The Great Animorphs Re-Read #34: “The Prophecy”

366782Animorphs #34: “The Prophecy”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, October 1999

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: Cassie’s losing her mind. But she’s gaining the mind of another. Aldrea — daughter of Seerow, Andalite Prince. Aldrea’s persona, her memory, and a valuable bit of information now belong to Cassie.

Narrator: Cassie

Plot: Another book where I only had vague memories! Most notable, perhaps, was my lack of memories at being frustrated by a Cassie book, which had been the standard for the last few. And there’s a reason! I think this, so far, is the best Cassie book in the series! I always want to give book #4 credit for introducing Ax, but, really, it’s not that great what with the magical whale nonsense and some of Cassie’s “ponderings” on the morality of morphing dolphins. Is the fact that this is only half a “Cassie book” since she shares the narrative with Aldrea part of the reason I enjoyed it?

But I also think it’s legitimately one of the better ones for Cassie herself. Let’s dive in!

We start with the required mini-adventure that seems to lead off all the books now. This time it’s cat!Rachel and rat!Cassie invading a teacher’s house to retrieve a piece of paper with an “I love Jake” doodle that Cassie accidentally turned in with her homework. Teasing happens, but they manage to retrieve it.

Back at the barn, Cassie is surprised to find Jara Hamee waiting for her. He’s come to fetch the Animorphs to the Hork Bajir valley where something shocking as occurred: an Arn, the alien species that created the Hork Bajir long ago, has arrived and has a request.

The Animorphs all fly to the valley. Once there, Toby, the Hork Bajir seer, explains that the Arn arrived out of nowhere in a stolen Yeerk ship and wants the Hork Bajirs’ help, but she wanted the Animorphs’ insight before making any decisions. The Arn claims to be the last of his species. But he doesn’t want to go quietly into the night and has come up with a way to try to reclaim his, and the Hork Bajirs’, home world. Before Aldrea and Dak died, they had managed to capture a Yeerk ship that was loaded with weapons. With these, the Arn proposes to gather some Hork Bajir DNA and create another guerilla warfare combatant group on the home world that can fight the Yeerks who remain there. The Hork Bajir are all willing to contribute DNA. But the hold up becomes clear: the Arn doesn’t know where the cache of weapons was hidden, only Aldrea herself knew this. But, luckily (?) for everyone, before she died, Aldrea had her personality/memories transferred into this jar thing that can be used to bring her back, sharing the mind and body of a host. Once she locates the weapons, she can be returned to the jar. The danger is that Aldrea herself will need to choose to leave her host body, making it quite a risk.

Rachel, of course, volunteers, as does Toby. After some debate, they all agree it’s for the best, and the ritual begins. But it is Cassie who is chosen. Caught completely by surprise, Cassie still knows that the only choice she really has is to accept. From this point onward, the story breaks into alternating chapters between Cassie and Aldrea.

Sharing minds and bodies, Cassie and Aldrea struggle to find a balance. Aldrea is shocked, confused, and scared by this sudden turn of events. From her perspective, she was just alive, with Dak and their child Seerow on the Hork Bajir homeworld. She’s now awoken to find herself in the mind of an alien girl, years later, and that both her son and husband are long dead. Her, too. There is also a lot of tension and mistrust between Ax and Aldrea. But eventually, they explain what they need from her. Aldrea is able to keep some of her thoughts private and realizes that she doesn’t know where the cache is, it was hidden after she had transferred her memories. But still wanting to travel back to her home, she agrees to the mission anyways.

The Arn, Toby, and the Animorphs all take off in the Yeerk ship on their way to the Hork Bajir world. The Chee remain behind to pose as the Animorphs while they’re away. Days later, when they arrive, they get in a brief battle with an Andalite ship that is patrolling near the Hork Bajir home world (the Andalite only sees the Yeerk ship). They manage to escape by using Aldrea’s skills as a pilot and markswoman. This gains her further trust with the group. She also begins to appreciate Jake’s leadership skills as he makes calls.

On the home world, Aldrea is shocked and saddened to see the destruction the Yeerks have brought to her planet. Many of the trees have been razed and the land is barren in many places. The Arn leads the group down into one of the deep trenches where his civilization used to exist. As they discuss next steps, the mental barrier between Aldrea and Cassie slips for a second and Cassie realizes that Aldrea lied, and doesn’t know where the cache is. The other are furious and say that Aldrea has lost their trust.

There is nothing to be done, however, but to move forward with Aldrea’s best guess as to where she might have hidden it. They all morph Hork-Bajir and swing through the massive forest. Aldrea leads them to the valley that used to be her home with Dak and Seerow. But the Yeerks have destroyed it, razing the trees and damming up a portion of the valley to now serve as a Yeerk pool. Aldrea is crushed, the reality of her situation finally hitting home. However, she is able to spot one tree that is part of the dam that has a marking that she and Dak had put on it. That’s where the cache would be. The problem is that the entrance to the hollowed out tree is on the other side, submerged in the Yeerk pool itself.

Jake and the others come up with a crazy plan. Aldrea calls it crazy and is horrified when they decide to move forward. Cassie tells her that they been pulling off crazy missions for quite a while now, and that she trusts Jake’s leadership skills. The team sets up to put the plan in action. Of course, it all relies on Cassie and her unique morphing skills.

All of the Animorphs morph bugs and climb into osprey!Cassie’s mouth. She then flies as high as she can above the Yeerk pool and then begins to let herself fall. As she falls, she slowly begins demorphing, saving her wings for last. At one point, she manages to completely demorph her lower half and begin the whale morph, all while still retaining her wings. As they fall, Aldrea is in awe of what Cassie is managing, never having heard of anyone being able to control their morphing like this. But as Cassie draws things out (to avoid being spotted as a human girl somehow on the Hork Bajir planet), Aldrea begins to panic and tries to take control of Cassie’s body. Cassie manages to not only continue her complicated morph but shut down Aldrea’s attempts as well. Finally, fully whale, Cassie lands in the Yeerk pool. In her huge mouth, the other Animorphs begin their next morphs. She surfaces and Ax, Andalite!Tobias, and Hork Bajir!Marco leap out onto the dam and start fighting off the Yeerks. Shark!Jake and shark!Rachel take care of the Taxxons powering towards them in the water. Lastly, Aldrea/Cassie demorph from whale and morph back to Hork Bajir. In this form, they are able to open the secret door into the tree and they all escape into it. There they find the Yeerk shop and the cache of weapons.

