Serena’s Review & Giveaway: “The Stone Sky”

31817749Book: “The Stone Sky” by N. K. Jemisin

Publishing Info: Orbit, August 2017

Where Did I Get this Book: ARC provided by Orbit

Book Description: The Moon will soon return. Whether this heralds the destruction of humankind or something worse will depend on two women.

Essun has inherited the power of Alabaster Tenring. With it, she hopes to find her daughter Nassun and forge a world in which every orogene child can grow up safe.

For Nassun, her mother’s mastery of the Obelisk Gate comes too late. She has seen the evil of the world, and accepted what her mother will not admit: that sometimes what is corrupt cannot be cleansed, only destroyed.

Previously Reviewed: “The Fifth Season” and “The Obelisk Gate”

Review: At this point, I’m honestly baffled by N. K. Jemisin. The fact that the previous two books both won Hugo awards is awe-inspiring enough. But to not miss a single step in a complete trilogy? Crazy impressive. What’s more, as I was reading this book and unpacking the many, many more new layers being added to an already impossibly complex  history and world, I was seriously questioning my own mental capacity to even keep track of it all, let alone write an entire trilogy with all of these details in mind from the first. All of this, she had to have all of this in her mind when she started the first book! These aren’t tiny little breadcrumbs that could be sprinkled in early with only vague ideas for how they are going to be used later. This is an entire history, on top of another history, on top of ANOTHER HISTORY and our slow-revealed narrator, Hoa, has been talking about it all right in front of our faces since the very beginning! I really can’t express my bafflement at the mastery that one needs to possess to juggle this type of storytelling.

But I should probably start a more coherent review at this point. When we finished off “The Obelisk Gate,” Nassun and Essun were set up on opposite sides of a final confrontation that would determine the future of the world. Nassun, broken, hurt, and disillusioned to the point of hopelessness about humanity, sees only one way forward: it can’t be fixed, so let’s just end the bad things. Essun, on the other hand, has only recently begun to see that through all the brokenness, through all the loss of children, family, lovers, and communities, there still might be a way forward, a way to change things and fix what isn’t right.

These two dynamics are so incredibly strong. Through these three books, we’ve seen a lifetime of pain and horror through Essun’s eyes. She has been devastated, horrified, apathetic, furious, and here, in the last, she still manages to find hope. Her time with the comm of Castrima has opened her eyes to a new way of life where orogene and still can live and work together. It’s not perfect by any means, and there are a million fights ahead to make progress, but here, in the end, she sees that fight as one that is worth having and saving.

Nassun sees nothing worth saving, but for Schaffa, and even he is plagued by a life riddled with pain and confusion. Wouldn’t it be best for it all to just end? Her story has been the most tragic in this series. Essun at least has been an adult for the majority of it, and to some extent (while very small at times), she’s had the ability to choose and make a path for herself, even if that path leads into more darkness. Nassun is a child, and while she’s had to grow up much too fast, she still sees the world through eyes of a person whose only lived 11 years on it, and those 11 years have been filled with nothing but abandonment, horror, and no signs that things will ever improve. After killing her father at the end of the last book, Nassun is done. If even a father sees only a monster in his orogene child, then she will be that monster and end it all, for the sake of all monsters everywhere.

Nassun and Essun’s stories are poignant and beautiful, and by setting the two on opposite sides of this fight, as a reader, you’re caught wishing for the impossible. And Jemisin delivers it! The conclusion to these two’s story ended in the only way it could and was immensely satisfying.

But this isn’t only Nassun and Essun’s book. While in the last book we learned much more about the stone eaters and their involvement in this war for the future of the Earth, here we go even farther back in time, back to the great civilization in the past that understood magic just well enough to become greedy, building the Obelisk Gate in an attempt to tap the life magic of the Earth as well and triggering the Shattering. This is Hoa’s origin story, finally. And with it comes, you guessed it, more tragedy and evidence of the brokenness of humanity, the shortsightedness that comes with greed and small lives, and the ever present fear for those who find themselves in power and are frantic to keep it. We learn how and why the Obelisks were created, we learn more about the living Evil Earth itself, we see the history of the Guardians and who they were, and we see that the same terrible choices have been made again and again.

Not only do I not want to spoil the many reveals presented in this book, I’m fairly certain that I need to immediately re-read the entire series to fully appreciate the story that’s been told and finally connect all of the dots of this complicated world. If you asked me to  storyboard this series in chronological order, I’m pretty sure I’d struggle. But that is absolutely no criticism of the book. The best books, in my opinion, are the ones that are so fully alive that you can’t possible fully understand them in one (or even two!) go-arounds.

So hopefully by this time you’ve already read the first two in the series, because here’s your chance to get your hands on the final book in this amazing series! Enter to win a paperback copy of “The Stone Sky!” Giveaway ends Sept. 21 and is open to U.S. entries only. Happy reading!

Enter the Giveaway!

Rating 10: If this doesn’t win another Hugo, I’ll be shocked.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Obelisk Gate” is on these Goodreads lists: “#ReadPOC: List of Speculative Fiction by Authors of Color” and “Best Picks: Adult Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Novels of 2017.”

Find “The Stone Sky” at your library using WorldCat

 

 

 

Kate’s Review: “Every Last Lie”

32735394Book: “Every Last Lie” by Mary Kubica

Publishing Info: Park Row Books, June 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: New York Times bestselling author of THE GOOD GIRL, Mary Kubica is back with another exhilarating thriller as a widow’s pursuit of the truth leads her to the darkest corners of the psyche. 

“The bad man, Daddy. The bad man is after us.” 

Clara Solberg’s world shatters when her husband and their four-year-old daughter are in a car crash, killing Nick while Maisie is remarkably unharmed. The crash is ruled an accident…until the coming days, when Maisie starts having night terrors that make Clara question what really happened on that fateful afternoon. 

Tormented by grief and her obsession that Nick’s death was far more than just an accident, Clara is plunged into a desperate hunt for the truth. Who would have wanted Nick dead? And, more important, why? Clara will stop at nothing to find out—and the truth is only the beginning of this twisted tale of secrets and deceit. 

Told in the alternating perspectives of Clara’s investigation and Nick’s last months leading up to the crash, master of suspense Mary Kubica weaves her most chilling thriller to date—one that explores the dark recesses of a mind plagued by grief and shows that some secrets might be better left buried.

Review: I have many anxieties in my life, some that are realistic, others that are unrealistic. Or at the very least not worth worrying about. One of those anxieties is becoming unexpectedly widowed. I’m the person who can’t sleep too well at night if her husband isn’t home, especially if I’m expecting him home and he is late to return. Because OBVIOUSLY it isn’t that he’s just running late or finding that time has run away from him. Obviously he’s dead.

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Yes I am, Gene Wilder. (source)

So reading “Every Last Lie” kind of made me confront my anxieties on that at least a little bit, so it has that going for it. Mary Kubica is one of those authors that I really, really want to like, mainly because I really enjoyed her book “Pretty Baby” and the subversion of expectations that we were given. I wasn’t as thrilled by “Don’t You Cry” (if you remember) just because it was less a subversion of expectations and more a tangle of unnecessary twists and turns. But I was willing to give “Every Last Lie” a chance because overall, I like the author. Unfortunately, this was less of a “Pretty Baby” experience and more of a “Don’t You Cry” experience.

Note: I am going to try avoiding spoilers here, but I can’t really critique it without saying at least a little bit of how scenarios kind of play out. So even though I’m avoiding specifics, you may want to skip this review if you want to read it.

“Every Little Lie” is told through alternating perspectives. The first is Clara’s perspective as she’s trying to piece together what happened to Nick, finding potential clues to suggest that maybe her husband didn’t die by accident and that perhaps he was murdered. The other is Nick’s perspective in the weeks leading up to that fateful car ride that sets the plot in motion. I will give this book credit where it is due, I really enjoyed this structure. It allowed for the reader to be able to see the clues that were presented in ways that Nick and Clara couldn’t see them, and I liked picking up on truths that one or the other weren’t privy to. It’s good when these books find fun and interesting ways to reveal the solution to the reader, and I definitely felt like Kubica did a bang up job in terms of pacing and reveal. It also made it for a fast read, and a pretty entertaining one in the moment.

