Serena’s Review: “The Reluctant Queen”

32600602Book: “The Reluctant Queen” by Sarah Beth Durst

Publishing Info: Harper Voyager, July 2017

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

Book Description: Not long ago, Daleina used her strength and skill to survive those spirits and assume the royal throne. Since then, the new queen has kept the peace and protected the humans of her land. But now for all her power, she is hiding a terrible secret: she is dying. And if she leaves the world before a new heir is ready, the spirits that inhabit her beloved realm will run wild, destroying her cities and slaughtering her people.

Naelin is one such person, and she couldn’t be further removed from the Queen—and she wouldn’t have it any other way. Her world is her two children, her husband, and the remote village tucked deep in the forest that is her home, and that’s all she needs. But when Ven, the Queens champion, passes through the village, Naelin’s ambitious husband proudly tells him of his wife’s ability to control spirits—magic that Naelin fervently denies. She knows that if the truth of her abilities is known, it will bring only death and separation from those she loves.

But Ven has a single task: to find the best possible candidate to protect the people of Aratay. He did it once when he discovered Daleina, and he’s certain he’s done it again. Yet for all his appeals to duty, Naelin is a mother, and she knows her duty is to her children first and foremost. Only as the Queen’s power begins to wane and the spirits become emboldened—even as ominous rumors trickle down from the north—does she realize that the best way to keep her son and daughter safe is to risk everything.

Previously reviewed: “The Queen of Blood”

Review: “The Queen of Blood” was a book that seemed to be flying under the radar and much deserved a bigger notice. The story of Daleina’s tremulous rise to the queendom was full of action, pain, death, and triumph, and I loved every minute of it. Ending with her finally on the throne, I was so excited to see where her story went next, so I went into “The Reluctant Queen” with high expectations. Unfortunately, while it still had strong aspects that I liked, over all it didn’t quite live up to those expectations for me.

Daleina has only been on the throne for six months when she learns that she is dying, having contracted a disease that results in her falling into a death-like coma at random intervals, until, after a few short months, she finally doesn’t wake from one. This leaves the kingdom in a terrible state, having lost all of its heirs in the massacre that occurred when Daleina rose to power at the end of the last book. Frantic, she sends out her Champions to search for an heir, but secretly places all of her hope and trust into Ven, her own Champion. And luckily for everyone, he finds someone. But unluckily for everyone, she’s a happy family woman how has no interest in ambition or taking on the dangerous role of Queen.

While this book didn’t live up to my expectations based on the first one, several of the strengths that I so appreciated there were still used here. For one, the world-building remains on point. Renthia is not a safe place to live, and even with a Queen in power, we see that challenges that face the people of a world infested with malicious spirits who wish to do them harm. Like the first book, this one doesn’t shy away from the bloody and tragic results when the spirits gain even an ounce of freedom. And it isn’t only nameless deaths, but ones that our characters and us as readers feel ourselves. By leaning into these horrors, the stakes of this story are high from the beginning and we’re never given a chance to forget what it would really mean should our main characters not find a solution.

There is also a compelling mystery at the heart of the story that leaves readers and the characters questioning the loyalty of everyone around them. While I could guess the identity of the person ultimately pulling the strings fairly easily, the traitor at the heart of things did come as a surprise and had its own tragedy tied up with it.

I also enjoyed reading once again about some of the familiar characters. Ven, of course, was still his excellent grumpy, but dangerous, self. We saw our favorite clever wolf Bane back again. And most surprising of all, got to spend a good deal of time with Daleina’s younger sister as she worked to find a cure for her sister’s illness. Daleina, herself, was also still a joy to read, but this starts to get into my qualms as well. There simply wasn’t enough of her! After spending the entire first book reading about her story, it was tough coming into this one and finding her largely side-lined for most of it, seen through the eyes of others as a regal, powerful figure, while we, who have seen her inner struggles, know there is so much more going on there. I think it was a misstep to essentially bench a character like Daleina who had been given such a good amount of development and was now finally facing the challenges she had been working towards in the first book.

And then, of course, that leaves us with our other major new character, the reluctant heir Naelin. Look, I really, really wanted to like Naelin. For one thing, she’s another example of a middle aged woman serving as a lead in fantasy fiction, something that’s not seen very often. And, what’s more, she’s a mother who must balance her this role with every decision she makes.

I’m not a mother myself, so I can’t speak to the realities of this situation, and I get what the author was trying to do, presenting Naelin in a manner that reinforces that this is the part of herself that she values the most. But after reading an entire book from Daleina’s perspective, a girl who had suffered her own tragedies and left those she loved behind because she recognized the greater duty of protecting them using even her own limited powers, it just rankled to read about Naelin’s struggles here. Naelin who is immensely more powerful than Daleina and who is presented with an even more dire situation. And yet, for almost three quarters of the book, all we get from her is not just reluctance, as the title would suggest, but out right, irrational, refusal to step up.

And I want to highlight the “irrational” portion of that. Her fears are largely based in not wanting harm to come to her children and thinking her best avenue to protect them is staying with them constantly. Yes, in a vacuum this is correct. But she lives in a land plagued by spirits who are only held in check by the power of a queen. Without that queen, without heirs ready to take over should that queen fall at any  moment, everyone, including her children, will be exposed to not only danger but likely death. Again and again, Naelin’s actions were so short-sighted that it became harder and harder to like her. At a certain point, it started to even come across as selfishness. Did she think all of the others heirs and queens didn’t have families and loved ones of their own? And she’s even being allowed to keep her family with her!

She does come around in the end, and the last portion of the book has some really intense action and it is fun to watch Naelin’s power at work. But for me, it was a bit too little too late. On top of not connecting to Naelin’s character fully, as the story went on and she dug her heels more and more into incomprehensible refusals, I also began to resent the lost page time that we could have spent with Daleina.

Ultimately, while the story still retained much of what made me like the first book so much (the dark work, great side characters, and Daleina herself), my dislike of the new main character plagued the story too much for me to fully ever enjoy it. I’ll likely still read the next one, as, like I said, Naelin does get herself together at the end of the book, and the story was left with several big questions left open. But fans of the original story should definitely expect a change if they pick up this one.

Rating 6: A disappointing sequel due largely to an unlikable new main character, but not without merit as a whole.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Reluctant Queen” isn’t on many relevant lists for some reason, but it is on “Queens.”

Find “The Reluctant Queen” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “We Sold Our Souls”

37715859Book: “We Sold Our Souls” by Grady Hendrix

Publishing Info: Quirk Books, September 2018

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

Book Description: A new novel of supernatural horror (and pop culture) from the author of Horrorstor, My Best Friend’s Exorcism, and Paperbacks from Hell.

In the 1990s, heavy metal band Dürt Würk was poised for breakout success — but then lead singer Terry Hunt embarked on a solo career and rocketed to stardom as Koffin, leaving his fellow bandmates to rot in rural Pennsylvania.

Two decades later, former guitarist Kris Pulaski works as the night manager of a Best Western – she’s tired, broke, and unhappy. Everything changes when she discovers a shocking secret from her heavy metal past: Turns out that Terry’s meteoric rise to success may have come at the price of Kris’s very soul.

This revelation prompts Kris to hit the road, reunite with the rest of her bandmates, and confront the man who ruined her life. It’s a journey that will take her from the Pennsylvania rust belt to a Satanic rehab center and finally to a Las Vegas music festival that’s darker than any Mordor Tolkien could imagine. A furious power ballad about never giving up, even in the face of overwhelming odds, We Sold Our Souls is an epic journey into the heart of a conspiracy-crazed, paranoid country that seems to have lost its very soul…where only a girl with a guitar can save us all. 

Review: A special thanks to NetGalley for sending me and eARC of this book!

My musical heart deftly belongs to New Wave and Punk music, but I have indeed dabbled in the wonders of metal, specifically Norwegian Black Metal bands like Mayhem and Darkthrone. So with my slight knowledge of some history of the evolution of black metal (thanks, Last Podcast on the Left!) I was all the more intrigued by Grady Hendrix’s new horror novel “We Sold Our Souls”. Given how much I thoroughly enjoyed “My Best Friend’s Exorcism”, I had high hopes that his newest work would be a similar reading experience.

