Kate’s Review: “Are You Sleeping”

30753570Book: “Are You Sleeping” by Kathleen Barber

Publishing Info: Gallery Books, August 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Serial meets Ruth Ware’s In A Dark, Dark Wood in this inventive and twisty psychological thriller about a mega-hit podcast that reopens a murder case—and threatens to unravel the carefully constructed life of the victim’s daughter.

The only thing more dangerous than a lie…is the truth.

Josie Buhrman has spent the last ten years trying to escape her family’s reputation and with good reason. After her father’s murder thirteen years prior, her mother ran away to join a cult and her twin sister Lanie, once Josie’s closest friend and confidant, betrayed her in an unimaginable way. Now, Josie has finally put down roots in New York, settling into domestic life with her partner Caleb, and that’s where she intends to stay. The only problem is that she has lied to Caleb about every detail of her past—starting with her last name.

When investigative reporter Poppy Parnell sets off a media firestorm with a mega-hit podcast that reopens the long-closed case of Josie’s father’s murder, Josie’s world begins to unravel. Meanwhile, the unexpected death of Josie’s long-absent mother forces her to return to her Midwestern hometown where she must confront the demons from her past—and the lies on which she has staked her future. 

Review: Like a lot of people, I was damn well obsessed with the podcast “Serial” when it aired it’s first season a few years ago. I had held off on listening to it for awhile, but then I gave in and was able to binge almost all of it over the course of a few days. As someone who has always been interested in true crime, the thought that someone may have gone to prison for a murder he didn’t commit, and that perhaps those around him may have known his innocence the whole time, I found the premise compelling. I know that some people found it ghoulish, as the podcast used the murder of Hae Min Lee as a framework for it’s investigation. Such grievances are raised in the novel “Are You Sleeping”, a debut from Kathleen Barber, and makes the reader look at it through the eyes of a murder victims family as old wounds are opened up for sensationalism and ‘entertainment’. I’ll admit I felt a little yucky with myself as I read this book. But I wasn’t just chastened; I was also sucked into the story of Josie, her twin sister Lanie, and the family that is still suffering from the fallout of the murder of the family patriarch.

The plot starts out common enough; Josie is living a happy life in New York with a genuinely good man named Caleb. But what Caleb doesn’t know is that Josie hasn’t told him about her past. Her father, Charles Berman, was shot in the head when she was a teenager, and her twin sister Lanie said that their Goth and rebellious neighbor Warren pulled the trigger. Shortly thereafter, their mother Erin ran off and joined a cult, and Josie split town as soon as she could and swore she’d never talk to her sister again, and never return. But then a popular podcast hosted by the duplicitous and fame hunger Poppy Parnell has started raising questions as to Warren’s guilt, and tragedy sweeps Josie back to her hometown, the secrets and lies she’s told her whole life starting to plague her. Pretty common fare for this kind of book. But what sets is aside from others I’ve read is that it makes use of the podcast format, as well as the social media frenzy that can come with it, to help frame the plot and the characters that we meet. It was great seeing twitter feeds, reddit posts, and transcripts from the episodes to get various pieces of the puzzle that we may not have otherwise seen, and it was kind of fun sifting through them like the reader, too, was an armchair detective. The pacing and tone was fast and tense from the starting gate, and I was basically hooked the moment that I sat down and committed to it, reading most of it in one day. The mystery itself wasn’t that hard to figure out, but it was definitely a fun ride to take even if I predicted the destination pretty early on.

That said, it wasn’t really doing much different or unique from this genre. While I definitely enjoyed it more than, say, “Every Last Lie” or “Into The Water”, it didn’t blow me away as some other thrillers this year have (“Everything You Want Me To Be”, anyone?). Josie wasn’t as large a mess as these kins of protagonists can be, which was incredibly refreshing, but Lanie was REALLY hard to take at times just because she very much WAS a huge, honking trainwreck. I’m relieved that the book wasn’t from her POV, because I’m pretty sure I couldn’t take that. None of the characters, however, really stood out as more than pretty standard players in this kind of book (the dutiful boyfriend, the ex who caused you pain, the uptight female relative). I had been hoping that there would be a little bit of experimentation with these tropes, but alas, it wasn’t to be.

But run of the mill characters and kind of easy to see ending aside, I really did have a fun time reading “Are You Sleeping”. Given that the holiday season is basically upon us and travel may be in some of your futures, I would definitely recommend this book for a long plane ride, a road trip, or just reading in the coziness of your home as the weather turns colder. But don’t let it shame you from listening to your favorite true crime podcast, okay?

Rating 7: An addictive mystery with a fun framework, but it isn’t really anything much that we haven’t seen before outside of said framework. A breezy read, maybe perfect for travel or a ready by a roaring fire.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Are You Sleeping” is included on the Goodreads lists “Sister Mysteries”, and “There’s Something Dangerous About The Boredom of Teenage Girls”.

Find “Are You Sleeping” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “All the Crooked Saints”

30025336Book:  “All the Crooked Saints” by Maggie Stiefvater

Publishing Info: Scholastic Press, October 2017

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: Here is a thing everyone wants: a miracle.
Here is a thing everyone fears: what it takes to get one.

Any visitor to Bicho Raro, Colorado is likely to find a landscape of dark saints, forbidden love, scientific dreams, miracle-mad owls, estranged affections, one or two orphans, and a sky full of watchful desert stars.

At the heart of this place you will find the Soria family, who all have the ability to perform unusual miracles. And at the heart of this family are three cousins longing to change its future: Beatriz, the girl without feelings, who wants only to be free to examine her thoughts; Daniel, the Saint of Bicho Raro, who performs miracles for everyone but himself; and Joaquin, who spends his nights running a renegade radio station under the name Diablo Diablo.

They are all looking for a miracle. But the miracles of Bicho Raro are never quite what you expect.

Review: I have been a fan of Stiefvater for a while now. I have  distinct memory of picking up “Shiver” like ten years ago before she was a big name in the YA community and very much enjoying it. But what makes her special, in opinion, is the way she has grown as an author in the year’s between. Every book I’ve read by her seems to be better than the last: the plotting more meticulous, the characters more fleshed out, and, most importantly, the lyrical, poetic style of her writing more beautiful and heartbreaking than ever before. All of this remains true for her latest novel “All the Crooked Saints.”

When Pete wanders into the Bicho Raro ranch, he’s only there to work off the price of a box truck that he hopes to use to start a moving business. He’s heard something about miracles, owls, and saints on his way, but not until he arrives does he fully understand. Now, surrounded by pilgrims whose miracles were not what they expected, Pete finds himself becoming entranced by the entire Soria family, but particularly the “emotionless” Beatriz.

While I have framed my summary around Pete, there is no one character who serves as a central point for the story, truly. Perhaps the Soria family as a whole? Throughout what is really a very small book, I found myself sinking down deeply into this strange family, their history, and the beautiful imagery and philosophy behind what constitutes a miracle. We learn bits about every one of the Soria family, their hopes, their fears, what has them, like the pilgrims around them, seemingly stuck with their first miracle, unsure how to move forward.

Stiefvater’s creativity is boundless. The entire concept is beautiful and terrifying, terrifyingly beautiful, just like the stark desert in which the story takes place. The miracles that the pilgrims experience are surprising and new: twin sisters caught in a tangle of snakes, a man who is growing moss, a woman covered in butterflies whose own personal cloud dumps rain on her head constantly. What makes this all the more special is that we can see how these miracles (lessons) connect to the darkness each of these characters are walking through, but none of them are too on the nose or expected. It would have been very easy for this idea to slip into the trite.

Beyond this, the characters are all gloriously complicated, damaged, and lovely. It’s a true testament of skill to not only work in a complicated magic system, fill the pages with beautiful prose that speaks to complicated philosophies and theologies, as well as create a large cast of characters that all have their own distinct story and appeal, all within such a short page count.

Pete, hard-working, but feeling betrayed by a heart to weak to allow him to serve his country in the military, like his family before him. Beatriz, too comfortable with her own lack of emotions. Joaguin, with dreams of being bigger than his little life on the ranch, feeling the judgement of a family who may deem him frivolous. And Daniel, the current Saint, whose parents died due to their darkness and by breaking the taboo to help the pilgrims who visit them. And while these are our “main” characters, the generation of Sorias before them, too, get their own snips of chapters and histories, loves and heartbreaks.

Throughout this all Stiefvater delves into the meaning of family, questions what makes up love, and explores the courage and fear that comes with recognizing what is dark within ourselves. And, importantly, how necessary this process is, for everyone.

I feel like this review may have been all over the place, but I truly don’t know how to best portray the beauty that was this story. Thinking back on it, I mostly see images: barren, but vivid landscapes of the desert, owls grouped on a porch, strange beings wandering among scattered out-buildings, and a family, gathered closely together, but somehow apart and drifting alone. If you’ve read any of Stiefvater’s work in the past, this will all make more sense to you, knowing her skill and particular style of writing. And if you haven’t, this is an excellent place to start, as a stand-alone book that perfectly illustrates all the gifts Stiefvater has to offer.

Rating 9: Vivid and gorgeously rendered, but challenging readers to look deeper within themselves and wonder “What would my miracle look like?”

Reader’s Advisory:

“All the Crooked Saints” is fairly new and isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists, but it is on “2017 YA/MG Books With POC Leads.”

