The Great Animorphs Re-Read: “The Hork-BajirChronicles”

Animorphs 22.5: “The Hork-Bajir Chronicles” by K.A. Applegate

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, December 1998

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: Dak Hamee, born into the Hork-Bajir tribe, is something special from the start. “Strange,” says his mother. “A seer,” says the Old One, Tila Fashat. “A seer is one who is born to show a new way. Many, many seasons pass, then our father, the Deep, and our mother, the Sky, say, ‘Send a seer to the people. The people have need.’ And so one is born who is different.” When strange and different Dak meets Aldrea, the clever Andalite daughter of Prince Seerow, they learn together of the dangerous plot of the Yeerks, and of Esplin 9466, who will stop at nothing to build his empire. Learn more about Prince Seerow’s Kindness, find out how Andalites kiss, and plumb the mysteries of the Deep in this suspense-filled story of good, evil, and interspecies love.

Narrators: Dak Hamee, Aldrea, Esplin 9466

Plot: This story marks a departure from regular Animorphs books in several ways. For one, it is a story being told to Tobias by the freed Hork Bajir. It also features three narrators: Dak Hamee, a seer Hork  Bajir, Aldrea, an young female Andalite and the daughter of the infamous Seerow, and Esplin 9466, an ambitious Yeerk. The story also jumps around through time, starting around 1966 (Earth time) when Seerow first releases the Yeerks onto the galaxy, and ending a few years later.

The story begins with Aldrea describing the moments after the Yeerks first show their true colors and attack the Andalites who have set up a base on their home world. Alloran (yes THAT Alloran) shows up and begins berating Seerow for the mistakes he has made with the Yeerks by giving them technology and a portable Kandrona.

<Stupidity,> Alloran said harshly. <The stupidity of kindness. Charity to potential enemies. You’re a fool, Seerow. A soft, sentimental, well-meaning fool. And now my men are dead and the Yeerks are loose in the galaxy. How many will die before we can bring this contagion under control? How many will die for Seerow’s kindness?>

Two years later!

Aldrea and her family (her father, mother, and brother) are traveling to far away planet that is known to have life to observe and make sure there is no Yeerk presence. It is not an esteemed mission and Aldrea likens it to be ongoing exile due to her father’s actions. The planet they land on is made up of deep valleys full of huge trees and are soon greeted by the Hork Bajir. They send Dak Hamee, a young Hork Bajir who has known he was difference since he was a child. He is what the Hork Bajir call a “seer,” a rare Hork Bajir that is born rarely and who is much more intelligent than the common Hork Bajir. He has been told that he will bring a “new way” to his people. After meeting the Andalites and forming a friendship with Aldrea, he thinks that this “new way” is simply learning the vastness of the universe and all of the secrets of life and technology that Aldrea is showing him.

In the meantime, Esplin 9466 has his first experience outside of the Yeerk pool. He reveals that many Yeerks are perfectly satisfied with their lives in the pool, and that some, even after infesting a host body, find the prefer that life, finding the infestation experience too frightening and overwhelming. Esplin, however, becomes immediately addicted, especially to the sense of sight. He quickly understands that he must make himself useful if he is to earn the privileged of gaining a permanent host body (which are in high demand), so he sets out to become an expert on their enemies, the Andalites, with the hopes that his knowledge will be called upon in the future.

Three months pass.

Aldrea and Dak have become friends, and Aldrea is continuously surprised by how quickly Dak is absorbing all of the information she is presenting him. But she is also beginning to feel bad about spying on the Hork Bajir, having not explained to Dak the truth of why they are on his planet or anything about the Yeerk threat. Her parents are too caught up in their own things to pay much attention to what she is doing. They both question the fact that Dak is truly as intelligent as Aldrea reports.

One day as Aldrea and Dak are exploring (Aldrea has acquired a local animal called a Chadoo that she uses to travel through the trees alongside Dak), Dak hears a message being sent from another valley. The Hork Bajir use the trees and a system of strung vines to communicate across the distances. He says they are confused by a strange new alien creature that has come and taken away some of their own. Aldrea quickly realizes that they are describing the Gedd and that the Yeerks have arrived. Even worse, she realizes that her father will be sending out his nightly report and that the message is sure to be intercepted by the Yeerks in orbit if she doesn’t stop him. She arrives just in time to see her father send the message.

Meanwhile, Esplin has gained a Hork Bajir host body and is reveling in its power and the possibilities that this new species will give the Yeerks in their fight against the Andalites. The Yeerks intercept Seerow’s message and quickly locate the Andalites’ camp, and see three of the four Andalites nearby. Esplin warns them to wait until the fourth Andalite appears before shooting, using his knowledge of Andalites to deduce that the fourth wouldn’t be inside the scoop, as the other Yeerks theorized, as Andalites do not like to be cooped up if they have a choice. The Yeerk leaders ignore him and fire on the camp.

Aldrea watches her family and her home explode. Dak, confused by the violence and what is happening, has to drag her away from the scene. The Yeerks land and Hork Bajir Controllers immediately go after Aldrea. This is the first time Dak sees his own and his people’s blades as weapons, and manages to cripple one of the Controllers before he could kill Aldrea. They flee.

Aldrea swears vengeance for the death of her family and looks to Dak to inspire his people to fight. Suddenly realizes that the Hork Bajir aren’t peaceable by choice but that they literally don’t understand the concepts of fighting and battle. Dak insists that she explain everything; she tells the story of her father’s mistake. Dak quickly realizes the heart of the matter: the Yeerks were content on their own, but once they saw what they didn’t have, they wanted more. Aldrea, in her arrogance, assumes this insight is simply because now, too, the Hork Bajir are going to be jealous of the almighty Andalites.

Aldrea is insistence that the Hork Bajir must become killers to avoid being slaves. Dak sees this for what it is: both a death for his people and their ways. Aldrea sees Dak  begin to look at her in a strange, new way, his face filled with contempt. As the Yeerks continue to chase them, Aldrea and Dak flee to the Deep, one of the deeper crevices on the planet’s surface that is known to contain monsters that have killed all Hork Bajir who have wandered their in the past. They have no choice, however, and run down. The Yeerks follow, but Dak and Aldrea are saved when one of those very monsters, a huge Jubba Jubba creature, attacks them and kills the Yeerks. Aldrea manages to lob off its hand and they flea deeper.

Further down they find a sheer cliff, and in the cliff an intricate city of windows, bridges and balconies. They hide in one of the rooms that has been built into the wall. There they discover a new species, the Arn who look very similar to the Chadoo animal that Aldrea morphed. The Arn, however, are an intelligent species and, while trying to get Dak and Aldrea to leave, they explain their own history and that of the Hork Bajir planet. The Arn had been there first when the planet was lush and beautiful. However, there was an asteroid that had an unstable orbit around them. The Arn know that one day it would hit, however, being biologists, they couldn’t manage to create space ships that could get them past their own moon. Eventually the asteroid did hit, and only a few Arn who had been frozen and left on the moon survived. When the woke up they found their home world much changed, now covered in deep valleys and with an atmosphere that was barely stable. To manage this they created the vast trees. And to manage the trees, the created the Hork Bajir. They also made the monsters to serve as a barrier between the Hork Bajir and their own civilization further below.

