Serena’s Review: “Brother’s Ruin”

29964674Book: “Brother’s Ruin” by Emma Newman

Publishing Info: Tor, March 17, 2017

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: The year is 1850 and Great Britain is flourishing, thanks to the Royal Society of the Esoteric Arts. When a new mage is discovered, Royal Society elites descend like buzzards to snatch up a new apprentice. Talented mages are bought from their families at a tremendous price, while weak mages are snapped up for a pittance. For a lower middle class family like the Gunns, the loss of a son can be disastrous, so when seemingly magical incidents begin cropping up at home, they fear for their Ben’s life and their own livelihoods.

But Benjamin Gunn isn’t a talented mage. His sister Charlotte is, and to prevent her brother from being imprisoned for false reporting she combines her powers with his to make him seem a better prospect.

When she discovers a nefarious plot by the sinister Doctor Ledbetter, Charlotte must use all her cunning and guile to protect her family, her secret and her city.

Review: I’m trying to increase my short story/novella reading, and so I was excited when I heard about this new steampunk, fantasy novella put out by Emma Newman. And while I feel like the novella aspect of the book may have weakened aspects of the story, overall, I was very pleased with this story which is the beginning of what looks to be an ongoing series.

Charlotte is in hiding. Not only is she a successful illustrator who must publish under a false name to hide her gender which might cripple her chances at success in a male-dominated profession, but she’s also a talented mage. And to be a mage is to give up one’s life to God and Country, be removed from one’s family (though the family is compensated based on the potential ability of their soon-to-be-lost family member), and be trained into serving in the elite Royal Society of the Esoteric Arts. Charlotte has no interest in losing her family, her burgeoning profession, or, worst of all, her fiance. Mages aren’t allowed to marry, and as Charlotte is already engaged to a perfectly pleasing man, so being discovered for the Latent that she is would be catastrophic. Instead, when her family hits hard times, her father recognizes the signs of a magic in his house, but falsely attributes it to his son, and brings in the society mages to test him for abilities. Charlotte must help her brother trick them into accepting him into their group, all while solving a dark mystery into which Charlotte’s father’s debts have dragged them all.

I very much enjoyed the originality of this world. The mages’ society is both something to be esteemed and feared, and this balance is struck again and again throughout the novel. Families can greatly profit from sending a family member to be trained, but they also lose their loved ones in the process, and that loved one gives up the chance to lead a normal life. In one of the opening scenes, Charlotte and her brother witness a young boy being dragged away from his mother once he’s been discovered as a Latent mage. The horror and the tragedy of this early scene is an important reminder as the story progresses and the true danger that her family faces at the hands of her father’s debt collectors becomes clear. It would be easy to question why Charlotte doesn’t simply bring herself forth. In many other fantasy series, having great powers is always shown as a purely good thing. But the sacrifices that come with this life are made clear throughout the entire story. Not only does one give up one’s planned life, but the mages society itself is not without its own dangers and dramas.

Charlotte was a very good lead character. Through her eyes, we can see the fears that have driven her throughout her entire life. Not only does she need to hide her magic, but her own success as an illustrator, a profession that she shares, nay exceeds at, with her own father. He, of course, is unaware of this commonality and the fact that Charlotte has spent much of her own money supporting her brother, in particular. Also, right away, her relationship with her fiance is set up as a challenge. Charlotte has not been honest with him either about these aspects of her life. In truth, her closest relationship is with her sickly brother, the only one to fully know her.

One of the bigger challenges for me in this story was the introduction and use of the mage who aides her in investigating the debt collectors. He is presented as a very attractive man whom Charlotte is drawn to right off the bat. However, throughout the story he routinely misleads her, sends her into dangerous situations without giving her complete knowledge, and out-and-out manipulates her. This behavior is explained, but, for me, he never quite recovers as a heroic character. While Charlotte and her fiance are clearly not well-suited (talk about a wet blanket relationship), I wasn’t as able to forgive the flaws of this new love interest as easily as Charlotte seemed to. The end of the book sets them up to work together in the future, with only the barest hints of romance alluded to (she’s still engaged, mind you), so I’ll be curious to see what comes of this going forward.

My only other struggle was with the pacing and the writing in spots. Charlotte had a few revelations that felt out of the blue and un-earned, and the pacing was jarring in the middle when the plot had to gallop along to cover all the multitude of plot points that were jammed into such a short story. I feel that the story could have benefited from an extra 25-50 pages to fully flesh out the deeper emotional beats and ensure that the plot ran more smoothly.

The world building was strong, however, and Charlotte was a fun main character, so I’m definitely on board to see what troubles she finds herself in in the future! And to see what becomes of her brother, Ben, another character I very much enjoyed who is now trapped in a magical society that thinks he is more than he actually is.

Rating 7: A great start to a new series, if only rubbing up a bit against the restraints of a shortened page length.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Brother’s Ruin” is a newer book and not on any relevant Goodreads list, but it should be on “Popular Steampunk Fantasy Books” and “Novellas by women, about women.”

Find “Brother’s Ruin” at your library using WorldCat!

A Revisit to Fear Street: “Halloween Party”

176271Book: “Halloween Party (Fear Street # 8)” by R.L. Stine

Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, 1990

Where Did I Get This Book: Interlibrary Loan from the library!

Book Description: The invitation arrived in a black-bordered envelope. Inside, the card showed a coffin with the inscription “Reserved For You.” It was perfectly fitting for an all-night Halloween party on Fear Street. But Terry and his girlfriend Niki wondered why they had been invited. They barely knew Justine Cameron, the beautiful and mysterious transfer student who was throwing the party.

The party was well under way when the lights went out. That’s to be expected at a spooky Halloween party. But when the lights come back on, there was that boy on the floor with the knife in his back. Just a Halloween prank? Maybe. Maybe not.

For Terry and Niki the trick-or-treating has turned to terror. To their horror, they realize that someone at the costume party is dressed to kill!

Had I Read This Before: Yes.

