian’s identity. Indeed, Marian herself is written to understand the limitations of her disguise and to use every advantage she has to work within it, instead of breaking past it in ways that could have read as unbelievable and strange.
I also really enjoyed how many of the secondary characters came into play. Several familiar faces show up throughout the story, and each was given a few extra flares to make them stand out from the usual versions of the characters we’ve seen in other books. But I also really enjoyed the addition of unique characters (or at least vastly expanded upon versions of them). Marian’s father, maid, and horse master all were expanded upon quite a bit and I loved them all.
The most notable new addition, of course, is Guy of Gisbourne who is presented as both the villain and the love interest of the story. Again, because I was expecting Robin to pop back up at any moment, it took me a while to really figure out his role in the story. Thinking back, I tend to attribute this to an intentional decision on the author’s part as well, and not only my own skepticism of how the story was originally presented. Marian herself takes a long time to understand Gisbourne, what motivates him, where his moral compass points, and how he truly feels about her. Her own confusion translates perfectly to the reader. This is both a good and a bad thing. I love slow burn romances, and this is definitely that. But at times I think the book was almost too successful at selling me on Marian’s dislike of Gisbourne and his own coldness as a character. There are a few moments that are meant to show their gradual warming to each other, and they do work, for the most part, but I’m not sure it was ultimately enough. At a certain point, it did feel a bit like some type of authorial-driven light switch was just flicked in Marian’s head because it needed to be, rather than because it was earned.
So, too, her past relationship with Robin was also a bit strained. We only see a few glimpses here and there of their childhood and teenage friendship, but the scenes are all so strongly written and their connection so well established that it almost worked against the burgeoning romance with Gisbourne in a way that I don’t think was intended. I liked the idea of what we’re being told with regards to Robin/Marian/Gisbourne: that people are not always who we initially think they are and that love can present itself in very different ways with different people, and that these ebbs and flows don’t undermine one relationship or the other. But I’m just not sure the reader can actually see this message play out, so much as just be on the receiving end of being told.
Ultimately, I almost think it says even more positive things about the story that the downside I can mention has to do with romance and yet that downside in no way tanks the entire story for me. We all know that if you don’t get the romance right for me, often that can lead to my very much not enjoying a story. And here, it’s not that the romance was wrong, necessarily, just that I felt it was the weakest part of the story. But Marian herself, the reimagining of how the Robin Hood story would play out with her at its heart, the action, and the new characters all provided enough of a counter balance to my questions about the romance to lead me to viewing it with still a very positive light. Fans of Robin Hood re-tellings should definitely check this one out!
Rating 8: A bit muddled in the romance department, but an awesome female Robin Hood saves the day in the end!
Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.
Book Description:Rebellions are built on hope.
Set in a horrifying near-future United States, seventeen-year-old Layla Amin and her parents are forced into an internment camp for Muslim American citizens.
With the help of newly made friends also trapped within the internment camp, her boyfriend on the outside, and an unexpected alliance, Layla begins a journey to fight for freedom, leading a revolution against the internment camp’s Director and his guards.
Heart-racing and emotional, Internment challenges readers to fight complicit silence that exists in our society today.
Review: I want to extend a thanks to NetGalley for sending me an eARC of this book!
One of the vivid horrible memories I have in the wake of the Trump election (and there are many, believe me) is that one of Trump’s PAC supporters, Carl Higbie, said that Trump’s idea to create a registry for immigrants from Muslim countries had a ‘precedent’ because of Japanese American citizen registries during WWII. Given that those registries led to the unconstitutional and horrific internment of American Citizens, this statement was quite frightening (and given the detention of families at the border and how horrific that practice is, in some ways internment is already present on our soil). Fast forward to a couple years later, when a controversy surrounded the upcoming release of a novel called “American Heart”. The author, Laura Moriarty, had wanted to write a ‘what if’ book that was about Muslim Internment camps in America during a Trump-esque executive administration. But it was from the perspective of a white teenage girl who basically has to be taught why it’s wrong to imprison people for their beliefs and culture, and to be shown the humanity and worth of their lives. It’s a story structure that is pretty problematic in that it dehumanizes a marginalized group so that a non-marginalized group an learn a lesson. And that is where “Internment” by Samira Ahmed comes in. The premise is similar: it is a what if scenario in which Muslim Americans have been put on lists and had laws passed to limit their rights in the wake of a far right administration taking power. But this one is from the perspective of a teenage Muslim American girl named Layla, whose life is uprooted when she and her family are taken to an internment camp.