But plotting aside, I didn’t really care for either Clara or Nick. I didn’t feel like I knew that much about Clara as a person outside of the trauma that she was experiencing and what it was doing to her mental state. Sure, that makes sense that we are only going to see that side of her in her chapters, but even in the chapters that Nick had before the car accident we only got a partial view, and it wasn’t a very telling one. Nick was a bit more interesting, seeing Clara’s views of him alongside the truths about him was a very good way to get to know him as a character. But ultimately, he wasn’t terribly interesting, and just fell into pretty familiar tropes of a desperate man with a lot of secrets. And then you add into that a lot of really odd red herrings that never felt satisfying, as they never led anywhere. I know that red herrings usually don’t, but there were so many things in this book that I wanted to have SOME sort of resolution, only to find that there is no resolution in sight for a good deal of them as we turn the last page. And some of them, I felt, really needed resolution for me to be satisfied with the story. I was left saying “Well what about ______?” too much to be happy or at least okay with how things ended up.

I still fully intend to keep giving Mary Kubica a shot, because there is a lot of potential there. And “Pretty Baby” was proof that I do like stuff that she has done, and can like it again. It’s just too bad that this one fell flat. I keep hope alive that the next will be better.

Rating 6: A quick and entertaining enough read, but none of the characters really grabbed me and I wasn’t terribly invested in how it all turned out. Especially when many problems were left unresolved.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Every Last Lie” is fairly new and not on many relevant Goodreads lists. But it is on “2017 Suspense and Thrillers”, and I think it would fit in on “Female Psychological Thrillers and Suspense”.

Find “Every Last Lie” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “City of Blades”

23909755Book: “City of Blades” by Robert Jackson Bennett

Publishing Info: Broadway Books, January 2016

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

Book Description: The city of Voortyashtan was once the domain of the goddess of death, war, and destruction, but now it’s little more than a ruin. General Turyin Mulaghesh is called out of retirement and sent to this hellish place to try to find a Saypuri secret agent who’s gone missing in the middle of a mission, but the city of war offers countless threats: not only have the ghosts of her own past battles followed her here, but she soon finds herself wondering what happened to all the souls that were trapped in the afterlife when the Divinities vanished. Do the dead sleep soundly in the land of death? Or do they have plans of their own?

Previously read: “City of Stairs”

Review: It’s been over a year now since I read the first book in this series, “City of Stairs” and in that time the third and final book, “City of Miracles” has been published. I’d like to say I plan my reviews like this, as I have a preference for reading series in a binge-like style and this works best when that series is completed. But the honest answer is that I get distracted by the million other good books out there, so when I am reminded of a good series by a more recent publication…it just a lucky coincidence for my binge-reading style!

That said, “City of Blades” is not a direct sequel to “City of Stairs,” picking up several years after the fact and re-focusing the story on General Turyin Mulaghesh who we met in the first book when she fought off a resurgence of Gods in Bulikov alongside our heroes of that book, Shara and Sigrud. Now, years later, Shara has been elected Prime Minister, Sigrud has been roped into a delegate role, representing his nation of origin, and Mulaghesh has retreated in retirement, suddenly quitting, for unknown reasons, the political atmosphere in which she had been steadily rising. But things are not all well on the Continent and Shara, whose popularity has greatly waned (turns out many people can’t and won’t just forget a past that was ruled by cruel Gods), calls on one of the few people she still trusts to discover what has been going on in the city of Voortystan, the capital city of the late Voortya, Goddess of War. So Mulaghesh is off, albeit grumpily, to a city that is in the midst of a forced transformation to the modern, but whose past is perhaps more close than anyone would have guessed.

I had really and truly forgotten just how excellent this series is. This book, like “City of Stairs” before it,  checks all the boxes for fantasy I love. World-building is excellent. The characters are complicated, interesting, and, importantly, have a wicked sense of humor. The themes are drawn upon using masterful technique.

While Shara’s story was one of a young woman discovering her dreams are not quite what she once thought, Mulaghesh’s story is that of a middle-aged woman who feels that the imprint she’s left on the world is not one to be proud of. Throughout the story, we have a slow reveal of Mulaghesh’s past history with the military, the choices she and her troops were forced to make, and the influence these choices have had on her life since. Throughout this all, Mulaghesh’s voice is strong, surly, and darkly witty.

Her own story ties neatly into a larger discussion of what it means to be a soldier. Voortya, the Goddess of War, and her followers created a complete culture around this question. War was art. War was life. War was at the center of every choice her people made. And now, decades after the Gods have been killed off, is this fact any different?

One thing that particularly stood out as I was reading this, and that makes Bennett’s writing and his characters so excellent is that he never dumbs things down. Not the mysteries or history for the reader: there were many times that I had to stop reading for a bit to re-order my thinking of the timeline of this world, or how this one magical element or another worked again, as it had been explained chapters ago. And, especially, not his own protagonist. All too often I’ll read a story where the heroine fails to ask the most obvious questions. This is, of course, necessary by the author’s thinking to draw out the mystery or the suspense. In reality, all this does is frustrate the reader and make your characters seem stupid. Mulaghesh is a smart protagonist, and it was beyond satisfying that at multiple points in this story, right when I came up with a theory about what was going on, she almost immediately voiced it herself. This might seem like a small thing, but I truly think that when it comes to the general enjoyment of books like this, it is one of the most crucial elements.

The fantasy elements that are tied up with this complicated history of the Continent and their Gods almost played even better in this book than in the first. Here, we have a deep-dive into one specific divinity and how her influence shaped a people and a city. And, as can be expected with this series at this point, the lingering remains of these long-gone Gods are not quite as distant as the people would wish. I particularly loved the way Voortya’s legacy was brought to life in this book. After the first story, there seemed to be only one path laid forth for bringing these Gods’ stories back into this world and I was half-expecting Bennett to simply recycle this process. Oh me of little faith.

Beyond Mulaghesh herself (who is an utter joy), this book saw the return of our protagonists from the first book, as well. Shara makes a few brief appearances, but Sigrud plays a vital role. Alongside these familiar faces, we get an excellent cast of new characters, including Signe, Sigrud’s long-lost daughter who is a brilliant technician and hopes to restore the city of Voortaystan to a place of influence and innovation.

It’s hard to say whether I liked one of these book more than the other. While “City of Stairs” laid forth an enormous new world and history, full of lost Gods and a bright-eyed leading lady, “City of Blades” presents a darker, more intricate look at one city, one God, and one woman who struggles to define herself and to determine what it means to have lived a life full of violence.

While technically you could probably read this book without checking out the first in the series, why would you?? But for those who were wondering where the story could go from there, never fear. “City of Blades” is a worthy successor and now I’ll move right along to “City of Miracles,” thank you very much. Binging commence!

Rating 10: If you love detailed fantasy stories with a strong dose of action and a grumpy but lovable heroine, this is the book for you!

Reader’s Advisory:

“City of Blades” is on these Goodreads lists: “Favorite Epic Grit” and “Best Sci Fi Books with Female Main Characters.”

Find “City of Blades” at your library using WorldCat

A Revisit to Fear Street: “First Date”

1513424Book: “First Date” (Fear Street #16) by R.L. Stine

Publishing Info: Pocket Books, January 1992

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Dying for a Date

Chelsea Richards is shy, lonely, and looking for love. She would give anything to finally go on a date. Soon there are two new boys in town, and both ask her out.

Too bad one of them is a crazed killer. Poor Chelsea. Will her first date also be her last?

Had I Read It Before: No.

A NOTE: It was suggested to me that there may be some people who want to read the “Fear Street” series without being spoiled, but also want to know what my thoughts on this books are. Since these recaps are basically a rundown of the whole plot, I’m going to try and meet in the middle. I thought of putting a quick opinion at the front of these posts, but it kind of upset the flow of the narrative. SO, what I’m going to do instead is suggest that those who don’t want to be spoiled for a specific book scroll down down down to the end of this post, and look for my final paragraph, which I will put in bold lettering and which will give my final and non spoiler-y thoughts. Okay. On we go!

The Plot: We start our story at a random Make-Out Point, with a girl named Candy and a black haired leather jacket clad boy named Joe. Candy is stoked that they’re parking and making out together, and Joe is starting to feel smothered by her. She also reminds him of his mother, who he doesn’t remember fondly. He suggests they leave the car, but drops his wallet. Candy finds it, sees his license, and sees that it says his name isn’t Joe, it’s Lonnie. He says it’s a fake license. Then, after an inner monologue about how he’s actually twenty and how he’s feeling smothered, he leads her off and kills her. He then sees a sign for a town called Shadyside, and decides that sounds like his kind of town.

