Kate’s Review: “The Breakdown”

31450633Book: “The Breakdown” by B.A. Paris

Publishing Info: St Martin’s Press, July 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: If you can’t trust yourself, who can you trust?

Cass is having a hard time since the night she saw the car in the woods, on the winding rural road, in the middle of a downpour, with the woman sitting inside―the woman who was killed. She’s been trying to put the crime out of her mind; what could she have done, really? It’s a dangerous road to be on in the middle of a storm. Her husband would be furious if he knew she’d broken her promise not to take that shortcut home. And she probably would only have been hurt herself if she’d stopped.

But since then, she’s been forgetting every little thing: where she left the car, if she took her pills, the alarm code, why she ordered a pram when she doesn’t have a baby.

The only thing she can’t forget is that woman, the woman she might have saved, and the terrible nagging guilt.

Or the silent calls she’s receiving, or the feeling that someone’s watching her…

Review: Whenever I travel I like to bring a big stack of books with me, because most of the time I am able to tear through most of, if not all of, them. My husband and I went to Las Vegas for his birthday weekend a few weeks ago, and it probably doesn’t surprise anyone that Vegas isn’t really my cup o’tea. BUT, a vacation is a vacation no matter how gaudy, so I usually spend my time in Vegas at the pool with a book and a mimosa as opposed to in the casinos. Such compromise works for both of us.

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But while on this trip, even though I brought four books, I only was able to spend time with one, and that was “The Breakdown” by B.A. Paris. It wasn’t for lack of pool time or down time, I can assure you of that. The problem was that this book written by the person who wrote the runaway hit “Behind Closed Doors”, was a slog and a half to get through, and I kept putting the book down in favor of my phone or conversation. I was determined to finish it, however, so I slowly picked away at it…. until the last fourth, when everything changed.

I didn’t really know what to make of this book for those first three fourths. Cass is definitely an unreliable narrator, and from her first person perspective we are only given what she sees. It’s established pretty early on that her mother suffered from early onset dementia, and that Cass has anxieties about her own mental health. After seeing a stopped car on the side of the road on a rainy night in a dark forest while she’s driving home, she is too fearful to stop and investigate. So when she finds out that not only was the woman inside the car murdered that evening, but that she knew her, her anxieties start to really fester and pulsate. When mysterious calls start coming in, with silence on the line, Cass starts to think that maybe the murderer is out to get her. Cass is pretty much your run of the mill hysterical protagonist, and while you understand where she is coming from, I found her to be basically insufferable. Yes, the fear she is constantly oozing is understandable and realistic, but she made so many choices that didn’t make much sense to me. Instead of confiding in anyone that she did, in fact, pass the woman in the car that night, she hides that fact, thinking that people would judge her for not stopping. Even when she is fully convinced that she’s being stalked, she doesn’t tell anyone, and at that point it just didn’t seem worth it to keep it secret. SO WHY KEEP IT SECRET?! I was also pretty convinced that I was diving head first into an ‘unreliable narrator with a huge shocking twist’ kind of story, and just couldn’t bring myself to give much of a damn until I decided that I just needed to finish it.

And then…….. it totally switched gears and blew my mind.

B.A. Paris made me think that this book was one thing, then that it was another thing, so when she revealed that it was NEITHER of those things but a whole other thing, I was totally thrown off guard and blown away. And going back and reading different parts, it was all there, hidden in the pages and in the exposition in ways that I completely glazed over as I read. Once we got to that last fourth, Cass went from a character that I was totally frustrated by to a character that I was actively cheering for. Everything changed and I didn’t see it coming. Now, that said, it probably shouldn’t have taken until the last fourth of the book to finally get me interested, because there were a couple of points before where I was tempted to set it down. While I was completely relieved that I stuck it out, I almost didn’t, and that’s not great, and it might have been too little, too late had it not been so bananas it where it went.

Now, I don’t want to go into much detail beyond that, because this is one of those books that you could be spoiled by just about anything. Just know that “The Breakdown” was a strange read for me, but I can say that yes, it’s worth the read, even if you too are frustrated by it for most of the time spent with it.

Rating 7: Though I felt like I had to slog through a fair amount of it, the moment that it really picked up I couldn’t put it down.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Breakdown” is new and isn’t included on many relevant Goodreads lists, but it can be found on “2017 Crime Books You’re Excited For”, and should be on “Psychological Chillers By Women Authors”.

Find “The Breakdown” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “The Fifth Season”

19161852Book: “The Fifth Season” by N.K. Jemisin

Publishing Info: Orbit, August 2015

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: This is the way the world ends…for the last time.

A season of endings has begun.

It starts with the great red rift across the heart of the world’s sole continent, spewing ash that blots out the sun.

It starts with death, with a murdered son and a missing daughter.

It starts with betrayal, and long dormant wounds rising up to fester.

This is the Stillness, a land long familiar with catastrophe, where the power of the earth is wielded as a weapon. And where there is no mercy.

Review: In anticipation of the third and final book in “The Broken Earth” trilogy, I’m reviewing the first two books in the series. At this point, to anyone who is paying attention to fantasy/sci-fi fiction, N.K. Jemisin is a name to pay attention to, and ‘The Fifth Season” perfectly highlights the strengths that make her such a notable author. Intricate and complicated world-building, solid and diverse characters, and a stark analysis of oppression, grief, power, and revenge all told while playing with narrative styles.

Our story takes place in the Stillness, a land that is anything but still, regularly wracked with “world ending” natural disasters sent forth from Father Earth who is known to hate the life that has infested his surface. Over time, the people of the Stillness have come up with a series of guidelines (stonelore) for surviving through these cataclysmic events called “Fifth Seasons.” There are strict use-castes that every individual lives by. Each is a member of a comm, and those who are “comm less” are deemed very unlucky to not have a shelter when the next Season comes. But most of all, those with the power to cool and manipulate the Earth, orogenes, are kept within strict confines, their power reigned in and directed as society deems fit.

