The Great Animorphs Re-Read: Megamorphs #4 “Back to Before”

363358Megamorphs #4: “Back to Before”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, May 2000

Where Did I GeAt this Book: own it!

Book Description: Jake’s finally weakened. After a grisly battle, the Drode offers the Animorphs’ leader an escape from the terrifying pressure. He’ll reverse the decision to start the Animorphs. Now, there’s no morphing, no missions, and no knowledge of the Yeerks. That is, until very strange things begin to happen and Jake, Rachel, Tobias, Cassie, Marco and Ax are forced to confront their new reality.

Narrator: Everyone!

Plot: After a particularly horrible battle, Jake is back in his room, dreading the inevitable nightmares that are sure to come: his friends dying, all because of his own decisions. At this weak point, Crayak’s servant the Drode appears and gives Jake an out: say the words and this can all go away, Jake and the other Animorphs can go back to blissful ignorance, back before they met Elfangor in the abandoned construction lot. From there, a weird alternate reality takes over.

Summary of my feelings during the entire book.

After meeting up at the mall one evening, Cassie and Rachel spot Jake, Marco and this guy named Tobias, (they think?) heading out. We witness the same exchange that we got from Jake’s perspective way back in book #1, but this time from Cassie’s POV. They agree to head home together, but instead of going through the construction site, they take the long way around. In the sky, they see a flash of what looks like a meteorite falling. Cassie gets an odd feeling, but they all reach home safely.

Over the next few days, we check in with the rest of the crew. Tobias is living with his uncle and has quickly fallen out of hanging around with Jake and Marco, getting the sense that while nice enough to him, they’re not really looking for new friends. This leaves Tobias at the mercy of even more bullies, that is until he’s invited by another kid to a meeting of The Sharing. He sees Jake and Tom there, but doesn’t talk to them.

Cassie is having weird dreams, voices in her head and images of the ocean. She goes into the barn now and then and is having weird memories of Marco lounging on hay bales (but Marco’s never been there) and a large bird of prey up in the rafters.

Ax is under the sea, waiting for rescue. It’s been weeks, however, and no one has come. We see him captures and acquire the hammerhead shark morph that he had when the Animorphs originally met up with him back in book #4. After a period of time, he finally decides to give up waiting just as a group of Controllers make their way towards the Dome ship. He escapes as a shark, taking out a bunch of Taxxons on his way, and makes his way to the surface.

Jake is receiving increasing pressure from Tom to join The Sharing. He has nothing against it, but is more and more beginning to resent the pressure from Tom to join.

Marco and Rachel go on a school trip together where Marco flirts outrageously with her. He is happy to find that there is more to her than her looks as she wittily matches him and puts him in his place with his ridiculous come-ons. Just as things are getting interesting, Marco spots his “dead” mom and takes off after her, trying to chase her down.

Rachel has felt all her life that something is missing, and when Marco takes off after some woman who can’t possibly be his dead mother, she doesn’t think twice, leaping into action and following after. The two chase Marco’s mom around town, finally backing her into a corner in an alley, only to find that she’s called reinforcements and now it’s they who are trapped. What’s more, the reinforcements don’t shoot regular guns, but some type of strange laser beam. Rachel and Marco manage to make their escape up a fire ladder in the end. They also start quasi-dating off page.

Tobias, now being protected from the bullies by members of The Sharing, finally decides to join as a full member. He meets Jake in the hall at school and mentions this. Jake seems suspicious of the whole thing, mentioning that any group that asks individuals to give up themselves in order to be part of some whole might be a bit weird. Tobias, though, at the mercy of bullies and practically no family, decides to go through with it. At The Sharing, he and a few others go into a room to become full members. To his surprise, Vice Principal Chapman and a strange man named Mr. Visser are there. Chapman gives a pretty speech about how Tobias will now be part of something bigger than he is. Mr. Visser scoffs at the necessity of the speech, but Chapman says it usually helps. Even with the speech, Tobias starts freaking out when they lock him down to a chair. From there, he’s infested with a Yeerk. But not just any Yeerk, a Yeerk who secretly works for Visser One and there to tell Visser Three that the Council of Thirteen wishes Visser Three to proceed with Visser One’s more secretive approach to the invasion on Earth.

Ax has found himself a place to stay: the mental hospital. But after a while there, he realizes that he must do more and the only way to tell if the Yeerks are on Earth is to present them with bait they can’t resist, an Andalite. He makes his way to a TV station and projects a short video of himself.

At home, Jake and Tom both see the video. Tom freaks out and tries to sneak out of the house, but Jake sees that he has a gun with him and, suspicious, stows away in the back of the car. Tom makes his way to the TV studio. There he meets up with Chapman, Mr. Visser, and, strangely, Tobias. A small fight breaks out, and in the chaos, Tom shoots at Jake with a ray gun (though he can’t see who it is to know it’s Jake). Jake briefly sees his own hand start to change into the paw of a tiger. He freaks out and rushes back to meet up with Rachel, Cassie, and Marco in the barn.

There, Cassie confesses to the strange visions she’s been having. Before Jake can describe the alien on the video, Cassie is able to describe him herself, based on these strange “visions.” They all agree that some sort of conspiracy is going on, likely involving The Sharing since they know Tom and Tobias were involved. Cassie watches the discussion and notes that everyone is the way they “should” be: Jake is the leader, making the decision when necessary; Rachel is ready to act, now; Marco is sitting back, cautious and analyzing the situation from afar. But something is still missing.

Back with Tobias, we see the slow spiral of his thoughts as he realizes the truly terrible situation he has gotten himself into. There’s no going back, and this is his life now. He also realizes that the Yeerk in his head is a bit scared, noting that Visser Three is being too accommodating of a Yeerk who just delivered bad news. At a meeting, Visser Three confronts Controlled!Tobias and accuses the Yeerk of working for Visser One. After threatening to starve him to death, the Yeerk confesses and Controlled!Tobias is shot in the head.

The others have decided to track Tom, their only known lead. But we see how difficult their task is without morphing abilities: even following him becomes almost impossible because they can’t drive. Jake and Marco try to sneak through Tom’s things, but don’t see anything. On the TV, however, they see another broadcast from Ax, this time on all of the stations. He explains about the Yeerks, how they Control people and that Earth is under attack. Marco quickly guesses that this is what has happened to Tom and his mother. Tom confronts them with a laser gun and tries to herd them out into a waiting car, likely to be infested now themselves. Rachel shows up with a bat and takes Tom out. From there, chaos breaks out.

