Book Club Review: “The Haunting of Hill House”

89717We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing bookclub running for the last several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is ‘genre mash-ups’, where we pick two random genres and try to find a book that fits both. 

For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for book club. We’ll also post the next book coming up in book club. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own book club!

Book: “The Haunting of Hill House” by Shirley Jackson

Publishing Info: Viking, 1959

Where Did We Get This Book: Audiobook from the library!

Genre Mash-up: Historical and Horror

Book Description: First published in 1959, Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House has been hailed as a perfect work of unnerving terror. It is the story of four seekers who arrive at a notoriously unfriendly pile called Hill House: Dr. Montague, an occult scholar looking for solid evidence of a “haunting”; Theodora, the lighthearted assistant; Eleanor, a friendless, fragile young woman well acquainted with poltergeists; and Luke, the future heir of Hill House. At first, their stay seems destined to be merely a spooky encounter with inexplicable phenomena. But Hill House is gathering its powers—and soon it will choose one of them to make its own.

Kate’s Thoughts

I first read “The Haunting of Hill House” in middle school, egged on by both my mother and my love for the 1962 film “The Haunting.” Even though I knew pretty much what to expect then, it still managed to creep me out, the story of a haunted house and the paranormal investigators within in giving me a serious dose of terror. Revisiting it for book club has been a real treat, especially with the recent (and VERY different) adaptation on Netflix being so fresh in my mind.

What struck me again as I listened to it is that Jackson does a really good job of not only setting up moments that are genuinely terrifying, but that she is just as good at writing the ‘down time’ moments. The slow build of the actual threat is fun to see, as Eleanor, Theo, Luke, and Dr. Montague go from mildly skeptical, to amused, to anxious, to outright horrified. The escalation, starting with doors closing on their own and cold spots turning into banging on doors and hallucinations, is slow and it burns as such, and it builds up terror in ways that few authors can achieve. Jackson holds her cards to her vest, but as she lays them out at her own pace the reader is continually caught unawares and left breathless.

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And perhaps apprehensive of any type of bump in the night. (source)

I also like how well rounded our four characters are. While it’s mostly from Eleanor’s point of view, I think that we get a pretty good sense of Theo, Luke, and Dr. Montague. The only focused upon characters (as opposed to one offs like Eleanor’s sister)  who are laughably awful are Dr. Montague’s wife, and her ‘friend’ Arthur (what is up with Arthur? Is he a lover of Mrs. Montague’s or just a weird hanger on?), as her prim condescension is laid on VERY thick and his toxic masculinity is overdone even for the original time period. But even this serves the purpose of banding our four together tighter, which makes the ultimate climax and fate of one of them all the more upsetting. My favorite is Theo, the empath with a snide streak, who may or may not be goading Eleanor on for her own amusements. Given that Eleanor is our primary character, and she is slowly slipping into obsession and madness, it’s hard to know just how manipulative Theo is, and I like the second guessing Jackson made me do (another side note: Is Theo coded as bisexual? If so, is that a facet of a too often trotted out trope of the untrustworthy bisexual? So many questions).

I quite enjoyed my second reading of “The Haunting of Hill House.” It’s a classic endeavor into the gothic/haunted house story, and I feel that it holds up pretty well after all this time. If you are interested in reading it because of the Netflix series, know that it’s VERY different. But don’t let that dissuade you. I think that it would give you a better appreciation of what the show did. In any case, it’s a spooky read for a dark night.

Serena’s Thoughts

Poor Kate is a real trooper about bookclub. As you may have noticed, our bookclub is made up of an over-abundance of fantasy readers, so that genre gets probably more than its fair share of representation in the titles we choose. Obviously this works out great for me! But it leaves Kate and a few of the others having to read out of their comfort zones quite a bit. And they’re great about it! But it’s also probably not as good for the fantasy fans among us, as well, since we’re often less challenged to read books that wouldn’t cross our paths anyways. Not so this month! We have swapped roles and here I am, in all of my magic system and unicorn-loving form, reviewing a horror novel! (Another shout out to Kate for finding an audiobook version of this for me on YouTube since the book is understandably pretty popular right now due to the Netflix adaptation and my place on the holds list at the library was getting me nowhere fast!).

Obviously, I don’t read horror stories, so I don’t have a lot of comparisons to draw from. Instead, sadly, what I do have are a lot of tired tropes that I’ve seen ad nauseum in the few horror movies that I’ve somehow watched (how, HOW, did I end up seeing not only “Saw” but several of its sequels?!). This has unfortunately tinged my perception of horror novels, and while I’m sure that the equivalent torture porn, jump-scare prone type storytelling can be found in horror fiction as in this genre of film, this was thankfully nothing like it. It feels almost insulting to type this out about what is known to be a classic work of horror literature, but I was so surprised and impressed by the writing itself.

It was through this immense strength in imagery and poetic turns of phrase that Jackson was able to rise about what is, now at least, a fairly familiar set up: a bunch of people going to a haunted house to “test” how haunted it truly was. I quickly became truly invested in the characters and the detailed descriptions not only helped create a strong sense of place, but obviously helped ratchet up the tension. And yes, tense it was! Again, I don’t have anything to compare this to as far as its creepiness level, but I, for one, was pretty spooked by a good bit of this. But because of the strong characters and even stronger writing, I was too invested to think of putting it down.

As Kate referenced as well, the ambiguity of everything that is happening only adds to the tension. Our main character becomes more and more unreliable and readers are left questioning everything they’re told. Is the house truly haunted? Is someone playing a game with them? Are they all just going mad? A lot of horror producers, mostly for film, often talk about how it’s what goes unseen that is the most scary. Once you “reveal” your monster, that original level of fear is hard to regain. And in this book, so much is unknown!

Ultimately, while this book completely freaked me out, I definitely enjoyed the push to get out there and read something that is so far outside of my comfort zone and not a book I would have ever picked up on my own. Frankly, if I wasn’t such a scardy cat, I think I could really like horror fiction, especially the type of horror that crosses over into the supernatural. Alas, I’m too chicken.

Kate’s Rating 9: A classic in horror literature that still brings readers back again and again, “The Haunting of Hill House” is a must for readers who want something scary.

Serena’s Rating 8: With no  bench mark to judge it from, I really enjoyed “The Haunting of Hill House,” especially the strength of Jackson’s writing.

Book Club Questions

  1. Why do you think each person was motivated to come to Hill House? What do you think motivates the Dudleys to stay?
  2. The house is a character itself—could some of the strange phenomena be explained by the strange construction? The history of its inhabitants?
  3. What parallels can be drawn between past inhabitants of Hill House and the current visitors?
  4. The author chooses to have several characters witness strange phenomena, making it very definite that they are happening. What do you believe?
  5. How does Eleanor’s past influence her choices and actions?
  6. What do you make of the repetition of the passage at the beginning and the end of the novel?
  7. For those that have seen adaptations of this story—how do they compare? What is good/bad/different about them?
  8. Would you spend a week in a “haunted” house?

Reader’s Advisory

“The Haunting of Hill House” is included on the Goodreads lists “Modern Gothic”, and “Haunted House Books”.

Find “The Haunting of Hill House” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Age of Swords”

32337902Book: “Age of Swords” by Michael J. Sullivan

Publishing Info: Del Rey Books, July 2017

Where Did I Get this Book: audiobook from the library!

Book Description: Raithe, the God Killer, may have started the rebellion by killing a Fhrey, but long-standing enmities dividing the Rhune make it all but impossible to unite against a common foe. And even if the clans can join forces, how will they defeat an enemy whose magical prowess makes the Fhrey indistinguishable from gods?

The answer lies across the sea in a faraway land populated by a reclusive and dour race who feels nothing but disdain for both Fhrey and mankind. With time running out, Persephone leads the gifted young seer Suri, the Fhrey sorceress Arion, and a small band of misfits in a desperate search for aid—a quest that will take them into the darkest depths of Elan. There, an ancient adversary waits—an enemy as surprising as it is deadly.