This is a story told from the perspective of the oppressed, and what’s more, it is seemingly those who are most powerful, and most responsible for the ongoing safety of the world, who are kept so neatly shackled by those around them. If discovered on their own, orogenes, or “roggas” (an insulting slur for these people), are often beaten to death. But, at the same time, when raised within the strict confines of the Fulcrum (an organization created to monitor orogenes), they are put to work to benefit society. This work comes with a semblance of respect and individual control, but as the story progresses, we see that even here, “orogene” is just a polite term for “rogga” and if the oppression isn’t as blatant as a comm beating, it is equally, if not more terribly, present in these false tenures of respectability.

Jemisin once again plays with narrative style while presenting this story. We have three characters whose stories we follow. And one, Essun, a middle age woman whose orogene son has recently been beaten to death after his father discovered his abilities, tells her story in second person tense. This is odd at first, but ties in deeply with the larger structure that Jemisin is attempting to create. Essun is cynical, powerful, and has years of history beneath her belt that drives her story of revenge after another Fifth Season begins, and one that she knows will likely be the last for humanity.

The other two characters tell the beginning and middle experience of a rogga growing up in this world. Damaya has just been taken in to the Fulcrum, a reprieve from a family that rejected her, and finds comfort in the strict guidelines of this place, even if those guidelines hurt her. And Syenite is a grown member of the Fulcrum, set on earning her way up the ladder of the Fulcrum power system, but beginning to struggle against these same guidelines, especially when she is sent out under the tutelage of a powerful (but mad?) mentor, one whom she is expected to breed with and produce a child (the Fulcrum is nothing if not practical about continuing its existence).

Throughout all of these stories are sprinkled in mysteries upon mysteries. What are the strange obelisks that drift through the skies? What deadciv purpose could they serve? What do the creatures called stone-eaters want with the orogenes? And who is the mysterious narrator who pops in sporadically between chapters to pepper in extra tidbits of knowledge, always speaking to “you?” And what makes this story so excellent is that even as some of these questions are answered, we see that we are still only scraping the surface of this strange world and society.

“The Fifth Season” is everything one could want out of speculative, science fiction. Boundlessly creative, fully realized, and using these structures and characters to speak deeply to societal challenges recognizable in our own world. This book deserves every accolade (and it received many! Winning the Hugo Award and being nominated for the Nebula, among others). Run, don’t walk, to your nearest bookstore/library/Amazon store today to check out this book! And what’s more, a preview, the second book is just as good!

Rating 10: A spectacular show of force in science fiction writing! Three cheers for Jemisin!

Readery’s Advisory:

“The Fifth Season” is on these Goodreads lists: “Non-Traditional Epic Fantasy” and “Non-Caucasian Protagonists in Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, and Paranormal Romance”

Find “The Fifth Season” at your library using WorldCat

A Revisit to Fear Street: “The Knife”

89806Book: “The Knife” (Fear Street 14) by R.L. Stine

Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, January 1992

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

Book Description: Quiet—hospital!

Sshh. There are a lot of things they want to keep quiet at Shadyside Hospital. In fact, just about every private room holds a private secret of its own.

Poor Laurie Masters. The student volunteer innocently happened to stumble onto the hospital’s sickest secret of all.

Laurie has seen too much—and now the doctors and nurses are taking a close look at Laurie.

What they come up with is a deadly diagnosis. Laurie may not be sick, but she’s getting a prescription anyway—a prescription for horror!

Had I Read It Before: No.

The Plot: R.L. Stine has taken his “Fear Street” books through multiple horror tropes. You have the camping trip, the cabin in the woods, the prom court, the haunted house, and many many more. But with “The Knife”, we are finally treated to the evil hospital trope! We first see our protagonist, Laurie, being chased by a man, and she is worried about the knife that he’s holding. Then we go back a week and the story begins. Laurie and her friend Skye are volunteers at the children’s ward at the Shadyside Hospital, having given up their summer break for garnering karmic points. While Skye is delivering balloons, Laurie looks towards the newest wing that is being built, the Franklin Fear Wing. Yep, named for the Fear Family. Soon Laurie hears crying from another room, and lets herself in to find a crying little boy. She tries to calm him down, but to no avail. She checks his chart (not sure if she’s allowed to do that since she’s a volunteer and not a doctor….?), and finds out that this little boy’s name is Toby, he’s three, and has pneumonia. She decides to just hold his hand and keep him company, which is actually kind of sweet, but is interrupted by a mean nurse named Nurse Wilton, who tells her to get out.

While eating lunch in the cafeteria (and I gag because the meat is described as ‘blue’), Laurie and Skye chat to let us get to know them a bit better. Skye is juggling two boys and thinks that she’s destined to win a car in the hospital raffle. Laurie is dating Andy Price, the son of one of the hospital’s administrators, but he’s a real dud. Luckily for both of them, a handsome man walks into the cafeteria at that moment, and walks right up to their table. He says his name is Rick Spencer (which is gross now because Rick is short for Richard and Richard Spencer these days…. well….. yeah), and he’s a college student who is also volunteering that summer, though he is on the surgical floor. Skye is practically in heat over him, but he seems to be more interested in Laurie. Before Laurie can really gaze into his eyes, a Code Blue goes over the intercom for room 903… Toby’s room!!! Laurie runs off to check on that precious little boy, but when she gets to his room she instead finds Nurse Wilton who tells her the Code was for another room, 503, and kicks her out again. Laurie walks to the nurses station to talk to the kinder, gentler Nurse Girard, who is talking to…. Toby’s MOM!!! She says that she wants her son back. Where he went, I don’t know? Laurie notices Nurse Wilton going into the Fear Wing…. and then sees Rick follow her in. Odd.