Meet Chelsea. Chelsea plays the sax, has recently moved to Shadyside with her parents, and has a very ‘dry witted’ mother who works in a nursing home with dear old Dad is running his new restaurant. Chelsea works there too, but feels lonely, and laments that she is short, pudgy, ugly, and too shy to get anyone to notice her. She lives on Fear Street, which is ‘creepy’. Her Mom tells her that she’ll adjust and make friends, and then goes off to work. Chelsea decides to go to the house of her only friend in town, Nina. But when she arrives at Nina’s house, Nina and her boyfriend Doug are already on the way out. Poor lonely Chelsea! To make matters worse, on the way home a car of rowdy (read: misogynistic) boys drives up and cat call her. Which then progresses to them grabbing at her, throwing a cigarette at her, and chasing her. She hides in some bushes until they go away, and she wishes she could meet a nice boy. I’m feeling very uncomfortable at this blatant display of rape culture. Ah, the 90s.

At school the next day a shy new boy named Will is seated next to Chelsea. She notices how cute he is with his black hair and dark eyes(?!), but once again laments how SHY she is and won’t talk to him. That evening while working at the coffee shop that night (diner, coffee shop, it’s interchangeable in this book), and daydreaming about Will, another boy with black hair and a leather jacket comes in, running into Chelsea. He sits down, and she thinks about how tough he looks (‘tough’ is the adjective used a few times on this page). They proceed to have an awkward conversation, he says his name is Tim Sparks (but everyone calls him Sparks), and he asks her out to a movie. Brazen, that Sparks. But before she can answer him fully, her Dad says that she needs to attend to restaurant business. Sparks looks PISSED AF, and storms out of the restaurant without his hamburger. Chelsea is kind of sad that he went away, even though she doesn’t know if she would have gone on a date with him because he’s so ‘dangerous’ looking. Then she thinks about Will again, hoping that HE will be her first date. But before she can pine for long, a group of young men enter the diner, try to rob the place, hit Chelsea’s Dad on the head with a lead pipe, and run off.

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(source)

Poppy Richards is alive, but taken to the hospital where he is declared in ‘serious but stable’ condition. Mrs. Richards tells Chelsea to go home and wait, and to stave off a panic attack Chelsea invites Nina over. Nina comes by happily… but has boyfriend Doug in tow, which means all of her attention is on Doug and not on her friend who is scared to death for her Dad. Some friend you are, Nina! While Nina and Doug make out, Chelsea thinks about Sparks. He sure ran off fast when her Dad showed up. Was he casing the joint? Was he in on the robbery?

Meanwhile Joe/Lonnie/whoever is out for a walk, thinking about class struggle in Shadyside (those snoots in North Hills!) and how much he resents his mother for leaving him to his own devices with a drunken father while taking his sister instead. That’s admittedly messed up. Then he strangles a kitten. Goddammit. We’d gone so long without animal death.

So with her father in recovery for awhile, Chelsea is left to man the diner with Ernie the line cook as her only back up. And Ernie is ever around when he’s needed, let me tell you. As Chelsea daydreams about Will (who has smiled at her and said ‘good morning’ as well! Progress!), two toughs walk into the restaurant right before closing (at 7? odd hours) and start giving Chelsea a hard time. And where is Ernie??? WHO KNOWS. She thinks that they are going to rob the place, but they start sexually harassing her and asking her when she gets off work. Before they can do anything else, Sparks walks in and they back off, leaving. She pours him a cup of coffee, and says that they seemed scared of him, to which he replies ‘they should be’, and ‘it’s dangerous around here’. Now Chelsea is scared of him too (though honestly it seems to me he’s just really bad at flirting). Ernie FINALLY makes his presence known just in time to say he’s leaving, and Chelsea and Sparks are alone. She pours him another refill, and he hightails out of there. She’s both disappointed and relieved he’s gone (girl, get it together), and closes up BY HERSELF before going to see Dad at the hospital. Sparks goes home, laments not asking her out, and trashes his place in a rage.

At school the next day Chelsea and Nina are talking. Nina is mad at Doug for talking to Suki Thomas (YASSS SUKI!!!), and then randomly a giant dog runs past them and out the doors, never to be mentioned again. Chelsea tries to tell Nina about Sparks, but then Nina sees Doug and runs off to meet him. Bitch. Luckily, Will is there, and he and Chelsea start talking! He asks her if she wants to go for a walk, and she says yes. They go for a walk in the woods, and Chelsea is thrilled that she’s going for a walk with a boy, ALONE. He falls behind, and when she turns he’s wrapping a length of GRAY CORD IN HIS HAND?! He says that he just randomly found it, and then asks her to go on a SECRET date with him, and to not tell anybody about it. Though this should be setting off alarm bells, Chelsea is SO EXCITED!!!

Chelsea tells her Mom about her date, and Mom tells her that Dad is now in a semi private room at the hospital. Good news on both fronts. At the diner that night Sparks comes in, and they continue the Dance of the Awkward Flirts, in which Sparks says that he’s a drop out, she says that she’s in the band, and he asks if she plays the tuba. Which insults her because OBVIOUSLY that must mean he thinks she’s fat. When she asks him about work he gets defensive, lies about having an interview at the mill that has been closed for years, and then he asks her out that Saturday. That’s the night of her SUPER SECRET DATE, so she says no, and he leaves, looking angry. Dammit, Sparks. You are so emotionally stunted and so obviously NOT the killer.

It’s date night! Will is taking Chelsea to the movies, though not in Shadyside for some reason, but Waynesbridge. He says he’s had this car forever, but he doesn’t know how to work the defroster. When she asks him about it, he says it’s because he’s a klutz. RIGHT. He almost forgets his wallet in the car, and when she hands it to him he yanks it back in a suspicious manner. She forgets all about it though, and after the movie they go a parking on River Ridge. They can see over the town, and he suggests they go for a walk. He beckons her to the cliff to look at the view, but she balks and says she’s afraid of heights. So they go walking again, and he falls behind and PULLS THE CORD FROM HIS POCKET, READY TO STRANGLE HER. I give Stine credit for not trying to keep up the ‘is it Sparks or is it Will?’ mystery. Before he can strangle her, though, another car shows up. Thank God for horny teenagers. But then Chelsea suggests they go back to her house, as they will be alone. Not so shy anymore, eh Chelsea?

They get to her house and start to make out on the couch. Will pulls out the cord again but Chelsea declares she’s making hot cocoa and walks to the kitchen, blissfully unaware that her cold feet have saved her from death again. Will tries to sneak up behind her and strangle her, but then the doorbell rings!!! COCK BLOCKED AGAIN, JERK! Chelsea goes to the door and sees Nina there, sobbing over her boyfriend. For once it’s good that Nina thought only of herself, because Will gives up and runs out the backdoor.

The next day Will calls and Chelsea asks where he ran off to. He claims he called to her a ‘goodnight!’ before leaving, and asks her out for that evening. She says she can’t, but then suggests he meet her after her shift the next night. He says it’s a date. Then the doorbell rings, and Chelsea is face to face with an FBI agent named Martin. Agent Martin tells her that they are looking for a young man with curly black hair and a good build who may be new to the area. When she asks if he may be dangerous, and he says yes, she rats on Sparks, because OBVIOUSLY he’s the one who it has to be! She tells him everything about Sparks and he thanks her, telling her to be careful. At school the next day she and Nina talk about Will and Chelsea can’t wait to see him that night.

At the diner, Chelsea is worried that Sparks may come in, and is jumpy throughout her whole shift. As it gets close to closing, Ernie disappears AGAIN, and Sparks comes in right at the last minute. Drunk as a skunk, and unfortunately he’s an aggressive drunk who keeps asking her to come here. She freaks and runs for the kitchen, and Sparks follows trying to tell her he was just joking. He manages to burn his hand pretty badly on the stove, and while he’s writhing in pain Chelsea calls Agent Martin and asks if he will come and also send an ambulance. After Sparks is taken away, Chelsea is relieved to see that Will has finally arrived.