A Bug fighter shows up in plain sight and begins chasing them. They manage to make it a few blocks before the fighter blows up some cars. The explosion beats up Rachel and Jake, but it kills Marco. Shell-shocked, they make their way to the mall and meet up with Cassie. Ax is there as well, having holed up in Circuit City to broadcast his message. On his way out, he runs into three teenage humans who are now being chased by a bunch of Yeerks through the mall. One of them knows his name. Cassie convinces Ax that she doesn’t know what’s going on, but something’s not right and they are supposed to be friends and allies. Ax says they need to make their way to the roof to escape.

On the way there, several fights break out and Rachel comes into her own with a blaze of battle prowess. But once on the roof, she is killed by a Hork Bajir. Ax, Jake, and Cassie run towards the Blade ship that has landed on the roof. As they run, Cassie, too, is shot and killed by a laser. Jake and Ax make their way on to the Blade ship, but they run into Visser Three who is about to kill them when Cassie appears again out of nowhere and kills him. A disembodied voice complains that she was dead and that this is getting out of hand.

Ax, Cassie, and Jake fly the ship into space and are just about to take out the Yeerk Pool Ship, likely resulting in their own death as well, when it all stops. A being that calls itself the Drode and an old, grandfatherly-like creatures calling itself the Ellimist show up. The other dead Animorphs also show up. The Drode complains that the Ellimist cheated, that Cassie is an anomaly that messed with the alternate reality. He accuses the Ellimist of “stacking the deck” by selecting Cassie, a time/space anomaly, Marco, the son of Visser One’s host, Tobias, Elfangor’s son, and Ax, Elfangor’s borther, to be part of his team. The Ellimist says that his decisions came into play before the timeline change, so it was a fair deal. It’s not his fault that Cassie’s mere presence will always ruin it, grounding the timeline into the one that is meant to be. Besides, the Drode was the one to call things off in the end, just as Jake, Ax, and Cassie were about to blow up the Yeerk Pool Ship.

Through all of this, the others regain their memories. Jake is horrified that he gave in and that this was the result. The Ellimist says that things will reset to the night Jake made this decision and that none of them would remember but for Cassie who would have vague images here and there. Cassie decides that whatever she remembers she will keep to herself. She doesn’t want Jake to know he ever caved to Crayak or Tobias to know he chose to be a Controller. Rachel comments that she will be more than happy to forget dating Marco.

Time resets. Jake is in his room, dreading his nightmares. The Drode appears and temps him, just as Jake is about to answer, the Drode sighs in annoyance, says never mind, and disappears.

Our Fearless Leader: The brief scene at the beginning of this book is brutally effective, especially given how short it is. We don’t know the details of the mission, but multiple members of the Animorphs almost die. They also have to walk out on a dying human Controller that was taken out in the action. There’s nothing special about this fight, which is what makes it all the more believable that it would be the one to break Jake. It isn’t a matter of the fight itself being worse, but the accumulation.

We get some good stuff from Jake throughout the book, but some of the bigger moments are his discussion with Tobias about The Sharing and his natural fall into leadership, even in this alternate reality. The former gets at Jake’s inherent distrust of organizations that call for the loss of the individual, and it’s a brief discussion, but very interesting for what it says about him. The second is a good example of just how inevitable it was that Jake would be the one to lead this group. He’s a natural leader, able to make tough decisions quickly when they need to be made, regardless of changed circumstances. It’s also definitely for the best that Cassie is the only one who will even partially remember this whole thing. Jake has enough weight to carry and the knowledge that he ever made this choice would surely be the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Xena, Warrior Princess: Rachel, too, falls naturally into her regular role. She pines for action from the very beginning and doesn’t question motives or sanity or anything when Marco takes off after his “mother.” She acts, and she acts quickly. She’s the one that really gets them out of the alley situation, vaulting Marco up to pull down the escape ladder.

There’s also the neat scene where she comes to Jake and Marco’s rescue when they’re being carted off by Tom, and she takes him out with a bat. We get this line from Jake, and it’s the kind of scene that you can picture showing up in a movie:

I stared at my cousin. Rachel was breathing hard. But her outfit, hair, and makeup had remained perfect.

We also see what has to be a contender for one of her most bad-ass moments in the entire series during the fights that take place in the mall. At one point, the group is fighting a bunch of Hork Bajir with the few ray guns they’ve manged to get their hands on. Things aren’t looking good at one point when Rachel manages to use the decapitated head of one Hork Bajir to stab another Hork Bajir in the chest, killing him.

A Hawk’s Life: Omg, Tobias. His entire section is just heart-wrenching. What makes it all the worse is how very believable it is. Through the entire series, it’s easy to wonder what would make a person agree to be a Controller, and it’s hard to imagine any scenario where that would be a choice someone would make. But here, we see not just some random person do it, but a beloved hero we’ve followed through tons of books. Tobias’s life is terrible. His aunt and uncle are the worst kind of indifferent. One set of bullies was put off by Jake, but another group is always waiting to beat up on him next. Even his rescuers, Jake and Marco, don’t really do much to help Tobias. Sure, Jake stood up for him, but Tobias can sense their lack of interest in being friends, and he inevitably drifts away. The Sharing is perfectly positioned to prey on kids like him.

And when he’s Controlled, the situation is just worse. He sees his life before and acknowledges that it was terrible, and that while yes, there was nothing he could do at the moment to change it, all he had to do was endure. But even with these thoughts, it’s not made to seem like Tobias made a stupid, easy-to-avoid decision . His life was hard; even knowing that endurance will provide an escape at some point, the reality of what life is like for kids like this is still really tough. And then he gets shot in the head because the Yeerk inside him is caught out as a spy. Oof.