The Plot: We start in the Fear Street Cemetery, where Terry and Niki are going for a leisurely walk before going to a Halloween party. It is Halloween night after all. Niki, who is almost totally deaf but can read lips, remarks that she forgot her mask behind at a tombstone they were looking at, and goes to retrieve it. Terry follows because he worries about her or something, but as he catches up he hears a horrible scream. Deciding they need to book it, but now, Terry and Niki run for the gate… and are confronted by a zombie!! Except it’s not a zombie, it’s a dumb jock named Murphy who is also attending the party. He implies that it’s going to be a wild night, and I have a feeling they don’t know the half of it.

We go back in time two weeks when this mismatched group of teens at Shadyside High get their invites to popular new girl Justine’s upcoming Halloween party. Terry’s invited, as is Niki, as is his friend Trish. Terry thinks that maybe Niki won’t have a fun time since it sounds like none of her friends are invited, but Niki, being super kind, says she wants to get to know Justine better. And oh boy, Justine lives on Fear Street in the old Cameron Mansion, whose owners had been killed in an accident years before which sounds super intriguing and the perfect place for a Halloween party! Lisa, school newspaper girl, tells them that apparently Justine and her uncle have been traveling the world and have now settled down there. In biology class Terry is talking with Ricky Schorr (of “The Overnight” fame!) who says he’s been invited too, and when the rest of the guests has been revealed (only nine? Seems quaint) Terry is dismayed to find out his ex-best friend Alex is on the list. Alex dated Niki before she dumped him and hooked up with Terry. Seems like bad form, but what do I know? When the guests find out about each other, they, for whatever reason, decide to divide into a Geeks vs Jocks kind of scenario, though Justine claims she just wants to get to know all of them better. Resident bullies Bobby and Marty ask why they aren’t invited, and Justine blow them off. They jump on their motorcycles (preferred mode of transport for bullies in Shadyside) and drive away. Justine reiterates that only those on the list can come, no dates, no one else. Jocks vs Geeks/Wimps is reiterated, and Alex and Terry find themselves on opposing teams (poor Terry is a wimp I guess). Niki is upset that they’re fighting over her.

A prank war between Jocks vs Wimps starts at school, as a warm up I guess. Terry is mad that Niki still talks to Alex, saying it’s because they’re on ‘different teams’ but we all know better and Niki is no fool and won’t be told who she can and can’t talk to. Terry finds Bobby and Marty harassing Justine about not being invited to her party, and scares them off. Justine is pretty flirty with Terry, saying she’s glad that he and Niki are coming. WHen he gets back to Niki’s locker, there’s a note inside that says ‘You’ll Wish You Were Blind Too’. Terry is convinced it’s Alex, but Niki doesn’t want him to start anything. Instead they go out for pizza. They see Justine there, on a pay phone. Niki, able to read her lips, says that she’s saying that she’s going to ‘make them all pay’.

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(source)

Not to be swayed by possible threats upon their lives, it’s now Halloween and they are still going to the party. They get to the front of the house with Murphy (who scares Terry again, this time with a fake spider), and then are let into the Cameron Mansion. And it is DECKED OUT, as Justine, dressed like what can only be Elvira based on the description, is playing an impeccable hostess. There’s food from all over the world, all places she and her uncle Phillip have lived (he is there as the chaperone and dressed like a clown. Choices, Phillip). As the guests all arrive and the dancing begins, Justine encourages them to dance really fast. They do, but then the music stops and the lights go out. Phillip goes to investigate, as Justine says that she didn’t plan this. When the power comes back on, one of the partygoers, Les, is on the floor with a knife in his back!!

But it’s just another joke, of course. Score one for Team Wimp! Terry and Alex exchange some words and Niki, wanting to be friends with everyone, agrees to dance with Alex, much to Terry’s chagrin. So Terry dances with Justine. But the dancing only lasts so long, because Bobby and Marty, ON THEIR MOTORCYCLES, crash into the party. They rough up Alex and Terry a bit, throw their weight around, but then the party guests come together to force them to leave. It all seems so pointless. Justine isn’t down with calling the police, and insists that they just keep partying, because the treasure hunt is going to start soon! Each guest is given a list of items hidden in the mansion. Niki takes this opportunity to do some snooping, because she just doesn’t quite trust Justine. She goes into Justine’s room, and finds some things that strike her as odd. First of all, there’s no desk. HOW IS SHE SUPPOSED TO STUDY WITHOUT A DESK? There’s also a picture of a couple from the 1950s. What’s more intriguing is that inside the closet there is a release that reveals an even LARGER closet, with lots of clothing that Justine has never worn to school before, such as evening gowns, stoles, and fur coats. Niki goes into the bathroom and finds prescriptions for a woman named Enid Cameron. She decides to find Terry. Presumably because she’s a teen and just found a serious score of pills they can experiment with?

Terry, on the other hand is really cleaning up on the treasure hunt. But when he opens a closet, he finds ALEX HANGING FROM THE CEILING, BLOOD DRIPPING ONTO THE FLOOR! He gathers up his team and Justine and brings them back to the closet, but the body is gone!! Turns out, and I’m sure you guessed it, the body is now on the bed and it’s just Alex’s Halloween costume stuffed to look like a real person, with fake blood and everything. Alex scores one for the Jocks. This all seems so sociopathic. Terry realizes that he still cares about Alex, because why else would he have been so upset? I mean, you thought a body was hanging in the closet, dude, anyone would be upset. Niki tells Terry what she found and her suspicions that Justine isn’t what she seems, but Terry blows her off. Justine announces that the Jocks Team wins the treasure hunt, and as she’s giving Alex a box of Parisian Chocolates, the banister she was leaning against GIVES WAY AND SHE FALLS TO THE STORY BELOW!! Luckily she lands on a couch and is unharmed outside of a sore wrist. Phillip says that someone sawed through the railing!!! Still wanting to just be the best hostess ever, Justine wants to forget about it and continue the party. Terry is jealous when Alex and she share a moment.