That night Laurie is at her house, the one she shares with her Aunt Hillary in the part of town called North Hills. Laurie’s folks were killed in a boating accident when Laurie was a little girl, so now she lives with Hillary who is rarely home because of her job. While reading the phone rings. She answers, but hears nothing but breathing on the line. After hanging up, the phone rings again. This time it’s Rick, who has called to ask her out for that weekend. Laurie politely declines, as she has a date with Andy, and asks how he got her number. He says Skye gave it to him. But once they hang up, Laurie calls Skye, because OBVIOUSLY, and asks if that was true. Skye says nope, and now Rick is a liar as well as a college guy hitting on high school girls.

The next day Laurie finds a note from Hillary saying she’ll be late that night. Then the phone rings again, and this time it’s Dr. Price, Andy’s Dad. He tells Laurie to skip out on work and play tennis with his son instead…. because JUST KIDDING, it was Andy the WHOLE TIME!

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Look asshole, some people have responsibilities. (source)

Laurie declines, and says that she’ll see him after work when they go out for pizza with Skye and one of her boyfriends.

At work she buys Toby a teddy bear and intends to bring it to him, but she freaks out when she gets to his room and it’s empty. Because clearly the only answer is that he must have died tragically. In actuality he’s been discharged, and she sees him at the nurse’s station while his Mom talks to Rick. She gives him the bear and tells him to go with his Mom… and Toby says ‘she’s not my Mommy’. Okay, that’s weird, but before Laurie can question it too much his ‘Mom'(?) says it’s time to go, and Toby follows. She asks Rick what they were talking about, and he tells her she was giving her directions to the pharmacy. Laurie isn’t buying it, because he said he was new to the area so HOW COULD HE KNOW WHERE THE PHARMACY IS? The phone at the station rings, and he answers. Laurie starts to leave, but lingers, and sees that after he hangs up, he slips a pack of surgical knives into his pocket!!! Liar AND thief!

Laurie can’t stop thinking about Toby and decides to check up on him. After very illegally going through his file, she gets his address… which is, of course, on FEAR STREET!! She thinks that she can go there under guise of selling raffle tickets for the hospital, though she’s nervous about going to Fear Street alone, because, you know. All the horrible things that have happened there. Before she can make a clean getaway, Nurse Wilton plants herself at desk to the file room. Laurie manages to kind of sneak past, but Wilton sees her anyway and demands that she come back. Laurie, however, runs to the elevator and gets in, only to be kicked off on an unfamiliar floor (as a patient was coding maybe? It’s a plot device). She starts to explore, ignoring the ‘personnel only’ signs, and hides in the first room she can in case Wilton tracks her down. Sadly, it’s a room with a dead body in it….. and then someone locks her inside!! But she manages to get out (because it locks from her side), and once out sees Nurse Wilton and Dr. Price talking. Assuming it’s about her, she gets indignant that Wilton would rat her out…. But honestly, Laurie, you were violating SO MANY HIPAA LAWS THERE.

At the pizza place Laurie tells her friends about her ethics violation and convinces them to go to Fear Street with her. They all get into Andy’s Volvo and drive to Fear Street. Toby’s Mom greets Laurie and Skye with an angry ‘what do you want?!’, and they convince her to buy a ticket. When Toby’s Mom goes to find her purse, they hear crying inside the house. Laurie sneaks in further, and sees Toby on the steps looking a lot thinner and paler than he did earlier. His Mom catches them, throws money at them, and tells them to get the hell out.

The next day Laurie is told that she’s being transferred to another floor on Wilton’s orders. Hoping to convince her otherwise, Laurie hangs around until shift end to try and find her. SHe sees Nurse Wilton sneak into the Fear Wing, and then Rick does so as well. She decides to wait a bit for one of them to come out, but loses patience after probably about five minutes and goes in to find them. As she stumbles around in the dark, she trips over something….. and it’s NURSE WILTON’S CORPSE, WITH A SCALPEL STICKING OUT OF HER NECK! But when she runs to get help and comes back with Skye and Nurse Girard, the body, of course, is gone. They think she’s playing a joke on them. Laurie now believes two things: 1) Rick is the murderer, and 2) It has to do with Toby somehow. She tries to go check the files again, but they’ve up and absconded.

The next day Laurie puts on a disguise and goes back to Fear Street to stalk outside Toby’s house. She sees him at the kitchen table, and then sees him being whisked off with a suitcase into a car and driven away. Though she hears a child’s scream from inside the house, she decides to ignore it (?!?!) and talk to Dr. Price the next day. When driving home she is stopped by a car that blocks her path, and the driver is none other than Rick in a weird Batman tee shirt. Laurie turns around and drives off. She gets home to her empty house and calls Andy, asking to talk to his Dad. He wants to know why, and she lies saying she is doing a project that involves interviewing him. Andy invites her over for a hook up, and she hangs up to call Skye to see if she can crash at her place, as she’s scared to be home alone after the weird stuff she’s seen. She hears footsteps on the steps, and tells Skye never mind, Hillary is home… BUT IT’S NOT HILLARY, it’s some intruder!! But when Aunt Hillary does come home, the intruder runs away. Laurie is convinced it’s Rick, but Hillary says she saw Andy’s car in the street (maybe). Laurie tells her everything, and Hillary says that since she’s working with the Board of Trustees maybe she can talk to Dr. Price. Laurie gets upset and says she thinks she doesn’t need any help, but frankly Laurie…

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Rick calls. Asks why she ran away from him on Fear Street. She confronts him about the knives, he tries to brush it off, and so she asks why he was even on Fear Street to begin with and he tells her to stay away from Fear Street, ominously.

Laurie meets with Dr. Price. Tells her that she saw Nurse Wilton’s dead body. He calls the hospital to ask why he didn’t hear about any of this, and tells Laurie that he was told that Wilton is on vacation. Laurie tells him she thinks Toby is in trouble, and to placate her he says that he’ll check the kid’s files. Laurie informs him that the files have gone missing and he tells her he’ll track them down. Later Laurie and Andy are talking about why she was talking to his Dad, and she tries the ‘extra credit’ excuse again, and Andy puts the moves on her and she says nah, which leads to a fight and she dumps his ass. When going to the mall to meet Skye, Laurie conveniently sees Toby and his Mom in the parking lot!! Laurie waves, and Toby waves back, but then he’s shoved into the car by his Mom and they drive away. Laurie hates seeing Toby hurt like that, but instead of calling the cops to report a possible case of child abuse, she resolves to figure it out on her own!

