Book Club Review: “Word By Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries”

30781490We 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 “Dewey Call Number” theme. This book comes from a Dewey Decimal Call Number range, and has to fit the theme of that range.

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: “Word By Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries” by Kory Stamper

Publishing Info: Pantheon Books, March 2017

Where Did We Get This Book: The library!

Dewey Decimal Call Number: 400s (Language)

Book Description: Do you have strong feelings about the word “irregardless”? Have you ever tried to define the word “is”? This account of how dictionaries are made is for you word mavens. 

Many of us take dictionaries for granted, and few may realize that the process of writing dictionaries is, in fact, as lively and dynamic as language itself. With sharp wit and irreverence, Kory Stamper cracks open the complex, obsessive world of lexicography, from the agonizing decisions about what to define and how to do it, to the knotty questions of usage in an ever-changing language. She explains why small words are the most difficult to define, how it can take nine months to define a single word, and how our biases about language and pronunciation can have tremendous social influence. And along the way, she reveals little-known surprises–for example, the fact that “OMG” was first used in a letter to Winston Churchill in 1917.

Word by Word brings to life the hallowed halls (and highly idiosyncratic cubicles) of Merriam-Webster, a startlingly rich world inhabited by quirky and erudite individuals who quietly shape the way we communicate.

Kate’s Thoughts

So it will surprise no one here that I love to read. What may surprise people is that even though I love reading and the words that ultimately come with it, I don’t have much interest in the history or said words. When this was picked for book club, I will totally own up to the fact that I basically groaned internally. I have a hard enough time with non fiction as it is (unless it’s narrative, memoir, or true crime), so I worried that this would be a terribly boring slog to get through. The good news is that I wasn’t totally correct in this. The bad news is, like the scorpion in that old folktale, it’s in my nature to have a hard time with this kind of book no matter how engaging it is.

But I’m going to focus mostly on the good since the bad isn’t any fault of Stamper’s. “Word By Word” was a well done, and at times quite funny, overview of what it’s like to work at Merriam-Webster, and the intricacies that go into adding words to and defining words for a dictionary. I guess that until I read this book it never occurred to me that there would be questions and consistently changing definitions to words, or that sometimes it can take months to settle on a most representative definition. Stamper not only talks about what it’s like to work at Merriam-Webster in this capacity, she also talks about how people like her have to take so many different variables into account just to function in the best way possible. For some, some of the most interesting concepts were focused on how society perceives dictionaries, and how they actually are supposed to function. Within this was the authority myth, in that if a word is defined one way in the dictionary, this is the bottom line because the dictionary said so. Stamper points out that this just isn’t the case; dictionaries are not supposed to be authorities on definitions, they are merely there to record and relay these definitions. Language is always changing, and therefore the meanings of words are changing too.

My reservations and hesitations about this book (aka why it was a slog) was going back to my nature: I am very picky about my non fiction. I merely want to reiterate that for my ultimate rating, because it was based on form, not substance. This book also gave our book club a LOT to talk about, which was really, really excellent. So while “Word By Word” wasn’t really my cup of tea, I can see it being very appealing to a lot of people who aren’t me.

Serena’s Thoughts

As evidenced by the content of this blog, neither Kate or I are big nonfiction readers. If anything, Kate is more of a nonfiction reader than I am, and as seen in her thoughts above, she’s still not that into it. At least she has true crime to back her up as not completely stuck in the “fiction only” section that I am. I don’t think I’ve reviewed a single nonficton book on this blog. I don’t say this out of pride or anything. I really wish I liked nonfiction more than I do. There are a few exceptions to this, but usually it’s when books are thrust upon me my trusted friends and family. So, while I would never have picked up this book on my own, I’m so glad that our fellow bookclub librarian, Katie, recommended it! I found myself very much enjoying it, and while it isn’t changing my mind on nonfiction as a whole, that’s too big of an ask for any book.

I’ll also confess that I didn’t read this book in the traditional front-to-back method, and I really think this is one of the reasons I enjoyed it more than I would have otherwise. Instead, I picked a chapter here and a chapter there, skipping forward and backward through the book based on my interests. For example, I started with the “irregardless” chapter, because, yes, that word and all the controversy around it does intrigue me! From there, I found myself in a chapter document acronyms and how rarely the much bandied explanations for words’ origins having to do with acronyms is true. We’ve all probably heard of some acronym for the “f” word, for example. The author does an excellent job exploring why acronyms are so rarely involved with a word’s definition.

As I read, I mostly found myself gather ammo for word-related conversations. As a librarian and book lover, these are the exact sorts of disagreements and discussions that I regularly find myself in, and I loved getting some more detailed background knowledge on my side going forward. As Kate said, for this reason, I’m sure, our bookclub probably had more to say with regards to this book than we’ve had for many other books recently. In this way, this book is an excellent choice for other bookclubs out there. Especially for those that have members who may not be totally bought into nonfiction. I recommend my reading strategy, specifically, for those folks. I think I had an easier time than Kate just because of this. By hopping around, picking it up to read a chapter here and a chapter there, I never had to confront the general dismay about the long slog ahead that results from starting in the beginning, especially starting with a non-enthralled position.

I also really think that had I not found my calling as a librarian that working on a dictionary like this like may have been another dream job. I had an assignment in a publishing class back in undergrad to create an index for a book, and similar to that, dictionary work seems appealing nit-picky and focused on organization. I also would have had a lot of fun writing snarky answers to the people who wrote in with complaints about the inclusion of the word “irregardless” in the dictionary. Really, could I just have that job? Answering dictionary-related complaint mail?

Kate’s Rating 6: An enlightening examination of how dictionaries are compiled and the role they play, as well as fascinating questions raised about language in modern society. It was a bit of a dry read for me at times, but overall a worthwhile one.

Serena’s Rating 8: I was shocked by how much I enjoyed this! There was a lot of history of words and details of dictionary work that I didn’t know, and by reading it one chapter at a time I was able to hold off my own non-fiction antipathy.

Book Club Questions

  1. Were you surprised about anything about this job? Would you want it?
  2. Grammar snobs: heroes or obnoxious?
  3. What do you think about the social justice implications of language/dialects?
  4. Does the history of words, or etymology, interest you? Why or why not?
  5. What words do you hope get added to future dictionaries?

Reader’s Advisory

“Word For Word: The Secret History of Dictionaries” is on the Goodreads lists “Microhistory: Social Histories of Just One Thing”, and “Best Non-Fiction Books About Books and Reading”.

Find “Word For Word: The Secret History of Dictionaries” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Serena’s Review: “A Poison Dark and Drowning”

33629245Book: “A Poison Dark and Drowning” by Jessica Cluess

Publishing Info: Random House Books for Young Readers, September 2017

Where Did I Get this Book: Blogging for Books

Book Description: Henrietta doesn’t need a prophecy to know that she’s in danger. She came to London to be named the chosen one, the first female sorcerer in centuries, the one who would defeat the bloodthirsty Ancients. Instead, she discovered a city ruled by secrets. And the biggest secret of all: Henrietta is not the chosen one.

Still, she must play the role in order to keep herself and Rook, her best friend and childhood love, safe. But can she truly save him? The poison in Rook’s system is transforming him into something monstrous as he begins to master dark powers of his own.

So when Henrietta finds a clue to the Ancients’ past that could turn the tide of the war, she persuades Blackwood, the mysterious Earl of Sorrow-Fell, to travel up the coast to seek out strange new weapons. And Magnus, the brave, reckless flirt who wants to win back her favor, is assigned to their mission. Together, they will face monsters, meet powerful new allies, and uncover the most devastating weapon of all: the truth.