Peace, Love, and Animals: This is a great book for Cassie. Not only are her chapters fun to read (especially the first one when we experience the scene before the construction night from her POV), but her insights into the team are put to great use. Through her eyes, we see how these individuals have key characteristics that remain true, regardless of how things played out. Her visions of the future are also great, being just subtle enough to create disturbing moments for her (like her recurring vision of a hawk in the barn) and clear enough for readers to get excited about the familiarities. She never just “suddenly remembers” anything in the lazy way of writing that so easily could have happened. Instead, her small insights and visions are always just enough at any given moment to slowly push things. Her memory of Ax’s name is the biggest one. Without that name, there’s a good chance things would have gone very differently, with the team never coming together and all being killed before they could reach the Blade ship and fly it into space, creating enough of a threat to force the Drode to stop things.

And then, of course, there are passive things that Cassie caused, like Jake’s weird hand morphing incident and the much more extreme example of her essentially coming back to life just in time to kill Visser Three. Most importantly, she realizes immediately that any memory of this experience that she retains is one that she must keep to herself; it would be too damaging to the group to know, especially Tobias and Jake.

The Comic Relief: For all that Marco quickly calls out the insanity when they’re all in the barn discussing the possibility of some weird conspiracy with The Sharing, he’s also the one to really defend the idea too, nicely highlighting the strengths of Marco’s character: he can say what everyone is thinking, but do it in a way that also highlights the realities of the situation. He has several moments where he shows his smarts, especially when it comes to spying on Tom. While Rachel wants action (any action!), Marco knows that they have to be cautious. He’s the one who warns Jake to look for booby traps that Tom might have set to warn him if anyone snoops around his room. Because of this, Jake is able to see the hair placed in a door to do just that.

It’s also important that Marco spotted his mom in the beginning of this book. We know from what we saw in the beginning of this series that, while smart, Marco is a very pragmatic character and would likely be unmoved to get involved in this whole situation had he not had a good motivation. And now, like then, that motivation comes in the form of his mother. It’s interesting to think, then, that if the only thing that changed was missing that construction site meeting, then there had to have been some Animorphs-related mission in the normal reality that prevented Marco and Rachel from being at that theater and seeing Marco’s mother then, instead of on the ship in book #5.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: It’s great to get some scenes from Ax’s time in the Dome ship in the ocean before the Animorphs would have rescued him. We even get to see how he goes about acquiring the shark, which is a great little tidbit of a scene to throw to fans of the series.

It’s also interesting to see how (and what) he learns about humanity without the Animorphs to help him out. For one, it takes him a bit to even establish which living being he should be when trying to fit in on Earth. In another nice Easter egg, we see that he considered cows at first because of their physical similarities to Andalites before dismissing them as too stupid. He does settle on humans eventually and it’s also no surprise that he would then wind up in a mental hospital. More nice tidbits with references to his eating habits, having managed to once again eat cigarette butts. But this time he fixates on Oreos instead of Cinnabuns.

His plan with the TV studio is also interesting, especially his final broadcast when he transmits the entire plot to the world. It’s hard to know whether this was really a good plan, as it forces the Yeerks’ hands into all-out warfare that humanity was clearly not ready for. But Ax is operating alone, and it’s easy to see him deciding to do something like this when he’s alone on a planet and playing any type of long-game would be incredibly difficult, both in actuality and emotionally.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: Tobias being infested, hands down. We’ve seen this before with Jake, but there it was kind of happening in the background and readers, like Jake, weren’t really sure what was happening. Here, we know the entire time where things are leading with Tobias’s plan to become a full member of The Sharing. And then reading about him being literally strapped down to a chair and a Yeerk climbing in his head…yikes, it’s bad.

Couples Watch!: I mean, obviously I’ve read this entire series before, so I knew this book existed way back when I started promoting the secondary Marco/Rachel ship. But c’mon, the very fact that it exists proves that that theory was a good one even from the very beginning. It’s not a hard leap to watch Marco and Rachel’s banter morph into something that could actually work. Marco makes Rachel laugh. Rachel is able to match Marco’s wit. They both leap into action together to chase Marco’s mom and are even able to quickly read each other’s minds as far as next steps with their approach to the chase and their final escape. Obviously, I still love Tobias/Rachel (and Rachel has a great moment in the end where she’s quick to reassure Tobias about his choice to become a Controller, that of course that would never happen), but the book does do a good job of presenting a legitimate alternative.

It’s also worth noting that Cassie pretty much asks Jake out (asks him to come study at least), which is more than what she’s managed to really do in main series. Non-Animorph Jake and Cassie are definitely more brave about their relationship than they end up being in reality.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: We get an interesting look behind the curtain into the world of Visser Three early in the invasion. Through Controlled!Tobias’s eyes, we see that the maneuvering between Visser One and Three had been going on long before the events of book #5. Given the small change in history, there’s no reason to think Visser Three hadn’t made this request to the Council in the normal time line as well, and that Visser One had tried to trick him out of it using a spy. We also see Visser Three sneer at Chapman’s attempts to convince Tobias that this choice is something good; Visser Three clearly sees it as a waste of time.

But, of course, the true enemy in this book is again Crayak, experienced through his minion, the Drode. The Drode has some pretty amusing lines and ways of speaking, but the scene in the very beginning when he temps Jake, really highlights how truly awful Crayak is:

“Just  one word, Jake,”  the  Drode whispered. “No …  no, two, I think.  One  must  not sacrifice good  manners.  Two words and  it  never was.  Two words and  you  know nothing,  have  no power,  no responsibility.”

“What words?”

“One is Crayak. The other is please.”

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Again, like, the entire book? We’ve seen Animorphs die before, but there is something particularly heartbreaking about watching it happen here. In the other versions, the Animorphs have all been fighting a very dangerous war for quite a while. In their own ways, they’ve all grappled with the reality that they or their friends may die at any time. And they each continue to make the choice to get up and fight again, knowing that the risk is worth it in their attempt to save humanity.

Here, they’re just kids (even younger than the Animorphs we’re used to, as around two years has probably gone by at this point). Regular kids, with no powers, no greater knowledge of this war or greater responsibility to handle it, than anyone else. Tobias gets shot in the head for simply having the wrong Yeerk Control him. Marco gets taken out by a Bug fighter the first time any of them truly understand the technology they’re up against. Rachel holds her own in a fight for a bit, but the reality is that no teenage girl can last against Hork Bajir warriors. And the others have to just watch their friends die, in no way prepared for it or accepting that this was a risk when they got up that morning. It’s shell-shocking and traumatic.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: As I said in Ax’s section, there could be some questioning of whether or not Ax’s approach was truly a wise decision. With the Andalites nowhere near, goading the Yeerks into an all-out war is a pretty risky decision. But he’s an alien kid, alone on a strange planet, we’ll cut him some slack. And, as far as it goes, with no powers and very little information, it’s pretty impressive that the remnants of the team manage to maneuver themselves into a situation where they’re essentially about to win, even if they die in the process. So much so, that they force the Drode’s hand in calling the whole thing quits.