Niki still doesn’t trust Justine, and she and Terry fight. He accuses her of being jealous of Justine because she still has feelings for Alex, so she decides to go sleuthing on her own. The lights go out again, and when they come back on Justine says they’re going to play ‘tell us the worst thing you’ve ever done’, a true corker of a party game. Terry worries about Niki and goes to find her, but instead FINDS LES’S BODY IN A CLOSET WITH A KNIFE IN HIS CHEST!! And this time there’s no prank!!! He gets partygoer David to come with him, and when they return to the scene of the crime the body is gone! Someone threw poor Les on the roof! They pull the body back into the house, and cover him with a blanket. They try to call the police, but the phone lines are cut . They try to find Phillip but he’s nowhere to be seen. Someone in the house is a murderer. They look out the window and see a bloody clown costume. The other party guests start to panic, but they can’t leave because Angela sprained her ankle and Niki is nowhere to be found. David volunteers to go to get help, while Terry and Alex go looking for Niki. David finds that their cars tires have been slashed, and while on the road runs afoul a drunken Bobby and Marty. While scuffling he slips and hits his head, and Bobby and Marty decide they have to hide his body.

Terry and Alex find Niki, who has been knocked out and left in the basement. She wakes up and tells them she went back to the secret closet and did more snooping, and found a newspaper clipping about a couple who died thirty years prior, 26 year old Edmund and 20(?!) year old Cissy. They were killed in a car accident where teenagers were drag racing and hit their car. The teens survived, and they all happen to be the parents of the party guests one way or another! The couple left behind a baby girl named Enid. Niki is convinced that Justine in Enid, and also almost thirty, WHICH IS THE MOST HORRIFYING THING OF ALL. They confront her in front of the other guests, but she plays if off like all part of the joke…. Until she locks them all in a room. She confesses to them through a security gated window that yes, her parents were killed in a car crash, and she and her Uncle Phillip have come back for revenge. She then plays a tape of a car accident and sets the house on fire. Like ya do.

Niki continues to be awesome. Being deaf she isn’t distracted by the sounds of car crashes, and remembers that Justine mentioned a dumbwaiter system. She finds the system, and gets Terry and Alex to operate it and lower her down, hoping to find a way out through the basement. She finds a boarded up window, and starts to kick it out. A hand grabs her, but it’s just Mr. Complicity himself, Uncle Phillip, who has been tied up and left to die as well. She unties him, and he grabs a crowbar and they get the boards off the window. They scurry out, and then go to the security grate. Phillip pries it off and the teens are free! He tells them that he wanted revenge for his brother’s death, but then changed his mind. But poor Justine/Enid was hellbent. David comes out of the woods, not dead, just suffering a konk to the head, and the police are on the way. Justine tries to kill herself by jumping into the fiery blaze, but Terry and Alex stop her, nearly getting themselves killed like IDIOTS. But their combined stupid selfless act helps them bury the hatchet once and for all, just as the cops arrive with an ambulance. Niki asks what will happen to Justine, and Phillip says she’ll get the help she needs. Niki ends the book with “It’s always Halloween on Fear Street”.

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We’re letting it slide because she’s too wonderful (source)

Body Count: 1. Les never saw it coming.

Romance Rating: 4. Niki and Terry are happy enough and he calls her ‘Funny Face’ which is cute. But he sure likes to dismiss her and she’s WAY too good for him.

Bonkers Rating: 6. The twist was fine but after the whole time traveling ghost plot of “Haunted” it’s not really jumping off the page.

Fear Street Relevance: 7. I mean it takes place in a mansion of Fear Street and the cemetery is the way to get into said mansion.

Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:

“Then, as everyone watched in shock, two gleaming motorcycles bombed right into the living room!”

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That’s So Dated! Moments: This was yet another one of those ‘updated’ versions of a “Fear Street” book. But we still get references to tape players (in spite of the fact the song ‘Get UR Freak On’ is playing). It’s weird seeing the blatant ‘gotta relate to the youths’ changes, as at one point Ricky is described as being ‘punk’d’. ALSO, I just want to say that they never bothered to change the time period for Justine/Enid’s parents’ deaths, still saying that the photo of them was a 1950s couple which would have made her QUITE A BIT OLDER THAN THIRTY when this new ‘revamped’ version was published in the mid 2000s.

Best Quote:

“Niki wasn’t the prettiest girl in Shadyside, or the smartest, but she as definitely the most special.”

Wow. Just…… WOW. And yet she ends up being probably the most likable “Fear Street” heroine we’ve gotten yet, so EAT ME, STINE.

“Halloween Party” was pretty middle of the road bordering on mediocre. Niki was the only thing I liked. Next time we’re tackling “The Stepsister”.

Not Just Books: May 2017

While we do love us some books, believe it not, we do have a life outside of reading. So to highlight our other pop culture interests, on the last Monday of each month, we each will highlight three other “happenings” from the last month. Big events on favorite TV shows, new movies we’ve watched, old movies we’ve “discovered,” etc. Pretty much whatever we found of particular interest outside of the book world during the last month. Share your own favorite things in the comments!

Serena’s Picks:

Movie: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

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I will admit that I was one of those skeptics when I heard about the first “Guardians of the Galaxy” movie. I’m a DC fan, so I knew very little about the comics and from the description (a talking racoon?? a tree character??) I was like “Whelp! Disney/Marvel are finally showing their hands with this one! Money grabbing time!” But we all know how that stories ends! So this time, I also had worries, how could the sequel ever live up to the unexpected hilarity and quirkiness of the first one? But it did! It really did! In some ways, I would even go so far as to say that this is the stronger movie of the two, fixing up the few complaints I had from the first one, particularly in the improvement of its villain, always a weakness for Marvel. However, it is the spot on casting that carried the first movie and continues to carry the series with this one. Each character is given time to develop, as individuals, as friends, and as members of a wacky family, and each and every actor brings their A game to this feature. Definitely check this out in the theater if you possibly can!