There is only one way out, however. They all load into the ship and blast their way out, creating a massive sink hole into which thousands of Yeerks are sucked down to their deaths. Cassie mourns this and Aldrea, again, wonders at these humans. When they get back to the Arn’s home, Aldrea knows that it is time. After seeing her home destroyed and realizing there is nothing for her in this life (and that she cannot wrestle control away from Cassie), she agrees to return to the jar. She also insists that Toby, her remaining kin, not stay on the Hork Bajir home world. She wants one family member, at least, to not get caught up in a guerrilla war. With the Animorphs’ help, she puts on a scene saying she is trying to take over Cassie. Ax grabs Toby and tells Aldrea that they are keeping her as a hostage if Aldrea doesn’t leave. Aldrea leaves Cassie and slowly fades away. The other return, knowing that Toby will realize it was a trick, but that by then it would be too late.

Peace, Love, and Animals: This is actually a really good book for Cassie. The personal arcs/plot points fall directly into her wheelhouse. And the action itself is of the kind that could be accomplished only by her.

In the beginning, she is sure that Aldrea’s spirit won’t choose her. Aldrea was known as an independent, fierce woman. Naturally, they all assume she’ll gravitate towards Rachel or Toby. After being chosen, Cassie then spends most of the rest of the book wondering why she was chosen. As Aldrea begins to push the boundaries on controlling Cassie’s body, Cassie begins to suspect that Aldrea must have sensed some sort of weakness in her, one that she could exploit to remain in the living world. But it is only in the end when Cassie asks Aldrea that she finds out the truth: Aldrea can’t know for sure, as she wasn’t consciously choosing, but she suspects that she knew she would be tempted to stay and that she needed to be with someone who could remind her of her own “humanity” essentially and strong enough to show her that. I think this fits very well with Cassie as a character.

Also, Aldrea really struggles throughout this book, as would be expected for someone who just woke up years later and finds out they have lost everything. Cassie’s simple sorrows for her and empathy are comforting to Aldrea. Lord knows Rachel wouldn’t have pulled that off. And Toby would also have had some self-interest involved in a way that Cassie’s simple focus on supporting Aldrea’s emotions didn’t.

The morphing scene at the end was also awesome. We’ve seen Cassie pull off some amazing stunts before (all seemingly involving morphing whale while falling from the sky), but what she manages here takes it to a new level. I don’t believe we’ve ever seen her (or obviously, anyone) pull off morphing two different animals at once, getting her legs fully human and started up on whale while her arms are still osprey and waiting to go through the human stage. It’s pretty incredible and Aldrea’s own shock and awe is a nice cipher for readers to understand how truly extraordinary what Cassie is pulling off is. Throughout the book, Cassie also notes to herself that even while she has a particular talent, the Animorphs in general are all probably morphing experts, as compared to the Andalites who rarely actually use the ability, including Aldrea.

Aldrea: It’s great having another book with Aldrea in it. Through her memories, we get more insight into what her and Dak’s life was like with their baby before the end of everything. Obviously, we know it ended tragically, but there are some sweet moments between the two that we get to see through her memories and dreams.

She is also, understandably, dealing with a lot of anger, confusion and denial throughout this book. She’s never even heard of humans and now suddenly she’s on their planet inside the body of one. She’s rightly skeptical of the Arn’s motivations for his whole plot, and sees the Animorphs as children and finds it difficult to trust and follow their lead. Further, she and Ax have an ongoing conflict, each looking on the other with a sense of distaste.

The space fight scene is a good moment to highlight her skills as a combatant, and while they are all in Hork Bajir morph on the planet, we see just how comfortable she is in that form, having truly adopted it as her own.

We also see her struggle with the idea of returning to her unconscious state. She never outright plots to take over Cassie, but when, in a moment of panic, she tries to take over while they’re falling through the air, the realization that she actually can’t is a helpful push for her to realize just how wrong what she had been considering was.

It’s also a nice touch, in the end, for her to feel so strongly about Toby returning to Earth, not wanting the same life for Toby as the one Aldrea lead.

Our Fearless Leader: Jake really highlights his strength by repeatedly standing up to Aldrea. It’s mentioned several times that she’s essentially a war hero straight out of history. So it’s natural that there might be tension regarding who makes the calls. Jake never wavers, however, and as the story progresses, Aldrea begins to see why he has been so successful for as long as he has and why the other Animorphs trust his judgement with some of their more crazy plans.

Xena, Warrior Princess: Rachel, of course, volunteers immediately and is very confused when she isn’t chosen. She outright asks Aldrea about it early in the book, but Aldrea doesn’t really know at that point. Along with Jake, Rachel is also the most on the alert for signs that Aldrea may be trying to take over Cassie or not give her up. There were a few instances when Aldrea talked from Cassie’s mouth and Rachel was immediately angry and upset, insisting that she let Cassie back.

A Hawk’s Life: Tobias doesn’t have much in this book, other than it being recognized that he is the closest to the Hork Bajir and the one who had heard Aldrea’s story from Jara Hamee originally. When they’re all on the Hork Bajir planet, he stays in hawk morph and struggles to navigate around the massive trees.