Favorite Quote:

An obligatory section of Marco and Rachel flirting/quipping:

“Still, we should go out.  Do a movie.  Eat some burgers.  I could  make you laugh.”
“Actually,  I think the mere memory of that suggestion will  supply me with  plenty of  laughter.”

And, a longer section, but a good one given how the events of this entire book start because of Jake grappling with the challenges of being the leader and what that means:

 “Jake? What do we do?” [Rachel]

“Yeah.  What  do  we  do,  Big  Jake?”  Marco asked, half-mocking.

“What  do  you  mean,  what  do  we  do?”  Jake shot back.  “Why are you asking me?”

Marco shrugged.  “You’re the leader, man.”

“What  are  you  talking  about?  The  leader  of what? And why am I the leader?”

“Because you are,” I [Cassie] said. The words were out of  my  mouth  before  I  could think  about them.  I felt  as if…  as  if  I  was  a  judge  and  had  just passed sentence on Jake.

Marco  jerked  his  thumb  at  me.  “What  the crazy chick said:  Because you are.”

Scorecard: Yeerks 10, Animorphs 15

No change! Obviously none of this comes to pass, so the results don’t have any larger impact on the war. The Ellimist can count it as a win, though.

Rating: Sadness, this is the last Megamorphs book of the series. The Megamorphs books are a really mixed bag of experiences. The first one, I felt, was a big old swing and a miss. The concept was fun, as it’s the first book where we had multiple perspectives, but the action wasn’t really enough to support the style. It had some of the most memorable lines in the series (“Do you just hate trash cans?! Is that what it is?”), but as a whole, it’s not a great introduction into these off-shoot books.

I have a soft spot for Megamorphs #2 and #3. Both are completely hinging on the weird concepts of their stories (dinosaurs! time travel!) and it seems like readers’ appreciation of each will come down to how much fun they can have with those, albeit silly, themes. I was there for the campiness of the dinosaurs and entertained enough by the time travel (and the Tobias/Rachel kiss!) that I could turn my brain off enough to not think too hard about how it would really work.

But after all of this, the best was saved for last. This is the only one of the four that not only fully takes advantage of its split narrations (probably works so well because several members of the team, like Ax and Tobias, are completely disconnected and doing their own things for the majority of the story. And unlike amnesia!Rachel in Megamorphs #1, their actions are actually important to the story), but also has a solid concept that actually has things to say. We get a few great scenes that we missed in the early part of the series (Cassie’s perspective of their first meeting, Ax’s acquiring the shark), and the way the entire thing unfolds is as believable as it is terrifying. While, again, because of the nature of Megamorphs books, that they operate outside of the regular series, everything gets returned to normal and there is no lasting effect on the main plot, this book also seems to have enough new things to show and say that it seems like it should be required reading for the entire series.

Note: I’m not going to rate these books since I can’t be objective at all! But I’ll give a one sentence conclusion and you can take from that what you will!

Kate’s Review: “New Super-Man (Vol.2): Coming to America”

34690722Book: “New Super-Man (Vol.2): Coming to America” by Gene Luen Yang, Viktor Bogdanovic (Ill.)

Publishing Info: DC Comics, October 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: The #1 New York Times best-selling author and National Book Award nominee Gene Luen Yang continues his first original series at DC with NEW SUPER-MAN VOL. 2!  To uncover the truth behind his mother’s murder, the New Super-Man must reawaken his full power under the tutelage of the mysterious I-Ching! But as training begins, Kong Kenan’s ego isn’t the only thing taking a beating! Plus, a shocking and deadly betrayal lurks in the shadows of the school that trained the New Bat-Man of China! Award-winning writer Gene Luen Yang (AMERICAN BORN CHINESE, SUPERMAN) and on-the-rise art star Viktor Bogdanovic (BATMAN: ARKHAM KNIGHT) continue their celebrated run on the hit new series NEW SUPER-MAN. Collects issues #7-12.

Review: It’s been awhile, but we’re diving back into graphic novels. I neglected to check back in on the “New Super-Man” stories by Gene Luen Yang for a long time, and by the time I did there were two volumes out, much to my excitement (and guilt that I’d waited so long). I know that while I am a DC Fan Girl I tend to come down on them when it comes to their Rebirth on going series, but “New Super-Man” is one that I’ve greatly enjoyed with little to no complaints. I chalk that up to Gene Luen Yang being excellent, but also to DC being willing to give him the room and trust to tell the story he wants to tell in the way he wants to tell it. When we last saw our flawed but intrepid hero Kong Kenan, China’s answer to Superman in the Justice League of China, has lost his father, and wants to know who killed his parents (as he was told his mother died in a plane crash years before). I was definitely anxious to see where Yang was going to take his characters, as not only are we following Kenan, but also Wang Baixi (Bat-Man), and Peng Delian (Wonder-Woman), both of whom I had grown QUITE fond of.

I don’t know what took me so damn long to get back to this series, because the moment I picked up “New Super-Man (Vol.2): Coming to America” I was yanked right back into this creative and deeply engrossing world that Yang has created. Kenan remains incredibly flawed, which is a really intriguing counterpart to the original Superman, as Clark is basically a boy scout. Now he’s driven by grief and  the need to find out who has destroyed his family, and his impulsiveness is more understandable, but also amped up. What I think is MOST interesting about Kenan as a protagonist is that he isn’t terribly likable, but you root for him anyway, and you get to see him evolve into a better person. In this series he has to tamper down his impulsiveness and start to train to try and tap into all of his powers, and his impatience is in direct conflict with that training. It’s going to be quite the journey for him. Especially since he’s going to learn some disturbing and hard truths about what ACTUALLY happened to his mother, and then later his father. We ended on a HUGE cliffhanger in this regard, and it will be VERY interesting to see where this is going to go from here.

