Kate’s Review: “The River At Night”

29430686Book: “The River At Night” by Erica Ferencik

Publishing Info: Gallery/Scout Press, January 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: A high-stakes drama set against the harsh beauty of the Maine wilderness, charting the journey of four friends as they fight to survive the aftermath of a white water rafting accident, The River at Night is a nonstop and unforgettable thriller by a stunning new voice in fiction.

Winifred Allen needs a vacation.

Stifled by a soul-crushing job, devastated by the death of her beloved brother, and lonely after the end of a fifteen-year marriage, Wini is feeling vulnerable. So when her three best friends insist on a high-octane getaway for their annual girls’ trip, she signs on, despite her misgivings.

What starts out as an invigorating hiking and rafting excursion in the remote Allagash Wilderness soon becomes an all-too-real nightmare: A freak accident leaves the women stranded, separating them from their raft and everything they need to survive. When night descends, a fire on the mountainside lures them to a ramshackle camp that appears to be their lifeline. But as Wini and her friends grasp the true intent of their supposed saviors, long buried secrets emerge and lifelong allegiances are put to the test. To survive, Wini must reach beyond the world she knows to harness an inner strength she never knew she possessed.

With intimately observed characters, visceral prose, and pacing as ruthless as the river itself, The River at Night is a dark exploration of creatures—both friend and foe—that you won’t soon forget.

Review: As I have mentioned before, I have some serious guilty pleasures (though I don’t REALLY believe in guilty pleasures when it comes to reading) when it comes to the books that I stack up on my nightstand. One of those guilty pleasures is wilderness survival horror/thriller. I am not an outdoorsy person by any stretch of the imagination beyond the occasional hike or walk, and so I love stories that involve people getting messed up by wilderness. Seriously, I think that I’m so scared of nature that I love seeing fictional people finding terror in the woods, or on the open ocean, or in the mountains, or whatever. This is the girl who freaked out about the Nutty Putty Cave Incident, made her entire book club listen to a long rant about it, and then watched “The Descent” a few times in a row as personal therapy, because she LOVES that movie due to the wilderness survival theme. So yeah. When I found a book that kind of sounds like “The Descent” exists, but takes out the cave, replaces it with a river, and replaces monsters with tangible real life horrors… Oh, I was so there.

7e1e765ade6959582e218422993504ae
Me leaving the library with my copy. (source)

“The River At Night” even seems like “The Descent” in it’s premise, at least a little bit. A group of ladyfriends go on a trip that involves adrenaline pumping extreme sports, with one of them recovering from a serious loss in her life while the others don’t really know how to approach her about it. Winifred is our protagonist, and she is still reeling from her divorce and the death of her brother Marcus. Her friends Pia, Sandra, and Rachel have always been her travel companions, on out-there and intense adventures (thanks to Pia, a true free spirit with no fear), and while Wini has reservations, the thought of white water rafting in the Maine Wilderness sounds… fun? I will be the first to admit that these four women are all pretty two dimensional caricatures, with the self involved adrenaline junkie (Pia), the tightly wound recovering addict (Rachel), the quiet sweetheart with a troubled home life (Sandra), and the wounded but determined wallflower (Wini). And I will also be the first to admit that some of the situations they found themselves in were a bit convenient, and cliche, and a little bit farfetched.

But guess what? I didn’t care because DAMN was “The River At Night” a fun as hell read!!!!

giphy
Cliche, shmiche, I’m just here to be entertained. (source)

“The River At Night” has just the right amount of suspense, as well as the right amount of relationship tension, that I had a hard time putting it down once I was completely absorbed by it. I had thoughts on where things were going to go, plot wise, but I was kept guessing for a lot of the big reveals. Ferencik did a really good job of building up the tension and setting the scene, and I felt like I could very easily and plainly see the Maine Wilderness as I made my way through the story.

I also really did like Wini as a protagonist. She is, of course, the character we get to know the best, and I felt like I understood her motivations in every choice that she made. I felt for her and I really did connect to the undercurrent of pain that she was fighting against, be it the end of her marriage or the loss of her brother, who was mute, and never really fit in outside of when he was with her. Her guilt in both of these losses was never overdone, but it was always present, like a very sad elephant in the room. It was pretty refreshing that Wini and her friends were all women who were encroaching upon middle age, an age range that we don’t really get to see much when it comes to women in books such as these. The way that they interacted with each other was pretty believable in terms of how sometimes friendships can be rife with tension, especially friendships that have gone on for so long and have seen so much. I believed every single action and choice that each of the characters made, and while I liked some more than others (Rachel was just the absolute worst and Pia was also pretty insufferable) I think that each of them added a unique piece to the whole of the story.

On top of that there were very sweet moments involving Wini and a character who is introduced a little more than halfway through the story. I don’t want to give any of it away, but just know that I thought that it was very touching for a book that had a slew of moments where I thought I was going to fall of my seat because of the ratcheted up tension. It was nice to see some legitimate moments of tenderness, even if some of the circumstances were a bit hard to swallow, realism wise. I absolutely found myself a bit teary eyed at a few of these moments, especially when Wini was thinking about Marcus and how she felt she failed him.

Realistic or not, “The River At Night” was an unsettling and adrenaline pumping survival thriller that captured my attention for a full evening. Thriller fans, MAKE NOTE. This will be a great book for the upcoming summer months to take along on a vacation.