Find “All the Crooked Saints” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Kate’s Review: “Into the Drowning Deep”

34523174Book: “Into the Drowning Deep” by Mira Grant

Publishing Info: Orbit, November 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an ARC from the publisher.

Book Description: Seven years ago, the Atargatis set off on a voyage to the Mariana Trench to film a “mockumentary” bringing to life ancient sea creatures of legend. It was lost at sea with all hands. Some have called it a hoax; others have called it a maritime tragedy.

Now, a new crew has been assembled. But this time they’re not out to entertain. Some seek to validate their life’s work. Some seek the greatest hunt of all. Some seek the truth. But for the ambitious young scientist Victoria Stewart this is a voyage to uncover the fate of the sister she lost.

Whatever the truth may be, it will only be found below the waves.

But the secrets of the deep come with a price.

Review: A special thanks to Orbit for providing me with an ARC of this book!

I’ve come to learn many truths within this literary world, and one of those truths is that if you want some well plotted out techno-horror, Mira Grant is the person to go to. I’ve mentioned her “Newsflesh” Series here before, and I reviewed the most recent book “Feedback”, as well as her short story “Final Girls”. Basically, Mira Grant is one of the most original and fun tech horror writers out there, and she needs more attention. I will admit that I went into “Into the Drowning Deep” with little knowledge about it. So imagine my surprise when early on it became quite clear what kind of story I was getting myself into.

Killer. Mermaids.

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BEHOLD, I BRING TIDINGS OF GREAT JOY! (source)

I mean, honestly, at this point she had me and I was guaranteed to give it a solid review. But let’s talk about why I liked this book so much, beyond mermaids disemboweling people. To start, the plot is exciting and interesting from the get go. While we don’t see much about the ‘doomed voyage’ of the Atargatis (but if you want to, the prequel story “Rolling in the Deep” is about that voyage), we do get to see those who have been affected by it and their motivations for wanting to follow up with it. The range of reasons is wide for our characters. For Tory it is because her older sister was the media face for Imagine, the network that sent the movie crew out to the Mariana Trench in the first place. Tory is an Ahab-esque character, though far more likable. She has a vendetta out for whatever killed her sister Anne (in “Rolling in the Deep”), and her pain and rage makes her a very human and sympathetic person to follow. You also have Dr. Jillian Toth, who is an Academic who has always believed in mermaids. This is both a validation of her work, but also a painful reminder that her enthusiasm and certainty of their existence was one of the motivators that sent the Artagatis out in the first place. Along with that is the fact her estranged husband Theo is on board too, who left his conservation activism life after an accident left him in chronic pain…. and joined Imagine as a suit. And you have Olivia, the new face for Imagine Entertainment, who finds herself in a mutual attraction with Tory, even though she has the job that Anne had. Which, of course, leads to some angst for Tory. You also have big game hunters, cryptozoologists, scientists, and others that round out our cast, all of them feeling very real and human, a skill that Grant has always had a knack for.

Grant is known for bringing a certain amount of fascinating at at times ‘hard’ (at least for me!) science into her horror stories. As someone who isn’t terribly science minded, she manages to make some pretty complex (to me) concepts and break them down for the average person like me, and to effortlessly weave them into her story lines without forcing them to fit. In “Into the Drowning Deep” that science is climate change, and how it could potentially change our oceans, as well as potential technology that could come forth because of it. “Into the Drowning Deep” takes place in 2020, and works under the assumption that in a mere four years things will be getting to the point of dire, ocean ecosystem wise, and this book brings up these ideas while incorporating them into the greater plot. She also peppers a lot of the story with facts about the ocean and sea life, and this fan of Monterey Bay, California was pleased as punch that a lot of the action at the beginning takes place there. Grant’s science has always been a bit of a trademark, and this book continues that grand tradition.

And even though perhaps the idea of ‘killer mermaids’ sounds silly to you, this book is so well done that it completely sells it. Grant does a great job of giving these mermaids an evolutionary basis, and finds them a place in the ocean ecosystem that makes them seem like they could, in fact, exist. The slow build of found footage descriptions to the reveal of the deadly mermaids deep under the sea, all the way to the inevitable slaughter had me flipping through the pages quickly, needing to find out what comes next. While this book could have come off as cheesy, it never does, and the stakes are high as Grant holds no sacred cows, character wise. You have to go into a Grant book assuming that at LEAST one of your favorite characters isn’t going to make it out alive, and even knowing this I still was caught off guard and saddened by a few of those who become mermaid chow.

“Into the Drowning Deep” was a scary and entertaining read that I had a hard time walking away from. Mira Grant is absolutely one of those authors who I am always going to be on the look out for, and I hope that the wait for the next in the series isn’t that long. I think that the literary world could use more killer mermaids, and I can’t wait to see where Grant takes them next.

Rating 8: A fun, frightening romp through the dangers of the ocean, “Into The Drowning Deep” kept me on the edge of my seat and a smile on my face. Bring on more killer merfolk!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Into the Drowning Deep” is a new book and not on any relevant Goodreads lists. But I think that it would fit in on “Oceanic/Marine Science Fiction”, and “Sea Monster Books!”.

Find “Into the Drowning Deep” at your library using WorldCat!

Book Club Review: “Every You, Every Me”

9972838We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing bookclub running for the last several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is a “Dewey Call Number” theme. This book comes from a Dewey Decimal Call Number range, and has to fit the theme of that range.

For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for bookclub. We’ll also post the next book coming up in bookclub. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own bookclub!

Book: “Every You, Every Me” by David Levithan

Publishing Info: Knopf Books for Young Readers, September 2011

Where Did We Get This Book: The library!

Dewey Decimal Call Number: 700s (The Arts)

Book Description: In this high school-set psychological tale, a tormented teen named Evan starts to discover a series of unnerving photographs—some of which feature him. Someone is stalking him . . . messing with him . . . threatening him. Worse, ever since his best friend Ariel has been gone, he’s been unable to sleep, spending night after night torturing himself for his role in her absence. And as crazy as it sounds, Evan’s starting to believe it’s Ariel that’s behind all of this, punishing him. But the more Evan starts to unravel the mystery, the more his paranoia and insomnia amplify, and the more he starts to unravel himself. Creatively told with black-and-white photos interspersed between the text so the reader can see the photos that are so unnerving to Evan, Every You, Every Me is a one-of-a-kind departure from a one-of-a-kind author.

Kate’s Thoughts

“Every You, Every Me” was my choice for Book Club this time around, and it was my gut reaction when I got the 700s (aka The ARTS!) of the Dewey Call Numbers. I knew that this book was written by David Levithan, but that the photos that were interspersed throughout the book were taken by Jonathan Farmer and given to Levithan as he was writing the story. Levithan wouldn’t know what the next photo would be, and then would have to fit it into the narrative. The concept of this was a fascinating one to me, and I thought that the photos angle fit into the Dewey theme. I haven’t had a lot of luck with ‘concept’ novels such as these, as I was one of those folks who didn’t absolutely adore “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” and decided to give a hard pass to the “Asylum” series. But my reasoning was that hey, it’s David Levithan.

That said, this wasn’t the thrilling mystery with appropriate and aching teen pathos that I had hoped it would be. There was a great idea here, and glimmers of that idea shined through from time to time, but all in all I felt that “Every You, Every Me” never quite evolved beyond a concept. Evan is our narrator, and he is telling this story through stream of consciousness diary entries and through the photos that he is receiving from an anonymous source. He is set up as an unreliable narrator from the jump, with parts of his diary entries crossed out (but not enough that the reader can’t read the redacted thoughts). It was a little heavy on the crossing out, but I felt that it was a fairly effective way of showing his personal struggles instead of him literally saying ‘I AM CONFLICTED ABOUT ALL OF THIS AND DON’T KNOW HOW TO FEEL OR WHAT ROLE I PLAYED’. Evan himself was both interesting and maddening. Maddening in that goodness gracious was he the epitome of emo teen angst kid, so much so that our book club joked about how much My Chemical Romance and Evanescence would be on his iPod.

Fun Fact, a playlist of his favorite songs was officially created by our book club member Anita. See the bottom of this post to access it.

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(source)

But along with Evan being so hopelessly angsty, he was also very fascinating as a character, mostly because I felt that Levithan did a VERY good job of portraying the mind of someone who has gone through a very upsetting trauma. No deep spoilers here, but what I will say is that Evan has lost his closest friend Ariel, and he thinks that it is all his fault. While Evan is the narrator and protagonist, this story is really about the mysterious Ariel; who she was, how she was, and where she has gone (which is the main mystery of this book). They have a deep and codependent friendship, and the more you learn about Ariel and how she treated Evan, the more, I think, you get to understand why he is so, so warped and moody in this whole thing. I definitely found Evan to be more sympathetic as time went on, but also stopped caring about what happened to Ariel and who is harassing Evan BECAUSE my opinions of Ariel changed so much. Which is a bit callous of me, within the context of the book, but the sheer manipulation within that relationship just made me uncomfortable and angry and uncaring towards her endgame.