Previously Reviewed: “Age of Myth”

Review: I raved about “Age of Myth” in my review of it a few months ago. So much so that it even made its way onto my “Top 10” list for the year! Part of my enjoyment for the book was the promise of what looked to be an excellent, epic fantasy series, but one can never know for sure based on just one book. Well, as I mentioned in said “Top 10” list, I’m here with my review for the second book in the series, and I can report that yes, my enthusiasm was not unfounded!

While it hasn’t hit the fan yet, humankind knows that a conflict with the powerful, magical, and long-lived Fhrey is on the horizon. But they are woefully unprepared: they do not have weapons, they do not have a leader, and they do not have a strategy. Persephone has her own opinions on the last two, but for the weapons, at least, she has a plan. Gathering together a rag-tag group of powerful (in their own specific ways) women, she sets off to discover the secrets of making stronger weapons, a secret held by yet another antagonistic race. Raithe remains behind to deal with the squabbling clans as they work towards electing a leader. Each must face a new set of challenges that will only be one more small step in preparing their people for what feels like an impossible fight.

There are a lot of comparisons to “Lord of the Rings” in fantasy literature. And it’s pretty obvious why that is. It’s one of the few fantasy series that has truly bounced past its genre limitations, in that even readers not familiar with fantasy and sci fi are likely to have read it, or at least be passingly familiar with this story. Don’t get me wrong, “Lord of the Rings” is by no means the be-all, end-all and much of what even that great work does is pulled from a long tradition of story-telling and hero’s journeys. This is important to remember when we see elements from that series pop up in other series. Stories are all influenced by each other, and that’s ok! All of this to say that there are some pretty distinct lines to be drawn from this series and “Lord of the Rings,” and I, for one, am fine with it.

As I mentioned in my review of the first book, we have our three staple fantasy races: humans, elves and dwarves. Many of the characteristics of each is familiar from traditional portrayals. Humans are kind of pathetically (but heroically!) resilient in the face of their limitations. Elves are obviously the most powerful, but are pretty arrogant to boot. And dwarves just do their own thing, with a certain dickish flair. These are familiar traits from “Lord of the Rings” and other fantasy novels, and they hold true here. But what really got me (in a good way) in this book was that as I was reading, I just had this, fairly iconic now, scene playing in my head:

I can’t find a gif of the whole thing, but we all know what I’m talking about.

But take this scene and replace all the men with women! And then they all go into Moria, essentially, and terrifying and heart-breaking things occur. Yes, many of these things felt familiar, down to the almost all-powerful beast lurking in the depths, but frankly, I couldn’t care less just due to how awesome it was to find a band of adventurers that was completely made up of women! And they all fulfilled the same roles that you would typically find men filling in this type of group expedition. The leader. The magician. The scribe. The warrior. The inventor.

The one criticism I found here had to do with the characterization of Roan. I really like this character, over all. But it did start to feel as if she was literally inventing every new type of technology or discovery all by herself in a very short period of time. The wheel? Roan’s got it. Bows and arrows? Yep. Swords? Sure! It just got to be a bit much, especially as all of these things were invented over a very short period of time between the two books so far. I mean, at this rate, she’ll have invented computers and space technology by the end of the series!

However, I did like the ongoing gender-swapping that was going on between Persephone and Raithe. Persephone is the go-getter in this series. Through her own sheer will and persistence, action happens. Raithe is the one dragging his feet. His pessimism towards the entire affair was a bit challenging to read, but it also felt very true to his character. His experience of life has not been a happy one and, in many ways, he’s right about the seeming hopelessness of this situation. And having come from a tribe and family that rarely expected to see another day, and thus maintained only fleeting connections to those around them, the idea of fighting for a cause or for other people is a bit foreign to him. It was refreshing to see his slow growth as a heroic character, rather than have him spring up as a fully formed, capital “H” hero in the traditional sense. I’m curious to see where his story will go as things move forward.

This book also made me cry. Like, a lot. Not throughout the entire book or anything, but just really hard at one very specific part. My husband happened to walk in to the garage while I was sitting in my car listening to this particular part on the audio book (definitely wasn’t going to turn it off just because I’d, you know, gotten home!) and I’m pretty sure he thought someone had died.

And, while the plot has a lot of great action scenes and a fun arc of its own, it is also definitely continue to slowly set the stage for the series as a whole. Very little actual movement was made in the larger conflict, but we can see the pieces slowly coming into place.

I’m on the waiting list for the audiobook for the third book in the series (massive plug for the audiobook version of this series, the narrator is awesome). But part of me is also not in a huge rush for it to arrive since once I inevitably fly through that one, I’ll have to join the rest of the fans in waiting for a new book to be published. Hopefully it will be soon, but with a series as enjoyable as this one has been so far, “soon” is never quick enough!

Rating 9:

Reader’s Advisory:

“Age of Swords” is on these Goodreads lists: “Examples of Male Authors Writing Great Female Protagonists” and “Fantasy novels with positive portrayals of female leadership.”

Find “Age of Swords” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Bombshells United: War Bonds”

39208018Book: “Bombshells United (Vol.2): War Bonds” by Marguerite Bennett, Stephen Byrne (Ill.), Mirka Andolfo (Ill.), Sia Oum (Ill.), and Sandy Jarrell (Ill.).

Publishing Info: DC Comics, October 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Years ago, before she became the battling Bombshell known as Batwoman, Kate Kane and Renee Montoya loved and fought together in the Spanish Resistance, and even formed a family with their adopted son Jasón. But their lives were turned upside down, and Kate found a new life and a new love for herself in Gotham City.

Now Kate is back in Spain, working with Renee once again to save the country from a tyrannical ruler…only this time the despot has unstoppable occult powers. His name is Black Adam, and he’s lived for millennia seeking the moment he can gain control of the powers of life and death.

Batwoman, Renee and Black Adam are all defined by whom they’ve loved and lost. But beneath the ancient streets of Madrid, a mystical labyrinth conceals the means to bring life back to the dead: a Lazarus Pit. 

With this incredible power, will Black Adam gain the final piece he needs to crush the entire world under his heel? Or will the dead have their own say in it?

Writer Marguerite Bennett (Batwoman) and artists Mirka Andolfo (Harley Quinn), Siya Oum (Lola XO) and Stephen Byrne (Green Arrow) bring fan-favorite Bombshell Kate Kane back to where she began…but how much will her past define her future? Collects Bombshells: United #7-12.

Review: I’m feeling a bit morose that this is going to be the second to last “Bombshells” story collection for the foreseeable future. I’ve moved on from being angry to depressed when it comes to this series being cancelled, and I’m thinking that I’m moving closer and closer to acceptance. There are a couple of reasons for this acceptance that are more on the unfortunate side, but more on that in a little bit. Because at the end of the day I still think that it is a damn travesty that DC cancelled this title just because of how unique it is and how it covers a vast swath of characters who come from diverse backgrounds and give diverse voices to the stories they are telling. And now it sounds like I’m reverting back towards anger, so before that happens let’s get to the nitty gritty of what worked, and what didn’t, in “Bombshells United: War Bonds”.

It’s been a little while, but we once again have caught up with Kate Kane and Renée Montoya, aka Batwoman and The Question. They have moved on from their final battle and have ended up back in Spain, where they first met and fell in love. But it’s also where they lost their adopted son Jasón, when mercenary The Cheetah murdered him for the hell of it. The loss is still gaping, and while Kate and Renée have found each other again the pain lingers. I liked that we got to see their grief in this way, as something that will always be with them, even if it isn’t as all encompassing as it had been initially. This theme of grief is where the crux of this story comes in, post-Franco Spain,’s new ruler is a whole new tyrant that we know as Black Adam, who is also haunted by a terrible loss from his past. He is looking for a way to resurrect his dead queen Isis, and has heard of a pit with magical powers that can bring people back to life. But it’s Kate and Renée who stumble upon it first, finding this Lazarus pit in the middle of an underground labyrinth. And who else do they find there, but Talia Al Ghul and Cheetah. And Cheetah is there because she has brought Jasón back to life, as she is now driven by guilt and a need for forgiveness and redemption.