So she calls Toby’s Mom pretending that she has an extra raffle ticket. Toby’s Mom is not convinced and tells her she’s a ‘nuisance’. There’s a slap and a child crying right before hanging up, and so Laurie decides to drive to Fear Street and save Toby herself! To what end, idiot? She sneaks into the house through a window, but is knocked over the head and dragged to the basement where she is tied up by Toby’s Mom. Toby’s Mom goes upstairs to make a phone call, and Laurie overhears that perhaps they have nasty plans for Aunt Hillary! Laurie sees a pair of scissors, and tries to get them. But the someone is coming down the steps.. and it’s Toby! Toby cuts the ropes, and Laurie says that she thought he had been taken away…. and Toby tells her that that wasn’t him, that was his twin brother Terry. Because OF COURSE IT WAS. They sneak up the steps and out of the house and get in her car and drive away. At a payphone Laurie tries to call Hillary to warn her, but can’t get an answer. So she calls the hospital, and gets a message that Hillary left for her: her car won’t start so please come pick her up from her meeting at the hospital, and she will be at the nurses station. So she and Toby rush for the hospital, and on the way they hear a radio report that Nurse Wilton’s body has been found. To make matters worse, Rick’s car is following them!! They get to the hospital and it looks like maybe they lost him.. but as they get into the building Rick pulls in the lost. Laurie and Toby get in the elevator and the doors close JUST AS RICK IS ABOUT TO GET IN TOO.

They get to the nurses station and Laurie leaves Toby with a nice nurse. Hillary isn’t present, and Nurse Girard tells her no one has been by for nearly two hours. Laurie tries to use the phone, but then Rick is there! He’s distracted by Nurse Girard, so Laurie runs into the Fear Wing (of course) to try and hide. While dicking around in there she finds a random trap door, and surmises that’s how Rick moved Nurse Wilton’s body. So Rick enters and we’re back to the prologue, with him grabbing her and her worried about the knife he must have. Turns out he grabbed her to keep her from falling down a broken elevator shaft she almost ran into. Someone else enters the wing, and Laurie screams for help. Rick shoves her away so he can tangle with whomever it is, and Laurie hears a fight. She sees Dr. Price, who tells her she can come out now. She runs to him, jumping over unconscious Rick… But Rick is waking up! And he tells Laurie that it was Dr. PRICE who killed Nurse Wilton! Because Nurse Wilton found out that Dr. Price and Toby’s Mom (not really his MOm!) were selling children in an illegal adoption scheme, and she was blackmailing him! Dr. Price and Rick fight again, and this time it ends with Dr. Price falling down the elevator shaft.

Rick and Laurie leave the Fear Wing and are reunited with Hillary, who explains that Dr. Price thought that she was getting too close to his secret and that’s why he wanted her dead. Rick and Laurie kiss. The end.

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Body Count: 2. You get Nurse Wilton and Dr. Price (I think? I have to imagine).

Romance Rating: 4. Rick is fine and he and Laurie are an okay couple with similar interests. But Andy is obnoxious and having her have to spend ANY time with him is upsetting.

Bonkers Rating: 5. A complex conspiracy theory in a hospital that involves selling children and then the fact that there is a set of twins as well gets it a bit of a boost. But it feels more Lifetime Movie, plot wise.

Fear Street Relevance: 8. The wing in the hospital that seems to cause the most trouble is named after Simon Fear. So it’s The Fear Wing, and THAT is pretty great. Also, Toby is being kept in a house on Fear Street.

Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:

“Then she had a sickening new feeling. Something in the room behind her was moving!”

… But nope, it wasn’t. She was alone the whole time.

That’s So Dated! Moments: Laurie and Skye first see Rick and the comparisons to Tom Cruise are thrown around pretty readily and heavily. I’m not so certain seventeen year old girls these days would be making THAT reference when trying to describe a cute boy.

Best Quote:

“He grabbed the front of the shirt, his face filled with mock horror. ‘Get rid of my bleeding knife t-shirt? Are you crazy?’

‘Get rid of it,’ she insisted.

‘But it’s so… so totally cutting edge!’ he cried.”

YEAH YEAH, I LAUGHED, OKAY?

“The Knife” was pretty lame. Less conspiracy, more GHOSTS, dammit! Next up is “The First Date”. I can only imagine how this is going to be.

Not Just Books: August 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:

screen-shot-2017-07-11-at-14-45-31Netflix Series Trailer: “Stranger Things” Season 2

I get chills just watching this! I absolutely loved the first season (so much so that I re-watched it on a binge with my husband in a hotel during our honeymoon. We needed a break from the site seeing! And it was really good! I will defend this choice forever). This trailer is the perfect balance of giving viewers everything they could want. Familiar characters, but with new challenges. Stakes (and monsters) that are bigger than ever. The music is on point, the visuals are stunning, and it doesn’t seem to have lost anything from one season to this (the biggest worry always with second seasons). I love that it looks like we will get so much more from Will, who was largely just missing the entire first season.

mv5bmjm0mdyzoda1mv5bml5banbnxkftztgwnde5mtkxnde-_v1_ux182_cr00182268_al_TV Show: “Justified”

I’m not hugely into Westerns. I think I read one Louis L’Amour years ago and was pretty “meh” about the whole experience. However, I discovered “Justified” earlier this spring and have been steadily consuming it almost nightly ever since. Two things make this series stand out in my mind: 1.) The casting. Timothy Olyphant is pitch perfect as Raylan Givens, a jaded, trigger happy, Kentucky marshal. And Walton Goggins makes you root for the “villain” of the story almost just as strongly as you do for Raylan. 2.) The writing. The dialogue in this series is smart, quick, and leaves you wishing you had thought of that line. Goggins, in particular, has a way of stringing words together that makes them come out sounding almost like poetry.

a1c70sokgklColoring Book Artist: Joanna Basford

It’s been a busy, busy summer. Between traveling and finishing our basement, I’ve been in desperate need of some forced relaxation. Enter: Joanna Basford and her gorgeous artwork in her adult coloring book series. I loved coloring as a kid, and I’m not quite sure why I thought that I had to stop as an adult. But this last year when I realized that there is a thriving market for adult coloring books, I was beyond ecstatic. It took me hardly any time to realize that Joanna Basford is pretty much the reigning queen in this arena. And for good reason! Her images are beautiful, creative, and intricate enough that it can take days to finish coloring one page. One of my favorite things to do recently has been to color a page from “The Enchanted Forest” book I own while listening to my audiobook. Have to get that reading in, too, you know!