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But with more corpse paint. (source)

We follow Kris, a former heavy metal musician whose life has gone off the rails. She used to be a founding member of gritty club band Dürt Würk that was on the edge of stardom, only for one night that has haunted her ever since to throw them all off track. Now Kris is working at a Best Western, and her former friend and bandmate, Terry Hunt, has found stardom through Nu Metal with a band called Koffin. Kris is a fairly typical Hendrix protagonist, in that she is flawed and damaged, but scrappy as hell. Her passion for metal is apparent from the get go, but Hendrix never falls into any familiar tropes that other less skilled authors may have implemented. Kris isn’t a sexy bad girl with dyed hair and a snarly attitude, nor is she too edgy for her own good (because ‘edgy’ is obviously how a woman metal head would be). On the contrary, she’s older, she’s a bit used up, and she’s somewhat unlikable, but she also has a heart and a soul and a drive to reclaim her past and the success that she assuredly is owed. Her love of the genre is thrown into every page, with quick and dirty history lessons tossed in here and there to give her a serious grounding within her place and her motivations. Hendrix is great at tossing in the pop culture without being overt about it, so it feels organic and natural as opposed to slapped on for the sake of it. Her journey of reconnecting with her bandmates, and then figuring out that they are in danger because of an ever present dark force that goes back to the night the band broke up, is a fun journey that has a lot of moments of pathos, be it about lost friendships, the unfairness of the music industry, or loving something so much and just not quite achieving a life within in no matter how hard you try. Kris’s story in this regard absolutely worked for me.

What didn’t work as well were the actual horror aspects of this book. As it says in the description, Kris’s soul was sold to a demonic entity so that Terry could succeed. It isn’t as simple as a Mephistopheles kind of deal, as Hendrix makes his own mythos and runs with it. While I appreciate the creativity here, I think that Hendrix does falter a bit when it comes to the horror elements of his books. There were scenes with various demonic beings, creatures, and forces that were meant to scare and unsettle, but every time we interacted with them it felt a little bit forced. Some of the scariest moments had nothing to do with the demons, and more to do with everyday horrors that felt plausible and completely realistic. For example, there is a scene where Kris has found herself in an underground pipe system, and can’t go backwards, only forwards, not knowing if the pipe is going to dead end out, or if she is going to get stuck. THIS was the part of the book that had my heart racing, not seeing someone get torn to pieces by possessed followers of Terry. Hendrix’s true strength is within the heart he gives his characters, and if this book had just been about a former band member confronting the person who did her wrong, without the supernatural elements, it would have been just as lovely and effective. But that doesn’t say much about the horror elements, now does it.

All that said, I did enjoy reading “We Sold Our Souls”, and think that Hendrix has once again delivered an entertaining and heartfelt book. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go blast some Darkthrone on a loop for a bit and just get lost in the music that he so lovingly brings to life within the pages of this book.

Rating 7: A fun love letter to heavy metal, “We Sold Our Souls” has a lot of strengths, but also falls into familiar traps when Hendrix tries a little too hard to be scary.

Reader’s Advisory:

“We Sold Our Souls” is fairly new and not on any Goodreads lists as of yet. But if you are interested in metal music, “Lords of Chaos” may be of interest to you, and it would also fit in on “Books for Metalheads”.

Find “We Sold Our Souls” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Dreadful Company”

36518517Book: “Dreadful Company” by Vivian Shaw

Publishing Info: Orbit, July 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: from the publisher!

Book Description: When Greta Helsing, doctor to the undead, is unexpectedly called to Paris to present at a medical conference, she expects nothing more exciting than professional discourse on zombie reconstructive surgery and skin disease in bogeymen — and hopefully at least one uneventful night at the Opera.

Unfortunately for Greta, Paris happens to be infested with a coven of vampires — and not the civilized kind. If she hopes to survive, Greta must navigate the darkest corners of the City of Lights, the maze of ancient catacombs and mine-tunnels underneath the streets, where there is more to find than simply dead men’s bones.

Previously reviewed: “Strange Practice”

Review: I loved the brilliantly odd “Strange Practice” and blazed through it in a single summer day last year. So there was no question that I would get my hands on its sequel, “Dreadful Company” as soon as possible. And the quirkiness, strong characters, and unique world-building came through for me again!

Though a doctor to the undead, Greta Helsing’s responsibilities are very similar to those you’d find for any medical professional, up to and including attending conferences and presenting on obscure topics of medical interest. While at such a conference in Paris, however, things go astray when Greta starts noticing strange (but adorable!) little monsters popping up at her hotel room. Where did they come from? Why are they here? What starts out as innocent questions quickly leads Greta down a path that leads to a nasty group of vampires who read a few too many Anne Rice novels for anyone’s tastes. But even this may be just the beginning of a much more serious threat looming over the entire city.

One of the biggest strengths of the first book was its world building and the clever manipulation of classic monsters into new, often very suave, beings. And here that strength is just as evident. In a new city, we are introduced to several new creatures ranging from the adorable well monsters and hair monsters that lurk in Greta’s hotel room to the bigger power players such as a werewolf who has been the guardian of the city for centuries and two undying ghost experts who are just in town to handle a local haunting. They are all expertly crafted and incorporate interesting twists on the traditional lore associated with these types of supernatural creatures.

Of course, the vampire coven itself is one big mockery of many of the tropes found in vampire fiction. You’ve got leather, you’ve got glitter, you’ve got bones used to decorate gothic, blood orgies. And while they serve as menacing villains on their own, half of the fun is enjoying Greta and her friends scathing judgement of the silliness of this group.

Of course, among the new faces, we also have the familiar ones of our favorite vampires, Rutheven and Varney who must come to Paris when they discover that Greta may be in over her head (but is she really, guys? It’s Greta! Girl can get it done!). In the first book, there were several fun asides having to do with the classic vampire fiction which was derived from these two real vampires’ lives. Here, we have even more classic monster tales making an appearance, even if the monsters themselves remain in the shadows. Probably one of the most fun pieces of this story, for me, was watching how these classic tales were worked into the story on hand, and I was particularly thrilled when one in particular became a much larger focus than I had originally thought!

Greta, of course, is her usual excellent self as the heroine of the tale. While this book incorporated even more characters, which meant even more page time that needed to be shared between their stories that twisted in and out of Greta’s own, I still found myself preferring her story specifically. Not only is she a fun character to follow, but it was great seeing her in action in this story, winning over her foes with her competence and sympathy. She may not be up to fighting any battles with supernatural beings, but here she proves why she doesn’t have to.

The story was slower in the beginning, so it did take a bit for me to become fully invested in events. As I said, Greta is sharing the stage not only with the familiar characters from the first book, but with an entirely new cast of characters, friends and foes alike. And while all of their various plot lines tie together neatly in the end, in the beginning it was a bit tough reading some of the slower storylines while wanting to anxiously get back to the action with Greta. It all pays off in the end, however.

For fans of the first book, I definitely recommend continuing with this series! In many ways, it’s even stronger than the first.

Rating 8: A solid second showing proves that the clever concept and compelling characters weren’t a one-off!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Dreadful Company” is a newer book so isn’t on any relevant lists, but it should be on “Magic Punk.”

Find “Dreadful Company” at your library using WorldCat!

A Revisit to Fear Street: “The Boy Next Door”

176473Book: “The Boy Next Door” (Fear Street #39) by. R.L. Stine

Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, 1996

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: This guy’s got killer looks…

Lauren and Crystal think Scott has it all. He’s handsome. He’s the new star of Shadyside High’s football team. And he’s moved in right next door! Both girls will do anything. Say anything. Try anything to get the chance to go out with him. That’s all either of them want.

But that’s all Scott’s last girlfriend wanted, too—and now she’s dead.

Had I Read This Before: No.