The ending, though. Again, I don’t want to go into deep deep spoilers here, but it felt so tacked on and so clunky that it kind of threw the book off kilter for me. I know that it kind of harkens back to one of the bigger themes in this book (i.e. no one really knows every side of a person), but it almost felt a bit TOO unrealistic in how it all played out. I’m fine with a huge twist coming through, but I want at least SOME groundwork for that twist to be laid out.

So while I was kind of disappointed with “Every You, Every Me”, I did like the characterization that Levithan created for his main players. The concept is unique enough that I would say pick it up just to see how this neat writing exercise turned out, but don’t expect to be super blown away by it.

Serena’s Thoughts

I have read a few David Levithan books before this one and have mostly enjoyed them. He is particularly strong at writing believably complex teenage protagonists who are not only relatable to teens themselves, but also to adult readers. Other than this knowledge of the author, all I knew about this book was a vague understanding of it being a concept book with the photographs being sent to him as he wrote the book. I, like Kate, have never particularly loved the concept books I’ve read in the past. Too often I feel that the author ends up relying on the images to depict much of the drama of their story, thus paying less attention to, or becoming simply lazy with, their own written descriptions. Powerful writing doesn’t need the support of photographs, and while they can serve as a nice backdrop, I don’t love the idea of a story becoming dependent on them.

For the most part, I think that Levithan walked a nice line with the art in this book. The photographs were interesting and he managed to (mostly) tie them in nicely with the overarching plot of the book. There’s a great theme of what it means to know someone that runs throughout the story, and this concept ties neatly with a conversation that seems to always swirl around the small glimpses of a person that are caught in specific photographs. I loved this idea, that like photographs, we’re only ever seeing small glimpses of an entire person. And that another person (another photograph) will see/capture an entirely different side of that individual. These themes were probably my favorite part of this book.

Other than this, I did struggle with the story. Evan is not the type of narrator that typically appeals to me. He’s conflicted and self-questioning to the point that his angst and confusion are more off-putting than sympathetic. I wanted to shake him at multiple times during the story, and frankly had a hard time taking him seriously. As we learn the truth behind his concerns, I could better understand his reasons for feeling the way he does. But that doesn’t wave away the execution of those feelings that presents him as a whiny, overly emotional teen boy who is hard to invest oneself in.

Further, I was not a fan of the crossing out text tool that was used so much in this book. Not only did it negatively play into the already annoyingly self-involved angst machine that was Evan, but at many points in the story the basic function of cross out text seemed to be misunderstood. In some ways, yes, it makes sense for a story like this with a semi-unreliable narrator like Evan to cross out some parts of the text and through these reconsidered aspects of his writing, get a better understanding of his thoughts and character. But at times, especially towards the end of the book, huge sections of the story were crossed out and the format was being used more to indicate a flashback than to highlight a questioned thought of Evan’s. I think the format read as a bit pretentious, and by the end of the story, I was so distracted by it and how it was being used that it was actively throwing me out of the story.

I also agree with Kate about the ending. Without spoiling anything, the explanation of the photographs seemed to come out of left field and a lot of hand waving and hoop jumping was done to explain portions of the mystery. It felt tacked on and unearned.

Lastly, as this entire mystery revolves around Ariel, we learn a lot about her and need to understand the role that she played to all of these friends, specifically Evan, who are all so distressed by her loss. And, like the character of Evan, I couldn’t really get behind the appeal of Ariel. At Book Club, we all had a bit too much fun coming up with all the crazy explanations for why all of these characters seemed so obsessed with Ariel. None of our explanations were favorable to her.

Ultimately, I think this book touched on some very important themes, specifically those having to do with the fact that people are made up of multitudes and that no one person can ever fully know another. But the execution was shoddy with the crossed out text, and Ariel and Evan were pretty unlikable all around. Add to that the fact that this isn’t a favorite genre of mine (no fault of the book’s), and I didn’t end up loving this one. Alas, they can’t all be winners!

Kate’s Rating 6: A fascinating premise with some interesting things to say about trauma and loss, but ultimately a bit underwhelming. Add in a clunky solution and you have an okay book, when it could have been a great one.

Serena’s Rating 5: Good themes were bogged down by the restrictions of the concept art, an angst-fest leading character, and a dud of an ending.

Book Club Questions

  1. What did you think of the device of the photographs that was used in this book? Did you feel that Levithan did a good job of incorporating the random photos he received into this story? Do you think this story needed the photos to feel fully realized?
  2. Evan is our protagonist, and his relationship with Ariel is the crux of this book. What did you think of him as a narrator? How did you feel about him at the end vs at the beginning?
  3. One of the big mysteries of this book is where Ariel is and what happened to her. Were you invested in this mystery, and invested in Ariel as a character?
  4. Another theme of this book is that people tend to have different sides of them that they present to different people. Could you relate to this concept? Do you have different sides of yourself that different people see?
  5. SPOILERS: Let’s talk about the ending. What did you think of the reveal of Dawn, Ariel’s secret best friend that Evan and Jack didn’t know about, being the one sending the photos?
  6. This is what one might call a concept novel, using photos to drive and tell a story as they are presented. What are your opinions on this kind of book (similar to Miss Peregrine, or Asylum, etc)? Did EVERY YOU EVERY ME confirm those feelings, or buck them (in whichever way that may be)?

Reader’s Advisory

“Every You, Every Me” is included on the Goodreads lists “YA Involving Mental Health Issues (2000s-Present)”, and “YA Books With Pictures”.

Find “Every You, Every Me” at your library using WorldCat!

Next Book Club Book: “Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries” by Kory Stamper

And now…. the aforementioned playlist! Thanks to Katie, Alicia, and Anita who helped compile the list, and to Anita for putting it together!

 

Serena’s Review: “City of Lies”

342865371Book: “City of Lies” by Victoria Thompson

Publishing Info: Berkley, November 2017

Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley

Book Description: Like most women, Elizabeth Miles assumes many roles; unlike most, hers have made her a woman on the run. Living on the edge of society, Elizabeth uses her guile to relieve so-called respectable men of their ill-gotten gains. But brutal and greedy entrepreneur Oscar Thornton is out for blood. He’s lost a great deal of money and is not going to forgive a woman for outwitting him. With his thugs hot on her trail, Elizabeth seizes the moment to blend in with a group of women who have an agenda of their own.

She never expects to like or understand these privileged women, but she soon comes to respect their intentions, forming an unlikely bond with the wealthy matriarch of the group whose son Gabriel is the rarest of species—an honest man in a dishonest world. She knows she’s playing a risky game, and her deception could be revealed at any moment, possibly even by sharp-eyed Gabriel. Nor has she been forgotten by Thornton, who’s biding his time within this gilded orbit, waiting to strike. Elizabeth must draw on her wits and every last ounce of courage she possesses to keep her new life from being cut short by this vicious shadow from her past.

Review: Victoria Thompson is a very prolific mystery author, with another long-running steampunk series, that somehow I’ve completely missed! But, as nice as it is to discover a new author with a long-running series, it’s also a bit intimidating to look at as a whole. With that in mind, I was thrilled to learn that she was starting a new series just this fall. Problem solved: get in at the beginning of this series and have another series to happily follow for years to come! Or at least that was the plan. Unfortunately, you also have to enjoy the first book for this long-game plan to really work. And while there are pieces that I enjoyed here and there, “City of Lies” just didn’t do it for me.

The story starts off well enough with readers meeting Elizabeth Miles in the midst of a complicated con. These first few chapters started off so promising. This entire con, and the role that Elizabeth plays within it, is smart, snappy, and intriguing. She is presented as an independent and wily woman making her way through the world in maybe not the most ethical manner, but one that is definitely interesting to read about. And then the con goes wrong and she finds herself on the run, and suddenly caught up with a group of women protestors. And right away, the book went off the tracks for me.

While those first few chapters were short, they did a lot to convince me that Elizabeth was a heroine who was canny and had managed to make a life for herself in a way that is only accessible to the brave and street smart. But once she’s on the run, I immediately began questioning all of her decisions. Was getting arrested (and then shipped far, far away to another prison), really the best way to avoid goons chasing her down the street? I mean, I’ve seen “The Bourne Identity” probably more times than I should admit, so I’m all for the “get lost in the protestors” method of evasion. But notably, “go to prison and then buy into a hunger strike” is never a part of his plans. And if Bourne’s not doing it, neither should you!

Part of the problem was that I never became very interested in the women that Elizabeth meets here. I had to repeatedly page back to remind myself what was distinctive about each of them. And while, obviously, their protest movement is historically important, it just read as…blah. Which almost seems like a feat in and of itself.

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What I’m saying is Leslie Knope did it better. (source)

I was also not digging the romance. This book seems to walk the line between many different genres (historical, mystery, romance), but isn’t fully committing to the common expectations of any of them. The romance was too chaste. The history was too plan. The con/mystery element fell to the way side (also the original book description on Goodreads is completely misleading , referencing Elizabeth chasing down a killer in D.C., which isn’t right at all).

While Thompson’s writing seems solid, this book simply didn’t seem to have much new to say or offer for any of the genres that it covers. And Elizabeth, who started strong, quickly fell into a character rife with confusion and unclear motivations. As I haven’t read Thompson’s other series, I can’t say if some of these complaints may just be that her writing style and storytelling choices just aren’t for me or whether this is an outlier from her previous  books. Maybe some time I’ll pick up one of those and see, but this book lands solidly in the middle of the road for me. I didn’t hate it, but I also won’t remember it. For fans of Thompson, however, and perhaps those who like more chaste historical romances, this might be worth checking out?