We also get to see some new information about Baixi and how he became Bat-Man. Turns out, he was part of an extensive training program, as he was picked the best choice from a number of candidates who were also training. Going back to that group proves to be a bit more confrontational that Baixi anticipated. I really enjoyed learning more about his home life, especially about his relationship with his little sister Jiali, who serves as a foil that I am REALLY hoping we see more of. But it’s Delian’s story that reiterates the uniqueness of this series. A fair amount of Delian’s background, like Diana’s, is based in folklore and mythology (though this time Chinese as opposed to Greek). I don’t really want to spoil it, but what I will say is that it takes influence from the Legend of the White Snake. The parallels of origins for Delian to her counterpart was a really neat surprise, given that Kenan and Baixi have very different origins to theirs, and it made her feel all the more special as a character. Using this myth is just one of the ways that Yang brings forth and showcases the Chinese culture, bringing a voice and representation to readers who have grown up within it. At the same time he makes this culture and experience accessible and relatable to those who have not grown up within it, and does it by blending it in with a somewhat familiar superhero story. That is why to me “New Super-Man” is one of the most important titles that DC has going on right now, because lord knows comics need more representation.

On top of the original content, in this collection The Justice League of China finds itself intermingling with familiar faces and places. That’s right, mega businessman and always shady Lex Luthor has entered into the picture, cozying up to The Justice League of China and taking advantage of Kenan’s vulnerable emotional state. God that Lex is such a bastard but I’m always SO happy to see him. And not only that. We go to Metropolis, which means we get a cameo from Superman himself!!! Seeing Clark and Kenan interact was such a joy, as Kenan is a total fan boy and Clark is ever so kind and patient.

supers
(Source: DC Comics)

“New Super-Man: Coming to America” keeps this unique and compelling series on a steady and satisfying path, and if you haven’t already checked it out I implore you to do so. Gene Luen Yang is a treasure and this series needs to be spared from hasty decisions that DC tends to make with the titles that I find most important.

Rating 8: This series continues to combine similar themes from Superman with a new take on the superhero.

Reader’s Advisory:

“New Super-Man (Vol. 2): Coming to America” is not on any Goodreads lists (FOR SHAME), but I think that it would fit in on “Asian Fantasy and Science Fiction”, and “Comic Creators of Color”.

Find “New Super-Man (Vol.2): Coming to America” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously Reviewed: “New Super-Man (Vol.1): Made in China”

Serena’s Review: “West”

31822495Book: ” West” by Edith Pattou

Publishing Info: HMH Books for Young Readers, October 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley

Book Description: When Rose first met Charles, he was trapped in the form of a white bear. To rescue him, Rose traveled to the land that lay east of the sun and west of the moon to defeat the evil Troll Queen. Now Rose has found her happily-ever-after with Charles—until a sudden storm destroys his ship and he is presumed dead. But Rose doesn’t believe the shipwreck was an act of nature, nor does she believe Charles is truly dead. Something much more sinister is at work. With mysterious and unstoppable forces threatening the lives of the people she loves, Rose must once again set off on a perilous journey. And this time, the fate of the entire world is at stake.

Review: I read “East” forever and a day ago. It was an obvious read for me, as I love fairytale re-tellings and love “East of the Sun, West of the Moon” in particular. While I have yet to find my “one true love” version of this story (yes, this is a thing for me. For example, Robin McKinley’s “Beauty” and Juliet Marillier’s “Daughter of the Forest” both hold this esteemed title for their respective fairytales), I remember enjoying Pattou’s version and mentally shelving it as a “win” for this fairytale. So, when I saw that now, years later, Pattou was releasing a sequel story, it was a no-brainer to pick it up.

A few years after the events of “East” readers find Rose and her beloved Charles mostly settled into life. With a young baby boy to call their own and established lives pursuing their passions (Charles’s music), they are happy and it feels like the fantastical events of their lives are behind them. That is until Charles’ ship is struck down in a strangely powerful storm on a return journey from one of his musical expeditions. Now Rose will once again brave all to track down the love of her life who she knows, deep down, has not died but must have once again fallen into the grasp of villainy.

Reading this story so many years after “East” was an interesting experience. To be honest, I only had the vaguest memories of that book and they mostly had to do with generally liking it. But, as I said above, not loving it to the extent that I have other fairytale stories. With this book, as I read, I began to remember more and more about the original, not only its own specific take on the tale, but what exactly I liked about it, as well as what held me back.

What I liked has largely to do with a rather nebulous idea regarding writing tone. For fairtyales in particular, there’s a hard-to-pin-down style of writing that often comes hand-in-hand with this type of fantasy. It seems to be a combination of lyrical word choice, simple sentence structure, and a general approach to fantasy that leaves many things unexplained. Magical elements just exist, and it’s expected that readers can just accept them without detailed histories or systems. So, in this way, “West” definitely excels. While the story doesn’t speed along, it also reads nicely, filling its pages with the types of mini adventures and new characters that one expects to run across in fairytales.

The other thing that I remember enjoying from “East,” and that remains strong here, was the characterization of Rose herself. She’s a no-nonsense, go-getter type of heroine of the type that I always particularly enjoy. She doesn’t waffle amidst indecision or others fears (her family all try to convince her that Charles truly died in the ship wreck, as that’s how it appears in every rational sense), but instead has faith in her own abilities and feelings and takes charge of her situation. I also particularly enjoyed her knowledge of trolls to suss out suspicious instances early in the story.

However, there were also elements of this story that reminded me why I didn’t absolutely love “East” either. For one, like that book, Rose is not our only POV character. In the first book, I didn’t love this take on the story either, but I remember enjoying a few of the other POV characters enough that I was able to get on board with it. Here, I feel like there are not only even more POV characters, but that, between them, they tended to bog down Rose’s own story, rather them add nice supplements to it. On top of Rose’s own adventures, we have her brother who is always one step behind her. And her family back in her home village confronting a deadly plague. Both stories were fine, as far as it goes. But there was just too much going on between them all to ever feel truly invested in any of them. Mostly, I just wanted to focus on Rose’s journey to find Charles; I wasn’t too interested in seeing her brother just miss her time and time again. And the plague story, while interesting, just seemed like another tacked on plot that distracted from the main plot line.

