The Great Animorphs Re-Read: #3 “The Encounter”

125333Animorphs #3: “The Encounter”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, August 1996

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: When Tobias, Jake, Rachel, Marco, and Cassie were given the ability to morph, they were also given one very important warning: Never stay in a morph for more than two hours. It seemed a small price to pay, since the kids know that humans everywhere are being forced to let slimy, spineless creatures creep into their brains. And the only way the kids can fight back is not to be human.

But Tobias stayed in his morph too long. And now he’s a hawk — with a boy’s mind — forever. Tobias knows they can’t give up. That they all made a promise. So now it’s four kids and a hawk against a force that’s determined to destroy them. Or die trying…

Narrator: Tobias

Plot: In which the Animorphs discover that even Yeerks need basic resources like water and they have decided that the best way to get it is to fly massive tanker ships through the mountains and drain remote lakes using straws. So, a totally normal premises to start out with! What’s even better is that Tobias discovers this while flying along and seeing a flock of geese ram straight into an invisible wall (the ship has a cloaking device ala Klingons) and comments that while geese are terrible creatures (I agree), even they don’t deserve this terrible fate. I mean, Cassie should be on board right there! Save the geese! Save the geese! This plot takes up much of the book with the Animorphs all acquiring two new morphs wolves (fun!) and trout (not fun!) to try and sabotage the Yeerk tanker ship. But much of the story is also focused on the actual hell that is Tobias’s life now as a hawk. It’s pretty much one long existential crisis for our main character. Let’s be honest, the “Adult Ugly Crying” section below is only one of many, many options.

A Hawk’s Life: Tobias is another of my favorite characters and honestly this probably had much to do with the facts that A.) he pairs up with Rachel, my absolute favorite and B.) I had a middle grade crush on him from this book cover. That hair style was so in back in the 90s guys! Anyways! We had small hints in Rachel’s book about how Tobias is adapting (or not adapting) to his life as a hawk. And here we really see it. The reality of what his life is actually going to be is starting to settle in. It was particularly interesting learning about how he is dealing with the hawk’s personality. In the other books, we’ve seen the Animorphs struggle with the animal minds of their morphs, but it was easy to forget that this would be a constant thing for Tobias. He’s not just a boy in a hawk’s body. The hawk’s instincts are still right there with him every day. But these struggles aside, there were a lot of good moments that highlight how Tobias has always been the most courageous and dedicated to fight against the Yeerks of the whole group. He had a more deep connection with Elfangor in the first book (something that I think comes up again later), and while he does find renewed vigor in his reason to fight, it’s also never been up for debate for him. His struggle is more focused on this new existence that has been forced upon him.

Our Fearless Leader: Jake once again highlights how he’s a great guy, but maybe not the most “with it” as far as being perceptive goes. There’s this really sad scene where we see that Jake has set up a drawer with blankets in his attic for Tobias to sleep in and leaves out canned food for him. But he doesn’t ever think about how these things might not work for a bird vs. a boy. There’s also some fun bits when Jake morphs a wolf and as the alpha of the pack gets rather distracted with..ahem..marking his territory. It left open a rather interesting (?) idea about morphing different gendered animals than their human counterparts.

Xena, Warriar Princess: In parallel to Jake, we have Rachel who is much more closely tuned in to Tobias’s struggles. She’s also paired up with him in the mini adventure in the beginning of the book which is basically her stomping across a used car lot as an elephant while Tobias rescues the live hawk that’s been caged and used as a mascot. It’s such a ridiculous image all together, and I loved everything about.

Peace, Love, and Animals: Cassie doesn’t have a whole lot in this. As usual, she’s the Animorphs “in” for some of their new morphs, like the wolf. And she has a fun moment later on when they’re trying to catch a fish to acquire. Jake’s all “This is great! It’ll take like 2 minutes!” And Cassie’s just side-eyeing him: “…have you ever fished before??”

The Comic Relief: Marco ends up saving the day for Tobias in this book. There’s some good comedic build up about Rachel being involved in a gymnastics show at the mall and Marco sneaking in to watch her (she’s adamantly against this plan, obviously). But what seems like a jokey side note, turns into a serious moment. Margo does sneak in, and it’s a good thing, too, since he’s able to break a glass ceiling with a baseball to save Tobias who is blindly careening towards it in the midst of a panic attack.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: The fish morph. There’s a very graphic section where Tobias discusses how even Cassie, the expert morpher of the group, can’t make that look good. At one point there’s much detail about eyes sliding around to the sides of the head…

Couples Watch!: There are a couple of different ones in this book! First, we have the moment where Tobias is starting to forget himself and Rachel just happens to have a picture of him in her dresser to whip out at a moment’s notice. Then Tobias immediately seeks her out at the mall in the midst of his emotional/mental breakdown. And finally, when they’re all trapped in the ship as fish, Rachel and Tobias have a lovely little moment in the midst of the tragic reality that Rachel is surely about to die. Romantic angst everywhere!