The power and resonance within “Internment” is the timeliness of it all. From the Muslim Travel Ban in this country to the rise in hate crimes against Muslims, the future that Ahmed is painting doesn’t necessarily feel farfetched. While Ahmed doesn’t use specific names, it is very clear that this takes place a couple years after the 2016 election, and she paints a picture of how these policies could easily turn into the policies that we seen within this story. The escalation that is set up, both before Mobius Camp itself comes into play and during the time spent there, is chilling and real, and Ahmed does a good job of drawing comparisons to different internment policies of the past. Not only is the escalation seem based in a probable truth, the power structure of the camp itself also feels very true to life. The camp director abuses his power and uses power plays to harass, intimidate, and commit violence against the inmates. There are Muslim families who have been appointed as leaders of blocks, whose compliance wtih the policy gives them benefits at the expense of other prisoners. And the actions and conditions of the camp has been suppressed from the outside world, so the public doesn’t know just what is going on inside the walls. This all felt VERY real and familiar.
Layla herself is a bit of a mixed bag. For the most part I really liked her as our main character. She feels like a very typical teenage girl in a lot of ways; she is trying to assert her independence from her parents, she is very committed to her Jewish boyfriend David, and is interested in geek culture. Her rebelliousness feels very true to her character, and I completely believe her as a young person who wants to fight back against her oppression while her parents are more investing in using silence and compliance in hopes of keeping her safe. My frustrations of her more had to do with her motivations sometimes feeling like they shifted depending on what they needed to be for the plot at the moment. She would rail against her parents for their complacency one moment, then seem to understand their point of view another moment, only to rail against them again. Her tentative trust of one of the guards, Jake, felt like it grew too quickly for her character as we’d seen her up until that point. To me her motivations were muddled. It very well could be that this is trying to show how a traumatic period can affect a person’s psyche and the way they think, so I can’t completely tear Layla down for seeming inconsistent within her characterization.
And as we sometimes tend to see in YA fiction that hopes to make pertinent points within a broader social and political context, sometimes the messages felt a little too spoon fed to the audience. Be it a speech awkwardly plunked down in a conversational setting, or an offhand remark that doesn’t quite fit the greater conversation at hand but has a point to make, we occasionally see these moments within the narrative. I realize that this book is for a young adult audience, and that sometimes people tend to think that teens need to have things spelled out for them. But I wish that authors would trust their audiences more, in that they are able to read between the lines and parse out the lessons in more ‘show rather than tell’ fashions. Trust teens to get nuance!
All in all, I thought “Internment” was an effective and charged read. It paints a grim picture of where our current political climate could possibly lead, and what could happen if we don’t speak out and rise up against it.
Rating 7: With relevant and pertinent themes but a sometimes clunky execution, “Internment” is a frightening read that asks ‘what if’ when it comes to our current political climate.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day! The day everyone wears green and likes to claim some loose, loose connection to Ireland to justify a night out on the town. We here at The Library Ladies like to use any/all holidays for a completely different purpose: as a loose, loose excuse to create random, themed booklists. So here are a few books that have some (remember “loose”) connection to Ireland or St. Patrick’s Day!
Book: “Daughter of the Forest” by Juliet Marillier
Publishing Info: Tom Doherty Associates, February 2002
Juliet Marillier is one of my (Serena’s) favorite authors. Her writing flows off the page in a beautiful, lyrical style, often combined with a fairytale-like feel. She often has a whole host of books that are set in a historical, fantasy-based version of Ireland. I could make an entire list on this theme all written by her. But my favorite of her works is still her first story, “Daughter of the Forest” that is a re-telling of the “Seven Swans” fairytale. I consider it the definitive version of this fairytale, even, that’s how good it is. Throughout the story, we see how important Sorcha’s homeland is to her identity and the beautiful descriptions of its deep forests and quiet lakes is simply one more reason to check out this fantastic tale.