In the end, I think my feelings for this book were about on par with what I felt for “East.” Perhaps a bit less so, since the whimsy of trying to track the original story in the retelling was lost in this one. But, as the books are so similar in whats on offer at their core, I think there’s a good chance that however you felt about “East” will transfer to how you feel here. And, as I know a lot of readers really loved that book, I’m sure this will also find a large number of devoted fans. For me, it was still just “kinda good.”

Rating 7: A steady sequel that aptly captures the same tone and feel of the first book, for better or worse.

Reader’s Advisory:

“West” isn’t on many Goodreads lists, but it is on 2018 YA Fairy Tale Retellings

Find “West” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review and Giveaway: “Someone Like Me”

Woman wearing a red hoodie by a riverBook: “Someone Like Me” by M.R. Carey

Publishing Info: Orbit, November 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: I was sent a copy by the publisher and received an eARC by NetGalley.

Book Description: SHE LOOKS LIKE ME. SHE SOUNDS LIKE ME. NOW SHE’S TRYING TO TAKE MY PLACE.

Liz Kendall wouldn’t hurt a fly. She’s a gentle woman devoted to bringing up her kids in the right way, no matter how hard times get.

But there’s another side to Liz—one which is dark and malicious. A version of her who will do anything to get her way, no matter how extreme or violent.

And when this other side of her takes control, the consequences are devastating.

The only way Liz can save herself and her family is if she can find out where this new alter-ego has come from, and how she can stop it.

Review: Thank you to Orbit for sending me a copy of this book, and to NetGalley for sending me an eARC!

M.R. Carey has taken some of the most beloved, and therefore most overdone, tropes in the horror genre and breathed new life into them. In “The Girl With All The Gifts” and “The Boy on the Bridge” he took the idea of a zombie apocalypse and gave it a unique and fresh perspective (zombies because of fungus? Totally awesome!). In “Fellside” he took a gothic haunted house story and set it in a women’s prison, therein bringing isolation to a whole new level. So of course when I found out that he’d written a new book called “Someone Like Me”, and that it sounded like a new take on a possession tale, I was in. If I’m going to like a possession story you basically have to do something new with it, and I knew that M.R. Carey was up to the task. And not only did Carey bring a new and fresh perspective to a well worn trope, he also brought in very real life horrors into the thematics, like trauma and domestic abuse. And because of this, “Someone Like Me” is his best work yet.

The summary focuses on Liz Kendall, so I will start with her and who she is as a character. Liz is meek and demure, a woman who suffered at the hands of her now ex-husband Marc. Liz had been a vibrant young punk singer, but when she got together with Marc his years of abuse and cruelty wore her down. So while one might think that she just snapped one night, and fought back after he was attacking her, Liz is horrified to realize that she had absolutely no control over herself in that moment. It was as if someone else was controlling her actions. So what could have been a story about a run of the mill demonic possession is more of a psychological terror: is Liz possessed, or is she traumatized to the point where she’s disassociating? Both options are completely plausible, and while it becomes clear that there is an outside force that is working within her, Carey STILL brings in enough unreliability and unanswered questions that I was kept completely gripped and enthralled. Seeing Liz battle with an angrier, more violent, and yet just as tragic, version of herself was unnerving and unsettling, and I loved seeing this Thing slowly overtake her life and personality.

But Liz is only half the story. Well, a fourth of the story, really. Because there is another primary character in this book whom I wasn’t expecting, but loved just as much, and that is Fran. Fran is a teenage girl who goes to school with Liz’s son Zac, and she has experienced her own traumatic incident. After this incident, she began hallucinating things around her, seeing things that others couldn’t see, seeing details shift just a little bit. She has also gained an ‘imaginary friend’ named Jinx, who has taken the form of a fox character from a children’s show. Fran sees Jinx as a protector and a burden, as while Fran wants to get better and get closer to others, Jinx is wary of anyone who comes near them. I really enjoyed seeing Fran get closer to Zac, and how her own unique psychological (or not) situation compared to Liz’s. It was also really interesting to see Carey slowly start to connect them, and to build a whole new mythology that I didn’t see coming at all. I’m not going to go into the specifics of it, because I think that it’s best to go in without knowing, but I will say that it went in directions that I couldn’t have anticipated and did so successfully.

I also really liked how Carey framed this story through the idea of trauma and tragedy. All of our main players who have perspective chapters (and there are four in total) are well rounded and well written, and all function through various horrific things that happened to them and made them who they are. I really appreciate Carey pointing out that sometimes things and people we perceive as monsters or monstrous are that way because of the horrible things that have happened to them. But he also makes sure to point out that just because horrible things did happen to them, and that it IS awful that these things did happen, that it doesn’t give anyone license to do horrible things to other people.

“Someone Like Me” was a tense and emotional read, and if you are a fan of M.R. Carey you should absolutely go grab this. If you haven’t read anything by Carey yet, this is the perfect place to start.

And I have good news! I’m giving away a hardcover copy of this book! The giveaway ends November 20th, and is open to U.S. residents only.

Click Here To Enter The Giveaway!

Rating 8: A smart and tense psychological thriller, “Someone Like Me” not only brings the creeps, but also brings emotions with themes such as trauma and abuse.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Someone Like Me” isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists right now, but I think that it would fit in on “Fictional Multiple Personalities”.

Find “Someone Like Me” at your library using WorldCat!

Who Rules The World? Girls!: Books With Women Who Kick Ass (Part 2)

Two years ago, we here at the Library Ladies were left despondent and angry at the way that the Presidential Election turned out. Two years later, most of our fears have been confirmed, and American politics has been a shit show. But this year, it was a Midterm Election, and things went a bit better this time around. One of the reasons for that is more that 100 women were elected into governing positions across the nation, breaking the all time record of women in such roles!! So in honor of that, we’re bringing back our Women Who Kick Ass Book List, and this time it’s based in hope!!

