The Great Animorphs Re-read #18: “The Decision”

363406Animorphs #18: “The Decision” by K.A. Applegate

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, May 1998

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: Ax and the Animorphs are about to have a huge problem. It starts when they decide to morph mosquitoes in order to slip by some unsuspecting Yeerks. It ends with them stuck in Zero-space with no idea how they got there, no way to get back to Earth…and no oxygen.

Luckily, an Andalite scout ship finds them before it’s too late. But now Ax is finally with his own people. And he doesn’t know if he ever wants to go back to Earth…

Narrator: Ax

Plot: And we’re back with another Ax book! And surprising no one, we open with a scene of humor and horror as it appears that Ax has now become confident enough to morph human and wander around the mall all on his own! Seriously, it’s like the Animorphs are his parents and he’s now this toddler who’s been set loose on his own. It’s just irresponsible! Of course, Ax is found in one place and one place only: the food court where he attempts to get a job to fund his Cinnabun habit. But by “clearing tables” he hears “eat everything on the table, regardless of whether or not the person who bought it is done with it.” The whole thing ends with Ax causing a huge scene and needing to be bailed out by Marco who zeroes in on the commotion and has a sinking suspicion about who could be behind it.

Our real story then begins when the Animorphs get wind that the Yeerks might be up to their hospital infestation plans once again. And really, one has to wonder why the Yeerks don’t always use this plan, it just seems like such an easy way to create new Controllers. Erek, our friendly residential Chee, is the one to alert the Animorphs of this particular danger: an upper level man in the Secret Service will be in the hospital and the Yeerks are planning something.

They all decide to scout out the hospital, taking up a rotation of seagull morphs to keep an eye on things. During his shift, Ax sees Human!Visser Three show up at the hospital. It turns out that the Secret Service man has slipped into a coma and is now unusable as a Controller, so Visser Three decides to acquire him instead. But before he can, Visser Three, who is now at LEVEL RED suspicion of all animals he ever sees, spots a few seagulls outside, decides to morph a Kafit bird (the Andalite homeworld bird that we saw in “The Andalite Chronicles”) and attacks them. Ax and Visser Three go on a chase of that ends with them both back in Andalite form on a rooftop ready to go to battle. Visser Three, in his typical cowardly manner, chooses to flee the scene rather than fight Ax. Ax has many emotions about once again failing to avenge his brother.

At this point, the Animorphs decide that their best option is to essentially copy Visser Three’s plan (which was to acquire the DNA of the Secret Service man so that he could pose as him and gain access to every secret ever). So what if one of the Animorphs was to morph him, walk into the Secret Service, and then morph and prove that there is an alien invasion happening! After the usual debate about the ethics of morphing humans, the team decides to go ahead with the plan, except they know that the  Yeerks are now on high alert. Cassie’s animal knowledge comes to the rescue again and she suggests that there may be another way to get the DNA of this man without being human and acquiring it in the usual manner. They will all morph mosquito and get blood that way.

The team all morph mosquito and are in the midst of biting the man when…poof! They are suddenly somewhere else! Specifically, floating around in space and not fully formed? Panicking and without air, Ax frantically thought speaks towards the Andalite ship he can see in the distance. They are caught in its wake and he calls to them to save them. He blacks out, only to wake up in the medical bay of the Andalite ship surrounded by some very confused Andalites and concerned Animorph friends. An Andalite scientist is going crazy with their appearance, suggesting that it is a miracle of science, proof that the theory about extra mass going to Z-space when one morphs a tiny animal must be true! And that the passing Andalite ship had somehow sucked Ax and the Animorphs through as it passed their “mass” in Z-space.

The Captain and T.O. (technical officer) of the ship order the human Animorphs to stick to their room and call Ax to the main deck. They then inform him that their ship is en route to the Leeran home world where a massive battle between the Andalites and the Yeerks is brewing. They don’t have time to return the humans, and Ax is now a member of the ship’s crew and must follow their orders. Ax is both thrilled and afraid to know that he will now be in the midst of a real battle.

But as the ship begins to descend, he and the T.O. realize that something is wrong. They are landing behind the Yeerk lines where they will be completely at their mercy! It turns out that the Andalite Captain is a traitor! The Captain attacks the T.O., cutting off his tail. Ax panics and frantically tries to warn the other Animorphs. Turns out, they’re already in the room in fly morph, having disregarded Ax’s (and the Captain’s) orders to stay in their room. Cassie begins to de-morph while on the Captain’s shoulder, providing a distraction. Ax tries to fight him, and is saved when the T.O. recovers enough to shoot and kill the Captain with a Dracon beam. Knowing that the ship is doomed, the T.O. orders Ax and the Animorphs to flee, and sets the ship to auto-destruct in a hope to do as much damage as possible.

They all morph fly and flee the scene. As they run, Ax mourns the loss of so many Andalite warriors and grapples with his new reality where Andalites can be traitors and join up with the Yeerks willingly. The rest of the Animorphs struggle to forgive Ax for so quickly abandoning them once he was back among his own people. But their anger takes a back seat when they see the rest of the Andalite forces retreating, seemingly accepting that the battle is lost. This isn’t good for the Leeran home world or for the Animorphs themselves. As was explored a few books ago, psychic Yeerk Controllers would spell doom for the Animorphs’ cause.

As they flee the battlefield once again, they realize that Tobias is missing. It seems as if he disappeared before their very eyes. Frantic and scared, the group tries to orient themselves and decide on their next steps. As they work through it all, Ax stumbles upon a theory for why the Andalites retreated as quickly as they did. Leeran is made up of almost entirely water, with only one large continent. The Leeran people live in their oceans and don’t need this continent, but it is paramount to the land-based Yeerk invasion to use as a base of operations. Ax theorizes that the Leerans and Andalites plan to blow up this continent, striking a critical blow against the Yeerk forces that are all now gathering on the planet in their seeming victory.