The Plot: We open with an as of yet unnamed narrator who is attending their girlfriend Dana’s funeral. It’s first person POV, and the narrator is talking about how they convinced Dana to sneak with them into the backyard of their neighbor so they could go swimming after dark. They convinced Dana to do a swan dive off the diving board, and she did… but joke’s on her, the pool was empty, and since it was pitch black apparently (light pollution or other lights from neighboring houses nonexistent) she didn’t realize it and crashed headfirst into the cement. Our narrator muses about how they pulled her out and waited for her last breath before calling out for help. Apparently this was all done because they didn’t like that Dana started wearing short skirts and make-up because that’s ‘no way to behave’, but they say that they REALLY hope their next girlfriend doesn’t make them commit murder like Dana did.

Wow. Wow wow wow. You know, I’d say something snarky, but given that I feel like this is how incels actually approach women I just am kind of saddened by how ‘too real’ this prologue is.

Jump to Shadyside, specifically Fear Street, where Crystal is on the phone with her BFF since third grade Lynne as they talk about make-up and boys (NOTE: her name is Lynne, not Lauren, and boy was THAT a significant typo to be on the back cover of this book). Crystal notices that a moving truck has pulled up to the house next door, and who should jump out but a very CUTE BOY! Crystal gives Lynne the play by play as she watches the cute boy walk into the house, and then into the room across from her window. As Crystal watches him take his shirt off (at Lynne’s insistence, natch), she panics as he spots her. She drops the phone and disconnects from Lynne, and by the time she calls back he’s pulled his shade down. And, wouldn’t you know it, this new boy next door was our previous unnamed narrator. His name is Scott, and boy does he think Crystal looks like a TRAMP for wearing make up and a low cut LEOTARD, my GOD! He swears to himself that he won’t get so close to her that her wantonness makes him kill her.

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We aren’t even twenty five pages in and the misogyny is already trying the LAST of my patience (source).

Sometime later there is a knocking on Crystal’s front door, and while she hopes it’s Scott it’s just Lynne, whose blonde hair is now in ‘a thousand tiny braids’ in an effort to look like Bo Derek but really just looks like cultural appropriation. They split some ice cream and gossip about Scott (who is now Tailback for the Shadyside Tigers), and when Crystal’s Mom walks in the room Crystal internally laments that her mother is SO pretty but isn’t intersted in dating and isn’t that sad? I mean, Crystal, I get you want your Mom to be happy,  but maybe she is still a little bummed that your father died in that car accident a few years back? THEN Crystal’s sister Melinda walks in, and BOY IS SHE DRAB, with her sweaters and glasses and non polished nails! MAN! Then Lynne brings up some boy named Todd who asked Crystal out even though Melinda liked him, and Crystal can’t help being pretty and popular, Melinda, so why so upset about that blatant betrayal? Lynne asks Melinda what SHE thinks of Scott, and Melinda just blushes, which Crystal finds ‘sad’, because if she’s so SHY around boys she’ll NEVER get a boyfriend. Lynne states she’s going to ask him out, but Crystal says that SHE wants to ask him out, and they make a pact that whoever gets to go out with him (Melinda included, though Melinda isn’t too hopeful it would happen), rules need to be followed. 1) Be happy for whoever gets him, and 2) don’t try to sabotage the others to get an upper hand. They all agree, and Melinda goes off to read (NERD, amiright?), and Lynne goes to use the bathroom, but tosses a new tube of lipstick to Crystal. Crystal applies some, and then looks out the window to see Scott staring at her. Then he looks REAL mad about something, and hits the ground with the hoe he’s holding.

You’d think the Hoe Incident would have been a big ol’ red flag to Crystal, but at lunch later that week she and Lynne go to talk with Scott and another football player named Jake in hopes he’ll notice one of them. Lynne flirts relentlessly, but Scott seems more interested in talking to Crystal, and Crystal tells herself his garden tantrum must have been because of a fight with his parents or something. Lynne invites Scott over to her house that coming Sunday for a party (right in front of Jake, who has a thing for Lynne, so she cordially invites him too), but Scott says he can’t go. Lynne places her hand on his arm, and he raises his knife up in the air! Crystal thinks he’s going to stab Lynne, but he’s just pumping his fist for the sudden flash mob of a pep rally the cheerleaders are doing. She wonders if she’s losing it, and I’m thinking someone needs to give her “The Gift of Fear” STAT.

That Saturday Crystal goes into Melinda’s room in hopes of getting information on Scott (since Melinda shares a class with him). She also thinks about how lame Melinda is, what with her re-reading “Jane Eyre”, but I guess Melinda has her own prejudices because she rolls her eyes at her sister’s nail polish fetish. Melinda thinks that Scott is ‘sad’ about something (yes, very sad about murdering his girlfriend no doubt), and Crystal says that she thinks Lynne is going to win the contest because she is SO FLIRTY AND OUT THERE, and Crystal hasn’t gotten any phone calls from any guys in the past few weeks (except one, but that barely counts). Melinda isn’t exactly weeping in sympathy, and Crystal concludes that she’s jealous because Melinda is such an introvert and boys don’t pay any attention to her. She asks Melinda if she likes Scott too, and Melinda says she doesn’t even KNOW Scott so how could she like him? Crystal doesn’t accept that, but then Lynne calls so the sister conversation screeches to a halt. Lynne is bummed because Scott hasn’t called her either. Crystal mentions that Jake said that Scott is a good guy and a good football player, and Lynne decides that she should immediately hang up and pump Jake for information about this guy. Which seems a bit insensitive because Jake likes Lynne and Lynne knows it, but oh well. Crystal goes to get the mail and finds some that belongs to Scott’s dad, and sees this as the perfect opportunity to go ask him out. Meanwhile, Scott wakes up from a dream or something, thinking that he dreamed about killing the dog of a woman who ’embarrasses’ him by making kissy faces at him as he walks by. She’s described as having peroxide blonde hair and a nose ring, and could it be Suki Thomas?! I miss Suki!!! But then he looks at his hands, and realizes that there’s blood all over them. So maybe it wasn’t a dream after all. Luckily he has time to bury the dog!

After gathering the courage to go ask Scott out, Crystal walks up to the door (this has to be later…) and knocks on it. No one answers, but the door is open, so Crystal takes this as an invitation to walk inside. After all, if she doesn’t ask him out, Lynne certainly will! She climbs the steps, thinking her hears voices, and when she gets to the top she calls out for Scott. Someone then jumps out from behind a door and grabs her, but it’s just Jake playing a trick. Hardy har har, Jake. She follows him into Scott’s room, and Jake points out that they can see her bedroom from his bedroom. When he implies that Scott could spy, Scott gets SUPER offended and only calms down when Crystal says she knows he’d never do that. The doorbell rings, and Scott goes to answer it. When he comes back, Lynne is there! She claims that she was looking for Jake, but then looks VERY surprised and perturbed perhaps to see Crystal. Jake asks why she wanted to see him, and she says she needs help with her homework. So when Scott kicks them all out, Jake literally picks Lynne up and says he’ll help her right now. This is played for laughs, but given all the other creepy sexist stuff in here it just sticks out even worse than I probably would have before. Crystal doesn’t quite get the hint, but Scott asks her to leave too. Then he reiterates that he wouldn’t spy on her. Crystal hopes that he will kiss her, but when he doesn’t she leaves, humiliated. And then Scott is really mad that Crystal has been tempting him, and tries to calm down by reading the American Family magazine that she brought over… But then there’s a woman model in tight jeans, so he stabs himself in the hand. Like I said. Incel.

