Serena’s Review: “Iron Gold”

33257757Book: “Iron Gold” by Pierce Brown

Publishing Info: Del Rey Books, January 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley

Book Description: A decade ago, Darrow was the hero of the revolution he believed would break the chains of the Society. But the Rising has shattered everything: Instead of peace and freedom, it has brought endless war. Now he must risk everything he has fought for on one last desperate mission. Darrow still believes he can save everyone, but can he save himself?

And throughout the worlds, other destinies entwine with Darrow’s to change his fate forever:

A young Red girl flees tragedy in her refugee camp and achieves for herself a new life she could never have imagined.

An ex-soldier broken by grief is forced to steal the most valuable thing in the galaxy—or pay with his life.

And Lysander au Lune, the heir in exile to the sovereign, wanders the stars with his mentor, Cassius, haunted by the loss of the world that Darrow transformed, and dreaming of what will rise from its ashes.

Previously Reviewed: “Red Rising,” “Golden Son,” and “Morning Star”

Review: I absolutely loved the “Red Rising trilogy. It was epic in every sense of the word: a sweeping landscape that sprawls across the entire galaxy. An intimidatingly large cast of characters whose political machinations were challenging (in a good way!) to keep track of. And a story driven by one man’s quest to begin a revolution that would shake an entire world order. But in Darrow’s success, and the trilogy’s success, where is left to go? Many, many places it turns out!

From the get go, “Iron Gold” sets out to be its own story. It’s been ten years since Darrow’s revolution, and yet he, his comrades, and his civilization are still at war, both with the remnants of the old system who seek to bring back their own ways and privileges, as well as with those in their own fledgling government who struggle to direct this new world order from within a different political and societal perspective.

The narrative is also split between four characters. Alongside Darrow, we have Lyria, a Red girl who grew up on a “freed” Mars where all is not as well as they had been promised when her family and their colony were brought up to the surface from the mines below. Back on Luna, an ex-solider-turned-thief struggles to find meaning in an existence void of his fiance who died years ago and finds himself caught up in an underbelly mafia that might be more than he can handle. And far on the out reaches of the galaxy, Lysander, the exiled heir apparent, drifts along until he unexpectedly finds himself pulled into a revolution of its own.

Both of these tactics, the expanded POV cast and the time jump, were managed extremely well. Not only was it a great choice to set the story 10 years later, but by splitting the narrative, “Iron Gold” was freed up from some of the constraints that were beginning to niggle at me back in “Morning Star” when Darrow’s hero complex and habit of speechifying was just beginning to annoy me.

Here, not only do we have the three other characters, but Darrow is very much a changed man from the hopeful, conquering hero that we saw at the close of “Morning Star.” Through him, Brown tackles complicated issues surrounding ongoing warfare, the effects to the psyche on career soldiers, and the simple truth that winning a revolution doesn’t magically deliver up a new world freed of the systemic social classism that was at the heart of the old one. Darrow doesn’t know how to come home, and his discomfort while there, surrounded by friends, his wife, and his son, is palpable. Further, Brown gives us a more complicated Darrow. No longer is the reader assured that however morally grey Darrow’s decisions may be, that of course he is on the right side of this issue, he’s going to save the day! This Darrow is operating in a world where the black and white issue, upending the Gold class system, has already happened. But Darrow’s own legend has become  a burden and throughout this story I often found myself questioning not only his actions but his justifications. Darrow almost becomes an unreliable narrator, and I loved it all.

This discomfort and moral greyness carried over throughout much of the series. While the first trilogy was in many ways a simple mission with the good guys saving the world, this book challenges much of what we took for granted before. Through Lysander, we see a young man who was torn from the only life he had been trained to and cast out into the wilderness. Alongside him, we see the fallout of decisions that were made years ago to support Darrow’s revolution, but had their own catastrophic consequences on other parts of the galaxy and felt by other people. I enjoyed Lysander for the most part, but I also struggled with his decisions towards the end. While I understood them and why he, specifically, would choose as he does, this discomfort of both rooting for AND against a character at the same time was challenging.

Lyria, growing up in the slums on Mars, highlights the fact that winning a war isn’t all that is needed to save a downtrodden people. She and her family are essentially refugees on their own planet, forgotten by the very people who set out to save them who are now caught up in the “bigger picture.” Yes, that big picture is important, but through Lyria, we see the very real image of a revolution that is still actively failing the vulnerable. Lyria was the one character who was entirely sympathetic, and I loved all of her chapters.

Ephraim, the Grey solider-turned-thief, was almost the most “Darrow-esque” character of the whole lot, at least as far as you can judge from the original trilogy. Which is funny, since of the four, he’s also the one most in the wrong throughout the book. But through him we had much of the action and adventure we had in the first series. More jokes, less brooding.

There was also, of course, the return of many characters from the first book. Most notably, Sevro is right along Darrow for much of this ride. I loved that for all of his craziness, of the two, Sevro was by far the more balanced individual, able to carry the trials of war more lightly, and, most importantly, still able to retain a healthy, loving relationship with his wife and children. His wife, Victra, was probably my favorite character in the book for the simple fact that she had a battle suit fitted for her 8 month pregnant body and didn’t let it slow her down one bit.

The biggest disappointment, however, was Mustang. Not in anything she does, but by the simple fact that she has very little page time in this book. It’s not unexpected, considering her role as Sovereign, but I still wish we had more from her. I did enjoy the conflict that arose between her and Darrow. They are on the same side, obviously, but Brown masterfully illustrated the fact that a ruling Sovereign and a general on the front lines might still find themselves in very different places and making very different decisions, even when reaching for the same goal.

This is clearly the first book in a trilogy (?), and while many of the storylines are wrapped up well enough for the book itself, there are just as many ongoing challenges that are only made worse in this first book. Things go pretty badly for almost everyone involved and it definitely seems to be heading towards a “darkest before the dawn” type place. Further, given this book’s willingness to confront the moral quandaries and grey zones of warfare, it feels like less of a given that all will end well for our heroes. As we’ve seen here, winning the battle doesn’t get you very far if you don’t know how to live without fighting. And what’s more, what is the line in a war to save a galaxy? And are you even saving it to begin with? This book challenges its readers in ways that the original trilogy did not, and that is one of the highest marks in its favor. If you’re a fan of the first series, definitely get your hands on this one soon! But make sure to browse through those first few books again first, cuz, man, there are A LOT of characters and connections that I had to try and remember as I went along!

Rating 9: Darker and more complicated than the first, but just as excellent, especially with its expanded POV character cast.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Iron Gold” is a new book and isn’t on any relevant Goodreads lists, but it should be on “Sword and Laser Sci-Fi.”.

Find “Iron Gold” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review & Giveaway: “Senlin Ascends”

35271523Book: “Senlin Ascends” by Josiah Bancroft

Publishing Info: Orbit, January 2018

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

Book Description: The Tower of Babel is the greatest marvel in the world. Immense as a mountain, the ancient Tower holds unnumbered ringdoms, warring and peaceful, stacked one on the other like the layers of a cake. It is a world of geniuses and tyrants, of airships and steam engines, of unusual animals and mysterious machines. Soon after arriving for his honeymoon at the Tower, the mild-mannered headmaster of a small village school, Thomas Senlin, gets separated from his wife, Marya, in the overwhelming swarm of tourists, residents, and miscreants.