Rating 9: Super fun, pushing all my guilty pleasure buttons, and suspenseful as all get out. I really enjoyed “The River At Night” and think that any fan of a nature survival thriller should check it out ASAP.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The River At Night” is, for whatever reason, not on many relevant Goodreads lists, but I think it would fit in on “Best Wilderness Horror Stories”, and “Best Wilderness Survival Books”.

Find “The River At Night” at your library using WorldCat!

Book Club Review: “Ghost”

28954126We 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 a “Book Challenge!” theme. This book comes from a “Pick A One Word Title” challenge.

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

Book: “Ghost” by Jason Reynolds

Publishing Info: Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books, August 2016

Where Did We Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Running. That’s all that Ghost (real name Castle Cranshaw) has ever known. But never for a track team. Nope, his game has always been ball. But when Ghost impulsively challenges an elite sprinter to a race — and wins — the Olympic medalist track coach sees he has something: crazy natural talent. Thing is, Ghost has something else: a lot of anger, and a past that he is trying to outrun. Can Ghost harness his raw talent for speed and meld with the team, or will his past finally catch up to him?

Kate’s Thoughts

It occurred to me and the rest of book club that we have been dong a fair  amount of Middle Grade books for this session! Which, hey, that’s just fine. I know that for some of us, me included to a certain extent, the fear with middle grade is that the book may rely less on nuance and more on being explicitly clear about what is going on. But the good news is that with “Ghost,” one of the deluge of books by Jason Reynolds recently, the story never seems to underestimate the middle grade audience. Not only are the themes of this book pretty sophisticated, such as parental abuse, systematic oppression, and bullying, but Reynolds doesn’t seem to feel a need to water anything down. Ghost is a very intriguing and complex protagonist, who is dealing with a large amount of trauma due to his father trying to kill him and his mother when he was younger. I thought that Reynolds addressed this trauma in a way that wasn’t told but definitely shown. Ghost has a lot to deal with, and while his first person POV never explicitly describes how he’s dealing, the reader gets a very clear sense of how much this continues to haunt him. Though I’ll be honest, the sports theme wasn’t really my thing, just because I myself am not really a sports oriented person (outside of hockey and baseball). I was definitely skimming the more sports oriented parts, and wanted to get back to Ghost’s personal life and struggles.

I think it’s also important to note that I greatly appreciate the fact that “Ghost” is a book that has People of Color as the default. What I mean by this is that in many books, ‘white’ is kind of the default character, so when the author describes someone, their skin is kind of assumed to be white, while characters of color have their skin described almost right off the bat. In this book, however, it’s the opposite, and the white characters are the ones who are described as if they are outside the norm. Given that the middle grade and YA publishing industry is still struggling with diversity, this was refreshing.

I liked “Ghost” quite a bit and I think that a lot of kids could find a lot of things to like about it as well.

Serena’s Thoughts

Like Kate said, sports books aren’t really my thing either. Unless it’s, like, magical horse racing or something. I read a few as a kid, like the almost required “Maniac Magee,” but never really went beyond that. But “Ghost” has received a lot of attention as a great new addition to middle grade fiction, including both a diverse cast of characters and a story/topic that is likely to appeal to middle grade boys (the age-group-bane of most public librarians’ existence!), so I was excited to try it out. And while sports books will never be my thing, I found myself quite enjoying this one.

Reynolds expertly mixes the two primary parts that make up this book: track and life trauma. The obvious parallels about literally and figuratively running away from one’s struggles are never hit on the head too fully, and I appreciate the author’s dexterity in creating a story that doesn’t simplify the realities its main character has lived through. As an adult reader I very much enjoyed such literary touches as opening the story with the shot of the gun his father is aiming at Ghost and his mother and closing it with the shot of the pop gun to begin the race. This ability to weave real depth into the story while also creating a relatable main character with an excellent voice that would appeal to young readers really makes this book stand out. Ghost himself could make me laugh on one page and want to shake him on the next.

I also enjoyed the fact that the sport in question was track. There are tons of books out there about the more traditional sports like football, basketball, and more and more often, soccer. But track with its strange balance of individual stakes and teamwork was a unique sport to choose. My own track career was very short (due to a happy ankle sprain that got me out of it, essentially), but I still enjoyed reading the sporting portion of the book as well.

Reading books like this is why I particularly enjoy being involved in a great bookclub. I’m consistently challenged to read outside of my own comfort zone and discover excellent books like this that I likely would never have stumbled upon myself.

Kate’s Rating 8: While I don’t really care about the sports themes of this book, I liked Ghost and the other members of the track team, as well as the way that Reynolds tackled some pretty complex themes.

Serena’s Rating 8: “Ghost” was an excellent middle grade book that provided deep commentary on important topics while never losing sight of its own story and audience.

Book Club Questions

  1. What do you think motivates Ghost to run at the beginning of the book? Do you think that has changed by the end of it?
  2. What did you think of how Coach dealt with Ghost stealing the shoes? Why do you think Ghost impulsively stole the shoes in the first place?
  3. The end of the book is fairly ambiguous about how the track team ended up in the race. Did you wish that there was a definitive ‘win’ or ‘lose’ outcome? Do you think the book needed that?
  4. What did you think of the other members of the track team? This is going to be a series that follows each of these kids. Whose story are you most excited for, and why?
  5. This is a middle grade book, though Reynolds is known for writing YA books as well. How do you think this book would have been different had it been written for a YA audience?

Reader’s Advisory

“Ghost” is included on the Goodreads lists “2016 YA/MG Books with POC Leads”, and “2017 Mock Newbery.

Find “Ghost” at your library using WorldCat!

Next book club book up is “The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog”.