They got back to her house, and snuggle on the couch. Chelsea admits that she didn’t keep their date a secret, and that she told Nina all about it. That’s a big wrench in Will’s plan!!! But no matter, he’ll just kill them both. He tells Chelsea to invite Nina over RIGHT NOW so he can meet her, and Chelsea does so straight away. Nina is game. But then the phone rings, and it’s Agent Martin telling Chelsea that Sparks isn’t the guy that they are looking for…. and Chelsea FINALLY puts two and two together. WILL IS THE ONE THEY’RE LOOKING FOR! She tells Martin that he’s in the house with her, and he tells her to just get out and go. She starts to, but remembers that Nina’s coming over! She runs out hoping to intercept Nina or the FBI, but unfortunately she intercepts Will. She tells him she knows who he is, and he attacks her with the cord, wrapping it around her neck until she struggles no more. He assumes she’s dead, and remembers that Nina is coming too, she he drags Chelsea’s body into the house and waits. When Nina arrives he makes small talk, and then attacks her with the cord. He chases her into the kitchen when she pulls free, and hits her with a vase. BEfore he can deal any fatal blows, he gets yanked back, and sees that CHELSEA IS THERE! He has another ‘BUT I KILLED YOU’ moment that Stine and Verhoeven alike are so fond of, and Chelsea fights him off long enough for the FBI to show up and arrest him. Chelsea explains that she plays the saxophone, and can hold her breath for a looooong time.

Chelsea goes to visit poor Sparks in the hospital. His hand is pretty messed up but he’s expected to make a full recovery. After some awkward apologies on both ends, Sparks asks her out on a date. And she says “It’s bound to be better than my FIRST date!”

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I mean, probably, but that’s a low bar, Chelsea. (source)

Body Count: 2. Poor Candy right out the gate and that poor sweet kitten. And probably countless other girls off page.

Romance Rating: Uh, 1. Because Will/Joe/Lonnie/Whoever was trying to kill Chelsea the whole time and Sparks is kind of a prick.

Bonkers Rating: 4. The random robbery at the beginning was pretty crazy and unexpected, I suppose, but otherwise it wasn’t very shocking.

Fear Street Relevance: 5. Chelsea lives on Fear Street and we once again get some references to what a kooky place it is. But Will isn’t even from Shadyside, much less Fear Street!

Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:

“She gasped when she saw an enormous, hulking man in a dark trench coat on her stoop. His face was nearly pressed against the glass of the storm door, staring down at her with the coldest eyes she had ever seen.”

… And then it’s the pretty decent and sweet Agent Martin. The only guy we can fully trust in this book who isn’t incapacitated.

That’s So Dated! Moments: Sadly, this was one of the updated “Fear Street” books, and because of that the really dated things were taken out and replaced with new things (a movie starring Will Ferrell… but also the Quaid Brothers, so huh?). But there was one thing: a reference to watching music videos on MTV. May they rest in peace, those music videos.

Best Quote:

“‘Frankly your looks are great. It’s your personality I’m not crazy about,’ her mother said, doing her impression of a stand-up comic.”

DAMN, Mrs. Richards!!

Conclusion: “First Date” was pretty lame and predictable, though some of the characters I had a soft spot for. Up next is “The Best Friend”. 

 

Movin’ Right Along: Favorite Traveling Stories!

Over the week of Labor Day, both of us went on week long adventures and vacations. Serena went to Glacier National Park for family and the outdoors, while Kate went to New Zealand for hobbits and landscape appreciation! In honor of our trips, we have complied a list of books that have to do with traveling and vacationing. Just because summer is almost over, it doesn’t mean that we have to say goodbye to travel and trips!

172732Book: “The Motorcycle Diaries” by Ernesto “Che” Guevara

Publishing Info: Verso Books, 1995

Before Che Guevara became a legendary revolutionary and symbol of rebellion, he was a medical student with a taste for adventure. He and his friend Alberto went on a motorcycle journey from his home in Argentina to a leper colony where he was going to treat patients. During this journey across the continent he met many people from many backgrounds, and seeing their plight sparked his political activism. His journey on his motorcycle is chronicled in his diary, which was published years after the fact and became a critically acclaimed movie starring Gael Garcia Bernal. South America comes to life on the page as Guevara’s journey unfolds, and it makes the reader ache to see what he saw.

9791Book: “A Walk in the Woods” by Bill Bryson

Publishing Info: Broadway Books, 1998

Those familiar with Bill Bryson know that he’s an avid traveler and a connoisseur in history and storytelling. Arguably, his most famous and beloved work is “A Walk in the Woods”, his story of his attempt at walking the Appalachian Trail with very little prep and very little idea of what he was getting himself into. After putting out feelers to the people in life as to who would like to try and walk the Trail with him, his only taker is an old college friend named Katz. Hilarity, mayhem, and poignancy ensue. This travel log is not only very funny, but also has some fascinating stories about the history of the trail, the wildlife on it, and the people they meet along the way.

29283884Book: “A Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue” by Mackenzi Lee

Publishing Info: Katherine Tegan Books, 2017

Part romantic romp, part historical fiction, and part sumptuous road trip adventure, “The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue” is not your average travel story.  Monty, a teenage boy of high stature in the 1700s, is going on a final European Tour before he is to settle down and take over the family estate. Accompanied by his sister Felicity and his best friend (and unrequited crush) Percy, Monty cavorts through 1700s Europe, meeting interesting people, and getting into trouble, along the way. The descriptions of this trip are fun and decadent, and you cannot help but wish that you too could be accompanying them through Old Europe and the adventures that they pursue.

10692Book: “The Historian” by Elizabeth Kostova

Publishing Info: Time Warner Books, 2005

On the surface level, this is presented as a horror story relating to Vlad the Impaler who is most notoriously known for inspiring Bram Stoker’s “Dracula, and the legacy that he and this most famous vampire have left across the centuries. In particular, how is this history tied up with Rossi family, the central characters of our story? However, more actually, it is a travelogue story detailing the rich history of Eastern Europe. A family mystery leads our two protagonists throughout the region, and the text takes a deep dive into the beauty of its wildernesses and cities. This book will make you want to suddenly upend your life and take a month-long trip to Budapest.

865Book: “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho

Publishing Info: HarperCollins, 1988

This is the story of a treasure hunt. But instead of pirates, islands, and maps marked with an “X,” we follow Santiago, an Andalusian shepherd boy who travels from his home in Spain across the desert in Egypt to discover a hidden treasure said to be buried in the pyramids. However, no one knows what exactly this treasure is. As he travels and meets new and interesting people (a gypsy woman, a would-be King, the titular alchemist), we come to see that the real treasure is the value placed on dreams and the will to follow them wherever they may lead us.

45546Book: “Undaunted Courage: The Pioneering First Mission to Explore America’s Wild Frontier” by Stephen E. Ambrose

Publishing Info: Simon & Schuster, 1996

This is a nonfiction story that is masquerading as fiction and details the historic journey across the country by Lewis and Clark between 1803 and 1806. Ambrose focuses his tale particularly on Captain Meriwether Lewis and his relationship with President Jefferson, the driving force behind the mission. While many of us know the broad strokes of the story, this book is jammed packed with details that add color, heart, and rightly highlight the real stakes involved in undertaking a journey such as this. For example, did you know that at this point in history, the wilderness was so overrun by squirrels that they would actually migrate each year, in a similar manner to birds? And Lewis and Clark noted seeing packs of them swim across rivers in this migration? As a largely fiction reader, this is on a select must-read nonfiction list!

 

The Great Animorphs Re-Read #15: “The Escape”

363355Animorphs #15: “The Escape” by K.A. Applegate

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, January 1998

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: Almost nothing could be as bad as finding out your mother is Visser One. The most powerful of all Vissers. The leader of the Yeerk invasion of Earth. But it happened to Marco. And even though he’s been handling it pretty well, he knew there’d come a time when he’d have to face her again. Knowing that the Yeerk in her brain had taken his mother away.

So when Marco, the other Animorphs, and Ax discover that Visser One is overseeing a secret underwater project, they know they have to check it out. But Marco’s not sure if this is a battle he’ll be able to fight….

Narrator: Marco

Plot: In what is now becoming the usual “save the animals” opening scene of many of these stories, we see Marco and crew in the mall on a mission to morph parrots at the Rain Forest Cafe in an attempt to discourage them using live birds going forward. Obviously, this was Cassie’s plan. After making enough of a nuisance of themselves to get the job done (think parrots spewing vulgarities at customers in line), Marco and Jake run into Erek, our friendly Chee insider, on the way out who informs them that the Yeerks are up to no good. It seems that the Yeerks are trying to take over a world populated by psychic water aliens called Leerans. Obviously, this would be disastrous for the Animorphs, since psychic Controllers could see through their morphs instantly. What’s more, the base of operations, located out in the ocean, deep underwater, is being run by none other than Visser One, Marco’s Controlled mom.