Rating 5: In one word: bland.

Reader’s Advisory:

“City of Lies” is a new title and not on many Goodreads lists, but it is on “Most Anticipated Historical Mysteries for 2017.”

Find “City of Lies” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “My Favorite Thing Is Monsters (Vol.1)”

29069374Book: “My Favorite Thing Is Monsters (Vol.1)” by Emil Ferris

Publishing Info: Fantagraphics, February 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Set against the tumultuous political backdrop of late ’60s Chicago, My Favorite Thing Is Monsters is the fictional graphic diary of 10-year-old Karen Reyes, filled with B-movie horror and pulp monster magazines iconography. Karen Reyes tries to solve the murder of her enigmatic upstairs neighbor, Anka Silverberg, a holocaust survivor, while the interconnected stories of those around her unfold. When Karen’s investigation takes us back to Anka’s life in Nazi Germany, the reader discovers how the personal, the political, the past, and the present converge. Full-color illustrations throughout.

Review: I remember the moment that I first laid eyes on the book “My Favorite Thing is Monsters (Vol.1)”. I was unloading boxes of new books at work, and I literally gasped when I saw it. I mean, my GOD. Just look at this cover. THAT IS ALL BALLPOINT PEN, GUYS. And plus, it has ‘monsters’ in the title. My boss said she was surprised that the request wasn’t for me, and I admitted that I hadn’t even heard of it. So I said that I was going to request it…. And then I didn’t. It entered in and out of my mind for the next few months, until I was at a staff training and it was on the shelf. So… I grabbed it. I wish that I had grabbed it sooner. Because “My Favorite Thing Is Monsters” was just amazing.

I mean, I just need to talk about the art. Like I said, this is all done in pen, and it just pops off the page. It’s seriously astounding. The detail and the coloring, as I kept turning page after page in this book I just kept saying ‘wow’ as I would see a new image that took my breath away. Ferris really dives into her artwork, and the painstaking detail is so evident up close, while seeming to be a la Robert Crumb from a further distance. It’s a style that I really enjoy, and while it seems to be a little surrealistic in some ways, in other ways it was so human and so real. There are images of people, images of monsters, and images of urban landscapes that all take their own lives through her style. She also draws classic artwork through this lens, when Karen and her brother Deeze go to the art museum in Chicago, and seeing these works recreated in this style was also incredible. I loved the use of colors as well, as sometimes she would draw characters certain shades to describe different feelings. The premise is that these are the drawings of our ten year old narrator within her lined journal, and even that is consistent and well laid out.

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I mean, it’s just gorgeous, right? (source)

The story itself if both a charming and bittersweet coming of age story, and a gut punch and tense mystery. Karen, or narrator, is a ten year old girl who is quite precocious in a lot of ways, and fancies herself as a Wolfman-esque monster who takes on the role of detective. I gotta say, the images of this little Wolf-creature in a trench coat is precious and funny, Seeing her try to piece together the possible murder of her upstairs neighbor, Anka, is classic bildungsroman in it’s premise, but in it’s execution it feels fresh. Karen is delightful, as her imagination sparks on the pages and her personality shines as she starts to learn more about those around her and learn more about herself. You also get to see late 1960s Chicago and all of it’s political turmoil through her eyes, which gives it a unique, and even more heart wrenching, perspective (I’m thinking of one specific scene where she is very nearly sexually assaulted by some bullies in her neighborhood, and she just writes about it matter of factly and as if it’s just something that could happen, but didn’t, so life goes on. It’s rough.). Karen loves monsters, and is starting to learn that monsters are very real, but not in the way that she would like them to be. We hear of an see violence and racism around her, and we see her reaction (and the reaction of her friend Franklin, an African American boy) to the murder of Martin Luther King Jr. Her family life isn’t easy by any means, as Dad is out of the picture, her older brother Deeze is loving but reckless, and their mother is kind and gentle but has some problems Karen isn’t quite privy to, though the reader is. We also see the struggles of being a lower class family of multiracial descent, as the fact that Karen and her brother Deeze are part Latino and part Native is thrown at them by the white people around them from time to time. Struggles and all, I loved this family, and it’s tenuousness made me love them even more, and ache for them as well.

The mystery of Anka’s death is one of the main themes of this book, and we see some of her own childhood mirrored in Karen’s through diary entries. Anka came of age in Weimar Germany, and as a young woman was taken to a concentration camp because she was Jewish. This story is another example of monsters in this world, and the rumors of a potential Nazi in town is one of the threads in the mystery that Karen is hoping to solve. But to tell you the truth, even though this mystery is ongoing (as there is another volume of this coming out next summer!), I’m more interested in the journey getting there and Karen learning things about Anka and the world around her then actually finding out who killed her.

There is one storyline that I’m not quite feeling as of right now, and that involves Karen and her friend Sandy, a malnourished little girl who may actually be a ghost. But hey, I suppose in a book about monsters it doesn’t hurt to have something of the supernatural there to shake things up.

Rating 9: A sumptuous and beautiful book with a gripping mystery, “My Favorite Thing Is Monsters (Vol.1)” is a great book and a huge achievement. The art is gorgeous, the story is bittersweet and haunting, and I can’t wait for the next book to come out.

Reader’s Advisory:

“My Favorite Thing Is Monsters (Vol.1)” is included on the Goodreads lists “Best Comic Books and Graphic Novels of 2017”, and “NPR’s 100 Favorite Graphic Novels and Comics”.

Find “My Favorite Thing Is Monsters (Vol.1)” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “City of Brass”

32718027Book: “City of Brass” by S. A. Chakraborty

Publishing Info: Harper Voyager, November 2017

Where Did I Get this Book: e-ARC from the Edelweiss

Book Description: Nahri has never believed in magic. Certainly, she has power; on the streets of 18th century Cairo, she’s a con woman of unsurpassed talent. But she knows better than anyone that the trade she uses to get by—palm readings, zars, healings—are all tricks, sleights of hand, learned skills; a means to the delightful end of swindling Ottoman nobles.

But when Nahri accidentally summons an equally sly, darkly mysterious djinn warrior to her side during one of her cons, she’s forced to accept that the magical world she thought only existed in childhood stories is real. For the warrior tells her a new tale: across hot, windswept sands teeming with creatures of fire, and rivers where the mythical marid sleep; past ruins of once-magnificent human metropolises, and mountains where the circling hawks are not what they seem, lies Daevabad, the legendary city of brass–a city to which Nahri is irrevocably bound.

In that city, behind gilded brass walls laced with enchantments, behind the six gates of the six djinn tribes, old resentments are simmering. And when Nahri decides to enter this world, she learns that true power is fierce and brutal. That magic cannot shield her from the dangerous web of court politics. That even the cleverest of schemes can have deadly consequences.

After all, there is a reason they say be careful what you wish for . . .

Review: In addition to my e-galley, I nabbed a copy of this while Kate and I were sneaking around early exploring the exhibit hall. I really knew nothing about it beyond the fact that the cover was beautiful, and it had a blurb that referenced ‘The Golem and the Jinni,” which is a historical fantasy novel from a few years ago that I absolutely adored. So I went into this one with practically no expectations, and wow. I mean…wow. S. A. Chakraborty is a new author to sit up and pay attention to!

First off, the description above is a bit misleading. Yes, we do follow the story of Nahri, a street con woman who finds herself to have a mystical heritage and one that is paramount to the future of a vast and complicated fantastical world where djinn, marids, and many, many others roam and war with each other. However, chapters alternate between her adventures and those of Ali, a young, second son of Ghallan, the current ruler of Daevabad. Ali has been trained as a warrior to serve as a general, essentially, for his older brother when he takes over. But Ali is also a deeply religious young man, and when he looks at his family’s dealings with the shafit (half human, half djinn), he sees only oppression and wrong doings.

There is so much to praise about this book. It is atmospheric, bringing to life large swaths of the Middle East. We travel from the streets of ancient Cairo, to the foothills of what is likely Persia, across desserts and great rivers, and finally, into a fully-realized magical realm that seamlessly blends creative magical elements (like bizarre illnesses, strange creatures, and fantastical architecture) alongside traditional, historic middle eastern touches. And Chakraborty has peopled this world with an equally diverse and well-drawn cast of characters. Yes, there are magical beasts, liked winged lions. But there are also various types of humanoid-beings. The djinn are a fire people. There are the rumored Marid, a water people. And, the most powerful of all,  a people of the air. Among these, roam the shafit, whose complicated history with the djinn sits at the heart of this story.

This history is perhaps one of the most impressive parts of the story. Not only is it complicated enough that I was still fitting pieces together towards the end of the book (in this case, this is a compliment, as it was complicated for important reasons, not due to poor writing, which is often the case behind lasting confusion), but the author successfully challenges readers at every step to evaluate and re-evalutate and AGAIN re-evalutate who are the heroes and villains in each version of history we hear. And the best part: this is never made clear. I love this nuanced take on storytelling, as I feel it reads the most honest to true history. The stories are told by the winners, and often the winners have contributed their own atrocities to succeed in the first place. And in this book’s case, we have such a long history presented, that the winners of one historic conflict, are the losers of the next. One side is oppressed at one point, only to oppress the other at the next, while that oppressed group now holds the keys to peace going forward. There are no simple “good guys” and “bad guys” in this story. And by the end, I’m firmly rooting for three different characters who all fall on one extreme, the middle, and the other extreme of a very complicated spectrum.