Serena’s Review: “Hunted”

24485589Book: “Hunted” by Meagan Spooner

Publishing Info: HarperTeen, March 2017

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: Beauty knows the Beast’s forest in her bones—and in her blood. Though she grew up with the city’s highest aristocrats, far from her father’s old lodge, she knows that the forest holds secrets and that her father is the only hunter who’s ever come close to discovering them.

So when her father loses his fortune and moves Yeva and her sisters back to the outskirts of town, Yeva is secretly relieved. Out in the wilderness, there’s no pressure to make idle chatter with vapid baronessas…or to submit to marrying a wealthy gentleman. But Yeva’s father’s misfortune may have cost him his mind, and when he goes missing in the woods, Yeva sets her sights on one prey: the creature he’d been obsessively tracking just before his disappearance.

Deaf to her sisters’ protests, Yeva hunts this strange Beast back into his own territory—a cursed valley, a ruined castle, and a world of creatures that Yeva’s only heard about in fairy tales. A world that can bring her ruin or salvation. Who will survive: the Beauty, or the Beast?

Review: Just in time to cash in on my “Beauty and the Beast” phase that has been reignited by the recent movie release (though, let’s be real, I’m almost always interested in “Beauty and the Beast” stories) comes this new release by Meagan Spooner with a re-imaging of the classic fairytale. And, what a relief, it is actually a true re-imagining! And a very enjoyable one at that!

Similar to my love of Jane Austen re-tellings, I’m always on the look out for a good fairytale re-imagining, and my favorite is “Beauty and the Beast.” And, just like the Jane Austen wanna-bes, many of them fall sadly short, so I’m always slightly nervous going in. Will this one be yet another let down? Or…?

In Spooner’s version, Beauty, or Yeva, and her two older sisters are the daughters of a wealthy merchant father. But this time, her father’s rise to fortune came upon the back of his skill as an archer and hunter in the mysterious forest that surrounds the city. From him, Yeva has also learned to tread the forest pathways, bow in hand, and developed a deep love for the woods and its denizens, both the ordinary and the fabled. After the family’s inevitable fall from fortune and her father’s subsequent disappearance on a hunting trip, Yeva sets out to find him only to become entangled in the plot of a Beast who is on the lookout for a skilled hunter to free him from a curse.

What I most loved about this book was the blending of familiar aspects from the classic tale (the main plot points are all there) alongside the truly unique new take on the story as a whole. And these new aspects weren’t only superficial changes. The entire curse is changed in a way that effects the action of the story, the characterization of its main characters, and the gradual build in the relationship between Yeva and the Beast.

First, for the familiar aspects. I was overjoyed to see one of the only other examples I can think of of a “Beauty and the Beast” story where the sisters were as well-handled as they were in my all-time favorite version, Robin McKinley’s “Beauty.” In particular, Asenka, the middle daughter who was born with a clubbed foot, is incredibly well-rounded and made to be a character in her own right. The relationship between all the sisters is lovely, shown and not told through small moments, like their ritual of break-making each night, and the larger interactions that come from the traumatic events that befall the family throughout the story. We all know that I am a sucker for sister stories, and this one was completely satisfying in every way.

And, as I said, the main bullet points of the fairytale are all there in this book. The family’s fall from fortune, Beauty’s time with the Beast, her return to her family, and her choice to go back to the Beast and save him from the curse. But, as I said, all of these traditional plot points were handled in completely unique ways. Beauty’s motivation for staying with the Beast is different. His motivations for wanting her there are different (we get small insights into his thoughts between chapters). Their relationship develops along different lines than those we expect (hunting trips in the woods rather than elaborate, enchanted dinners in a castle.) And the curse itself is set up in a completely new way.

I loved how naturally all of these elements came together, new and traditional. Yeva’s love of hunting isn’t simply thrown in as an aside that makes here character “strong” but is actually integral to the story. The relationship between the two builds slowly and naturally, never easily side-stepping the challenging aspects of the situation they find themselves in. There is no quick forgiveness or trust, but instead, a natural transformation. I also particularly liked what Spooner did with the Gaston-like character, Solomir. He was another excellent example of fleshing out a character who can often come across as just another stock character.

Lastly, Spooner added a level of depth to Yeva’s internal struggle throughout the book. Yes, circumstances force her into situations that she wouldn’t have chosen for herself, but from the very beginning her desire for something more is made clear. I appreciated how deeply the author delved into this sense of wanting and dissatisfaction, and how neatly these aspects of Yeva’s character were tied to the story and curse as a whole. Again, it wasn’t an aside to make Yeva more well-rounded, but an important aspect of the story itself. My only complaint would be that I feel Spooner may have missed an opportunity to push this theme further in the end of the book. It seemed like she walked right up to the edge of making a more powerful statement about this, but then side-stepped it a bit. She still made her point clearly and tied it together well, but I personally feel like it could have been taken a bit further, even.

All in all, I very much enjoyed this book. It is always so exciting to see an excellent fairytale retelling, especially of “Beauty and the Beast” which I think is probably one of the more challenging tales to do well. I strongly recommend this book to fans of the original story and of fairytale retellings in general!

Rating 9: An excellent story, perfectly blending the familiar elements of the fairytale and unique characters and plots!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Hunted” is on these Goodreads lists: “Best retellings of Beauty and the Beast” and “Archery.”

Find “Hunted” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “The Boy on the Bridge”

31554413Book: “The Boy on the Bridge” by. M.R. Carey

Publishing Info: Orbit, May 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: I received a review copy from the publisher.