They get to the ocean, morph shark, and promptly run into some Leeran!Controllers. Luckily, they realize that they can essentially bite the Yeerk right out from the Leerans’ heads without killing the Leerans themselves. The newly freed Leerans direct them to a Leeran city where they  meet up with some more Andalite leadership. This time, Ax presents the group and insists that Jake is his Prince and the one whom he will be taking orders from going forward. The Leeran/Andalite forces have run into a problem with their plan; the remote detonator on the bomb beneath the continent has been failing to activate for the last several hours. Someone will need to go down and manually arm it. The Animorphs volunteer. At this point, they have also lost a few more of the group, who also seemed to just disappear out of nowhere. Before sending them off, the Andalite scientists theorize that these disappearance may be some sort of “snap back” that is flinging them back either to Z-space (where they are now dead) or hopefully all the way back to Earth and their original mosquito morphs. It is likely that it will happen to them all. With this happy thought in mind, the remaining group sets off.

Some hi-jinks and battles ensue, but ultimately it is down to Ax and Jake racing through an underwater tunnel to get to the bomb in time, both worried that they will “snap” away before completing their mission. Jake disappears, and it is up to Ax. When he reaches the bomb, the Yeerks are there too. He manages to arm it and relays back to the Andalites not to wait, but to set it off now, with him next to it. Luckily, he snaps away right as it goes off.

And suddenly they’re all back in the hospital, biting the Secret Service man while in mosquito morph. No time has passed at all, and they all re-appeared at the same time, regardless of when they snapped away from the Leeran planet. Bizarrely, mosquito!Ax’s bite wakes up the Secret Service man from his coma, and the Controllers in the room flee, not knowing what to do. The story quickly wraps up with Ax making peace with the fact that sometimes your people aren’t the same species as you, and that’s ok. And he needs to go eat more Cinnabons immediately.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: This is a big book for Ax and his emotions/loyalties. Finally back among his own people, he goes through a lot of emotional legwork from the beginning to the end. Not only is he confronted, again, with the fact that the Andalite high ups want him to take the fall for giving the humans their morphing abilities (to save the legend of Elfangor), but he has to figure out his own connection to humanity, and the fact that the Andalites are also a flawed species.

It’s pretty clear at this point that arrogance is the primary downfall of Andalites. Not only can Ax not even comprehend the fact that one would be a traitor, but the Yeerks themselves are seen here to construct their entire strategy for taking over Leeran by counting on the fact that the Andalites don’t play well with others, and thus they and the Leerans, while on the same side, seem to be fighting separate wars with the Yeerks. So it goes a long ways for Ax to see the Captain turn traitor. Not only does he now have a more healthy understanding of the strengths and, importantly, weaknesses of his own people, but he sees the full advantages of working together with his human friends during their war on Earth.

At the same time, he is constantly worried about striking a balance between becoming close and comfortable on Earth, but not losing himself or his Andalite roots. After Jake snaps at him to get it together when they’re all essentially wandering around aimlessly on the planet after the ship self-destructs, Ax manages to find a kind of peace with things. But even that peace is difficult.

I felt strangely at home. As though, despite Prince Jake’s anger and Marco’s sneering and Rachel’s outright suspicion, I belonged with them. For some reason at that moment, even with the images of death aboard the Ascalin fresh in my mind, I saw myself far away, in a very different body, eating delicious cinnamon buns with a mouth. I wanted to be back there. I wanted to be back on Earth. Captain Samilin had sold out to the Yeerks. Was I selling out to the humans?

The really big moment for him is when they meet up with the Andalites again in the underwater city. Ax steps up to the plate this time, claiming Jake as his one and only Prince. It’s a big moment for him, and for the whole team’s relationship with him.

Our Fearless Leader: Jake shows his leadership skills a lot in this book. Notably, he finds a way forward amidst much fear, anger, and confusion once they find themselves essentially alone on a strange, alien planet. Rachel and Marco are furious at Ax. Tobias and Cassie don’t know what to think but are each too passive to move forward. Jake has to find the middle ground and re-focus the group on moving forward and not spiraling into finger-pointing and more suspicion of Ax’s motivations and loyalties. We also see, for the first time, Jake not reject the “Prince” title when Ax introduces him to the Andalite leaders in the underwater Leeran city. He knows that is important for Ax to have this moment cementing his loyalties and that the Andalite commanders will not respect a human “Prince” who would immediately undermine his own followers. He’s also the last Animorph to snap away and gets the farthest with Ax in the mission to defuse the bomb.

Xena, Warriar Princess: As we saw in Ax’s last book, Rachel and Marco were the slowest members to warm up to Ax, so it’s not surprising when they both react the mostly strongly at his abandonment once he’s back with his people. They are both very harsh with their language, but I can see their perspective in this situation. Add to this the fact that Rachel doesn’t handle unknowns well. At her core, she’s a weapon that needs to be aimed, and if she doesn’t have a target, she will drive herself mad with inaction. Whatever one thinks of the harshness of her reaction to Ax, the one time she really pushes him and he reacts without thinking by striking at her neck with his tail blade, she’s unflinchingly brave, not batting an eye lash and standing firm behind her opinion. This show of bravery and strength does strike a chord with honor-obsessed Ax, even while he is hurt by her ongoing anger and distrust of him.

A Hawk’s Life: As Ax’s closest friend, it’s no surprise that Tobias comes to Ax’s defense after everything goes wrong on the Andalite ship and Rachel and Marco come after him. Even earlier, while they’re still on the ship, he sends Ax a private thought speak message to consider carefully who is people really are. This doesn’t hit home with Ax until later, but Tobias’s quiet support and nudging of Ax is clearly important. But, again, poor Tobias gets side-lined early in the book, this time being the first to be snapped away. There’s no winning for a hawk who just wants to be a part of the team!

Peace, Love, and Animals: Cassie’s animal knowledge is both a blessing and a curse. A blessing in that she’s always the one to think of an animal morph that will accomplish a seemingly impossible goal (bats to fly in a safe room, moles to tunnel to the Yeerk pool, and here, mosquitoes to get DNA). It’s a curse that often these same solutions are almost always completely horrifying. Not only is morphing a mosquito, like all bugs, pretty disgusting, but the knowledge of WHY they’re doing it….to literally suck the blood of some random guy is equally gross. She also is the one to put together the dots that they should use a shark morph on the Leeran home world since they knew from Marco’s last book that the Yeerks had planned on using sharks in their invasion.