Previously Reviewed: “A Shadow Bright and Burning”

Review: I wasn’t a huge fan of “A Shadow Bright and Burning.” It wasn’t the worst thing ever, but I had a few distinct issues with it and, perhaps worse, after reading it, I pretty much forgot about it and the fact that it was the first in a trilogy. But then “A Poison Dark and Drowning” popped up on Blogging for Books, and I thought “why the heck not?” I also requested an audiobook version from the library, since we all know how I am about needing my multiple formats. And, in this case particularly, I’m very glad I did! While this wasn’t a perfect book and several of my concerns from the first came to fruition here, this sequel is definitely an improvement on the first, increasing the stakes, expanding the setting, and, for the audiobook, read by an awesome narrator who added much needed depth and tone to Henrietta’s voice.

Opening shortly after the end of the first novel, Henrietta has settled into her new life as a sorcerer. As well as she can, that is, knowing that she is being asked to live a lie and pose as the prophesied savior. London is in a precarious point in the war against the almost all-powerful Ancients, lead by the horrifying Skinned Man, Relim. Yes, at the end of the last book they struck a crucial blow, killing one of the Ancients for the first time ever. But the protective ward around the city fell as a result, and now they all wait, exposed, wondering why Relim hasn’t yet struck. Throughout all of this, Henrietta’s focus is also drawn more close to home as her childhood friend and love, Rook, begins to succumb to the darkness that has poisoned him after being attacked in the last book.

It is clear that Cluess felt much more freed up, as it were, when she wrote this novel. It’s not even that surprising. She had a lot of ground to cover in the first book including world-building, the mysteries surrounding Henrietta’s family, and setting up not one but two magic systems. Here, with all of these factors already in place, it feels like the author was finally able to open her wings. The pacing of this story was much more active, and the magical elements fit more naturally into the storyline. Henrietta’s tale takes outside of London, onto the treacherous ocean, ruled by a monstrous spider Ancient, to a misty moor hiding a monster hunter’s house, down into the land of fairy that is ruled by the capricious and cruel Queen Mab, and through many different battles, with the Ancients themselves, as well as their creepy familiars.

Henrietta herself is also more fully fleshed out in this novel. While she still had a tendency to withhold information and lie more often than is likely wise (a pet peeve of mine with YA heroines), she’s also more sure of herself and of her own powers, specifically her magicians magic. She also barely avoids the typical “martyr complex” also all too familiar for YA heroines, and still maintains a practical head on her shoulder, even when atrocities are being committed simply to lure her out. Part of my increased appreciated for Henrietta is due to the clever and nuanced voice that the audiobook narrator managed to give the character. There were moments where she added tones of humor, exasperation, and sense to dialogue that may have read more melodramatic simply from the page. It’s one of those tricky things, in cases like this. I honestly can’t tell how much of my improved attitude towards this character comes from the way she was written (was the characterization actually stronger?) or from simply enjoying this narrator quite a bit (would I have appreciated the first book’s version of Henrietta more had I listened to the audiobook version of that one too?).  Ultimately, I do think that Henrietta’s storyline was much stronger in this book, largely freed from the angst and drama from the first book.

We also delved more deeply into Henrietta’s history and into the mystery surrounding how and why the portal that let the Ancients into this world was open 17 years ago. While I found some of this to be fairly predictable, there were enough twists and turns added to still make the reveals feel new and interesting.

The stakes were also much higher in this story. The ward is down, London is in danger, and the odds are not good. And these things aren’t simply left as passive threats. There are battles, soldiers die. Towns are destroyed, and civilians suffer. Beyond this, there are consequences, real and terrible consequences, to the choices that characters make. I was surprised and impressed by the author’s commitment to “going there” with some of these decisions. This added seriousness of tone did a lot to balance out my major, and predictable criticism of this book: a love square.

As I mentioned in my review of the first book, the story is set up with Henrietta surrounded by a bunch of young men, all potential love interests in some manner or another. In that book we had Rook, Henrietta’s childhood love, and Magnus, the charming rogue. The story ended with Henrietta choosing Rook, in no little part due to the fact that Magnus turned into a jerk who was not only already engaged but let loose that he thought Henrietta was beneath him. But here, not only does Magnus get freed back up, breaking his engagement, but somehow is retconned into being much more regretful about his previous behavior. Henrietta’s heart is with Rook, however his descent into darkness and the unknowable future make their relationship challenge. And now we also add in Blackwood, the dark and brooding magicain who was slow to warn to Henrietta in the first book, but looks to be being slotted into a sort of “Mr. Darcy/bad boy” role where he’s made better by his close friendship with Henrietta, a relationship that, at first only on his side but slowly on hers as well, begins to blossom into something more.

The worst part of all of this was the fact that the book was clipping along until about halfway through with barely a reference to any romance, other than a few thoughts and concerns shot Rook’s way. And then BAM, right in the middle of the story and the action the brakes were thrown on and the story became stuck in love-triangle/square-melodrama. Thankfully, the story did kick back into the action eventually, but there were times in the middle of this section where I almost put the book down. I really don’t understand why this is considered to be necessary in YA fantasy. The story was so strong without it, and sure a dash of romance is often appreciated, but tonally, the book takes a massive swerve when it suddenly commits so much page time to these silly romantic flounderings. And ultimately, this middle section soured my opinion on all the characters involved: Henrietta, Blackwood, Rook. Magnus, bizarrely, probably comes out of all of this in the best light. And in the end, I’m not sure how I’m supposed to feel about where things stand. Who exactly am I supposed to be rooting for? The fact that I can’t tell is the biggest problem, and ultimately, I wish Henrietta would just kick them all to the side and go have awesome adventures with Maria.

To end on a good note, Maria, a Scottish witch they pick up on their travels, was probably my favorite part of this story. Not only does she add the much needed female companion to Henrietta, but as a character herself, she’s excellent. Through her we see the horrors that the witches have suffered, alongside the magicians who we’ve heard about through Henrietta’s story, during the systematized persecution put in place after the portal was opened years ago. She has a powerful magical ability, and she wields an ax. And, best of all, the story sets her up in a pivotal role going forward. Again, Henrietta, girl, throw those boys away and hang with Maria. Rook = no personality. Blackwood = kind of a jerk with controlling tendencies. Magnus = already showed his cards as a player. Maria = besty who is the only one Henrietta is comfortable being completely truthful with. Seems pretty obvious to me.

Ultimately, I did enjoy “A Poison Dark and Drowning” more than the first. The story is given increased depth and danger, and while some of my predictions regarding the plethora of love interests did come to icky fruition, the added character of Maria makes up for it. If you like audiobooks, I do recommend checking out that version of the story as some of my increased opinion could be due to the narrator’s skillful reading.

Rating 7: Full of action and dark twisty magic, if unfortunately interrupted by silly romantic entanglements at times.

Reader’s Advisory: 

“A Poison Dark and Drowning” is fairly new and isn’t on any very relevant Goodreads lists, but it should be on “Victorian YA Novels.”

Find “A Poison Dark and Drowning”  at your library using WorldCat.

 

Kate’s Review: “The Tea Dragon Society”

34895950Book: “The Tea Dragon Society” by Kate O’Neill

Publishing Info: Oni Press, October 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: From the award-winning author of Princess Princess Ever After comes The Tea Dragon Society, a charming all-ages book that follows the story of Greta, a blacksmith apprentice, and the people she meets as she becomes entwined in the enchanting world of tea dragons. 

After discovering a lost tea dragon in the marketplace, Greta learns about the dying art form of tea dragon care-taking from the kind tea shop owners, Hesekiel and Erik. As she befriends them and their shy ward, Minette, Greta sees how the craft enriches their lives—and eventually her own.