Kate’s Picks:

250px-mpgisWeb Series: “The Most Popular Girls in School”

I’m late to the train on this one, but “The Most Popular Girls in School” is a hilarious and vulgar web series about cheerleaders and popular girls being snide to each other. And on top of that, it’s all stop motion with Barbies. Yep, you read that right. Awful nasty popular girls as played by stop motion Barbies. From the rage filled cheerleader Brittnay Matthews, to the aloof and unbothered new girl Deandra, to the bubble headed Parisian (but possibly Québécois) Saison Margueritte, the characters are outrageous and hilarious. It’s very much a hybrid of “Mean Girls” and “South Park”, and I can’t get enough of it.

wet_hot_american_summer___tv_show_folder_icon_v1_by_dyiddo-d9022iiNetflix Series Re-Watch: “Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp”

“Wet Hot American Summer” is my favorite movie of all time. I had promised some of my girlfriends that I would hold off on watching its newest miniseries, “Ten Years Later,” until I could watch it with them. So the night that that one dropped, I instead re-watched the first sequel series, “First Day of Camp.” And gosh, it’s still filled with joy, absurdity, and a great cast with great comedy to boot. Most of the (HUGE) original cast came back, including Paul Rudd, Amy Poehler, and Bradley Cooper (whose romance with Michael Ian Black in the movie is given an origin story here, and yes, it’s just as sweet as you’d think), and on top of that there are many, many cameos from other comedic players. It perfectly captures the joy of the movie, more so than “Ten Years Later” (yes I did end up watching it). Watching “First Day of Camp” and then “Wet Hot American Summer” is the perfect way to close out your own summer.

mindhunter-696x324Netflix Series Trailer: “Mindhunter”

My love of true crime has really been given a LOT to work with lately. Between the “My Favorite Murder” Podcast and a number of pretty neat true crime books coming out, my guilty pleasure has been well sated. And now Netflix is coming out with “Mindhuter”, a series about two FBI Agents (one played by Jonathan Groff) who try to study and profile serial killers. On top of that, it’s based on a book written by John Douglas! This trailer is creepy and unsettling, but it also has some familiar faces in it for me, in terms of the killers they are going to be tackling (hey hey, Edmund Kemper you crazy son of a bitch!). I really like Jonathan Groff, and I like that this takes place during a time when serial killer and psychopathic pathology weren’t really understood. I have a feeling I’ll need to watch this with the lights on, because the trailer is freaky enough on its own.

 

 

The Great Animorphs Re-Read #14: “The Unknown”

363391Animorphs #14: “The Unknown” by K.A. Applegate

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, January 1998

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: There’s a new rumor in town. Someone has discovered an item that proves life on other planets exists. And they’ve been hiding it on a base called Zone 91. The Most Secret Place On Earth.

Cassie, the other Animorphs, and Ax already know about life on other planets. Too well. They also realize the Yeerks will try to access Zone 91 to find out if what’s there will threaten their mission. So the Animorphs decide to pay Zone 91 and the Yeerks a little visit. But what they discover is not at all what they expect.

Narrator: Cassie

Plot: As we know from my last rant, ahem, I mean, review, I have some struggles with Cassie books some times. But, while this book continues the tradition of giving Cassie some of the more stupid missions, we were at least spared the awful drama and holier-than-thou whining that ruined the last Cassie book for me. In fact, this book was a lot of fun…when it wasn’t being entirely stupid.

Through a mall-trip-related deal, Cassie convinces Rachel to travel out with her and her dad to the Dry Land (a nearby semi-desert area) to check out a sick horse. But this isn’t a normal horse. In fact, this horse seems to be trying to make a phone call using a paid phone booth! What’s more, Cassie and Rachel see a Yeerk squirm out of the horse’s ear (the horse is clearly suffering from a snake bite), and then almost get shot by Dracon beams.

Returning to the other Animorphs the next day, they convince the very skeptical group that the bizarre horses really are worth checking out. Understandably, the group can’t seem to figure out why Yeerks would want to Control horses of all animals. Maybe it has something to do with the nearby Zone 91, a military base rumored by conspiracy theorists to host proof that aliens exist (I see what you did there, Applegate).

Cassie, Marco, Rachel, and Tobias decide to check it out. In an unfortunate bit of timing between morphs, Cassie, Marco and Rachel are captured by a military patrol and brought into the base. They only escape by morphing cockroach while the man in charge, Captain Torrelli, is away checking out their names and numbers. Somehow he doesn’t get the fact that “Fox Mulder,” “Dana Skully,” and “Cindy Crawfod” (Cassie really sucks in the lying department) might, MIGHT, be fake names. After escaping the building, and in Cassie’s case, proving that roaches can survive anything after being run over by a tank, the group witness a herd of horses with a particularly modest horse that moves to be behind a bush while it does its business. (And here we have the first example of what is an unfortunate trend for this book. Potty humor. Never fear, I will point out the other examples as we go!)

Now convinced that something is up with the horses here, the group decide that they should morph horses themselves to try and figure out why exactly Yeerks would be doing this. What follows is a bizarre escapade at a racing track where somehow Cassie ends up morphing a famous race horse (Minneapolis Max!) and winning a horse race. Ultimately, they all get horse morphs and fly back to the desert to join the herd of the horse!Controllers.