Book: “Artemis Fowl” by Eoin Colfer
Publishing Info: Disney-Hyperion, April 2003
Just in time for the growing hype about the movie version of this beloved middle grade book, “Artemis Fowl” is also a perfect fit for this list given the location of Fowl Manor on the outskirts of Dublin. Not to mention the host of fairies who live below ground and work for the LEPrecon Unit. Artemis Fowl himself is a 12-year old genius who gets on the wrong side of said fairies when he takes one of them hostage in a ploy to regain his family’s lost wealth. He’s the kind of precocious protagonist who manages to be both frustrating and root-for-worthy at the same time. If you somehow missed this one, best check it out now before the movie hits screens! There are also a bunch more in the series, so you could potentially have quite a reading list on your hands.
Book: “Lion of Ireland” by Morgan Llywelyn
Publishing Info: Forge, March 2002
This is a historical fiction novel that attempts to novelize the story of Brian Boru, a 12th son who grew up to be one of the greatest king’s of Ireland. In many ways, his is also thought to be a story that lay behind the legend of King Arthur. Set in the 19th century and drawing from the scant information that is known about the man himself, Llywelyn attempts to novelize the life Brian, documenting his rise to power and his ability to gain the loyalty and love of a people. The story is long, but full of action and romance. Readers in the mood for a historical story that is at least partially based on a real-life person, look no further than “Lion of Ireland.”
Book: “The Hounds of The Morrigan” by Pat O’Shea
Publishing Info: Oxford University Press, 1985
When you take two siblings, a Goddess of Death, and some hell hounds with a tenacious streak, you get the fantasy book “The Hounds of The Morrigan”. This YA adventure is set in Galway, and takes Irish and Celtic mythology and brings it to the 1980s. When ten year old Pidge finds an old manuscript, he unwittingly releases the vicious serpent Olc-Glas. Now that Olc-Glas is free, he gains the attention of The Morrigan, the Irish goddess of death and destruction, and she wants to join forces with the snake to cause mass chaos. Pidge and his sister Brigit are the only ones who can find a magic stone that can destroy Olc-Glas and hopefully save the world, but The Morrigan has sent her Hell Hounds to hunt the siblings down. Taking classic mythology and giving it a 20th Century twist, “The Hounds of The Morrigan” is a fun adventure with an Irish twist!
Book Series: “The Dublin Murder Squad Books” by Tana French (“In The Woods”, “The Likeness”, “Faithful Place”, “Broken Harbor”, “The Secret Place”, “The Trespasser”)
Publishing Info: Penguin Books, 2007-2016
Tana French is a name you probably know if you are a big mystery/crime procedural fan, and her most popular books are those in “The Dublin Murder Squad” Series. The first in the series, “In The Woods”, concerns a detective who suffered a childhood trauma that he hasn’t quite let go. When a new case involving a murdered girl happens in the same woods of his trauma, he has to try to keep his past at bay. The next book in the series follows another member of the Murder Squad, and the book after that follows another one, etcetera etcetera. The books have a devoted following, and the peripheral connections are fun to see within high tension and sometimes very upsetting mysteries.
Book: “Making Sense of The Troubles: The Story of the Conflict in Northern Ireland” by David McKittrick and David McVea
Publishing Info: Penguin, October 2001
During the latter part of the 20th Century, Northern Ireland was caught in a struggle between those who wanted Northern Ireland to stay with the U.K. and those who wanted Northern Ireland to join The Republic of Ireland, and while it wasn’t technically religious in nature it tended to split along Protestant and Catholic lines. The conflicts had many instances of violence, with bombings, kidnappings, riots, and targeted violence coming from both sides. It’s a complex and dark time in Irish history, and “Making Sense of The Troubles” is considered to be a comprehensive and even handed account of the decades long conflict. It’s a dark book to finish the list with, but given how The Troubles are still in living memory, it’s an important read nonetheless.