Later that week Crystal is determined to go ask Scott out, but when she gets to his house she sees Lynne parked on his porch with a bag of chips and a six pack of soda. Then Jake and Scott walk up, and once again they have an awkward hang out day in Scott’s house, watching TV together. Crystal not so subtly asks Scott if he has a girlfriend, and he says that he doesn’t anymore. Lynne asks why he hasn’t asked anyone out then, and he says he’s not ready. Crystal can tell that Scott seems upset, and wonders if Melinda was right about him. She crosses to sit next to him and asks why he doesn’t feel ready, and his weird flinchy reaction (so sexy, right girls?) makes her think that Melinda IS right. Lynne asks what the fuss is about and Scott says that he’s NOT ready to talk about it, and Crystal feels bad for being so ‘pushy’ with him because he probably has a broken heart and this is driving him crazy. Lynne suggests that they all go bike riding (though she implies that Crystal should go off with Jake), but once again Scott kicks them out, saying he has homework to do. The three of them start to leave, but then Lynne says she forgot her backpack. When she comes back out a few minutes later, Crystal can tell something happened. She waits for Jake to leave her house before asking Lynne, and Lynne says that she’s the winner because she kissed him. Crystal is mad, and Lynne reminds her of the first rule of the pact. Crystal says one kiss does NOT mean going out, but Lynne says she and Scott are going to be the talk of school. Meanwhile, Scott is so angry about her having the audacity to kiss him, he decides that she has to die.

So Scott goes to Lynne’s house and sneaks in, and finds her in the kitchen. He suggests that they go for a ride, and she says sure. He takes her to a cliffside under guise of looking at the view, but Lynne says she’s more interested in the view in the car. She tries to make a move, but he isn’t keen on it, and she says he’s weird because he broke and entered into her house and NOW he won’t even look at her, so what gives? She starts to kiss at him, and he’s about to smash her face into the dashboard, but then a random deus ex machina man knocks on the window asking for directions. Lynne gives them to him, and Scott knows he can’t kill her now. He thinks that she knew that he was going to kill her, but instead she comments on his ‘wild side’.

A week later Crystal and Lynne are hanging out at Lynne’s house and she’s SO upset that Scott hasn’t called her since their ‘date’. Crystal reminds her that he said he wasn’t ready to date, and maybe he tried but changed his mind. Lynne, so obsessed, doesn’t think that’s true, and for some reason they decide to call his with terrible French accents? For some reason? First two times it’s his mom. On the third time Lynne takes over, but Scott answers, and she panics. She admits that it’s her, and asks him if he wants to come over that night because her parents are out of town. Crystal is actually rooting for her now. But he says he has to clean up his room, and HONESTLY, LYNNE, at this point you need to just take the hint that he isn’t interested! I’m not siding with a psychopath, but if he was just a usual guy this would be really obsessive stalking behavior and it’s totally inappropriate. Scott hangs up and his Mom calls him to dinner. She complains about the prank calls and says that he shouldn’t hang out with ‘a girl like that’, and now we kinda get a glimpse into where his psychosis comes from.

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Mommy issues are truly an old reliable in horror! (source)

As she scolds him he decides that her weird anger at him over a dumb prank call is all Lynne’s fault, and imagines her guts spilling out.

Sometime later Crystal is calling Lynne but not getting an answer. It’s really late and she wonders where Lynne could be. She goes up into the attic, as Melinda likes to read up there, and they have a sisterly heart to heart about how different they are. Crystal says she doesn’t get how Melinda can be so comfortable being alone, but Melinda says that she doesn’t need other people to feel comfortable with herself. I like Melinda. Crystal is so worried about Lynne she goes to her house to check on her. She lets herself in with a spare key, noting a strange smell outside, and goes upstairs. She doesn’t find Lynne, but she does find a suicide note in which Lynne says that she had been acting in a way that was ‘no way to behave’!!! She realizes that the strange smell was exhaust, and runs out of the house and to the garage. She hears a car running, but can’t get the door open! When she jumps up to look in the window, she sees Lynne in the running car, dead!

At the funeral Scott thinks it’s dumb that Crystal is crying about Lynne being dead. After all, Lynne is dead because she ‘couldn’t behave’. He forced her by knifepoint to write the note and then locked her in the garage. He doesn’t like Crystal still because she had been throwing herself at him, but now that she’s stopped she’s a little better. He DOES, however, like Melinda, because MELINDA DOES know how to behave. He’s so relieved that Lynne is dead because now he won’t have to kill anyone ever again! Unless, of course, Crystal can’t behave…

A while later Melinda and Crystal are having another sisterly heart to heart, spilling their feelings and working out their differences. Melinda admits that she was jealous that Crystal and Lynne were so close. They are considering going to Jake’s house for a party when Scott calls! Crystal answers and they chat, and he says that he’d really hate for what happened to Lynne to happen to her. Crystal chalks it up to him just being worried about her, but then she’s floored, FLOORED when he says he actually wants to talk to Melinda! So Crystal hands the phone off, and Melinda talks to Scott… He then asks her to come over to the party at Jake’s! Melinda is freaking out, unsure of what to do or how to act, and Crystal encourages her to wear something cute and not like her dumpy usual clothes. Melinda isn’t sure, but Crystal says she will get her looking good, what a good deed she’s doing! And under normal circumstances, yes, but…..

At Jake’s party Scott is disgusted by all displays of women feeling confident in themselves. And when Melinda arrives, he is horrified to see her in a SHORT SKIRT!!! SO EVIL! But he does like that she waits to be invited in, so her manners are impeccable and that’s enough to grant a stay of execution for now. Later that night when Melinda gets home Crystal wants to hear everything. Melinda says that he didn’t kiss her goodnight, but he DID tell her about his old girlfriend, and that she died. He even cried about it. And then he asked her out for a movie that Saturday night. Crystal is wary about this, and she wonders if she’s just jealous, or if something else is nagging at her…

That Saturday Crystal is ‘helping’ Melinda get ready for her date. Melinda isn’t interested in wearing fancy clothes or make up, and refuses to let Crystal put any on. When Crystal protests, Melinda says that this is the way she dresses and she doesn’t want to gussy up! Crystal forces some blush on her, and there’s no time for Melinda to take it off because Scott is there to pick her up. Of course, when he sees her wearing MAKE UP he is FURIOUS. He takes the highway to the movie, and considers throwing her out the door! He almost does it too, but then changes his mind because he REALLY likes her, so he’s going to give her one more chance! Ugh. When Melinda gets home from her date she laments to Crystal that Scott doesn’t like her because he was quiet the whole time. Crystal says that that’s because Melinda is giving him mixed signals! SHE NEEDS TO DRESS SEXY AND WEAR MAKE UP, DAMMIT!

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(source)

Guys, I’m so frustrated. Like, okay, Scott is disgusting because he is a violent misogynist, and girls can wear make up and sexy outfits because him valuing purity is ridiculous and it does nothing but reduce women to objects, and this objectification of them when they don’t live up to his standards allows him to see them as less than human, and therefore okay to kill. BUT IN THE SAME VEIN, if Melinda doesn’t want to wear sexy outfits and doesn’t want to wear make up, THAT IS OKAY TOO!!! Why are we trying to make this into a value thing by saying that ‘oh no, Crystal wanting to gussy her up is going to get her killed!’, when in reality SCOTT IS GOING TO KILL HER BECAUSE HE’S NUTS!? Fuck this book.

Crystal makes Melinda go to school dressed up in full makeover mode, and Melinda says she isn’t comfortable. Crystal brushes off her sister’s lack of comfort, and spots Scott down the hallway. When she approaches him he’s slamming his fist into his locker and screaming about ‘no way to behave’, but when he sees her he tells her that he forgot his combination. Crystal is relieved because she was certain he was losing it (YA THINK?!), and then drags him down the hall to see Melinda. She’s convinced that his sudden look of shock is a positive thing.