Senlin is determined to find Marya, but to do so he’ll have to navigate madhouses, ballrooms, and burlesque theaters. He must survive betrayal, assassins, and the long guns of a flying fortress. But if he hopes to find his wife, he will have to do more than just endure.

This quiet man of letters must become a man of action. 

Review: I firstly want to thank Orbit publishing for sending me an ARC copy of “Senlin Ascends”!

For someone who used to work in a historic Victorian house in full Victorian maid’s uniform (and sometimes Victorian style undergarments), I’m surprisingly not in tune with steampunk literature. My only steps in the genre are Alan Moore’s “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” comic series, and the book “The Clockwork Scarab”. But when Orbit sent me “Senlin Ascends”, it became clear quite quickly that I was going to be jumping right into the deep end of a complex and steampunky world. I will admit that I was a bit overwhelmed at first as I got to know Thomas Senlin, cautious and meek school teacher, and his excursion into a technology ridden and complex Tower of Babel. But as I read on, I got into the groove.

The first thing that struck me was how intricate and creative this alternate world is that Josiah Bancroft has created. The Tower of Babel is an imposing structure from Biblical Mythology, and Bancroft transports it to a Victorian-esque time period in a world that is similar to our own, but not quite the same. The references to Victorian societal norms and fashions within a world of steam blimps and flying ships was very fun, as were the strange puzzles and conflicts within the Tower itself as Senlin moves his way through, hoping to find his lost wife, Myra. From drug dens to maniacal plays to space piracy, Bancroft puts Senlin in a world that he, and the reader, doesn’t see coming. I enjoyed jumping from scenario to scenario, experiencing it through the eyes of someone just as uninitiated as I was. The writing itself to describe this world was lyrical and flowing, reminding me of more classical styles similar to an adventure novel by Verne or Stevenson. It was just another nod to the time that steampunk tends to function in, and it fit the story perfectly.

I also enjoyed seeing the journey of Senlin himself. He starts as a meek and pragmatic school teacher from a small town, who brings is effervescent and new bride Mayra to the Tower in hopes of a vibrant honeymoon. All he knows of the Tower is what he has read in guidebooks, which make it seem fascinating and wondrous. As he comes to realize that it is, in fact, far more dangerous than he was led to believe, he has to confront himself and his own pitfalls and weaknesses if he wants to get Mayra back. To be frank, when Senlin starts out he is naive and privileged, and his transformation to hero is a slow one. It’s one thing if you start out merely naive, but it seems that Bancroft deliberately wanted to make him earn his hero status, as Senlin starts out with maddening cowardice, whose idealism has put his wife in serious danger that he can’t quite confront. I would go so far as to say that Senlin starts out as a rather unlikable character, as he abandons people who are helping him or working with him if he can escape with his tail between his legs. But to start him out this way means that he is going to learn from his mistakes, and by learning he becomes a better, if more hardened, person more equipped to function within the corrupt tower. His rotating companions and allies all have their roles to play in his growth, and I liked meeting them and seeing how he interacted with them.

But there was a glaring issue I took with “Senlin Ascends”, and that is how women have functioned within the narrative thus far. The most important, of course, is Mayra, and while we do get a little bit more insight beyond his here and there, she is very much objectified as a victim to be saved. She disappears within the first pages, and becomes this specter of longing who is merely idealized and not explored as a person, but as an ideal. I’m hoping that she does show up more in the later books and can become more than a beautiful, missing woman in a red helmet (side note: I love the fashions described in this book, and if this is what steampunk fashion is for the most part, I’m down!). Then there was Edith, one of the first people Senlin meets in the Tower. While she has ended up in a pretty cool place by the time he meets up with her again, what we see on page is her being put through the ringer and tortured, and not really any of the triumphs that bring her to final, self actualized state. It’s great she gets there eventually, but it would have meant more to see it. There is Voleta, who is the sister of one of Senlin’s companions, who was forced into performing acrobatics for abusive and corrupt men of power, another damsel in distress. And finally there’s Iren, an insanely strong enforcer who Senlin teaches how to read. While she was intriguing in her storyline, wanting to learn to read and become more that just brute force, she was, again, a woman to be saved in some way. I am going to give all of this the benefit of the doubt for now, as this is book one in a series and there are more books for all of them to come into their own. But I had hoped that women would play more of a role in this book beyond motivation for men.

Those issues aside, I did find “Senlin Ascends” to be a compelling story with lots of really neat ideas.

Rating 7: An exciting adventure novel with an interesting protagonist. I wish that female characters weren’t relegated to victim status, but am hoping in the next book they will get more to do and be more fleshed out.

But there’s more! I am giving away a free ARC of this novel! Given the indie success of this book and the other books in the series, I’m thinking that it will make a splash in the mainstream publishing world! The giveaway is open to U.S. residents only, and will be running until January 23rd!

Enter The Giveaway Here! 

Reader’s Advisory:

“Senlin Ascends” is just getting started and isn’t on any Goodreads lists, but I think that it would fit in on “Steampunk”, and “Best Steampunk and Gaslight Works”.

Find “Senlin Ascends” at your library using WorldCat!

Rah Rah for RA!: Spooky Reads for Kids!

Occasionally we here at Library Ladies get an email asking for some Reader’s Advisory. Sometimes it’s a general ‘what should I read next?’, and sometimes it’s a specific genre or theme that the reader is asking for. We do our best to match the reader to some books that they may like based on the question they give us. 

Dear Library Ladies,

As a person who is occasionally asked for reading recommendations for kids/teens, I could use some advice. I’m not well versed in the scary/horror story genre, so I would like some suggestions for books for kids, middle grade, and teens. Since I can’t always interpret the scary-tolerance level of the people that ask, a range, or even a general guideline for people new to this genre, would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

Sincerely,

“Person who definitely did not fast forward through the Oogie Boogie Man song as a kid”

Hi, Person!

Good on you trying to expand your literary repertoire! It’s always good to have a nice bag of tricks when it comes to all genres. Given that horror can run a huge gamut, we’ll give you some titles that could be for those who need tamer works, and those who want to be super scared.

Picture Books:

7552359Book: “Zen Ghosts” by John J Muth

While this picture book does talk about ghosts and spooky folklore to an extent, the imagery and the themes are so gentle and muted that it probably won’t be too scary for any reader. Muth’s books in this series star a panda who gives zen teachings to children, and even in this Halloween themed book he addresses the spirit of the season as well as more thoughtful and introspective things.

363973Book: “The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything” by Linda Williams

This is another Halloween themed story, but it can work year round as well. This brave little old lady is normally not afraid of anything, but then something follows her home. It’s a story that shows that even brave people can be scared sometimes, and that sometimes confronting your fears can be hard, but rewarding.

760205Book: “There’s A Nightmare in My Closet” by Mercer Mayer

What child hasn’t been afraid of things hiding under their bed or in their closet? This story is about a boy who ultimately confronts that monster in his closet, and finds out that it may not be as scary as he thought. The empowerment of the main character is a nice touch to a story that teaches the readers that sometimes what we are afraid of can’t really hurt us. And Mercer Mayer is always a joy, with fun and sweet characters.