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: He doesn’t do a whole lot in this book. But he definitely seems to be catching on to the whole “any animal could be an Andalite” train of thought. A perspective that does not bring good things to the local fauna of the little mountain lake. A few deer and birds are laser beam sizzled in the writing of this book.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Yeah, so that part I referenced in the Marco section. Tobias has a moment of weakness to the hawk’s instincts and eats a mouse then freaks out about it and flies into a mall because that’s where Rachel is and all he can think of is getting to her. And, like all bird instincts would tell him, once trapped inside he makes a b-line for open air even if it’s through a glass ceiling. It’s never out right stated that Tobias might have been ok with hitting the glass and putting an end to it, but the implication is definitely there and it’s just terrible and so, so sad.  There’s also the bit towards the end when Rachel, trapped on the ship with the others, blatantly asks Tobias to take down the ship with them in it since they’d rather die than be tortured. So..yeah..this is a middle grade series.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: So…their plan to disable the ship. Morph fish on land, flop around not being able to breathe while Tobias ferries them to the lake, swim up the straw to the ship, and then some how take the ship out. But…aren’t they in the ship when it gets taken out? And, as we see here, not having done any recon of the ship might present some problems. Like getting stuck in a tank that didn’t need to incorporate a teen-sized access panel when it was designed. 

Favorite Quote:

The obligatory Marco quote:

“Don’t say the word ‘cage’ around Tobias. He’ll do some guerrilla-commando-Ninja-SWAT-team-hawk-from-hell attack on the Center. And he’ll talk Rachel into stomping your house flat.” – Marco

And the more sweet quote from Rachel, the one person who serves as Tobias’s primary connection to humanity throughout this all.

“What counts is what is in your head and in your heart. A person isn’t his body. A person isn’t what’s on the outside.” – Rachel

Scorecard: Yeerks 1, Animorphs 1

The Animorphs get a point! Though their plan had some major flaws and they mostly got out of it due to sheer luck and bravery on Tobias’s part, they did in fact manage to disable the ship. Though, as they discuss later, it is likely that the Yeerks simply got another ship and found a different lake. But ah well, small wins!

Rating: Very good! The angst is strong in this one, but I loved every minute of it.

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: “Everything You Want Me To Be”

29276588Book: “Everything You Want Me To Be” by Mindy Mejia

Publishing Info: Atria/Emily Bestler Books, January 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Full of twists and turns, Everything You Want Me to Be reconstructs a year in the life of a dangerously mesmerizing young woman, during which a small town’s darkest secrets come to the forefront…and she inches closer and closer to her death.

High school senior Hattie Hoffman has spent her whole life playing many parts: the good student, the good daughter, the good citizen. When she’s found brutally stabbed to death on the opening night of her high school play, the tragedy rips through the fabric of her small town community. Local sheriff Del Goodman, a family friend of the Hoffmans, vows to find her killer, but trying to solve her murder yields more questions than answers. It seems that Hattie’s acting talents ran far beyond the stage. Told from three points of view—Del, Hattie, and the new English teacher whose marriage is crumbling—Everything You Want Me to Be weaves the story of Hattie’s last school year and the events that drew her ever closer to her death.

Evocative and razor-sharp, Everything You Want Me to Be challenges you to test the lines between innocence and culpability, identity and deception. Does love lead to self-discovery—or destruction?

Review: Small towns and their secrets. It’s a plot device that I am a huge sucker for. I don’t know if it’s because both my parents grew up in small towns and have many stories to tell and spill the tea on, but it has always been the kind of story that I can get behind. From “Twin Peaks” to “Peyton Place”, the Small Town Secrets trope can be incredibly tantalizing. The description of “Everything You Want Me To Be” makes it pretty clear from the get go that this is the kind of book that you’re going to be reading, and I can’t tell ya  enough how happy that makes me. Sudsy, dark, seedy, scandalous books are sometimes just what the doctor ordered, and it was a page turner that I greatly enjoyed.