A few days later Melinda is getting ready for her date with Scott, asking Crystal for advice on clothing. Now she’s apparently into fashion. Crystal is taking her sister’s relationship with Scott like a champ, and is going out with a friend that night to take her mind off of it. But she keeps thinking about ‘no way to behave’, because that was the phrase Lynne used in her suicide note, how weird! YES CRYSTAL, IT IS WEIRD! Meanwhile, Scott is pissed that Melinda is so dressed up, and she can tell that he’s upset. She tells him that she and Crystal have been trying to hard, what with her new look and all, and then Scott realizes that it’s CRYSTAL that’s been making her change her look! He tells her that he likes her the way she was, and that this is all Crystals’ fault! So now he thinks he has to kill Crystal! Melinda gets home and yells at Crystal about all the clothing, certain that Crystal was trying to sabotage her, and when she uses the phrase ‘no way to behave’, Crystal FINALLY gets it! She tells Melinda she thinks there’s something VERY wrong with Scott, and reminds her of the locker thing and the fact his girlfriend died, but Melinda doesn’t want to hear it and locks herself in her room. Crystal goes to HER room and looks out the window at Scott’s room, and sees him with a knife in his hand! She turns off her light so he doesn’t see her, but then he’s gone…. and heading outside and towards their house through the rainstorm that’s going on outside!! He rings the doorbell, and Crystal tells Melinda not to open it, but Melinda doesn’t listen and lets him inside. He then proceeds to chase Crystal up the steps, knife in hand!! He tackles her and is about to stab her, but Melinda at the bottom of the steps claims that THAT is Melinda he’s attacking (see, they look a LOT alike now that she’s all made over and shit). Scott is confused, but falls for it, and goes back DOWN the steps, now chasing Melinda! He attacks her, but Crystal smashes a vase over his head. The phone is dead because of the rain storm outside, and so the sisters run up to the attic. They hide in the steamer trunk, and Scott comes up into the attic. He realizes they have to be in the trunk, and knocks it over. They fall out, but he can’t tell them apart in the bad light, so he’s going to just have to kill them both…. but before he can he falls through the attic floor (I guess it was established earlier in the book that there was a hole, but I missed it). We get one more jump scare with him grabbing Crystal’s leg when she goes to investigate, but then he passes out.

Three months later Melinda and Crystal are thick as thieves. Melinda is still wearing cooler clothing, but is also still true to herself because she still likes books or something. Scott’s parents moved away and he’s locked up in a mental institution. As the sisters are getting ready to watch an old movie, they notice that a moving truck has pulled up to the house next door. A cute boy jumps out of the car. Melinda says that she ‘saw him first!’ The End.

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Gross. (source)

 

Body Count: 3, kinda. We got Dana off page, a dog, and Lynne.

Romance Rating: Zipola. Fuck that.

Bonkers Rating: 5, mostly because Scott’s psychosis was all over the place.

Fear Street Relevance: I’ll give it an 8! Both Scott and Crystal live on Fear Street and lots of the important action takes place there because of it.

Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:

“She tugged open the door. Saw someone standing there. Saw someone staring back at her. And started to scream.”

… And it was a mirror!!!

That’s So Dated! Moments: Well Stine is making references to Demi Moore movies again, since Crystal thinks that if she makes her voice husky like Moore she’ll be more desirable. Also, she and Lynne think that Scott looks like Keanu Reeves, but honestly I’m looking at that cover and I am NOT seeing that at all.

Best Quote:

“‘I’m not like you,’ Melinda told her. ‘I’m quiet. I don’t want to go out just to go out. If I enjoy someone’s company – great. But I don’t want someone around whose main purpose is to keep me from being alone.'”

That is actually the most introspective moment I’ve ever seen in a “Fear Street” book, so props to you, Melinda!

Conclusion: “The Boy Next Door” wasn’t exactly promoting violent misogyny, given that Scott is clearly the bad guy in this, but it was still a little too hard to read given the higher awareness of violence towards women because of ideas of purity and chastity and owing men things simply because they’re women. So this is a hard, hard pass. Next up is “Night Games”. 

Back to School: A Book List

While both of us are well past the point where fall means it’s time to head back to school, there are quite a few good books out there that run wild with the concept. I mean, even “Harry Potter,” at its core, is a British boarding school tale! Here are a few of our favorites!

24337Book: “Ella Enchanted”

Author: Gail Carson Levine

Even after the unspeakable movie was released and tried to taint this book forever, “Ella Enchanted” remains one of the more charming fairytale retellings you’ll run across. Ella was given a “gift” when she was born, the gift of obedience. Unsurprisingly, this gift turned out to be much more of a curse than anything else. Luckily, our plucky heroine never wavers in the face of her challenges and is determined to make a life for herself free of those who would use her gift/curse for themselves. Much of the story takes part at a boarding school where Ella has been sent to be finished. There she makes both friends and enemies. The whole book is just a delightful affair and the school elements makes readers praise their lucky stars that “finishing” so isn’t a thing anymore.

3008Book: “A Little Princess”

Author: Frances Hodgson Burnett

Obviously we had to include this, the almost quintessential boarding house book! This classic tells the tale of the young Sara Crewe, the daughter of a wealthy and devoted father who sends her to boarding school. While there, she learns of her father’s tragic death and her idealic life quickly becomes a nightmare, re-located to the attic and forced to work as a servant under the vengeful eyes of the awful headmistress. But through it all, Sara’s imagination and caring nature continue to give her strength. It’s a lovely story and probably has one of the best villains as far as evil teachers/headmistresses go!

35465844Book: “Tempests and Slaughter”

Author: Tamora Pierce

While it is tempting to simply include the first two Alanna books here since they, too, are school stories, we thought we’d include Pierce’s more recent release. This story focuses on the childhood of Numair, the powerful mage we follow in “The Immortals” series alongside Daine. The book covers Numair’s years from age 11 to 14, detailing his time at school as he learns to wrangle his own powerful magical abilities. He also befriends the ambitious prince Ozorne, another familiar face to fans of the original series. This is the first book in its own series, so it will be fun to see where the tale goes from here!

434631Book: “Freak Show”

Author: James St. James

James St. James, known predominantly for his time as a New York club kid and his book “Disco Bloodbath” (about sociopath Michael Alig), has created an over the top and boundary pushing ‘new kid in school’ story with “Freak Show”. Billy Bloom, a gay teenage drag queen with a flair for flamboyance and glamour, has been sent to live with his straight laced and wealthy father in Florida, who sends him to an elite school filled with kids who are not like Billy at all. Billy is teased and tormented for being out and proud, but finds a friend in the handsome school quarterback, Flip Kelly.  When Billy decides to buck the norms and run for homecoming queen, things REALLY get complicated. While this book is admittedly dated in a lot of ways, and while St. James is known to push the envelopes of bad taste, “Freak Show” is ultimately about being yourself, loving yourself, and finding your place.

510632Book: “Killing Mr. Griffin”

Author: Lois Duncan

The original queen of teenage suspense was known for giving her characters a lot of moral quandaries, and none were as controversial as “Killing Mr. Griffin”. A group of teens really hates their English teacher Mr. Griffin, and thinks that it would be fun to pull a prank on him just to teach him a lesson, so they kidnap him in hopes of scaring him into kindness. But then something goes wrong, and Mr. Griffin ends up dead. Now the kids have a real problem, as while some want to come forward, others want to pretend it never happened. “Killing Mr. Griffin” is one of those Lois Duncan books that brings up questions about responsibility and culpability, and makes the readers muddle through some complex issues. And while it has been considered a controversial book (it has been on the Banned Book List before), it has a lot to say about cause and effect and the consequences of our actions.

6334Book: “Never Let Me Go”

Author: Kazuo Ishiguro

Though now people are kind of aware that this is a dystopian book with questions about the ethics of cloning, what sometimes gets lost in the sauce is that it is, indeed, a boarding school story to start out with. Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth are all students at a mysterious boarding school called Hailsham, in which they are taught about high culture and living a healthy life. What they find out, however, is that they are actually clones who have been created to donate their organs to unhealthy people. Our three main characters all meet at Hailsham, and forge strong bonds between each other in spite of the fact that they are not likely to live very long after they start donating their organs. “Never Let Me Go” is a heartbreaker of a novel as you get attached to characters who are seemingly doomed to die, and it raises a lot of questions about what makes a human, who society values, and how far is too far when it comes to medical science and research.

What are some of your favorite books that take place in schools? Let us know in the comments!