TV Show: “Supernatural”

Supernatural_Staffel_12_PromoSPOILERS! I didn’t know what I was getting myself into when I started watching this show when it premiered during my early years at college. What it turned into was the one show that I have followed from beginning to….12 seasons later with more still coming! There have been some rough seasons here and there, but for the most part this show’s best talent is knowing its audience and consistently delivering with the spooks, the laughs, and the single man tears. Season 12 just wrapped up this month by shockingly killing off two main characters while trapping a few more in an alternative world. However, given the penchant for fan favorites to make miraculous, some would say dubious, returns, I’m mostly just curious to see how they will bring Castiel back to life. Crowley, on the other hand, might be gone for good?? But…but…what if Bobby came back? I mean, that’s a real possibility! Ugh, the fan girl spiral of speculation is happening! I’ll cut myself off now.

Blog: Mark Reads “Twilight”

 mrtwilightadIs it true schadenfreude to enjoy reading someone else’s misery while reading a book series that you also suffered through? Probably. But it’s also tons of fun. As a librarian, I of course understand and respect the fact that many people truly enjoy this series. I, however, demonstratively did not and while I will check this book out to anyone who asks me to, there is a good chance that if I see them again I will strongly recommend other, better, vampire fiction to sate this particular reading habit. All of this to say, sometimes I just need to be reassured that I’m not crazy and there are other people out there who recognize the madness that was this fad (a fad that we still see affecting the YA fantasy publishing world today). And, luckily for me, Mark was there with his hilarious, snarky, and at times downright despondent reviews of these books, chapter by chapter. I binge read this whole blog series in one afternoon and I’m not sorry.

Kate’s Picks:

220px-fargoseason3promoTV Show: “Fargo”

When it was first announced that FX was going to make a show inspired by the movie “Fargo,”  I was skeptical. Then Season 1 was very good, and Season 2 was phenomenal. Now we’re into Season 3 of this Anthology series that takes place in Minnesota, and “Fargo” is going as strong as ever. This time the eccentric criminals are being played by Ewan McGregor (who is playing twin brothers, one a parole officer and the other a parking lot mogul), Mary Elizabeth Winstead (who is a grifting card player), and David Thewlis (as a SCARY AS HELL British loan shark). And, of course, our noble law enforcement officer this season is played by Carrie Coon, who is trying to solve who murdered her stepfather. It’s darkly funny and very Minnesotan, so I’m glad it’s finally back.

unbreakable-kimmy-schmidt-season-3-update-premier-of-season-3-to-be-in-2017Netflix Series: “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” Season 3

It was a long wait, but damn was it worth it, because “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” is finally back!!!! I love the quirky and ridiculous humor of this show, about a woman who escaped from a doomsday cult and is living in New York City, with hilarious results. The characters on this show are all unique and funny, with the incomparable Titus Burgess playing the perfect foil to Ellie Kemper’s wide eyed heroine. Plus this season we get cameos from Daveed Diggs (schwing!), Maya Rudolph, and Jon Hamm returning as the evil (but charming) Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne.

twinpeaks_openingshotcreditsTV Show: “Twin Peaks” (the Original)

So you know how excited I was about the reboot of my favorite show of all time, “Twin Peaks”? Well, I’m still excited, but haven’t quite gained access to it yet as I don’t have Showtime. So instead of watching the new episodes I’ve been watching the original series all over again. What I love about “Twin Peaks” is that it is the perfect blend of small town soap, supernatural mystery, and quirky characters. From Kyle MacLachlan’s effervescent Dale Cooper to Sherilyn Fenn’s coquettish Audrey Horne to Ray Wise’s tragic Leland Palmer, the characters leap off the screen, and the stories unsettle and entice. I hope that the reboot brings all of this back, and that next month I’ll be able to list it as a highlight.

The Great Animorphs Re-Read #9: “The Secret”

363362Animorphs #9: “The Secret”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, August 1997

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: There’s something pretty weird going on in the woods behind Cassie’s house. The place where Ax and Tobias call home. It seems the Yeerks have figured out one very important thing: Andalites cannot survive without a feeding ground. Visser Three knows the “Andalite bandits” don’t feed where he does, so there can only be one other place.

Now Cassie, Marco, Jake, Rachel, Tobias, and Ax have to figure out a way to stop a bogus logging camp. Because if Visser Three finds Ax in the woods, nothing will stop him from finding the Animorphs…

Narrator: Cassie

Plot: The book starts with our now customary “mini adventure.” This time is Cassie trying to complete homework to make up her grade since all the Animorph action has real consequences when it comes to success at school. She’s to conduct a research project with a rat and a maze and one thing leads to another and….Rachel and Cassie each morph rats, obviously! Even though it is expressly against Jake’s rules to never use morphing for reasons that aren’t strictly necessary. And then, of course, teen boys show up to pester the rats and they two decide to drive them off by running up the inside of their jeans. Which…maybe it’s just me, but if I were two teen girls, the last place I would want to go is up two boys’ pant legs. I mean, either route has a bad destination….Anyways! The science project is ruined, so Cassie and Rachel went back to Rachel’s house to give Rachel’s sister a home perm. Like you do.

The main action of the story comes when Tobias and Ax report that a logging company has moved into the woods near Cassie’s farm and set up a base. The notable piece being that the base is protected by a force field. Points to Cassie for immediately discerning the Yeerks’ goal: destroy Andalite environment. Flush out the Andalite warriors. After scoping out the place, it becomes clear that the Yeerks are ready for them (Cassie and Marco almost get snagged in a net), so they must come up with a sneaky way of infiltrating the base. After meeting up at the mall, they decide the only way to do it is in insect form. But not ants. Never ants again. Instead, termites! So..better? They fly in owl morph, then after drawing straws, Jake morphs a wolf to provide a distraction as the others morph termite and tunnel their way in.