Okay, so yes, perhaps part of that enjoyment is taken from the fact that this book takes place in small town Minnesota. Any book or film or show that takes place in my home state is going to get an advantage from me, just because you don’t see it all that often. And Mejia being from here definitely gave it that feel of authenticity, as you can tell that she knows the culture and knows some of the nuances of the people and towns that are outside of the larger cities. As I read this book I couldn’t help but think about the Jacob Wetterling Case a little bit, a kidnapping that happened in central Minnesota that went unsolved for 27 years (go HERE for a very well done podcast about the crime, the investigation, and the aftermath). There were many people who thought that it could just never happen there, and whenever something along those lines was said about Pine Valley, my stomach clenched up. Mejia captured the naïveté of a ‘simpler’ life and society very well.

I also thought that all of the perspective characters in this book were written very well. None of them were simple caricatures, when they very easily could have been. The first perspective is from Del Goodman, the sheriff of the county who is in charge of investigating the murder of Hattie Hoffman. He’s a friend of her family and has always known her as a sweet, intelligent girl who had big dreams and a big heart. That is really how most of the town knows her, and Del is determined to bring her killer to justice. He could very, VERY easily fall into the trope of craggy and stubborn sheriff who has seen a lot but never can accept that it ‘could happen here’. But instead he’s pretty level headed and is there to piece together the clues that we get as he finds them. But along with him we get two more perspectives. The first is if Peter, the new English teacher at the school who moved to small town Minnesota with his wife Mary to help his ailing mother in law. He’s a fish out of water from Minneapolis, and Mary has made it clear that she doesn’t see him as robust and ‘manly’ now that he’s on the farm. So when he starts up an online relationship with the mysterious “HollyG”, he finds validation and solace he feels he’s lost at home. Of course, as one could guess, HollyG is Hattie. Peter could VERY easily be portrayed as a predatory and insecure asshole who is merely trying to manipulate and recapture his youth/stroke his ego. But Mejia definitely makes him far more complex than that. He radiates ennui and frustration, and desperation, and while she never lets him off the hook, you can understand how he got on the hook in the first place. And then there’s Hattie. Hattie could either be portrayed as a small town girl with big dreams who gets caught up in her own hopes and wishes…. Or of a man-eater whose ambitions lead to manipulation and abject cruelty all in the name of getting what she wants. However, she really treads the line between both, and instead you get a girl who feels trapped inside a place that is far too small for her, and is desperate to escape by any means necessary. I was expecting to end up hating her, be it because she was too pure or because she was a complete psycho. But she never went that far. And I ended up pleased with that.

Mejia brings these three narratives together to tell a very strong mystery about what happened to Hattie. And I will say, I was definitely taken for quite the ride. There were hints and clues that were dropped that I thought were far too obvious, only for them to be completely different from what I thought. Then there were things that I thought had to be red herrings, that actually ended up being completely legitimate, but framed in such a way that you HAD to think they were misleading! It was a real trip. All of this bundled together to make it so I didn’t know who did it, I wasn’t certain of the motive, and everything I knew was wrong. True, there were a couple of revelations and resolutions that left me feeling a little ‘oh, is that all?’ because of so many well done twists and turns, but ultimately I really enjoyed the path that we had to take to get to the solution to the crime. And boy was it hard for me to put this book down until I had that solution. For the first time in a long while I was at work wishing that the day could just be over already specifically because I wanted to go home and finish this book.

“Everything You Want Me To Be” is the best thriller of the year so far, and it’s going to have to have some pretty stiff competition thrown it’s way to have it overthrown. Definitely, DEFINITELY check this one out if you like thrillers. You will not be disappointed.

Rating 9: A provocative and addictive book that kept me guessing the whole time. Though I feel there was a slight anticlimax, I was still very drawn in and entertained. Definitely one to check out if you want a fun and worthwhile thriller.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Everything You Want Me To Be” can be found on the following Goodreads lists: “Gripping Stand Alone Page Turners”, and “January 2017 Buzz Books”.