13642929Book: “My Beloved World” by Sonia Sotomayor

Publishing Info: Knopf, January 2013

The first Latinx justice and the third woman on the bench, Sonia Sotomayor is a really awesome lady in many, many ways. Her memoir is the story of her life, from her childhood living in a Bronx based housing project to her time as a Judge on the Supreme Court of the United States. She is very open about the struggles that she had to overcome in her life, from a broken marriage to living with diabetes since childhood and an unstable home life, but always emphasizes the determined spirit that she had to get through. Sotomayor’s voice always shines through in relatable and honest ways, and her story shows the power of believing in oneself, and how far it can take you.

10846336Book: “Salvage the Bones” by Jesmyn Ward

Publishing Info: Bloomsbury, August 2011

Jesmyn Ward has always been known for writing emotional and evocative books, from “Men We Reaped” to “Sing, Unburied, Sing”, but the novel that first won her a National Book Award was “Salvage the Bones”. It’s the story of Esch, a black teenage girl living in a coastal Mississippi town as Hurricane Katrina is heading towards shore, and the ways that she tries to keep her family together as the inevitable lurches towards them. Esch is a determined and driven character, who is dealing with her own personal turmoil outside of the impending hurricane (poverty, an unwanted pregnancy, a rough home life), but she is always there for her siblings and always trying her best to make things safe for them as the storm looms. This is a tough read, but it’s beautifully written and the characters, especially Esch, will stay with you.

32025298Book: “The Woman Who Smashed Codes: A True Story of Love, Spies, and the Unlikely Heroine who Outwitted America’s Enemies” by Jason Fagone

Publishing Info: Dey Street Books, September 2017

Similar to our recommendation of “Hidden Figures” in our last list of this kind, “The Woman Who Smashed Codes” is another incredible true story of women operating behind the scenes throughout history, getting stuff done, but going largely unnoticed. Together with her husband, Elizabeth Smith could be considered the starting point for the NSA (for better or worse these days). But in her time, she was able to put her incredible code-breaking stills to work on secretive missions to gain important intel during WWII. But the story explores much more than just that, diving also into her work exposing gangsters during Prohibition and her husband’s experiences breaking the Japanese version of Enigma.

3236307Book: “Graceling” by Kristin Cashore

Publishing Info: Harcourt, October 2008

Another fiction choice, “Graceling’s” main character, Katsa essentially has the skill of “being badass.” You think I’m exaggerating, but that’s pretty much it. In a world that is made up of certain individuals with seemingly random abilities, Katsa’s is by far the most awe-inspiring. But as fans of Spiderman know so well, this type of gift doesn’t come with out strings and difficult choices attached. What makes Katsa stand apart is the way she never backs down from confronting these challenges herself. She doesn’t wait for others, she doesn’t question her own abilities. She just sees a wrong or a need, and she acts. Definitely a go-to for fantasy fans, Katsa fully earns her place on this list.

28503941Book: “Wonder Women: 25 Innovators, Inventors and Trailblaizers Who Changed History” by Sam Maggs

Publishing Info: Quirk Books, October 16

Of course, there are simply too many amazing women throughout history to list an entire book for each of them. So instead, here’s a lovely compilation of twenty-five of them for you to enjoy in small snippets. What makes this collection all the more enjoyable is the fact that many of these women may be ones you were unfamiliar with prior to picking up this book! There are also interviews with women currently in STEM-related fields and other resources for women looking to make their way into the sciences.

What are some of your favorite books about powerful women? Let us know in the comments!

Serena’s Review: “The Dark Days Pact”

26061581Book: “The Dark Days Pact” by Alison Goodman

Publishing Info: Viking Books for Young Readers, January 2017

Where Did I Get this Book: from the library!

Book Description: June 1812. Just weeks after her catastrophic coming-out ball, Lady Helen Wrexhall—now disowned by her uncle—is a full member of the demon-hunting Dark Days Club. Her mentor, Lord Carlston, has arranged for Helen to spend the summer season in Brighton so that he can train her new Reclaimer powers. However, the long-term effects of Carlston’s Reclaimer work have taken hold, and his sanity is beginning to slip. At the same time, Carlston’s Dark Days Club colleague and nemesis will stop at nothing to bring Helen over to his side—and the Duke of Selburn is determined to marry her. The stakes are even higher for Helen as she struggles to become the warrior that everyone expects her to be.

Previously Reviewed: “The Dark Days Club”

Review: Ok, I haven’t ranted about a cover for a long time. But man. MAN! This one deserves a good rant. Not only is this cover truly awful on its own, but when you compare it to the first book’s cover, it just gets even worse.

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That cover is good. It’s not doing anything super brilliant or unique, but it’s getting the job done. We know this is a historical novel, and we get that there is some darkness involved in the story, likely fantasy-related. And then we have this new cover…The model looks ridiculous. The weird magical sword is bizarre (and hard to connect with anything in the book). And the whole thing looks like the type of book you’d scoff at in an airport. We’d all like to think that we don’t judge books by their covers, but we do. And this series was already criminally underappreciated, and I can’t imagine this change to cover art helped anything. Also, spoiler alert, it definitely DOESN’T improve with the third book. *sigh*

Lady Helen has forgone the life of marriage and respectability she had previously seen as her future. Instead, she is now a full-fledged member of the Dark Days Club, a secretive society that fights against demonic beings that lurk among the unwary. More to the point, she and her colleagues suspect that the Grand Deceiver is on the move, one of the most powerful and evil beings the Club has ever faced. But Lady Helen is also still in training, with much to learn not only about her own unique abilities, but how she is to balance her responsibilities to the society as well as her loyalties to her friends. Especially Lord Carlston, whose erratic behavior has set him smack dab in the cross hairs of the leadership in the Dark Days Club.

While this book was a bit more wishy-washy for me (not really a surprise for the dreaded “second book” in a trilogy), there were still several aspects of the series that I greatly enjoyed. For one, the pitch perfect mixture of historical regency “manners” story, flitting through ballrooms and strolls through parks with parasols, and magical adventure featuring some legitimately dark villains. Lady Helen must be given full credit as a well-drawn character who is capable of reading as believable in both these very different scenarios. What’s more, both versions of herself, socialite and powerful Reclaimer, are not two suits that fit well together. Those who know her as a well-bred lady first and foremost, question her ability to exist in an action-packed and dangerous world. Here, she rises to the occasion by learning to fight and donning an alter-ego as a young man. On the other side, her Reclaimer friends don’t see the importance or value that Helen does in maintaining a grip on her role as a woman in society. And here, she proves that a well-timed conversation with the right person can be just as valuable as pulling out a sword.