The termite morph, while not as bad as the ant, still plays with the kids’ minds, sucking them into the group-think colony in a similar manner to other insect morphs. They essentially all get mind controlled by the termite queen, and are only saved by Rachel’s quick thinking to kill the queen and Cassie managing the task herself. But then she panics and demorphs, erupting through the wood only saved by Ax’s ability to demorph his tail and cut them all out. She then proceeds to completely melt down, screaming and pushing the others away, forcing them to hold her down and clamp her mouth shut while Ax is accessing the computer to get information on how the Yeerks managed to get logging access to what turns out to be a federal forest. They discover the Yeerks need one more person to sign off on the project before having full permission to “log” and so the next mission becomes keeping this person from becoming a Controller.

Throughout the book is a side story in which Cassie and her dad rescue a skunk that had been burned by a Yeerk laser beam (they must have thought it was an Animorph). They discover the skunk has kits somewhere out in the woods, which continues to distress Cassie throughout the story. And I can’t blame her! She manages to double up her mission to the logging base, scouting the woods and finding the babies’ nest while in owl morph. But then she takes it too far. After her breakdown in the base, she goes home, morphs the skunk, and ends up falling asleep taking care of the babies. She’s only saved from a life stuck in a skunk morph by the appearance of Jake and co. (summoned by Tobias who helped Cassie find the nest). Jake is understandably angry about not only the close call, but also Cassie’s supremely poor decision making throughout this all. But then, cuz they’re all good kids and Cassie’s clearly lost her mind, a “skunk babysitting” system is put in place in which they will all help take care of the baby skunks until the mommy skunk is well enough to be released.

The main plot is wrapped up with a fairly nonsensical battle in which Cassie essentially ends up captured, morphs a skunk, sprays Visser Three and all of his thugs, and somehow…this freaks them out so much that they hand the guy over in exchange for the trick to get rid of the smell? It was honestly the stupidest conclusion to a book so far in the series. Between Cassie’s supremely annoying moralizing and termite-related insanity, way too much time spent on saving baby skunks, and the ridiculous final battle, this is the first book the series that I think I have outright not liked. Ah well, was bound to happen sooner or later!

Peace, Love, and Animals: Man, Cassie, she just makes it difficult for me. I mean, I grew up in northern Idaho. I love the woods, and I know how damaging clear cut style logging can have on an environment. But the girl has got to get her priorities straight! After they scope the logging company and almost get caught, realizing that the whole thing is a trap for them, she still starts going on and on about how the logging itself is also, equally!, a big deal. And no, I’m sorry, that’s just not true at this point. They are trying to save the world. The fate of one forest is not the concern here. This is the kind of stuff that makes Cassie’s books the most frustrating for me to read. She just comes off as a bit ridiculous and foolish with her priorities a lot of times.

And her panic attack in the fort….I was a bit confused in the moment, but later in the story Cassie is reflecting on it and her major problem was that she was sick with herself for killing the queen and destroying the termite colony. And look, empathy is great and all. But I draw the line here. This reasoning is on the level of true craziness, to risk your human friends’ lives because you need to panic about destroying a termite colony and how awful of a person that makes you. I’m just going to say it. I don’t like Cassie. I’ve tried, I really have! But, of them all, she consistently behaves in a way that seems ridiculous, unsafe, and unwise. And none of this madness ever really gets resolved in the book. She goes on to get angry at Tobias for eating a baby skunk, and by the end of the book is still trying to work through all the moral quandaries of termites and how maybe we’re no better than Yeerks etc etc. And I just kind of wanted to slap her.

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(source)

So, while I can appreciate the unique aspects that Cassie’s character bring to the series, at this point, she’s not for me. But there’s a lot of books left, so maybe she will improve as we go.

Our Fearless Leader:  Cassie and Jake like each other. As in like. Cassie’s words, not mine. Jake also shows his leadership in smaller ways. When the go to scope out the logging company, he teams up Cassie with Marco instead of Rachel because he knows that the girls tend to egg each other on, as evidenced by the rat escapade which Jake caught on to after hearing about teen boys freaking out due to rat-to-pants invasions.

It is also particularly weird, even for the reader, when Jake selects the straw to be the distraction. It’s mentioned that they all kind of assumed he’d be going in with them, the leader and all, and I found myself surprised as well.

Xena, Warriar Princess: Cassie sums up Rachel and her own relationship (and Rachel and everyone’s relationship, for that matter) fairly effectively saying:

“That’s the great thing about Rachel — she’s always willing to help talk you into doing something you probably shouldn’t do.”

There’s also a nice little reference to a few books ago when Rachel talked Cassie into joining her on her elephant crusade against the cruel trainer at the circus, which Cassie effectively uses to guilt Rachel into joining her in rat morph to complete her homework in the beginning of the book. It’s always fun seeing these small callbacks pop up in these books.

Rachel also helps comfort Cassie through her panic attack in the Yeerk base after demorphing from termites. Their bestie relationship is still very precious, if only because Cassie seems like a better person when Rachel is around.

A Hawk’s Life: Tobias and Ax are the ones to discover the logging base. And he gets the termite for them. But, per the usual at this point, Tobias gets sidelined due to his inability to morph. He even misses out on the pre-mission action as the rest approach at night in owl morph and hawks can’t see well at night. Man, Tobias’s book can’t come soon enough. Spoiler alert: the whole recurring Tobias inaction thing gets solved, which will be a relief at this point.

Tobias does help talk Cassie through her craziness about guilt over killing the termite queen. In this conversation, she proceeds to compare herself to the Yeerks for invading the termite colony and destroying it to protect herself. Again…actual thinking is clearly not Cassie’s strong suit. Self-protection is not the same as wantonly destroying other species for your own benefit and power! But then she gets mad at him for eating a baby skunk, and….angry at Cassie yet again.