Find “Everything You Want Me To Be” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Serena’s Review: “Jackaby”

20312462Book: “Jackaby” by William Ritter

Publishing Info: Algonquin Young Readers, September 2014

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: Newly arrived in New Fiddleham, New England, 1892, and in need of a job, Abigail Rook meets R. F. Jackaby, an investigator of the unexplained with a keen eye for the extraordinary–including the ability to see supernatural beings. Abigail has a gift for noticing ordinary but important details, which makes her perfect for the position of Jackaby’s assistant. On her first day, Abigail finds herself in the midst of a thrilling case: A serial killer is on the loose. The police are convinced it’s an ordinary villain, but Jackaby is certain it’s a nonhuman creature, whose existence the police–with the exception of a handsome young detective named Charlie Cane–deny.

Review: This was actually a book club book that I read a few years ago, but I wanted to review it here on the blog since I’m currently reading the sequel and I’m a librarian, so I’m naturally a completionist! Gotta have em all!

When this book showed up on our bookclub list, I was very excited. It was marketed as “Doctor Who” meets Sherlock Holmes, and while I’m not a complete nut for “Doctor Who” all told, I do love its wacky take on fantasy and science fiction. So combining that with “Sherlock Holmes” (my love of which has been well documented), seemed like it should be something that would be right up my alley! Ultimately, while I did like it, it was a bit more on the “meh” end of things than I would have liked.

Abigail Rook, fresh off the boat with dashed dreams of being an archaeologist like her father in hand, falls into a strange apprenticeship with an even stranger man: Jackaby, a paranormal investigator. Story aside (I’ll get to that a bit later on), this book lives and dies on these two main characters and right here is where we get into the general feeling of indifference.

Abigail herself is a likable character. Her personality, drive, and ability to make her way, even as ineptly as she does here, did feel a bit out of character for the time period. Yes, we’re on the cusp of the turn of the century, but there would still be some harsh realities facing her as a young woman alone in a new country. There’s nothing egregious going on as far as anachronisms or anything, but Abigail did feel a bit out of place for the time. That aside, I did enjoy her as a protagonist. She serves as our eyes into this new world, and her confusion is our confusion. As the story progresses, it becomes clear what role she will play as the Watson to Jackaby’s Holmes. Jackaby is nothing if not dense when it comes to social clues, and here is where Abigail fits in this puzzle. It’s not a super creative take, but it works for the story and she plays her part well.

I especially enjoyed the way Ritter approaches the small amount of romance in this story. Even that sentence is misleading as any romance that is seen here is strictly in the foreshadowing category. But what is most relieving is the fact that it is clear that this romantic angle will decidedly NOT focus on Abigail/Jackaby. I had definite concerns that this was going to be the romantic couple of the series, or *shudders* one corner of a love triangle. But, thankfully, we are introduced to a new character outside of the primary duo who seems to be set up to play this role going forward.

Jackaby himself was…ok? Honestly, I think some of my problems with the book had to do with him as a character. He was a bit too “preciously wacky,” if that makes sense? He’s obviously a creation based on  both Holmes and the Doctor, but the portrayal definitely falls more closely to the latter. It’s simply not unique enough. Jackaby could practically BE the Doctor, and it starts to feel derivative rather quickly.

To end on a good note, the world-building and the paranormal elements that were included were interesting and more unique. The villain character and several of the other beings were not the ones we’re used to seeing in this type of story, and I enjoyed diving into some of the history of these creatures. The supporting cast is also interesting, including the previously mentioned love interest who turns out to be more than he seems, as well as Jackaby’s current roommates, a ghost woman with unfinished business, and Jackaby’s previous apprentice who now lives an unfortunate, if still scholarly, life as a duck.

There were definitely strengths of the book, but it’s always going to be a struggle if the title character doesn’t live up to expectations. That said, if you enjoy “Doctor Who” and Sherlock Holmes this still might be a fun book to check out. Stay tuned for my upcoming review of the sequel “Beastly Bones.”

Rating 6: If I could, I’d give it a solid 6.5. Better than average, but rather underwhelming.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Jackaby” is included on these Goodreads lists: “YA & Middle Grade Sherlock Holmes” and “Victorian Spiritualism Fiction.”

Find “Jackaby” at your library using Worldcat!

 

Kate’s Review: “I’m Thinking of Ending Things”

27274343Book: “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” by Iain Reid

Publishing Info: Gallery/Scout Press, June 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: You will be scared. But you won’t know why…

I’m thinking of ending things. Once this thought arrives, it stays. It sticks. It lingers. It’s always there. Always.

Jake once said, “Sometimes a thought is closer to truth, to reality, than an action. You can say anything, you can do anything, but you can’t fake a thought.”

And here’s what I’m thinking: I don’t want to be here.