The Comic Relief: Marco is almost as harsh as Rachel in his attitude towards Ax’s quick abandonment of them on the Andalite ship. Marco, especially, values loyalty and it is clear that he views Ax as having failed a very important test in this instance. I will harp on it once again, but it’s always interesting to see how often Marco and Rachel end up on the same side of things when the bigger questions are being asked. Yes, they bicker and tease each other. But philosophically, they are the most alike in their approach to this war and when it gets serious, we often see them united in their opinions.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: The description of their experience in Z-space is pretty bad. Not only is the entire concept disturbing, as was discussed when Ax first clued the team in on what happens to the “extras” when they morph small things, but while they are floating around out there, Ax describes being able to see through everyone essentially. Like some type of gross kaleidoscope, with random organs and body bits all mashed together and see-through. Not to mention the suffocating thing. It’s all pretty bad.

Couples Watch!: Not a lot here except for the fact that Tobias being the first one to get zapped away doesn’t do anything to help Rachel calm down. She was described as alternating between crying and raging after they first noticed he was gone. I think she gets snapped away as well before they even realize what might have been happening. At first, they’re almost sure that Tobias must have been shot and killed.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: Visser Three is only in the first part of the book, but he does bring up a couple of interesting points. One is the fact that now that all of the Animorphs know what his human morph is, you’d think he’d change it. Seems pretty silly to keep walking around with one he knows they can spot. Second, with the kafit bird, Ax is sure this is a sign that Visser Three has been to the Andalite home world and is very upset by it. The fact that the Andalite Captain is later revealed to be a traitor I think is meant to justify this concern. But how does it work with Alloran’s original morphs that he had before he was taken over by Visser Three? All Andalite warriors practice their morphing ability by getting a kafit bird morph, so Alloran would have this one. So wouldn’t Visser Three, too? Without needing to go to the Andalite home world? Also, the fact that Visser Three is a complete coward is no surprise to us, but Ax is very disturbed by the fact that Visser Three ran away from their fight on the roof.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: You have to feel bad for Ax. The poor guy is trying so hard and the hits just keep coming from every angle. You can’t blame him for losing his head when he gets back among his own people, but then these early errors of dismissing his friends so quickly bite him in the butt in the worst way when the Captain turns into a traitor. Then he’s got to deal with his friends who are furious with him, while questioning everything he thought he knew about his people. It’s a lot.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: Most of their “main mission” plans are good in this one. Mainly, that the rest of the Animorphs ignore Ax and the Andalites and barge onto the bridge in fly morph. It would have been the end of the series if they’d followed orders like good, little soldiers. But, at this point, they’ve been fighting this war for a while so it makes sense that they wouldn’t sit back and be content to stay out of things just because some Andalite higher ups said so. But the original plan with the mosquitoes and proving there is an alien invasion happening thing has all of the usual flaws of these ideas. I mean, if they ever wanted to really go through with this whole concept, there are easier ways to do it.

Favorite Quote:

Of course, Ax’s naive evaluations of his own ability to pass as human are always great for laughs.

I am very good at passing for human, if I say so myself. I have learned the customs and habits perfectly so that I seem entirely normal.

“Do you want to order something?” the human said to me.

“I require money so that I may exchange it for the delicious cinnamon buns,” I explained.

The human blinked his eyes. “So … you do want to order, or you don’t?”

Obviously this was a less-intelligent human. “I wish to perform labor, lay-ber, lay-burrr, and to have you give me money. Then I wish to use that money to acquire delicious cinnamon buns. Bun-zuh.”

Also, a good example of Jake’s leadership skills when he’s talking Ax out of it when he’s essentially breaking down after the deaths of all of the Andalite warriors in the ship.

 “Now, listen up, Ax. I know you’re feeling bad. For lots of reasons, probably. But you feeling bad doesn’t let you off the hook. Look, we got Andalites shooting at Yeerks. We have no humans in this fight except for us. Maybe you’re not the big expert, but you know more than we know. So snap out of it.”

Scorecard: Yeerks 4, Animorphs 9

A point for the Animorphs! This is a big win, not only just saving an entire species/planet, but the fact that Leeran Controllers would have most likely spelled the end for their own fight back on Earth.

Rating: I always loved this book. Ax’s struggles are completely relatable. As are the rest of the Animorphs’ feelings of anger and betrayal. It’s good stuff. On top of that, we get another look into the ongoing war between the Yeerks and Andalites outside of Earth and a fun, new location for our story to take place. Not to mention, Ax’s adventures in human morph and his dry, analytical, and hopelessly naive narrating voice are always a fun time.

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

Kate’s Review: “The Lost Boys (Vol.1)”

33252331Book: “The Lost Boys (Vol.1)” by Tim Seeley, Scott Godlewski

Publishing Info: Vertigo, August 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: In this follow-up to the 1987 cult classic film, horror masters Tim Seeley and Scott Godlewski wade into the bloody, badass world of California vampires for an all-new tale of thrills, chills, and good old-fashioned heart-staking action in THE LOST BOYS VOL. 1!

Welcome to scenic Santa Carla, California. Great beaches. Colorful characters. Killer nightlife. And, of course, all the damn vampires.

The Emerson brothers (Sam and Michael) and the Frog brothers (Edgar and Alan) learned that last part the hard way–these underage slayers took on the vampire master Max and his pack of punked-out minions, and drove a stake right through their plans to suck Santa Carla dry. After scraping the undead goo off their shoes, they figured everything was back to normal.

But now there are new vamps in town.

A coven of female undead called the Blood Belles has moved in, and they’ve targeted Sam, Michael, the Frog Brothers, and every other vampire hunter in Santa Carla for bloody vengeance.

It’ll take every trick in the brothers’ monster-killing book to stop these bloodsuckers from unleashing an entire army of the damned. And they’ll need help from an unexpected source–a certain shirtless sax-playing savior known only as the Believer!

Do you still believe? Collects #1-6.

Review: Everyone who knows me knows that “The Lost Boys” is one of my very favorite movies of all time. OF ALL TIME. It’s a tongue in cheek, earnest as hell, and in some ways a legitimately creepy vampire movie. I love it so much that this past year my friend Laura (of our “It” video review fame) and I went to a Fantasy/Sci Fi convention cosplaying as Edgar and Allan Frog, the sibling vampire hunters played by Corey Feldman and Jamison Newlander.

lauramefrogbros
Destroy All Vampires.