Book Description: Once upon a time, in a land blighted by terror, there was a very clever boy.

The people thought the boy could save them, so they opened their gates and sent him out into the world.

To where the monsters lived.

Review: First and foremost, I want to thank Orbit/Hachette for providing me with a review copy of this book. In exchange for you generosity I will provide an honest review.

A couple of years ago I picked up the much hyped and much loved novel “The Girl With All The Gifts”. I had heard nothing but praise about it from those around me who like zombie fiction, and given that I like zombie fiction so much I had high hopes for it. While I did like aspects of it, overall I was kind of underwhelmed by it. But I made a note to keep reading Carey’s stuff, as plot aside I really loved the writing style and how Carey explores his characters so deeply. “Fellside” proved to be a win for me (as seen on this blog). And that brings us to Carey’s newest novel, “The Boy on the Bridge”. Though it’s not a sequel to “The Girl With All The Gifts”, it is a companion piece that takes place in the same world, where a fungal zombie infection has ravaged mankind.

Since our book description doesn’t really give us much of an idea what this book is about, I’ll give you a rundown. “The Boy on the Bridge” takes place about tenish years before “The Girl With All The Gifts”, with a combination military and scientific research team heading out into the world of the ‘hungries’ to try and gather samples and specimens that could potentially lead to a better understanding of the infection, and perhaps a cure. If you remember from the first book, that group of protagonists stumbled upon a mobile lab called the “Rosalind Frank”, which seems to be stopped in it’s tracks without succeeding in it’s mission. Well guess which mobile team we’re following! Yep, The Rosalind Frank team! So there are some foregone conclusions that could be drawn from this…..

But that doesn’t stop Carey from drawing many emotions and facets to his characters. The team has a number of interesting characters. There’s Samrina Khan, a scientist who has recently discovered herself pregnant by another member of the team, John. She is now more than ever determined to find some hope for the sake of her baby. There’s Dr. Fournier, the leader of the science part of the team, who is singleminded and determined to throw his weight around as one of those in command (who is also trying to figure out who the father of Khan’s baby is, as he sees it as a breach of protocol). There’s Colonel Carlisle, who is the head of the military team, and who is haunted by his past during the early days of the infection. And then there’s Stephen Greaves. He’s a teenage boy and science prodigy who invented the e-blockers that people use to hide their scents from the hungries, who may be able to find a cure as well. He is on the spectrum, and Dr. Khan is the only person that he trusts, and the only person who really understands him. With a few other people in their team, they are traveling up towards Scotland, trying to gather as much info as they can. But they soon discover that something is following them, something that none of them have ever seen before. These things look like children, but are definitely not ‘human’, nor at they fully ‘hungries’ either. They could be the key to a cure, but they could also be the team’s downfall.

So there were the same issues in this one that I had with “The Girl With All The Gifts”. I did find myself a bit bored sometimes with how the story is told. It’s definitely a writing style choice that focuses more on the literary and less on the pulpy thriller, and that can encourage my mind and attention wander sometimes. I don’t think that it’s through any fault of Carey’s, mind you. I just found myself skimming a bit, and would have to go back and re-read sections because of it. I found myself wanting to get to the point faster than we did at times. But like in “The Girl With All The Gifts” I did find the characters in “The Boy on the Bridge” interesting, and in this one I was more interested in the overall story arc than I was in the previous book. There is just something about an official mission that goes horribly wrong that will always, ALWAYS suck me in. It’s a plot point that you don’t see too much in modern zombie fiction, which tends to focus more on the chaos of living in the zombie zone. I liked how the tension between the science side and the military side was built up in this story. It’s a trope that is old as time itself, but when it’s done well it can feel fresh and unique. In this book we get it not only through the encounters with the hungries (like we did in the first book), but also through the character of Greaves, who few people care to understand because he’s Autistic. Many of the military people call him “The Robot”, and their lack of understanding is frustrating to Dr. Khan. It’s not wholly unrealistic either, given how people on the spectrum are viewed and treated in modern society. I thought that Carey did a good job with Greaves as a character overall. It felt like he did a lot of research and took great care to make him an accurate and sensitive representation of  a neurodivergent person. Greaves had many moments that I found incredibly bittersweet, and humorous, and yes, frustrating, but he always felt very real, and worked as a great dual protagonist along with Dr. Khan, whose determination to survive is noble and perhaps heartbreaking in it’s likely futility. While the other characters kind of treaded towards two dimensions at times, these two always felt fully realized with clear motivations and personalities.

The scenes with the hungries were also pretty tense, as I found myself holding my breath when they were fully interacting, wondering if logic would prevail over fear. I appreciate the concept of humankind evolving to adjust and adapt to the ‘Cordyceps’ pathogen, as we as humans sometimes tend to think that we are the end of an evolutionary line, as if our present selves are the goal. But really, evolution doesn’t have an end point, it keeps on moving and changing and adapting. So I LOVE that Carey has introduced that aspect of the theory into his stories, and postulates that perhaps this kind of catastrophic event wouldn’t necessarily lead to our extinction, but to a transformation. Perhaps we wouldn’t be the same as we are now, but we wouldn’t necessarily be wiped away from the world.

Do you have to read “The Girl With All The Gifts” to appreciate “The Boy on the Bridge”? That’s kind of a hard question to answer. I think that it does work as a standalone for the most part, at least up until the epilogue (which I won’t spoil here, because it’s a great nod to the first book). But even then I think that you would be on solid footing, perhaps just not as able to appreciate the revelations and scenes that come right at the end of the book. I also think that I enjoyed it more than “The Girl With All The Gifts” just because the plot felt like a new take within this already new take, and I don’t know if that would be as clear if you hadn’t read the previous book. But that said, you won’t be lost at all. You just may not see the easter eggs that are laid out.