The Arn want nothing to do with the war, but Aldrea and Dak manage to convince them that the Yeerks’ threat to the Hork Bajir will result in the Arns’ loss of their gardeners. The Arn teach them how to use the mind control system they have in place for controlling the monsters.

Meanwhile, Esplin and the Yeerks have been busy acquiring more Hork Bajir, around 100 a day. They cut down one of the massive trees and turn it into an impromptu Yeerk pool to aide in the infestation process. However, Esplin knows they must still find the Andalite. But Aldrea and Dak find him first, leading an army of monsters. Aldrea also calls to the Hork Bajir watching saying “Do as he does! Do as he does!” to get them to mimic’s Dak’s fighting. While Dak and the Hork Bajir fight, Aldrea sneaks on one of the Yeerk ships and manages to send out a message to the Andalites, calling for aide and saying the Yeerks have arrived. Hork Bajir!Esplin shows up and tries to capture Aldrea to infest her. She morphs a Jubba Jubba and escapes after using the fighter to blow up the tree  Yeerk pool.

Seven months pass.

Dak and Aldrea lead a guerilla war against the Yeerks, but they are taking huge losses. Aldrea can’t understand why the Andalites haven’t shown up; it should have only taken two months. Finally, they do arrive. Immediately they call Aldrea to come speak with Prince Alloran, but dismiss Dak. Dak insists that this war is taking place on his planet and being fought by his people: Alloran can come to him. Once the Andalite higher ups land, Dak finally manages to get their attention by giving a detailed report on the terrible conditions on the planet. Not only are the Yeerks infesting thousands of Hork Bajir, but they are also building new ships and will soon be able to travel the galaxy in huge numbers. They’re even creating a massive ship called a Blade ship.

They learn that the Andalites only showed up in small numbers, having not taken Aldrea’s warning seriously. After all, she was only a young female and the daughter of Seerow at that. The entire fleet is in another sector altogether and can’t arrive for another year. Dak knows that the Andalites will only use the Hork Bajir in this ongoing war. Aldrea doesn’t want to believe it, saying that Andalites aren’t like that.

We had been created by one brilliant species, invaded and enslaved by another. And now a third was using us. 

Esplin has been promoted to Sub Visser 12. He leads an attack on the newly arrived Andalites and reduces their number substantially.

Six more months pass.

The fight is not going well. Two thousand Andalites have been reduced to four hundred and the Hork Bajir are down to only 12 fighters. There are now one hundred thousand Hork Bajir Controllers. Dak, Aldrea, and the Andalites are holed up alongside the Arn (the Arn have adapted their bodies so that if they are infested they die,  however the Yeerks have simply turned them into slaves in other valleys). Dak notices that there is a section that the Andalites are guarding. He points it out to Aldrea. She is skeptical of it being anything of note, and tried to defend the Andalites. However, the two have grown much closer throughout all of this and she tells Dak that if the choice is between him or her people, she’ll choose him. After all of the Andalite arrogance and even Aldrea’s own lies to him, Dak doesn’t believe this, though he feels good to hear her say it. Aldrea manages to acquire Alloran. When Dak is confused by how she managed to pull this off, she says that morphing is a new technology and acquiring can be quite subtle. She simply took Alloran’s hand and gained his DNA without him noticing the drowsiness. She demonstrates how easy it is by acquiring a nearby female Hork Bajir.

She morphs Alloran and she and Dak gain entrance to the guarded room. There they find a computer lab and learn that Alloran has been creating a virus that is targeted to kill Hork Bajir. Dak is enraged, but not surprised, saying that this is the obvious next step for the ruthless Andalites who know a lost battle when they see one. Aldrea, equally horrified, insists that this is beyond the pale, even for Andalites, and that Alloran has clearly gone insane. They nab the canister containing the virus and destroy the lab. Dak is impressed and touched that Aldrea is willing to stand by her word, choosing him over her own people. Aldrea morphs a Hork Bajir to escape. This draws the attention of the rest of the Andalites. They only manage to escape because the Yeerks choose this very moment to attack the valley.

Dak and Aldrea managed to leap from a high bridge onto the passing Blade ship below. However, when the leap off, they are immediately captured by Yeerk Controllers and Esplin. Esplin immediately announces his plans to infest Aldrea, but Aldrea says that in two hours she will be trapped in this body forever (this is news to the Yeerks who don’t understand morphing technology). To prevent this, Esplin abandons his current Hork Bajir host body and attempts to infest Aldrea. Just before he fully gains control, the now freed Hork Bajir kills the Controllers around them and tugs Esplin back out from Hork Bajir!Aldrea’s ear. However, a nearby Andalite ship attacks the Yeerk ship they are in and they all go down.

Later, they wake up crashed on the valley floor. Aldrea has been trapped in Hork Bajir morph. As they search for Esplin (they theorize that he may have escaped into a nearby stream), the freed Hork Bajir swings down from the tree carrying the canister that he knows must be important. It’s open. The freed Hork Bajir immediately begins showing symptoms. Aldrea and Dak flee, hoping that the fact that the wind is against them will prevent their being infected. Right when they reach the Arn valley, they see the remaining Andalite ships leaving the planet.

They know the fight is lost. The virus is loose. And the Andalites have abandoned the planet. Aldrea and Dak reflect that there are valley far away that won’t be reached by the virus for quite a long time. And at least they have each other.

The book ends with Jara Hamee concluding his tale. Tobias says that now he’s even more depressed. Jara is confused by this and Tobias says he wishes he knew what happened to Aldrea and Dak, and even Esplin. Jara explains, as if to a small child, that Aldrea and Dak had a son whom they named Seerow, who had a son named Jara Hamee. And that Tobias already knows Esplin: Visser Three. As Tobias gets ready to leave, Jara introduces him to his daughter, Toby, named after Tobias. He says that Toby is special, and Tobias realizes that she, too, is a seer.

Dak Hamee & the Hork Bajir: Dak is a great character. I love everything about him. And it is clear that he is set up as the most wise of all the characters in this book, even the almighty Andalites. Really, looking at his character, this is what Cassie should be. He is peaceful by nature, incredibly talented at reading the underlying messages in people’s behavior, easily able to predict how those same people will act, and, importantly, willing to fight, even if he hates it. Yes, Cassie gets there too. But Daks’ anger and sadness never overcome him, he never puts others at risk to save his own conscience. His relationship with Aldrea is also great. Especially given the deeper understanding he has of some of her less positive qualities. But his ability to forgive is probably his strongest asset.