In this deeply suspenseful and irresistibly unnerving debut novel, a man and his girlfriend are on their way to a secluded farm. When the two take an unexpected detour, she is left stranded in a deserted high school, wondering if there is any escape at all. What follows is a twisted unraveling that will haunt you long after the last page is turned.

In this smart, suspenseful, and intense literary thriller, debut novelist Iain Reid explores the depths of the human psyche, questioning consciousness, free will, the value of relationships, fear, and the limitations of solitude. Reminiscent of Jose Saramago’s early work, Michel Faber’s cult classic Under the Skin, and Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk about Kevin, I’m Thinking of Ending Things is an edgy, haunting debut. Tense, gripping, and atmospheric, this novel pulls you in from the very first page…and never lets you go.

Review: I am constantly running the risk, given my fiction tastes and predilections, that when I close a book I may be saying to myself ‘what the EFF was THAT?!’ And knowing this, I kind of try to brace myself for it, especially when a book is described as ‘edgy’ or ‘literary’ in a horror sense. Usually this jives with me just fine. With “I’m Thinking of Ending Things”, I’m having a harder time making sense of what I read, what it meant, and what I thought of it. And I’ve been thinking about it! It’s one of those books that I think I’d have to go back and read again to really pick up on everything and to totally be able to unpack it. But…. I don’t have time, man. Not right now. Right now, there are other books to read.

So now I need to figure out what to say about this book without giving things away. Tricky tricky tricky.

Well for starters, Our Narrator, nameless as she is, has a very well done stream of consciousness voice. Her thoughts and feelings flow out, in regards to her boyfriend Jake, parts of her life before the events of the story, or just random passing musings. We know that she and Jake are going to meet his parents at their farm, her first meeting with them; we know that she’s been getting mysterious, stalker-esque phone calls; and we know that she’s thinking of ‘ending things’ with Jake, certain that it just won’t last. Why she thinks this is unclear, but her mind is pretty much made up. We know far more about Jake than we do Our Narrator, as she talks about how analytical he is, how his personality ticks, how he has bursts of passion but is almost always grounded in his earnestness. He works in a lab and is quite brilliant, but never lords it over her or puts on airs about it. It’s really quite stunning that we learn so much about Jake through her eyes, and yet learn so little about her outside of bits and pieces of stories.

This book builds up with unease from the get go. Our Narrator shares a number of disconcerting stories as the book goes on, stories from her experience in the past or moments happening as we read the book. They are always less in your face scary, and more ‘well that’s just weird and unsettling’. Like seeing a very tall man outside her window at night when she was a child, only seeing his chest and his hands and he wrung them together. Or the story of a neighborwoman bringing cookies to her family, asking her if she was ‘good or bad’, and then the Mom getting food poisoning from said cookies. It’s little things that just set your nerves on the slightest edge, that by the time you reach the serious crux of things that’s referenced in the description, you feel like you’re about to fall out of your chair. The suspense is taut and well done, and the imagery of shadows, unfamiliar hallways and faces, it’s all placed very well. You see clues and hints that come back later, but then when you’re done with it all you still have to go back and find everything. It’s meticulously crafted, and it definitely unsettled me.

But at the same time, the big confrontation came so late in the book, and it was so haphazard and chaotic, I had a hard time following it. Plus, there would be moments where the reader would be taken right out of it again, as Our Narrator would start on a tangent of waxing poetic on other, not as pressing matters as, say, the fact she’s lost in a strange labyrinthian school and can’t find her boyfriend. These moments of stopping and starting made the climax feel interrupted and jostled. There were other interruptions in the narrative as well, as between chapters we would get snippets of an italicized conversation between two faceless, nameless people, commenting on a terrible crime that has occurred. Obviously it has to do with what we’re all leading up to, but these interruptions worked a bit better because they felt like placeholders, and because they did give us more clues and puzzle pieces.

So what did I think of this book overall? I think I liked it. I know it disturbed me. I didn’t see where it was going at first, but then looking back at clues and references it started to come together. The problem was that getting there was so crazed and maniacal that at the end I was more overwhelmed than satisfied.

Rating 6: I THINK I pretty much liked it okay? But it gets kind of disorienting and also has the ability to take us into journeys that would amount to nothing, and distrupt the plot. It’s well done in a lot of ways, but you’ll have to read it twice (or more) to get it, I think.

Reader’s Advisory:

“I’m Thinking of Ending Things” is included on the Goodreads lists “ALA Midwinter 2016”, and “Thrillers with Big Plot Twists”.