The Comic Relief: Marco also doesn’t have much. He has a few good one-liners here and there. His usually commentary on how insane all of their plans are. And there is a moment when Jake is in the middle of a big “leader” speech where he interrupts him to make a joke. Cassie notes this as a good service that Marco provides his best friend when he thinks Jake is getting too serious or caught up in things.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Ax struggles the most with the appearance of Aldrea. His normal Andalite arrogance is amped up when presented with the daughter of the Andalite who essentially created the Yeerk threat. Not only does he have the usual Andalite disdain for Seerow, and through him, his daughter, but his own prejudices regarding Andalite superiority are on display. He cannot understand why an Andalite would choose to live as a  Hork Bajir. Aldrea does a good job calling him out on both of these fronts, noting that Elfangor did the same by giving the Animorphs their powers and naming his prejudice for what it is with regards to her decision to become a Hork Bajir. By the end of the book, both have come to an understanding and appreciation for the other, but it’s rough there at the start.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: Cassie has one of her biggest moments of panic and horror when Aldrea takes over the morphing process when they morph wolf back on Earth as a practice run. For the first time, the morphing process is described as being painful, likely largely due to the psychological strain of having one’s body go through that but not to be in control of it. Probably especially for Cassie, as she is used to having more control over the process in general than any of the rest of them, so to have it completely out of her hands…

Couples Watch!: Obviously there’s the bit in the beginning when they’re fetching the love note. Maybe aware that Tobias/Rachel jumped the “using the ‘L'” word hurdle in the last book, it is noted here that Cassie and Jake have kissed other times (though usually just after battles) and, while they haven’t told each other, they both know they love each other.

Unfortunately, what should have been big miles stones for these two (but AGAIN, all of that supposed kissing happened off screen, so I’m still calling these two the wet blanket couple of the bunch) are over-shadowed by the much-more compelling and adult-feeling relationship between Aldrea and Dak. Not only do they have a whole book of backstory for the two of them together, but Aldrea’s emotions and memories of Dak just feel deeper and more meaningful.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: Another book without Visser Three! Really, this is one of the few books that had no main villain. Like we saw in the last book, sometimes other Controllers step in for the villain role, but here we don’t have much other than the generic Hork Bajir and Taxxon Controllers they all fight in the end. And even there, Cassie/Aldrea are never really in that battle. But the Arn is viewed with quite a lot of suspicion from everyone. He says he is the only one left, and they all question his motivations for wanting to start up another guerilla war with the Hork Bajir serving as warriors. What’s in it for him? It’s not like the Arn have a great history about caring for anyone other than themselves, especially not the Hork Bajir. He also has an unfortunate habit of referring to the planet as only his own. Though, to be fair, they were there before the Hork Bajir. So while it’s the Hork Bajirs’ home, too, they can’t really deny the Arn some ownership of it. But, in the end, there doesn’t appear to be anything to all of this suspicion, and while the Arn is still arrogant and a bit off-putting, his claims seemed to be true.

An example of his sliminess, when they are discussing who needs to make the trip to the Hork Bajir planet:

“But she is just a vessel,” Quafijinivon [the Arn] said with a sort of greasy smile. “Why would you humans need to come?”

<Because you think she’s nothing but a vessel, that’s why,>  Tobias said.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: The scene where Aldrea first sees what used to be her, Dak, and Seerow’s home, now converted to a Yeerk pool of all things. It’s pretty crushing. Especially because up to this point, some small part of Aldrea has been in denial about her situation. Seeing it really makes it hit home what she’s lost and how far removed she is from everything she knew. It’s really tragic when you think about it. To her, she had just minutes ago been alive and well, transferring her memories. And now it’s all gone. Her husband is dead. Her son went on to be taken by the Yeerks and die in captivity. Her home is a freaking YEERK POOL. The tree in which she and Dak essentially carved “A hearts D” is part of the dam itself!! It’s rough. And then, in the end, she has to choose to return to oblivion, not knowing if she’ll ever wake again.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: The plan with Cassie’s morphing feats was really awesome. The plan to trick Toby was…really not. It all happens in about two pages and it just doesn’t make sense. I feel like Toby knows that Ax threatening her is an empty threat, so it’s hard to believe she’d fall for it. Beyond that, I have to think she’d be more open to an honest conversation with Aldrea and none of it might have been necessary. Beyond that, once she does learn the truth, I’d think the fallout would be massive. That’s a HUGE betrayal by the Animorphs. And it’s only made worse by the general way that Hork Bajir have been mistreated in the past, manipulated by “smarter” species “for their own good.” I have to believe that Toby would see it as such and have a hard time forgiving them all for taking away her agency.

Favorite Quote:

Aldrea notes with some confusion the Animorphs’, and Cassie in particular, sadness over the death of all the helpless Yeerks in their pool. It’s over this concept that Ax and Aldrea begin to understand each other:

<Let  us agree,  then,  that all  civilized  species must share a  hatred of war,> Aximili said.

Funny AND super dated moment. Marco expresses an opinion that does not hold up well!

<He [the Arn] had to come. Star Wars: The Phantom Menace isn’t coming out on DVD there for, like, two years. He buys up a bunch of copies here, takes ’em home, makes a fortune.>

<Good grief, Marco, you live science fiction, why do you want to watch science fiction?>

<Don’t be dissing TPM,> Marco said. <Cool is cool.>

Scorecard: Yeerks 8, Animorphs 14

This is a big win for the Animorphs. Like huge. Having another battlefront break out on the Hork Bajir home world will be a huge help in dividing the Yeerk’s attention and assets. Plus, as sad as they all are about it, they took out a good number of Yeerks in the process.

Rating: I actually really enjoyed this book! All of Cassie’s strengths were utilized in excellent ways, and of course, it was great having the character of Aldrea back, if only briefly. I’m not sure why I forgot this one as much as I did, given how much I liked it this go around. But I was definitely pleasantly surprised.

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: “The Invasion”

35292343Book: “The Invasion” by Peadar Ó Guilín

Publishing Info: David Pickling Books, March 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: After so much danger, Nessa and Anto can finally dream of a happy life. But the terrible attack on their school has created a witch-hunt for traitors — boys and girls who survived the Call only by making deals with the enemy. To the authorities, Nessa’s guilt is obvious. Her punishment is to be sent back to the nightmare of the Grey Land for the rest of her life. The Sídhe are waiting, and they have a very special fate planned for her.
 