As for the Hork Bajir, I had forgotten much of their history. Especially their creation story, so that was a fun bit to re-experience. And man, the Arn are kind of the worst! I think they rival even the Andalites for arrogance! And are much more self-centered at that. They could care less what happens to everyone else, as long as they’re left alone. Their plan to adapt their bodies so that they’re uninfestable is clever, but they’re so self-focused that they don’t listen to the wisdom of others when they’re warned that the Yeerks won’t care about that and will find a way to destroy them anyways. Which they do by enslaving them and putting them to work mining for resource to be used to build more space ships. However, it’s not quite clear what their ultimate fate would be. After the virus was released, the Yeerks would flea the planet to avoid their hosts dying. But would the virus wouldn’t affect the Arn. So maybe their “outlast” plan worked after all. Even if they were little jerks the entire time.

Aldrea & the Andalites: Aldrea is also a great character. Most importantly because she is by no means a perfect character. Whereas Dak learns technical things about space, science, art, etc., he’s already a wise person. Aldrea is book smart, but she is naive about her own people and  exhibits many of the flaws of her species right from the beginning. She lies to Dak repeatedly; tries to downplay the Yeerk threat as long as she can; after her parents die, she becomes obsessed with revenge, not caring that the people who will be dying in this fight aren’t her own; when the Andalites arrive she fails to anticipate just how badly they will treat the Hork Bajir, and even at the end, struggles to believe Dak when he suggests that they are hiding things. For all of this, however, her arc of growth is clear. In the end, she stands by her statement to support Dak over her own people. And of all the characters we’ve seen become stuck in a morph, Aldrea expresses the least regret. Obviously this allows her to be with Dak, but I have to also think that by this point, she’s not a huge fan of her own species. Her father let loose the Yeerks on the world and then her commander tried to commit mass genocide. Maybe being a Hork Bajir is better, even if it’s short-lived.

As for the Andalites as a whole, you can’t say that Applegate ever gets “precious” about her “hero” alien species. If anything, the Andalites are getting a rougher and rougher history. They’re just kind of…all dicks. And sexist ones at that! Alloran says they pretty much dismissed Aldrea’s first call for help not only because she was Seerow’s daughter, but she was just a young female, so probably just foolish. It looks more and more like Elfangor and Ax are outliers, rather than examples of the Andalites as a whole. Even Ax struggles quite a lot to overcome his people’s arrogance and condescension towards other species. As always, Dak says it best:

I laughed. “You almighty Andalites. There is no limit to your arrogance, is there? Well, let me tell you something: We may be simple people. But we don’t use biology to invent monsters. And we don’t enslave other species. And we don’t unleash a plague of parasites on the galaxy, endangering every other free species, and then go swaggering around like the lords of the universe. No, we’re too simple for all that. We’re too stupid to lie and manipulate. We’re too stupid to be ruthless. We’re too stupid to know how to build powerful weapons designed to annihilate our enemies. Until you came, Andalite, we were too stupid to know how to kill.”

Esplin 9466 & the Yeerks: Esplin’s story was a very interesting one. My first thought as I started reading his chapters was that he sounded nothing like the Visser Three we know and love (?). For one, he seems pretty darn smart. He very quickly understands that he needs to make himself useful to be earn a permanent host body. And he also realizes, more than any of the other Yeerks, that to win they must understand the enemy. In this case, the Andalites. The interesting thing about this is that this plan is ultimately what also becomes his downfall. He learns everything about the Andalites, but then seems to become obsessed with them, and with the idea of infesting one.

In the main books’ arcs, this obsession has become a problem. His obsession with the Andalites has translated into a conclusion that they are the only worthy enemy in the universe. He immediately dismisses humans as a threat, thus leaving him with the inaccurate conclusion that he’s fighting Andalite bandits. Not only does he then misunderstand their tactics, motivations, and methods, but he fails to do the due diligence on the enemy he’s currently facing. The guy knows practically nothing about humans and the Earth, something that Visser One mocks him for. So the guy who began his career because he knew that it was important to fully know those whom you are fighting, is now losing because he got to caught up in his obsession over this first enemy. He’s no longer using what once was his best weapon, and thus losing this fight.

Beyond Esplin, we got some interesting facts about the Yeerks. Most notably, not all Yeerks enjoy infesting a host body. And, as Dak realizes early in the book, the Andalites failed to realize that a species might be content with the lives they lead and that introducing more is not necessarily helping. The Andalites’ huge failure is to under appreciate the difference cultures and priorities of the aliens the encounter. They believe they are the ideal, and therefore either dismiss (the Hork Bajir) or try to “help” (the Yeerks) the “lesser” species they encounter.

We also learn that the Yeerks already had a Council of Thirteen system when they lived in their pools, but the Visser/Sub Visser ranking only came after they attacked the Andalites. Esplin is also one of the first to realize that the type of host body you have reflects your own importance. Another reason for his obsession to become the first Yeerk with an Andalite host body.

A Hawk’s Life: As I’ve said before, a case can definitely be made for Tobias being the main character of this entire series. We now have both Chronicles books tying back to our main characters and storyline through Tobias. In the first, obviously, we learn that he is Elfangor’s son. Here, Toby, the new seer of the Hork Bajir, is named after Tobias in honor of the role he played in helping free the Hork Bajir now living in the hidden valley. For his own bits, the few scenes we have for Tobias are fairly depressing. He ends up at the valley because he’s feeling sad and lonely, and then it’s not like this story is the most uplifting thing ever either, so he’s pretty bummed at the end of it too. Obviously, the pay off and optimism comes with the introduction of Toby.

“I Get that Reference!”:  There were a few bits in this book that clearly touched on information that we as readers can connect to other bits of the story. One of the monsters from the Deep is one of the strange alien morphs that Visser Three uses (the vine-tentacle monster that took out all of the Animorphs back in the alternate timeline jungle story in book #11). There’s a reference to Dak and Aldrea theorizing that Esplin escaped in a nearby creek, something that must be kind of his move, since we saw him pull the same trick on Ax back in book #8.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: There wasn’t a lot of body horror in this book. For one, Aldrea is the only one to morph and she doesn’t fixate on the process all that much. It was interesting learning that morphing was a very new technology at this time. Which means that in the grand scheme of things, morphing is very, very new for Andalites, even by the time we get to our main storyline back on Earth. I always thought of it as something the Andalites must have had for quite awhile. Aldrea also mentions that she is more skilled at morphing than others, and theorizes that females might have a better affinity for this technology, which is supported by the fact that Cassie is so good at morphing herself.

Couples Watch!: These Chronicles books are also turning out to be the most romantic of the entire series, and yet again we have a cross-species relationship forming. While I love the sweetness and humor of Elfangor and Lauren’s relationship, their storyline takes place over a short period of time, so it feels a bit less fleshed out. And then we miss the years in between when they truly form a romantic relationship. Here, with Dak and Aldrea, their romantic relationship grows in a much more realistic, and more painful, manner. The differences that they carry with them simply due to their species (Aldrea: arrogant, supremely confident, a tendency to think she knows best and look down on others. Dak: optimistic, has wisdom that could be seen as simplistic, but is actually more honest) are apparent from the beginning and are something they have to spend months working through.