Review: Now see here, I may be the resident horror/thriller/true crime/all things macabre blogger, but I, too, am sometimes in need of a break from those things. While I do love me all the dark, dank, and creepy of the world, every once in awhile I yearn for a serious palate cleanser to take me down from a self made anxiety tower where I find myself perched all too often. So while at the desk at work the other day, my dear friend Tami (who is also the children’s librarian at my library) handed me this book and said “You are going to love this.” Boy oh boy, was she right, and was “The Tea Dragon Society” everything I needed in that moment!!! Hell, the cover alone gave me a vocal and physical reaction the moment I saw it.

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Specifically this with a loud “AWWWWWW!!!” (source)

“The Tea Dragon Society” is a calming and quiet graphic novel for kids, though I would argue that it’s suitable for all ages of youth AND adult as well. It takes place in an unspecified fantasy world, where there are dragons and goblins and animal creatures, and while none of it is really explained in depth, it really doesn’t have to be. This is just the world the story takes place in and it needs to explanation. We follow Greta, the daughter of a blacksmith who finds that her passion in life may actually be centered on Tea Dragon rearing. Tea dragons are dragons who grow tea leaves on their horns. Different kinds of dragons produce different kinds of tea. From Jasmine Dragons to Rooibos Dragons to Ginger Dragons, these creatures need love and attention to make the best leaves. IS THIS NOT THE CUTEST THING YOU’VE EVER HEARD? Maybe I’m biased, as I love love LOVE dragons, but the creativity and the gentle sweetness of it just hits me right in the feels.

And let’s talk about those who blacksmith and those who raise tea dragons, and what that means for gender roles in this world. Right off the bat we are introduced to Greta’s mother, who is teaching Greta how to blacksmith. Greta’s mother is implied to be one of the best blacksmiths around, and it is Greta’s father who is the artist within the family. It was so refreshing to see a mother teaching her daughter a craft that is often associated with masculinity, and teaching her the family business. While Greta has some reservations about blacksmithing and her personal devotion to it, it’s never because of her gender. Along with that, the people who raise the tea dragons are two men, Hesekiel and Erik (though Heseikiel is some kind of animalesque being, kind of looking like a llama?). Erik used to be an adventurer, but after an accident those days are behind him. However, he is never shown as being weakened or at a disadvantage because he lost this previous life. On the contrary, he’s settled into a new life of dragon rearing and gardening as well as maintaining the home that he and his partner Hesekiel share.

We also get some really good diversity in this book, as Greta and her family are darker skinned, as is Erik. Along with that, Erik is in a wheelchair because of an accident in his past. As mentioned before, Erik and Hesekiel are romantic as well as business partners, and their relationship is so lovely and shows years of devotion and caring. Minette, Erik and Hesekiel’s ward, is also representative of a different ability set, and while I don’t really want to spoil it here, I will say that she also shows that with these inherent disadvantages she can still do what she loves. In the picture of the previous Tea Dragon Society there was also diversity, showing that just about anyone could take on this life and be successful at it. While I do think that explicit discussions of why diversity matters, and being explicit about these differences in these stories are important, I also like seeing normalized diversity such as in this world. Especially since fantasy and sci-fi does have a diversity problem within the stories that are told. This goes to show that it can be done and that it should be done.

And yes, we need to talk about the dragons. Because holy crap are they just the cutest things ever.

almanac_entertainment-1
OMG!!!! (source)
almanac_diet
SCREEEEECH! (source)

There are so many designs for these different kinds of dragons, and O’Neill made it so that they do kind of represent the various teas that their horns produce. The Chamomile Dragon (the yellow one above) always looks a little relaxed and sleepy. The Rooibos Dragon (the red one above) looks spiky and rambunctious. The Earl Grey Dragon looks dignified and regal. And so on. To make these dragons so varied and yet still similar amongst themselves is such a great design, and it goes to show that dragons don’t always have to be big and daunting and fearsome. Though hey, I’m never going to complain about those kinds of dragons either.

“The Tea Dragon Society” was the right bit of fluff I needed in my life to give me an overdose on cuteness while building a lovely fantasy world. I can’t recommend it enough to not only children and parents, but also to people who like fantasy. Or those like me who really just need a relaxing read once in awhile. While O’Neill says that the story has concluded, I would be so pleased if someday she decides to revisit these characters and the lovely world that they live within.

Rating 9: TOO CUTE FOR WORDS!!!!! Along with that, we have a diverse cast of characters and an interesting examination of gender norms.

Reader’s Advisory

“The Tea Dragon Society” is on the Goodreads lists “Comics & Graphic Novels by Women”, and “2017 YA Books with LGBT Themes” (though this book is definitely appropriate for all ages).

Find “The Tea Dragon Society” at your library using WorldCat!

Here is the website for the original webcomic for “The Tea Dragon Society”.

Serena’s Review: “The Tethered Mage”

34219880Book: “The Tethered Mage” by Melissa Caruso

Publishing Info: Orbit, October 2017

Where Did I Get this Book: ARC from the publisher

Book Description: In the Raverran Empire, magic is scarce and those born with power are strictly controlled — taken as children and conscripted into the Falcon Army.

Zaira has lived her life on the streets to avoid this fate, hiding her mage-mark and thieving to survive. But hers is a rare and dangerous magic, one that threatens the entire empire.

Lady Amalia Cornaro was never meant to be a Falconer. Heiress and scholar, she was born into a treacherous world of political machinations.

But fate has bound the heir and the mage. And as war looms on the horizon, a single spark could turn their city into a pyre.

Review: My first props (of many to come) for this book is to whomever designed the cover art. I’ve ranted in the past about cover art tendencies in which publishers try to piggy-back off the designs of other popular books, regardless of whether or not that style or art subject matches the topic of the actual book they are producing. And yes, I know that it’s a business, and I understand the marketing behind it. But that’s the case with every cover art decision ever, and “The Tethered Mage”‘s cover art shows that publishers are perfectly capable of creating unique, pertinent, and striking art for an individual book without needing to reference others to sell. I knew next to nothing about this book, but clicked through to read the description based on this art alone, and largely this was due to its originality. I hadn’t seen a book like this before, therefore I didn’t have expectations going into checking outs its details.

My second props comes for this same originality carrying throughout the book itself. I may not have had many expectations from the art, but reading the descriptions, I had a few guesses (concerns) about the story. Yet another fire mage with a “past.” Likely a duo protagonist situation. Two women protagonists, none the less, creating potential for the ever-dreaded competitive women themes. But almost immediately after reading the first few chapters, I was ecstatic to realize that not only some of these assumptions, but all of them, were completely off base.

While the story does focus on these two women, it is told only from the perspective of Amalia Cornaro, a young woman who is in line to inherit her powerful and canny mother’s position on the Council of Nine, a group of nobles who essentially rule the land. But when she helps a young Captain bring a fire mage under control, she finds herself in a precarious position, the Falconer of the only current fire mage in the realm, and one who had done her best to avoid capture her entire life. Now Amalia must not only win the friendship of this wary and angry young woman, but larger forces are moving within the Empire, threatening its peace and tempting its rulers to now use this suddenly gained powerhouse of a Falcon/Falconer duo, regardless of said Falcon/Falconer’s opinions on the matter of burning down entire cities.

I loved that this story comes from Amalia’s point of view. While I like the magical aspects of fantasy fiction as much as the next person, I have been finding myself growing a bit weary with the fire mage young woman protagonists who litter the genre, currently. No exaggeration, I’ve read three books in the last month that feature a young woman fire mage of some sort.