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Me as I realized that this kind of plot point seemed VERY familiar… (source)

Okay folks, it’s real talk time. I really, REALLY appreciate that Bennett is trying to think beyond the usual physical and violent conflict resolution that we see in superhero stories, and I understand that it’s a fun way to show that women’s roles and stereotypes of being peacemakers and nurturers can be subverted into something powerful enough to stand up against super villainy. But, for the love of God, this is the fourth time that a nemesis has seen the evil of their ways thanks to spending time with the Bombshells (or in Cheetah’s and Paula Van Gunther’s cases, just kind of needing the conflict resolution to fit an upcoming plot device), and it is getting old. I am all for redemption arcs, and I think that it’s especially important that bad women in fiction get these arcs since it feels like men do when it suits the storyteller. But I want them to be complex and interesting, not just tossed together in a moment because of peace love and understanding. It also makes it so that our cast of villains becomes smaller and smaller, and you instead need to introduce new (albeit familiar) antagonists to stir the pot, like Black Adam. I will admit that I’m not as familiar with him, as Shazam (aka Miri Marvel as she is in this story) was never a title that I got into very much. But even if I had been into him, I feel like introducing a new huge big bad at this point was just another example of fantasy bloat that “Bombshells” is starting to see more of.

That makes it sound like that I didn’t like anything about this turn of events, and that’s not totally true. Like many stories with similar themes that come before it, Kate and Renée will have to contend with the unforeseen consequences of Jasón’s resurrection. Though it isn’t full on zombie Jasón or anything like that, you do get the sense as the story goes on that perhaps things won’t be as happily ever after as Cheetah intended it to be. I also liked that for Kate and Renée, Cheetah’s actions weren’t automatically welcomed with open arms. They didn’t forgive her automatically because of this, and I thought that that was a realistic and refreshing turn of events. It’s one thing of the Batgirls or Wonder Girls  are able to take a former enemy into the fold and show them compassion. But Harvey Dent and Clayface didn’t murder their kids just for the fun of it. I thought that Bennett hit that nail on the head, that atonement doesn’t automatically earn forgiveness.

The art in this collection worked better for me than it did in “Bombshells United: American Soil”, mainly because it didn’t feel as cutesy. There were also nice moments of pondering or waxing poetic on mythology that felt more muted and subdued, and I really took to it. Maybe it helped that during one of these sequences Kate ACTUALLY ACKNOWLEDGED THAT MAGGIE SAWYER IS STILL BACK HOME WAITING FOR HER. In any case, I thought that the design worked well and added a lot to the retro style narrative.

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(source)

As mentioned above, we are only getting one more collection of “Bombshells United” before it’s over. One more. There are so many things that haven’t really been addressed across the other characters, and given that there has been a new explosion of characters I’m worried that the focus is in no way going to be brought back to where it needs to be to have a totally satisfying ending where all loose ends get tied up. And while that is in part certainly the fault of the cancellation (I’m sure that Bennett had lots of really good ideas and paths on how and when she was going to take them on), it’s also in part an example of why exploding character rosters and plot lines can come back and bite you in the butt. As I slide closer to acceptance that this series has ended, I hope that in the next, and final, issue I will walk away with some satisfaction. And that Kate, Diana, Kara, Harley, and all the rest are given their due that they so richly deserve.

Rating 6: There was a lot to like about “Bombshells United: War Bonds”, but repetitive storytelling is starting to take it’s toll.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Bombshells United (Vol.2): War Bonds” is not on any Goodreads lists as of yet, but I think that it would fit in on “Girls Read Comics”, and “Show Me Your Queers”.

Find “Bombshells United (Vol 2): War Bonds” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously Reviewed:

Serena’s Review: “The Kingdom of Copper”

35839460Book: “The Kingdom of Copper” by S.A. Chakraborty

Publishing Info: Harper Voyager, January 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss +

Book Description: Nahri’s life changed forever the moment she accidentally summoned Dara, a formidable, mysterious djinn, during one of her schemes. Whisked from her home in Cairo, she was thrust into the dazzling royal court of Daevabad and quickly discovered she would need all her grifter instincts to survive there.

Now, with Daevabad entrenched in the dark aftermath of the battle that saw Dara slain at Prince Ali’s hand, Nahri must forge a new path for herself, without the protection of the guardian who stole her heart or the counsel of the prince she considered a friend. But even as she embraces her heritage and the power it holds, she knows she’s been trapped in a gilded cage, watched by a king who rules from the throne that once belonged to her family and one misstep will doom her tribe.

Meanwhile, Ali has been exiled for daring to defy his father. Hunted by assassins, adrift on the unforgiving copper sands of his ancestral land, he is forced to rely on the frightening abilities the marid-the unpredictable water spirits-have gifted him. But in doing so, he threatens to unearth a terrible secret his family has long kept buried.

And as a new century approaches and the djinn gather within Daevabad’s towering brass walls for celebrations, a threat brews unseen in the desolate north. It’s a force that would bring a storm of fire straight to the city’s gates . . . and one that seeks the aid of a warrior trapped between worlds, torn between a violent duty he can never escape and a peace he fears he will never deserve.

Previously Reviewed: “The City of Brass”

Review: Obviously, I was excited for this book. I’ve been patiently waiting and waiting for its release, and the second I spotted an e-copy available, I rushed to snag it. And then…I delayed reading it! Mostly because I was so excited that I wanted to ensure that I had as much uninterrupted time as possible to read major chunks of it. I’m typically fairly good about being able to pick up books and read a few pages here and there throughout the day and enjoy them as much as reading any other way. But, like every avid reader, I feel, there’s nothing like having a solid chunk of hours/days solely devoted to reading. And the cherry on top of that cake is having what is sure to be an excellent read to fill it! So I waited until my husband and I headed up north for a cabin trip and then whizzed through this book in blissful, quiet hours reading by the fire.

The story picks up a few years after the events of “The City of Brass.” Our two main protagonists from the first book, Nahri and Ali, are both making due with a life that hasn’t gone to plan. Nahri, married through a political alliance to the heir to a throne that had been stolen from her family generations ago, has continued to learn to master her own healing abilities and navigate the unfamiliar historical and political upheaval at the heart of djinn society. Ali has made a quiet life for himself living in a small village, banished from his beloved home city. There, he has been diligently trying to hide the residual water powers that he has developed after his experience with the marid in the lake around Daevabad. Joining our main two narrators, we also have chapter perspectives from Dara, a character that is believed dead by Nahri and Ali after the events of the last book.

What struck me most forcefully in the first book was the complicated and detailed world and history that the author had built. This wasn’t simply a story of the now, it was a story of how hundreds and thousands of years shaped what is the current situation. Similar to the true history of the Middle East, nothing is so simple as what can bullet pointed with current tension points. No, you have to dig back through centuries to understand a complicated history that more and more begins to resemble an impossible knot. So, too, in this fantasy version of the region. The first book laid the foundation, but this one really dives into the bigger questions that arise in a situation like this, where wrong-doings have been being committed for centuries and no party is innocent. Where is the line between justice, revenge, pride, and simple violence? When atrocities have been committed for centuries, one people to be repressed by another, only to rise and switch the roles for a few more centuries, who’s “wrongs” outweigh the other’s? There is no easy answer, and Chakraborty does a masterful job of portraying just how challenging finding peace and resolution in situations so whetted in historical conflict can be.