Meanwhile, with the help of a real traitor, the enemy come pouring into Ireland at the head of a terrifying army. Every human they capture becomes a weapon. Anto and the last students of his old school must find a way to strike a blow at the invaders before they lose their lives, or even worse, their minds. But with every moment Anto is confronted with more evidence of Nessa’s guilt.

For Nessa, the thought of seeing Anto again is the only thing keeping her alive. But if she escapes, and if she can find him, surely he is duty-bound to kill her…

Review: I was so very pleasantly surprised by Peadar Ó Guilín’s novel “The Call” that when I found out that it was getting a sequel I was on pins and needles for it to be released. His take on a malevolent and violent faerie world was something that I hadn’t seen before in such brutal and disturbing fashions, and it definitely took the concept of faerie worlds and put it in a dark reality, all while making their rage somewhat understandable. I also loved our protagonists Nessa and Anto, friends and would be boyfriend and girlfriend who beat the odds when they were ‘called’, Anto being a pacifist and Nessa having a disability because of childhood polio. Plus, the concept of humans being the actual monsters at the heart of that book (in the form of violent misogynist Conor) is a theme that I always enjoy. It combined into one of my favorite reads of that year. So when “The Invasion” showed up in my holds, I waited a little bit to savor the anticipation of revisiting Nessa, Anto, and the Sídhe of the Grey World.

Perhaps I put too much anticipation into it, because ultimately, I was kinda disappointed with “The Invasion”.

giphy17
Why have your forsaken me? (source)

I do want to give “The Invasion” credit where credit is due. Ó Guilín is relentless in his portrayal of war and violence, and the price of war for those who are part of it. While Nessa and Anto think that perhaps they can live their lives out together and have a happy ending, the Irish Government has other ideas for both of them. Anto is recruited to fight against the invading Sídhe (against his will), even though he has survived the Call with a disfigured, giant arm and is a pacifist at his heart. And Nessa is assumed to be a traitor, because they don’t believe that a girl whose legs were weakened because of childhood polio could have POSSIBLY survived The Call without making a deal with the enemy, and so she is carted off to a life in prison, and then to be sent to the Grey Land as punishment. While it was a super bummer to see that these two are probably not going to get their happy ending together, I appreciated that Ó Guilín doesn’t try to sugarcoat how a reality these two are living in would actually be. He still keeps the violence and disturbing imagery and themes up to a solid eleven, and there were many times that I pretty much squirmed in my seat while reading this book. I also liked seeing Aoife have more of a role in this book. In “The Call” she is merely the mourning girlfriend to Nessa’s best friend Emma. In “The Invasion”, she is with Anto and other classmates of their old school, and she is becoming a warrior out of necessity, even though she is questioning so much. Her character arc was very satisfying to see. We also get to see more of the flora and fauna of The Grey Land itself, beyond the evil faeries. I liked Ó Guilín’s world building here and found it to be as creative as it was messed up.

But there were so many things about this book that didn’t make it feel as satisfying as I wanted it to be. As much as I appreciate that realistically Nessa and Anto are going to have obstacles, I wanted to see them together. I wanted to see them adjusting to life after The Call, but they really didn’t have much interaction outside of the two of them pining for each other. And I found myself frustrated with Anto’s storyline, Aoife aside. Yes, I appreciate Ó Guilín portraying war the way that it should be portrayed, I just didn’t care about Anto and his compatriots fighting on the front lines. ESPECIALLY since some things happen with Liz Sweeney, the mean girl from the first book who is still pretty much awful. And Nessa herself didn’t get as much credit this time around. She got some cool accolades and I did like her new adventure in The Grey Land, but I felt like she didn’t really get much to do. And she deserved so much more than she got.

Overall, “The Invasion” probably ended Nessa’s and Anto’s story realistically, wrapping it up and pretty much tying all the loose ends up as well. But it felt abrupt, and I wanted more, and not in a good way. I appreciate choosing the end that he did, but wish it had felt more like a worthy successor to “The Call”. I’ll definitely give another book by Peadar Ó Guilín a try, but I had wanted more from this.

Rating 6: A sequel that focuses on the price of war and how it tears people apart, “The Invasion” is a not as satisfying conclusion to “The Call”. While it didn’t live up to the first of the two, it was a realistic follow up.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Invasion” isn’t VERY new but isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists for some reason. But I think it would fit in on “Books About Faery”, and “Best YA Fantasy Series About The Fae”.

Find “The Invasion” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously reviewed: “The Call”

Serena’s Review: “Beast: A Tale of Love and Revenge”

31019831 Book: “Beast: A Tale of Love and Revenge” by Lisa Jensen

Publishing Details: Candlewick Press, July 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: ARC from the publisher

Book Description: They say Château Beaumont is cursed. But servant-girl Lucie can’t believe such foolishness about handsome Jean-Loup Christian Henri LeNoir, Chevalier de Beaumont, master of the estate. But when the chevalier’s cruelty is revealed, Lucie vows to see him suffer. A wisewoman grants her wish, with a spell that transforms Jean-Loup into monstrous-looking Beast, reflecting the monster he is inside. But Beast is nothing like the chevalier. Jean-Loup would never patiently tend his roses; Jean-Loup would never attempt poetry; Jean-Loup would never express remorse for the wrong done to Lucie. Gradually, Lucie realizes that Beast is an entirely different creature from the handsome chevalier, with a heart more human than Jean-Loup’s ever was. Lucie dares to hope that noble Beast has permanently replaced the cruel Jean-Loup — until an innocent beauty arrives at Beast’s château with the power to break the spell.

Review: Oof, another challenging “Beauty and the Beast” retelling. I think I could probably write an entire PhD on the pitfalls of re-telling this fairytale. When I first saw the book description, I was excited to read a version that was seemingly focused on an entirely new character, not “Beauty” herself. And while that aspect was still interesting, the book itself was very difficult to read and I will have a hard time recommending it to others, unfortunately.