So of course when I found out about the comic series that Vertigo created to work as a canonical sequel to that movie after two not so great film ones (though I have to say I kind of love “Lost Boys: The Thirst” because it’s basically just Corey Feldman acting exasperated the whole time), I was over the moon! A continuation of one of my favorite vampire tales, all in comic form? Hell yes! I started it in comic form but then just decided to wait for the trade collection, and when it finally came in at the library I snatched it up and dove right in.

One thing that struck me right away is that Tim Seeley and Scott Godlewski struck the proper tone that the movie had. It continues to have the earnestness and charm that the original had, and all of the characters feel in character and true to how they should be. It gives a good balance to the man characters, and gives a little more focus to the Frog Brothers, which is a-okay by me. Sam and Michael are still centered as the protagonists, but the spotlight is more equally distributed between the players. It also gives a little more gender equity to this universe, as there are actual honest to goodness female vampires in this called The Blood Belles. Unlike Star (more on that in a bit), the girl vampire from the movie, The Blood Belles are aggressive and formidable villains, with their own motivations and personalities that give ladies more to do this time around. They are a gang that lives up to the previous vampire villains, which was a true relief not only as a fan of the movie, but as someone who resents the fact that Star and Lucy Emerson are so passive in the original story. I also appreciated that this comic is partially steeped in pure, unadulterated fan service. Not only do we have The Frog Brothers becoming actual vampire hunters (under the tutelage of Michael and Sam’s Grandpa), there are also some other character returns that I never thought that we’d see. For one, David is back (which is kind of a spoiler, but it happens very early so I’m not going to feel THAT bad about it), and he’s brought back in a feasible way even after being impaled. He also doesn’t shove aside the Blood Belles with his presence, which I was quite worried about. Worry not. These chicks know how to take care of themselves. But the fan favorite return that I was the MOST excited about wasn’t David, or the Frogs, or even the adorable Laddie (more on him later). Nope. It was most definitely the triumphant return of The Saxophone Man.

giphy3
I STILL BELIEVE!!!! (source)

And not only is he back, he’s also a rogue vampire killer who calls himself, wait for it…. THE BELIEVER. I screamed my goddamn head off when all of this was revealed. This one off scene of a random band on the boardwalk has given us a treasure of a plot point.

But now I have to address the issues I had with this comic, because issues abound. The first involves the continuity problems. The biggest one was the fact that the little boy and former half vampire Laddie is now living with Sam and Michael now, in spite of the fact there was a milk carton with his face on it in the movie. Someone is looking for Laddie, guys!! You can’t just keep him! So either the Emersons and just prolonging his abduction, or that has been thrown out the window in interest of keeping Laddie there for plot purposes. But the bigger issue I had was with Star. Star is a character that I both love and kind of resent. She’s beautiful and charming, and Jami Gertz plays her so well, but she is so passive and just there to be a vaguely moral center. She’s another half vampire, but doesn’t even get to vamp out once! I had higher hopes that she would have more to do in this one, and at first it seemed like she did (and the reasons I say this I won’t spoil)….. But then she really just ended up being passive and unwilling or unable to act at times she could. AGAIN. They had the chance to redeem Star, or at least give her the credit that was never afforded her, but they still  relegated her to the sidelines again.

The artwork is a fun style, kind of reminding me of “Locke and Key” in the way the people are drawn. The colors pop off the page, and while the characters don’t really look like their inspirations, it kind of gives them a new chance to become their own characters that can evolve beyond the film.

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(source)

While I had my qualms, for the most part I had a blast reading “The Lost Boys (Vol.1)”. It feels like a worthy follow up to the classic vampire film, and I really hope that it goes for awhile. I need the Emersons, The Frog Brothers, and all their vampire foes in my life.

Rating 7: A fun follow up to one of my favorite movies. While there were continuity issues and I was frustrated with Star STILL having little to do, as a “The Lost Boys” fan I was pretty pleased with it overall.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Lost Boys (Vol.1)” is fairly new and not included on any Goodreads lists as of now, but I think that it would fit in on “Vampire Books That Don’t Suck”, and “Supernatural (not Superhero) Comics”.

Find “The Lost Boys (Vol.1)” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Silver in the Blood”

22929540Book: “Silver in the Blood” by Jessica Day George

Publishing Info: Bloomsbury USA Childrens, July 2015

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

Book Description: Society girls from New York City circa 1890, Dacia and Lou never desired to know more about their lineage, instead preferring to gossip about the mysterious Romanian family that they barely knew. But upon turning seventeen, the girls must return to their homeland to meet their relatives, find proper husbands, and—most terrifyingly—learn the deep family secrets of The Claw, The Wing, and The Smoke. The Florescus, after all, are shape-shifters, and it is time for Dacia and Lou to fulfill the prophecy that demands their acceptance of this fate… or fight against this cruel inheritance with all their might.

Review: I’ve read a few of Jessica Day George’s books, mostly her fairytale retellings. I’ve enjoyed them for the most part, even if the middle grade tone read as a bit simplistic for my taste. But when I stumbled upon this original fairytale type story featuring some of my favorite things (sisters/cousins! shapeshifters! Romania!), I knew I’d need to dive right in.

The story alternates perspectives between two American-born heiresses, Dacia and Lou. Their mothers both emigrated to New York from Romania, and now it is time for the girls to travel back to this homeland and meet their maternal family, a family that is old and has many secrets. The chapters are broken up with short interludes, either letters written between the two characters when they are separated, journal entries, or news entries.

While not everything worked for me in this book, Dacia and Lou as characters were a definite highlight. Both girls have distinct story arcs, and I appreciated the fact that neither was allowed to wallow in the stereotypes of the characters type they are originally introduced as. Dacia starts the story as a confident, independent young woman, constantly testing the boundaries that are set upon her and fearless in the face of others’ disapproval. Lou, however, is more thoughtful, reserved, and cautious with the route she takes through life. Through the story Dacia’s confidence, or over confidence, is shaken and she must confront who she believes she is and make serious adjustments. Lou, on the other hand, comes into her own, discovery her own inner strength.

And, importantly, each girl takes turns supporting or being supported by the other. In the beginning I worried that this was going to follow a typical path where Lou would be “brought out of her shell” by her brilliant, shining cousin. But I was pleased to see their roles swapped, and by the end, each girl has learned more about herself and come to see the value in the others’ original approach to life.