And to tackle all of these complex themes, we have our main characters. Nahri continues to be the stand-out character for me in this series. Not only is she approaching this situation from an outsider’s perspective, often giving her the most healthy and balanced outlook on the situation, but she is an eminently practical and resilient character. Where other books would get bogged down in the angst and drama of an arranged marriage, Nahri has persevered. She knows where her power lies and recognizes the powerlessness of those around her as well; for everything else, she will make the best out of a less-than-ideal situation. I can’t say how relieved I was to find that the book didn’t get caught up in relationship drama, as far as her arranged marriage goes. Too often I think this type of romantic drama is misidentified as action in and of its own. But here, it’s clear that Nahri’s priorities are much bigger than worrying about her political marriage. She has a proper perspective on not only her own challenges, but the challenges of her people and city.

Ali, too, was still a fantastic character. If anything, I grew to like him more and more as this book continued. He, too, has had to face the realities of his own idealistic tendencies. While he still had moments where I wanted to slap him around the side of the head (because again, Nahri sometimes seemed to be the only adult in the room), his arc was compelling. I particularly enjoyed the deeper look into his relationship with his siblings.

Dara, our new character POV, was also a fantastic addition. He operates outside of the main action of the city for the majority of the story, but through him, we can see the conflict coming that both Nahri and Ali are ignorant of. Further, Dara, more so than the other two, truly understands the horrors of the past, having lived through much of it. His wrestling with these issues felt that much more poignant for having residual PTSD, essentially, from his own actions. It was heart-breaking reading him come up against some of these same terrible choices once again.

I also can’t say enough good things about the general strength of the writing in these books. Chakraborty pens her words with a solid, confident stroke. Not only is the imagery beautiful, but the dialogue is snappy and the philosophical explorations are cleverly drawn. It’s a big task to try to address such large and complicated issues as the ones presented in this book. But to do it, while also not losing sight of her characters and presenting a compelling book that feels fast-paced throughout? Incredible! Fans of the first book are sure to be happy with this one (though I will say, you have to be patient for the Dara/Nahri) re-union! The story also leaves off with a fairly sizeable cliff-hanger, so beware of that. But don’t let that put you off!

Rating 10: Simply excellent. No second-book slump here!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Kingdom of Copper” is a newer title, so it isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists, but it should be on “Fantasy of color.”

Find “The Kingdom of Copper” at your library using WorldCat!

A Revisit to Fear Street: “The Rich Girl”

1533828Book: “The Rich Girl” (Fear Street #44) by R.L. Stine

Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, 1997

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Fear Street — Where Your Worst Nightmares Live…

Emma and her best friend Sydney always share their secrets. And now they have a big one: They found a duffel bag filled with cash and swore never to tell anyone. But Sydney broke her promise — she told her boyfriend, Jason.

Now Emma is terrified. She doesn’t trust Jason. She knows he would do anything to get the money for himself.

Even if it means killing someone who gets in his way…

Had I Read This Before: No

The Plot: Sydney Shue and Emma Naylor are best friends to the end. They’ve been BFFs for years, though Sydney thinks that they’re growing apart because Emma doesn’t like Sydney’s boyfriend Jason. But they get to spend time at work together, as they both work at the movie theater. During one of their shifts, Emma is talking about how she’s worried, because her mother needs an operation on her knee, but without insurance Emma doesn’t know how they’re going to pay for it. Emma and her mother are practically broke, while Sydney lives in North Hills and therefore isn’t lacking anything (but insists that she isn’t spoiled because her parents made her get a job). Emma is also worried because the diner her mother works at six days a week is threatening to fire her because her bad knee has made her slower, and some things never really change, do they? Sydney thinks that she probably never could understand Emma’s anxieties given that she’s rich, and while I appreciate the self awareness, I wonder if Sydney could do more than just acknowledge her privilege? At the end of their shift they are taking trash out to the dumpster, when Sydney drops her charm bracelet into the heaps of garbage. She insists that Emma help her look for it, and a dumpster diving we will go! Sydney finds it, but it’s stuck to a garbage covered duffel bag. They climb out of the dumpster with the bag, and as she untangles her bracelet they notice a fifty dollar bill poking out of the sack! And when they unzip it, they find STACKS of them! By Emma’s estimation, it’s probably close to 100,000 dollars!!! Sydney is ready to turn it in, but Emma says that they should totally keep it! If they keep it her mother can have her operation, Emma can go to college, AND she can buy some nice clothes! I don’t know if I care for this ‘the poor person is going to be the duplicitous one’ development. Sydney says that it’s wrong, and Emma tells her that she wouldn’t get it because she’s RICH and of course this is chump change. To which Sydney says that hey, SHE isn’t totally spoiled or anything! After all, she has a VERY tight allowance AND has to pay for the insurance to the car that her parents got her for her birthday!

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That’s not exactly relating to the proletariat, Sydney… (source)

Emma says that if the keep it they can split it and then Sydney can spend it on whatever she wants. Sydney points out that they have no idea where it came from, and that the police could be looking for it. So Emma suggests that they hide it for now, and if they don’t hear anything about it then they go back and get it. Sydney agrees, and ladies, this could possibly end with a crazed assassin chasing you down with a captive bolt pistol.

Emma and Sydney agree to hide it out in Fear Woods, and while they are digging Sydney starts feeling paranoid. After they bury the money a raccoon jumps out and scares her, and Emma says they need to stop being paranoid. When Sydney gets home and drives her car up the long driveway and to the horse stables (but don’t worry, since they ONLY have TWO horses they converted most of the stables to a garage), she sees Jason working on her father’s Beemer. She totally forgot that they were going to study that night! She gets out of the car and he asks her why she was late, and when she tries to lie and say that she had to work late he gets VERY mad and says he knows she’s lying. He demands to know if she’s been cheating on him. Because obviously THAT’S the only reason she could be late, of course. Sydney can’t think of another good lie on the spot, so she tells him about the money. I can think of a few lies that could have worked, dummy.

  • “Emma was having a rough time because of her mother’s health issues and we had to talk.”
  • “I realized that I forgot something at work and didn’t want to wait until my next shift to get it.”
  • “It’s actually none of your business where I was.” And that’s not even a lie.

Once Sydney sings like a canary, Jason asks if it was her who found the money. Sydney says she found the bag but Emma was the one who opened it. Jason says that’s too bad, because since she has claim to it they would have to murder her if they wanted to split the money between the two of them. Okay, first of all, NONE OF YOU HAVE ANY CLAIM TO IT, and second of all, YIKES. Sydney is shocked, and Jason says he’s kidding. I, however, am not so sure.

At school the next day Sydney is a complete basket case because she can’t stop worrying about the money. But Emma is far from worried, she’s excited because there hasn’t been any news reports about it as of yet, and if that continues for two weeks it’s all theirs! Sydney says they shouldn’t talk about it so brazenly, and Emma tells her to chill out. As they are walking to class they approach the big cement staircase, a group of classmates sweeps in behind them, and suddenly Emma plummets down the steps, screaming! She lands on the concrete below, and Sydney sees that Jason is standing there, possibly smiling at this turn of events! Sydney runs down the steps to get to her friend.

Luckily, Emma isn’t dead, and after the school nurse checks her out Sydney drives her home and calls her family’s personal doctor to check her over. After he leaves, Sydney goes to sit with Emma, who confides that Jason pushed her! Sydney freezes up, and Emma asks her if she told him about the money, to which Sydney admits her dumb mistake. Emma says that he must be trying to kill her to try and get her share, and Sydney asks why he would do that given that he’s pretty well off himself, and Emma says that it’s because he’s GREEDY! Sydney doesn’t want to believe it, but she can’t help remembering what his face looked like…

Sydney confronts Jason the next day, and he says that no way, he didn’t push her! But he does admit to accidentally bumping into her, which sent her careening down the steps. He says that she’s never going to forgive him, and Sydney, relieved that her boyfriend isn’t an attempted murderer, tells him that he can just explain what happened. He suggests that he could look at Emma’s junky old car and give it a tune up as an apology, and Sydney thinks that’s a great idea! So later Sydney is back at home, and gets a phone call from Emma who tells her that Jason has fixed her car and it sounds much better now! She says that she’s still suffering from headaches, but that Jason also told her everything and she isn’t suspicious of him anymore. She then tells Sydney they should go to the mall so that she can plan out everything she’s going to buy with the money (though I THOUGHT that she was going to use it to pay for her mother’s operation and college? Both those things would eat up $50,000 I’d think). She tells Sydney to meet her at her house and she’ll drive, and Sydney agrees. After she hangs up, Jason calls and sees if she’s busy, and Sydney says she’s going to the mall with Emma in her now fixed car. Jason, of course, starts acting strange asking that she isn’t going in EMMA’S car, is she, and Sydney says yes, and he says that she should cancel and hang out with him instead! Sydney says no, and hangs up.