But while Zaira is a focal point of the story, and gets an intriguing arc of her own, she’s secondary to Amalia, an ordinary young woman who is beginning to understand the burden she will be inheriting as an up-and-coming political leader. She’s also a scholar who, while not magically gifted herself, gets herself and others out of several binds using her knowledge of the intricacies of magical formulas. She’s also a perfect example of a character rising to meet the challenges she’s presented with. Her arc is full of personal growth and courage, and while intimidated by her circumstances at times, she’s blessedly free of unnecessary drama or indecision.

Supporting Amalia, we have her mother, La Contessa, her Falcon, Zaira, and the Captain of the Falcon guards, Marcello. All of these relationships were incredibly drawn, speaking to the unique challenges they each represent to Amalia. I was especially pleased with the portrayal of Amalia’s relationship to her mother, La Contessa. So rarely do we get to see truly loving and supportive mother/daughter relationships in fiction. That’s not to say that Amalia and her mother are without conflict, but they handle their disagreements within the larger understanding and comfort of their love for one another.

Zaira, and her relationship with Amalia, is notably free of the overly typical woman on woman competition and sniping. Given the circumstances of their partnership, their relationship is built on a lot of mistrust and misunderstanding, but these circumstances, never the specifics of the other woman, are what drives their conflict and growth. And through these challenges grows a tentative friendship, free of competition and jealousy. Zaira is also a diverse character, expressing interest in both a powerful lord and one of her fellow Falcons, a young woman.

My third props goes to this story’s portrayal of a complicated society and its approach to its magical members. The system that has been created, wherein children with magical abilities have no choice but to join the Falcon system where there powers are tied to the control of a nonmagical Falconer who can, at will, release or bind the Falcon’s abilities, is one filled with problematic issues. But on the other side we see the legitimate dangers that unbound mages present to the city. Mages are incapable of controlling their powers beyond a certain point, getting lost within these forces. In the very first chapter, Zaira, with her fire ability running out of control, could have burnt down the entire city. And throughout the story we learn of other, more tragic, events that have occurred when mages are left free. I very much enjoyed the careful exploration of the many sides of this complicated system. The story touched on free will, choice, and sacrifices made for the good of the public, delving into the many aspects of these topics, without preaching on a correct answer to this complicated problem.

Lastly, the setting and politics. The story takes place in a world that loosely connects to historical Venice. Raverra is also made up canals and waterways, and it was easy to overlay images of Venice onto this new city. The politics of the region were also key to the plot of this story, with a powerful northern realm making inroads into the treaties that hold together many city states that used to operate independently, but now all fall within the oversight of the Empire. The mystery was compelling, and the action fast-moving.

I was incredibly surprised by how much I enjoyed this story. The characters are nuanced, the plot is complicated, and the book doesn’t shy away from confronting large issues that may not have a clear right answer. This is a must for fantasy lovers everywhere! Now I just have to anxiously wait for the sequel!

Rating 9: A wonderful surprise worth adding to your fantasy TBR shelf!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Tethered Mage” is included on the Goodreads lists: “Covers With Beautiful Art” and “‘Gender Is No Object’ Second-World Fantasy.”

Find “The Tethered Mage” at your library using WorldCat!

 

 

A Revisit to Fear Street: “Bad Dreams”

89801Book: “Bad Dreams (Fear Street #22)” by R.L. Stine

Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, 1994

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Every night Maggie Travers has the same horrible dream. Every night she is forced to watch the same murder. And every night the girl in her dream cries out for help. Maggie is afraid to go to sleep again. But when the terrifying dream starts to come true and the gruesome accidents begin, staying awake is the real nightmare!

Had I Read It Before: No.

The Plot: We open with a girl having a bad dream in her house on Fear Street. She awakens and realizes that it was only a nightmare…. Until she notices someone in the corner of her room who attacks her with a knife! The girl protests ‘but you’re my SISTER!’, and then it’s lights out for her.

So then we meet the Travers family, moving to Fear Street from their posh home in North Hills. Maggie is the oldest, and she’s beautiful, clever, and a great athlete. Andrea is the youngest, and she’s.. less so. They’ve gotten lost on the way to their new home. Andrea says that it’s Maggie’s fault since she’s the navigator, but Maggie says if they hadn’t stopped for Andrea’s bladder they could have followed the moving truck. Mrs. Travers just wants peace and quiet. Turns out they fight so much, they were even fighting the day that their father stroked out and died, POSSIBLY because he was yelling at them to stop fighting. Unlikely, but it’s implied. They get to their new house, and Andrea lets their dog Gus out of the car, who goes rushing down the street. Mom tells her to go get him, but Andrea says that since he’s Maggie’s dog, SHE should do it. Oh this girl is going to be fun. Gus is nearly hit by a car, but isn’t and Maggie is pissed AF at her little sister. Rightfully so, I say. They go into the house, and the girls go to the rooms they called dibs on the previous visit. Maggie walks into her room and sees that the previous owners have left behind a BEAUTIFUL wooden canopy bed, with carvings and pink dressings. Andrea sees it next, and then has the AUDACITY to ask Maggie if she can have it. Maggie reminds her that she got the bigger room, so Maggie is keeping the bed. Andrea starts to temper tantrum, and Mrs Travers says that Maggie gets to keep it. When Andrea whines more, Mrs. Travers gets sad because her family is clearly a wreck.

They go out to dinner that night and Maggie vows to try to keep the family together in spite of her rotten sister. When they get home, Maggie’s new boyfriend Justin calls, and he arranges to come over the next day to see the house. Then Dawn a member of the swim team at school that Maggie and Andrea are on calls. Dawn USED to go out with Justin, but not anymore. Dawn says she missed them at practice, but then asks if Maggie is ready to lose the swimming race the next day. But given that Stine never did care THAT much for the Bechdel test between two girls who could be fighting over a boy, they start talking about Justin. Andrea is jealous of her sister’s seemless popularity. Later that night Andrea is hogging the bathroom and Maggie is getting mad, but doesn’t start a fight. Instead, she gets ready and goes straight to bed. Then she has a bad dream, involving a sleeping mystery girl and a swirling cold mist. She wakes up screaming, and Mrs. Travers and Andrea run in. Maggie tells them about the dream, and Andrea guesses it’s about Dawn, since they were on the phone and both the girl and Dawn have blonde hair. Maggie isn’t totally convinced, but accepts it for the evening.

The next morning Maggie wakes up far later than she wanted (as swim tryouts for State are the next day and she needs to practice!), so she straightens up her room and decides to wait for Justin to come by. She checks in on Andrea, who is jealous that Justin is coming by. She also admits to having ‘strange thoughts’. But soon Justin is there and Maggie is distracted enough to forget about Andrea’s woes. He brings sponges for the housecleaning, and while that may seem dopey, Mrs Travers is won over, and I would be too. Owning a house means lots of cleaning, and I hate shopping for cleaning supplies! Justin and Maggie retreat to her room (how progressive of Mrs Travers), and they talk about the swim tryouts. The coach has narrowed it down to four girls for two spots: Maggie, Dawn, a girl named Tiffany, and Andrea. The odds are in her favor, along with Dawn’s. Then she tells him about her bad dream, and he writes it off as well. They start fooling around, but then are interrupted by Andrea watching them. Maggie tells her to scram, and she says that she worries that the dream was some kind of foreboding. Justin, being a dumb teenage boy, pretends that he’s having some kind of episode…. But then they laugh and laugh.