I also very much enjoyed the setting. While we don’t get a lot of detail about the city and countryside of Romania, there was enough to highlight its cultural differences to Paris and New York, the girls’ other points of reference. The family history, hierarchy, and creativity of the actual shapeshifter types was also a pleasant surprise. We don’t only have wolf shifters, but bats and another mysterious type that we discover halfway through. It was refreshing to find a shapeshifter story that expanded upon many of teh tropes we are used to seeing. George introduces a complicated history for the Florescus family, one that is intimately connected with another ancient family, the Draculs. And before you guess, I will say that this second part doesn’t necessarily play out the way you would expect!

For all of these pros, there were a few points of this story I found myself struggling with. One was, again, the writing style. While Dacia and Lou are interesting, their narrating voices often read as younger than they were presented to be. The general tone of the book, again, read as very middle grade. This would be fine if it weren’t for the fact that in other ways the story is very adult. There are some very serious scenes dealing with sexual violence, battles, and straight up murder. This gruesomeness and darker tone jarred with the light and rather simplistic style of writing that surrounded it and often through me off balance as I was reading.

I also struggled with the villain of the story. He was just evil. And crazy. And while yes, this is what we expect from villains, his sheer and utter madness often left me unable to take him seriously. Many of his plans dealt with inflicting harm or reigning in the power of people who were much stronger than him. Some of his threats didn’t make any logical sense if you thought about it. So, yes, he was meant to be a crazy character. But the fact that everyone around him reacted to his madness seriously at times read as very strange. His threats were so completely empty and the solution to the whole problem so easy that it very much undercut any actual urgency for the final act.

The ending was also a bit unclear. There seemed to be several loose ends that were left hanging, and I can’t find anywhere that this was ever meant to read as more than just a standalone. The storylines that we did get wrapped up were closed all too quickly and easily. And I felt that there were many important scenes that were only referenced but left off the page, which was very disappointing.

So, while I did enjoy the main characters and the unique take on shapeshifter mythology, I was left a bit disappointed  by this read. At this point, I think it is probably best to just admit that George’s writing style is not to my taste and leave it at that. However, if you enjoy light (for the most part??) historical fantasy that is set in a unique locale and features two awesome ladies, this still might be the book for you!

Rating 6: Two strong characters and an interesting magic system weren’t enough for me to get past some of the strange plot choices in the end and an off-putting writing style.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Silver in the Blood” is on these Goodreads lists: “Best Shapeshifter/Werewolf books” and “Victorian Paranormal YAs.”

Find “Silver in the Blood” at your library using WorldCat

 

Kate’s Review: “You Should Have Left”

32337898Book: “You Should Have Left” by Daniel Kehlmann, Ross Benjamin (Translator)

Publishing Info: Pantheon Books, June 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: From the internationally best-selling author of Measuring the World and F, an eerie and supernatural tale of a writer’s emotional collapse

“It is fitting that I’m beginning a new notebook up here. New surroundings and new ideas, a new beginning. Fresh air.”

These are the opening lines of the journal kept by the narrator of Daniel Kehlmann’s spellbinding new novel: the record of the seven days that he, his wife, and his four-year-old daughter spend in a house they have rented in the mountains of Germany—a house that thwarts the expectations of his recollection and seems to defy the very laws of physics. The narrator is eager to finish a screenplay, entitled Marriage, for a sequel to the movie that launched his career, but something he cannot explain is undermining his convictions and confidence, a process he is recording in this account of the uncanny events that unfold as he tries to understand what, exactly, is happening around him—and in himself.

Review: Back when I was just out of college but still hadn’t quite found my footing, my dear friend Blake (bestie from high school, now far away friend) told me about this creepy book that he was reading called “House of Leaves” by Mark Z Danielewski . He said that it was basically three stories combined into one, told with transcripts, footnotes, weird spacing choices, and a claustrophobic nuance that made the reader feel like they were going a bit loony. I asked my sister to get it for me for my birthday, and when I picked it up it was so intricate and odd that it took me awhile to read it. But boy did I love the concept of a scary story told in weird, experimental ways. Flash forward to this fall, when my Mom sent me another of her emails saying “I found this book through the New York Times, you should look into it.” That book was “You Should Have Left”, and when I finally picked it up a few weeks later, I started having flashbacks to my time spent with “House of Leaves”. Only this one, clocking in at less than 150 pages, was possible to read in one night.

When we meet Narrator (as he has no name), his wife Susanna, and their little girl Esther, they have taken a cabin retreat to give him time to work on his newest screenplay. I mean, if you want isolation from the world around you, a mountain cabin is probably the way to go. The only parts of Narrator’s story we get to see are through his own writings, be it meditations on writing, the screenplay itself, or his random diary-esque entries talking about his family, the cabin itself, and other observations within the moment. It’s when he makes off the cuff remarks about things that seem odd that you start to slowly realize that something isn’t quite right here. Narrator is under such pressure, both in his professional life and his personal life, that as the reader you are constantly wondering how reliable these various things are. It’s a great device, and Kehlmann uses it pretty well. As various things happen, both in his personal and professional life AND within the house itself, it’s hard to know if one causes the other or vice versa. There were some really good moments of uncanny horror in this one, from strange silhouettes out of the corner of the eye to Narrator maybe seeing himself walking around inside the house even though he’s outside of it. Moments like these made it so that I was thrown for a loop and a bit weirded out, which was fun and unsettling and very satisfying because of it. Even though I read this all in one sitting, throughout that sitting I would find myself looking towards the dark corners of my bedroom and into the hallway, knowing I wouldn’t see anything, of course, but worried that I might. Any Gothic novel worth it’s weight knows how to make fear from isolation and darkness, and I felt like Kehlmann achieved it.

The translation itself was pretty good, Benjamin was very skilled and making the prose flow easily, and it never felt clunky or forced, or like anything was being lost from German to English. I find that can sometimes be a problem for translated works, so it was good that the suspense was still palpable and the tension still tight.