Middle Grade:

267972Book: “Wait Til Helen Comes” by Mary Downing Hahn

Mary Downing Hahn is one of the high queens of children’s horror, and “Wait Til Helen Comes” is probably her most well known. When Michael and Molly’s mother marries Heather’s father, the blended family goes through immediate growing pains. Not only is Heather a manipulative brat, but she is constantly talking about her new friend Helen… who happens to be a ghost with not so nice intentions. This book is both creepy, and also addresses some real life issues involving family and siblings.

22859559Book: “The Jumbies” by Tracey Baptiste

This book brings Caribbean folklore to the forefront as it sends thrills and chills down readers spines. Corinne and her father are non believers when it comes to
Jumbies, Haitian folk creatures that lure people into the woods to eat them. But when
Corinne’s father falls under the mysterious spell of a strange woman named Severine, she needs to enlist the help of her friends and a witch in hopes of getting her father back! With diverse characters and a mythology that may be new to readers, “The Jumbies” is a fun, spooky read!

125581Series: “Goosebumps” by R.L. Stine

Well, of course. R.L. Stine’s classic book series for kids may have started in the 1990s, but it remains a favorite of children who love to be scared. While the levels of horror and themes vary from book to book, there are so many different monsters and creepy crawlies that most horror fans will find a couple that resonate with them (Kate still thinks about “The Werewolf of Fever Swamp” on occasion). True, the stories can be repetitive at times, but the familiarity can be a plus for those who want to read more and more with an author they are comfortable with.

Young Adult:

18748653Book: “Daughters Unto Devils” by Amy Lukavics

Starting this section off with a book for hardcore horror fans. The cover alone is jarring and upsetting! When Amanda Verner and her pioneer family move from their home in the mountains to an abandoned house on the prairie, weird things start happening. Amanda, with secrets of her own, starts to wonder if the demon she thinks saw that past winter has followed her… With claustrophobic settings and an undercurrent of paranoia, this book will keep the reader up at night jumping at any sounds outside the window.

19364719Book: “Slasher Girls and Monster Boys” by April Genevieve Tulchoke

For people who want multiple scary stories that can be read in one sitting, “Slasher Girls and Monster Boys” may be the book for them! this collection of horror short stories takes various pop culture influences to make all new takes of terror. From multiple authors in the YA horror genre, this collection has something fun and scary for everyone! The scary factor also varies from story to story, some being tame and weird, others being deeply disturbing.

25263927Book: “The Girl from The Well” by Rin Chupeco

Fans of “The Ring” and “The Grudge” will be familiar with the premise. Okiku, a Japanese vengeance ghost, traveled the world hunting down child killers and rapists, giving them a death they truly, truly deserve. But one day she stumbles upon a boy named Tarquin, an American teenager with intricate and strange tattoos. They aren't just ordinary tattoos. There is something creepy and sweet about an onryō actually helping others instead of straight up murdering them…

So there you have it!! A list of horror for kids of all ages and all levels of freak out tolerance. If anyone else has any recommendations, leave them in the comments!

 

 

Serena’s Review: “Beneath the Sugar Sky”

27366528Book: “Beneath the Sugar Sky” by Seanan McGuire

Publishing Info: Tor, January 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley

Book Description: Beneath the Sugar Sky” returns to Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children. At this magical boarding school, children who have experienced fantasy adventures are reintroduced to the “real” world.

Sumi died years before her prophesied daughter Rini could be born. Rini was born anyway, and now she’s trying to bring her mother back from a world without magic.

Previously Reviewed: “Every Heart a Doorway” and “Down Among the Sticks and Bones”

Review: I read and loved the first book in this series of novellas, had complicated feelings about the second, though still largely enjoyed it, and was counting down the days until I could get my hands on this one (even better, I got it early so I was able to do away with my “counting calendar” before the madness really took over).

“Beneath the Sugar Sky” introduces us to Cora, yet another girl who has been unwillingly returned to a world where she feels she no longer belongs. New to the Home for Wayward Children, she is just beginning to make friends with the others around her and beginning to understand the far-reaching and complicated network of other worlds that children have traveled to and from for years. But, like them all, she wants only to find her door and return as soon as possible. Instead, what she finds, is a girl who has traveled to this “regular world” with one goal and one goal only: to resurrect her mother, Sumi, who died so tragically way back in the first book.

First off, I loved the combination of introducing a completely new character and world through Cora, but also directly tying the plot to the action from the very first book in the series, and using this contrivance to more naturally bring in characters from the first two books with whom we are familiar and enjoy. I particularly loved the surprise appearance of a past main character and exploring more fully the world she loves.

And that was another great thing! We got to visit multiple fantastical worlds in this book! I always love adventure/quest stories, and that it was lovely following our band of strange heroes through various worlds and seeing how they reacted/experienced each of these worlds. We know that the worlds choose children who are natural fits for those worlds, so seeing those characters out of place in a strange new world was very interesting, highlighting how “high nonsense” worlds would have a negative impact on characters who are more aligned to “logical” worlds. And how the world itself could actively resist those rules being pushed upon it.

Alongside some returning characters, the two new faces are Cora and Rini. Cora, our main character, was an excellent addition to a ever-growing pantheon of characters who push against conformative exceptions of society that make quick judgements of who a person is. In this particular story, we see Cora dealing with the judgements based on her weight. Her athleticism, particularly in the water, was continuously dismissed before she finds her own door that leads to a water world where she goes on adventures as a mermaid. There, in the freezing depths, her extra layers and strong, poweful body are an asset. So, here, returned to a world that sees only a “fat girl,” Cora is struggling to re-assert the powerful self within her.

While I did like the exploration of the judgements and insecurities that Cora deals with in this aspect, I was also a little underwhelmed with its resolution. Namely, there never was much of a resolution to speak of. Throughout the story Cora remains insecure about the judgements she assumes others are making about her. At the same time, she knows her own strength and begins to see how truly in-tune her own world was to her particular strengths. But she also finds ways to use those same strengths in other environments. However, I felt that this particular thread was left a bit hanging in the end. The plot itself was resolved, but this arc seemed to just peter out without any true revelations, either on Cora’s part or on other’s.

Rini was very fun, being the first “native” other world character we’ve seen. It was fun watching her character travel through the book with a “nonsense” perspective on everything. So far, we’ve only seen children from our world who, while particularly attuned for one world or another, understand that strangeness of it when compared to our “real world.” Through Rini, we see a character who has grown up in one of these strange lands and understands its rules and history (there was some great stuff with a creation story here) as as “obvious” as we consider our own world’s rules and history.

This was an excellent third story to McQuire’s Wayward Children series. While some of the internal conflicts weren’t resolved to the extent that I wish they had been, I very much enjoyed her combination of new worlds and characters with familiar faces. Further, each book seems to build upon the last as far as the mythology and connection between all of these various worlds. Even more fun, the characters themselves are learning right along side us! For fans of this series, definitely check this one out. And for those of you not on this train yet, get on, but start with the first as it’s a “must read” to fully appreciate this on.

Rating 8: Whimsical and dark, but coming up just short on a few of its character arcs.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Beneath the Sugar Sky” is a newer book, but it is on this Goodreads list: “2018 Queer SFF Releases.”

Find “Beneath the Sugar Sky” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “It’s Always The Husband”

31451082Book: “It’s Always The Husband” by Michele Campbell

Publishing Info: St. Martin’s Press, May 2017

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

Book Description: Kate, Aubrey, and Jenny. They first met as college roommates and soon became inseparable, even though they are as different as three women can be. Twenty years later, one of them is standing at the edge of a bridge . . and someone else is urging her to jump.