They decide to check it out in dolphin morph. Problem being, Tobias with his new morphing ability, doesn’t have a dolphin morph. This leads to a little scene of them all trekking off to The Gardens where Tobias has to dive bomb a dolphin in hawk morph to try and acquire its DNA. He ends up getting his talons stuck in the dolphin’s skin and is only saved from drowning by a well-timed controlled crash by seagull!Marco.

All morphed dolphins, and Ax as a shark, the crew zero in on the underwater compound. They are quickly surrounded by a crew of hammer head sharks. Bizarrely, the sharks seem to be operating as a pack. Marco, having been almost bit in half by a shark back in book 4, is understandably more panicked than the rest and quickly gets out of there, followed by the others.

Knowing they still need to get into the compound somehow, the Animorphs make their way to the new aquatic center in town which has hammer head sharks. They go at night, but through a few mishaps, Ax is spotted by a Controller guard on duty. They attempt to escape, eventually resorting to having Ax tail swipe away the glass holding in the massive aquarium. Marco barely escapes being eaten by a hammer head, subduing it by acquiring its DNA. The others follow suit.

Marco goes a bit nuts about the fact that he was the first to run back when they were dolphins. The appeal of the fearlessness of the shark overtakes him and he foolishly tries to morph shark in the school pool. He’s interrupted by a pair of bullies who start mocking him and taking jabs at his mom. He’s only saved (from attacking them or discovery) by Jake who shows up and calms things down.

Back in the ocean, this time morphed as sharks, the group make their way into the compound, following the other sharks. They find themselves trapped in a queue that is injecting things into the sharks’ heads that they guess is what the Yeerks are using to control the sharks. Unable to escape, they all are injected as well. It’s only later when they demorph and try to morph fly to more easily make their way around the compound that they realize what’s happened: Yeerk trackers/control devices have been implanted into their heads, preventing them from morphing small animals whose skull cavities can’t fit the tracker. Instantly, somehow getting rid of these trackers becomes the new priority.

The group splits up. Rachel, Cassie, and Jake go battle morph to provide a distraction. Ax, Tobias, and Marco make their way further into the compound to try and find a solution. They discover that there is a fail safe built into the compound that would dissolve the trackers if the compound itself was destroyed. Marco gets discovered by Visser One, but is able to trick her into believing that he is a Controller computer technician who was sent to work on the compound. Escaping from her, he re-joins Ax and Tobias. Ax sets the computer to auto-destruct, and the group re-joins the others to fight.

Visser Three conveniently shows up in a massive snake morph. A mad battle takes place between the Animorphs, the Controllers, and Visser Three and Visser One in the background. A Leeran shows up and tries to tell the Vissers that the morphed beings are humans. Visser One dismisses this, thinking the Leeran has confused Marco’s gorilla morph for a human, since the two are closely related.

Visser One manages to suspend the countdown for the self-destruct, prompting Rachel and Ax to go after her. Rachel is about to kill her when Marco yells for her to stop, admitting that Visser One is his mother. Ax knocks Visser One out instead. Still desperate to destroy the compound, Marco throws a chair through the glass wall, cracking it and sending the Yeerks running for cover.  The Animorphs escape, with Marco thinking he sentenced his mother to death, and now knowing that the entire group will know his mother was/is Visser One. As they swim away, Rachel claims to hear a sub whirring away from the area, possibly containing Visser One. Marco accepts the hope this offers, renewing his drive to fight to free his mother in the future.

The Comic Relief: Have I mentioned that I love Marco books? He just has so much depth as a character. Not only is he just as witty as a narrator as he is as a supporting character in the other books, but there are many real issues that he deals with and brings to his stories, the biggest of which is obviously the struggle with his mother.

But here we also had a few other things that he goes through. One has to do with the fact that he ran first from the sharks. It’s a nice call back to the fact that they all never fully recover from the trauma inflicted on them in all of these fights. He was almost bit in half by a shark; that’s bound to stick with you. And the fact that he is then drawn to the fearlessness of the shark as a way to deal with his insecurities about his own bravery is just excellent.

He’s also very self-aware as a character, and the fact that he’s the most analytical of the group is on full display. Both he and Jake have Controllers in their family, but Marco is the only one who has fully thought out what saving this person would really cost (at least as far as we know, Jake hasn’t mentioned most of this). He goes over the fact that if he saved her the Yeerks wouldn’t just let it go:, they’d be tracked, likely discovered, and the all of the other Animorphs would be discovered and the war lost. Knowing this, even though he fights to save her, he doesn’t know how it will ever be possible.

He also is very practical even through all the pain of confronting his mother, constantly fighting the urge to alert her and reassure her that he’s fighting to save her.

And I’m not someone who does emotional, stupid things. Sometimes I wish I were.

Lastly, when it counts, Marco does the right thing, no matter the personal cost. This practical weighing of odds, of personal issues and the good of everyone else, leads him to destroying the compound, not knowing if his mother will make it out alive. I’m not sure any other character could have done this (maybe Rachel, but she would have done it from a very different emotional place).

As I’ve said before and will probably keep repeating, Marco is the character I would aspire to be in this series.

Our Fearless Leader: There are a few notable moments between Jake and Marco. First, when they all go to The Gardens for Tobias to get a dolphin morph, March impetuously decides to snag a ride on a roller coaster while in seagull morph, pulling Jake along with him. It’s a small moment of pure fun between two best friends. And, in a moment of rare vulnerability afterwards, Marco asks Jake whether they’re still the same, even after it all, deep down. (Clearly he’s also thinking about whether his mom is still his mom even after being a Controller for so many years).

The second moment is the reinforcement of the fact that Jake must be known at their high school as the bully repeller. We know that he saved Tobias from bullying, and when Marco is being made fun of by the bullies at the pool, Jake steps in once again. Jake has to be a fairly popular guy at this school, what with all of these good deeds and his ability to control bullies.

Jake also provides most of the support for Marco throughout this book as the only one who knows the truth about Visser One until the end where it becomes more broadly known.

Xena, Warriar Princess: Rachel doesn’t do a lot in this book, other than be gung ho in her usual semi-crazy way. She’s all for it when Marco suggests splitting into groups with one group morphing battle morphs and providing a distraction.

Naturally, Rachel agreeing with me convinced me I was obviously wrong.

Yeah, right Marco! We’ve seen him base too many decisions on what Rachel decides to do to believe this! In the end, it’s also Rachel who “hears” the sub leaving the collapsing compound (obviously Visser One escapes, but it’s never clear whether Rachel really did hear this or is just providing comfort for Marco), providing hope for Marco that his mother escaped. My secret (not secret) alt-universe shipping of these two continues.

A Hawk’s Life: Poor Tobias and the dolphin incident! Not only is the dude already scared of water, but here he has to somehow acquire a dolphin while in hawk morph! And then gets stuck and ends up going on the worst dolphin roller coaster ride of his life. It’s no wonder that after it all, he’s a bit grumpy. And when Cassie starts fretting about how the dolphin is doing, we get this little exchange:

<Well, as long as the dolphin is okay,> Tobias said. <Because I really, really hope the dolphin is okay.>
<Are you going to be sarcastic the rest of the day?> I asked him.
<Yes. I am going to be sarcastic the rest of the day. I nearly drowned. Now I’m going to go become the thing that nearly drowned me. I will be sarcastic until further notice.>

Sarcastic Tobias is a great Tobias.

Peace, Love, and Animals: Jake seems much more willing to go along on these little side missions when Cassie is the one coming up with them… When they’re all morphed as parrots saying ridiculous things to scare off customers, Cassie comes up with:

“Squuaaakkk! We should be flying free in our native habitat!”

Because of course she does. She, along with Marco, proves yet again that she’s one of the two more perceptive members of the group, quickly picking up on Tobias’s lack of enthusiasm to morph dolphin and his fear of water.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Marco’s introductions of characters are always the best of all the narrators. With Ax, we first meet him when he’s in human morph during the parrot mission, and Marco describes him and his food obsession thusly:

Ax would trade a Cinnabon for the Mona Lisa, straight across.

Ax also has a lot of knowledge about the Leeran race. He hacks the computer in the underwater compound to set it to auto-destruct, all while, of course, making many arrogant Andalite comments about superiority and such.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: The bit when Marco starts morphing fly and experiencing head pain, only to see Rachel shrinking and the device pushing through her head. Ick.