The Great Animorphs Re-Read #37: “The Weakness”

125336Animorphs #37: “The Weakness”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, January 200

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: While Jake is away at an out-of-town wedding, Tobias discovers the place where Visser Three feeds. There is a unanimous decision to acquire cheetah morphs and run him down. But which Animorph will lead the mission in Jake’s absence?

Narrator: Rachel

Plot: Ugh, I don’t want to. I don’t want to! This is probably the first time I’ve been truly uninspired to write up one of these recaps. The closest other instance was probably…also a Rachel book back with the split personality thing. And given her characterization in this book, I guess it’s hardly surprising that I’d find this one to be torture. It’s as if the ghost writer only read the megalomaniac!Rachel chapters from that one book and then went straight into writing this one. It’s truly, truly awful. So, with those bright thoughts, here we go!

Pour yourself a nice big glass cuz semi-drunkness is the only explanation for how this even got written in the first place.

Jake is out of town and the Animorphs have discovered the location of Visser Three’s new feeding ground. Knowing that he regularly changes this location, they decide they need to strike now and strike fast. They also decide to go with a new morph, the fastest mammal on the earth, the cheetah. Conveniently, the Gardens just got a pair. They acquire the morph (don’t ask how! details like this don’t matter!) and head off to the meadow. There, with no plan whatsoever, they morph cheetahs and take off after the Visser. Of course, things don’t go as they planned and the HUGELY OBVIOUS downside of their morphs, the very limited endurance of the cheetah, quickly becomes a problem as they fail to capture the Visser and begin getting taken down by some new super speedy creature. When it finally stops, they discover a new species that looks vaguely similar to Andalites and which has fallen to the control of the Yeerks. This particular one is infested by a Yeerk who identifies himself as Councilor Thirteen, an up-and-comer who is on Earth to monitor Visser Three’s progress with the Andalite bandits and who aspires to a position on the Council itself.

After the Animorphs manage to drag themselves away, they gather back in the barn to discuss what to do with this new information. They all decide that this opportunity is too good to resist (is it?? is it really??) and that they should do something to further discredit Visser Three. But without Jake as a leader, the group worries that they will not be able to effectively make decisions as they go along. They need to elect someone temporarily. Rachel is super gung-ho for the job. For reasons. Mostly having to do with mentally calling herself an unconquerable hero and other bizarre ego-maniacal terms. Marco puts up a brief resistance, but it never goes to a vote as he figures Cassie and Tobias would both vote Rachel and Ax, as always, has taken himself out of the equation.

Rachel comes up with the “brilliant” plan (one of many the group has in this book!) that the best way to discredit Visser Three is to out-right attack and terrorize known Controllers in their places of work, causing general mayhem and destruction and convincing the Inspector that there are more Andalite bandits than they had suspected. They move forward with this plan, starting with a TV studio that they completely trash while terrifying a group of tourists who happen to be stopping by, one of whom is an elderly man who collapses from the shock. They locate the Controller, Rachel delivers their “threat,” and they all bounce. The team continues this tactic all around town, destroying businesses and “threatening” the one Controller who works there. Rachel revels in all of the action and is generally riding high throughout it all (I mean, like, actually “high.” She seriously read as if she was one on some type if stimulant or in the middle of a manic episode).

And here they would have Hork-Bajir shock troops. A very different proposition from scaring off civilians and roughing up human-Controllers. I wasn’t sure exactly what we’d do once we got there. But I knew I’d figure out something. I was Rachel! Hero warrior and interim king!

(Seriously, this is just one of the many quotes I highlighted where Rachel reads as truly insane. This could have easily fit in the mean!Rachel chapters in the starfish book without any adjustment needed. And here, we’re supposed to buy that this is just normal Rachel…)

As they go, the remaining members of the team begin to feel more and more unsure about this plan, especially worrying about the elderly gentleman who collapsed at the TV studio. But Rachel disregards their concerns, and they save the biggest priority hit for last: the community center that The Sharing built and where Tobias was captured and tortured several books ago. Rachel has another brilliant idea for this attack specifically: they should all forego their comfortable, secure battle morphs and instead all morph their relatively under-used polar bear morphs. More power, more better! (Sure, Rachel never actually said that, but seriously, it wouldn’t be out of place with the rest of the nonsense she was spewing in this book.) The group pushes to investigate before barging in, but Rachel will have none of it.

The group powers in in their polar bear morphs. Unsurprisingly, the community center is much more equipped than the other human-operated places they had hit before. Not only is Visser Three himself there, but there are a bunch of Hork Bajir and the terrifyingly fast Councilor Thirteen himself. Visser Three inexplicably morphs some disgusting alien creature and then just as inexplicably demorphs said creature. The polar bear morphs quickly begin to fade, not able to cope with the extra heat in the building. They struggle to retreat, with Rachel staying behind to cover their backs. They finally make it out, but realize that Cassie is not with them, she’s been captured by the Yeerks. Around this time, they also overhear some local news that the older man at the TV studio died of a heart attack, and while he had suffered from this ailment for a long time and could have went “at any time,” the group, and specifically Rachel, still feel responsible.

Back in safety, the group gathers together and begins to fall apart. Marco is enraged. Tobias is silently judgemental. And Rachel breaks down crying, feeling like an utter failure (cuz duh, girl, you were). Marco is particularly harsh on her, accusing her of using her tears to garner sympathy and saying that she fought him for leadership and look where it go them. Defeated, she gives up, saying she will no longer be the leader, and that she alone will go into the Yeerk pool to somehow save Cassie. Marco follows her and says that while his analytical skills could have been used back at the community center, right now the group needed her, the reckless one who would suggest a crazy enough plot that might actually work in a situation as dire as this one. Rachel has another plan.

In their human form (!!!), the group climbs a fence at an airbase and steals a jet. With Ax at the wheel, they take off, barely making it when Ax decides to swerve a bit to miss a deer that just happened to stray into their path. Once in the air, the truly crazy part of the plan comes into action. The team has decided that the best path into the Yeerk pool is simply straight down through the roof of a building that the Yeerks have constructed directly above the pool. One by one, members of the Animorphs bail as birds (why were Tobias and Marco even on this part of the mission if they just had to get on and off??) until only Rachel is left to direct the plane in its crash. She hits the building, but is only partially morphed to bald eagle as the plane crashes through. Somehow, she completes her morph and escapes the plane just as the wreckage crashes into the Yeerk pool.

Mayhem ensues as the Yeerks rush to lock up all of the host bodies. In the midst of it all, eagle!Rachel spots polarbear!Cassie being held captive and brazenly attacks the Hork Bajir holding her. Together, they manage to break free, but before they can escape, Visser Three and the Inspector show up. Instead of quickly taking the two of them out, Visser Three poses a challenge to the Inspector, daring him to take out these two Andalite bandits right now, proving that he can do what Visser Three cannot. The Inspector attacks, and his speed quickly gives him the advantage over the two. As they fight, Tobias and harrier!Ax carrying cobra!Marco swoop down from the hole in the ceiling. Visser Three continues to taunt the Inspector, telling him that now is his opportunity to take out not two, but an entire group of Andalite warriors, that he will gladly give all credit to the Inspector and immediately resign as Visser if he pulls it off. Harrier!Ax drops cobra!Marco and begins demorphing to his Andalite form. From there, he engages the Inspector one-on-one. As they fight (Ax only barely managing to hold off the Inspector), cobra!Marco slithers up and strikes. As birds, one carrying Marco, the group flies away. Visser Three gloats over the dying Inspector and allows the group to leave.

On her own, Rachel visits the grandson of the man who died at the TV studio. She claims to have been in the studio when he died, and apologizes to the kid. He’s confused, but she quickly leaves. She runs into Jake on the way out and he explains that he talked to Cassie and Marco who filled him in. He reassures her that as long as the number of Animorphs alive is the same, she did OK. He also says the rest of the group said she did alright (what??). Rachel asks how Jake deals with it, being leader. She briefly glimpses his own terror at the task, but he quickly puts up his mask and claims that he just doesn’t think about it. Rachel tells him to never leave again.