The Comic Relief:  Marco continues to prove that he’s one of the smartest members of the group, picking up on the Yeerks’ plan just as fast as Cassie and anticipating the challenge of scoping it out since the Yeerks would be on high alert for just that kind of reaction and be immediately suspicious of any group of animals that would approach. When Cassie gets paired with Marco, she says that he can get on her nerves. Of course he can, Cassie! Cuz, girl, you can be a bit of a stick in the mud at times. But she later admits that Marco is a very loyal friend, sticking with her through all the skunk madness.

Marco’s terrible driving is also referenced when Cassie goes out with her Dad to pick up a skunk that got hit by a car and comments that they’re in a truck they just bought cuz the last one was “stolen” and found wrecked in a ditch.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: When the group meets to form a plan in the mall, Cassie’s reaction to Ax coming in his human morph sums up it all “Uh oh.” According to Jake, Ax is making progress since he “didn’t eat the plate this time” when they get nachos at the food court. We also find out that Ax, in addition to cigarette butts, has eaten dryer lint and engine oil.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: “Face bulged like a zit about to pop”…in reference to morphing a rat. As if just morphing a rat in the first place wasn’t horrible enough. There’s also another reference to Cassie’s superb morphing abilities when she becomes a wolf, only controlling her morph so the wolf head comes first and is fully formed on her human body. Wolfwoman. Cool…or creepy? And the termite morph is about as disgusting as you would expect.

Couples Watch!: Other than the references that Cassie makes herself about her and Jake liking each other, there’s a moment in the beginning when Rachel asks Tobias why he didn’t come by the other night and Cassie clarifies that they hang out together in the evenings and watch movies and such. Super cute.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: The Yeerk logging company is called “Dapsen” which, according to Ax, is  a “not polite” word. So it’s funny to see that the Yeerks must have some kind of sense of humor for this all! Also, the fact that somehow Visser Three is so evil that he projects an aura of evilness even disguised in human morph is once again mentioned. Eve after only seeing Visser Three’s human morph once before, Tobias immediately says that something feels “wrong” about one particular human when they’re scouting the log camp.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Is it weird that the saddest part might have been Cassie’s thoughts about the abandoned skunk kits? Crying out for their mother? Alone in the woods, not knowing why she won’t come? Ugh! Animal sadness!

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: I can’t even accurately describe the final “battle” in this book, because that’s how terrible it all was. Cassie is trapped by the Yeerks, and for some reason, she can anticipate that her skunk morph’s spray will be the most effective tool against them. Any logic here would have her morphing something with more fire power. And the complete melt-down the Yeerks have is completely ridiculous…in a series that is already pretty ridiculous, so you know it’s got to be bad.

Favorite Quote:

While their final plan is even stupider, I appreciate the dryly humors and accurate commentary by Rachel on their initial plan to scout out the logging base.

“Here’s the plan,” Jake said. “We morph owls to get close. We demorph at least two hundred yards away from the compound. Then we crawl close, morph termites, dig under the force field, and enter the termite holes in the outside of the building.”

“As long as it’s nice and simple,” Rachel said darkly.

Scorecard: Yeerks 2, Animorphs 4

I am awarding the Yeerks a point on the cleverness of the logging plan and for the fact that that plan is a million times smarter than anything the Animorphs themselves came up with in this book. Essentially, I refuse to give the Animorphs points for a book that depends on skunk spray for its resolution.

Rating: Not great. Really, I didn’t like anything about this book. Cassie cemented herself as my least favorite character by far with her irresponsible craziness, and the story itself felt unnecessary (waaaaay too much time on random skunk kits) and had a conclusion that I couldn’t take seriously. And I tried  hard.

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: “Black Canary (Vol.2): New Killer Star”

29633017Book: “Black Canary (Vol.2): New Killer Star” by Brendan Fletcher, Annie Wu (Ill.) and Sandy Jarrell (Ill.).

Publishing Info: DC Comics, November 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: The Black Canary world tour begins here! But instead of playing sold out areas, the band is scouring the globe in search of their missing lead singer, Black Canary herself.

Following the rockin’ conclusion of Black Canary, Volume 1: Kicking & Screaming, Dinah Lance has disappeared and now she finds herself in the clutches of a mysterious white ninja who might have more in common with the Canary than anyone expected. In this continent-spanning adventure, secrets from Dinah’s past are revealed, questions about the future of the Black Canary band are answered and faces are melted with epic rock ‘n’ roll and action brought to you by a comics supergroup including writer Brenden Fletcher (Batgirl) and artists Annie Wu (Hawkeye) and Sandy Jarrell (Meteor Men).

Review: As I’m sure you all remember, I am a big Dinah Lance, aka Black Canary, fan. There’s something about her carefree and badass attitude that I really enjoy, and I was excited to find that she had her own “New 52” arc in the DC Comics world. While I love her in the supergroup Birds of Prey, it was nice seeing her get some time to shine all for herself in “Kicking and Screaming”, the first in the “Black Canary New 52” series. We also got to see a new group of awesome kick butt women in the form of her band: Paloma, Lord Byron, Ditto, and Bo Maeve. So when I finally grabbed “New Killer Star”, I was thinking that I would get more adventures of this group of awesome ladies.

But….. Unfortunately, that was not to be.

We pick up with our poor Dinah Lance being held captive in a strange prison-like setting. Her bandmates don’t know where she is, and the fate of the band hangs in the balance. It was a little hard seeing the group separated, as I feel like they only make each other stronger. I was also a bit frustrated that we kind of found ourselves in a situation that I wasn’t totally on board with, as Dinah being held in a strange prison by strange demon cultists perhaps because of who her mother was seems so old hat to me. I appreciated seeing a bit of the mother/daughter drama and baggage regarding Dinah, but it kind of felt like it came out of nowhere, as I don’t THINK that there was all that much in “Kicking and Screaming” (I could be wrong, I just don’t remember any)? By the time Dinah and her bandmates were reunited for a final showdown with the demon cult, we get taken into a completely DIFFERENT direction with a speculative arc that takes Black Canary into a potential future-scape of her life. And when the story does eventually get wrapped up, we still have a couple of side stories that have nothing to do with the original story arc, some of which aren’t even “Black Canary” titles. It felt like a bit of a mess, to be honest, which was such a disappointment because I so enjoyed “Kicking and Screaming”. I’ve looked around and it looks like one of the problems is that the DC “Rebirth” event happened, in which the titles in DC were rebooted yet again. So of course this was going to interrupt this fairly new series. The wrap up came fast and it was hard to swallow.