Couples Watch!: Not a whole lot. Towards the end, when the group is split up in the underwater compound, Tobias is pretty stressed about the delay in accessing the computer, snapping at Ax to hurry up so that they can join Rachel and the others who they can hear fighting in their battle morphs. He’s clearly worrying about her.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: The Visser drama continues! Visser One and Visser Three’s ongoing bitch fight is always a joy. Here, Marco essentially describes the complete and utter bizarreness of the scenario in the underwater compound when these two run into each other. There’s a massive battle going on all around them between “Andalite warriors” and their Controller underlings, but all they care about is sniping at each other in the middle of the room.

Also, when Marco is in is one-on-one with Visser One posing as a Controller computer technician, he claims that Visser Three killed the other three technicians who were supposedly meant to be accompanying him. Visser One is not at all surprised that this could be the case. Clearly, Visser Three has a bit of a reputation in this area.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Marco books always deliver a big dose of the sads. For some reason, his mother being a Controller always strikes me as more tragic than Jake’s brother. Probably because Marco already grieved her death, and then got her back in the worst way, knowing she’s a Controller for Visser One. Here, when Marco is alone with Visser One, he has to fake being a Controller himself. At one point, the Visser comments that Marco needs to get better Control of his host body; her host is currently screaming and crying in her head, but she still has complete Control. This is so tragic because not only does poor Marco’s mom have to deal with being Controlled by Visser One, but she now thinks her son has been taken as well. This just has to sap away whatever small bits of hope remain to her.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!:  It’s not so much a terrible plan, as an “obviously flawed, but necessary course of action.” This is the first time we’re really seeing the challenges posed by Tobias’s new morphing ability and the fact that he needs to acquire DNA as a hawk. So, the dolphin was always going to be a problem. What I don’t get is why the hell they decided to go about this in broad daylight with a park full of people?? In the past, they’ve often snuck into The Gardens at night to get their morphs. So why they would choose to do this, the most obtrusive DNA acquisition they have ever attempted, in the middle of the day is beyond me.  Actual quote from the book right as Tobias is dive-bombing the poor dolphin:

<Um … is this stupid?> Cassie asked, way too late.

Favorite Quote:

This is a really long quote, but it’s probably the one and only quote that I’ve always remembered from this series and even referenced a few time over the years. I knew it was in a Marco book somewhere, so I was thrilled to see it pop up here:

See, I’ve always believed that to some extent you get to decide for yourself what your life will be like. You can either look at the world and say, “Oh, isn’t it all so tragic, so grim, so awful.” Or you can look at the world and decide that it’s mostly funny. If you step back far enough from the details, everything gets funny. You say war is tragic. I say, isn’t it crazy the way people will fight over nothing? People fight wars to control crappy little patches of empty desert, for crying out loud. It’s like fighting over an empty soda can. It’s not so much tragic as it is ridiculous. Asinine! Stupid! You say, isn’t it terrible about global warming? And I say, no, it’s funny. We’re going to bring on global warming because we ran too many leaky air conditioners? We used too much spray deodorant, so now we’ll be doomed to sweat forever? That’s not sad. That’s irony. Note to Alanis: That is ironic. Humor kind of breaks down when the tragedy gets up close and personal.

On a more light-hearted and brief note, Marco had this to say to Erek in the beginning when he and Jake agreed to do something about the Yeerks’ goals to capture the Leerans:

I shrugged. “We like to keep busy. It’s either rescue entire races or play Nintendo.”

Scorecard: Yeerks 3, Animorphs 7

A point for the Animorphs…I guess? I mean, they mostly destroyed the compound to simply undo the head implant situation that they foolishly got themselves into, but it was still a blow against the Yeerks.

Rating: Loved it! There was so much great character building stuff for Marco, and now the secret of his mother is out to the rest of the group, so it will be interesting to see how this plays out going forward.

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 Changeling”

31147267Book: “The Changeling” by Victor LaValle

Publishing Info: Spiegel & Grau, June 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: One man’s thrilling journey through an enchanted world to find his wife, who has disappeared after seemingly committing an unforgiveable act of violence, from the award-winning author of the The Devil in Silver and Big Machine. Apollo Kagwa has had strange dreams that have haunted him since childhood. An antiquarian book dealer with a business called Improbabilia, he is just beginning to settle into his new life as a committed and involved father, unlike his own father who abandoned him, when his wife Emma begins acting strange. Disconnected and uninterested in their new baby boy, Emma at first seems to be exhibiting all the signs of post-partum depression, but it quickly becomes clear that her troubles go far beyond that. Before Apollo can do anything to help, Emma commits a horrific act—beyond any parent’s comprehension—and vanishes, seemingly into thin air. 

Thus begins Apollo’s odyssey through a world he only thought he understood to find a wife and child who are nothing like he’d imagined. His quest begins when he meets a mysterious stranger who claims to have information about Emma’s whereabouts. Apollo then begins a journey that takes him to a forgotten island in the East River of New York City, a graveyard full of secrets, a forest in Queens where immigrant legends still live, and finally back to a place he thought he had lost forever. This dizzying tale is ultimately a story about family and the unfathomable secrets of the people we love.

Review: Victor LaValle is one of our most under-appreciated dark fantasy/horror writers today, and I say this with conviction. Everything I have read by him I have really enjoyed. I was sufficiently creeped out by “The Devil in Silver” and deeply fascinated by his Lovecraft deconstruction “The Ballad of Black Tom”. And now I come to his newest book, “The Changeling”. Changelings, as I’m sure you may know, were a superstition that people back in the day had, in which a fairy or other kind of creature would kidnap a child and leave an imposter, or ‘changeling’, in it’s place. This concept no doubt led to a lot of abuse, cruelty, and murder towards children over the years, specifically those with developmental disabilities. Nowadays we just think of them as folklore, seen in books like “Outside Over There”, or as metaphors like in the movie “The Changeling” with Angelina Jolie. But LaValle has taken the changeling myth and given it a new, dark story that I deeply enjoyed.

One of the many things I liked about “The Changeling” is that it really kept me guessing as I read it. While it’s true that at the end of the day I knew that yes, this HAD to have supernatural elements to it, it also made me think about the very real issue of post-partum depression and the pressure on new parents, mothers in particular, to be great at it right from the start. If this book had been about an untreated mental illness and the tragedies that can happen because of it, LaValle would have told a sensitive and thoughtful story about tragedies that we just don’t like to talk about or acknowledge. Even though it was fantasy, so many elements of it felt incredibly real and plausible, from the horrors of modern technology making us less safe than we can imagine, to the struggles new parents face from family, society, and themselves. He also does a great job incorporating themes of race and gender into this story, with racism and misogyny being underlying and indirect villains towards Apollo and Emma alike. So many real world horrors come into this book and yet all have a dreamy sort of air about them, and it left me feeling under a spell as well as on edge.

There is also a lovely theme in this book that has to do with books and storytelling. Apollo is not only a book dealer, he is greatly attached to a copy of the book “Outside Over There”, one of the few things that his father left for him before he up and vanished. Apollo’s love for this book about a girl who needs to save her baby sister from those that stole her away may seem a bit on the nose for the story, but the other themes of paternal abandonment and parental failure and anxiety are also present. Apollo’s father wasn’t there for him, much like Ida’s father is away. Apollo’s love for his child blinds him when things may not be what they seem, just as Ida’s love for her sister blinded her. Parental failings and anxieties both in “Outside Over There” and “The Changeling” dance between the pages, as Ida has to grow up fast when her mother isn’t there for her emotionally and Apollo has to grow up fast when his mother can’t be there for him physically. Even New York becomes a dreamy fairy world you can’t quite trust, just like the world of Outside Over there, which Ida falls into when she starts her journey going out the window the wrong way. And there are fair reminders in this book that trolls are no longer just mystical creatures that want to eat up children, but are very real dangers in a world where your life is online for the entire world to see. That kind of felt heavy-handed at times, but overall it was just another clever way to update our fairy tale for an NYC setting.

I think that if I had a quibble with it, it would be that it was mostly from a male point of view. I would have liked to have seen some of Emma’s journey as well. I understand that revealing her secrets was another subversion of fairy tales and the roles that women are held to (damsels or witches), but I think that her own path would have been highly enjoyable to read.

A haunting and breathtaking story, “The Changeling” is dark and sad, but also hopeful and vibrant. If you want a modern and dark fairy tale, this book should be one that you put on your ‘to read’ list.