At the swim tryouts the next day, Dawn, Maggie, and Tiffany are hanging out while Andrea keeps to herself. She only says something when she accuses Maggie of stealing her swim cap, only for Tiffany to point out that it’s in Andrea’s own backpack. HOW EMBARRASSING. They line up to race the 200 IM, and once they are in the water it becomes a real nail biter! But, luckily, Maggie is a beast of a swimmer and she comes in first with Dawn second, followed by Tiffany and Andrea. Maggie and Dawn are going to the tournament! Dawn tries to accuse Maggie of cheating since her wave crest knocked the lane line into her, but Coach says no dice. They have practice as usual, and Maggie is feeling the burn. As she leaves the locker room into the pool area, SHE SEES A BODY IN THE POOL!! And it’s DAWN!!! Maggie jumps in to save her, but Dawn is just fine, only practicing her breath control. They laugh and laugh.

The next night, Maggie has sleep problems again. The dream really pulls her down into a weird state on consciousness. This time she sees the girl in her first dream lying in bed, writhing around, and someone with a knife suddenly attacks her! Maggie wakes up, and comes to the horrible realization that this is the bed she saw! She then realizes that someone is in the room with her! But it’s just Andrea, who heard her making noises. They talk about the dream for a bit, with Maggie describing it all in detail: the knife, the bed, everything. They are having a lovely sisterly moment…. Which is then ruined when Andrea suggests that Maggie is so stressed out that maybe she should cut back on swimming. Maggie finds this UNACCEPTABLE, and tries to pull off a joke that Andrea wants to swim in the tournament herself. Which then ANDREA finds UNACCEPTABLE because Maggie is ALWAYS insulting her and then pretending not. Andrea says Maggie is dreaming about stabbings, so who does SHE want to stab? But Maggie feels more like the victim in the dream….

At school the next day Maggie thinks she sees Andrea’s red hair in the busy hallway, and tries to catch up with her. Then she sees Dawn, and starts calling her name. The crowd is a mad rush between classes, and as she meets up with Dawn on the steps, suddenly Dawn is THRUST FORWARD, and tumbles down the staircase!!! The paramedics are called, and Dawn accuses Maggie of pushing her! Maggie is shocked and asks Andrea for backup, but Andrea says she didn’t see. Maggie realizes the girl in the dream had blonde hair, and so does Dawn. Did she somehow do this? When she sees Tiffany, Tiffany says she doesn’t think Maggie did anything wrong. When Maggie gets home, she falls asleep on the couch, and has a very nice rest. Better than any rest she’s had on the bed!

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(source)

That Saturday Maggie is still having trouble sleeping in her bed, and falls asleep under a birch tree. Her neighbor, Mr Avery, wakes her up, afraid she is going to get sunburnt, and  proceeds to tell her that her new house was unoccupied for awhile, and tells her that it was a terrible thing that happened there. When she asks him what it was, instead of elaborating, he invites her inside to meet his wife. Because OF COURSE, you story cock blocking old man! Maggie says sure, though, and meets Mrs. Avery. Finally, the neighbors come out with it. A family called the Helfers lived there, and they had a teenage daughter named Miranda who was stabbed to death in her own bed! She goes to the movies with Justin that night, feeling more paranoid than ever. They see Dawn and Tiffany in the parking lot of the movie theater, and Dawn says no hard feelings, and reminds us readers that Tiffany and Maggie now have another race to compete in soon to secure a spot in another race in the state tournament. Maggie and Justin go parking and fool around a bit, but Maggie is still too distracted by her dream to let him get past first base. She tells him all about Miranda and her theory that the bed is trying to tell her something. And Justin has the patience of a saint.

So now we have the next tryout for the next race! With just three girls now, that gives Andrea more of a chance for a spot. But if you put your money on her, sorry to say that it is, indeed, Tiffany and Maggie who come in first and second. Dawn, who was watching, only congratulates Tiffany because apparently no hard feelings is for losers. Andrea is crestfallen that she’s only the alternate. But that night, Maggie has the dream again, and this time she wakes up and is convinced someone is with her in the room. She sees Andrea, who says she came to borrow her curling iron (in the middle of the night?). Andrea leaves, and Maggie decides to leave the bed for awhile, walking around the house and going to the kitchen. She hears a floorboard creak, but chalks it up to losing her mind. When she returns to her room, there’s a huge knife shoved into her pillow. She screams and runs to get her Mom, but of COURSE when they return to the room, the knife is gone. Maggie runs to Andrea’s room, and accuses her of it all. Mrs. Travers and Andrea tell her she’s losing it.

The next day at swim practice, Maggie is starting to falter a bit, losing to Tiffany in a for funsies run. Coach asks her if she’s getting enough rest. Maggie lies and says that she’s fine and will be great for the meet. In the locker room Tiffany and Maggie share a light ribbing of each other (though Maggie is worried that Tiffany is right and she IS slipping), and Andrea is sulking still. Maggie goes to talk to coach one last night, and when she leaves she goes back into the pool area… AND SEES TIFFANY LYING IN A PUDDLE OF HER OWN BLOOD!!! Maggie rushes to her side, and finds a knife! Later that night, we find out that Tiffany will be okay, but can’t swim in the tournament, leaving Maggie and Andrea as the only options. And Andrea seems PRETTY HAPPY about the whole thing. Maggie wonders aloud if her dream was trying to warn her, but Andrea shuts all that down. That night, Maggie has the dream again, but this time when she wakes up, THE BLONDE GIRL IS STANDING ABOVE HER, GLARING DOWN AT HER WITH A KNIFE!! Maggie asks if she’s Ghost Miranda, and the girl nods. Maggie darts away, and Miranda goes after her again, until she hears Mrs. Travers calling for her. Miranda jumps out the window, and Maggie is left alone when Mrs. Travers comes in. Still babbling about a ghost, Mrs. Travers says that it’s therapy time!

But first, it’s field trip time at school! To the caverns! Which is all an exercise in paranoia, as Maggie gets separated from her group and is convinced Miranda is chasing her. But it’s just Justin. When she starts with the dream stuff again, he too has had it. The next day he’s back to being his perfectly understanding self, and she says that she’s seeing a therapist now. She didn’t dream about the bed or Miranda the night before. She is worried that the stigma will chase Justin away, but he says that he wants to see her again, and how about tomorrow night after the swim tournament? She hugs him, thinking all is well, but then sees Miranda staring at her from across the parking lot!! She freaks out, but then demurs when Justin asks what’s wrong, and says she’ll see him tomorrow. She goes home, and is roped into a cookout with the Averys and her family. She wonders if the answer is in the bed, but when she goes back to her room, it’s disappeared!!! Andrea comes up behind her and tells her that her therapist said that the bed has to go, and I’m inclined to agree. Mr Avery helped Mrs. Travers take it down, and it’s now in the attic. The attic, hmmmmmm? Andrea says Maggie better not go up there because Mom will be mad, and Maggie says she won’t and returns to the cookout, while totally planning to go into the attic.

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Mrs Travers in a few pages probably. (source)

SO, that night after everyone else is asleep, Maggie does, indeed, go into the attic. She wants to sleep in the bed one last time, hoping to get the answers. But then she realizes that someone else is in the bed already!!! And it’s Miranda, the ghost! Maggie reaches out and touches her, and Miranda wakes up! She’s not a ghost at all! In fact, she’s not even Miranda!! She’s GENA, Miranda’s sister… and KILLER!!! Miranda had everything, and Gena was jealous, and so Gena murdered her. But Miranda was also a bit psychic, apparently (wat?), and must have been trying to warn Maggie about Gena, who has been living in the attic this whole time because THIS IS HER HOME, DAMMIT, the hospital she escaped from never was!! And now she wants to kill Maggie because Maggie is a BAD OLDER SISTER TO ANDREA, JUST LIKE MIRANDA WAS!! Andrea then pops into the attic, and Gena says that this is all for her!!! At first Maggie thinks that Andrea planned the whole thing, but of course not! As she keeps attacking Maggie, Gena tells Andrea she also attacked Dawn and Tiffany because she knew that Andrea wanted to go to state!! She also pushed the knife in Maggie’s pillow and has caused the general havoc as of late. The sisters struggle with Gena, and tie her up in the canopy before calling the police. As the police take Gena away, the Travers family sits around the table drinking coffee, the sisters now fighting about who HAS to keep the bed, and lamenting how little sleep they got with the swim tournament that afternoon. As Maggie goes upstairs to try and get SOME sleep, she says ‘goodnight…. and sweet dreams!’ The End.