Lucie is a servant in the house of the rich lord, Jean-Loup. After a horrific event, she is the one to wish the worst on her master, resulting in him turning into a beast, and her into a sentient household item. As time passes, she begins to suspect that this new, beastly version of her master might not be the same, and when a stranger arrives on the scene, the world begins to change once again.

So this is obviously not a positive review, but there are a few things I’d like to highlight as positives for this book. One, I still very much appreciate the originality behind the concept of this story. We’ve all read a million and one versions told from various “Beauty’s” perspectives. Some are better than others, but the basic construct is the same. They all arrive on the scene, confused and scared. And slowly come to change their minds and fall in love with the Beast. Here, Lucie knows Jean-Loup before his change and her experiences with him as a Beast are from the perspective of a servant, not the traditional heroine’s role. What’s more, Lucie isn’t even the “Beauty” in this story, and that character does make an appearance and play a part in the story unfolding. It’s a very creative take on things, and I truly wish that other choice had been made that would have allowed this new version to stand well on its own.

Further, I did like the writing for the most part. The “voice” fits well with the re-telling of a fairytale. It verges on rather simplistic and “younger” sounding, but I think that, done right, this tone actually works really well for fairytales which can be unique for having a different cadence, such as this. However, the writing also directly lines up with some of my major criticisms of the book.

It is very simplistic and straight forward. As I began reading, I started thinking “Huh, ok. So this is maybe more of a middle grade version of ‘Beauty and the Beast.’ Great!” Mentally, I started aligning it with the words of Shannon Hale, who’s written a bunch of fairytales, many of which have a younger-sounding voice and simple story-telling technique. But alas, this comparison died a sudden, very harsh death only a few chapters into the story.

(This might be a spoiler, but it’s pretty crucial to understanding the negative reaction I’ve had to this book, so if you want to go in blind, skip the rest!)

The prologue to the story sets it up that Lucie is the one who directed the fairy to go “all in,” as it were, on the curse on Jean-Loup. So we know that something awful has to happen to inspire this level of hatred. And something awful does indeed happen, in the form of a graphic sexual assault scene.

This was shocking to see on several accounts, but not least of all is the direct contradiction that the graphic nature of this scene lays across the middle-grade nature of the writing itself. I was mentally comparing this book to Shannon Hale, of all people, based on the writing style itself. The most sweetest fairytale writer you can find! And that’s a problem. Likely, the type of reader who is going to appreciate the tone of this writing style is going to verge younger. Even for me, a fan of middle grade and YA fiction, I was distracted by the simplistic nature of this writing. So those who may truly enjoy it are going to be young. And then you get a scene that could have been straight out of “Game of Thrones.” It’s going to be tough to read for even the most hardened among us who are semi-used to running across scenes like this in adult fantasy, let alone younger readers. But, on this side of things, readers who are prepared for this type of dark scene, are likely going to be completely turned off by the young-sounding writing. So there’s a contradiction there where the writing and content are, conversely, going to turn off both options for a reader-base.

Beyond this, I have problems with the actual story line, having included a scene like this as the basis for Lucie’s hatred of Jean-Loup. For all intents and purposes, Lucie ends up as the romantic interest for the Beast, instead of Belle. The book tries to roll out the tried and true rug of “magically separated/changed selves” that would absolve the Beast of past actions, as he is now no longer truly that person. I will always struggle with this type of wand-waving. Regardless of the fact that the “reasons” that Lucie points to as evidence that these two beings are inherently different are horribly minor (like food preferences and fears of spiders), there’s always going to be an insurmountable hill, in my mind, between forgiving an attacker (a hard ask on its own) and falling in love with him. I just can’t get behind that story, and I don’t think this book did nearly enough, even, to highlight any exception that could be made.

While the latter argument could be a matter of personal preference (though I still don’t think there is a huge swath of readers out there who are just searching for that great tale highlighting a victim falling in love with her attacker), my first point about the very real conflict between writing style and content is enough for me to give this a low rating. I honestly just have a hard time really focusing in on who exactly the audience is supposed to be for this book. At the very least, I wasn’t part of it.

Rating 4: Not for me. I don’t think this is a message we want to send out, regarding victims and their attackers, and the writing style was in direct conflict with the content.

Reader’s Advisory:

Again, honestly, if you want a good “Beauty and the Beast” retelling, go read “Beauty,” (the classic, in my opinion), “Heart’s Blood,” (by may favorite author, Juliet Marillier), or “Hunted” (for a more recently published option).

Find “Beast: A Tale of Love and Revenge” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Kate’s Review: “Give Me Your Hand”

29569206Book: “Give Me Your Hand” by Megan Abbott

Publishing Info: Little, Brown, and Company, July 2018

Where Did I Get This Book:  I received an ARC from NetGalley

Book Description: A mesmerizing psychological thriller about how a secret can bind two friends together forever…or tear them apart. 

Kit Owens harbored only modest ambitions for herself when the mysterious Diane Fleming appeared in her high school chemistry class. But Diane’s academic brilliance lit a fire in Kit, and the two developed an unlikely friendship. Until Diane shared a secret that changed everything between them. 

More than a decade later, Kit thinks she’s put Diane behind her forever and she’s begun to fulfill the scientific dreams Diane awakened in her. But the past comes roaring back when she discovers that Diane is her competition for a position both women covet, taking part in groundbreaking new research led by their idol. Soon enough, the two former friends find themselves locked in a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse that threatens to destroy them both.

Review: I want to say a special thanks to NetGalley for sending me an eARC of the book!

Megan Abbott is one of those authors that I want to call a sure thing, but can’t quite do so as of yet. While I loved her book “The Fever”, I wasn’t into “Dare Me” at all in spite of the fact that there were a number of bitchy mean cheerleaders at the center of it. Then I read “You Will Know Me” (reviewed HERE),and I was once again into her soapy and thrilling narrations of bad people making worse choices. I do love books like that, after all. So when I requested an ARC of “Give Me Your Hand”, her newest book, I was hoping that “Dare Me” would officially become a fluke and that I could hands down count her as someone I will always read no matter what. Unfortunately, we still aren’t quite there, as “Give Me Your Hand” just didn’t quite get there for me.