Sydney arrives at Emma’s house and the girls get in Emma’s junk bucket (though it sure does sound better), but as Emma is driving down a hill the brakes don’t work! Would she not have noticed this when she was pulling out of her driveway and through her neighborhood??? Regardless, the car is out of control and side swipes some other vehicles as it blasts through an intersection, and Sydney tells her to pull the emergency brake! The car eventually comes to a stop, and Emma says that it has to have been Jason! He IS trying to kill her, and while Sydney balks Emma’s fears do seem more realized. They get out and inspect under the hood, and low and behold, the break lines have been cut. Sydney admits that when Jason called her and she told him she was going to the mall in Emma’s car, he sounded strange, and for Emma that tears it! Emma says that Jason is so greedy he will probably kill Sydney next, and while Sydney doesn’t want to believe it, she starts to think maybe Emma is right. She wants to call the police, but Emma says no because she needs the money for her Mom’s operation!!

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Not even ten minutes ago you were about to hit the mall to plan out your shopping spree! (source)

Emma then has a really good idea. She suggests that, so he won’t try to kill the girls for it, that the cut him in for a third of it. That way he will get more money than he had before, but he’ll stop trying to murder her and then probably Sydney. Sydney agrees.

So they go to confront Jason about the brake lines, and he swears, SWEARS that the car was fine when he was done with it. Sydney thinks he’s telling the truth because he looks ‘so upset’, and Emma proposes that they give him a cut of the money. Jason is ecstatic! 33,000 dollars is no joke, and they all seem happy with the new arrangement. Jason then says that they should go look at the money right now! Sydney is hesitant, but the eventually decide that they can just quickly go and dig it up to take a look. By the time they get out to Fear Woods it’s dark, and Jason grabs the shovel from Sydney’s trunk and they trek out to the site. Sydney gets cold, and goes back to her car to get her sweater, but as she’s coming back she hears Emma screaming! She runs the rest of the way and sees Jason and Emma struggling! When Sydney yells at them to stop, Jason turns to look at her… and Emma smashes him in the head with the shovel! He falls to his knees, and then falls on his face. And doesn’t get up. Emma checks on him, and tells Sydney that he’s dead!! Sydney asks what the FUCK happened, and Emma says that he tried to take the money, and when she tried to stop he he went nuts. She offered him half, but he said he wanted it all and tried to hit her with the shovel! They struggled, and that’s when Sydney arrived. Sydney says that they’re murderers, and Emma says that SHE is the murderer. Sydney wants to call the police, but Emma says she will take care of everything! She will sink his body in Fear Lake and none will be the wiser! She tells Sydney to just sit and relax (?!) and she’ll take care of it. Sydney falls against a tree, and Emma buries the cash again and drags his body into the darkness. Sydney hears a splash, but then Emma calls for her. Sydney comes running, and Emma says that his body won’t sink! Sydney gives her her belt so that she can tie it to his body to attach a weight to him, but then is feeling way too sick all of a sudden to help Emma find something to weigh him down. Emma is surprisingly cavalier about the whole thing and says she’s on it. Sydney looks away, and eventually Emma finds her and tells her that it’s over.

Sydney drops Emma off, who starts to cry as it starts to hit her just what she did. Sydney assures her that no one will know what happened and that they had no choice. That seems to calm Emma down, and Sydney goes home. She tries to study for her upcoming history test, and then goes to bed. But in the middle of the night she wakes up to see waterlogged corpse-y Jason standing at the foot of her bed, glaring at her!!! She screams and jumps out of her bed, but when she turns on the light there’s no one there. Just a dream…. But then the next morning she finds muddy footprints on the floor by her bed! And they’re size JASON!!!

At school that day Sydney is telling Emma all about this, and Emma says that she has to be imagining things. A dream can’t leave foot prints, after all, and they must just be Sydney’s footprints because she was in such a daze. All day people keep asking Sydney where Jason is (AS IF SHE’S HIS KEEPER), and her guilt gets worse and worse. She ‘s sure she flunks the history test, and then when she opens her locker she finds an envelope… and inside is Jason’s class ring, all muddy!!! Sydney freaks out and shows Emma, and tells her that it was on Jason’s corpse last night when he was in her room! Emma says that she has to be mistaken, she didn’t see the ring on Jason’s hand. Maybe he left it for her yesterday, but Sydney doesn’t remember seeing it. But then again, Sydney feels like she’s going crazy! Emma tells her to calm down and not to lose it. Sydney tries to get a grip, but doesn’t have a chance in HELL of doing so because when they get to her car, they find the muddy and bloody shovel in her back seat!! Emma says that she forgot to hide it, and now they think that someone must have seen them! They get in Sydney’s car and drive back to Sydney’s house (after Sydney thinks that someone is following them for a bit). Sydney THEN finds a note in her stack of mail that says ‘I saw you in the woods, I know your name. It’s MURDERER’. Sydney starts to panic again, and Emma says that even if this person DID see them, they have no proof that they killed Jason… But then Sydney points out that they used her belt to tie a weight to him! Emma says that they can’t go back to the lake, but Sydney insists. SO, they drive back out to the lake so they can retrieve her belt. Emma leads them to the pond scummiest part of the water and says this is where she dumped him, but when Emma plunges her arms into the water to grab for him, she can’t find him. Emma insists this is where she dumped him, but the body is gone!

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Oh. I see what we’re doing here. I’ve seen this movie. (source)

Emma says that someone must have moved the body. It couldn’t be the police since they would have told Jason’s parents about his death. Sydney is on the verge of a nervous breakdown as they’re leaving.

Sydney gets home and sneaks into the house so she doesn’t have to explain to her parents why she looks like she just crawled out of the Black Lagoon. After she showers her mother tells her that she and Sydney’s father are going to a fundraiser for the evening. Sydney is happy to stew in her guilt alone, and as he goes into her room she notices that someone has tied something around her teddy bear…. And yeah, it’s her belt, with a note in Jason’s handwriting that says ‘murderer’. She calls Emma and tells her what she found, and asks Emma if she was sure that Jason was dead, and Emma says yes, she was sure, and Sydney asks if Emma believes in ghosts. Emma says that she got a note too, and it must be someone from school and Sydney can’t get hysterical. But Sydney says she’s pretty much already there, so it’s a little late for that. Emma says she’ll come over. Sydney can’t be in the same room as the belt and note, so she goes to wait for Emma on the porch. When Emma arrives Sydney takes her to her room to show her the note, but of course the note and belt are gone!!! Sydney starts to tear her room apart looking for them, and Emma watches her, telling her to stop! Sydney says that she isn’t crazy, but when her Mom knocks on the door she tells Emma she can’t let her mother see her like this, so Emma covers. Mrs. Shue says she and her husband are leaving for the fundraiser. Emma helps Sydney clean up her room, and tells her that she needs to get some sleep. Sydney says she’ll at least walk Emma out, and she watches her friend drive away. But when Sydney goes back to her room, algae and mud covered Jason is standing there! Sydney tries closing her eyes, but when she opens them he’s still there! He starts to lurch forward, rasping about how she let him die, and he descends on her.