Rating 8: A complex and dark fairy tale, “The Changeling” is a beautiful and striking work of dark fantasy/horror with a modern twist and a relevant commentary.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Changeling” is included on the Gooreads lists “Beautifully Disturbing”, and “2017 SFF by Authors of Color”.

Find “The Changeling” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Rebel Angels”

51428Book: “Rebel Angels” by LIbba Bray

Publishing Info: Ember, December 2006

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

Book Description: Ah, Christmas! Gemma Doyle is looking forward to a holiday from Spence Academy, spending time with her friends in the city, attending ritzy balls, and on a somber note, tending to her ailing father. As she prepares to ring in the New Year, 1896, a handsome young man, Lord Denby, has set his sights on Gemma, or so it seems. Yet amidst the distractions of London, Gemma’s visions intensify–visions of three girls dressed in white, to whom something horrific has happened, something only the realms can explain…

The lure is strong, and before long, Gemma, Felicity, and Ann are turning flowers into butterflies in the enchanted world of the realms that Gemma alone can bring them to. To the girls’ great joy, their beloved Pippa is there as well, eager to complete their circle of friendship.

But all is not well in the realms–or out. The mysterious Kartik has reappeared, telling Gemma she must find the Temple and bind the magic, else great disaster will befall her. Gemma’s willing to do his intrusive bidding, despite the dangers it brings, for it means she will meet up with her mother’s greatest friend–and now her foe, Circe. Until Circe is destroyed, Gemma cannot live out her destiny. But finding Circe proves a most perilous task.

Spoilers for “A Great and Terrible Beauty”

Review: Oof, this review, it’s going to be tough. It seems that “Rebel Angels” is widely believed to be the stronger book of the first two in Bray’s “Gemma Doyle” series. But man, I had some problems with this one.

But first, the good. There is no questioning Bray’s strength as a writer. The dialogue is always excellent, the descriptions of Victorian London are spot on. She includes many historical details that keep the atmosphere rich and poignant, and she’s mastered writing her action set pieces, something that was perhaps lacking in the first book. Further, the stakes have been raised in this book. Gemma, Felicity, and Anne have experienced real hardship with the death of their friend Pippa. And Circe, Gemma’s mother’s murderer, seems to circle ever nearer throughout this story. I enjoyed the expansion of both the “real world” setting, moving the story out from the walls of Spence Academy and into the social workings of London itself, as well as that of the Realms. We get to move beyond the perfectly lovely Garden and begin to see that now that the magic is released, things aren’t quite right in this magical land. Further, they might not have been right even before when the Order was in power.

So, there you go. This is a long book (a mark against it, really, since I think Bray could have used an editor to help trim this book up in places), but the writing and general plotting of the story are strong and got me through it. And considering my list of complaints to come, getting through it in a timely manner is actually a big mark in…something’s favor.

First off, the characters. As I said, there were some serious happenings in the first book. Pippa died. Felicity (and Anne in following her) did some truly awful things in the pursuit of power. It was made clear that the Realms weren’t all pretty flowers and magical powers with no strings attached. With this all, characters needed to grow! Other than mourning Pippa’s death, the threesome of girls quickly falls into the exact same pattern of behavior they exhibited in the first book as if they had learned absolutely nothing.

Felicity continues to bully Gemma into making bad decisions with the Realms, behaving as if it is still the free-for-all they had first supposed it to be, as if she hadn’t sacrificed a deer bare-handed in the previous book only to come this close to becoming a dark denizen herself. She routinely advises Gemma to ignore warnings and plays hot and cold with her friendship. You’d think that after coming through together what was experienced in the first book there would be a real foundation of friendship. Instead, we continue to see examples of a “mean girl” who only cares for Gemma when it is convenient. This doesn’t speak well to Gemma’s character either for tolerating such one-sided friendships (Anne has similar issues, siding with Felicity in all of her worst moments and never giving anything back to Gemma to justify Gemma’s continued loyalty).

Further, about half way through the story Bray introduces a dark backstory for Felicity with regards to her family. I have mixed feelings on this as I do think in many ways it was handled very well. But it was also used as a magic wand to somehow excuse Felicity’s behavior, which I don’t agree with. Further, after showing up briefly, there are many implications that are never fully addressed, which leaves the whole situation feeling all too close to a “plot convenience” which doesn’t sit well at all.

Anne has changed not at all. If anything, her character’s uselessness is doubled down upon. She has gained no bravery, no sense of self worth, and has actually actively stepped back into bad behaviors (self harm) that much time was spent on overcoming in the first book. Why was our time wasted then if she wasn’t going to improve at all here? And in this book, I can’t think of a single time when she truly aided the group. She was nothing more than dead weight throughout the entire story, and has now been given almost every negative stereotype a character like her can have, and gained none of the the strengths one would expect from a character moving beyond and through these set backs. Halfway through the book she ends up in a dangerous situation, and I was openly rooting for her to just be written out of the book. Alas, no.

And Gemma. The problems with Gemma aren’t even character problems. For the most part, I still very much like her as a leading lady. Unlike the other two, she has more sides to her that fully flesh her out and make her character arc interesting to follow. And while she does seem to grow throughout this book, there is the same problem from the previous to this: she has learned nothing! She naively believes everything that is told to her by every single person, even when she has explicitly been warned against this. Told not to trust anyone in the Realms? She immediately trusts EVERY SINGLE PERSON SHE MEETS. Oh, here’s a girl who was in the Order before and has made herself “mad” to avoid Cerci? Let’s NOT believe anything she has to say. It’s endlessly frustrating.

What’s more, the story opens with the reader witnessing a scene that explicitly makes it clear that a few characters are set against Gemma from the start. But then we have to go through an entire book watching her naively work with these characters. So not only is Gemma herself frustratingly naive to follow, making all of the wrong decisions for no good reason, but the reader is already set ahead of her, knowing more than she does from the start and yet still stuck in her ignorance. For any canny reader, the “twists” could be spotted a mile away which just makes it all the more frustrating watching Gemma and Co. struggle on. When she finally does realize things, there isn’t any breath of relief. You’re already 100 pages past that stage and simply want to smack her for not getting it earlier. Her following morose is all the more infuriating.

And lastly, the third member of the love triangle (you know it’s bad when the presence of a love triangle hasn’t even made the cut for my list of things to vent about) is essentially a date rapist and THIS IS NEVER ADDRESSED. He tries to get Gemma away from the others at a ball, and when this doesn’t work, he gets her drunk on absinthe, and then lures her to a remote part of the house and begins seducing her. They’re only interrupted by one of her visions which scares him out of it. And then the whole thing is forgotten, other than Gemma being embarrassed by her own behavior mid-vision!

There is zero discussion about this man’s intentions, the wrongness of his drugging her and attempting to seduce her, or anything. He continues to be a romantic interest! For a book, and author, that makes a big deal about talking about feminist and societal issues, I honestly couldn’t believe what I was reading. I kept waiting for the admonitions to role in, for Gemma to realize what a scumbag this guy was, for anything! There was nothing. It was left as if nothing had happened, he had done no wrong, and Gemma’s only concern was the worry that her own behavior would put him off. There’s no excuse for this. For young women reading this book, they are left with a scene like this presented as ordinary, ok, and not worth revisiting other than potentially shaming the girl caught up in it for getting too drunk and putting off the potential husband.

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So, it’s clear I had a lot of feelings about this book. For as many complaints as I had, I do feel compelled to finish the series, if only to see where Bray ends up leaving her characters in the end. Again, a lot happened in this book and you’d expect some character growth to come out of it, for us to have new versions of the same characters in the next book. But I had that expectation for this book and was utterly disappointed, so I’m not holding out hope. My prediction is that they will all behave the same exact way for way too many pages. I guess we’ll find out.

Rating 4: Complete lack of character growth and some very irresponsible messages leave this book as a disappointment.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Rebel Angels” is included on the Goodreads lists “Victorian YA Novels” and “Private School Paranormals.”

Find “Rebel Angels” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously Reviewed: “A Great and Terrible Beauty”

 

 

Kate’s Review and Giveaway: “Genuine Fraud”

33843362Book: “Genuine Fraud” by E. Lockhart

Publishing Info: Delacorte Press, September 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: An ARC from the publisher at ALA.

Book Description: The story of a young woman whose diabolical smarts are her ticket into a charmed life. But how many times can someone reinvent themselves? You be the judge.