“The Boy on the Bridge” does stand on it’s own two feet, and I did enjoy going back into this world. I definitely recommend that those who loved the first book should get their hands on this one as soon as possible. And if you were like me and wasn’t as caught up in “The Girl With All The Gifts”, this book may still be worth the read.

Rating 8: With a couple well explored characters and some tense zombie moments, “The Boy on the Bridge” was a good companion piece to “The Girl With All The Gifts”. It may be richer by having read the previous book, but it isn’t a requirement.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Boy on the Bridge” is included on the Goodreads lists “Waterstones Recommends”, and “Most Anticipated Novels of 2017”.

Find “The Boy on the Bridge” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “The Bloodsworn”

28439795Book: “The Bloodsworn” by Erin Lindsey

Publication Info: Ace, September 2016

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

Book Description: Unbeknownst to most of Alden, King Erik, in thrall to a cruel bloodbinder, is locked away in his own palace, plotting revenge. To save her king, Lady Alix must journey behind enemy lines to destroy the bloodbinder. But her quest will demand sacrifices that may be more than she can bear.

Meanwhile, as the Warlord of Oridia tightens his grip on Alden, the men Alix loves face equally deadly tasks: her husband, Liam, must run a country at war while her brother, Rig, fights a losing battle on the front lines. If any one of them fails, Alden could be lost—and, even if they succeed, their efforts may be too late to save everyone Alix holds dear…

Review: The final book in the “Bloodbound” trilogy starts out with our heroes in what appears to be an unwinnable situation. King Erik is being controlled by a bloodbinder making him erratic and prone to paranoia (the extreme kind that leads to executions of close friends and family for “treason”). Rig’s battle at the front line has pretty much reached its limit with invasion imminent. Alix must venture deep into enemy territory to attempt to kill the bloodbinder who is controlling the King. And Liam is left to manage a country that is on the brink of destruction, all while hiding the fact that he has the King locked up in a room in the castle. A fact that would surely lead to his immediate death if it were to be discovered. The stakes are high.

At this point, it’s almost hard to remember that this series started out more as a romantic romp with some military/fantasy aspects thrown in than anything else. Sure, there was a large battle at the end and some political maneuvering here and there. But there were a lot of quieter moments where Alix’s personal life was the primary focus. Then the second book came along and everything changed. That entire book was just one massive failure after another for our heroes. And here, in the third, everything just seems kind of hopeless. All of the odds are stacked against them, and even their best case scenarios look grim. I mean, sure, if Alix saves the King, great! But they still have to deal with the fact that they have no allies (having blown their ambassadorial trips in the second book) and an enemy with an army that doubles their own.

I was happy to see that Alix once again played a major part in this story. While I still very much enjoyed the second book, her reduced presence was my biggest complaint. Instead, understandably, given his brain-washed state, Erik takes a back seat to the other characters here. I also liked the fact that Alix’s story line once again took us into the neighboring realms, this time their occupied neighbor whose resistance fighters had helped Rig win significant battles in the second book. Vel, also, played a more important role in this book, joining up with Alix on her quest to find the bloodbinder. I still struggled to like Vel as a character, though she had some good moments in this book. While it made sense to pair up these two women both for the plot and due to the dynamics that come from their relationships with Rig, I think that it also had the unintended result of negatively contrasting Vel to Alix. But this is a pretty subjective viewpoint of my own, more than anything.

Due to the high stakes nature of most of the action in this book, the story definitely kept me on the edge of my seat. There were parts of it where I seriously struggled with the fact that because I was listening to an audiobook and wasn’t able to skim forward and relieve any of the tension. The author did a great job balancing her parallel viewpoints and story lines in a way that just ratcheted up the stress levels on all fronts. And, while the series as a whole is obviously set up to be a generally “feel good” read, the grim realities of war are never glossed over and there were a few tough moments. Alix, in particularly, had a rough road to travel.

And, importantly, the personal relationships between our main characters were not shunted to the side even in the midst of all of this narrative upheaval. Alix and Liam’s marriage is still new and being tested by their own insecurities. Liam and Erik are still learning what it means to be brothers, especially given the effects of Erik’s brainwashing and his lingering pain due to the death of his other brother in the first book. Rig and Vel…yeah, I cared less about this. But it was fine, too.

Ultimately, this series was a very satisfying and consistent read. All three books were strong and the characters and plotlines built steadily over the course of the series with very few stumbling blocks. I would recommend this series for fans of political/military fiction with a strong female lead more than for fantasy lovers. While the fantasy element is important to the story, it is definitely less of a focal point than the rest. This is a lesser known series, but one that I hope begins to get the recognition it deserves!

Rating 8:  A solid ending to the trilogy!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Bloodsworn” is a newer book and isn’t on many Goodreads lists, but it should be on “Military Fantasy.”

Find “The Bloodsworn” at your library using WorldCat!

 

A Revisit to Fear Street: “Haunted”

176339Book: “Haunted” (Fear Street #7) by R.L. Stine

Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, 1990

Where Did I Get This Book: ILL from the library!

Book Description: Melissa woke up screaming. The prowler was at her window…or was he? The recent headlines about a Fear Street prowler had everyone on edge. Her father now kept a loaded pistol in his bedroom. That made it even more frightening—and real.