But sadly, because I went in with “House of Leaves” on the brain, this one didn’t quite live up to all of my expectations. I know that short and sweet horror can be very effective when it is done right, and while I do think that “You Should Have Left” was done very well, it sort of felt like a been there, done that kind of read for me. While that isn’t necessarily a relevant thing for those who haven’t read “House of Leaves”, it just wasn’t quite strong enough to buck that association and comparison. Had it been longer, and had we spent more time with Narrator as he either a) falls victim to a haunted house, or b) falls victim to his own emotional breakdown, perhaps I could have left my past associations at the door. While I do fully intend to go back someday and re-read “House of Leaves”, “You Should Have Left” is probably a one and done kind of ghost story for this reader.

If you’re in need of something short this Halloween season, “You Should Have Left” will probably whet your appetite pretty thoroughly. It’s unsettling and creepy, and knows how to push the right buttons.

Rating 7: An unnerving and eerie novella that kept me on edge, “You Should Have Left” was strange and raw. At times it felt like “House of Leaves”-Lite, but a solid and fast horror story it still is.

Reader’s Advisory:

“You Should Have Left” is not on any Goodreads Lists as of right now, but honestly, if you want some similar books dealing in isolation and potential mental breaks, give “The Shining” and “House of Leaves” a try.

Find “You Should Have Left” at your library using WorldCat!

What’s That Under The Bed: Childhood Fears

Given that it’s the Halloween Season and some of us may have spooky and creepy things on our minds, we thought that it would be fun to revisit the books and media that scared us as children. Sometimes looking back at childhood fears can be funny and cute, and other times it just reinforces the fact that these things are freakin’ scary at any age.

Serena’s Fears

1518699“The Ankle Grabber” by Rose Impey

Yes, mine is literally a book about scary things under a bed. But this book was truly traumatic, and a bunch of reviews on the books’ Goodreads page back me up on this. I didn’t even remember this book until we started brainstorming this blog post, apparently having successfully blocked it from my mind like all other traumatizing memories. So…thanks blog, for that! Supposedly, this story is supposed to help kids conquer their fears of the dark and things under the bed, but the pictures! The pictures were so creepy that it did just the opposite, ensuring that I took a running leap to my bed for years. For some reason, I kept re-reading to this book in some type of masochistic ritual throughout my childhood. It got so bad that my mom got some type of air freshener can, created a funny paper logo that she wrapped around it that said “Scary Stuff,” and convinced my sister and I to spray it around our room at night and that would someone chase of the Ankle Grabber.

95f6aaede63e86d5131fedb74111b52d“The Tale of the Dollmaker” (TV episode from “Are You Afraid of the Dark?”)

As any kid who watched early 90s TV knows, “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” wasn’t messing around with its “horror stories for kids” concept. I mean, the “for kids” portion is really questionable, in my opinion. I could probably rattle off 10 episodes from this show that were scary as hell, but the one that always stood out was “The Tale of the Dollmaker” in which a cursed dollhouse traps little girls and slowly turns them into porcelain dolls. Throughout the episode, we see one of the girls, Susan, slowly lose her ability to talk and move as her body turns to porcelain. She almost loses an arm when her porcelain body breaks from too much movement. This of course lead my crazed, overly imaginative mind to begin fearing that if I sat still too long I’d start to turn to porcelain or stone or something. And as a kid who read a lot, a very stationary activity, this was a concern that popped into my brain more often than I would care to admit. I would be holding my book and literally start worrying that my arms were somehow firming up….

gooey_gus“Gooey Gus” (TV episode from “Ghost Writer”

Look at that thing?!?! What’s not to be afraid of?? The story is simple enough, Ghooey Gus is an evil toy that systematically attacks and goos to death every kid he comes in contact with. The fact that the goo tastes like bubble gum somehow made the whole thing worse. I’m convinced that whoever wrote this episode pretty much just thought to themselves “Hey, adults have had to be traumatized by ‘Chucky.’ Let’s not leave out the kids! Here, have your own toy-like terror monster!” The whole idea of drowning, suffocating, whatever, by being covered in some gross goo is horrible enough on its own, regardless of having it all tied up in the nightmare fuel of toys coming to life and attacking kids.

Kate’s Fears

images-2“Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones” by Alvin Schwartz

I’ve mentioned here that one of my absolute favorite book collections as a kid were the “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” series by Alvin Schwartz. But along with loving them, there were a few stories, mostly because of the pictures, that scared the living daylights out of me. The story that messed me up the most was that of “Harold”, a story about a scarecrow that comes to life and murders one of his creators. I think that it was the combination of the drawing of the terrible Harold (I mean just look at him!) and the final line of the story, which talks about Harold laying out a piece of flesh on the roof to ‘dry in the sun’. Like, what the hell is that about? In my nightmares about these books, Harold made the most frequent appearances. I still don’t really care for scarecrows.

“Fire in the Sky” (Film)p14658_p_v8_ad

I don’t know whose genius idea it was to advertise this movie with shots from an alien abduction and experiment scene, but they can bite my ass. When this movie came out I was in grade school, and since I would watch “Star Trek” with my Dad I would see the promos for this film. It’s supposedly based on a true story (whatever that means) in which a logger named Travis Walton disappeared for a few days, and when he returned he said that he had been abducted by aliens. So then I was convinced that I was going to be abducted by aliens and experimented on as well, because BASED ON A TRUE STORY, GUYS! When I was an adult I saw that it was on Netflix Instant for a time, and thought that I should face my childhood fear and laugh about how silly I was. Except, oops, the alien abduction and experimentation scene was still super upsetting and I just kind of wanted to die while watching it. Here, have a trailer. It has a glimpse of the sequence I’m referring to.

matila-2“Matilda” by Roald Dahl

Yup, another instance in which I loved a book and yet it scared me to death. And what was it that scared me to death about this book? Was it Miss Trunchbull and her penchant for throwing children? Was is Matilda’s awful parents and they way that they abused her? Was it The Chokey? Oh no. It was the part where Matilda glues her father’s hat to his head with superglue. Yep, you heard it here first, folks, Kate had RIDICULOUS anxiety about that concept. What if it would never come off? What if a hat got glued to MY head and then IT would never come off?! Honestly, I had so many crazy anxieties as a child that made no sense I probably should have been in therapy for them, and the hat glue scene from “Matilda” is really just the one that takes the biggest WTF cake. I hid that damn book behind my bookshelf after reading that scene, and didn’t come back for it for a week or two.