Find “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” at your library using WorldCat!

Emily’s Corner: “The Blue Castle”

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

 

95693Book: “The Blue Castle” by Lucy Maud Montgomery

Publishing Info: 1908

Where Did I Get this Book: Amazon. Though book cover purists be warned; when I tried to purchase this book for a friend they only had a recently published version that has a horrendous new book cover that makes it look like an adolescent romance novel!

Book Description: Valancy lives a drab life with her overbearing mother and prying aunt. Then a shocking diagnosis from Dr. Trent prompts her to make a fresh start. For the first time, she does and says exactly what she feels. As she expands her limited horizons, Valancy undergoes a transformation, discovering a new world of love and happiness. One of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s only novels intended for an adult audience, “The Blue Castle” is filled with humour and romance.

Review:

Emily here, I’m a college friend of Serena’s, fellow book nerd and English major. I have gleefully followed the Library Ladies since its inception, so I was delighted when Serena asked me to write a guest post. Picking a first book to review is almost as hard as picking a favorite book, but the one that always comes to mind is “The Blue Castle” by Lucy Maud Montgomery.

Most people know of L.M. Montgomery because of “Anne of Green Gables,” but I’ve been surprised by how few people (even fellow English nerds!) know of her stand-alone books. This one is a gem. This is the book I re read every year, the book that I foist upon friends and strangers alike.

I discovered “The Blue Castle” at the library my sophomore year of high school and instantly fell in love with the timid-turned-feisty protagonist. Valancy Sterling is the snubbed and put-upon spinster of her family. At the ripe old age of 29 (!) she is considered a failure and a dull one at that. (It’s a toss-up which is worse to be in the Sterling clan.) After receiving life-altering news, she flips a Victorian finger to her family and sets off on her own adventure.

It’s not a new concept by any means, but the genius of this book is in the hilarious characters. Yes, we have the typical overbearing and aloof mother, the whiny aunts, and the golden-child cousin who can do no wrong, and the pompous uncle who finally gets put in his place at the end. But Montgomery is a master at writing characters who shine, whose flaws and virtues alike liven up what would otherwise be a trope. You get the sense that each character, no matter how small or unimportant to the plotline, has their own significant life story.

The characters that truly shine are Valancy and the two male leads. No, this isn’t a love triangle scenario, thank goodness, but each man is a hero to her in his own unique way. The first is the aptly titled Roaring Abel, a carpenter and a drunk, but also a thoughtful and generous man. His character problem is what opens the door for Valancy to escape her domineering family.

The second man is of course the love interest, but here is where Montgomery throws another twist in the story. Barney Snaith does not love Valancy. “Never even thought of such a thing,” he says to her very face! You’ll have to read the book to see how Valancy gets around this one, and I assure you the result is both delightful and decidedly unladylike!

Overall, what I love most about this book is watching Valancy’s progression from dutiful daughter to a someone who creates a colorful life for herself. And yes, gets a happy ending after all.

Rating 10:  This is the finest that Montgomery has to offer!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Blue Castle” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Best Lesser-Known Books” and “Anne and Friends.”

Find “The Blue Castle” at your library using Worldcat!

Serena’s Review: “The FitzOsbornes in Exile”

7389741Book: “The FitzOsbornes in Exile” by Michelle Cooper

Publishing Info: Random House Australia, April 2010

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

Book Description: Forced to leave their island kingdom, Sophie FitzOsborne and her eccentric family take shelter in England. Sophie’s dreams of making her debut in shimmering ballgowns are finally coming true, but how can she enjoy her new life when they have all lost so much?

Aunt Charlotte is ruthless in her quest to see Sophie and Veronica married off by the end of the Season, Toby is as charming and lazy as ever, Henry is driving her governess to the brink of madness, and the battle of wills between Simon and Veronica continues. Can Sophie keep her family together, when everything seems to be falling apart?

An enticing glimpse into high society, the cut and thrust of politics as nations scramble to avert world war, and the hidden depths of a family in exile, struggling to find their place in the world.

Review: Kate and I read the first book in this young adult trilogy, “A Brief History of Montemaray,” for bookclub and as I was more enamored by it than she was, I decided to continue with the trilogy. Especially since the ending of the last book left a large, lingering question mark over the future of the FitzOsborne family and their small, island kingdom.