Their relationship also forms through a much harder set of circumstances. Aldrea’s grief and anger over the loss of her family. Dak’s grief and anger over the loss of his entire people. And the fact that 90% of their time together is spent fighting a hopeless war. It’s dark, but it also makes their relationship feel that much more true and earned in the end.

We also get to see a Hork Bajir “kiss” when Dak presses his head blades to Aldrea’s in a moment of tenderness after she’s morphed Hork Bajir. She then compares it to an Andalite “kiss” which is when an Andalite strokes another Andalite’s face with their palm.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Um, the entire book?? While I do love this book, it’s also one of the more challenging reads for me. It’s probably the most serious book in the series so far, and even at the beginning, the reader knows that things aren’t going to end well. We know the outcome of this war. We know the depth of betrayal the Andalites commit. We know that ultimately the Hork Bajir, and Aldrea and Dak, are doomed. So while the story does an excellent job of exploring some really important and challenging stuff (the price of violence on a peaceful people, the value placed on individuals based on intelligence, the lines that can be crossed in warfare), it’s still a tough book to feel pumped about reading from the start.

On a specific note, in this re-read, towards the very end of the book there is this quote:

It was Gah [the recently freed Hork Bajir whom Esplin had abandoned]. He was in the tree above us, in the high branches. He was swinging down to meet us. He was carrying the canister. He had retrieved it from the branches above. He had known that it was important. He was bringing it to us. It was open.

I don’t know why, but the sad, simple, sweetness of this small moment just crushed me. It perfectly illustrates the sadness behind the Hork Bajir people and the loss that was their ultimate fate. Here is Gah, just trying to help his friends, not understanding any of the complexities of the situation. Just bringing something he knows they found important. And dying for it.

Favorite Quote:

This really gets at the heart of the tragedy that is the fate of the Hork Bajir. And Dak understands this really early in the story, after only his fist encounter with the Yeerks:

<We can save your people, if they will learn to fight! They don’t have to be destroyed.>
“Yes, they do,” he said quietly. “Either they will learn to fight and hurt and kill, or they will learn to be slaves. Both will destroy them. Killers or slaves. They will be one or the other. Killers or slaves.”

Scorecard: Yeerks 3, Animorphs 6

No change!

Rating: As I said above, I think this is one of the more serious books in the series and the one that tackles big topics most head-on. Dak is an incredible character, and Aldrea is a great example of creating a flawed character who experiences a life-changing story arc. It’s also incredibly depressing. Unlike the “Andalite Chronicles,” we know how this story will mostly go. So while there are surprises (most notably the history of the Hork Bajir), it’s hard not to read it with an ever-present sense of dread. I have a hard time with sad stories, so that always make this book one of the ones that I have to talk myself into more when considering a re-read. But I’m also always glad that I did re-read it. After this book, it’s hard to read the battles between the Animorphs and the Yeerks without thinking about the tragedy that are all of the Hork Bajir hosts who are dying in these fights, confused and alone.

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

Kate’s Review: “Haunting The Deep”

33977969Book: “Haunting the Deep” by Adriana Mather

Publishing Info: Knopf Books for Young Readers, October 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: The Titanic meets the delicious horror of Ransom Riggs and the sass of Mean Girls in this follow-up to the #1 New York Times bestseller How to Hang a Witch, in which a contemporary teen finds herself a passenger on the famous “ship of dreams”—a story made all the more fascinating because the author’s own relatives survived the doomed voyage.

Samantha Mather knew her family’s connection to the infamous Salem Witch Trials might pose obstacles to an active social life. But having survived one curse, she never thought she’d find herself at the center of a new one. 

This time, Sam is having recurring dreams about the Titanic . . . where she’s been walking the deck with first-class passengers, like her aunt and uncle. Meanwhile, in Sam’s waking life, strange missives from the Titanic have been finding their way to her, along with haunting visions of people who went down with the ship. 

Ultimately, Sam and the Descendants, along with some help from heartthrob Elijah, must unravel who is behind the spell that is drawing her ever further into the dream ship . . . and closer to sharing the same grim fate as its ghostly passengers.

Review: Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would have a deep and obsessive attachment to a YA paranormal romance series, and yet here we are. It’s a bit more than a year since I read the bananas kooky and super awesome “How To Hang A Witch”, and I was waiting with bated breath to finally get my hands on book two of the series. I knew that it was going be a series, and that I’d be able to gallivant with my beloved witch Samantha and her ghost boyfriend Elijah once again. The moment that I found out it was finally coming out, I was excited. And when I found out that the main plot point involved The Titanic, oh man….

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SEVENTH GRADE KATE IS FREAKING OUT!! (source)

If I were more cynical or less inclined to give this series all the passes because of my affection for it, I’d probably call out Mather for taking another part of her personal family history to fuel this book (if the next one takes place during another significant event that her family happened to be a part of I will start to really question). But as of now I’m just happy to be along for the ride. Mather has really fallen into a strong stride with her characters now, as Sam no longer feels like she’s trying to hard to be cynical and her friendship with The Descendants is on easy and natural footing. I was worried that bringing her Dad into the dynamic might make things a bit tricky, especially since he doesn’t know about his ex-wife Vivian being a witch who tried to curse him and Samantha, only foiled because of Samantha’s own dabbling in magic. But luckily, he adds a new foil for Sam to interact with, another skeptic who she is trying to hide herself from.

The Titanic theme was a little harder for me to swallow, though I did overall enjoy it enough. I think that my reticence is less because of how Mather approached it and more because I worked in an exhibit that was all about the Titanic during my museum days and I’ve been pretty burned out on the topic ever since. It also made some of the inaccuracies more glaring than they would have been otherwise. For example, there is mention of the Steerage passengers being locked behind gates so that First and Second Class had access to the lifeboats first. Yeah, that didn’t happen, so it was a little disheartening that that ‘fact’ was kept in, especially since I was under the impression that Mather did the research before writing. Plus, yeah, I have the skeleton in my closet that I did indeed see “Titanic” in the movie theater four times, and so my lingering embarrassment paints my judgment. It wasn’t even because of Leo and I don’t really want to talk about it…

But hey, let’s be real. I’m not here for the Titanic plot line. I’m mostly here for Elijah, the handsome and mysterious ghost who had to leave his lady love Sam behind when he crossed over at the end of “How To Hang A Witch”. Or did he? Spoiler alert, he did not.

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This must be what “Twilight” fans felt like. (source)

I really like Elijah and Sam as a couple, mostly because while Elijah does have his old world ideas of chivalry and protecting her, Sam shuts that shit down and he respects her and her decisions. He isn’t in this one as much as he was in the first book, but when he is there it’s really great and romantic. Plus, that kind of lets Sam show off that she is more than her love life, and given that some of the more popular paranormal romances stumble in this regard, it’s refreshing to see her have her own agency and personality. True, there’s a bit of a kerfuffle regarding Jaxon, the boy next door who is also keen on Sam (damn love triangles), but the good news is that Sam doesn’t really waffle or question where her heart is. She knows exactly who she wants, and so this love triangle is basically defunct, which is the best kind of love triangle. True, it adds for needless tension that I just kind of skipped over, but it made it easier to hate Jaxon, which I was down for.