I will first start with what I did like about “Give Me Your Hand”. I liked that we had two separate narratives going on in this story, with a “Then” narrative (taking place when Kit and Diane were in high school), and a “Now” narrative (taking place when they are adults). Megan Abbott uses this structure to her advantage, as we slowly get clues presented to us in their time and in their place and at a pace that I found to be manageable. Abbott also did a good job of making the teenagers feel like teenagers, as sometimes thriller authors don’t really grasp teendom in an authentic way. Abbott would be a good crossover author to a YA audience because of this, as while the time spent with Kit and Diane as adults might not be as relatable, the time as teens certainly feels like it would be. I also liked that Abbott comments on how hard it can feel for a female working in a STEM environment, and how this inherent sexist and misogynistic culture can make women feel desperate and potentially drive them to do not so good things in order to get ahead out of feelings of necessity. Kit and Diane are both ambitious and driven, and wanting to impress their idol Dr. Severin and end up on her research team, but because they are the only women in the running in a field where male presences are seen as the norm and women are there to fill a quota, the competition is there, and boy is it deadly.

But these things aside, overall this book left me a bit underwhelmed. While I did like it more than “Dare Me” (therein assuring that I will definitely pick up the next Meg Abbott book, albeit not as desperately), I didn’t find much to root for in any of the characters. I appreciated that Kit was ambitious and beaten down by her knowledge of Diane’s secret, and that those anxieties weighed on her in realistic ways, but she was grating to follow. Diane was your run of the mill antagonist in this book, and while there were moments of trying to round her out they didn’t really come until it was too late. In fact, there weren’t really that many likable characters at all, outside of Serge, one of Kit’s colleagues who is a huge animal lover and takes no nonsense. I also was bummed that basically once Diane’s secret was out in the teenage timeline, we didn’t really spend much more time there and were left to deal with something of an unbelievable catalyst event that brought the drama to present day. I won’t spoil it here, but I will say that when it happened it didn’t have much emotional oomph behind it. I didn’t feel high stakes or fear for the fallout when it came to Kit and Diane, and was more just thinking ‘okay, so that happened…. Now what?’ If I’m not invested, it’s not really going to be suspenseful, and I think that had I not been on an airplane as I read this (and therefore a captive audience of sorts) I may have put it down a lot more often.

“Give Me Your Hand” wasn’t bad by any means, but it wasn’t really doing anything to stand out from novels of similar themes and thoughts. I like Megan Abbott, and I’m going to keep reading her, but I will go in with my hopes more evenly tempered the next time I read something by her.

Rating 6: While it had it’s merits and some good build up, ultimately “Give Me Your Hand” left me wanting more, and not in the way I like.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Give Me Your Hand” is included on the Goodreads lists “The Page Turners of Summer 2018”, and “2018 Mystery Thriller Horror”.

Find “Give Me Your Hand” at your local library using WorldCat!

Books, Uh, Find a Way: A “Jurassic Park” Book List

What’s up, Dino Nerds! “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” has come out and expanded the “Jurassic Park” franchise, and if you like dinosaurs fighting each other that’s gonna be your kind of movie. We here at The Library Ladies are more fans of the original movie, 1993’s “Jurassic Park” (why earlier this month Kate went to a Fantasy Sci-Fi Convention in an Ian Malcolm Cosplay). Given how fun it is to pick books for fictional characters, we thought we’d try our hand at recommending books for some of our favorite “Jurassic Park” players! While there are lots of characters to choose from, we have a feeling we’ll be picking some of the fandom’s favorites.

Dr. Alan Grant: “Tyrannosaurus Sue: The Extraordinary Saga of the Largest, Most Fought Over T-Rex Ever Found” by Steve Fiffer

Even though Alan Grant seemed to be all about the velociraptors, he sure knew a lot about the formidable T-Rex. Therefore, he would certainly be interested in the story about Sue, the largest T-Rex specimen ever found. And if the largest T-Rex ever found doesn’t get him, how about the huge scandals, legal battles, fights, and drama that went with finding it? Because Sue caused a giant circus involving paleontologists, academics, a group of Indigenous people, auctioneers, and more. Since Grant is a very capable paleontologist who is credible to a fault, I think that this book would not only fascinate him, but would also reaffirm the fact that he wouldn’t get into the mess that so many people did over some dino fossils.

Lex Murphy: “Warcross” by Marie Lu

Lex gets some unwarranted grief from some people in the “Jurassic Park” fandom, because how many of YOU know Unix Systems like she does? For this teenage self professed hacker, a thrilling YA novel with a hacker protagonist will absolutely catch her eye. That’s why Marie Lu’s “Warcross” would be a good fit for her. Warcross is a popular online game that has become quite popular in the near future. When hacker Emika Chan hacks herself into the game illegally, instead of being punished she is recruited to weed out cheaters from the game. Not only would Emika be a protagonist that Lex could really get behind, the story itself is fast paced and very tech-y based while still remaining relatable for most any reader who picks it up.

Dr. Sarah Harding: “Never Cry Wolf” by Farley Mowat

Was Sarah in the original film? No. Is she still one of Kate’s very favorite “Jurassic Park” characters? HELL YES! So therefore she gets a spot on this list. Harding is an adventurous and empathetic animal behaviorist, and because of those traits she would probably love the book “Never Cry Wolf”. Farley Mowat was sent into the wilds of Canada to try and figure out why wolves were killing Arctic Caribou and messing with the population. But while he was living in the woods with the wolves, he learned a lot about their behavior (and how they generally aren’t dangerous to humans), and became a crusader for their survival. His compassion towards the animals combined with his research would absolutely appeal to Harding

Dr. Ian Malcolm: “Annihilation” by Jeff VanderMeer

Of course we couldn’t have this list and not include our beloved Ian! Especially since we used one of his lines to title this post. Other than posing in strangely sexual positions given the life-and-death circumstances, Ian’s main role in the movie was to highlight just how little control humanity has over life itself. With this in mind, “Annihilation,” a story about a mysterious location where nature has reclaimed the land from humanity, sounds like a perfect fit. Multiple expeditions into this strange Area X have lead to various outcomes, all disastrous in their own way. The book tells the story of the twelfth expedition, one made up of four women. We’re sure Ian’s on board for that aspect of the story, too!