But there were things that I did like in “New Killer Star”. We got a fun side story in the “Gotham Academy” storyline involving the band’s tour manager Heathcliff, who was a former student at that boarding school. So we did get to see the band in action in that story, as well as my favorites from “Gotham Academy” like Maps and Olive. It turns out that he and Pomeline may have had a thing!!! I’m super down for all that, so that was a fun little crossover story. There is a stand alone story with just the Band that doesn’t involve aliens or demon cults, which gave me the girl power camaraderie that I felt the actual arc didn’t have. We also got a nice little insight into the new “Birds of Prey” arc, which brings Batgirl and Black Canary together again, as well as bringing back Huntress to round out the group. I highly enjoy “Birds of Prey”, and while it was a bit disappointing to see that yes, indeed, Oracle is a thing of the distant past, it was also good to see her recognized not just as something negative. But my praise for these things ultimately goes to show that the actual final arc for Dinah in her main comic series was a bit too weak to stand on it’s own two feet.

So while the stand alone stories were good fun and everything I was looking for, the actual finale to the “Black Canary New 52” arc fell kind of flat. And it worries me that some of the “New 52” series I’ve been following will end just as abruptly. All that said, I will look back fondly on “Black Canary” and her band as a whole, because when it was strong it was super fun. It will be interesting to see where “Rebirth” takes all of these characters. But for now I bid adieu to my girl Dinah, and hope that when we meet again she’ll be everything she was in this.

Rating 5: A weaker end to a promising start, “Black Canary (Vol.2): New Killer Star” wasn’t as fun as I hoped it would be. The standalone stories are pretty good fun, but that only emphasizes my disappointment with how the main arc ended before “Rebirth” happened.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Black Canary (Vol.2): New Killer Star” is not on any Goodreads lists (oddly enough), but I think it would fit in on “Ladies in Capes”, and “Girls Read Comics”.

Find “Black Canary (Vol.2): New Killer Star” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously Reviewed: “Black Canary (Vol.1): Kicking and Screaming”.

Serena’s Review: “The Prophecy”

34036785Book: “The Prophecy” by Petra Landon

Publishing Info: January 27, 2017

Where Did I Get this Book: e-book provided by the author in exchange for an honest review

Book Description: Chosen have walked the earth for time immemorial. Tasia is a very special Chosen. Warned to keep her distance from her brethren, she makes a fateful decision one night to assist an injured Shape-shifter. Suddenly, Tasia finds herself in the cross-hairs of Shifter mercenaries encroaching on San Francisco. Forced out of the shadows, Tasia has little choice but to ally herself with the local Shifter Pack led by a formidable and dangerous Alpha Protector. In the cut-throat world of a Shifter Pack, Tasia must fight to protect her secrets while struggling to negotiate with the enigmatic Alpha who holds his violent Pack together with a ruthless hand on its reins.

Grave danger threatens their world as a powerful wizard exploits an old prophecy to divide the Chosen. When the Pack is asked to investigate the twenty-five year old mystery, Tasia is drawn deeper into a past that risks raising the suspicions of the very Chosen she hides from. As danger closes in on her, Tasia must decide who to trust with the deadly secrets she guards.

Review: I was approached by the author to read and review this book, and after looking over the book description, I decided to give it a go! While urban fantasy isn’t my go-to subgenre in the larger speculative fiction group, there are several series that I have read and enjoyed for a several years now, and this book sounded as if it would fit in well with those! And, for the most part, I wasn’t disappointed by this initial assessment. “The Prophesy” is a solid entry into the urban fantasy realm, if still in need of a bit of tightening up and a few more elements that differentiate it as a unique world.

From my experience, most urban fantasy series live and die by the strength of their main character. Tasia, I am happy to say, held her own very well. Her voice was interesting and the mysteries of her abilities and why she is disguising herself as a lesser being were intriguing strings to follow throughout the book. I will say that this initial set up struck a bit too closely to the Kate Daniels books which are set up with a similar premises (very strong heroine hiding her abilities from the rest of the supernatural world), but as I continued reading I was able to appreciate the unique aspects that the author brought to Tasia and her own story.

I also enjoyed the larger world building and the inclusion of many different supernatural beings with creative names and relationships between the groups. Obviously we spend much more time with the Shifters than any other group, so they stood out as a highlight in the book. At first I was a bit confused about the power structure within this group and how the different Shifters all related to each other. It was clear, however, that the Alpha Protector was the One-Shifter-To-Rule-Them-All, and I liked him as a character very much.

This is a hefty read. The page count is fairly long, especially for urban fantasy which tends towards the shorter page counts for fantasy fiction. But the book is full of action and adventure, so after a bit of a slow start, I was able to fully invest myself in the story and simply enjoy the ride.

There were a few writing mechanics issues that I did struggle with. I, personally, am not a fan of exclamation points in most of my reading. Perhaps in some dialogue, they can work. But they were used a bit too often in the general narration, for my preference, and I found myself being thrown out of the story a bit due to it. And, as I said, there were a few aspects of the story that struck a bit too close to home to general urban fantasy tropes. I very much liked Tasia, but she also felt a bit too familiar to other classic urban fantasy heroines at times. However, this is the beginning of a series, so there is plenty of room left to grow her character and this world even further, lending more distinction to the series as an entry into the genre.

So, in conclusion, this was a solid start to a new urban fantasy series. There were a few parts that I struggled with, but if you’re looking for another dose of urban fantasy action, check out this book!

Rating 7: A good start for a new urban fantasy world if still leaving room for improvement going forward as a series!