OH, and the female friendships are in full swing in this book! In “How To Hang A Witch” there was an enemy situation between Sam and the Descendants, but now that the conflict has been resolved Sam, Alice, Susanna, and Mary are BFFs for life and it’s good seeing positive female friendships in a YA novel. We also are getting to know each of them a bit more, and I can only hope that this continues because I need to know more about all of them. Especially Alice, that sassy and snarky Queen Bee!

Overall, “Haunting The Deep” continues a series that I’m still totally invested in. I hope I don’t have to wait long for the next one, as I’m not sure I can go for another year without another Elijah fix.

Rating 8: A fun and soapy sequel to one of my favorite not so guilty pleasure books, “Haunting The Deep” brings us back to the delightful bitchcraft of the Descendants, the plucky Sam, and the swoon-worthy Elijah.

Reader’s Advisory

“Haunting the Deep” is a newer book and isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists, but it’s included on “2017 YA Horror”, and I think that it would fit in on “Wise Women, Witches, Midwives, Healers, and Strong Girls!”.

Find “Haunting the Deep” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously Reviewed:

 

Serena’s Review: “Iron Gold”

33257757Book: “Iron Gold” by Pierce Brown

Publishing Info: Del Rey Books, January 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley

Book Description: A decade ago, Darrow was the hero of the revolution he believed would break the chains of the Society. But the Rising has shattered everything: Instead of peace and freedom, it has brought endless war. Now he must risk everything he has fought for on one last desperate mission. Darrow still believes he can save everyone, but can he save himself?

And throughout the worlds, other destinies entwine with Darrow’s to change his fate forever:

A young Red girl flees tragedy in her refugee camp and achieves for herself a new life she could never have imagined.

An ex-soldier broken by grief is forced to steal the most valuable thing in the galaxy—or pay with his life.

And Lysander au Lune, the heir in exile to the sovereign, wanders the stars with his mentor, Cassius, haunted by the loss of the world that Darrow transformed, and dreaming of what will rise from its ashes.

Previously Reviewed: “Red Rising,” “Golden Son,” and “Morning Star”

Review: I absolutely loved the “Red Rising trilogy. It was epic in every sense of the word: a sweeping landscape that sprawls across the entire galaxy. An intimidatingly large cast of characters whose political machinations were challenging (in a good way!) to keep track of. And a story driven by one man’s quest to begin a revolution that would shake an entire world order. But in Darrow’s success, and the trilogy’s success, where is left to go? Many, many places it turns out!

From the get go, “Iron Gold” sets out to be its own story. It’s been ten years since Darrow’s revolution, and yet he, his comrades, and his civilization are still at war, both with the remnants of the old system who seek to bring back their own ways and privileges, as well as with those in their own fledgling government who struggle to direct this new world order from within a different political and societal perspective.

The narrative is also split between four characters. Alongside Darrow, we have Lyria, a Red girl who grew up on a “freed” Mars where all is not as well as they had been promised when her family and their colony were brought up to the surface from the mines below. Back on Luna, an ex-solider-turned-thief struggles to find meaning in an existence void of his fiance who died years ago and finds himself caught up in an underbelly mafia that might be more than he can handle. And far on the out reaches of the galaxy, Lysander, the exiled heir apparent, drifts along until he unexpectedly finds himself pulled into a revolution of its own.

Both of these tactics, the expanded POV cast and the time jump, were managed extremely well. Not only was it a great choice to set the story 10 years later, but by splitting the narrative, “Iron Gold” was freed up from some of the constraints that were beginning to niggle at me back in “Morning Star” when Darrow’s hero complex and habit of speechifying was just beginning to annoy me.

Here, not only do we have the three other characters, but Darrow is very much a changed man from the hopeful, conquering hero that we saw at the close of “Morning Star.” Through him, Brown tackles complicated issues surrounding ongoing warfare, the effects to the psyche on career soldiers, and the simple truth that winning a revolution doesn’t magically deliver up a new world freed of the systemic social classism that was at the heart of the old one. Darrow doesn’t know how to come home, and his discomfort while there, surrounded by friends, his wife, and his son, is palpable. Further, Brown gives us a more complicated Darrow. No longer is the reader assured that however morally grey Darrow’s decisions may be, that of course he is on the right side of this issue, he’s going to save the day! This Darrow is operating in a world where the black and white issue, upending the Gold class system, has already happened. But Darrow’s own legend has become  a burden and throughout this story I often found myself questioning not only his actions but his justifications. Darrow almost becomes an unreliable narrator, and I loved it all.

This discomfort and moral greyness carried over throughout much of the series. While the first trilogy was in many ways a simple mission with the good guys saving the world, this book challenges much of what we took for granted before. Through Lysander, we see a young man who was torn from the only life he had been trained to and cast out into the wilderness. Alongside him, we see the fallout of decisions that were made years ago to support Darrow’s revolution, but had their own catastrophic consequences on other parts of the galaxy and felt by other people. I enjoyed Lysander for the most part, but I also struggled with his decisions towards the end. While I understood them and why he, specifically, would choose as he does, this discomfort of both rooting for AND against a character at the same time was challenging.

Lyria, growing up in the slums on Mars, highlights the fact that winning a war isn’t all that is needed to save a downtrodden people. She and her family are essentially refugees on their own planet, forgotten by the very people who set out to save them who are now caught up in the “bigger picture.” Yes, that big picture is important, but through Lyria, we see the very real image of a revolution that is still actively failing the vulnerable. Lyria was the one character who was entirely sympathetic, and I loved all of her chapters.

Ephraim, the Grey solider-turned-thief, was almost the most “Darrow-esque” character of the whole lot, at least as far as you can judge from the original trilogy. Which is funny, since of the four, he’s also the one most in the wrong throughout the book. But through him we had much of the action and adventure we had in the first series. More jokes, less brooding.

There was also, of course, the return of many characters from the first book. Most notably, Sevro is right along Darrow for much of this ride. I loved that for all of his craziness, of the two, Sevro was by far the more balanced individual, able to carry the trials of war more lightly, and, most importantly, still able to retain a healthy, loving relationship with his wife and children. His wife, Victra, was probably my favorite character in the book for the simple fact that she had a battle suit fitted for her 8 month pregnant body and didn’t let it slow her down one bit.

The biggest disappointment, however, was Mustang. Not in anything she does, but by the simple fact that she has very little page time in this book. It’s not unexpected, considering her role as Sovereign, but I still wish we had more from her. I did enjoy the conflict that arose between her and Darrow. They are on the same side, obviously, but Brown masterfully illustrated the fact that a ruling Sovereign and a general on the front lines might still find themselves in very different places and making very different decisions, even when reaching for the same goal.