Xena, Warrior Princess: Oh, god, it’s so terrible. For all my whining about the lack of character development for Jake in the last book…I take it back! I TAKE IT BACK!! That was sooo much better than the complete abuse that has been done to Rachel’s character in this book. I was truly serious when I said that this book reads as if the author had read zero, ZERO, of Rachel’s previous books other than the mean!Rachel chapters from the starfish book. It’d be laughable if it wasn’t so infuriating. She repeatedly refers to herself as the hero and the king, seemingly in all seriousness. Her behavior is off-the-wall crazy and she is power-hungry from the get-go. Gone is any of the careful consideration that was put into developing Rachel’s fears of what she is becoming. Oh no, instead she is sure that she is the absolute baddest most awesome hero ever. Again, she is seemingly sane and serious when she is thinking these things.

Her fight for leadership is also completely bizarre. Throughout the series we’ve seen some good interactions between Rachel and Jake specifically, and in none of them did it seem that Rachel coveted his role as leader. So it’s absolutely asinine to see her fighting so strongly for the role here. Further, her “plans” are absolutely ridiculous, to the point that it’s crazy to believe that any of the others would follow her on them. While Rachel is brave and reckless, this has most often manifested itself as based on her own fears of appearing cowardly or not upholding her role on the team. She knows that she is seen as the brave one, thus she has to be the brave one, and often we see the enormous burden that this puts on her. But nope! Here that recklessness and bravery just manifest as literal insanity and, frankly, stupidity.

She gets mildly better towards the end with the action down in the Yeerk pool, making decisions from the viewpoint that if someone was going to die or be left behind, it would be her. But even there, amidst even the better moments, she still refers to herself as the king. Ugh.

The scenes where she apologizes to the grandson and talks with Jake are also so truncated that they provide next to nothing. We don’t see any reflection, especially with the brief two paragraphs that we get with the grandson, and even her conversation with Jake never gets past the surface level. There is absolutely no pay off or explanation for the complete butchery that has happened to her character up to this point.

At one point we get this line from Marco, and honestly, he can’t be more right:

“Are you on medication?” Marco put his hands to his head. “No, I really want to know. Seriously. ‘Cause I think your dosage needs to be adjusted.”

Our Fearless Leader: Jake is gone for most of this book. When he does return, the conversation with Rachel is probably one of the stronger (??) parts of the book, but as I said above, even that was a big let-down. The Animorphs had just destroyed tons of businesses filled with regular people going about their lives and then topped it off by crashing a plane into a building. There is no way that A.) the others would have ever said that anything about this was “OK” and B.) that Jake wouldn’t flip out. I don’t care if he is trying to comfort Rachel about them all being alive in the end; this thing was such a complete shit show that if you actually stop and think about the repercussions, it has to be one of the biggest disasters the Animorphs have caused so far (other than the David incident, and arguably worse than that, considering the effects on innocents left by this). There’s no way Jake would just be patting her on the back about it all.

A Hawk’s Life: Most of Tobias’s role in this book is silently judging Rachel. Seriously, he uses the silent treatment on her repeatedly throughout the story and it was honestly one of the few times I actually felt bad for what Rachel was going through. In the past, we’ve seen the good influence that Tobias has had on Rachel and their ability to lean on each other to get through the tougher aspects of both of their ongoing struggles in the series. Here, it is acknowledged that Tobias and Rachel are together, but we see none of that support or care from him. Instead, like I said, there’s just a lot of silence and emotional abandonment. Sure, this version of Rachel also isn’t the one that we’ve seen before either, so I guess it makes sense that their relationship wouldn’t translate. But Tobias is kind of just a jerk here, too.

Peace, Love, and Animals: Cassie, on the other hand, is her usual supportive self of Rachel. While she again gets captured and ends up  in the Yeerk pool (this is a bit of a trend with her, and I think it might say something about the character that she’s the easiest to leave out of big chunks of the story when the author is looking to have a character captured), she quickly teams up with eagle!Rachel and seemingly the two could have made their escape on their own had Visser Three and the Inspector not conveniently shown up. She also had one of the more fun lines from the book right after eagle!Rachel shows up in the Yeerk Pool:

<Surprised to see me?> I asked.

<Sky falling in, flames everywhere, Yeerks running for cover? Who else would it be but you?>

The Comic Relief: March is harsh. Truly mean at times. Yeah, this version of Rachel completely deserves it, but it’s still tough to read. In a long, LONG, list of questions that arose from this book, why Marco wasn’t immediately considered the leader is one of the first ones that popped up in my mind. For one, we’ve seen him successfully lead the group at least twice before. This alone would make him the obvious candidate. Beyond that, the entire group has, at one time or another in their own narrated books, pointed to Marco as the most strategic of the group. Plus, the idea that Cassie and Tobias would automatically vote for Rachel is beyond stupid. We’ve hardly ever seen any previous votes be affected by relationships like this, so to think that that would have been the case here is pretty silly. Marco does have a nice speech to Rachel towards the end about needing her reckless bravery to pull off a rescue of Cassie, but given that that plan itself was so truly terrible, one has to partly blame Marco as well for not being his usual brainy self and helping out here.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: I don’t know if it’s just because I’m grumpy at this book, but I’m also starting to feel like the whole “Ax removes himself from the decision making process” trope is getting super old. By this point in the series, Ax has been on Earth for close to two years or something. The period of time when he was not around is so brief that it hardly bares mentioning. Regardless of how he himself feels about his role in the group, I have to imagine the others would push  back against this type of behavior. They’re all in this together, and that includes Ax. That is especially true of these challenging, voting situations. None of the rest have the privilege of just taking themselves out of the process, and it’s increasingly strange that it’s considered normal for Ax to do this.

Beyond that, there’s a very brief discussion about the resemblance of the Inspector’s host body to the anatomy of Andalites. There might have been something interesting to this, but nope! It’s completely dropped, and I honestly have no idea why the author even bothered to include it at all.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: Visser Three’s morph in the community center is described as being really disgusting, just a stinky blob essentially. Again, among the many questionable things in this book is this morphing sequence all together. The morph itself really seems to be nothing more than folds of stinking fat. Sure, he’s pretty inpenetrable when polarbear!Rachel attacks, but he’s also not very mobile and we’ve seen a bunch of more successful morphs in the past that would have worked much better here. The stink of the alien does prove hard for the polar bear morphs to handle, but given the level of ignorance we’ve seen from Visser Three in the past as far as Earth creatures go, there’s zero chance he would have known that this would be the effect on these morphs. And then, like I said in the recap, after he throws Rachel at the wall one time, he just as strangely chooses to demorph.

Couples Watch!: Other than Cassie being referred to as Jake’s girlfriend, there’s really not much. Tobias and Rachel’s relationship is terrible here, mostly due to the poor characterization of Rachel herself. The Tobias we know would never even WANT to be in a relationship with this headcase, so it’s not surprising that the author struggled to write any believable moments between these two.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: Probably the best part of the book is the Yeerk politics, especially the moments we get in the Yeerk Pool as Visser Three gleefully watches the Inspector fail to kill/capture the Andalite bandits. Not only is his dialogue pretty funny, but it’s a gratifying look into how much respect Visser Three has unwillingly built for the Animorphs. The Inspector’s host body seems pretty unbeatable with his speed, but even against only two of the Animorphs, Visser Three is supremely confident that he will fail. It’s also always fun to see the Yeerks shoot themselves in the foot with their own politics. The Animorphs would have been done for way back in book #5 if the Yeerks’ power struggles weren’t out of control. And here, the Animorphs escape multiple times because Visser Three and the Inspector are more caught up in show-boating than anything else.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Again, I cry over the remains of what used to be the incredible character work put into Rachel.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: There are so many! I mean, the entire book is made up of terrible plans! Let me list a few of them:

1.) Attacking business where a maximum of ONE known Controller works. Up to this point, the Animorphs have always operated very carefully in areas filled with regular people. But nope! That doesn’t matter now! Here, they destroy tons of businesses and terrorize countless people, all to deliver a very meaningless “threat” to one Controller at each location.