The Yeerks seem to have the brilliant plan that going in as Controlled horses they can discover what information, if anything, the humans have on any alien lifeforms on Earth. To do this, they decide to simply charge into the base as a herd of horses. The Animorphs join in and they discover some strange alien contraption that neither the Yeerks nor the Animorphs recognize. Heading back into the desert, the herd is intercepted by a Yeerk Bug Fighter and none other than Visser Three himself checking on how the mission went. After being displeased with the results, he decides that they should go with Plan B and infest some humans that work on the base. He also is displeased with the presence of other horses with the group, thinking they could be Andalites in morph. Cassie decides to take a dump as a way to convince them that they’re just regular horses. (Potty humor again!) When this doesn’t work, they simply run away, only escaping when some officers from the base show up and the Yeerks retreat rather than expose themselves.

On the way home, Ax reveals that he actually did know what the strange alien artifact was: a primitive Andalite toilet. So yes, the whole crux of this little story is centered around a LITERAL TOILET.

Through shenanigans, Cassie realizes that the Yeerks will likely try to infest Zone 91 officers while they’re at a company day trip to The Gardens. The Animorphs show up, get chased around through a log ride by Captain Torrelli who recognizes Cassie and Marco as “those punk kids.” Finally, they find the Yeerks camped out in the Horror House. They’re just standing around pretending to be part of the ride, including Visser Three himself. The Yeerks nab the Captain, and the Animorphs morph their battle morphs and give chase through the Horror House, and then, conveniently, into a parade. For some not super clear reason, the Yeerks pretty much let Captain Torrelli get away and fly off. Somehow all of this is hand waved away by the general public as “just part of the amusement park.”

So…there you have it. There were several really fun scenes tied up in all of this nonsense. We get a whole chapter of the kids at school, which is always fun. There were some good character moments with Cassie and her parents. And, tone wise, this book was very, very funny.

But beyond all of that, it’s just dumb. The whole horse!Controllers idea doesn’t make any sense given how we’ve seen the Yeerks operate in the past. The campy nonsense at The Gardens is completely wacky. And the fact that the whole thing ends with the Animorphs pretty much hand-waving the threat to Captain Torrelli away as “well, now he’ll be on his guard” is ridiculous. The Yeerks could take control of him at any time! Beyond all of this, the central conflict is around an Andalite toilet. The stakes…they are not high or interesting in this book.

Actual quote from the book:

We had done some very important things as Animorphs. We had fought
some terrible and vital battles. This wasn’t one of them.

Peace, Love, and Animals: Cassie, herself, is much more tolerable in this book. Part of it has to do with the fact that she hangs out with Rachel quite a bit in this story, and their friendship and banter is always enjoyable. Her relationship with her parents remains as one of the more fully developed families in the series. She has a few moments where she again reverts to her “this is all my fault!” whininess, but for the most part it was much more toned back from her last book.

Bizarrely, for a character that is often really smart in other books, she has some seriously dumb moments here. I mean, it was just a book or two ago when she morphed Rachel and was able to lie straight to a Controller’s face in a much more high stakes moment. But here, she has tons of issues coming up with a lie at the base with Rachel and Marco (Cindy Crawford??) and then messes up understanding military time when they try to disrupt the Yeerks’ plan at The Gardens. Seems out of character for her.

Another huge misstep she makes is while she’s at the race track and somehow ends up in the race itself, she goes and thought speaks to the jokey! Why??! What if he was a Controller! The Animorphs never do this for a reason, and it’s such an inconsequential moment, that’s it’s completely inexplicable why she would choose to break this rule now.

Our Fearless Leader: Jake doesn’t do much in this book. He plays his usual leader role, gets exasperated at the banter when they go off topic, and repeatedly tells Ax to stop calling him “Prince.”

Xena, Warriar Princess: As I said, there’s a lot of fun Cassie/Rachel friendship moments. In exchange for going out to the desert with Cassie and her dad, Rachel gets to take Cassie shopping for outfits. Then they go to school and Rachel is massively disappointed by the fact that no one notices. In fact, poor Cassie only gets talked to after boys come up to Rachel first, and then they forget Cassie’s name calling her “Kendra” and “Carla.” In desperation, Rachel pays Marco two dollars to make a scene over Cassie in the next class. Something he plays up quite a bit. These are the type of very fun “real world” scenes that we don’t get often, but are great fun when we do.

A Hawk’s Life: It’s super fun having Tobias around for more of this book! He gets to plan with the group while in his “human morph” at the mall. And then gets to morph horse along with everyone else, too. It’s explained that since hawk is Tobias’s “true form” now, that he has to acquire all of his morphs as a hawk. We miss out on the scene of how this worked out with the horses.

The Comic Relief: Marco gets in a lot of fun quips about “modest horses” and “phone call making horses” etc etc. He also proves to still be the most canny member of the group when he, Cassie and Rachel are captured at the base. While there, he insists on asking about aliens and generally making out like a conspiracy theorist. When they escape and Rachel and Cassie challenge him on this, he says that that’s the only way they would be dismissed. Three regular, sane kids out there without shoes are a real question. Three crazy kids…well, they’re crazy.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: While the group are morphed horses, Ax is able to understand the Yeerks because they are talking Galard, some universal alien language. Another stupid thing about this book: it never really says how the Yeerks are “talking” at all while in the body of a horse. If I’m not mistaken, horses don’t have the most advanced vocal cords…

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: At once point while morphing, Cassie gets to see her hand as just bones. Fun!

Couples Watch!: Not much of anything here. When Cassie comes home late from their mission, her parents make a point of embarrassing her, asking if she was out on a date with Jake. It’s another nice human moment in the book.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: I seriously don’t buy the fact that Visser Three would show up at The Gardens and pretend to be a part of the Horror House ride. It just seems like something that he would consider so beneath him. And really, wouldn’t it me? I mean, come on, the guy is the third most powerful Yeerk in the Empire! Does he really need to come along on the infestation mission of one little human Captain??