Cut to a hospital waiting room, where Emma is sitting. When a doctor comes out, JASON is following him! The doctor says that he thought that his patient was ready to see him, but apparently not. Jason says that he’s so sad that she sees him as a monster. He and Emma leave the waiting room, and when they get to the car she asks if all is well. And he says that yes it is: Sydney is completely nuts! And they drove her to it! Yep, they faked his death and used it to drive her mad. The night after Emma and Sydney found the money, Emma went to Jason with the plan to drive Sydney crazy because she knew that her conscience would get the best of her. They figure that she’s so rich already that she doesn’t NEED the money! Plus, they’d been hooking up behind Sydney’s back for awhile, their antagonistic relationship all a ploy. Now Sydney is in a mental institution, and even if she does get out and get better, no one will believe her because she’s been diagnosed as delusional!

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I KNEW IT!!!! (source)

So the whole time it wasn’t “No Country for Old Men”, it was “Les Diaboliques”. Now that Sydney is out of the way, Jason and Emma are content to take the money for themselves and now they can really be together. They go on a shopping spree with a handful of the cash, and pick out a lot of really expensive clothes to buy! But when they get up to the cash register, the clerk laughs at the money. When Emma looks down at the cash, not only does it say ‘UNTIED STATES OF AMERICA”, it also has Ben Franklin sporting cross eyes and a backwards baseball cap. Emma is about to faint, and the sales clerk asks her if she ‘brought any real money?’ The End.

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And frankly, they deserve more shit flung their way, because they’re just back at square one and Sydney’s life has been completely fucked. (source)

Body Count: 0. I wish there had been a zombie plot line, but it wasn’t meant to be.

Romance Rating: 0. Jason was cheating on Sydney with her supposed best friend and they gaslit her to the point that she had a mental breakdown. Gross.

Bonkers Rating: 4. I am giving it a four because sure, there was a big crazy twist at the end there, but it’s, like I said, just a rip off of “Les Diaboliques”! It’s not original in any way!

Fear Street Relevance: 6. They buried the money in Fear Woods and then dumped Jason’s ‘body’ in Fear Lake.

Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:

“‘Come here!’ Emma’s voice shook with fear again. ‘You’ve got to see this!’

Sydney scrambled out of the car, rushed up to Emma, and stared under the hood. ‘Huh?’ she cried, her heart racing. ‘I don’t see anything. What are you showing me?'”

… This isn’t a cliffhanger!!! This would have been a cliffhanger if you stopped at ‘You’ve got to see this!’

That’s So Dated! Moments: Given that there is talk of pre-ACA insurance issues, I’d say that dates this, but not in a fun and kooky way. But I did have to laugh that one of the extravagant gifts that Sydney bought Jason in the past was a beeper. I feel like even for 1997 those were on the way out…

Best Quote:

“‘That’s their fourth breakup and make-up this year,’ Emma remarked… ‘Let’s see, this is April, right? They’ll probably break up and get back together at least two more times before school’s out. They’re definitely going to set a record.'”

It’s not great, but there wasn’t much to work with.

Conclusion: “The Rich Girl” was ultimately disappointing and a serious bummer in a lot of ways. It wasn’t as bad as some of the other books I’ve read in the series, but it’s definitely one of the most frustrating. Next up is “Cat”!

Rev-Up Giveaway: “The City of Brass”

32718027Book: “The City of Brass” by S. A. Chakraborty

Publishing Info: Harper Voyager, November 2017

Book Description: Nahri has never believed in magic. Certainly, she has power; on the streets of 18th century Cairo, she’s a con woman of unsurpassed talent. But she knows better than anyone that the trade she uses to get by—palm readings, zars, healings—are all tricks, sleights of hand, learned skills; a means to the delightful end of swindling Ottoman nobles.

But when Nahri accidentally summons an equally sly, darkly mysterious djinn warrior to her side during one of her cons, she’s forced to accept that the magical world she thought only existed in childhood stories is real. For the warrior tells her a new tale: across hot, windswept sands teeming with creatures of fire, and rivers where the mythical marid sleep; past ruins of once-magnificent human metropolises, and mountains where the circling hawks are not what they seem, lies Daevabad, the legendary city of brass–a city to which Nahri is irrevocably bound.

In that city, behind gilded brass walls laced with enchantments, behind the six gates of the six djinn tribes, old resentments are simmering. And when Nahri decides to enter this world, she learns that true power is fierce and brutal. That magic cannot shield her from the dangerous web of court politics. That even the cleverest of schemes can have deadly consequences.

After all, there is a reason they say be careful what you wish for . . .

Giveaway Details: I have raved on and on about my love for “The City of Brass.” So of course I did everything in my power to get my hands on the sequel, “The Kingdom of Copper,” as quickly as possible. Spoiler alert: I loved it, too! My review for that book will be coming up later this week, but to get everyone in the properly anticipatory mood, I’ve decided to host a giveaway for the first book in the series. That way, if you’re not on board this train yet (why oh why not?!), here’s your chance to get caught up before checking out the brilliant sequel!

Check out my review for “The City of Brass.”

So, without further ado, on to the giveaway! It’s open to US entrants only and will run until January 20. Good luck and happy reading!

Click here to enter to win”The Kingdom of Copper!”

The Great Animorphs Re-Read #43: “The Test”

343437Animorphs #43: “The Test”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, July 2000

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: Tobias, the other Animorphs, and Ax have seen things so bizarre that no sane person would believe their story. No one would believe that aliens have taken over Earth, and are in the process of infesting as many humans as possible. No one could believe the battles and missions and losses these six kids have had to deal with. And it’s not over yet.

Tobias has been captured by the same human-Controller that nearly tortured him to death once before. She claims that she’s now a part of the Yeerk Peace Movement. That she just needs a favor. Tobias isn’t sure what to believe, but he knows that if the Animorphs and Ax don’t find him soon, what he believes won’t matter anymore…

Narrator: Tobias

Plot: Our favorite Yeerk psychopath/torturer is back! Taylor shows up once again and is ready and able to make Tobias’s already generally miserable existence that much worse.

Oh, Tobias books. Always good for all the feels.

On one of his usual fly-overs above the woods, Tobias stumbles upon a search and rescue attempt for a small boy who’s been lost. Communicating through thought-speak with the father, Tobias successfully leads rescuers to the kid. But he’s quickly taken out by a golden eagle. Luckily, the human rescuers save the “superhero hawk,” and Tobias awakes in a cage in the clinic. He sees on TV that his rescue has become a news story and knows that odd animal behavior like this is sure to attract the Yeerks. And sure enough, soon Hork Bajir barge into the clinic and nab his cage. On their way out, they’re attacked by the Animorphs who are there on a rescue mission. In the madness, Taylor, Tobias’s torturer/nemesis from several books ago, shows up and manages to knock out Tobias with a gas and steal him away. During the madness, however, Tobias manages to acquire Taylor.

He wakes up in a grimy trailer. Taylor proceeds to try to convince him that she is on the outs with the Yeerks, and that she and other Yeerks have decided to form a rebel force against leadership that they see as failing them. They want the “Andalite bandits” to help. She then opens the cage and lets Tobias go free. He immediately heads to Rachel’s house and the two decide to meet with the others.

At Cassie’s barn, after discussing the likelihood that Taylor is cray cray, Jake leaves the decision to Tobias. He decides that they need to hear more. Using a janky computer set-up that Ax has devised, they log in to a webpage that Taylor had given Tobias and leave a message board comment agreeing to meet up. They do so at  Borders bookstore where Tobias comes in his new Taylor morph while the others take up positions around the store. The two Taylors sit down and the real Taylor begins detailing her mission: she wants the “Andalites” to morph Taxxon and tunnel down to the Yeerk pool. Then she will release a natural gas pipeline leak that will explode, killing tons of Yeerks. In exchange for their help, Taylor will get them access to Visser Three. During the meeting, however, the real girl, Taylor, briefly breaks through and tries to warn Tobias off.

At the mall, the group meets up once again to decide whether to go through with Taylor’s plan. While expressing various levels of disgust and ruthlessness, they all decide on the mission, except for Cassie who refuses to participate. She briefly mentions that large number of human hosts will be killed, but focuses mostly on the idea that the Yeerk Peace movement might also be hurt by this action. She compares it to blowing up the mall that they’re all sitting in now. This makes everyone uncomfortable, but the others see the strategic advantage as too high to miss out on.