Imogen is a runaway heiress, an orphan, a cook, and a cheat.
Jule is a fighter, a social chameleon, and an athlete. 
An intense friendship. A disappearance. A murder, or maybe two. 
A bad romance, or maybe three.
Blunt objects, disguises, blood, and chocolate. The American dream, superheroes, spies, and villains. 
A girl who refuses to give people what they want from her.
A girl who refuses to be the person she once was.

Review: I mentioned a book on this blog this summer called “The Talented Mr. Ripley”. It’s a deeply unsettling thriller about a man named Tom Ripley who befriends a wealthy playboy, only to kill him and take on his identity. It’s super messed up and a very fun read, and I think that many of the more recent psychopaths as protagonists characters owe a lot to Patricia Highsmith, who created the character. So when I started to read “Genuine Fraud” by E. Lockhart, it didn’t take long for me to pick up on the fact that this book is a genderbent version of that story. Throw in a little bit of timeline tweaking that starts at the end for good measure, and you have the newest novel from the author of “We Were Liars”, with more coastal scenes and protagonists that you aren’t sure that you can really trust.

I do like it when YA authors experiment with structure and plotting, so to see that it started at the end was a great way to start this book. We start with Jule, who has taken on the identity of her best friend Imogen, a flighty heiress who was as aimless as she was charming. We don’t know what happened to Imogen, only that she is dead, and Jule is pretending to be her. Just as it seems she’s about to be arrested for some sort of crime (fraud? something worse?), we go backwards in time. And then we go further backwards. As we go back more and more, the pieces start to come into place, not only about who Jule is, who Imogen was, how they found each other, and how everything went wrong… plus the collateral damage along the way. We kind of get a sense for Jule and who she is, but she is definitely the definition of unreliable. Things that are said about her may not be the truth, and certainly things she tells other people probably aren’t. The backwards structure was a really neat way to get some of the facts, foreshadowing to events that happened before the moment that you are reading about. You forge thoughts and attitudes towards characters, but then as you shift backwards through the story your attitude changes and you see them in completely new ways. The more I see this device, the more I come to appreciate it, to be sure. It also made it so that I had a hard time putting this book down, needing to take any down time to keep going to find out what happened. It was such a fast and engrossing read that I consumed most of it in one sitting, and then stayed up probably far too late, battling sleep, just to see how it all turned out. There is no denying that the pacing and the little smattering of clues throughout the pages made this a very fun read.

But the problem that I had with it is that it is most certainly borrowing a lot from “The Talented Mr. Ripley”. I’m sure that it’s meant to be an homage to this classic story of obsessive friendship, identity theft, and murder, but there were a number of parallels that felt more like lifting plot points instead of honoring them. The close friend who has always been suspicious of the interloper. The lover who is being played like a harp. The parent who reaches out because their child has ditched responsibility in favor of carelessness. An incident in a boat with an OAR (my God, this basically played out the same way in “Ripley” as it did here). The list goes on. For the target audience, that isn’t going to really make much of a difference. For them Imogen won’t be Dickie Greenleaf and Jule won’t be Tom Ripley, but in my mind I couldn’t separate the characters in this book from the ones that they appear to be modeled after. I think that perhaps if it had been made a bit more clear that this was, in fact, a genderbent retelling with a different structure I would have been more thrilled by it, but instead it was frustrating because I would always be thinking ‘well that was just what Highsmith did’.

All that said, it’s undeniable that “Genuine Fraud” was an entertaining read. Definitely the kind of book that will keep you guessing and keep you completely obsessed with it. I would be curious to see if Lockhart will be following it up with other stories about Jule. After all, since this is an homage to Tom Ripley, it’s important to note that he had a whole series dedicated to him and his exploits. I’d probably read more about Jule, just as I’ve always meant to with regards to Tom Ripley.

Rating 6: An addictive thriller that I ate up quickly. However, it feels less like an homage to “The Talented Mr. Ripley” and more like a copy in some ways.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Genuine Fraud” is brand new and isn’t on many Goodreads lists yet. But I think it would fit in on “Mistress of Disguise”, and “Dark Obsession and Stalker Books”.

Find “Genuine Fraud” at your library using WorldCat!

But you can have a chance at owning this book as well!! Because I’m giving this ARC away for free!!

Enter The Giveaway Here! 

September 2017 Highlights

School is starting! Granted, this means less than it did years ago, but one of us works in an academic library, so return of students is still kind of a big deal. The summer is closing out and fall is around the corner. Kate is more excited about this than Serena. But we both know how we’ll be spending the more chilly months when we’re locked indoors: reading some great books that are coming out soon!

Serena’s Picks:

32768509 Book: “Girls Made of Snow and Glass” by Melissa Bashardoust

Publication Date: September 5, 2017

Why I’m Interested: Yet another fairytale re-telling! But this version of Snow White is told from the perspective of both Snow White herself and her evil stepmother. But what makes someone good? And what makes someone evil? When marrying a king, Mina never meant to become a stepmother. But Mina is the only mother that Lynet has ever known. But when Lynet’s father sets her up as a ruler of the southern providence, Mina begins to see her own hopes of independence and rule slipping away. This sounds like it is very loosely based on the original tale, but that’s all the better!

32991569Book: “Jane, Unlimited” by Kristin Cashore

Publication Info: September 19, 2017

Why I’m Interested: I got this one signed by Kristin Cashore while at ALA this summer, and I’m very excited to finally read it! I loved “Graceling” and “Fire” and it’s been a while since she’s released something new. I heard her speak at a panel where she got a question from someone in the audience wondering whether the version she had read was complete. The answer was “yes.” So, I’m guessing that Cashore plays with narrative style quite a lot in this book. I, personally, enjoy non-traditional story-telling and unreliable narrators, so I’m excited to find out what prompted this question!

28524058Book: “Before She Ignites” by Jodi Meadows

Publishing Info: September 12, 2017

Why I’m Interested: Here, too, is an author who I’ve enjoyed in the past. This is the story of a girl whose been told she’s special and perfect since the day she was born. Rather than inspire egotism, however, this has only made Mira’s crippling anxiety worsen. When she discovers secrets that betray everything she’s ever known, her life will take a turn towards discovering dark and dangerous truths. I love the concept of turning the “special snowflake” YA heroine protagonist on its head, and if anyone is capable of pulling it off, its Meadows. This one’s already on the hold list for me at the library!

Kate’s Picks:

34273236Book: “Little Fires Everywhere” by Celeste Ng

Publishing Info: September 12th, 2017

Why I’m Interested: I really liked Ng’s previous novel, “Everything I Never Told You”, as it was not only a stunning and devastating literary novel about a teen’s death, it was also a meticulously pieced together mystery. I have been waiting eagerly for her newest book, “Little Fire’s Everywhere”, as it sounds like an examination of small town life and the ugliness that can come with it. True, it doesn’t really match up with the usual books that I blog about on here, but I love Ng’s writing so much that I couldn’t resist trying to get an ARC for it through NetGalley… and then totally succeeding. And besides, you all know how much I live for the dramatic stories of angst and potential backstabbing.

31556153Book: “Feral Youth” by Shaun David Hutchinson (editor)

Publishing Info: September 5th, 2017

Why I’m Interested: This is a collection of short stories written by a number of YA authors, a couple of whom I really, really like. This is a collection kind of inspired by “The Canterbury Tales”, only the twist is that the premise is that each story is written by a group of teens at a camp for troubled youth, who have been instructed to go into the wilderness and reflect through writing. This is an interesting enough premise in and of itself, but the real kicker for me is that both Brandy Colbert AND Stephanie Kuehn have contributed stories to this collection. And I love me some Brandy Colbert and Stephanie Kuehn, because it means that we have to potential to get some pretty dark and insightful stories from both of them.

34466922Book: “Sleeping Beauties” by Stephen King and Owen King

Publishing Info: September 26th, 2017

Why I’m Interested: Because duh. It’s a new work by Stephen King!! But along with that, it’s a joint project with his son Owen. Owen, like his father and his brother Joe Hill, is a writer in his own right, though unlike them he trends a bit lighter in his tone. This one sounds a bit more like a dystopic future, in which women of the world have succumbed to a sleeping disease. If disturbed, they turn incredibly violent and dangerous. There is one exception, a woman named Evie, who seems to be immune. Set inside the backdrop of a women’s prison, I have a feeling this book is going to be gritty and tense, just the way I like them.

What are you looking forward to this month? Let us know in the comments!