Dr. Ellie Sattler: “These Rebel Waves” by Sara Raasch

Ellie is the paleobotanist of the group, which means she’s focused on the plants. We also get to see her holding her own in what is a very man-dominated movie/field. So for a mixture of plants and strong women characters, we turned to the upcoming book “These Rebel Waves.” This book tells the story of the soldier Adeluna who is fighting for the freedom of her home country, a land much fought over due to its wealthy of plant magic. There are a couple dudes there, too. But we feel confident that Lu will hold her own, just like Ellie did. Woman inherits the earth, after all.

Robert Muldoon: “Death in the Long Grass” by Peter Hathaway Capstick

And last, but certainly not least, we have the badass hunter extraordinaire, Robert Muldoon. And if you’re not all either saying “Shoooot her!!” or “Clever girl” in your head right now, we’re revoking your “Jurassic Park” card. What could be more perfect for Muldoon that “Death in the Long Grass,” a book based on the Capstick’s own experiences as a big game hunter in Africa. He covers not only the traditional big baddies like lions and leopards, but also delves into the challenges of dealing with rhinos, crocodiles and the supremely underrated hippopotamus. Given that the author survived to write the book, we can assume his title isn’t quite as literal as it would be for poor Muldoon.

What are some of your favorite “Jurassic Park” characters and books you might pair with them?

Serena’s Review: “Crooked Kingdom”

22299763Book: “Crooked Kingdom” by Leigh Bardugo

Publishing Info: Orion Children’s Books, September 2016

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: Kaz Brekker and his crew have just pulled off a heist so daring even they didn’t think they’d survive. But instead of divvying up a fat reward, they’re right back to fighting for their lives. Double-crossed and badly weakened, the crew is low on resources, allies, and hope. As powerful forces from around the world descend on Ketterdam to root out the secrets of the dangerous drug known as jurda parem, old rivals and new enemies emerge to challenge Kaz’s cunning and test the team’s fragile loyalties. A war will be waged on the city’s dark and twisting streets―a battle for revenge and redemption that will decide the fate of the Grisha world.

Previously reviewed: “Six of Crows”“Six of Crows”

Review: As was established in our bookclub review of this book, I was definitely the side of our blogging duo who loved the first book. I was all the more surprised given the massive burn I’m still nursing from the author’s original Grisha trilogy that I’ve come to see as an example of how even great writing and great characters can fall prey to some unfortunate YA fantasy tropes. But “Six of Crows” seemed blessedly free of the concerns that plagued those original books, and I was so excited after reading it that I immediately ordered this, the second half of the duology. And, I’m pleased to report, that she stuck the landing on this one!

Kaz and crew are in a tight spot. While they pulled off their last crazy stunt, the reward they were promised not only wasn’t forthcoming, but the powerful merchant with whom they had bargained instead kidnapped Inej and tanked the reputation of the entire crew with the other powerful gangs that make up Ketterdam. Now, stuck between a rock and a hard place, the group must not only recover their lost member and loot, but somehow resolve a political situation has the potential the change the world for the worse.

What sold me on the fist book was the strength of this cast of characters. There are a lot of them, and it speaks to Bardugo’s abilities as an author that she was able to balance so many competing personalities and story arcs. Many of those continue into this book, though there are slight shifts in focus. While much of the first book was taken up by slowly revealing Nina and Mattias’s shared past and resolving their ongoing prejudices, here, their romance and role in each other’s lives has settled down more. The fallout of Nina’s use of the highly addictive, powerful stimulant that she used in the last book to save the team at the very end, was an important and captivating arc for her.

Jesper and Wylan, instead, received more word count and chapters than they had had in the first book. Jesper’s own past was delved into, as well as his continued confrontation with his own gambling addition and the ongoing damage that his past poor choices are wreaking on his own life and the lives of those he loves. Wylan, too, further explores his own highly toxic familial relationships and the true horror that lies at the heart of many of his father’s lies. Their relationship, together, is also given more focus, especially as Jesper begins to realize that his crush on Kaz is a dead end and that Wylan may have always been the better match for him.

Of course, for me, Inej and Kaz were my main points of interest. I enjoyed both of these two the most in the first book, and I continued to enjoy their chapters here. I do feel like they each had a bit less, ultimately, due to the increased focus on Jesper and Wylan, however, I still loved what we were given. Inej, specifically, had come to some pretty frank realizations about what she saw for herself in the future by the end of the last book. And here, it was learning how to follow through with two competing desires. She’s also confronted by a mysterious assassin who may actually be even more skilled than the Wraith herself. Kaz, too, still struggles to overcome the lasting effects of his past. His arc didn’t have as many clear points, as it was more a simple continuation of his rise as a force to be reckoned with in Ketterdam. However, his relationship with Inej and the vulnerability that is required to maintain (begin!) it, is a continual point of challenge for him.

As for the plot itself, I very much enjoyed the complicated heist that was put into effect. There were several points that were laid down here and there that later came to play in new and surprising ways. There was just enough made clear to see the building blocks of the plan, but enough was hidden from various characters to have a good number of surprises in store (this is probably another reason why we had fewer Kaz chapters than I’d like, since, by necessity of the plot remaining a mystery, the man who knows it all can’t have a lot of focus). I liked the multiple showdowns that came into play and the ways in which various crew members’ strengths were called upon at different times to solve different problems.