The next day, Ax and Tobias (in Andalite morph) meet up with Taylor to acquire a Taxxon she has captured. It goes about as well as expected, with Ax having to kill the Taxxon but both still managing to acquire it. They then meet up with the other Animorphs near the natural gas station to begin tunneling. Cassie is there to see where they will be working, but will be leaving, still refusing to participate.

Tobias morphs first and struggles to control the Taxxon morph. After almost killing his friends, he realizes that he will never be able to completely control the Taxxon’s all-consuming hunger, but instead can only direct it towards tunneling, eating the dirt as he goes. As he comes up against the two-hour time limit, he is just able to regain enough control to demorph. Then it is Ax’s turn. Ax, too, manages to gain cautious control of the Taxxon and begins tunneling. However, again, close to the two hour limit, the others realize that he’s lost some degree of control because he is not responding and has not returned to the surface to de-morph. They go after him, only to discover him almost passed out at the end of the tunnel. Turns out that Taxxons, in their crazed hunger, will literally kill themselves through exhausted eating of things that don’t contain nutrients, like dirt. They manage to get him to demorph, however, and Tobias once again takes over tunneling duty.

At last, he breaks into the top of the Yeerk pool. Looking down, he sees the usual chaos of weeping hosts and the horrible pool. But he also notices a large group of humans that look oddly calm, even determined. Before he has a chance to wonder too much about this, Taylor shows up and begins taunting him and trying to convince him in joining her attempt to take over the Yeerk Empire. When he refuses, she jabs him with her paralysis gas again and runs back up the tunnel. He tries to call out to warn the others, but they respond that they’ve already been paralyzed and are helpless to do anything.

Tobias manages to drag himself back up the tunnel. He catches up to her just as she reaches the gas line, but isn’t able to stop her before she blows a hole in it and toxic gas shoots out, knocking out the air and pushing them all back down the tunnel towards the Yeerk pool. The Animorphs all manage to catch on to each other through various holds and bites, and Taxxon!Tobias scrambles to keep hold on the tunnel walls, breaking off many legs in the process. Tobais’s Taxxon body is more able to handle the lack of clean air, and he manages to drag his barely conscious friends back up the tunnel to fresh air. They realize the gas has been turned off and all demorph.

They get to the main gas building and find  Controlled!humans laying on the floor, badly injured. In a back room, they find Cassie crying. She had turned off the gas and was struggling with having to viciously attack the people in the gas building to accomplish it.

The next day, Tobias and Rachel fly to a private beach that they have discovered. Once their, Rachel demorphs and Tobias morphs his human body. Rachel confirms that Jake had told Cassie that she could warn the Yeerk Peace group, and once she had, she discovered that all of the Yeerks in the movement had organized to feed at the pool on the same days. And one of those days was the day of Taylor’s attack. Taylor had been working with Visser Three the entire time and the plan had been to take out both the “Andalite bandits” and the Yeerk Peace movement all in one hit, pinning the disaster on the Yeerk Peace participants to boot. Rachel tries to reassure Tobias that they couldn’t have known, that they operated on the best information they had, and that through their actions they saved the Yeerk Peace group. Tobias wonders if Taylor survived. But, in the end, he and Rachel hold hands and agree that they can’t worry about what is done, but only move forward.

A Hawk’s Life: Per the usual, this Tobias book deep dives into all of the issues. I think this might be a reason why Tobias, Marco, and Jake books are often listed as the most popular by other fans. Each of these three have ongoing challenges that they face throughout the entire series, and it’s a rare book for any of them that doesn’t touch on one of the main themes important to that character. Marco’s, of course, is his mother. Jake’s is his struggles with leadership and his own growing ruthlessness. And Tobias has…a bunch! And, unlike Jake and Marco, every single Tobias book has one of these issues, if not multiple, at its heart.

Not only does he have the challenges of his life as a hawk, and with it, the biggest question of all “who is he?” But he also struggles with what lead to his life as a hawk. And then, after his book before this one, he continues to feel the psychological repercussions of his capture and torture at the hands of Taylor. These last two, cowardice and the PTSD from torture, are a big focus for him in this book.

Throughout the book, Tobias struggles with his ongoing reaction to being tortured by Taylor. He sees his own reaction as one of cowardice and weakness, one that only Taylor knows. Whether she actually thinks of him this way or not, we do see her clearly taking advantage of his insecurities on these points throughout the book. In response, Tobias also insists on being the one to interact with Taylor the most. All of these thoughts come to a head when he comes up to the Yeerk pool and is looking out over it with Taylor whispering her evil words into his ear. At the same time, he sees the spot where he hid out way back in book one and became stuck as a hawk. He questions whether this, too, was a form of cowardice. That he could have done more to avoid this fate, but some part of him was too scared to go back to the challenges of the life he had before.

There’s a lot of great exploration of all of these topics, and less than what one could hope for as far as resolutions go. There are a couple throw-away lines towards the end where Tobias resolves once again not to fret about the past, but we’ve all heard that before. However, even without reaching any grand conclusions, I really enjoyed the deeper look into Tobias’s psyche and the fact that the events from his torture session are still playing large in his mind, even before Taylor shows up.

Our Fearless Leader: Jake’s got some typical “big leader moments,” what with knowing that Tobias ultimately needs to be the one to decide whether to go forward with working with Taylor, to accepting the fact that Cassie disagrees with their plan to the point of refusing to participate, but decides that the group will go on without her. There’s also a pretty dark moment, pretty important in the grand scheme of things, that if Tom is a victim of this attack, that is a risk worth taking for the larger advantage.

For all of that, this book sits very oddly with the last Jake book being the one that handled the topic of terrorism so thoroughly. Throughout his entire last book, Jake struggled with the question of terrorism and its role in warfare. He also was routinely horrified by it and saw it as one of the biggest markers of how wrong things had gone in that alternate reality. But here, in what is clearly the biggest act of terrorism the Animorphs would have ever participated in (hundreds, if not thousands, of innocent humans and Hork Bajir, and others, would die in this attack), he doesn’t seem to have any thoughts on the matter or references to his past struggles. Perhaps if his terrorism book had come earlier in the series, it would be easier to buy that he had hardened himself since then to making decisions like this. But…it was literally two books ago. It reads as really strange.

Xena, Warrior Princess: We see Rachel operating as Tobias’s primary support system throughout the book. She’s the one who constantly turns to him to see how he is dealing with the whole Taylor business, and she’s the one to talk him around in the end.

But we also seem some interesting shifts for herself throughout the book. It’s no surprise that she’s one of the first ones to be on-board for the mission when they are discussing next steps in the mall. Action is always preferred to inaction for Rachel, and she (with Marco and often Jake) is more likely to fall on the ruthless side of things as far as necessary sacrifices in war. But we also see her have a pretty major breakdown about three-fourths of the way through the book, questioning whether they are doing the right thing. It’s a really nice moment that serves as a reminder that a well-drawn portrayal of Rachel’s character can, and should, include more than just her ruthless (often shown as “mindless”) streak.

Peace, Love, and Animals: There’s some pretty good stuff for Cassie’s character in this book. One thing I did find very strange, however, was the focus of her objections when they all met to discuss Taylor’s plans in the mall. From a reader perspective, it seems pretty clear that her focus on the Yeerks Peace movement was a not very subtle way for the author to hint that that was going to come up as a thing later in the book. This group isn’t referenced too often, so it makes some sense to bring them up early on. But…as far as characterization goes, it ends up playing very oddly for Cassie herself. She gets out maybe one line about the innocent humans who will die in this attack before switching the entire rest of her argument to the  Yeerks Peace movement. And as a natural thought process or argument, it reads very oddly and makes Cassie seem to have strange, if even condemnable, priorities towards the “good” Yeerks over innocent human victims. Beyond making it seem like her own values are out of line, this argument is always going to be a harder sell to the rest of the Animorphs, who, while impressed by Cassie’s ability to form a connection with a Yeerk, have no personal attachments of their own. As a character who we know is a keen manipulator, a Cassie free from needing to do authorial work with foreshadowing would have known that pressing the innocent human line would have been a better route to convincing the others.