I still also very much like the world that has been imagined here. Reclaiming is a dangerous business, and we see that though Helen has great power, she still has much to learn to survive in this world. Not only that, the most successful Reclaimer must still deal with the negative side-affects of their work, which we see in Lord Carlston’s quick spiral into violence and madness. We also see that the Deceivers themselves can come with a wide variety of motives and ways of living in the world, some more destructive than others. There are also more than a few humans who prove that you don’t have to be a demonic being to be evil.

While I liked all of these general aspects, I did find myself struggling with much of the book. For having so much action and adventure, the pacing also felt very slow. This is a long book, and towards the middle I was becoming more and more tempted to skim along. This is partly due to Helen’s arc itself within the story. Yes, she is new to this world and still trying to figure out who to trust and how to align herself. But she was just so indecisive, trying to play a middle field that anyone a mile away could see as a fool’s quest from the start. She also falls victim to the unfortunate and all too common martyr complex, choosing to make incredibly stupid decisions rather than, I don’t know, communicate with her friends. And for heaven’s sake, it seems all too clear who and what the Duke of Selbourn really is. Even the most naive lady of the time would be side-eyeing a man like this so determinedly not being put off by the repeated refusals and strange revelations about his lady love.

So, while I still liked much of the story, it ultimately felt a bit too long, a bit too predictable, and a bit too clumsy with its main character. But, that said, I’m still all in for the third and final book. At the very least, I can’t wait to read about Lady Helen finally waking the hell up about some things that I’m sure most readers have already guessed.

Rating 7: Falls victim to “second novel syndrome” a bit, but still has enough going for it to pull readers in for the final story.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Dark Days Pact” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Fantasy of Manners” and “YA Historical Fantasy” (though I wouldn’t classify this as YA).

Find “The Dark Days Club” at your library using Worldcat!

Kate’s Review: “Gazelle in the Shadows”

39978906Book: “Gazelle in the Shadows” by Michelle Peach

Publishing Info: Michelle Peach, April 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: I was given a copy by Book Publicity Services

Book Description: In the mid 90s, Elizabeth Booth is a young British college student studying Arabic at Durham University. With some travel and work already under her belt, she excels at her studies and is sent to Damascus to immerse herself in the language. Taken aback by the generosity and kindness of the people there, she easy slips into a life in the ancient city. She has friends, her studies, and even a handsome boyfriend. But things aren’t always what they seem. Soon, in a world where mistrust and disloyalty are commonplace, Elizabeth finds herself navigating a web of lies, betrayals, and even murder involving MI6, deadly terrorist factions, and the shadowy Syrian secret police.

Review: Thank you to Book Publicity Services for sending me a copy of this book!

I have a distinct memory of being a child and my parents watching “The Hunt for Red October” in the family room. While I normally liked to try and watch whatever movie my parents were watching at the time (which led to them chasing me out of the room on more than one occasion), I remember feeling one distinct thing as they watched that movie: “This is boring”. And I can tell you, with a couple exceptions to this rule, in general I am not a huge fan of spy and espionage fiction and non-fiction. But I can be convinced to be a bit more open and to try new things, and that is why I said ‘yes’ to reading and reviewing “Gazelle in the Shadows”. For one, Syria has been at the center of many world conflicts and current events as of late, so I figured that reading up on it, albeit a fictionalized account set a couple decades ago, may do me some good. It definitely helped that the author, Michelle Peach, has experience as a diplomat and writer in this part of the world, as I figured that she knew what she would be talking about. So I dove in, hoping that I’d be able to break my apathy towards novels like this at least a little bit. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite work.

But first I want to start with what I did like about “Gazelle in the Shadows”. I found our protagonist, Elizabeth, to be a pretty relatable character throughout the narrative. I completely bought her passion for her studies in Arabic language and cultures, and I totally believed that she would want to pursue furthering her education in Syria in spite of the hesitations that her family had. I also found her character development to be pretty interesting and realistic, and thought that her change from wide eyed student to hardened survivor to be a narrative that was compelling. I also very much enjoyed Peach’s descriptions of various aspects of life in Syria, be it the bustling market squares, or the kind and strong people that Elizabeth met along the way (I particularly liked Fatima, a friend that Elizabeth confided in for a share of the story). I did get the sense that Peach had knowledge about the culture and the time frame that the story was working within, which makes sense given her background.

But there were also things in this story that didn’t quite work for me. First was the writing. At times the dialogue felt a little bit stilted, and while there were absolutely moments where descriptions and imagery flowed and worked, there were other moments that felt choppy. It wasn’t something that completely took me out of the story as I read it, but it did give me moments of pause before moving on. I also had a hard time with some of the characterizations of the non-Western characters within the narrative. Outside of Fatima, the Arab and Syrian characters ended up being either unexplored, or devious and untrustworthy in their intentions. Some ended up being flat out demonized, and while I understand that within the time and location that this story was taking place there certainly would be people who had ban intentions, I wasn’t comfortable with the theme of ‘Western People Saving Other Western People From The Dysfunctional Middle East”. It’s the same hesitations I’ve had with movies like “Argo” and “Zero Dark Thirty” (in spite of enjoying them for the most part), and why I haven’t been able to watch “Homeland”. And at the end of the day, it has the same issue that I had with “Hunt for Red October”: this really isn’t my genre. I think that people who do like espionage thrillers would have more things to like about “Gazelle in the Shadows”, but for someone like me it’s not really my cup of tea.

“Gazelle in the Shadows” had it’s ups and downs for me, but I think that people who like espionage thrillers would find a fair amount to like about it. I would tell people to be mindful about the optics of it, but Elizabeth is an interesting protagonist that may stand out from others in the genre.

Rating 6: While the descriptions were beautiful and the author has clear knowledge on the subject, the writing was a little clunky, espionage stories and I don’t mesh well, and some of the portrayals of the various characters made me uneasy.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Gazelle in the Shadows” is not on any Goodreads lists, but I think that it would fit in with the “Jack Ryan” books and books by John Le Carre.

“Gazelle in the Shadows” isn’t listed on WorldCat, but HERE is a link to it’s Amazon page.