2.) Using the same morphs in all of these attacks. Seemingly the whole point of this was to have a show of force to impress the Inspector with what Visser Three is up against. They seem to think that this will make the Yeerks think that there are more Andalite bandits than previously assumed. But…how?? It’s common knowledge now that the Andalite bandits always attack in a group of six and all in the same morphs each time. And here, the same six, in the same morphs, attack place after place in sequential order, never at the same time as a larger group would do. Clearly it’s just the same group over and over again. It’s beyond stupid.

3.) They break onto an airbase IN THEIR HUMAN FORMS and steal a plane and then crash said plane into the Yeerk pool. Why?? Why are they human when they do this? Nice, identifiable-by-camera, humans. Not only would the Yeerks be able to easily trace this whole incident back to them using the tons of cameras that would be all over an airbases, but human law enforcement itself would be able to identify them and sure as heck send them to prison for this disaster.

4.) Ax swerves the plane for a freaking deer. That’s right people! Cassie’s life, and the entire future of their resistance and the planet, are on the line, but Ax can’t run over a deer. For one, I’m pretty sure most airbases have systems in place to prevent wildlife from casually ambling onto an airstrip. But beyond this, Ax of all people would be the last one to swerve for a deer. He’s probably one of the least emotionally-driven of them all and has even less connection to Earth animals than the others. It’s just ridiculous all around and a blatant attempt to  build two seconds of increased suspense that is completely unnecessary given the already action-packed scenario.

5.) THEY CRASH A PLANE INTO A BUILDING IN THE MIDDLE OF A CITY. Ok, sure, this book was written before 9/11, but even the least imaginative person out there would see the huge issues with this plan. There is no way that this wouldn’t kill innocents. But hey, that doesn’t matter. At least they missed the deer.

Favorite Quote:

Like I said, Visser Three gloating over the Inspector was probably the best part of this entire mess:

<Inspector!> he cried. <Look! The Andalite bandits are getting away! You must go after them!>

<I … I cannot… move …> the inspector responded weakly, haltingly.

<Yes, and very, very soon you will not be able to breathe,> Visser Three said matter-of-factly. <I will be sure to pass along your farewells to the Council.>

Scorecard: Yeerks 9, Animorphs 15

I’m giving another point to the Yeerks out of sheer fury at the stupidity of this book. The Animorphs sure do a good job for them, destroying human businesses and killing innocent people (the old man for sure, and the others who had to have died from that plane stunt).

Rating: I would give this book negative points if I could. It’s so awful it’s almost beyond words. Rachel’s characterization makes absolutely zero sense; it honestly feels like the ghost writer didn’t read any of the previous books for her. Their actions throughout the story are shockingly bad and stupid. And the book just glazes right over important scenes as if it’s no big deal.(How the heck did they acquire those cheetah morphs, for one thing? But nah, let’s not include that.) I really hated this book. Not much more to say.

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 & Giveaway: “The Good Demon”

38945097Book: “The Good Demon” by Jimmy Cajoleas

Publishing Info: Amulet Books, September 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: I was sent an eARC from NetGalley and a printed ARC from Amulet Books.

Book Description: True Detective meets The Exorcist in this gripping YA mystery debut about one girl’s exorcism—and her desperate quest to reunite with her demon

Clare has been miserable since her exorcism. The preacher that rid her of evil didn’t understand that her demon—simply known as Her—was like a sister to Clare. Now, Clare will do almost anything to get Her back. After a chance encounter with the son of the preacher who exorcised her, Clare goes on an adventure through the dark underbelly of her small Southern town, discovering its deep-seated occult roots. As she searches for Her, she must question the fine lines between good and evil, love and hate, and religion and free will. Vivid and sharp, The Good Demon tells the unusual story of friendship amid dark Gothic horror.

Review: I want to extend a special thank you to both NetGalley and Amulet books for sending me an eARC and a print ARC of this book.

I know that Halloween Season isn’t QUITE here yet (though honestly, once Labor Day hits I’m thinking about ghosts and ghouls and all things horror), but I just couldn’t wait for Horrorpalooza to pick up “The Good Demon” by Jimmy Cajoleas. I was fortunate enough to get approved for a copy on NetGalley, but then imagine my extra delight when I was at Serena’s and she said that we’d received a print ARC of it as well.

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Me flailing in glee when I got this book. (source)

I’d been hearing about this novel since this past summer, when it was all over my twitter feed during BookExpo. While I’m not usually someone who is super into demonic possession/exorcism stories (with a FEW exceptions, as you guys probably remember), the idea of a girl wanting her exorcised demon BACK was one that piqued my interest. The demonic possession stories I like usually buck some of the familiar tropes that are associated with the genre, but ultimately they usually still maintain the demon=bad concept. “The Good Demon” sounded like it was going to take that down as well, so picking it up I went in with some lofty expectations.

What struck me most about “The Good Demon” was Clara, our main character who is desperate to find her demon, Her, again. In many demonic possession and exorcism stories, the person being possessed is usually passive, and a secondary character that the main character is trying to help. Clara defies these trends, as not only is she the main character, she is incredibly active and entrenched in ‘doing’ within the narrative. Her reasons for wanting Her back are understandable because of how Cajoleas has written her: her father’s death was a traumatic moment in her life, her mother is an addict who has effectively picked her new husband over her own daughter, and Clara has no other friends or support systems in her life now that Her has been exorcised. While there were ample opportunities for Clara to fall into stereotypical traps of a ‘bad girl’, Cajoleas always kept her from teetering, and kept her grounded in a realistic personality. She always felt like a realistic teenage girl who has seen some shit, and her voice was authentic and natural. As she uncovers the mysteries of the small, closed minded town that she is living in, you see her go up against obstacles that aren’t always because of supernatural or occult driven issues; many of the problems she faces are because of misogyny and prejudice that is entrenched within an Evangelical culture. I liked seeing her interact with basically all of the characters, be it within flashbacks to her friendship with Her, to the fraught and sad relationship with her mother, to the complicated and bittersweet relationship she takes up with Roy, the son of the preacher who performed the exorcism. Roy is a particularly interesting foil to her, as her sullenness is matched with his fundamentalist driven optimism, and her bitterness towards his father is in stark contrast to Roy’s submission to him. It was a relationship that felt very teenager-y, with both of them making decisions that feel right in the moment, but may have fallouts that they cannot see.

I had more mixed feelings about the actual possession story. I loved the flashbacks to Her, and I liked seeing Clara and Her interact, and have a complex relationship. It sets a groundwork that makes it very believable that Clara would go as far as she would go to get Her back. That was a very fresh take on possession, that perhaps this ‘demon’ wasn’t necessarily a ‘bad’ thing. But by the end, it becomes pretty clear that the full deconstruction of the ‘possession’ story isn’t going to happen. It gets part way there, I will give it that, but ultimately it didn’t take a bold stance on redefining ‘demons’, and why people like Roy’s Dad might conflate something that empowers or emotionally supports girls and women as ‘demonic’.  I appreciate that ultimately Cajoleas is promoting the idea that you should feel secure within yourself and to be able to stand on your own, but I think that this message ultimately undercuts the positive female friendship message that I was hoping we would get from it.

While it didn’t QUITE live up to my expectations, “The Good Demon” was a fast and fun read, and it’s absolutely one that dark fantasy and horror fans should pick up during the upcoming spooky season. And I have good news, because it’s your chance to own this new dark fantasy novel! We’re giving away the print ARC of “The Good Demon”! This giveaway is open to U.S. Residents only, other terms and conditions are within the giveaway information in the link below.

Enter the Giveaway Here!

Rating 7: An interesting take on the possession/exorcism story with an interesting protagonist, “The Good Demon” deconstructs common tropes to a point, but falls a little short in it’s deconstruction by the end.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Good Demon” is coming out on Tuesday, September 18th, and isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists yet. That said, I think it would fit in on “Demons, Mystics, and Black Magic”, and “Small Towns and Secrets”.

Find “The Good Demon” at your library using WorldCat!