There’s also the moment in the end where Cassie saves them all by taking matters into her own hands. This is the kind of story that would have been great to read from Cassie’s perspective! She would have had some great insights into the humanity of choices like this with regards to the larger mission, but then would have to challenge her own values with the choice to attack human Controllers to save the Yeerk pool and her friends. Really, the more I write about it, the more I can just envision this as a Cassie book and wish we had it, especially given the general weakness of most of her books.

The Comic Relief: Marco doesn’t have a whole lot in this book. Even the number of jokes he has is pretty tamped down. This kind of makes sense since Marco is definitely one of the characters with a more peripheral relationship with Tobias.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Ax is the other Animorph to get to experience the joy that is morphing Taxxon. He manages to discover that the Taxxons have a hibernation state that allows him to gain more control over the morph, but then, in the end, he, too, succumbs to the morph and almost dies/passes the time limit when he gets stuck at the end of the tunnel. There’s also an interesting little bit where he cuts off some of Andalite!Tobias’s fur in an effort to make Tobias look less like an identical copy of Ax when they go to meet Taylor. He explains that cutting fur is a form a discipline that serves as a reminder of wrong-doing until the fur grows back out and the offense is forgotten. Just another interesting little tid-bit of Andalite society!

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: Obviously all of the Taxxon stuff. Not only morphing the disgusting Taxxon body, but the entire experience. Looking at it, though, I couldn’t help but start to wonder how Taxxons even exist, biologically speaking. The hunger thing seems to strong that it would override every other natural instinct. As we saw with Ax, Taxxons will literally kill themselves through futile eating of non-nutrient rich things, like dirt. We’ve seen them cannibalize themselves at the slightest injury as well. How are they not extinct??

Couples Watch!: We get a handful of sweet, little moments for Tobias and Rachel throughout the story. For one, the first thing he does when Taylor releases him in the beginning of the book is to fly to Rachel’s. Together, they decide what to do from there. Thoughts of Rachel are also the only thing that breaks through the hunger-haze when he first morphs Taxxons. He gets caught up in the hunger and imaging eating his friends, but when he gets to Rachel, it stops him up short and gives him just enough of a break to regain control. And then, obviously, at the end we have the two of them on their private beach, holding hands and talking themselves through what could have been a huge disaster of a mission.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: Taylor is the real villain of this book, even if the plan behind it all is laid at Visser Three’s feet. Taylor is a very interesting villain in her own right, as she was given quite a bit of page time and backstory in her first book. Here, we get further glimpses into her madness. However, many of these glimpses ultimately ended up just being frustrating teases. We get the brief break-through from the real Taylor at the bookstore, where she warns Tobias away (why this isn’t given more weight when they’re all considering what to do would also fit under the “Terrible Plan” segment). And Tobias himself wonders several times about the breakdown between Yeerk and girl. Before, Taylor was a willing host, having chosen this reality to restore her beauty. But clearly something has gone wrong since, and she’s fighting against her Yeerk. This is really interesting! And it goes…nowhere. We never get any answers to this and it’s the kind of frustrating add-on that I wish had just been cut out. It doesn’t add anything to the story as it is, but instead just leaves annoying questions in its wake, making it feel like there was much more story to be had here than what we are ultimately given.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: As we know, Tobias books are often big on the tears. This one’s discussion of cowardice and Tobias’s fears that he’s a coward at heart is pretty rough. Not only does he feel that he somehow “failed” while be tortured, exposing his “true nature” to his torturer, Taylor, but he also worries that he’s always been a coward. And that this cowardice was part of the reason that he ended up trapped as a hawk; he was too scared to approach life as a boy any longer. Beyond the obvious horrors of his human life (like living with his terrible aunt and uncle and the constant bullying), he even worries that part of him was scared of the joy, too, like being with Rachel. In some of the previous books, we’ve seen him deal with the fact that his hawk form has allowed him to keep careful control on that relationship, both to Rachel’s frustration and to his own shame. The moments when he’s hanging out above the Yeerk Pool looking directly at the spot where he hid so long ago are pretty heart-wrenching.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: There are a good number of awful plans in this book, both on the part of the Animorphs and the Yeerks. For one, as I mentioned in Jake’s section, it’s hard to buy that there weren’t more objections to the general terrible nature of the plan and the high human collateral it would entail.

Beyond that, they are all very willing to go along with a plan given to them by Taylor, someone they have a terrible history with. Not only does Taylor’s host break through at one point and literally warn them away, but they have no evidence that her plan is part of a larger revolt. They never meet any co-conspirators or see any proof that she’s not just operating on her own. What’s more, part of the carrot that is given for their cooperation is some vague promise that she will get them Visser Three. But..how? The whole explanation for her mission is that she’s on the outs. How exactly is she going to get them access to someone like Visser Three? And the Animorphs never even question this!

And then from the Yeerks’ perspective, the entire plan is very high risk, questionable reward. We know that Visser Three is happy enough to off Yeerks that displease him, but loosing the entire Yeerk Pool seems a bit much, even for him. Sure, he’s wiped out the Yeerk Peace movement, but he has to report back to the Council of Thirteen that a guerrilla group managed to blow up the entire Yeerk Pool under his watch…and bizarrely took themselves out with it? Not only does it not make sense, but it doesn’t paint in him a very good picture, and as we already know that his methods have been coming under question, it’s hard to see how this would benefit him. Beyond that, through Taylor’s successful contact with the Animorphs, there were much easier ways to simply lead that group into a trap. The successful capture of the “Andalite bandits” would do a whole heck of a lot more for him than taking out some Yeerk Peace movement members while losing the entire pool. And would have been super easy to pull off, considering how “all in” the Animorphs were with Taylor’s plan. I mean, at one point they were all lying paralyzed on the floor! How easy would it have been for Visser Three to swoop in and simply gather them all up?

Favorite Quote:

This book had a lot of good ruminations on a variety of topics, but I think some of the better parts had to do with fear and evil when Tobias was analyzing what makes up the heart of the Taxxon psyche and evil in general:

Yes, a fear. . . grossly exaggerated … beyond anything humans experience .. . a desperate fear of not having enough .. . a terror of starvation .. . a horror that your essential needs will go unfulfilled .. . a horror demented and contorted by the Taxxon mind until it became a sick, murderous evil.
Evil, even the worst evil, has banal origins every human can understand. Weakness. Fear. Insecurity.

Ax hooks up a janky computer set-up in the woods to contact Taylor initially, and the event ends with this utterly quotable line:

<The computer has, as you say, crashed,> Ax announced coolly.

Scorecard: Yeerks 11, Animorphs 15

No change! Both the Yeerks and the Animorphs had terrible instincts and plans in this book. I could easily justify taking a point away from each of them, but as that makes not overall difference, we’ll just leave things as they are.

Rating:  For all that it falls apart if you really start looking at things closely (like both the Animorphs’ and the Yeerks’ reasoning for all of these events, and the biological impossibility of the Taxxons), I really enjoyed this book. As I’ve repeatedly mentioned, Tobias books are always good for a deeper look into a variety of pretty tough topics. And, unlike Cassie books, usually avoid coming off as preachy or self-righteous. For that matter, as I mentioned in the Cassie section above, this book would have succeeded tackling many of these topics AS a Cassie book. But I particularly enjoyed the analysis of fear and cowardice, and Tobias tying all of these various factors together in his worries that he is a coward: his being caught as a hawk, his handling of being tortured by Taylor the first time, how he has handled the events of this entire book. Just a lot of good stuff!

Note: I’m not going to rate these books since I can’t be objective at all!