How did things come to this?

As the novel cuts back and forth between their college years and their adult years, you see the exact reasons why these women love and hate each other—but can feelings that strong lead to murder? Or will everyone assume, as is often the case, that it’s always the husband? 

Review: On the show “Major Crimes”, one of my favorite characters, Detective Lt. Provenza, has a tag line that he lives by. “It’s always the husband, it’s always the husband it’s ALWAYS the husband.” Of course, on the show it isn’t ALWAYS the husband, but it plays to the sad statistic that when a woman is murdered, the odds are that her murderer is going to be her husband or boyfriend. It probably doesn’t surprise you that when I first heard of the book “It’s Always The Husband” by Michele Campbell that this phrase was going through my head. But like on “Major Crimes”, I had a feeling going in that it would be a bit more complicated than the steadfast and all too real adage that Provenza likes to toss about.

The story is told through two time periods that tend to flip flop from one to the other. The first is twenty years in the past, when three women start their freshman year of college at a prestigious school in New England. Aubrey is the girl who got there solely on her brains, and is escaping an impoverished life back in Nevada. Jenny is a townie who has ambitions and hopes to become more than her small town expectations. And Kate is the entitled and rick party girl, who expects life to be handed to her. Their differences were stark and while I had a hard time believing that they would have been as close as the book makes them out to be (specifically Jenny; I just don’t believe that she would have put up with Kate’s bullshit), I felt like they were all well explored and fleshed out. I liked seeing how they changed and shifted in their personalities from their freshman year to the present day, when they have all gone their separate ways and established themselves. I also liked that none of them were all good, or all bad. While Kate was absolutely a wretched and toxic human being, Campbell threw in some background and plot points that humanized her. While Jenny was determined and incredibly competent, and absolutely my favorite of the three main characters, she makes stupid decisions and mistakes that I wanted to smack her upside the head for. And Aubrey is so damaged and innocent that you definitely feel sorry for her, but a dark side lingers there, and when it rears it’s ugly head you can’t help but be a bit freaked out by it. As a reader I cared about all of them in some way, and was invested in how things turned out for all of them, and who it was that ended up on that bridge. It may also be a testament to how good the narrator was on this audiobook, as she varied her voices and inflections for each character wonderfully.

The mystery itself was very well done. The clues to what happened are laid out in both the past and the present, giving hints both in actions and the characters personality traits. This book definitely kept me guessing as it went on, and I never had a complete handle on what the ultimate solution was, which I really liked. My thoughts and opinions shifted in the ways that Campbell probably wanted them to, and I didn’t even mind that I was being led about like a puppet on a string because it was so fun to be taken on this journey. It eventually becomes clear just who it is on the bridge, but even getting to that first reveal was a fun trip to take, and it was even more enticing to find out who put her in that position, and why.

I will say that there were a couple of things that I took umbrage with. For one, there is a storyline with the new Chief of police in town who is investigating the murder, Owen. He goes in completely biased, as he had a VERY short dalliance with the victim before she ends up dead, and I found myself just irritated with everything about him and his motivations. I also found it a bit hard to swallow that an unexpected dinner with a woman who didn’t even give him her real name would affect him so much, no matter how magnetic she was, and it felt like an unnecessary way to throw in some drama. There are plenty of cops who try to fit evidence to a perp as opposed to the other way around without having a personal connection to the victim, so that seemed a bit superfluous. And this book also does that thing that I just cannot stand, in that in the last page and paragraphs of the book a FINAL TWIST is revealed. Man, that made me roll my eyes super hard. But unlike other books that have implemented this strategy in my recent reading, I enjoyed this one enough for everything else that I couldn’t hold it  totally against it. Just know that it’s coming.

“It’s Always The Husband” was a sudsy and compelling thriller that I had a great time listening to. While it had some flaws, overall I greatly enjoyed it. And I think that it would truly get Provenza to rethink his usual mantra.

Rating 7: A fast paced and well plotted thriller with some great revelations and some great surprises. One plot line was a bit tedious and frustrating, but overall I enjoyed what this book had to give.

Reader’s Advisory:

“It’s Always The Husband” is included on the Goodreads lists “2017 Librarian Recommended Books”, and “Best Twists”.

Find “It’s Always The Husband” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “The Hazel Wood”

34275232Book: “The Hazel Wood” by Melissa Albert

Publishing Info: Flatiron Books, January 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley

Book Description: Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the uncanny bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a cult-classic book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate, the Hazel Wood, Alice learns how bad her luck can really get: Her mother is stolen away―by a figure who claims to come from the Hinterland, the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother’s stories are set. Alice’s only lead is the message her mother left behind: “Stay away from the Hazel Wood.”

Alice has long steered clear of her grandmother’s cultish fans. But now she has no choice but to ally with classmate Ellery Finch, a Hinterland superfan who may have his own reasons for wanting to help her. To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother’s tales began―and where she might find out how her own story went so wrong.

Review: I judged the book by its cover. And the cover is beautiful, so I picked it up. Also, dark fairytales, a mysterious family history, travel between worlds, and this book sounded right up my alley. And while pieces taken outside of the whole were enjoyable, I found myself not as enamored by this one as I had hoped.

Alice and her mother have been running their entire lives, pursed by nameless, faceless, bad luck. That, and from the mystery and cultish fervor that swirls around Alice’s grandmother who is best known for writing an obscure book of fairytales. Other than flee when bad luck arrives on your door, Alice knows there is one rule: don’t interact with fans of her gradnmother’s book. But when her mother disappears, Alice has no choice but to turn to a fan and fellow classmate, the only one who will believe the strangeness involved. And neither are fully prepared for what they get: perhaps those fairytales weren’t fiction after all.

Part of my struggle with this book was due to the fact that it was simply incredibly slow for the first half of the book. It’s not a monstrously long title by any means, but half of a book is still too long to take to get to the meat of the story. There’s quite a lot of build up to Alice’s mom’s disappearance, and then, afterwards, it takes even longer somehow for Alice and Finch to get into the actual magical aspects of the story. This was even more frustrating because it didn’t seem that this extra time was spent building anything. Alice and Finch, early in the story, have already bought into the concept that there are magical elements at play, so it’s not character development that necessitates the slow movement. Further, there are about three or four mini adventures that they go through before even getting out of the city which felt like three or four more than were needed.

This slow beginning also had the unfortunate effect of making me begin to dislike Alice herself. Since the story goes some interesting places with her character in the second half of the book, the fact that the slowness of the first half had already damaged my enjoyment of her was pretty unfortunate. Yes, Alice had a non-traditional childhood and one that was made up largely of isolation and instability. And the author lays the groundwork for her anger early in the story. But all of that given, she’s just kind of a mean person a lot of the time which made it hard for me to become invested in her emotional arc. Like I said, there’s a payoff for some of this in the end. But I do think the slowness of the first half is directly responsible for the fact that damage control had to be done at all. Had we more quickly gotten into the actual story itself, there might have been less time for me to wallow around thinking that Alice was just kind of being a bitch to a bunch of people most of the time.

In the second half, things do pick up, and it was here that I found much of my enjoyment of the story. I loved the fact that the author fully embraced the darker side of fairytales. Throughout the story,  we get to hear some of the stories that were in Alice’s grandmother’s collection, and they are perfectly pitched as darkly creepy and strange, without any clear moral or predictable pattern. This just makes it all the more shivery when the characters and worlds themselves begin to come to life.