This is clearly the first book in a trilogy (?), and while many of the storylines are wrapped up well enough for the book itself, there are just as many ongoing challenges that are only made worse in this first book. Things go pretty badly for almost everyone involved and it definitely seems to be heading towards a “darkest before the dawn” type place. Further, given this book’s willingness to confront the moral quandaries and grey zones of warfare, it feels like less of a given that all will end well for our heroes. As we’ve seen here, winning the battle doesn’t get you very far if you don’t know how to live without fighting. And what’s more, what is the line in a war to save a galaxy? And are you even saving it to begin with? This book challenges its readers in ways that the original trilogy did not, and that is one of the highest marks in its favor. If you’re a fan of the first series, definitely get your hands on this one soon! But make sure to browse through those first few books again first, cuz, man, there are A LOT of characters and connections that I had to try and remember as I went along!

Rating 9: Darker and more complicated than the first, but just as excellent, especially with its expanded POV character cast.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Iron Gold” is a new book and isn’t on any relevant Goodreads lists, but it should be on “Sword and Laser Sci-Fi.”.

Find “Iron Gold” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review & Giveaway: “Senlin Ascends”

35271523Book: “Senlin Ascends” by Josiah Bancroft

Publishing Info: Orbit, January 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an ARC from the publisher!

Book Description: The Tower of Babel is the greatest marvel in the world. Immense as a mountain, the ancient Tower holds unnumbered ringdoms, warring and peaceful, stacked one on the other like the layers of a cake. It is a world of geniuses and tyrants, of airships and steam engines, of unusual animals and mysterious machines. Soon after arriving for his honeymoon at the Tower, the mild-mannered headmaster of a small village school, Thomas Senlin, gets separated from his wife, Marya, in the overwhelming swarm of tourists, residents, and miscreants.

Senlin is determined to find Marya, but to do so he’ll have to navigate madhouses, ballrooms, and burlesque theaters. He must survive betrayal, assassins, and the long guns of a flying fortress. But if he hopes to find his wife, he will have to do more than just endure.

This quiet man of letters must become a man of action. 

Review: I firstly want to thank Orbit publishing for sending me an ARC copy of “Senlin Ascends”!

For someone who used to work in a historic Victorian house in full Victorian maid’s uniform (and sometimes Victorian style undergarments), I’m surprisingly not in tune with steampunk literature. My only steps in the genre are Alan Moore’s “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” comic series, and the book “The Clockwork Scarab”. But when Orbit sent me “Senlin Ascends”, it became clear quite quickly that I was going to be jumping right into the deep end of a complex and steampunky world. I will admit that I was a bit overwhelmed at first as I got to know Thomas Senlin, cautious and meek school teacher, and his excursion into a technology ridden and complex Tower of Babel. But as I read on, I got into the groove.

The first thing that struck me was how intricate and creative this alternate world is that Josiah Bancroft has created. The Tower of Babel is an imposing structure from Biblical Mythology, and Bancroft transports it to a Victorian-esque time period in a world that is similar to our own, but not quite the same. The references to Victorian societal norms and fashions within a world of steam blimps and flying ships was very fun, as were the strange puzzles and conflicts within the Tower itself as Senlin moves his way through, hoping to find his lost wife, Myra. From drug dens to maniacal plays to space piracy, Bancroft puts Senlin in a world that he, and the reader, doesn’t see coming. I enjoyed jumping from scenario to scenario, experiencing it through the eyes of someone just as uninitiated as I was. The writing itself to describe this world was lyrical and flowing, reminding me of more classical styles similar to an adventure novel by Verne or Stevenson. It was just another nod to the time that steampunk tends to function in, and it fit the story perfectly.

I also enjoyed seeing the journey of Senlin himself. He starts as a meek and pragmatic school teacher from a small town, who brings is effervescent and new bride Mayra to the Tower in hopes of a vibrant honeymoon. All he knows of the Tower is what he has read in guidebooks, which make it seem fascinating and wondrous. As he comes to realize that it is, in fact, far more dangerous than he was led to believe, he has to confront himself and his own pitfalls and weaknesses if he wants to get Mayra back. To be frank, when Senlin starts out he is naive and privileged, and his transformation to hero is a slow one. It’s one thing if you start out merely naive, but it seems that Bancroft deliberately wanted to make him earn his hero status, as Senlin starts out with maddening cowardice, whose idealism has put his wife in serious danger that he can’t quite confront. I would go so far as to say that Senlin starts out as a rather unlikable character, as he abandons people who are helping him or working with him if he can escape with his tail between his legs. But to start him out this way means that he is going to learn from his mistakes, and by learning he becomes a better, if more hardened, person more equipped to function within the corrupt tower. His rotating companions and allies all have their roles to play in his growth, and I liked meeting them and seeing how he interacted with them.

But there was a glaring issue I took with “Senlin Ascends”, and that is how women have functioned within the narrative thus far. The most important, of course, is Mayra, and while we do get a little bit more insight beyond his here and there, she is very much objectified as a victim to be saved. She disappears within the first pages, and becomes this specter of longing who is merely idealized and not explored as a person, but as an ideal. I’m hoping that she does show up more in the later books and can become more than a beautiful, missing woman in a red helmet (side note: I love the fashions described in this book, and if this is what steampunk fashion is for the most part, I’m down!). Then there was Edith, one of the first people Senlin meets in the Tower. While she has ended up in a pretty cool place by the time he meets up with her again, what we see on page is her being put through the ringer and tortured, and not really any of the triumphs that bring her to final, self actualized state. It’s great she gets there eventually, but it would have meant more to see it. There is Voleta, who is the sister of one of Senlin’s companions, who was forced into performing acrobatics for abusive and corrupt men of power, another damsel in distress. And finally there’s Iren, an insanely strong enforcer who Senlin teaches how to read. While she was intriguing in her storyline, wanting to learn to read and become more that just brute force, she was, again, a woman to be saved in some way. I am going to give all of this the benefit of the doubt for now, as this is book one in a series and there are more books for all of them to come into their own. But I had hoped that women would play more of a role in this book beyond motivation for men.

Those issues aside, I did find “Senlin Ascends” to be a compelling story with lots of really neat ideas.

Rating 7: An exciting adventure novel with an interesting protagonist. I wish that female characters weren’t relegated to victim status, but am hoping in the next book they will get more to do and be more fleshed out.

But there’s more! I am giving away a free ARC of this novel! Given the indie success of this book and the other books in the series, I’m thinking that it will make a splash in the mainstream publishing world! The giveaway is open to U.S. residents only, and will be running until January 23rd!

Enter The Giveaway Here! 

Reader’s Advisory:

“Senlin Ascends” is just getting started and isn’t on any Goodreads lists, but I think that it would fit in on “Steampunk”, and “Best Steampunk and Gaslight Works”.

Find “Senlin Ascends” at your library using WorldCat!