Then the haunting began: her new car driving as if someone else had taken control; her birthday presents ripped open by unseen hands; an invisible force trying to push her out the bedroom window.

Out of the shadows of her bedroom came a menacing figure. Who was he? Did he really come from beyond the grave? And why had he come to kill her? If Melissa doesn’t solve the mystery fast, these questions will haunt her—to death!

Had I Read This Before: No

The Plot: Melissa Dryden is awakened in the middle of the night by a scratching at her bedroom window. She screams her head off, and her loving (and actually pretty functional) father come running. When she tells him that she’s convinced it’s certain death outside, he discerns that it is, in fact, a tree branch tapping at the glass. Mrs. Dryden comes in next, more irritated than concerned. Melissa says she thought it was the Fear Street Prowler (oh Fear Street!), and Mrs. Dryden says that’s silly because they’ve lived here for so long and nothing bad has ever happened to THEM, so why would badness happen now? Solid reasoning. She also points out that Melissa’s hair is super tangly (to denote that it’s ‘wild and blonde’), and Mr. Dryden asks why she’s wearing one of his pajama tops to bed (to denote that she is ‘quirky’, I guess?). He then assures her that she shouldn’t be scared because he has a new silver pistol, which he reveals to her after making her come with him to her parents bedroom, and proceeds to spin on his finger, in spite of the fact it’s loaded. I take it back, Mr. Dryden isn’t as functional as I said before. Before falling asleep she reminisces about her boyfriend Buddy, who got a little handsy and wasn’t really down with taking ‘no’ for an answer. So there’s that.

The next day we find out that Melissa’s birthday is coming up. This is made further evident by her father giving her a brand new Pontiac Firebird. Whoa damn. This, of course, also let’s us know that her family is SUPER wealthy, but we find out that her father didn’t start that way and pulled himself up by the bootstraps to get there. I could go into a lecture about the GI Bill and various other Homestead Acts making this a nonsense argument, but I won’t. Melissa takes it out for a spin, thinking about how envious her friends are going to be… But then the steering wheel starts to spin out of control of it’s own volition and she almost runs into an oil truck.

At her birthday party we are introduced to Melissa’s friends. One of whom is Della, from “The Overnight”! And since it seems that Melissa is now Della’s BFF, we can surmise that Della finally dumped that histrionic and selfish bitch Maia. Good for her! Buddy eventually shows up and some of the boys at they party start making innuendoes about their sex life, and I felt more uncomfortable than Melissa did. After some dancing and some cake, Melissa goes to open her gifts… but they’ve been ripped open and strewn about! How odd. After her friends leave and her parents come home, Melissa feels secure enough to go to bed, wondering who could have possibly ripped her gifts apart. As she’s falling asleep, a strange looking young man steps out of the shadows!! Thinking it’s the prowler, Melissa starts to scream. When her parents bursts in, the Shadow Guy has disappeared, and they can’t find him anywhere. Melissa is convinced she saw something, and while Dad is willing to coddle her Mom isn’t having any of it. They tell her to go back to sleep, and she says she will. While gazing out the window, strong hands try to push her, and while she pulls herself back in, when she turns around there’s no one there.

The next day Melissa goes to tell Buddy what happened. Predictably, he thinks that she’s just imagining everything. So she decides to go hang out at the mall with Della and some rich bitch named Krissie who has fun poking fun at people who aren’t as stylish as she is. Melissa actually has a pretty compassionate moment where she tells Krissie that they, as wealthy girls, have no right to feel superior because they just lucked into their wealth and didn’t earn it. Damn, girl. As she’s driving home in the non-Firebird car (still in the shop), it gets really cold, and suddenly in the front seat, from the description given, Ralph Macchio’s Johnny from “The Outsiders” is there!

giphy2
Sans french fries, though. (source)

Melissa, so surprised, rear ends the car in front of her. When the angry businessman in the vehicle confronts her, she realizes that she’s alone again. The man, thinking that she’s stoned, decides to just let it go because their cars are pretty much fine, and he must be able to tell that she is a little off.

At dinner that night, Melissa doesn’t bring up the accident but does tell her parents that she’s being haunted by a ghost. They brush it off, chalking it up to a need for attention, and invite her to go with them to their ‘lawyer convention’ in Las Vegas. Okay, as a daughter of two lawyers, I can tell you that they never went to ‘lawyer conventions’. This is indeed a strange universe. Melissa doesn’t want to go, and they say that she needs to get out more. Luckily she has a date with the sexual predator Buddy, so she can throw that at them. When she’s getting ready, Ralph Macchio shows up again, and this time he actually talks to her through a sneer. When she says he made her dent her parents’ car, he basically says ‘So what, you can just buy a new one, right?!’ Oh. I see. This really is the greasers vs the socs and Melissa is going to be Diane Lane’s Cherry. Ralph Macchio tells Melissa that his actual name is Paul, and he is here for a reason: HE’S HERE TO KILL HER BECAUSE SHE KILLED HIM. Honestly he’s less Johnny and more Dally because of this. Melissa has no idea what he’s talking about, as she thinks she’d remember if she killed someone, and Paul admits that, yeah, his memory is kind of fuzzy. But she’s rich, and rich people are liars, so she must be lying! Melissa strikes a deal, saying that if he doesn’t kill her she’ll help him find out who did, and he grudgingly accepts.