Readers’ mileage for this part of the story could also vary. There’s a lot of mystery and obfuscation. Characters withhold information simply because they can. There are definite elements of “Alice in Wonderland” with the strangeness, nonsense, and bizarre mini scenes that Alice travels through. I enjoy nonsense fairytales, and I especially liked the darker aspects of this one. However, I can see how it could read as disjointed and, again, hard to connect to for some readers. Even I struggled a few times with the strange juxtaposition of classical dark magical elements with other very modern references. It was definitely jarring at times, but by this point I was so relieved to have the story picking up that I didn’t mind.

This book was very hit and miss for me. There were parts of it that I absolutely loved (the fairytales themselves, most of the action in the second half, and the nice twist at the end), but I also very much struggled to get into the story. It starts slow and there were certain writing choices, just the way certain sentences were strung together, that were confusing and required me to read through twice, something I never love doing. I also wasn’t sold on Alice as a character, though I did enjoy the later reveals with her. If you like dark fantasy stories and can handle a slow start and a healthy dose of the strange, I’d recommend giving “The Hazel Wood” a go!

Rating 6:  A dark “Alice in Wonderland” where Alice is kind of a brat. But the fairytales themselves were on point!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Hazel Wood” is a newer book and so not on many Goodreads lists. I’m not sure whether I agree with this classification or not, but it is included on “2018 YA Horror.”

Find “The Hazel Wood” at your library using WorldCat!

A Revisit to Fear Street: “The Thrill Club”

176479Book: “The Thrill Club” (Fear Street 24) by R.L. Stine

Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, 1994

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

Book Description: Thrills and chills…

Talia Blanton could scare you to death.

She writes horror stories—stories that often give her friends starring roles.

Everyone loves Talia’s terrifying tales—until they start to come true. One by one, Talia’s friends become Talia’s victims.

Is Talia making her stories come true? Or is someone trying to turn Talia’s real life into a horror story?

Had I Read This Before: No

The Plot: I first want to say that I did some poking around online while reading this book, and a couple sources (aka maybe reckless internet gossip) claim that “The Thrill Club” was written by a ghost writer and not R.L. Stine himself. And given some of the plot points of this story, I find that hilarious. So let’s begin.

Shandel Carter is walking home alone on Fear Street in the dead of night. She and her friend Nessa got into an argument, and so Shandel doesn’t have a ride to take her back to her house. The argument was about whether or not Nessa saw a ghost in the Fear Street cemetary: Nessa said yes, and Shandel said no way. But as she’s walking home, she starts hearing someone, or something calling her name. She runs and sees ghosts rising out of the cemetery, and has her throat cut by one of them…. But it turns out this is just a story, as told by Talia Blanton at their Thrill Club meeting. The Thrill Club is a group of friends who rip off “Are You Afraid Of The Dark” by getting together and telling scary stories. Talia’s tend to star her friends in the club: Seth, her boyfriend; Maura, Seth’s ex girlfriend (until Talia stole him away); Nessa, the kind one; Rudy, the cute one and Maura’s new boyfriend; and Shandel. Who isn’t pleased about being the victim in the story. Oh, and apparently Seth has been the one writing Talia’s stories as of late and she’s been passing them off as her own. She also is always thinking about how ugly Maura is. Talia isn’t terribly likeable, is she? Shandel asks that Talia not use her name in these gory stories anymore, and Maura implies that Talia is getting help from Seth with these stories, but Talia insists that’s not true, and demands that he lie for her. Which he kind of does. Shandel once again asks that Talia leave her name out of it, and in response Talia rushes across the room and stabs her in the chest with one of those fake retractable knife toys. Jesus Christ, this girl is a sociopath. Shandel, not pleased, says that she doesn’t get mad, she gets even.

The club breaks up for the night. Talia goes back to the rec room to find Maura and Seth talking closely, and Talia wonders why she isn’t jealous. Maybe it’s because Seth has been acting so strange since his father died three weeks earlier. Gee Talia, you’re sure right, why is acting so strange when his Dad died THREE WEEKS AGO? Rudy and Maura leave, and Talia and Seth are left alone. She wishes that he would smile more, and I officially kind of hate her. He confides in her that he found his father’s body, and that he was sitting in a chair, just staring ahead, a strange audiocassette playing on a loop. The coroner couldn’t figure out a cause of death either. And now he and his Mom and broke and may have to move away.  He takes Talia up to the study to show her something. Talia looks out the window, and sees Maura in the house next door! She demands what Maura is doing there, and Seth reminds her that she lives there. Doesn’t even know where her friend lives, this girl. ANYWAY, Seth reminds her that his dad was an anthropologist, and tells her that he was working with a ‘primitive tribe in New Guinea’ before he died. HO boy. I can already assure you this is not going to be at all culturally sensitive. He plays the tape for her, and a bunch of chanting starts up. Seth then falls into a weird trancelike state, and Talia’s head starts to pound. She begs that he turn it off, and shakes him out of his trance. On the way home Talia is feeling jumpy and finds herself walking by the Fear Street Cemetery. She suddenly hears pounding footsteps, and freaks out… but then it’s just Shandel playing a trick on her. I call that squarsies. They walk home together, and Shandel tells Talia that it was uncool that Talia broke Maura and Seth up. Talia says it wasn’t her fault, Seth asked HER out. She didn’t break them up! Sure. Shandel tells her that they aren’t a good couple, and Talia is super angry about that. Which is strange, because she knows that Shandel is right and always speaks her mind. So why is she so mad??

The next day Talia is still feeling weird. She goes to school, and wonders what she should do about Seth, stay with him or break up with him? He’s either too needy or too distant, and Talia doesn’t have time for that! In math class, her teacher Mr. Hanson pulls her aside and asks her about the previous day’s homework, and if it was actually her work. Which it isn’t, because Seth did it for her while she watched TV. But she tells him that yes, it’s totally her work, she’s NOT a cheater!

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(source)

Mr. Hanson takes her word for it. Talia wonders who could have ratted her out, and thinks that it must be Shandel.

That night at Thrill Club Nessa is pissed because everyone but Rudy is late! Which is odd because Shandel had spoken to her a half hour before telling her how excited she was for the meeting and that she had a secret to tell her. Maura shows up next, and says that maybe Talia is late because the story Seth wrote for her got lost in a disk crash, and Rudy chides her. Maura asks whose side he’s on anyway, and Nessa, being the smartest dummy in this whole group, continues to do her nails and pretend she isn’t there. I am imaging her as Portia from “Search Party” now. Then Seth shows up, and asks where Talia and Shandel are. Nessa decides to call Shandel because she’s sick of waiting, and Talia runs down the basement steps, out of breath and looking harried. Nessa asks where she was, and Talia doesn’t know…. It’s odd, because she left her house twenty minutes ago and it’s only a ten minute walk from her house, so why can’t she remember where the time went? She gives her sweatshirt to Nessa, who’s going to put it with the other coats, and doesn’t remember taking it off. Then Nessa has bad news: she called Shandel’s house, and her mom said that Shandel left a half hour ago, but it’s only a short walk to Nessa’s house! They decide to go looking for her, and Talia gets her sweatshirt back…. and Maura points out a bloodstain on it. Talia has no clue how it got there. They go looking for Shandel, and drive all the way to her house without seeing her. They wonder if she tried to cut through the cemetery. As they are driving, Maura sees something, and they stop the car. They find Shandel’s body strewn in the grass, and her throat has been cut. Just like in the horror story.