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(source)

Body Count: 1.

Romance Rating: 5. Maggie and Justin seem like a perfectly functional couple, but there isn’t much to be said for chemistry.

Bonkers Rating: 7. True, there was the combination of psychic dead girl AND a crazy person hiding out in the attic, but it was so poorly constructed I’m docking points.

Fear Street Relevance: 8. The Travers family has just moved to Fear Street AND the house has a haunted bed.

Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:

“She opened her eyes with a startled gasp. And saw a frightening looking man reaching for her throat. ‘This won’t take long,’ he said.

… And then it was actually just the nice next door neighbor saying ‘you been baking long?’, as he was worried about her getting sunburnt.

That’s So Dated! Moments: Maggie is rocking a pretty sweet Trapper Keeper, but could it possibly have been as cool as my once mentioned Catwoman Trapper Keeper???

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The answer, of course, is hell no. (source)

Best Quote: 

“‘Welcome to burglar city,’ Andrea joked, pretending to do a tour guide voice. ‘Our neighborhood is proud to announce we have one of the highest crime rates in the country.'”

I mean, she isn’t wrong.

Conclusion: “Bad Dreams” was a big ol’ jumbled mess that didn’t know what it wanted to be. I say skip it completely and spend your time on other “Fear Street” books. Up next for us is “Double Date”!

Highlights: December 2017

It is December, and 2017 is winding down! The holiday season is in full swing, and our Book Club is amping up for its annual Secret Santa Book Exchange. With the promise of family, friends, togetherness, and presents coming up in our lives, we have some books we have our eyes on. These are the titles we’re looking forward to this month, and our last batch for 2017!

Serena’s Picks

34050917Book: “The Girl in the Tower”

Publication Date: December 5, 2017

Why I’m Interested: Well, as I was lucky enough to get my hands on an ARC copy of this book, I’ve already raved about it all over this blog. But technically it doesn’t come out until December, so I’m throwing it up on this list anyways. I have no shame; I will promote this book all year long! The second book in the “Winternight” trilogy, sees Vasya venturing out into the greater world beyond her small home village. With adventure comes danger and a harsh reality check on the few options given to young women in this time period and world. But Vasya is nothing if not brave, insisting on carving her own path, with the aide of her magical (and magically snarky) horse and a certain frost demon.

34963526Book: “Saga” Volume 8

Publication Date: December 27, 2017

Why I’m Interested: It’s true that Kate is typically the graphic novel reader of the two of us, but I make an exception for the “Saga” series. From the very first volume, I’ve loved the sci fi action, the romance, the gorgeous art, and the bizarre and endlessly creative characters and creatures that inhabit these worlds. While I’m a few volumes behind, whenever I see a new one is coming out, it serves as a kick in the butt to return to this series. Judging by this one’s cover and the brief story description, it sounds like Hazel and her parents are about to dive into some type of “Western-in-space!” Sounds pretty fun to me!

36145169Book: “Mycroft Holmes and the Adventures of the Desert Wind” by Janina Woods

Publication Date: December 6, 2017

Why I’m Interested: I love all things “Sherlock Holmes” and have read and enjoyed (to varying extents) a bunch of re-imaginings of the character. I don’t believe, however, that I’ve read a version told from Mycroft’s perspective. And honest, thinking about it now, why hasn’t that  angle been used more before?? Mycroft is an extremely interesting character in his own right: brilliant (potentially even more brilliant that Sherlock) and existing on a more “flexible” moral platform made of up espionage and working in the shadows.  In this book, Sherlock has gone missing and Mycroft, inconvenienced by his own brotherly affection, must step in to help locate him before it’s too late. He’s also referred to as an “antihero” in a few early reviews, and that’s another point of interest for me!

Kate’s Picks

28533271Book: “The Truth Beneath The Lies” by Amanda Searcey

Publication Date: December 12, 2017

Why I’m Interested: When two girls named Kayla and Betsy are both trying to escape from their dark pasts and presents, they start on a course that could mean trouble for both of them. This is being heralded by a number of other YA thriller authors as a twisted and suspenseful triumph, so I am hoping that it will be a book that will drag me in and not let me go. I like juxtapositions between two narrators in stories like this, and while I’m sure there will be some kind of connection between the two in the end, I’m hopeful that the journey to finding it out will be a fun one.

33913889Book: “Shadow Girl” by Liana Liu

Publication Date: December 19, 2017

Why I’m Interested: This sounds like it could be a great updated Gothic horror novel, a genre that I am a huge sucker for. Mei is a teenager who is going to a large mansion to tutor a girl for the summer. But something may be lurking in the halls and rooms of the mansion. While I don’t know if it’s going to be an actual ghost, or dark family secrets, I love the concept of isolation and danger. I am also stoked to see that Liana Liu, the author, is a graduate from my Alma Mater, The University of Minnesota! A creepy ghost story for a winter’s night.

33215969Book: “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (Vol 2)” by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa

Publication Date: December 19, 2017

Why I’m Interested: IT’S BACK!!!! IT’S BACK!!!! It has been so long, but we are finally about to get our hands on the second volume of my favorite horror series, “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina”! Given that the first in the series was one of my favorite books of 2016, I’ve been waiting with baited breath for this book to come out. I want to know what is next in store for Sabrina, now that her boyfriend Harvey is dead and her evil father has taken over his body. You KNOW I have this on pre-order, because this is easily one of my most anticipated books of the year!

 

The Great Animorphs Re-read #20: “The Discovery”

363420Animorphs #20: “The Discovery” by K.A. Applegate

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, August 1998

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: The blue box Elfangor used to create the Animorphs has been found by a kid named David. David has no idea what he has — or what it can do. But Marco does. And when he sees David with it, he knows the Animorphs have to get that box. At any cost.

Narrator: Marco

Plot: Guys. GUYS! It’s the David trilogy! Finally! The three book mini series that is widely agreed by fans to be the best part of the entire series! I’ll try and keep it together, but…

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(source)

I’m sure most people who are following along with my read-through have read the Animorph series themselves. But, for any newbies out there, there will probably be spoilers in this and the next review for this entire three book arc. Knowing where it’s all going just makes reading these all the better!

So, the story starts out with Marco trying to pick up girls in the halls of his school. This goes about as well as you’d expect. But then he notices David, the new kid at school, shoving the one and only blue box, the one that Elfangor used to give them all their morphing abilities, into his locker. Internally panicking, Marco approaches David and tries to cozy up with him and ask about the box. Turns out David found it stashed in a cement brick at the construction site, and no, he won’t sell it to Marco for a piddly dollar and change.

The group meets up later at Burger King to stalk David, knowing that it is imperative that they get the blue box from him. While there, Erek, our friendly Chee spy, shows up and adds to their pile of concerns, saying there will be an international summit of sorts in their city in the next few days. All the big world leaders will be there, and, of course, the Yeerks will be set on infesting some of these powerful people. More worryingly, Erek knows that at least one leader is already a Controller, but doesn’t know which one. Storing this fun thought in the back of their heads, the group draws straws for who will nab the blue box from David’s room. (Tobias has been scouting and saw an open window, but came back per orders. Think about, if he had just grabbed it then, this entire story arc could have never happened! Tobias should always take the initiative, that’s what we’re learning here.)