He does have this moment, though, when he meets up with the horse!Controllers and is upset with their findings (the fact that they didn’t know what the alien artifact was) and kills one of them in a fit of rage:

<Fools! Idiots! Incompetents!> the Visser screamed in enraged thought-
speak. <Weeks have been wasted setting up this effort. First we lose that
clumsy fool, Korin Five-Four-Seven, when he was bitten by a snake. And
now we’ve lost poor JillayNine-Two-Six!>
The Visser indicated the no-longer-in-one-piece horse-Controller, like it
had been someone else’s fault he’d been lost.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Can I cry at the sheer stupidity and at the fact that the book is pretty much potty humor wrapped up in an Animorphs story??

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: This time it’s the Yeerks with the terrible plan! I mean, come on! Why, oh why, would they Control horses to check this place out? At no point in this series have we ever seen the Yeerks hesitate to just infest whomever is convenient. And they’ve already gotten thousands of people, so it’s not like it’s even that hard for them to do. This just makes absolutely no sense. And the plan to capture the guy while at The Gardens is almost as stupid, too! Yes, let’s make a huge scene with Visser Three and Hork Bajir running around to capture this one guy while in the middle of a crowded theme park! Yes, that is the way to keep aliens on earth a secret (the apparent reason they’re so interested in getting a hold of the artifact in Zone 91 in the first place!) So stupid. Visser Three himself admits that Plan B was better:

“We still have the backup plan. It was always the better plan. We’ll simply
take control of a few of the humans working at this base.”

No one knows why this was ever the “backup plan.”

Favorite Quote:

The level of exasperation behind Marco’s comment in this quote pretty much sums up my feelings about the plot of this entire book.

<You’re telling me the Most Secret Place On Earth, the fabled Zone
Ninety-one, the Holy Grail of conspiracy nuts, is hiding the secret of an
Andalite toilet?> said Marco.
<Only a very primitive model,> Ax said condescendingly. <Since those
days there have been huge technological improvements.>

Scorecard: Yeerks 3, Animorphs 6

NO POINTS FOR ANYONE! BAD YEERKS! BAD ANIMORPHS!

Rating: So, the plot for this one was pretty stupid. But there was a lot of really fun “real world” moments that we don’t often get, and there were a lot of really funny lines and running jokes, so much so that I actually still very much enjoyed reading it. The rating would then be somewhere in the middle. Not great, but its saved by a few things from being a complete disaster.

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

Kate’s Review: “The Lying Game”

32895291Book: “The Lying Game” by Ruth Ware

Publishing Info: Gallery/Scout Press, July 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: From the instant New York Times bestselling author of blockbuster thrillers In a Dark, Dark Wood and The Woman in Cabin 10 comes Ruth Ware’s chilling new novel.

On a cool June morning, a woman is walking her dog in the idyllic coastal village of Salten along a tidal estuary known as the Reach. Before she can stop him, the dog charges into the water to retrieve what first appears to be a wayward stick, but to her horror, turns out to be something much more sinister…

The next morning, three women in and around London—Fatima, Thea, and Isabel—receive the text they had always hoped would NEVER come, from the fourth in their formerly inseparable clique, Kate, that says only, “I need you.”

The four girls were best friends at Salten, a second rate boarding school set near the cliffs of the English Channel. Each different in their own way, the four became inseparable and were notorious for playing the Lying Game, telling lies at every turn to both fellow boarders and faculty, with varying states of serious and flippant nature that were disturbing enough to ensure that everyone steered clear of them. The myriad and complicated rules of the game are strict: no lying to each other—ever. Bail on the lie when it becomes clear it is about to be found out. But their little game had consequences, and the girls were all expelled in their final year of school under mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of the school’s eccentric art teacher, Ambrose (who also happens to be Kate’s father).

Atmospheric, twisty, and with just the right amount of chill that will keep you wrong-footed—which has now become Ruth Ware’s signature style—The Lying Game is sure to be her next big bestseller. Another unputdownable thriller from the Agatha Christie of our time.

Review: As you guys have seen on this blog previously, one of my favorite suspense writers out there today is Ruth Ware. I read and reviewed both “In A Dark, Dark Wood” for this blog, as well as “The Woman in Cabin 10”, so of course I was going to pick up Ware’s most recent novel, “The Lying Game”. These women centric whodunits are the perfect reads for travel and leisure, as they go down very easily and keep you entertained. When I finally got to “The Lying Game”, I settled in, ready for a page turner with twists and turns to keep me on the edge of my seat.

Our protagonist is Isa, a relatively new mother of a baby named Freya and partner to a kind man named Owen. She’s made a new life for herself away from her teenage years, where she had a tight knit group of friends named Kate, Thea, and Fatima, with whom she shares a deep secret. They haven’t seen each other in years, trying to suppress their past in various ways. But when a body is found in the town of their boarding school, one that may reveal too much, they are flung back together. The bonds of a secret are hardly a new theme in books like this, but the strengths are in the characters here. While Isa is our protagonist, she actually felt like the least interesting of the foursome, falling back on pretty well explored tropes. Shy and meek, but fiery when it comes to her child, and in a relationship with a well meaning but somewhat clueless man, I was more frustrated with Isa than I wanted to be. I was far more interested in Fatima, the most centered of the group who has become a surgeon and has recently become more faithful in her practice of Islam. We so rarely get ‘with it’ women at the forefront of these stories, and I think that Fatima had some serious potential and more to explore than Isa. Isa was just a woman who is falling apart because of the lies she’s told, and it’s not only a frustrating scenario to watch play out, it’s also been done before and didn’t really give me much to chew on.