And this brings me to my last point. All of this history and world-building is supported by an amazingly strong cast of characters. To support this kind of ongoing conflict that is constantly questioning the morality of one group’s choices or the other, you must have sympathetic and interesting characters to make you care. Nahri is the exact type of heroine I love. She’s well-rounded, has a distinct personality, is sassy, but also knows when to bend, and, importantly, she is flawed. Ali, the second protagonist, is also incredibly strong. He had more work to do as he took me by surprise, but I found myself equally enjoying his earnest and often naive view of the world he lives in and the role he is expected to play. And then lastly, we have Dara, a djinn warrior of legend who befriends and protects Nahri. Even by the end of the story, we’re not sure who exactly this character is. But the sweet romance that begins to develop between him and Nahri is the exact sort of slow burn love story that I like, and I’m curious to see what will happen with this particular character and plot line moving forward.

I honestly can’t recommend this book enough. As I said, I picked this up because it sounded like “The Golem and the Jinni.” Turns out, I loved it even more than that one. For those looking for a smart, complicated, fantasy novel set in a unique environment, definitely check out “The City of Brass.” Now I’ll just frantically stare down the calendar while I wait for the sequel!

Rating 10:  The best kind of surprise. I honestly have zero criticisms for this book, and that’s a feat on its own!

Reader’s Advisory:

“City of Brass” is on these Goodreads lists: “Muslims Represented in Literature” and “2017 SFF by Authors of Color.”

Find “City of Brass” at your library using WorldCat!

A Revisit to Fear Street: “The New Boy”

176635Book: “The New Boy (Fear Street #20)” by R.L. Stine

Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, 1994

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

Book Description: He stole their hearts…Does he want their lives, too?

What a hunk! When handsome, mysterious Ross Gabriel comes to Shadyside High, all the girls want to date him…even the ones who already have boyfriends! Janie, Eve and Faith go so far as to make a bet…which one of them will he go out with first?

But then the murders begin, and it starts to look like dating Ross means flirting with a gruesome and untimely death. Will Janie’s dream date with Ross turn out to be the night of her life? Or the night of her death?

Had I Read This Before: Yes.

The Plot: Janie Simpson is in the school hallway, two weeks before the first murder (ooh, ominous!). She sees the new boy Ross Gabriel for the first time on that day, and she is immediately smitten with him because he’s such a hunk. As she gawks after Ross, she goes off to find her best friends Faith and Eve, as they are supposed to be delivering the money that was made at the school dance to Principal Hernandez’s office. While both Faith and Eve went with their boyfriends (Paul and Ian respectively), Janie went by herself and is feeling kind of desperate for a boyfriend of her own. She and Eve meet up and Eve informs her of the latest school gossip, as Deena Martinson and Gary Brandt broke up (I guess things with Rob didn’t really take for Deena and Gary is still relishing being free of Della). Janie asks Eve where the money is, and Eve says that she doesn’t have it, Faith had it and said that Janie must have taken it for safe keeping because now SHE doesn’t have it. GULP! Janie freaks out and she and Eve rush to find Faith, who says yes of course she has the money. It was just a mean trick by Eve! Janie can’t be mad for long, though, as the new boy Ross shows up and his arm is bleeding pretty badly. He says he cut it on a fence while helping a girl free her bike. Faith and Eve are instantly taken with his looks too, and they volunteer to take him to the nurse while Janie takes the money to the principal’s office for the transfer. Janie is peeved, as she ‘saw him first’.

As Janie counts the money in Mr. Hernandez’s office, Faith and Eve show up gushing about how CUTE Ross is, and then give us some exposition on their boyfriends. Paul is a jock football player, and Ian is impoverished and working two jobs so he can potentially go to college. The girls start banding the money together, and Janie says that she saw Ross first and why are they so into him when they have boyfriends? Just the Paul and Ian show up, and they all start playing with the money. Mr. Fernandez catches them dicking around, but let’s it slide, giving the ladies the key to the file cabinet they are going to store the money in. He goes back into his inner office, and the girls keep arranging as the boys leave. Once they money is all organized, Janie writes down the total and locks the money in the file cabinet, and they all go into Mr. Hernandez’s office to give him the total. Unfortunately, he’s on the phone with a high maintenance parent and they have to wait. Both Eve and Faith excuse themselves at different times to let their rides know they’re going to be late, and Janie, hard up for a man, ogles the picture of a young Mr. Hernandez with his sports team. Janie, come on. When Eve and Faith are back Mr. Hernandez finally hangs up and asks for the total. Janie can’t remember, so she goes back to check it… and the money really IS gone this time!

That night Janie goes to hang out with Faith and Paul, who are acting kind of suspicious. They start talking about Ross, and Paul says that he thinks he’s a tool while the girls say they think he’s cute. Paul leaves, and Faith asks Janie if she’s going to ask Ross out, or if Faith can. Janie is astounded because what about Paul, and Faith says that Paul doesn’t have to know, and why not make it interesting: first person to ask Ross out gets ten bucks from the other! Conveniently Eve rings on the phone then, and Faith gets her in on the bet too! Janie has no faith that she will win now, and then asks Faith why she and Paul were acting weird when she arrived. Faith says that it’s because they know that Janie took the money. Janie freaks out, and then Faith says April fools! They know Janie is innocent. Man, friends like these…

In chem class the next day, Janie is paired up with Ross. Huzzah huzzay, maybe she can ask him out! He talks down to her and then sets off a stink bomb with the chemicals he mixes, and says that he likes ‘messing with people’. Oh swoon baby swoon. Janie almost asks him out, but then chickens out at the last minute, and as they leave the classroom he suddenly stops and stares at a girl with long curly blonde hair. Then he rushes off. A short while later Eve runs into Janie in triumph: she asked Ross out and the money is hers!

That Friday while Eve is out with Ross, Janie and Faith are hanging out and feeling sorry for themselves. They wonder how the date is going, and talk about her incredibly coquettish outfit of a blue blazer, a blue scarf, and red denim pants. Then Faith confides that she thinks her parents are getting divorced and that Paul is only dating her because she’s rich. Meanwhile, Eve is on her date with Ross. They make out, and then go for a walk in the Fear Street woods…..

The next morning Janie gets a call from Ian. He says that Eve never came home the night before and is missing! Ian asks if he can come by and Janie says sure, then she calls Faith but there’s no answer. So she calls Eve’s parents and Eve’s Mom picks up in hysterics, saying that Ross is missing too! Uh huhhhhhhhh…. Ian and Janie go driving around, and Janie doesn’t tell him about the date. As they drive past Fear Woods Janie sees something… a blue blazer!!! They get out of the car and find Eve’s body, sunk in the mud, very very dead. They call the police and Janie tries to comfort Ian, who says that not only did Eve steal the dance money (WHAAAAAAAT?), but someone must have killed her for it! Janie comes clean about the date, and he gets more upset. At the police station they see Ross arrive, and he claims that he and his folks were back in his old hometown of New Brighton early that morning and that he dropped Eve off at 11pm.

At Pete’s Pizza that Sunday, Faith and Janie are talking about Eve. They think there’s no way that she could have taken the money, because she was a very honest person. Ross crashes their lunch and starts berating Faith because she thinks that he killed Eve, and Faith leaves Janie alone with him to join Paul and Ian outside (some friend you are, Faith!). Janie and Ross talk, and he says that he only went out with Eve because she said they’d split the winnings 50/50. He also makes some offhanded comment about how he can’t believe this is happening, especially after what happened to him in New Brighton. When Janie joins her friends they tell her that they think Ross killed Eve.

The next evening Janie is at home doing homework when Ross shows up unannounced. He says he needs help with French homework, but he’s being a real creepo. But Janie agrees, and he suggests they go get something to eat. In a twist of fate, his car sputters out a mile from her house, and they push it to the nearest gas station. She pays for the gas because he realizes that he forgot his wallet (UGH!), and he says that they should go to his house so they can get it. Surprise surprise, he lives on Fear Street! She waits for him to get his wallet, and is more and more paranoid, but still goes to get burgers with him. He drops her off, they make out a bit in the car, and he drives away, But she finds his text book that he left behind, and decides that she needs to return it that very moment. Maybe there’s a test the next day, who knows? She drives back to the house they stopped at earlier, but when she knocks on the door an old lady answers and says that there is no Ross Gabriel living there.

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How… odd. (source)

Janie is determined to find out what’s up with Ross. Well, he’s a liar with a short fuse, Janie, and therefore you should probably dump him. Faith tells her that she should stay away from Ross because she’s heard lots of bad rumors about him, specifically from the new girl Jordan. The one with the blonde hair who Ross was not happy to see. Faith starts to explain that Jordan went to Ross’s old school, but is interrupted by Paul, who says that he heard that Ross was just arrested for murder! Turns out that’s just a rumor because Ross is actually across the cafeteria, and Janie goes to confront him about the old woman. He says that that’s just his grandmother who is very confused about things these days and doesn’t recognize him anymore. And the murder charge rumor started because he WAS at the police station that morning, but it’s just because the police think that HE stole the dance money! He then pulls out a blue scarf, saying that he has this for her. Janie freaks, because it’s the scarf that Eve was wearing the night she was murdered! Janie runs off.