Seth drives Talia home from the police station after they are done with the questioning. She is feeling bad about the story he wrote, but he tells her not to blame herself. They make out a bit, and then he stops abruptly and says he has to go. She goes into her house, and goes to change into her nightgown… and finds a bloody knife in her dresser drawer! She keeps this info to herself until the day of Shandel’s funeral, where she tells Seth. She has no clue how the knife got in her drawer, and thinks she is being set up. The Thrill Club meets after the service to mourn and talk. Maura asks Talia about the bloody shirt, pretty clearly accusing her of murdering Shandel. Talia says that it wasn’t even blood, it was ketchup.

A few nights later Talia is waiting for Seth to call, as they are supposed to be going to the movies. He doesn’t make contact, however, so she calls him instead. He tells her that his mother is sick and he can’t see her that night after all, so Talia decides to try and write instead. But before she can start, there’s a knocking at the door. She answers, and it’s the police, asking her why she called Shandel Carter’s mother and confessed to murdering Shandel?

After denying this, at school the next week everyone is looking at her like she’s a murderer. Nessa tries to be supportive, but Maura is flat out convinced that Talia is a killer. She’s feeling out of sorts and exhausted, and walks towards the gym. She runs into Rudy inside, who says that he’s been thinking about her and promises he doesn’t think she killed Shandel. Talia, angry at Seth and feeling the slightest crumb of validation, kisses Rudy! Who kisses her back!! But then they hear the door clatter, and they turn to see someone running away. Who saw them???? They try to catch the person, but don’t. But it was just one kiss, so who cares, right?

Later that week, Talia is still not really eating. She gets to school and sees Nessa flirting with someone. THat someone turns out to be Seth! When she confronts them angrily (seems a bit hypocritical), Nessa says that Talia called her last night and told her that she was breaking up with Seth!! Talia says that she never called Nessa, but Nessa swears she isn’t lying either. Seth says he doesn’t know what to believe. That night she is home alone, and answers the door to find a HORRIBLY DISFIGURED FACE IN THE DOORWAY… But it’s just Seth in a mask, one that his father brought back from Papua New Guinea. He describes his father as a collector, but we all know he probably actually stole these artifacts in the name of science and imperialism. She says that she thought he was going to break up with her, but he assures her that no, he isn’t. They decide to have a nice talk to catch up, and she tells him that she got accepted to Berkeley in the fall!! Seth is visibly bummed by this (maybe he wrote her essay too), but then shows her that he has a new horror story that he wrote for her. This one involves Rudy getting strung up in a noose in his basement. Talia is torn, because on one had she loves the story, but on the other that seems ghoulish creepy to write another story about a friend after Shandel died like the last one. Especially since they think she killed Shandel. Seth convinces her that it’s okay, and that if he did change the name she’d look more suspicious.

At school Talia confirms with Rudy that she is indeed going to the Thrill Club meeting at his house. He is happy to hear it, and tells her to arrive at six. When she’s walking home, Talia is stopped by Maura, who tells her that she’s worried about Seth. Maura can see into his window at night and he spends most nights pacing around and looking through his father’s things. Instead of thinking about what this could mean for Seth’s well being, Talia goes in on Maura, accusing her of being jealous.

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Maura, probably. But definitely my thoughts as well. (source)

Maura suggests that maybe Thrill Club should take a break, but Talia says no, and she’s going to Rudy’s early to help him set up, fully hoping to make her jealous. God she’s such a jerk.

Nessa arrives to Thrill Club at Rudy’s and finds Maura and Seth on the porch. Rudy hasn’t let them in yet, and no one has seen Talia. They let themselves into the open house and go down to the basement. It’s there that they find Rudy hanging from a noose, dead. Nessa, possibly having a mental break, starts to laugh hysterically thinking it’s a joke, but it becomes quite clear it isn’t. Then Talia stumbles out of the shadows with rope burns all over her hands. SO, she’s sent to a mental ward. Seth comes to visit her, and she tells him that her court date is in three weeks but she’s been released into her parents custody and is going home. Though she can’t remember killing them, she concedes that she must have, given the knife in her drawer and the rope burns on her hands. Seth leaves, seeming to have finally turned his back on her, and as she watches him out the window she sees him walk back to his car, where Maura is waiting!!! Did Maura frame her for the murders all to get Seth back?!

Before leaving she hallucinates that Shandel and Rudy have come to kill her but it’s just two other patients and it’s all so superfluous. Maybe the ghost writer had a minimum word count to hit.

Anyway, Seth reads her a new story for Thrill Club that night in which she has taken Shandel and Rudy’s heads as trophies and wants to take his head too. Talia draws the line, saying this is SO distasteful, and Seth leaves her in his father’s study to answer the door. When Nessa and Maura come in, Seth shoots down the idea of the Thrill Club disbanding. He also tells Talia that she absolutely must read the new story she wrote, because it’s so good. Talia, feeling trapped, decides to read it, but try to change the ending on the fly so that instead of Rudy and Shantel’s heads it’s two shrunken heads. But as she’s reading it, she notices two things. The first is that Seth isn’t even listening, but has his Walkman on. The second is that there’s a horrible buzzing in her head, and she can’t make herself change the story, no matter how she tries. So she reads it in its original form, and Nessa and Maura are pissed. But soon a voice is drowning out the buzzing, and it tells Talia to TAKE ANOTHER TROPHY!!! And so she pulls out a HACKSAW and starts to attack Maura!!! She scuffles with both Maura and Nessa, against her will, and the voice keeps telling her to try and kill them. When Maura and Nessa overpower her, the voice says that it will take care of this, and Talia suddenly wakes up from her trance, not remembering what just happened. Maura says that they should call the police, but Seth takes the phone from Nessa and tells them that NO ONE ESCAPES!!!! It was Seth the whole time! You see, the tape that his father had wasn’t just any racist imperial bastardization of a non Western culture: it’s a ‘transfer’ tape. In that if you chant these words, the person will ‘transfer’ their consciousness into another body. Convinced that his father did this to get away from him and his mother, Seth started putting his consciousness into Talia’s body. He knew that she wanted to dump him for Rudy and leave her like his father did, and that she used him and abused him and was going to drop him anyway. He didn’t mean to kill Shandel, as he thought the knife was fake, but Rudy was totally on purpose because he’s the one who saw them kissing. And now he has a new chanting that’s going to kill all of them, somehow….. but then in mid chant, he just says ‘too late, too late’, and he buckles. The girls catch up, and they realize that he’s dead. How? I guess it doesn’t matter.

We end with Talia and Maura hanging out. Talia tells her the charges against her have been dropped, and they say they both miss Seth from before he went totally crazy. They agree to call Nessa and get together soon, and Talia says that she may write another horror story. When Maura asks if that’s a good idea, Talia says “Don’t worry, I’ll make sure this one has a HAPPY ending!” The End.

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(source)

Body Count: 3. Gotta say death by racist interpretation of another culture’s ceremony is a new one.

Romance Rating: 2. Maura and Rudy seemed to be happyish, but with Seth trying to kill Talia and everyone else it just takes the romance out of it. Also, so much cheating.