What did you fear when you were a child? Let us know in the comments! We won’t judge you if you don’t judge us!

Serena’s Review: “Etched in Bone”

22062213Book: “Etched in Bone” by Anne Bishop

Publishing Info: Roc, March 2017

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

Book Description: After a human uprising was brutally put down by the Elders—a primitive and lethal form of the Others—the few cities left under human control are far-flung. And the people within them now know to fear the no-man’s-land beyond their borders—and the darkness…

As some communities struggle to rebuild, Lakeside Courtyard has emerged relatively unscathed, though Simon Wolfgard, its wolf shifter leader, and blood prophet Meg Corbyn must work with the human pack to maintain the fragile peace. But all their efforts are threatened when Lieutenant Montgomery’s shady brother arrives, looking for a free ride and easy pickings.

With the humans on guard against one of their own, tensions rise, drawing the attention of the Elders, who are curious about the effect such an insignificant predator can have on a pack. But Meg knows the dangers, for she has seen in the cards how it will all end—with her standing beside a grave.

Previously reviewed: “Marked in Flesh”

Review: GAHHHHH!!!! What is it with the number of series that have failed to stick the landing recently?! (“Recently” being my own recent reading history, mind). I guess I really should be reading the writing on the wall a bit better. Just like the Gemma Doyle series, Bishop’s “The Others” series has slowly, steadily, agonizingly determinedly, been working its way down the sad decline into the land of boredom and “who cares.” That “Etched in Bone” finally lands this decline at the very bottom and adds a nice kick in the butt right at the end for your effort…maybe shouldn’t be surprising.

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Me, about this series. If that’s harsh? I’m not sorry. (source)

There will be some spoilers in this review, because I’m definitely talking about the ending for this one!

It’s on the record that I didn’t love “Marked in Flesh,” either. But the one thing that it did deliver was the massive, destructive climax that had been building up between the Humans First and Last movement and the Others for the last several books. Shit went down. Cities were systematically wiped out. And because most of the human characters (other than all the special ones that seemed to live in Lakeside) were truly awful people, there was some sick joy in watching them go.

“Etched in Bone” opens shortly thereafter with the powers-that-be conferring together and still asking their one driving question: “How much Human do we keep?” To determine this, a select few travel to Lakeside to witness this hybrid example of Other/Human life being lived in harmony, all due to the changes brought about by Meg. With the massive damage dealt in the last book, this one had a problem right from the start: is it really credible that any humans would still be holding to these crazy views? Literally thousands of lives have been lost and the Others didn’t even blink an eye. It was hard to buy in the last several books that people could be willfully this stupid, but it got to a point of complete ridiculousness here.

And, as always, the villain character was the worst of it all. It seemed that he was evil purely for evil’s sake, and the fact that anyone would still buy his crazed philosophies after witnessing the prior destruction and knowing the thin knife’s edge that human life as a whole balanced upon was just too big an ask of my imagination.

On top of this all, the previous book also fully cracked the rose-colored lens through which I had been reading this series. It’s no surprise that I (and I believe many fans of these books) have been following the series primarily out of a love and interest in the two main characters, Simon and Meg. As their relationship has floundered (more on that) and more side characters have been introduced, the series’ flaws have begun to show more and more. Specifically, its very stereotypically gendered roles. References to the “female pack” that before were a funny little quirk, now read as supremely uncomfortable in light of the fact that all of the women, aside form a sassy elderly woman character, exist in very narrow confines. None of them are in leadership roles, and their friendships and lives are littered with pitfalls of silliness.

Beyond this, the series’ other main weakness has been a penchant for info-dumpy chapters full of mundane details. In my last review I complained about the pages devoted to stock piling toilet paper, and nothing has changed here. In the first few chapters, we’re already enduring pages and pages full of characters (not even the main ones!) discussing the ins and outs of Lakeside’s economy and trading. It’s just…dull.

And then. AND THEN! Simon and Meg. I knew I was going to be disappointed right from the beginning. In the end of the last book, it seemed that there were a few steps being taken in the right direction. Meg asked Simon to go skinny dipping, very PG skinny dipping of course, but still. But here, in the second chapter of the dang book, we have Simon recounting how that pretty much went nowhere and that, while he was potentially interested in Meg that way, he wasn’t willing to risk there friendship. And then Meg gets her own chapter and what do you know? She thinks the same! And so on and so on. Any progress that readers thought they saw in the last book was immediately walked back, and for the majority of this book, it was business as usual.

Until the end. And what do we get? What do we get for sticking through 5 damn books of packing lists and excruciating infodump conversations? We get one, very brief scene where Meg and Simon agree to try to make something work. And a kiss. IT’S ONE SCENE AT THE END OF THE BOOK!! There is no build up. There is no follow through. No relationship learning and stumbles. Nothing.

Not only do we get absolutely nothing out of this scene, but this same chapter could have been tacked on to the ending of any of the 3 books that came before it and you wouldn’t have noticed. We’ve all been going along trusting that this slow burn relationship was just that, a slow burn relationship. Instead, now, we realize we’ve been tricked the whole time. It wasn’t a slow burn, it was nothing. “Slow burn” implies we are building towards something. This book makes it very clear that either Bishop didn’t know what to do with these characters’ relationship (and hasn’t for the last several books) or never cared to begin with and just tacked it into a series where her main interest was writing about the minute details of the world itself, only to be dismayed by fan reaction and throw in this final scene as some attempt to quell readers.

At this point, anyone who is reading this book has read the ones that came before it. If you did enjoy those, maybe this one won’t be as frustrating for you, as much of the actual plot is lather, rinse, repeat with the conflict between dumb, evil people and the Others who are bizarrely still enamored by Meg (her special snowflake status has reached a peak, if you’re curious). But I have a hard time seeing many longtime fans being satisfied with this conclusion. I know I’m not.

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It was an audiobook, so I couldn’t do this. But I would have if I could have! (source)

Rating 2: Not only did this book continue to trot out the tired themes of the previous books, it failed to provide any resolution for the one part of the story that had retained any of my interest throughout.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Etched in Bone” is on these Goodreads lists: “Bad Bitches of Urban Fantasy”(Meg probably doesn’t belong on this list, tbh) and “Not The “Normal” Paranormal.”