After school Janie sees Faith and Paul arguing across the parking lot and decides not to interfere. Little does she know that it’s THE LAST TIME SHE IS GOING TO SEE FAITH, or so the book says. She goes to see Ian at his donut job at the mall to see how he’s doing, and tells him that she’s going to call Faith because she saw Faith and Paul fighting. She gets home and calls Faith, who tells her that Jordan has told her a lot of disturbing stuff about Ross, so she needs to come over right now so they can talk. It’s perfect because she’s home alone. Janie agrees, and rushes over… but when she arrives, she finds Faith BEATEN TO DEATH WITH A FIREPLACE POKER!!!! She calls the police and the dispatcher tells her to get the FUCK out of that house, so starts to run out of the house, but runs into Ian, who says that Faith called him too. They’re both devastated, at least outwardly, but I’m suspicious now.

After Faith’s funeral, Janie seeks out Jordan to hear what she was saying about Ross. Jordan says that in New Brighton Ross went by Robert Kingston, and that there were rumors that he murdered his girlfriend Karen. He had an alibi, but no one believed it. He and his folks moved to Shadyside to escape the rumors. YIKES. Later Janie is walking home and it starts to downpour just as Ross speeds up next to her. He says ‘what a ride?’, and oh, it isn’t actually Ross, it’s another cat caller. When Janie refuses he says that she can just drown then. But then Ross DOES show up and demands that she get inside his car, which is across the street. When she refuses he roughs her up a bit. He tells her that he just wants to talk, and that she’s been acting like a real bitch ever since he tried to return her scarf. She tells him that she knows his real name and that he killed Karen. He says if she would just get in his car he’ll explain everything. She still refuses but says she’ll meet him at Pete’s Pizza that evening at 8, when what she SHOULD be doing is getting a restraining order for his violent ass.

With her parents not at home and no intention of actually meeting Ross at Pete’s Pizza, Janie is working on homework when the power goes out. And the phone. At 8:30 her folks still aren’t home, and who should come knocking but ROSS. He forces his way into the house and demands why she stood him up. She lies saying Paul was supposed to take her, but Ross sees right through it. He throws the blue scarf at her, and she realizes that it IS her scarf, not Eve’s, and that she left it in his car. But she also realizes that he’s still wackadoo, and he literally tells her that he could KILL HER FOR NOT TRUSTING HIM. He tells her that he didn’t kill Karen, he was just walking in the woods and he found her body and no one believed him. He starts ranting  about the police hounding him and lying about an alibi for when Faith was killed, and he gets more and more frenzied so Janie makes a break for it. He chases her outside and then TACKLES HER TO THE GROUND, holding her down until she tells him why she’s afraid of him.

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Maybe it’s because you’re INCREDIBLY THREATENING AND VIOLENT, ROSS. (source)

Her parents arrive home in that moment and Ross runs away.

At school the next day Janie does everything she can to avoid Ross, who is STILL STALKING HER demanding that she talk to him. Luckily, Paul is there to punch out the little creep and I’m so Team Paul. Janie runs off and hides in the park to get away from it all, but returns to the school to get her things. She sees Ross and Mr. Hernandez, and dives into a broom closet to avoid them. She’s so paranoid that she thinks a broom is a corpse, so she runs home. She gets a call from Ian, who says that he found proof that Ross killed Eve and Faith! He picks her up and says he’s taking her to get proof and I think where we see where this is going. Yep, he takes her to the spot where Eve was found, and then full on confesses to her while holding a baseball bat that HE WAS THE ONE WHO KILLED THEM. Apparently Eve did steal the dance money saying that they could split it, but then she freaked out and wanted to return it. Ian, sick of being worked to the bone, went to confront her and try to change her mind, but then saw that she was on a date with Ross. In a rage he hit her with the bat. He killed Faith because he was convinced she’d figured it out. And now he’s going to kill Janie. But then Ross is there (WILL THIS NIGHTMARE NEVER CEASE?!), and Ian hits him with the bat. Janie gets the bat away from him and knocks him over, choking him with it. Ross is okay, and he sits on Ian and tells Janie he saw them going into the woods. He tells her to go call for help. She  notices that he has a nice smile, tells him that she isn’t running away from him this time, and goes to call the cops. The End.

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(source)

 

Body Count: 2.

Romance Rating: 1. Ian killed his girlfriend, Paul and Faith were on the rocks, and Ross/Robby is so incredibly toxic and abusive there are no good options here. Like, holy shit, Ross is just as much a predator as Ian is and yet Janie seems to possibly be ending up with him at the end?! HELL NO. I’m hoping that Janie’s crush on Paul comes to fruition at some point because that seemed to be the only good option. Sure, Paul punching Ross wasn’t ideal, but DAMN was it good to see.

Bonkers Rating: 4. It wasn’t terribly twisty and turny, though Ross’ backstory was a bit of a shake up.

Feat Street Relevance: 7. Ross lives on Fear Street and Eve’s body was found by the Fear Street Woods.

Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:

“Mr. Hernandez turned bright red as his hand went up to his head. Then his eyes narrowed as they swept from one face to the next. ‘You’re all suspended for the rest of the year,’ he said.”

… And then JK! He was just teasing them! What a joke!

That’s So Dated! Moments: At one point Janie is described as pulling up the antenna as she dialed her super modern cordless phone. I remember how slick those things were when they first came out!

Best Quote:

“A fly buzzed near Janie’s ear – its sound seemed to swell and block out everything else. Was it one fly or a hundred? She closed her eyes, but she still saw them. She still heard them buzzing. Flies. They descended like black death over her once-beautiful friend.”

Either Janie is having a serious hallucination or this is one of the nastiest crime scene descriptions we’ve gotten from R.L. Stine.

Conclusion: “The New Boy” is pretty ho-hum and was a weak follow up to the bananas grove that was “Sunburn”. It also has a lot of terrible messages about boundaries and how women should be treated. I say of the two books about new kids, stick to “The New Girl” because that one’s better. Up next is “The Dare”. 

November 2017 Highlights

November is here, and with it comes the beginning of what seems to be officially “holiday season.” Aside from Thanksgiving, our library bookclub also uses this month as an excuse to host a “Friendsgiving” themed get-together. Yes, it is exactly what it sounds like: Thanksgiving 2.0 but with tons of book talk added in for good measure! Here are a few of the books that Kate and I will likely be discussing!

Serena’s Picks:

32718027Book: “City of Brass” by S. A. Chakraborty

Publication Date: November 14, 2017

Why I’m Interested: This book is being compared to “The Golem and the Jinni,” which is one of my favorite historical fantasy novels. Plus, it’s set in the late 1700s in the Middle East, which isn’t the setting of most historical fantasy you find. Add to that a story description of a young woman who has grown up as a con artist on the streets of Cairo only to discover a new and complicated history and world lurking behind the scenes, and you have a sure fire “must read” for me! While there have been a few YA Middle Eastern fantasy novels making their rounds over the last several years, I have yet to find one that fully takes advantages of the uniqueness of this region’s history and folklore. I’m excited to see if this one finally makes the leap!

34002132Book: “Oathbringer” by Brandon Sanderson

Publication Date: November 14, 2017

Why I’m Interested: Brandon Sanderson is one of my all-time favorite authors and one of the few whose books I will always pre-order. The guy is also a crazy fast writer, which is awesome as there is almost always a new story to look forward to from him each year. Sometimes we even get two! This is even more noteworthy for his “Stormlight Archive” epic fantasy saga series. Each of these books are big time door stops. I think I read from Tor Publishing that his last book in this series was literally the largest book their machines could possibly bind. “Oathbringer” is the third in this series, and I’m both excited and intimidated to jump back into this complicated word. I feel like I need to go re-read the last two books to prepare…but that’s like a 1800 page time commitment! Challenge accepted!

34286537Book: “City of Lies” by Victoria Thompson

Publication Date: November 7, 2017

Why I’m Interested: I’m always on the lookout for historical fiction, and as we’ve already seen in this very list, books that feature female con artists always catch my eye. This book features Elizabeth Miles, a con artist and trickster living on the edge of society in the early 20th century. After a con goes bad, she finds herself caught up among a group of women protesting within the Suffrage movement. Here she finds friendship and maybe even love with the son of one leading ladies of this movement. I know that Victoria Thompson has a long-running gaslamp mystery series, but somehow I’ve never read any of her books. I’m hopeful that this book will serve as a great introduction to a new author and new series!

Kate’s Picks:

34523174Book: “Into the Drowning Deep” by Mira Grant

Publication Date: November 14th, 2017

Why I’m Interested: I like Mira Grant’s “Newsflesh” series quite a bit, as I think she’s very good at creating some very fun and original horror narratives. And one of my biggest horror squicks is the deep deep sea. So I’m totally going to dive into this book that involves a film crew that went missing when on the job in the Mariana Trench, and the crew that is assembled after them to try and find out what happened to them. I’m sure that they are going to find some really upsetting things, and if the characters are as likable and intrepid as those in the “Newsflesh” series, I will no doubt have found another horror book that scares as much as it entertains.