Marco, Rachel, and Tobias end up going. Isn’t it always Marco, Rachel and Tobias?? Cuz they’re so great together!

“You and me, Xena,” I said. Rachel arched one eyebrow at me. “You know, if I’m Xena, what’s that make you?” “Hercules, obviously.” “I was thinking more Joxer. Isn’t that the annoying weenie who hangs around Xena?”

There’s a mini scene where Marco almost gets caught while morphing a bird in the bathroom, and Jake has to pretend he’s his very little brother who is suffering from an illness called “beakanoma.” But eventually, the three of them end up outside of David’s room. Rachel’s eagle is too big to maneuver, so Tobias and Marco go in. Tobias’s warning about the pole propping open the window comes too late, and Marco gets trapped in the room (Tobias hits the window and is dazed throughout this entire scene). Marco ends up in the room with David’s cat. Marco doesn’t do well, so Rachel decides to crash through the window to “rescue” him. They grab the blue box, but right then, David bursts in. The two take off flapping down the hall trying to haul away the blue box and chased by David and the cat. They ultimately have to drop the box to escape.

The next day at school, David approaches Marco at lunch to tell him all about the “trained birds” who had tried to steal the box. And how now, knowing that people must want it, he’s posted it for sale online and already has an interested party. He’s set up a timed email to go out at the end of school to let the buyer know his address. Marco sees this for what it is: the Yeerks will be showing up to get the blue box if that email goes out. Jake tells him to skip last period and try to take care of it. He picks up Tobias and Ax on his way, and the group once again infiltrates David’s house. Marco accidentally triggers the home alarm, and he and Ax have to rush to David’s room to hide from David’s dad who arrives to see what’s wrong. In the room, they see that the email is timed to go out in three minutes. But not only is David’s dad coming, but David’s pet cobra is loose in the room and under the bed where Marco is hiding (Ax is in the closet). Marci manages to acquire the snake, and then, caught up in the morph, eats spider!Ax. Ax must demorph quickly to avoid the venom from Marco, and David’s dad sees him. Throughout this all, they realize the email has gone out, and the Yeerks are arriving.

The craziness just gets worse when David shows up, having skipped out early from school. Ultimately, David’s bedroom becomes a battle scene between Hork Bajir, the Animorphs, David’s dad with a gun, and Visser Three who morphs a huge purple alien that can shoot sharp cones out of its four arms. The other Animorphs show up to provide support, and through it all, they manage to grab the blue box, and haul away David. They retreat to an alley. They know that David’s Dad and Mom will be Controllers by this time, and that if David returns, that will happen to him. Ax suggests that they have another option: use the blue box to make David one of them. (We can now all  blame this entire episode on Ax’s brilliant suggestion. But then he goes and votes against it later, so, whatcha doing Ax, even bringing it up??)

The group discusses the pros and cons of this, noting that unlike the rest of them when they first became Animorphs, none of them really know David at all. Marco is the most suspicious of him, and given that he’s interacted with him the most, this should maybe have carried more weight than it ultimately does.

Ax votes no, based on the fact that they don’t know him, and that they have a big mission coming up. Marco votes no. But is surprised when Rachel votes yes. Cassie & Tobias vote yes, and Jake decides it.

Back in the barn they explain the harsh reality to David. It’s a lot to take in and Marco insists that they don’t cushion him from the truth. David is very resistant to listening to them.

David looked sullen. “It’s all a trick.” I shot a look at Rachel. She looked like she was already regretting her vote.

But after Ax demorphs, he has to believe. Marco takes him to his house for the night. In the middle of the night, he catches David trying to call home. He leads him to a nearby pay phone and warns him that his parents will sound normal, but just to ask how they can explain what happened in his room. David calls and his parents claim that it was just a trick played on them by guys from work. Marco abruptly ends the call and drags David away, warning that the Yeerks will be on their way. Sure enough, they show up, but Jake arrives in rhino morph (one of the few times we see him use it!), and chases them off. Marco reveals that the others have been watching his house and they followed them to the pay phone for just this reason (they’ve really wizened up at this point).

The next day it begins to really set in that things are going to be hard with David. Sure he’s a new Animorph, but he’s a human kid who the Yeerks will recognize, unlike the rest of them. He can’t go home, he can’t go to school, he can’t go anywhere. They decide to get him his first morphs, and Cassie brings in a merlin bird for David to acquire, but David wants to larger, more powerful golden eagle. They explain that they’ve had problems with the size of Rachel’s bald eagle, and that’s why this one is better (again, more evidence that really highlights how far this group has come with regards to their strategy and competence with this war). David pushes back, harder than they appreciate. Marco snaps at him to stop being a jerk and to respect Jake as a leader. David gives a speech about either being part of the group or not, and Marco has to respect this, even though he still doesn’t like David. Cassie takes David to get a power morph from the Gardens.

Later, they all morph bird to go scout out the resort where the summit is going to be held. David loves his bird morph, but suddenly dives and kills a crow (like the maniac he is!!!). He claims that he got caught in the morph, and the others believe him; Cassie even comforts him. But Marco can sense the lie and knows that David just killed a crow in cold blood for no reason.

But they don’t have time to focus on that, as several cloaked Yeerk ships show up and nab the President’s helicopter. The group frantically try to scoot onto the Blade ship as well; they all make it except for Tobias and Rachel who are stuck outside. Crammed beneath the helicopter, the team has no choice but to morph cockroach (Cassie made David get one of these, too). They tell him to close his eyes and go with it. He keeps them open, however, and starts to scream when he witnesses the albeit truly disgusting scene that is the others morphing bugs. Cassie steps up with her manipulation skills.

<Do it, David,> she said. <l know it’s creepy, but it’s better than being dead. Besides, we’ve all done it. Marco has done it. He’s not screaming like a baby, is he? Aren’t you as tough as Marco?>
I’d never seen this exact side of Cassie. She’s always good at understanding people. It hadn’t occurred to me she’d be good at manipulating people if she had to.

Marco knows that this will just make David hate him more, but as he’s not David’s biggest fan, either, and he knows that this was the only way to get David to finish his morph, he goes with it. Avoiding being stomped and gassed by Raid, the team manages to get up to the top level of the ship and overhear Visser Three saying he will now acquire the President. Unable to do anything about this, they return to the helicopter, figuring the Yeerks will now simply let it continue on its way. But they forget that the latch they are standing on beneath the helicopter will open to release it. They all fall. END SCENE!

I remember this first cliffhanger in an Animorphs book simply ruining me as a kid! It’s a big move, and one that probably would have only worked as well as it did at this point in the series when the books were at the height of their popularity and almost all readers were clearly bought in enough to stick it out another month for the next book.

The Comic Relief: Marco is an excellent narrator for the first book in this arc. By this point in the series, readers know that Marco is one of the more clear-eyed characters when it comes to evaluating the character of otherse. Cassie and Jake can be more optimistic than is warranted. Rachel doesn’t give two craps about analyzing other people’s motives. Tobias is fairly disconnected from humanity at this point. And Ax just does what Jake tells him to do. But Marco, we know Marco will tell it how it is. So, as this book progresses, because we’re seeing everything through Marco’s ever suspicious eyes, we know never to completely buy in to David. Like Marco, we don’t know exactly what is wrong, but we know that something is.