Reader’s Advisory:

This is a lesser known book at this point and isn’t on any Goodreads lists, but it should be on “Awesome Urban Fantasy Heroines.”

This book is also not currently listed on WorldCat, but you can get a copy on Amazon!

 

Kate’s Review: “The River At Night”

29430686Book: “The River At Night” by Erica Ferencik

Publishing Info: Gallery/Scout Press, January 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: A high-stakes drama set against the harsh beauty of the Maine wilderness, charting the journey of four friends as they fight to survive the aftermath of a white water rafting accident, The River at Night is a nonstop and unforgettable thriller by a stunning new voice in fiction.

Winifred Allen needs a vacation.

Stifled by a soul-crushing job, devastated by the death of her beloved brother, and lonely after the end of a fifteen-year marriage, Wini is feeling vulnerable. So when her three best friends insist on a high-octane getaway for their annual girls’ trip, she signs on, despite her misgivings.

What starts out as an invigorating hiking and rafting excursion in the remote Allagash Wilderness soon becomes an all-too-real nightmare: A freak accident leaves the women stranded, separating them from their raft and everything they need to survive. When night descends, a fire on the mountainside lures them to a ramshackle camp that appears to be their lifeline. But as Wini and her friends grasp the true intent of their supposed saviors, long buried secrets emerge and lifelong allegiances are put to the test. To survive, Wini must reach beyond the world she knows to harness an inner strength she never knew she possessed.

With intimately observed characters, visceral prose, and pacing as ruthless as the river itself, The River at Night is a dark exploration of creatures—both friend and foe—that you won’t soon forget.

Review: As I have mentioned before, I have some serious guilty pleasures (though I don’t REALLY believe in guilty pleasures when it comes to reading) when it comes to the books that I stack up on my nightstand. One of those guilty pleasures is wilderness survival horror/thriller. I am not an outdoorsy person by any stretch of the imagination beyond the occasional hike or walk, and so I love stories that involve people getting messed up by wilderness. Seriously, I think that I’m so scared of nature that I love seeing fictional people finding terror in the woods, or on the open ocean, or in the mountains, or whatever. This is the girl who freaked out about the Nutty Putty Cave Incident, made her entire book club listen to a long rant about it, and then watched “The Descent” a few times in a row as personal therapy, because she LOVES that movie due to the wilderness survival theme. So yeah. When I found a book that kind of sounds like “The Descent” exists, but takes out the cave, replaces it with a river, and replaces monsters with tangible real life horrors… Oh, I was so there.

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Me leaving the library with my copy. (source)

“The River At Night” even seems like “The Descent” in it’s premise, at least a little bit. A group of ladyfriends go on a trip that involves adrenaline pumping extreme sports, with one of them recovering from a serious loss in her life while the others don’t really know how to approach her about it. Winifred is our protagonist, and she is still reeling from her divorce and the death of her brother Marcus. Her friends Pia, Sandra, and Rachel have always been her travel companions, on out-there and intense adventures (thanks to Pia, a true free spirit with no fear), and while Wini has reservations, the thought of white water rafting in the Maine Wilderness sounds… fun? I will be the first to admit that these four women are all pretty two dimensional caricatures, with the self involved adrenaline junkie (Pia), the tightly wound recovering addict (Rachel), the quiet sweetheart with a troubled home life (Sandra), and the wounded but determined wallflower (Wini). And I will also be the first to admit that some of the situations they found themselves in were a bit convenient, and cliche, and a little bit farfetched.

But guess what? I didn’t care because DAMN was “The River At Night” a fun as hell read!!!!

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Cliche, shmiche, I’m just here to be entertained. (source)

“The River At Night” has just the right amount of suspense, as well as the right amount of relationship tension, that I had a hard time putting it down once I was completely absorbed by it. I had thoughts on where things were going to go, plot wise, but I was kept guessing for a lot of the big reveals. Ferencik did a really good job of building up the tension and setting the scene, and I felt like I could very easily and plainly see the Maine Wilderness as I made my way through the story.

I also really did like Wini as a protagonist. She is, of course, the character we get to know the best, and I felt like I understood her motivations in every choice that she made. I felt for her and I really did connect to the undercurrent of pain that she was fighting against, be it the end of her marriage or the loss of her brother, who was mute, and never really fit in outside of when he was with her. Her guilt in both of these losses was never overdone, but it was always present, like a very sad elephant in the room. It was pretty refreshing that Wini and her friends were all women who were encroaching upon middle age, an age range that we don’t really get to see much when it comes to women in books such as these. The way that they interacted with each other was pretty believable in terms of how sometimes friendships can be rife with tension, especially friendships that have gone on for so long and have seen so much. I believed every single action and choice that each of the characters made, and while I liked some more than others (Rachel was just the absolute worst and Pia was also pretty insufferable) I think that each of them added a unique piece to the whole of the story.

On top of that there were very sweet moments involving Wini and a character who is introduced a little more than halfway through the story. I don’t want to give any of it away, but just know that I thought that it was very touching for a book that had a slew of moments where I thought I was going to fall of my seat because of the ratcheted up tension. It was nice to see some legitimate moments of tenderness, even if some of the circumstances were a bit hard to swallow, realism wise. I absolutely found myself a bit teary eyed at a few of these moments, especially when Wini was thinking about Marcus and how she felt she failed him.

Realistic or not, “The River At Night” was an unsettling and adrenaline pumping survival thriller that captured my attention for a full evening. Thriller fans, MAKE NOTE. This will be a great book for the upcoming summer months to take along on a vacation.

Rating 9: Super fun, pushing all my guilty pleasure buttons, and suspenseful as all get out. I really enjoyed “The River At Night” and think that any fan of a nature survival thriller should check it out ASAP.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The River At Night” is, for whatever reason, not on many relevant Goodreads lists, but I think it would fit in on “Best Wilderness Horror Stories”, and “Best Wilderness Survival Books”.

Find “The River At Night” at your library using WorldCat!