Rah Rah for RA!: Spooky Reads for Kids!

Occasionally we here at Library Ladies get an email asking for some Reader’s Advisory. Sometimes it’s a general ‘what should I read next?’, and sometimes it’s a specific genre or theme that the reader is asking for. We do our best to match the reader to some books that they may like based on the question they give us. 

Dear Library Ladies,

As a person who is occasionally asked for reading recommendations for kids/teens, I could use some advice. I’m not well versed in the scary/horror story genre, so I would like some suggestions for books for kids, middle grade, and teens. Since I can’t always interpret the scary-tolerance level of the people that ask, a range, or even a general guideline for people new to this genre, would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

Sincerely,

“Person who definitely did not fast forward through the Oogie Boogie Man song as a kid”

Hi, Person!

Good on you trying to expand your literary repertoire! It’s always good to have a nice bag of tricks when it comes to all genres. Given that horror can run a huge gamut, we’ll give you some titles that could be for those who need tamer works, and those who want to be super scared.

Picture Books:

7552359Book: “Zen Ghosts” by John J Muth

While this picture book does talk about ghosts and spooky folklore to an extent, the imagery and the themes are so gentle and muted that it probably won’t be too scary for any reader. Muth’s books in this series star a panda who gives zen teachings to children, and even in this Halloween themed book he addresses the spirit of the season as well as more thoughtful and introspective things.

363973Book: “The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything” by Linda Williams

This is another Halloween themed story, but it can work year round as well. This brave little old lady is normally not afraid of anything, but then something follows her home. It’s a story that shows that even brave people can be scared sometimes, and that sometimes confronting your fears can be hard, but rewarding.

760205Book: “There’s A Nightmare in My Closet” by Mercer Mayer

What child hasn’t been afraid of things hiding under their bed or in their closet? This story is about a boy who ultimately confronts that monster in his closet, and finds out that it may not be as scary as he thought. The empowerment of the main character is a nice touch to a story that teaches the readers that sometimes what we are afraid of can’t really hurt us. And Mercer Mayer is always a joy, with fun and sweet characters.

Middle Grade:

267972Book: “Wait Til Helen Comes” by Mary Downing Hahn

Mary Downing Hahn is one of the high queens of children’s horror, and “Wait Til Helen Comes” is probably her most well known. When Michael and Molly’s mother marries Heather’s father, the blended family goes through immediate growing pains. Not only is Heather a manipulative brat, but she is constantly talking about her new friend Helen… who happens to be a ghost with not so nice intentions. This book is both creepy, and also addresses some real life issues involving family and siblings.

22859559Book: “The Jumbies” by Tracey Baptiste

This book brings Caribbean folklore to the forefront as it sends thrills and chills down readers spines. Corinne and her father are non believers when it comes to
Jumbies, Haitian folk creatures that lure people into the woods to eat them. But when
Corinne’s father falls under the mysterious spell of a strange woman named Severine, she needs to enlist the help of her friends and a witch in hopes of getting her father back! With diverse characters and a mythology that may be new to readers, “The Jumbies” is a fun, spooky read!

125581Series: “Goosebumps” by R.L. Stine

Well, of course. R.L. Stine’s classic book series for kids may have started in the 1990s, but it remains a favorite of children who love to be scared. While the levels of horror and themes vary from book to book, there are so many different monsters and creepy crawlies that most horror fans will find a couple that resonate with them (Kate still thinks about “The Werewolf of Fever Swamp” on occasion). True, the stories can be repetitive at times, but the familiarity can be a plus for those who want to read more and more with an author they are comfortable with.

Young Adult:

18748653Book: “Daughters Unto Devils” by Amy Lukavics

Starting this section off with a book for hardcore horror fans. The cover alone is jarring and upsetting! When Amanda Verner and her pioneer family move from their home in the mountains to an abandoned house on the prairie, weird things start happening. Amanda, with secrets of her own, starts to wonder if the demon she thinks saw that past winter has followed her… With claustrophobic settings and an undercurrent of paranoia, this book will keep the reader up at night jumping at any sounds outside the window.

19364719Book: “Slasher Girls and Monster Boys” by April Genevieve Tulchoke

For people who want multiple scary stories that can be read in one sitting, “Slasher Girls and Monster Boys” may be the book for them! this collection of horror short stories takes various pop culture influences to make all new takes of terror. From multiple authors in the YA horror genre, this collection has something fun and scary for everyone! The scary factor also varies from story to story, some being tame and weird, others being deeply disturbing.

25263927Book: “The Girl from The Well” by Rin Chupeco

Fans of “The Ring” and “The Grudge” will be familiar with the premise. Okiku, a Japanese vengeance ghost, traveled the world hunting down child killers and rapists, giving them a death they truly, truly deserve. But one day she stumbles upon a boy named Tarquin, an American teenager with intricate and strange tattoos. They aren't just ordinary tattoos. There is something creepy and sweet about an onryō actually helping others instead of straight up murdering them…

So there you have it!! A list of horror for kids of all ages and all levels of freak out tolerance. If anyone else has any recommendations, leave them in the comments!

 

 

Serena’s Review: “Beneath the Sugar Sky”

27366528Book: “Beneath the Sugar Sky” by Seanan McGuire

Publishing Info: Tor, January 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley

Book Description: Beneath the Sugar Sky” returns to Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children. At this magical boarding school, children who have experienced fantasy adventures are reintroduced to the “real” world.

Sumi died years before her prophesied daughter Rini could be born. Rini was born anyway, and now she’s trying to bring her mother back from a world without magic.

Previously Reviewed: “Every Heart a Doorway” and “Down Among the Sticks and Bones”

Review: I read and loved the first book in this series of novellas, had complicated feelings about the second, though still largely enjoyed it, and was counting down the days until I could get my hands on this one (even better, I got it early so I was able to do away with my “counting calendar” before the madness really took over).

“Beneath the Sugar Sky” introduces us to Cora, yet another girl who has been unwillingly returned to a world where she feels she no longer belongs. New to the Home for Wayward Children, she is just beginning to make friends with the others around her and beginning to understand the far-reaching and complicated network of other worlds that children have traveled to and from for years. But, like them all, she wants only to find her door and return as soon as possible. Instead, what she finds, is a girl who has traveled to this “regular world” with one goal and one goal only: to resurrect her mother, Sumi, who died so tragically way back in the first book.

First off, I loved the combination of introducing a completely new character and world through Cora, but also directly tying the plot to the action from the very first book in the series, and using this contrivance to more naturally bring in characters from the first two books with whom we are familiar and enjoy. I particularly loved the surprise appearance of a past main character and exploring more fully the world she loves.

And that was another great thing! We got to visit multiple fantastical worlds in this book! I always love adventure/quest stories, and that it was lovely following our band of strange heroes through various worlds and seeing how they reacted/experienced each of these worlds. We know that the worlds choose children who are natural fits for those worlds, so seeing those characters out of place in a strange new world was very interesting, highlighting how “high nonsense” worlds would have a negative impact on characters who are more aligned to “logical” worlds. And how the world itself could actively resist those rules being pushed upon it.