The story was a bit more sprawling than the close-focused mission of the first book and I both appreciated the added complication but also felt a bit more adrift in the middle when the pieces were still being put together. The goal itself was almost too ambiguous to give the action a clear focus. This resulted in some of what should have been compelling action scenes feeling a bit disjointed from the book, as it wasn’t clear until the end how they all added together to get the result.

I also really enjoyed the ending. The story definitely didn’t shy away from some grim choices, and while I know this will disappoint some readers, I felt that these decisions were necessary to reflect the true dangers of the situation at hand. Further, while broad paths were laid before each character, their stories were by no means neatly wrapped up. Instead, we saw glimpses into what could be the future, but they were left so wide-open that there’s room to imagine various outcomes for them all.

Overall, I very much enjoyed this duology. It’s hard to think of many fantasy/heist books (of course, there’s the insurmountable Megan Whalen Turner), so in many ways these stories felt like a breath of fresh air in YA fantasy fiction (is it even YA? This was a question we discussed at bookclub, and I’m not sure of the answer for books like this). If you enjoyed “Six of Crows,” or Megan Whalen Turner’s “Queen’s Thief” series, or other books by Leigh Bardugo, definitely check this one out!

Rating 9: A thoroughly satisfying conclusion to this duology.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Crooked Kingdom” is included on these Goodreads lists: “YA fantasy/sf novels with major LGBTQ Characters” and “Thieves.”

Find “Crooked Kingdom” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “All the Beautiful Lies”

35230481Book: “All the Beautiful Lies” by Peter Swanson

Publishing info: William Morrow, April 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Harry Ackerson has always considered his step-mother Alice to be sexy and beautiful, in an “other worldly” way. She has always been kind and attentive, if a little aloof in the last few years.

Days before his college graduation, Alice calls with shocking news. His father is dead and the police think it’s suicide. Devastated, he returns to his father’s home in Maine. There, he and Alice will help one another pick up of the pieces of their lives and uncover what happened to his father.

Shortly after he arrives, Harry meets a mysterious young woman named Grace McGowan. Though she claims to be new to the area, Harry begins to suspect that Grace may not be a complete stranger to his family. But she isn’t the only attractive woman taking an interest in Harry. The sensual Alice is also growing closer, coming on to him in an enticing, clearly sexual way.

Mesmerized by these two women, Harry finds himself falling deeper under their spell. Yet the closer he gets to them, the more isolated he feels, disoriented by a growing fear that both women are hiding dangerous—even deadly—secrets . . . and that neither one is telling the truth.

Review: If you ever said to yourself “You know, I think that I would like a book that is ‘The Graduate’ meets ‘Double Indemnity’ with a little bit of ‘Black Widow’ for good measure,” then I have some good news for you. “All the Beautiful Lies” is what you may be looking for. Once again Peter Swanson has written a book that sat my butt down and gave me very little reason to stop reading unless it was absolutely necessary. Which rendered me basically couch ridden for an entire morning when there were other things I needed to be doing.

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File footage of my productivity failing to escape the clutches of an engrossing thriller. (source)

I liked that this book is told between a number of third person perspectives, and through a couple different points in time. The most pertinent perspectives are those of Harry, the newly orphaned twenty something who returns home when his father dies in an accident, and Alice, his young stepmother who has an air about her that sucks him in, just as it did his father. While Harry’s story is focused directly in the ‘now’, Alice’s is focused mostly in the ‘then’, two timelines that do eventually converge in ways that I wasn’t necessarily expecting, and which gave insight into both their characters. While I did enjoy the slow burn of the mystery of Harry’s father’s death, and whether it was an accident or not (and who the mysterious Grace is and how she factors into it all), I was definitely more interested in Alice’s story. We know that she is enticing and mysterious, and has a pull over Harry even though he doesn’t know her very well. It’s very fun to see how she eventually becomes the person that she is. Her story is complicated and doesn’t hold back in it’s complication; Alice is many things that may seem like contradictions, but hold together believably. Swanson has always been good at making complex characters with dubious to sketchy morals, and you can put Alice up there with Lily Kintner when it comes to ambitious and dangerous, albeit fascinating, morally suspect femme fatales.

Swanson is also someone who knows how to take a twist and really pull it off. Part way through this book, a huge shift came along and totally shocked me. Not only that, Swanson recalibrated and brought in two NEW perspective points that caught me off guard and knocked me off kilter for a little bit. While a less deft author might have bungled the pass off (and thoroughly frustrated me in the process), Swanson tied it all together while still expanding the scope, bringing more much needed clues to the forefront. And he is so good at slowly revealing his hand that I never reached any conclusion before he wanted me to; no matter how many times I tried to keep a few steps ahead, I never was. The burn may be slow, but I was so desperate to find out what happened next that it felt like an emotional rollercoaster until the very last page. Which managed to throw one more curveball in, with master level skill.

And the tone is just creepy at times, for lots of reasons. Sexuality is weaponized, seduction borders on the nerve wracking, and because you know things that other characters may not you just kind of have to sit back and watch it, totally unsettled as it all unravels. The constant sexual tension between Harry and Alice is just icky because she’s his stepmother, as is another relationship in the book which is even worse (but no spoilers here), and watching these relationships slowly unfold because of a predator casting a web will give you the serious, serious willies. But Swanson is also careful to show just how calculated these predators are, and how they can make their prey not feel like prey at all. But at the same time, it never falls into the bounds of bad taste: it’s not titillating or sexy, it’s deeply, deeply uncomfortable and upsetting.

All in all, “All the Beautiful Lies” is another winner from Peter Swanson. If you haven’t given his books a try yet, now is the time and this would be a good one to start with.

Rating 8: Another solid and salacious mystery/thriller from Peter Swanson, “All the Beautiful Lies” sucked me in and held my interest until I had reached the last page.

Reader’s Advisory:

“All the Beautiful Lies” is pretty new and not on many Goodreads lists, but it is on “2018 Mystery Thriller Horror”, and I think it would fit in on “What A Strange Family”.

Find “All the Beautiful Lies” at your library using WorldCat!