Find “Etched in Bone” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Meddling Kids”

32905343Book: “Meddling Kids” by Edgar Cantero

Publishing Info: Doubleday Books, July 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: For fans of John Dies at the End and Welcome to Night Vale comes a tour de force of horror, humor, and H.P. Lovecraft. The surviving members of a forgotten teenage detective club (and their dog) must reunite as broken adults to finally solve the terrifying case that ruined them all and sent the wrong man to prison. Scooby Doo and the gang never had to do this!

1990. The teen detectives once known as the Blyton Summer Detective Club (of Blyton Hills, a small mining town in the Zoinx River Valley in Oregon) are all grown up and haven’t seen each other since their fateful, final case in 1977. Andy, the tomboy, is twenty-five and on the run, wanted in at least two states. Kerri, one-time kid genius and budding biologist, is bartending in New York, working on a serious drinking problem. At least she’s got Tim, an excitable Weimaraner descended from the original canine member of the team. Nate, the horror nerd, has spent the last thirteen years in and out of mental health institutions, and currently resides in an asylum in Arhkam, Massachusetts. The only friend he still sees is Peter, the handsome jock turned movie star. The problem is, Peter’s been dead for years.

The time has come to uncover the source of their nightmares and return to where it all began in 1977. This time, it better not be a man in a mask. The real monsters are waiting.

With raucous humor and brilliantly orchestrated mayhem, Edgar Cantero’s Meddling Kids taps into our shared nostalgia for the books and cartoons we grew up with, and delivers an exuberant, eclectic, and highly entertaining celebration of horror, life, friendship, and many-tentacled, interdimensional demon spawn.

Review: Though I was definitely more of a “Pup Named Scooby-Doo” viewer as a child, “Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?” was definitely a show that I was pretty familiar with thanks to visits to Grandma’s house and the local video store. I can’t say that I have a huge nostalgia for it, but it’s enough of a cultural icon that I am familiar with it and all the references, tropes, and influences that come with it. When my friend David sent me this book title on Facebook, I was immediately intrigued. Given that I love send ups of classic shows like “The Venture Bros”, “Sealab 2021”, and “Harvey Birdman: Attorney At Law”, I was stoked to see that FINALLY someone decided to take on “Scooby-Doo, Where Are You” and add in some Lovecraftian horror elements to boot.

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The start of way too many “Scooby-Doo” gifs. (source)

To start, I really enjoyed how Cantero took the characters that we are oh so familiar with and gave them some serious issues, issues that would make perfect sense for a bunch of kids who chased after criminals. Meet the Blyton Summer Detective Club: Kerri (Velma) was an incredibly smart girl, a genius, but has ended up an alcoholic tending bar. Andy (I think she’s supposed to be a inverted Daphne? She doesn’t really fit) was the tomboy of the group, who went on to get military training but is now on the run from the law. Nate (Shaggy) was the geeky and carefree one, but has voluntarily committed himself to Arkham Asylum (of Lovecraftian fame, not “Batman”)… Mainly because he keeps seeing Peter (Fred), who died of a drug overdose a few years prior. Throw in Tim (Scooby-Doo), the canine descendant of their original group, and there you have it. I liked how Cantero explored the damages that their friendship and group wrought upon them. Seeing all of these broken people try to come back together to fight the one case they didn’t quite solve was bittersweet and heavy, and I really appreciated that Cantero explored how a scenario like this may go. Kerri and Andy have a deep bond, stemming from childhood when Andy was almost in love with Kerri, and seeing them reconnect is very sweet, even if it feels like doom could come for them at any time. Nate’s struggle with his mental illness is also very revealing, though at times you are kind of wondering if maybe Peter’s ghost really is with him. After all, if monsters are real, why not this? They all need each other as much as they wish they didn’t, and that was both lovely and tragic because at the heart of it they are all survivors of a terrible trauma, and they need to confront it before they can move on with their lives. Cantero does a great job of reminding us that they were kids when this terrible stuff happened to them, and that sometimes you can’t just walk away and that’s the end of the story. Sometimes it’s not just a kook in a mask.

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This is so dated but I had to. (source)

I also really liked that Cantero has taken the ol’ chesnut that is Lovecraft and has applied it to this kind of story. Given that the original “Scooby-Doo” always ended with the villain being a plain old person in a mask, for them to be facing actual monsters and magic is SUPER fun, and at times genuinely creepy. From lake monsters that decompose at an alarming rate to mysterious books and words in an attic, Cantero has really taken the inter-dimensional horror theme and given it a fun little spin here. It’s meta as well as creepy and weird, and it’s just different enough that I wasn’t feeling like he was trying too hard to make two different themes fit together. He also did a good job of retaining the plausible explanation theme, as while a guy in a mask isn’t a solution, there are other natural disasters that pose just as much risk to these people as the supernatural creatures. That isn’t to say that this book is just doom and gloom and a Nolan-like take on “Scooby-Doo”. As a matter of fact, this is not only kind of sad, at times it’s a VERY funny book. The snide and sarcastic banter between the characters had me in stitches, as well as the occasional insight into Tim’s doggie mind (his love for a toy penguin, for example, is delightfully whimsical when it’s from his POV).

That isn’t to say that it was a perfect book. I will admit that I had a hard time with some of the stylistic choices, as it could jump from a novel narrative to a playwright’s dialog in the same scene, even the same breath. I found it to be a bit distracting, but it was never so jarring that I had to stop. I also do kind of question some of the influences that Cantero took from, specifically that sometimes it felt like he was kind of appropriating some indigenous legends, even if he put his own spin on them in the end. It kind of treaded the line, and while I don’t think that he ever really crossed it, I’m no expert. I would probably have to do more research and get other people’s opinions on the matter.

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Or perhaps I should say look for clues… (source)

Overall, I really liked “Meddling Kids” and think that it’s both super fun and super creative. I also liked how it took the familiar tropes of a beloved series and spun them on their head.

Rating 8: Both a nostalgic send up and solid adventure/horror story, “Meddling Kids” brings some real world insight and consequences to a group of former teen detectives with heart and scares.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Meddling Kids” is included on the Goodreads lists “Counter-Lovecraft”, and “Nerdventure”.

Find “Meddling Kids” at your library using WorldCat!