Alongside some returning characters, the two new faces are Cora and Rini. Cora, our main character, was an excellent addition to a ever-growing pantheon of characters who push against conformative exceptions of society that make quick judgements of who a person is. In this particular story, we see Cora dealing with the judgements based on her weight. Her athleticism, particularly in the water, was continuously dismissed before she finds her own door that leads to a water world where she goes on adventures as a mermaid. There, in the freezing depths, her extra layers and strong, poweful body are an asset. So, here, returned to a world that sees only a “fat girl,” Cora is struggling to re-assert the powerful self within her.

While I did like the exploration of the judgements and insecurities that Cora deals with in this aspect, I was also a little underwhelmed with its resolution. Namely, there never was much of a resolution to speak of. Throughout the story Cora remains insecure about the judgements she assumes others are making about her. At the same time, she knows her own strength and begins to see how truly in-tune her own world was to her particular strengths. But she also finds ways to use those same strengths in other environments. However, I felt that this particular thread was left a bit hanging in the end. The plot itself was resolved, but this arc seemed to just peter out without any true revelations, either on Cora’s part or on other’s.

Rini was very fun, being the first “native” other world character we’ve seen. It was fun watching her character travel through the book with a “nonsense” perspective on everything. So far, we’ve only seen children from our world who, while particularly attuned for one world or another, understand that strangeness of it when compared to our “real world.” Through Rini, we see a character who has grown up in one of these strange lands and understands its rules and history (there was some great stuff with a creation story here) as as “obvious” as we consider our own world’s rules and history.

This was an excellent third story to McQuire’s Wayward Children series. While some of the internal conflicts weren’t resolved to the extent that I wish they had been, I very much enjoyed her combination of new worlds and characters with familiar faces. Further, each book seems to build upon the last as far as the mythology and connection between all of these various worlds. Even more fun, the characters themselves are learning right along side us! For fans of this series, definitely check this one out. And for those of you not on this train yet, get on, but start with the first as it’s a “must read” to fully appreciate this on.

Rating 8: Whimsical and dark, but coming up just short on a few of its character arcs.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Beneath the Sugar Sky” is a newer book, but it is on this Goodreads list: “2018 Queer SFF Releases.”

Find “Beneath the Sugar Sky” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “It’s Always The Husband”

31451082Book: “It’s Always The Husband” by Michele Campbell

Publishing Info: St. Martin’s Press, May 2017

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

Book Description: Kate, Aubrey, and Jenny. They first met as college roommates and soon became inseparable, even though they are as different as three women can be. Twenty years later, one of them is standing at the edge of a bridge . . and someone else is urging her to jump.

How did things come to this?

As the novel cuts back and forth between their college years and their adult years, you see the exact reasons why these women love and hate each other—but can feelings that strong lead to murder? Or will everyone assume, as is often the case, that it’s always the husband? 

Review: On the show “Major Crimes”, one of my favorite characters, Detective Lt. Provenza, has a tag line that he lives by. “It’s always the husband, it’s always the husband it’s ALWAYS the husband.” Of course, on the show it isn’t ALWAYS the husband, but it plays to the sad statistic that when a woman is murdered, the odds are that her murderer is going to be her husband or boyfriend. It probably doesn’t surprise you that when I first heard of the book “It’s Always The Husband” by Michele Campbell that this phrase was going through my head. But like on “Major Crimes”, I had a feeling going in that it would be a bit more complicated than the steadfast and all too real adage that Provenza likes to toss about.

The story is told through two time periods that tend to flip flop from one to the other. The first is twenty years in the past, when three women start their freshman year of college at a prestigious school in New England. Aubrey is the girl who got there solely on her brains, and is escaping an impoverished life back in Nevada. Jenny is a townie who has ambitions and hopes to become more than her small town expectations. And Kate is the entitled and rick party girl, who expects life to be handed to her. Their differences were stark and while I had a hard time believing that they would have been as close as the book makes them out to be (specifically Jenny; I just don’t believe that she would have put up with Kate’s bullshit), I felt like they were all well explored and fleshed out. I liked seeing how they changed and shifted in their personalities from their freshman year to the present day, when they have all gone their separate ways and established themselves. I also liked that none of them were all good, or all bad. While Kate was absolutely a wretched and toxic human being, Campbell threw in some background and plot points that humanized her. While Jenny was determined and incredibly competent, and absolutely my favorite of the three main characters, she makes stupid decisions and mistakes that I wanted to smack her upside the head for. And Aubrey is so damaged and innocent that you definitely feel sorry for her, but a dark side lingers there, and when it rears it’s ugly head you can’t help but be a bit freaked out by it. As a reader I cared about all of them in some way, and was invested in how things turned out for all of them, and who it was that ended up on that bridge. It may also be a testament to how good the narrator was on this audiobook, as she varied her voices and inflections for each character wonderfully.

The mystery itself was very well done. The clues to what happened are laid out in both the past and the present, giving hints both in actions and the characters personality traits. This book definitely kept me guessing as it went on, and I never had a complete handle on what the ultimate solution was, which I really liked. My thoughts and opinions shifted in the ways that Campbell probably wanted them to, and I didn’t even mind that I was being led about like a puppet on a string because it was so fun to be taken on this journey. It eventually becomes clear just who it is on the bridge, but even getting to that first reveal was a fun trip to take, and it was even more enticing to find out who put her in that position, and why.

I will say that there were a couple of things that I took umbrage with. For one, there is a storyline with the new Chief of police in town who is investigating the murder, Owen. He goes in completely biased, as he had a VERY short dalliance with the victim before she ends up dead, and I found myself just irritated with everything about him and his motivations. I also found it a bit hard to swallow that an unexpected dinner with a woman who didn’t even give him her real name would affect him so much, no matter how magnetic she was, and it felt like an unnecessary way to throw in some drama. There are plenty of cops who try to fit evidence to a perp as opposed to the other way around without having a personal connection to the victim, so that seemed a bit superfluous. And this book also does that thing that I just cannot stand, in that in the last page and paragraphs of the book a FINAL TWIST is revealed. Man, that made me roll my eyes super hard. But unlike other books that have implemented this strategy in my recent reading, I enjoyed this one enough for everything else that I couldn’t hold it  totally against it. Just know that it’s coming.

“It’s Always The Husband” was a sudsy and compelling thriller that I had a great time listening to. While it had some flaws, overall I greatly enjoyed it. And I think that it would truly get Provenza to rethink his usual mantra.

Rating 7: A fast paced and well plotted thriller with some great revelations and some great surprises. One plot line was a bit tedious and frustrating, but overall I enjoyed what this book had to give.

Reader’s Advisory:

“It’s Always The Husband” is included on the Goodreads lists “2017 Librarian Recommended Books”, and “Best Twists”.

Find “It’s Always The Husband” at your library using WorldCat!