Do you have any favorite stories set in Ireland? Share yours with us in the comments below!
Book Description: Set in 1491 during the reign of the last sultanate in the Iberian peninsula, The Bird King is the story of Fatima, the only remaining Circassian concubine to the sultan, and her dearest friend Hassan, the palace mapmaker.
Hassan has a secret–he can draw maps of places he’s never seen and bend the shape of reality. When representatives of the newly formed Spanish monarchy arrive to negotiate the sultan’s surrender, Fatima befriends one of the women, not realizing that she will see Hassan’s gift as sorcery and a threat to Christian Spanish rule. With their freedoms at stake, what will Fatima risk to save Hassan and escape the palace walls?
Review: I read an excerpt of this on Bookish First and found myself immediately connecting to the beautiful writing that was popping on the page. I placed my request was thrilled when I received a copy. While it was a slower read, ultimately, than I had been expecting, that same strength in writing and the unexpected depth of thought given to the historical events, religious interactions, and cultures of the time period ultimately drew me in.
Fatima and her friend Hassan have built a quiet life for themselves in the circumstances they have found themselves in: she a concubine to the sultan and he a mapmaker. But Hassan is much more than your ordinary mapmaker and possess the incredible gift of not only drawing up intricate maps of the places he’s never been, but also, through these maps, interrupting the weave of reality itself. But when Hassan suddenly falls under the eyes of those who would see his gift as more of a threat than a blessing, he and Fatima must go on the run, seeking out a mystical island as their one port of harbor for a safe life going forward.
I haven’t read too many books set in this time period or within these combinations of cultures. The book is tackling a lot: the persecution under the Spanish Inquisition, the clashes between religious forces taking place in that time, plus a healthy dose of magic realism to differentiate it from a purely historical fiction work. But I think it is this last portion, the interweaving of the fantastical elements that really made this book sing for me. There are a lot of big ideas being tossed around throughout the story, but many of these are explored from a bit of an angle, with the author approaching them almost from the side, using fairytale-like elements to draw readers into a deceptively complicated, real-world issue. Metaphor and stylized writing are also used to great effect to, again, almost backwards-walk readers into topics that can get pretty dicey pretty quickly. Of course, I’m always going to love anything that reads like a fairytale, but I appreciate it all the more when an author is able to use this writing style to get at deeper topics that can often be challenging to get across.
I also very much liked the two main characters in Fatima and Hassan. At first, I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to feel about Fatima, but as the story progressed, I found myself becoming more and more invested in their platonic friendship and love. It’s a rare read to find a story that focuses on this type of strong relationship, one that isn’t based on romantic love (Hassan is gay, another factor that leads to his persecution), but that still highlights the extent to which each party will go for the other. The fact that they aren’t romantically involved never feels like it detracts from what they would do for each other, and, instead, in some ways it feels that their bond is even stronger by being freed from that element. It’s a unique relationship to see explored so thoroughly in this type of book.
I will say, however, that the story is pretty slow going. It takes quite a bit for them to even get started on their journey, and then once they do, it doesn’t speed up much. There’s a lot of travel, camping, small moments of action, and then more travel and camping. The writing was still captivating, which was enough to get me through these slower elements, but I can see how this could be off-putting to many readers, especially ones who may not be as interested in the greater themes being explored at the heart of the story. I do think more could have been done to tighten up this middle portion of the book, as the fact that it ultimately worked for me seems to speak more to my own preference than to the general quality of the story structure.
Overall, “The Bird King” was a surprisingly deep and satisfying read for me. There were, however, some stumbling blocks with the pacing and writing speed, which is what knocks it back a few points for me. It’s a lengthy story, and while it is trying to cover a lot of different things, I do think it could have been tightened up to increase its general appeal. If you like historical fiction blended with magical realism, especially dealing with a unique set of characters and a time period that isn’t often explored in this way, definitely give “The Bird King” a try. Just know that you might need to push through in the beginning before really getting to the good stuff.
Rating 7: A beautifully written story that covers a complicated time with two wonderful characters at its heart. Only lowered by being a bit too slow for my taste.