Deciding to confide in Buddy (who seems more interested in driving her newly ‘fixed’ car than talking with her), Melissa asks him if he remembers a boy named Paul who died recently. Buddy has no memory of this, so she tells him the whole story, I guess forgetting how condescending he was earlier. He tells her that she straight up needs some therapy. Thinking she can prove it, she takes Buddy back to her house, thinking that Paul will just appear at her beck and call. They get to her house, and Melissa notices that her parents’ car is gone. So they are KIND of alone, except for the live in house keeper, Marta. Melissa pulls Buddy up to her room, and they do hear strange footsteps… But it’s just Marta, telling Melissa her parents are out and that she’s wrapping up the dishes and then going STRAIGHT to bed. Marta basically falls short of tossing Melissa a condom and winking. Eventually Melissa and Buddy do start kissing, but their make out session is interrupted when Paul appears and tries to punch Buddy in the back of the head. Melissa freaks out, but Buddy sees nothing and feels nothing. Thinking his girlfriend is nuts, he leaves. Melissa and Paul argue, and Paul says that he isn’t going to kill her yet. He wants to have some ‘fun’ first. I think this is suppose to be showing he’s a rogue, but it comes off as gross.

The next day Melissa goes to the library to try and do some research, but doesn’t find anything about a dead boy named Paul, and wonders if he went to South instead of their high school. She runs into Della, who says her cousin Tracy goes to South. It’s a dead end, though, as while a boy DID die at South, his name wasn’t Paul, it was Vince.  Melissa goes home and finds Buddy is there, having been let in by her folks, who have left again. They go on a date to a dance club called Red Heat, which apparently was an old machine shed. They talk a bit, but then she brings up Paul again and Buddy is DONE. They get into a fight and Melissa leaves the club, finding a bunch of greasers on some car hoods… INCLUDING PAUL?!?!?! He says that he doesn’t know who she is, and starts to hit on her really aggressively. See, such a Dally, like I said before. Of course, if Melissa is our Cherry for this metaphor….

giphy3
Sorry guys, “The Outsiders” analog is here to stay. (source)

But, like Dally, Paul is a real jerk, and grabs her a little to tightly. Something a ghost can’t do. Melissa ends up running back to Buddy and he takes her home. When she gets home Ghost!Paul is there, but she doesn’t ask him why she saw him very alive earlier, and just tells him to buzz off.

Melissa tracks down one of Paul’s friends, Frankie, and starts interrogating him. He tells her that Paul is his best friend, and he is very NOT dead. Melissa sees this for herself again when she runs into Alive!Paul, who continues to act like a total jerk to her. She asks why he’s acting this way when she just wants to help him, and he’s very confused. She leaves.

Jesus this is a long one guys.

She gets home and confronts Ghost!Paul, who says he was NOT at the club nor did they just see each other. So they come up with the theory that Ghost!Paul isn’t from the past, but from the FUTURE, and that Melissa hasn’t killed him yet!! Now things are getting interesting! Melissa says that it’s easy, she just won’t kill him. Girl hasn’t read any Greek tragedies, has she? They decide to go find Alive!Paul and try to warn him. But, shock and awe, Ghost!Paul can’t be seen by Alive!Paul, so she just ends up sounding like a crazy person. Alive!Paul goes to meet up with his friends, and they talk about this hot rich girl who is following him, AND the fact that it is, indeed, Paul who is the FEAR STREET PROWLER!!! Oh man, this just gets better and better. It’s at this point I figure out where this is all going. Ghost!Paul follows Alive!Paul and is horrified by his life choices, making my metaphors work perfectly, because Ghost!Paul is clearly Johnny and Alive!Paul is Dally and now I’m legit going to go watch “The Outsiders” after this is all said and done. Ghost!Paul goes back to Melissa’s house, and she reiterates that she will NOT kill Alive!Paul because she, apparently, cares too much about Ghost!Paul. My heart.

Melissa is now home alone, as her parents are on their Vegas trip for their “CONVENTION”, Marta has gone to visit family, and Della can’t give her a home to sleep in until the next day. So Melissa decides to go find Alive!Paul and tell him to stay away from her. It goes as well as you think it would, as when she confronts him in front of his friends he gets belligerent and tells her he knows where she lives. You all know where this is going. Melissa goes home, a little nervous to be alone with the Fear Street Prowler still on the loose, but knows that Ghost!Paul will be there with her. She tries to sleep in her parents room that night, but then….. someone is crawling through her parents window!! It’s Alive!Paul, and he says ‘see, I told you I knew where you lived’. Realizing he was the prowler the whole time, Melissa thinks of the gun she really doesn’t want to use. She grabs it, but Alive!Paul knocks it away from her. As they wrestle over the gun, Alive!Paul manages to wrestle it away from her, and points it at her saying he’s going to kill her… BUT THEN SOMEHOW, I GUESS THROUGH THE POWER OF LOVE, GHOST!PAUL KNOCKS THE GUN FROM HIS HAND!! And Melissa, devastated to do so but knowing she must, shoots Alive!Paul, killing him instantly. And then Ghost!Paul starts to fade. When she asks why he did that and let her kill him, he says that he’d rather she live, even if it meant he was going to die. He then disappears. As Buddy comes into the room (ugh, he’s the worst), Melissa runs into his arms. When asked who the guy on the floor is, she says, sadly, ‘That’s just some prowler.’

giphy4
Stay gold, Ponyboy. (source)

Body Count: 1. Sorry Paul. Nothing gold can stay.

Romance Rating: 5. Buddy is no gentleman, and while I’m a sucker for ghost romances alive!Paul is a bit of a damaged creepazoid. But ghost!Paul does sacrifice himself for Melissa because of his affection for her, which gets automatic romance points.