34928122Book: “Artemis” by Andy Weir

Publication Date: November 14th, 2017

Why I’m Interested: Perhaps you are thinking to yourself “Well I thought Kate wasn’t that big into Sci-Fi!” And yeah, you’re right. But I really, really liked “The Martian”, Andy Weir’d previous novel, and so I feel like I really oughta give “Artemis” a shot, even if it’s not usually my genre. This story takes place in a more distant future, and concerns a smuggler named Jazz who finds herself in a heist and conspiracy story involving Artemis, the first colony on the moon. It sounds like a really fun concept and a potentially flashy adventure. If Weir brings the same amount of heart and humor to this story as he did “The Martian”, I’m sure that I will enjoy it.

34657854Book: “Batwoman (Vol.1): The Many Arms of Death” by Marguerite Bennett and James Tynion IV.

Publication Date: November 21st, 2017

Why I’m Interested: While I liked that Batwoman got her own comic series in The New 52, I found myself quite bored with how it was going, and quit after Volume 2. But given that Marguerite Bennett of “DC Bombshells” fame is taking the helm on this one (with James Tynion IV), I have reason to be excited! While I know that this surely won’t have the same bubblegum and fun tone that “DC Bombshells” has, I do trust Bennett to give new life to Batwoman in the Rebirth series!

The Great Animorphs Re-read: Megamorphs #2 “In the Time of Dinosaurs”

363363Megamorphs #2: “In the Time of Dinosaurs”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, June 1998

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: We could blame everything that happened on Marco. He was the one who heard about the downed submarine. He was the one who thought we should check it out. And everyone knows that if Marco’s up to a challenge, I’m definitely there.

Everything was going fine. Until the explosion. An explosion that blows us millions of years back in time. Back to the age of dinosaurs. Now Tobias, Cassie, Marco, Ax, Jake and I are fighting for our lives with every step we take. But that’s not our biggest problem. Our biggest problem is we have no idea how to get back to our own time ..

Narrator: Everyone!

Plot: I’ve been looking forward to this one! I have very clear memories of reading (and re-reading!) it as a kid and always having a blast. I mean, dinosaurs, what’s not to love?

As I started putting together this review, I noticed that the plot description above is written from Rachel’s perspective. Kind of an interesting choice. Often the default main character is Jake, and, as we will soon learn, Tobias would make the most sense as a primary character for this book specifically. But we have Rachel here. Don’t know if that means anything, but worth noting!

As the plot describes, the Animorphs here about a nuclear sub sinking off their local coastline. As dolphins they help the divers locate the sub, but as they are retreating, it suddenly goes off and blows them all into unconsciousness. When they wake up, they begin to notice some strange things. It was stormy originally, and now it’s bright sunshine. The water is more clear, even after a bomb going off? And…there’s a massive volcano on the shoreline. All of this falls to the background when a gigantic sea creature shows up with obvious plans to eat them. And it succeeds, managing to gobble down Rachel and Tobias before the others can react. The rest of the manages to escape and make it to land. At this point in the book, the story lines split between the main group (Jake, Cassie, Marco and Ax) and Tobias and Rachel (who obviously manage to escape by Rachel’s quick thinking to morph a grizzly and literally tear her way out).

Jake, Cassie, Marco, and Ax all grieve the loss of Rachel and Tobias. It hits Cassie the hardest, feeling that she’s lost her best friend. But they have bigger problems when they notice a wide trail cut through the forest with some massive footprints along with it. The whole mystery is solved once and for all when a T-Rex shows up and chases them. Marco almost gets eaten and is only saved by Ax managing to slash up the T-Rex when it was distracted and taking it down. Cassie goes into survival mode at this point, focusing on the practicalities of their situation. She instructs the others to cut shoes for themselves using the T-Rex hide and to make a fire to cook some of the meat for them to eat. They camp out for the night, scared and still grieving Rachel and Tobias. The fact that they have discovered where, and when, they are and realized that the blast must have opened a Sario Rip that threw them to the past is of little comfort.

Meanwhile, after the injured sea monster beached itself, allowing Rachel and Tobias to escape to land, the two are wandering around looking for the others. Tobias’s wing was broken when he was swallowed and for some reason morphing doesn’t heal it as it usually would. But he does have all the dino knowledge and is able to name the sea creatures and figure out that they are in the late Cretaceous period. (He read about and played with dinosaurs when he stayed with his drunk uncle who would yell at him if he was noticed). Rachel’s feet get very cut up by walking barefoot, but in good old Rachel fashion, she doesn’t complain.  They spot smoke from a fire (the other Animorphs’ fire) and start heading towards it, only to be surrounded by a group of pack-hunting dinosaurs called (according to Tobias) Deinonychus. So, raptors, essentially.

Tobias is able to quickly understand these other predators’ plan of attack and tells Rachel to head for the forest where the raptors will lose their visuals on each other. Then he has her throw him up in a tree, run, and morph grizzly. He manages to drop onto a raptor that passes beneath him and acquire it. Then, getting lost in the morph, he runs to join the pack that has now surrounded grizzly!Rachel. He attacks Rachel and kills the raptor leader before coming to himself. He manages to force another raptor to allow Rachel to acquire it and then they both escape. Rachel is grumpy and not pleased at all by the fact that Tobias attacked her. They wander through the night.

Jake, Marco, Cassie, and Ax sleep through the night in shifts. After it gets dark, they notice a huge comet in the sky. Using his science knowledge, Ax estimates that the comet will get very close, but won’t hit Earth. In the early morning, they see a flash of light on the horizon, but  before they can think much about it, they get caught in a stampede of long-neck herbivores being chased by yet another T-Rex. This time Jake almost gets eaten, ending up partially swallowed and only managing to escape by morphing tiger and slashing up its throat from inside. This injures the T-Rex enough that they are all able to sneak up on it and acquire it one by one. Ax then informs them that the flash of light was artificial, and they wander towards it. They come across a massive ravine and large valley that shocks them with its contents: a small alien civilization! They morph bird and fly down to check it out.

Meanwhile, Rachel and Tobias run into yet another dinosaur predators, a Spinosaurus. It tries to attack them, but as they go to fight back, an alien creature intercedes, stuns the dinosaur, and tells them that they can’t hurt it as it, and everything on this planet, belongs to them. The alien isn’t too nice, so Rachel attacks it in her raptor morph only to have it disintegrate essentially. It turns out that the alien is made up entirely of ants. Its evil ant alien friends show up in a ship and start shooting at Rachel and Tobias. They flee and end up jumping off the same ravine cliff that the others are now circling as birds. Tobias manages to snag the wings of a passing flying dinosaur and use it as a living hang glider, slowing his and Rachel’s decent. They land on a force field that is projected above the alien city. The bird-morphed others happily reunite with Rachel and Tobias.

Their happy little reunion is interrupted by the strange crab-like aliens who live in the city in the valley. They call themselves the Mercora, and through them the Animorphs learn about what exactly is going on. The Mercora had recently settled on this planet after fleeing their own which was destroyed. The ant-aliens that Rachel and Tobias ran into are a scavenger race called the Nesk that dislike all other sentient species and are trying to wipe out the Mercora. At the present, the two species are at a standoff. The Mercora are a very peaceful race, but they do know the Nesk have powerful weaponry, so the Animorphs devise a plan to sneak into the Nesk base as dinosaurs and steal a bomb to set off that would hopefully close the Sario Rip and jump them back to their time.

The team set off the next morning. Tobias and Rachel morph their raptors, and the rest go T-Rex. Cassie struggles getting the morph under control and kills a triceratops. She has a bit of a break down, but gets it together just in time. They manage to get the bomb, but not without alerting the Nesk who chase after them. They only barely escape when the Mercora show up in a ship and whisk them back to the city. The Nesk abruptly leave the planet; they suspect this is because they are intimidated by thew “new powerful friends” of the Mercora. But they aren’t willing to let the Mercora win. Tobias sees a flash of light go off near the comet and knows what has happened. The Nesk have blown the comet closer to Earth and it will now hit in a day or so, exactly on the Mercora city. The Mercora ask the Animorphs for the bomb they stole so they can fly it up and repel the asteroid. The group votes. Rachel and Marco are against it and the others are for it (though Tobias whispers something to Ax, and the two of them don’t argue much about the whole thing, just quietly agree).

After the Mercora have left with the bomb, Tobias confesses that he had Ax rig the bomb not to blow. Jake and Cassie are furious, but Tobias explains that this has to happen for humanity to exist. The time period is right and there is no evidence of the Mercora people, so the asteroid that hit had to have hit the city. Ergo, it is this asteroid and it has to happen. They fly through the night and then switch to dolphin and swim out to see right before it hits. They all expect to either die immediately or have to suffer through the slow death of the planet.

Instead, the blast closes the Sario Rip and the group fast forwards through time, seeing the dinosaurs die off and humans evolve. They witness first hand the vast difference in time spent on Earth: the dinosaurs were around for 140 million years, and humans have been there for less than 1 million. Upon return, none of them have their dinosaur morphs and more.