Driven away from their remote home, this book refocuses the story on more typical, historical fare: debutantes, dinner parties, and their poor Aunt Charlotte’s ever-long struggle to marry off her young charges. But, sprinkled within these more frivolous aspects, was a running commentary on the dramatic, and often tragic, historical happenings of the time.

While the first book took place over a few short months, was limited by its location, and was told from the perspective of a much younger character, this story expands itself in every way. The book takes place over the course of 2-3 years, leaving us with an 18-year-old Sophie by the end of it. Throughout the time, we see her mature as a narrator, and, even more interestingly, watch the slow shifts that went on throughout the world during this tumultuous time period.

Without going into a political rant, I was particularly fascinated by the slow, steady evolution of these events. As a reader, we know how these things turn out and have the perspective of time to influence our opinions. Through this book, we see how small concessions and small moments of willfully turning a blind eye to the plight of those we (as a country or as a smaller group) deem disconnected from us can lead to very negative events. There was also a particularly fascinating bit where Sophie and Simon discuss the appeal of these types of populists leaders, how their message can be so easily tuned to  the wishes and prejudices of each specific audience group, and how broad promises and the creations of “others” to blame can have massive appeal when people are desperate.

Beyond the political and historical aspects of the story, I enjoyed watching these characters change and grow throughout the story. The first book gives us such a brief glimpse into their lives, that, while I loved many of them, it was also easy for each to fall into stereotypes (even if I loved some of those stereotypes like bookworm!Veronica). But here, we see how Toby’s struggles with school more broadly reflect his confusion with his place in his family and the world. How Veronica’s political and historical interests stand up against the onslaught of British high society. How Sophie learns to see the strengths in her own, more quiet, personality.

I also loved the introduction of a few new characters. Aunt Charlotte was brilliant. Similar to the Dowager Countess from Downton Abbey, she is a character that is written in a way that while she spouts some rather unfeeling, aristocratic nonsense, she does it in such a comical way that the reader ends up loving her for it.

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There is also the introduction of Julia’s brother, Rupert, who seems to be set up as a potential love interest for Sophie. And, as he spends large portions of the book carrying around an injured doormouse in his pocket and feeding the squirrels, he seems quite suitably sweet for our lovely main character.

I very much enjoyed “The FitzOsbornes in Exile.” In fact, I would say that it was even better than the first, benefiting from a more extended timeline, a closer connection to historical happenings, and more mature characters.

Rating 9: An excellent, young adult historical fiction piece. Definitely recommended for fans of the WWII era who are interested in the quieter side and effects of the build up to the war.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The FitzOsbornes in Exile” can be found on the following Goodreads lists: “World War II England” and “YA Debutantes.”

Find “The FitzOsbornes in Exile” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously Reviewed: “A Brief History of Montmaray”

Kate’s Review: “The X-Files Origins: Devil’s Advocate”

29244734Book: “The X-Files Origins: Devil’s Advocate” by Jonathan Maberry

Publishing Info: Imprint, January 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: How did Fox Mulder become a believer? How did Dana Scully become a skeptic? The X-Files Origins has the answers in this young adult origin story.

The X-Files Origins: Devil’s Advocate will explore the teen years of Dana Scully, the beloved character depicted in the cult-favorite TV show The X-Files. Her story is set in the spring of 1979, when serial murder, the occult, and government conspiracy were highlighted in the news.

The book will follow Scully as she experiences life-changing events that set her on the path to becoming an FBI agent.

Review: Who is one of my very favorite TV queens? Who is one of the TV characters that I love for her inspirational strength, her smarts, her snark, and her perseverance? Who is up there in my personal hall of fame of badass ladies on the small screen?

Dana. Freakin’. Scully.

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So the very moment that I discovered that both Mulder and Scully of “The X-Files” fame got their own origin stories, I knew that I’d save Scully for second. I wanted to savor her. I wanted to bask in her story and her background. Jonathan Maberry had a huge character to take on, and I really wanted him to do her justice. And it took me a little while, but eventually I decided that Maberry did.

This story, since again we don’t get much background in the description, finds Dana as a fifteen year old adjusting to a new life in Maryland. She’s close with her sister Melissa, and trying to fit in in school, even though she knows she’s more introverted and reserved than her sister and her peers. And she’s also been having dreams, visions of violence and carnage. She’s seeing an ‘angel’ in her dreams, an angel who is killing. As teenagers in the area keep dying in accidents, Scully can’t shake the feeling that they are connected to the dreams that she doesn’t understand. What she doesn’t know is that she may be in a more dangerous situation than she realizes.