Bonkers Rating: 8. I MEAN, we got our first actual totally supernatural plot line AND time travel paradoxes in this one. Solidly bonkers!

Fear Street Relevance: 8. With Melissa living on Fear Street and the Fear Street Prowler at large this one definitely felt like a Fear Street relevant book.

Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:

“There was something so frightening about that little silver pistol, lying there is the drawer, just waiting to be used.”

… And that’s it. No follow up in the next chapter, Just Melissa going on about her life. That’s no cliffhanger, that’s just a statement. Just a Chekov’s Gun situation.

That’s So Dated! Moments: Melissa makes references to Walkmans, one of the characters is rocking a Hard Rock Cafe tee shirt again (because there was a time that that was STYLISH, guys), and, of course, Melissa looking at microfiche at the public library. Sure, it does happen still from time to time. But many public libraries don’t even have that option anymore.

Best Quote:

“‘Goodnight, everyone,’ Buddy said, and made a hasty exit.

‘Strange kid,’ Mrs. Dryden muttered.

‘What?’ Melissa asked.

‘Beautiful pendant,’ her mother said, lifting it up and turning it over to read the back.”

Mrs. Dryden is the shadiest Mom I’ve seen yet in a “Fear Street” book and I LOVE her.

giphy1
(source)

“Haunted” was a pretty solid story that had me guessing over and over again. I enjoyed it quite a bit and think it’s one of the better “Fear Street” books we’ve tackled so far!! Plus it made me feel. Up next is “The Halloween Party”.

 

Emily’s Corner: “Miss Buncle’s Book”

20170202_140222Emily and I (Serena) have been friends since the first week of freshman year of college. Other than a lost purse (I did the losing, Emily did the calming), take a wild guess as to what we bonded over? Yes, that is correct: books. And the fact that we both had plans to be English majors and would go on to coordinate our schedules to have as many similar classes as possible! All that said, Emily has agreed to be a semi-regular contributor to our blog, so keep your eyes open for posts from her in “Emily’s Corner” on random Mondays going forward!

15725379Book: “Miss Buncle’s Book” by D. E. Stevenson

Publishing Info: First published in 1934, republished in 2008 by Persephone books

Where Did I Get this Book: Barnes and Nobles! My husband gave me a generous book budget for my Christmas present so I promptly stocked up on all of D. E. Stevenson’s re-published novels.

Book Description: Barbara Buncle is in a bind. Times are harsh, and Barbara’s bank account has seen better days. Maybe she could sell a novel … if she knew any stories. Stumped for ideas, Barbara draws inspiration from her fellow residents of Silverstream, the little English village she knows inside and out.

To her surprise, the novel is a smash. It’s a good thing she wrote under a pseudonym, because the folks of Silverstream are in an uproar. But what really turns Miss Buncle’s world around is this: what happens to the characters in her book starts happening to their real-life counterparts. Does life really imitate art?

Review: This was my most recent pick for book club. I had seen the Miss Buncle series several times at my local Barnes and Nobles (praise be that a real life book store still exists driving distance from my house!) and couldn’t wait to read it.

I’ll be honest, the first several chapters were slow going. I was a bit worried that I’d picked a sleeper, especially after last month’s emotional selection, “My Name is Asher Lev.” But thankfully it picked up after a few short chapters.

Miss Buncle is yet another adorable old maid (you know my soft spot for them, see my The Blue Castle” review.) She is a spinster in her sleepy village, whose pre-war dividends have reduced her monthly budget to minuscule proportions. Eager to lift herself out of poverty, she attempts to write a book and produces a best-seller on her first try. The first half of her novel are thinly veiled accounts of her neighbor’s comings and goings, and in the second half she re-writes their lives doling out both poetic justice and happy endings with glee.

The result is a book that is quickly picked up by a publisher who is convinced that this is a work of satire, an opinion seized upon by the public which launches Miss Buncle into conveniently anonymous stardom. The trials of keeping her identity a secret from her alternately furious and delighted neighbors are hilarious, and involve a scheming gold-digger, the town’s charming new parson living a year of self-imposed poverty, a surprise elopement, and the kidnapping of twins!

One of my favorite characters is Miss Buncle’s publisher, a man who is delighted with both the book and its’ beguiling author, once he comes around to the idea that the satirical “John Smith” is in fact a mousy spinster who is honest to a fault and in desperate need of money. The following quote says all you need to know about him.

“What fools the public were! They were exactly like sheep…thought Mr. Abbott sleepily…following each other’s lead, neglecting one book and buying another just because other people were buying it, although, for the life of you, you couldn’t see what the one lacked and the other possessed.” 

In essence, this is a book about a book, full of thoughtful commentary on what it means to be a reader and the very thin line that exists between fact and fiction. This is exactly the kind of book you want on a sick day at home, under the covers with tea and chocolate toast.

One last observation. I was struck by the similarity in writing style to L. M. Montgomery, so I was delighted to discover the D. E. Stevenson was in fact a contemporary of Montgomery’s! If you like “Anne of Green Gables,” I can almost guarantee that you’ll adore the Miss Buncle trilogy. I have yet to read “Miss Buncle Married” or “The Two Mrs. Abbotts,” but they are next on my list!

Rating 8: Get yourself through the yawn-inducing first chapters, and you’ll be rewarded with a delightful little tale set in just the kind of English village you’ve always wanted to retire to.

Reader’s Advisory:

Funnily enough, “Miss Buncle’s Book” is included on only one Goodreads list and it is “Potential Book Club Choices.”

Find “Miss Buncle’s Book” at your library using Worldcat!