Bonkers Rating: 7. Again, racist interpretation of Papua New Guinea culture being a huge part of this was admittedly out there, but damn was I not comfortable with it. That said, the super meta-ness of a ghostwritten book being about a ghostwriter who tries to kill the writer he’s writing for is GENIUS.

Fear Street Relevance: 6. A lot of the action takes place on Fear Street, but given that the origin of the conflict wasn’t we lose some points.

Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:

“‘Talia….’ it croaked. ‘Talia…’

‘No!’ she screamed. ‘No-don’t! Please!'”

… And it was Seth in a mask. And once again it was a racist jab at Papua New Guinea.

That’s So Dated! Moments: To be honest, not much really stood out to me beyond the talk of floppy disks. But just look at the cover! Specifically at who I assume is Shandel based on character descriptions. She is completely serving us Hilary Banks from “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air”.

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Aka my favorite character on the show. (source)

Best Quote:

As they start to name alphabetical faults of Talia:

“‘Let’s see’ [Shandel] said, playfully scratching her chin. ‘Why don’t we start with A. I think annoying begins with an A.’

‘Hey, she can spell,’ Talia replied sarcastically.

‘I can think of one that starts with B,’ Maura added with a snicker.”

Damn, Maura!! You aren’t wrong!

Conclusion: “The Thrill Club” had the distinct disadvantage of having to follow up “Double Date” and it really faltered because of that. It’s not very interesting and problematic as fuck, but it is bathing in potentially inadvertent meta goodness, so it’s kind of a toss up on whether it’s worth it or not. You decide.

Book Club Review: “Scythe”

28954189We 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: “Scythe” by Neil Shusterman

Publishing Info: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, November 2016

Where Did I Get this Book: Giveaway from ALA 2017!

Dewey Decimal Call Number: 600s (Medicine and Technology)

Book Description: Thou shalt kill.

A world with no hunger, no disease, no war, no misery. Humanity has conquered all those things, and has even conquered death. Now scythes are the only ones who can end life—and they are commanded to do so, in order to keep the size of the population under control.

Citra and Rowan are chosen to apprentice to a scythe—a role that neither wants. These teens must master the “art” of taking life, knowing that the consequence of failure could mean losing their own.

Kate’s Thoughts

This book had been on my list but had never quite made it to my pile, so imagine my delight when Serena picked it for book club! I love Shusterman and his writing, and the premise itself is just like catnip to me. A future where people have conquered death, but still have to cull the population somehow, so they recruit ‘Scythes’ to do it? YES YES YES!

And it really lived up to my hopes and dreams and expectations. I liked that Shusterman thought outside the box for this book, giving us less dystopia and more utopia, but with the consequences a utopia would have. The idea that a person can regenerate to their younger physical self while maintaining everything else in their life is rich with possibilities, and I feel like Shusterman really did a good job of world building. From the Thunderhead to the small cultural things (like ‘splatting’, which sounds like the planking fad but with jumping off buildings because you can be rebuilt), he really made something that I wanted to explore to its limits.

I also really loved the characters. You have your veteran Scythes, Curie and Farraday, who both have their own approaches to ‘gleaming’, the process where they remove people from the population by killing them. Both Farraday and Curie end up as two of the mentors to our protagonists, Citra and Rowan, and their philosophies show that great care and reflection can be taken towards their jobs. An overarching theme in this is that people who are Scythes don’t want the job, and because they don’t want the job means they are the ones who should do the job. Both Farraday and Curie have these deep emotional moments surrounding that philosophy, and they were very likable and incredibly poignant. Between our protagonists I liked Citra more, but I think that’s because her arc was more about finding that balance between the job they must do, and how they can do it in the most thoughtful way possible. Rowan fell into a more used trope, as he is ultimately trained by a renegade Scythe named Goddard whose love for Scything is deeply disturbing, and his methods reflect that. I liked Rowan, I especially liked him with Citra, but where he ends up and where it looks like he’s going to go is less interesting because I feel like, as of now, we’ve seen it before.

I will say, though, that their relationship and their innate pull towards each other is going to make for a VERY interesting path in future books.

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Frankly, I’m hoping for a Veronica/JD from “Heathers” dynamic. (source)

Speaking of, I cannot wait for “Thunderhead” to come out. I’m so far down the list at the library, but oh MAN will it be worth it!

Serena’s Thoughts

I chose this book for bookclub even though I had already read (and reviewed) it. But that’s how much I enjoyed it! And it fit perfectly with my designated Dewey section which had a focus on medicine and technology. The whole story is about the effects that a perfected medical system, one that allows everyone to live forever, has on society. And for technology, we have the Thunderhead, the seemingly neutral AI that directs much of this world’s systems.

I won’t recap my entire previous review, but much of what I said then remained true in my appreciation of the book a second time. The sheer scope of creativity and attention to detail is what makes this world stand out as so fully realized and believable. Every minute aspect of society is touched by this one essential change. Without death, how would family life change? How would one approach day-to-day things like going to work or school? Would our friendships and marriages remain the same when the people we are befriending and marrying will now likely be around for centuries and “to death do us part” means a whole new thing?

Shusterman succeeds in one of the most challenging aspects of writing a dystopia/utopia storyline. Reading books like “The Hunger Games” or “Divergent,” it’s immediately clear to the reader that these worlds are terrible and it’s often confusing to see how they got to be where they ended up. How were people on board with that very first Hunger Games system where their children died? How did that overly complicated and nonsensically limited system of dividing people ever even get traction in “Divergent?” But here, it’s so easy to see how the world could end up in this place. Per Shusterman’s goal, the question can still be posed about whether this is a utopia OR a dystopia? Life seems pretty good for most of society and the steps that would move the world in that direction are easy enough to spot even today!

The second book has the rather ominous title of “Thunderhead,” so I’m excited to see where he is taking the series next. Will more of the curtain be pulled back and reveal a nasty underbelly to this seemingly well-ordered world? Is the Thunderhead truly a benevolent system? I’m excited to find out!

If you’d like to read my full, original review, here it is.

Kate’s Rating 9: Such a creative and engrossing novel! I love the characters and the world that Shusterman created, and cannot wait to see what happens next.

Serena’s Rating 9: I loved it just as much reading it again six months later! So much so that I went ahead and pre-ordered the sequel that is coming out any day now.

Book Club Questions

  1. Shusterman set out with the goal to write a true utopia. Did he succeed? Would you want to live in this world? Are there aspects that appeal to you and others that seem particularly challenging?
  2. There are a lot of advances to medicine and technology presented in this book. Do any of them seem more plausible or likely to be invented? Any that are unbelievable?
  3. Between Citra and Rowan, were you more drawn to one or the other’s character and story? Which one and why?
  4. We are presented with several different approaches to performing the work of a Scythe. Did any particular approach stand out to you? What are you thoughts on the various method of culling that are used? Are any more or less ethical?
  5. The Thunderhead is presented as a benevolent AI and plays an unexpected role in this story. What did you make of it? Any predictions, given the next book is titled after it?
  6. If you were a Scythe, what name would you choose for yourself and why?

Reader’s Advisory:

“Scythe” is on these Goodreads lists: “Fiction Books About Grief, Death and Loss” and “Grim Reaper Books.”