Our Fearless Leader: Jake’s big moment comes when he’s yet another member of the team that almost/partially gets eaten by a dinosaur and he manages to take down the T-Rex, thus allowing them all to acquire this morph. Ax also spends some time in one of his chapters admiring Jake’s leadership abilities, specifically his knowledge that making no decision when presented with tough choices is the same as making a decision itself. Towards the end of the book, Jake also acknowledges a sense of gratitude for Tobias making the decision to rig the bomb not to explode. He’s angry at him, but knows that Tobias has saved him from having to be angry at himself. Already in the series we have seen how heavily these tough choices are weighing on him, so this is at least one that he doesn’t need to carry. But I will ding him for not putting 2 and 2 together in the first place and being one of the only two members of the group to vote to give over the bomb sincerely. Yes, it’s a tough choice, but the pieces aren’t that hard to put together and Cassie isn’t known for her clear thinking on things like this.

Xena, Warrior Princess: Again, poor Rachel always seems to take a beating in these Megamorph stories. She gets eaten alive, has to chew her way out, gets her feet torn to shreds repeatedly, and then has her own quasi-boyfriend attack her when he’s in morph. With all the time devoted to Rachel and Tobias’s adventures, we really start to see how these two work together. Rachel, of course, drives forward with action, while Tobias is more prone to thinking things through. What makes the difference, however, is that Tobias admires Rachel’s drive, whereas many of the others see it more as a liability. The two work well together.

Also when they’re fleeing the Nesk base and it’s looking bad, Rachel turns back to help the others. She’s in one of the smaller morphs, but her reasoning is this:

<Exactly,> I agreed grimly. <Maybe if they’re shooting at me, one of the others will get away.>

This is a perfect example of the best side of Rachel’s “go for it attitude.” It’s not all gusto; much of the time it’s a legitimate desire to save others at the expense of her own safety.

A Hawk’s Life: I have to think that Applegate was trying to make things up to poor Tobias who was literally written off the page as sleeping through most of the action in the first Megamorphs book. Here, he really comes into his own. Not only does he know the most about the time period and the dinosaurs in it, but he also proves to be the one best able to adapt to and understand his new circumstances. He quickly evaluates the hunting style of the raptors that come after him and Rachel and is able to think of an effective counter plan. And then, most importantly, he’s the first one to really put together the pieces of where things are likely heading, even before they attack the Nesk and they blow the comet towards Earth. He’s dropping warnings everywhere, even making sure to warn the others not to tell the Mercora that they’re from future Earth when they first meet them. And he steps up in the most major way when he puts into motion the plan to rig the bomb not to explode. He knows the others will be angry, and he knows that he is single-handedly dooming an entire species to die. I’ve said it before, but as the series progresses, and especially as Jake begins to stagger under the weight of leadership, Tobias is a natural second choice. In some ways, I think he would have been the strongest leader from the beginning. Jake’s connection to Cassie does lead him down some questionable paths at times, where as Tobias is almost always thinking clearly and practically, without losing his own empathy.

Peace, Love, and Animals: After Tobias, Cassie also adapts best to the new world. She knows the most about surviving in the wild and is the one that ends up mostly leading the second group of characters. Jake steps back when it’s clear that Cassie knows a lot more about the necessities like making fire and finding food. She is also the character to be most upset by the loss of Rachel and Tobias. Jake and Marco refer to this in their chapters, but at every point, Cassie is feeling the loss most keenly. This just reinforces my view that Cassie is at her best when her character is focused on her friendship with Rachel. This relationship reads true and has a lot of depth. Plus, when they reunite, we get this fun moment:

We were all treated to the utterly bizarre sight of an osprey attempting to hug a dinosaur.

When she breaks down after killing the triceratops, she and Marco get into quite a spat about violence, humanity, and survival. They both take it pretty far. Marco doesn’t hold back, at one point scornfully telling Cassie to “get over it.” And Cassie’s reasoning is also questionable under close evaluation. She says some good things about humanity and our ability to look beyond simple survival. But as a nature lover, I’m always put off by her inability to understand, and more importantly, respect the circle of life and all of that. She too regularly demonizes any/all killing, even that of animals who do it to stay alive. I still haven’t forgiven her for getting mad at Tobias for eating the baby skunks. #NeverForgive #NeverForget

Not surprisingly, she’s also one of the two who votes for giving away the bomb. But she also recognizes what Tobias has done when he confesses his plan. She thanks him even, but then says she’s not sure if she was sincere or sarcastic and that she’s not sure he knew either. Which, why Cassie?? Why to be a jerk to someone who saved you from having to make a tough call on your own.

The Comic Relief: Marco doesn’t have many big moments in this book. He makes his requisite number of jokes, and then probably most notably gets into that argument with Cassie. His stark pragmatism just doesn’t mesh with her more empathetic approach to life. He and Rachel are also firmly on the same side about not handing over the bomb to the Mercora. Seriously, these two. Is there ever a major decision that they’re not on the same side of? Even Tobias and Rachel have found themselves on opposite sides (recently the argument re: using the oatmeal against the Yeerks, but even there Rachel and Marco were on the same side). I think Marco and Ax get the fewest chapters in this book. But Marco had a lot of action in the first Megamorphs, so maybe that’s just fair.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Ax has some pretty big moments, the first of which is taking down the T-Rex single-handedly. But immediately afterwards, he is very emphatic, even scared, when informing the others that this was just a fluke, that they shouldn’t expect him to be able to do it again. He also becomes increasingly exasperated with their expectation that he should know every alien species in the universe. The Nesk and the Mercora are millions of years ahead of the Andalites even, so how could he know? I have to imagine that it’s his close friendship with Tobias that makes him trust his judgement enough to go against Jake’s decision and rig the bomb. For someone who is so ruled by authority figures, this is a pretty major move that is never really acknowledged in the book.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: Just the sheer volume of swallowed alive experiences in this book! Rachel and Tobias are the only ones to go full hog, as it were, and end up in the stomach, so the descriptions of being burned by the stomach acid and crushed by the massive stomach stones of the dinosaur are pretty had with this one. But Jake also ends up halfway down a T-Rex throat and essentially gets vomited back up. And Marco also ends up in a T-Rex mouth at one point, though he has the best (if you can even ever say that about something like this) go of it, never making it further than between the teeth.

Couples Watch!: Obviously, we get a lot of good Tobias/Rachel action with the two of them paired off for much of the book. Rachel doesn’t comment on it much, but Tobias makes a couple of mental remarks about his admiration for Rachel, both her perseverance when she’s getting cut up by the saw glass and has a hawk clawing up her shoulder, and the fact that she manages to look great while doing it.

Cassie and Jake don’t have much. When they first discover the Mercora city, Cassie wants to morph bird and explore it on her own because she doesn’t want to lose…anyone else. Marco rightly calls her on the fact that she’s probably a bit less concerned about him and Ax.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: Visser Three isn’t even in this book! It’s kind of strange, but also a welcome change up from the usual where he always appears in the last third of every story. Instead, the villains of this are the Nesk (yes, they run away from more T-Rexes than anything, but they’re just doing their due predator diligence). It’s kind of funny that the Nesk end up being ants. It’s like K.A. Applegate was just trying to think of the worst thing and, obviously, ants!

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Obviously the poor Mercora have a rough time of it. As a people, they seemed very decent, which just underscores how hard the decision is to let them die. But, bizarrely, it’s the very last scene when we’re flash-forwarding and the team witness the last T-Rex wandering, thin and alone, and then finally falling down that gets me the most. One of the Animorphs even mention that even though they were attacked repeatedly by T-Rexes, they were most sad for these amazing creatures that were so confident in themselves and their place on Earth. I don’t know why, but it was making me tear up. I think I have too clear an image of all of this from that one Fantasia skit about the dinosaurs.

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It’s sad!!! Don’t judge me.  (source)

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: Well, again, Tobias has 2 for 2, with the best plans! (This one, and his well-thought out plan to save the Hork Bajir back in his own book). There aren’t too many out and out “terrible” plans though. I disagree with Cassie and Jake’s vote and their lack of foresight on that one, but it’s not a bad plan in and of itself. Probably the worst plan is why they all didn’t think of trying to get some dinosaur morphs earlier in the book. That, and why they didn’t just spend most of their time in bird morph which would have been an easy way to avoid most of the bad dinosaur interactions.

<Yeah. Right.> I waited for him to laugh at his own joke. Only he didn’t laugh. <Dinosaurs?>
<Yeah. Dinosaurs.>
<Oh, man. Tobias, we are gonna need some better morphs.>

Yes, Rachel! Now why didn’t you all just do this??

Favorite Quote:

Best summation of the craziness of their lives:

<Okay, everyone just keep moving like we’re dinosaurs.>

<Which thanks to the fact that our lives are totally, completely INSANE, we actually are,”> Marco said.

Scorecard: Yeerks 4, Animorphs 9

No score change! This is the first book where the Yeerks aren’t even around!

Rating: I liked this Megamorphs book better than the first. I mean, you really can’t go wrong by adding dinosaurs. It’s also a refreshing change to not have the Yeerks and Visser Three involved. Plus the morality questions raised in this book, and the fact that time travel like this always opens up its own can of worms. Did they always go back in time and do this and that’s why humanity existed? I also liked the fact that the group was split up in more interesting combinations this time around. Not having Rachel wandering around with amnesia and Tobias literally sleeping the whole time are pretty big improvements on their won. Not the best Megamorphs, from what I can remember, but definitely not the worst!

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!

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