But the atmosphere in this book is exceptionally spot on. If you want to guarantee a moody atmosphere for a novel, you really can’t go wrong with a house in a tidal estuary that is right on the water. It worked for “The Woman in Black”, and it works here as well. Kate, the woman who has stayed behind after the disappearance of her father and the secret shared between them, is living in her childhood home… which is slowly sinking into the water. The idea of a house that at certain tidal times is close to being enveloped by water is creepy and suffocating, and it really added to the general unease of this novel. While all of these women are still somewhat trapped at The Reach, Kate is trapped there physically as well as emotionally. The secrets that the Reach and these women hold are always just beneath the surface, and as they start to rise up the tension builds so slowly you don’t realize it’s there until you’re already drowning in it. You add that into the fact that this is a small town with a prestigious boarding school, and you know that the scandal and secrets are going to be oozing off the page. Boarding schools and sinking houses in an isolated setting? Hell yes I’m going to love that.

In terms of the mysteries and secrets of this book, it was kind of a mixed bag. There were some things that I definitely was caught off guard about, or at least didn’t figure it out until Ware wanted me to. But there were other things that I figured out pretty early on, and when it came to the ultimate climax and the ultimate solution, I was left kind of underwhelmed. While I don’t necessarily want to have twist after twist after twist, I also kind of want to have a little bit of a ‘gasp!’ moment when it comes to the solution to a book like this. I didn’t really get that anywhere in this book. If the characters had been a little bit stronger on all ends, I could have given it a bit of a pass, but as it was, I think that of Ware’s three books “The Lying Game” is the weakest for me.

That isn’t to say it’s a bad read at all. “The Lying Game” was a quick and tense read, and I tore through it pretty quickly. Fans of this genre really should give it a go, because it’s a solid mystery with some good suspense in it.

Rating 7: A solid premise with some good suspense building, but the solution was a bit underwhelming, just as the main character was grating at times. The atmosphere and the supporting characters, however, were solid.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Lying Game” is included on the Goodreads lists “2017 Library Recommended Books”, and “Anticipated/Best 2017 Literary Fiction”.

Find “The Lying Game” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Down Among the Sticks and Bones”

31450908Book: “Down Among the Sticks and Bones” by Seanan McGuire

Publishing Info: Tor, June 2017

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: Twin sisters Jack and Jill were seventeen when they found their way home and were packed off to Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children.

This is the story of what happened first…

Jacqueline was her mother’s perfect daughter—polite and quiet, always dressed as a princess. If her mother was sometimes a little strict, it’s because crafting the perfect daughter takes discipline.

Jillian was her father’s perfect daughter—adventurous, thrill-seeking, and a bit of a tom-boy. He really would have preferred a son, but you work with what you’ve got.

They were five when they learned that grown-ups can’t be trusted.

They were twelve when they walked down the impossible staircase and discovered that the pretense of love can never be enough to prepare you a life filled with magic in a land filled with mad scientists and death and choices.

Review: Last year’s “Every Heart a Doorway” , aYA fantasy novella by Seanan McGuire, completely took me by surprise. It asks the important, but rarely asked, question: what happens when these special, chosen children return from their adventures in other worlds? In that book, we met Jack and Jill, twin girls who had spent years in their own magical land. Like many others at the school, they each had their own struggles adjusting to life back in this reality. Here, we have their back story. And, while I still love the creativity of this series, the fact that I knew the end story for these two did affect my perception of this story. It’s purely a personal problem, however, so all in all, this is a strong second outing for this series.

Like most children who wander into strange worlds, Jack and Jill don’t quite fit into the reality that they were born, too. Their mother, Serena (oh no!) makes a princess out of Jill, and their father, Chester, attempts to turn Jack into the son he wished he had. Growing up within these strict definitions that were chosen for them, it’s no surprise that when they discover a doorway in their attic, they choose to walk forward. The world that awaits is filled with monsters, science, and chaos. But perhaps most frightening and thrilling of all: choices. For two girls who have been told who they are since birth, this new found ability to decide offers temptations and dangers.

The greatest strength of “Every Heart a Doorway” was the clear-eyed approach it took on childhood. It’s all too easy to wrap up childhood in fluffy dreams of nostalgia, to wave away the worries and pains of childhood as nothing more than immaturity. This strength comes to the forefront in this book, a story that is even darker than the original novella. Jack and Jill’s childhood until age 12 in “reality” is one full of struggle against the various constraints of gender. I greatly appreciated the fact that both definitions, the “princess” and the “tomboy” are shown equally for the damages they can inflict. They both demonize a type of behavior in girls in lieu of presenting the “one true way.” It is made clear that the strictness of both and the lack of flexibility in the definition of “girlhood” is the root of the problem with either perception.

I also greatly enjoyed the time spent in the fantasy world, obviously. This world is dark, scary, and the choices presented to the girls have real consequences. As we saw in the first book, both girls are changed by their time in this world, and it was fascinating watching them each slowly develop into the characters we are familiar with from the first book.

This, however, was also where I found myself struggling with this book. I like darkness in my fantasy novels, but I do struggle to fully enjoy stories that end on this same dark note. I think the fact that I knew the events that took place in “Every Heart a Doorway” before reading this colored my perception of certain things and prevented me from fully committing to both of the main characters. I felt like I was almost keeping the story at a distance, because I knew not to get too attached. This is clearly a very personal flaw with the story and one that’s completely tied up in my own reading experience, so take it with a million grains of salt. Because, even saying that, knowing the end result also kept me interested as the girls transformed into the characters I knew, as I said before.

This was a solid second outing in this novella series. I believe there is a third, “Beneath the Sugar Sky,” in line to be published this coming January, and I will definitely be at the front of the line to get my hands on it! Definitely check this book out if you’re a fan of dark fantasy, especially of the classic monster variety!

Rating 7: An excellent dark, fantasy story, both benefiting and, for me, suffering from the fact that we had already been introduced to these characters in the first book in the series.

Reader’s Advisory:

 “Down Among the Sticks and Bones” is a new book so isn’t included on any relevant Goodreads lists, but it should be on  “The Monster Mash”  and “Best Gothic Books.”

Find “Down Among the Sticks and Bones” at your library using WorldCat!