Beyond David just being the little jerk that he is, it also makes the most sense that Marco would be the most suspicious of a new person. Not only was he (and Rachel) the longest hold out on Ax, but he also mentions in this book his own process of “buying in” to the war and how long a journey that was for him. With this in mind, he knows that not everyone will just jump on board with their mission and this war in general. It’s a lot to ask.

Marco is a very level-headed narrator throughout this all. And this book once again confirms why his narration and books have been my favorite this read through. I almost wish that Marco could have just narrated the entire David arc. I think it would have been really interesting see all of these events unfold through his perspective.

Our Fearless Leader: Ultimately, the vote about whether or not to have David join comes down to Jake. He notes how big of a decision and risk this is. I found myself wondering if he was more willing to take this huge risk because this is just following Cassie’s last big risk (trusting Aftran) and knowing that that turned out well. So maybe he’s just more primed for optimism that usual.

But I think that Jake also begins to start worrying a little about David even in this book, especially when David pushes so hard for the golden eagle morph. Jake, and the group, have a clear understanding of how these things go and the factors behind how they make decisions. They’ve learned from Rachel’s eagle morph that big birds aren’t as useful. So they’re all put off by his unwillingness to listen or trust the expertise of others. The group trusts Jake; David doesn’t. The group respects Jake; David just wants the “cooler bird.”

Xena, Warrior Princess: It’s always fun seeing Marco and Rachel together in action. The two simply play well off each other. She saves his butt during the first trip into David’s room, but then takes the surprising “yes” position on whether to include David or not.

In some ways this makes sense, she’s one of the more bold members. But it’s also clear that she’s the most hesitant about her vote, clearly understanding and mostly agreeing with Marco’s qualms. And she’s also quick to be put off and perhaps regret her vote by David’s bad attitude about being told the truth.

Again, knowing where this arc is heading just makes it all the more sad witnessing what goes on in this book. She takes an almost uncharacteristic risk on David, and she pays the biggest price for it, in the end.

A Hawk’s Life: Poor Tobias, again not getting as much action as the rest. He slams into the window that Marco accidentally closes in the first mission to David’s and spends the rest of the chapter dazed and thinking he’s playing a game of “Clue.”

He’s also very put off by the golden eagle and the fact that David wants to morph it, knowing that golden eagles will go after other birds. And, what do you know, when David first morphs it and loses himself to the bird’s mind, he does try to go after Tobias (foreshadowing!!), and is only stopped by Cassie grabbing him until he gets it figured out.

And then Tobias and Rachel end up locked out of the Blade ship, so they miss out on all that action.

 Peace, Love, and Animals: When they’re first in the Burger King discussing what to do, there’s a brief moment with Marco refers to Cassie’s quitting in the last book.

I took a good, long look at Cassie. See, there was this little episode with Cassie. She quit the Animorphs because I guess she had problems with some of the stuff we have to do. She came back, of course. But since then I’d felt a little shaky around her.

This speaks pretty true to Marco’s less trusting nature. You break his trust once, and it takes a bit to come back. But as we saw earlier, he’s very impressed by Cassie’s ability to manipulate David when he’s freaking out about morphing cockroach. And he also references the fact that it’s hard to hold a long grudge against someone who has saved your life on more than one occasion.

Cassie is all for making David an Animorph and the general possibilities of making more Animorphs all together. She also completely believes David when he claims that he got caught up in the eagle’s mind when he kills the crow and tries to comfort him.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: So, as I mentioned, Ax is the one to first suggest letting David join the group using the blue box (or the Escafil Device, as he calls it). But then when it comes down to a vote, he’s against it.

“We are not an army. We are a guerrilla group,” he said. “Guerrilla, gorilla? The differences between the two words are very subtle. You humans should not make your words so … But my point is, going from six members to seven will not make us much stronger, and it carries risk. Risssss-kuh…we should start with someone we understand. Not a stranger. We have this mission before us, to save the human leaders of your various countries. A seventh person might help us. But it might also make our team indecisive, uncertain.”

This makes a lot of sense for Ax’s thought process. He’s a soldier at heart and knows that numbers alone don’t necessarily strengthen a small group, especially one that relies so much on trusting each other and being able to predict each other’s choices.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: When Marco morphs a bird in the bathroom, he gets to experience the new gross horror that is having his hand bones just shoot out, free of any skin. Also, when he morphs the cobra there are some lovely descriptions of what it feels like to have your organs just sag down, unsupported by the usual bones and muscle that hold them in place.

David’s freak out, while obnoxious, does remind the other what it was like the first time they morphed bug. They’re all still grossed out by it, but they’re also fairly accustomed to it at this point. Having David see it all for the first time really hits it home how bad it still is.

Couples Watch!:  Not a lot with our traditional pair ups, but Marco, too, comments on the fact that he and Rachel often end up on the same side of things.

It’s weird, somehow, the way Rachel and I often end up on the same side. She likes Tobias more than me, and Cassie a lot more than me, but it’s often the two of us together on big issues.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: Visser Three introduces yet another terrifying alien morph with the cone-handed purple monster of death. It’s also worth nothing that his ego mania is once again on display with their plan with the President. They decide not to simply infest him, because heaven forbid that some lowly other Yeerk have a powerful host body. Nope! Instead, Visser Three will simply morph him whenever they want to do things. This is such an awful plan, and you have to think that the other Visser higher ups who are critical of the way Visser Three is managing the Earth invasion must be able to point to stupid choices like this as evidence that he’s really bad for this job. I mean, this is nothing but ego, and they’re passing up an excellent opportunity to infest a world leader purely because of Visser Three’s power issues.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: As much as I hate David, you do have to feel bad for the position he finds himself in. The others all still have their families and their anonymity to fall back on. They can go home and go to school and to the mall and have friends. All of this helps support that horrible trauma that is fighting this war. What does David have? If David hadn’t turned into a complete psychopath, you have to wonder what the long term plan would have been? I mean, what kind of life could he have? And, as a human boy, he’s much less able to just “hide in the woods” like Ax and Tobias have been doing. It’s a pretty tough situation, not only practically, but for the emotional well-being of David. Not that that’s any excuse for him going crazy, but if he had been a nice guy to begin with, this situation would have been really tragic.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: Other than having the hindsight to know that making David an Animorph is probably the worst choice they make in the entire series, this book really highlights how smart the Animorphs have become throughout it all. They aren’t the confused kids from the first few books. They make smart choices with what they choose to acquire (suggesting the merlin based on their experience with the limitations of larger birds). They keep a watch on Marco’s house, suspecting that David might make a run for it or do something stupid. They quickly adapt when their simple scouting mission turns sideways and they need to infiltrate the Blade ship. And, as we’ll see in the next two books, the only reason they come out of this whole David situation ok is due to the fact that they’ve been around the block a few times. If this had happened earlier in the series, I’m not sure they would have made it.

Favorite Quote:

Marco calls it right away, saying this when they’re debating making David an Animorph:

I spread my hands, pleading. “He names his cat Megadeth. He has a cobra named Spawn. What kind of a kid is that?”

This may seem like silly reasoning, but it all adds up when you think about the fact that not everyone is cut out to do what they do. Up to this whole episode, I don’t think they realized how lucky they are that their group is made up of the people it is.

Scorecard: Yeerks 5, Animorphs 9

A point for the Yeerks! Not only do we know that the David thing is not going to turn out well for our favorite team, but Visser Three successfully acquires the President, so in the only big movement in this war, the Yeekrs come out a head in this one.

Rating: I loved it. Is there any question? I love all three of these books. Like I said, Marco books are probably my favorite in the series in the read through, so combine that with the complete uniqueness and awesomeness that is the David trilogy, and you come away with one of my top books in the whole series!

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