So this book takes the “Scully is a psychic’ theory and totally runs with it. There have been hints at her intuitive abilities throughout the series (in “Beyond the Sea” she sees a vision of her father right before his death; “Irresistible” finds Scully kidnapped, and she sees her kidnapper’s face shifting into different iterations of evil), but it was never truly confirmed. But I liked that Maberry decided to take this theory and give it a lot of life in her background. I was kind of wondering how he would make it believable that she could have psychic visions in her youth, and then have such a skeptical foundation in the series when it starts. Without spoiling anything, I can tell you that he pulls it off, and that I really liked how he did it. And seeing Dana react and manage these very scary visions was fascinating to watch. I think that she is still very much within her character, even as a fifteen year old. She feels younger and perhaps less secure in herself, but still feels like Dana Scully, even when in a situation that is so not something you’d think she’d be in. I sort of liked the mystery that she had to solve, because it’s foundation was a good harkening to her faith, her abilities, and her ultimate road to skepticism. I had a feeling I knew what was going on from the get go, so it wasn’t terribly surprising in it’s completion. But it wasn’t about the mystery itself for me. It was about how Dana was going to solve it with her strengths and wits.

I really enjoyed seeing the Scully family as well. In the series you get to know a few of her family members, specifically her sister Melissa and her mother Margaret, though you also get some solid and touching insight into Dana’s relationship with her Dad. You know that she was close to him in a lot of ways, from her reaction to his death in Season 1, to their nicknames for each other (Ahab and Starbuck!), to her seeing him in other visions as the series went on. In “Devil’s Advocate” we see how that close relationship is also a bit strained, and that Captain Scully was a bit more closed off from his family than maybe we realized. There were many moments between Dana and Captain Scully that made me misty eyed, as well as a wonderful scene with them reading from their favorite book “Moby Dick”. Whenever he called her Starbuck, I practically began to cry. I also loved seeing Dana and Melissa close and partners in crime, because their relationship on the show, while loving, was a bit contentious because they were so different. Having Melissa and Dana go to a New Age coffee shop and store for yoga and advice from local New Age practitioners just tickled me completely. Maberry also made an interesting choice of taking one of the Men in Black from the original series (the Red Haired Man), and gave him a role in a side plot. This was kind of a weaker part of this book for me, just because it took away from the main plot. In the Mulder book the surveillance parts involving X and Cigarette Smoking Man felt like a foregone conclusion; Mulder’s life had been intertwined with Cigarette Smoking Man since the beginning. Scully having this surveillance stuff in her life just felt… odd. Yes, later in life that aspect was there. I just had a harder time swallowing it in her youth.

I generally liked the new characters that Maberry created to interact with Scully, be it Corinda the New Age guru (her shop also makes an appearance in the Mulder book “Agent of Chaos”), or Scully’s love interest Ethan. Like in “Agent of Chaos” I was skeptical that a love interest had to happen in this book, since we know that he’s not going to be around ultimately, but Ethan was an okay addition. He was really there to give Scully some support from someone who was more like her, which I appreciated. Her relationship with him was also a good platform to show some of the casual sexism that Dana, as a fifteen year old girl in the late 1970s, could run into, even from someone who really does care about her. Seeing her push back against that was very gratifying, and seeing Ethan try to learn from it was refreshing and a good message to modern teens who may read this. While Ethan wasn’t as strong of an original character as Phoebe was in “Agent of Chaos”, I liked having him there for Dana to bounce more down to Earth ideas off of and help her find her voice. I liked that their partnership was it’s own thing, not just a predecessor to her eventual partnership with Mulder.

“The X-Files Origins: Devil’s Advocate”, showcased my girl Scully. I know that we probably won’t get anymore teen books about Scully and Mulder, just because it would feel a bit absurd to take it too far with their backgrounds, but I really enjoyed how Scully was showcased in this one. It did a good job of speculating how she became the person she was when “The X-Files” started.

Rating 8: While the mystery itself wasn’t as entertaining as it could have been, the character study of Dana Scully as a questioning teenager was incredibly effective, and very well done.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The X-Files Origins: Devil’s Advocate” is fairly new and not on any Goodreads lists yet. But I think it would fit in on “X-Files Related Books”, and “YA Novels about Psychic Abilities”.

Find “The X-Files Origins: Devil’s Advocate” at your library using WorldCat!