Find “Scythe” at your library using WorldCat

Next Book Club Pick: “Book of a Thousand Days” by Shannon Hale

The Great Animorphs Re-read #22: “The Solution”

366790Animorphs #22: “The Solution” by K.A. Applegate

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, October 1998

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: David, the newest Animorph, is not what he appears. His need to control the other Animorphs and Ax is all he thinks about. And the things he does are starting to break up the group.

Narrator: Rachel

Plot: Part two was where things got real. Part three is where things get dark. Real dark. And I retreat to a hole of my own making and cry forever.

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Me: re-reading this entire trilogy (source)

Ax shows up in the middle of the night, waking up Rachel with messages of doom. David has truly gone off the deep end, Tobias is likely dead, and Jake is MIA after sending Ax to get her. They are able to figure out that David and Jake are at the mall and rush there only to find tiger!Jake unconscious and bleeding on the floor. Knowing David must be lurking nearby, Rachel takes charge and has Ax demorph to look around. Lion!David attacks her, but with some fancy gymnastic skills, Rachel is able to avoid him. In the process, David shares, again, his gross little philosophy about not murdering humans only “animals.”

The police show up and David takes off. Cassie’s parents show up as the local animal experts. Cassie’s mom, in particular, is confused since she recognizes the tiger as one from the zoo (Jake’s tiger morph original). Cassie shows up too and they are all concerned about not only Jake’s recovering but about needing him to wake up to demorph before the two hour limit. With Jake in Cassie’s (and her parents’) hands, Ax and Rachel fly to Marco’s to gather the troops, essentially. On the way there, Rachel thinks about how challenging this is all going to be, and even empathizes a bit with the frustration that Visser Three must feel: with the morphing ability, David could be anything and anywhere.

They arrive at Marco’s to find him sleeping in his bed, but as they fly in, Marco smashes Ax with a bat. It’s David in morph. He quickly demorphs and remorphs a golden eagle and chases owl!Rachel. Behind her, she is relieved to see Ax demorphing.

As David chases Rachel, he begins taunting her about killing Tobias. Up to this point, Rachel had been in a state of confusion, but with his words, she goes cold and knows what she has to do. She takes advantage of her better knowledge of her owl morph and manages to just stay ahead of David, leading him towards some power lines that he won’t be able to see with his daytime bird eyes. But just as she nears it, David manages to attack her. Just in the nick of time, David is attacked by a red tailed hawk. Tobias to the rescue! Not liking the odds anymore, David runs off. (How does David not put two and two together with this? Throughout this book, the fact that Tobias is still alive is a huge secret. Maybe David didn’t pay much attention to what kind of bird attacked him here).

Later, the group are back together. Cassie managed to jab tiger!Jake with a syringe and wake him up so that he could demorph and walk out of the vet’s office (Cassie’s mom was super freaked by the whole thing, discovering later that the tiger was somehow magically back in its cage at the Gardens and free of any injury). Marco had woken up to find David standing over him with a bat and had been tied up in a closet

They go to school, all exhausted and scared. Marco!David shows up and Cassie rushes to get the real Marco to hide. He sits with them and is his usual blowhard self, going on and on about how they should just give up now as he has their same abilities and is oh, so much smarter than them all.

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He wants them to hand over the blue box to. They refuse and David gets up to go, issuing more threats. Rachel follows, cafeteria fork in hand. Outside, she catches up with  Marco!David and warns him that if he tries to rat them out to the Yeerks that they’ll know. David doesn’t know about the Chee, so Rachel is able to convince him that the Animorphs have a source within the Yeerk organization since how else would they have known about the world summit meeting. She goes further to say that if he did rat on them, they’d still have time to retaliate and would go after his parents.

“You know, maybe you forget this sometimes, but you are a girl, Rachel.” 

“And you’re a worm,” I shot back. “Want to see who wins that fight?”

He swings at her and she neatly avoids it and jams the fork in his ear, getting her point across. After he leaves, Rachel is shocked by her own actions, especially her threat against his parents. Further, she finds herself becoming more and more angry at Jake. For sending for her in the first place, and all the implications that come with that. And the fact that he let her go after David here too, knowing what she would do, but also making her feel judged for being the one to do it.

What made me feel stupid was that I hadn’t realized I was changing. But everyone else obviously did. Jake did. When he knew it was coming down to kill-or-be-killed with David, he’d sent Ax to get me. Not Marco. Not Cassie. “Get Rachel.” 

After school, the group meets back at the barn. After grilling Marco to make sure it’s really him, the group begin planning what to do about the world summit, since they still need to deal with that. Ax privately thought speaks Rachel telling her that they are putting on a show, assuming David is in the barn listening. After they all morph birds, they discuss the real plan. Rachel compares the new plan to a game of chess where you know you’re going to lose so instead you simply throw the board across the room.

They go to the Gardens to get morphs and then head to the ocean. There’s a huge storm rolling in, so the transition from bird to dolphin in the middle of the ocean is a difficult one. Cassie’s skill with morphing helps them all make the change safely. They swim to the beach outside the resort and then put their plan in motion: morphing big animals. Rachel, Cassie, Tobias, and Ax go elephant. Jake and Marco go rhino. The security at the resort was pretty unprepared for a bunch of huge animals to barge out of the ocean, so the plan to wreak havoc is pulled off well. Once the big guns show up, including Visser Three, the group retreat back to the ocean. Ultimately, the storm plays in their favor, hiding them and preventing the boats from getting in close.

But as they swim away, killer whale!David shows up (a question mark here: it seems fairly unlikely that David would have been able to anticipate all of this and have a killer whale morph on hand. He also wouldn’t know what ocean animal morphs the Animrophs would use. They could have all had killer whales themselves.) David, again, starts taunting them and tells the group about Rachel’s threat to his parents. The others are silent, infuriating Rachel, especially with Jake whom she thinks is a hypocrite for letting her go after David and then seemingly judging those same actions later.

David goes after Ax, but Rachel calls attention to herself and gets him to switch to her. Just in time, Cassie shows up in humpback whale morph (she manages to slip away during all of the taunting) and scares David off.

When Rachel gets home, she hears that her cousin Saddler is likely going to die. Rachel comforts her younger sister, Jordan. Back in her room, she hears David, talking to her in morph, hidden somewhere in her room, demanding the blue box again. Rachel asks what he’s going to do with it, make new Animorphs who can do to him what he’s doing to them? He’s silenced, but she doesn’t know if he’s left or not. She avoids the shower.

With her family, she heads to Jake’s house where they’re meeting to travel together to the hospital to see Saddler. Rachel tells Jake about David’s invasion of her room and that it’s gotten personal between her and David. She also confronts him about the hypocrisy of his actions, sending her to do his dirty work and then judging her later.

They travel to the hospital where a miracle has occurred: Saddler simply woke up, completely healed. Rachel and Jake realize the sick joke that this is: David has done away with Saddler and morphed him in his place. They go to the hall to try and frantically plan, since it’s one of the few times when they’ll know where David his. But Rachel is still angry about Jake’s hypocrisy.

“Look, Rachel, every one of us has his strengths and his weaknesses.”
“And my strength is being some kind of crazy killer?” I practically shrieked. 
 
“Okay, fine, Rachel. You want to do this, fine. I think you’re the bravest member of the group. I think in a bad fight I’d rather have you with me than anyone else. But yeah, Rachel, I think there’s something pretty dark down inside you. I think you’re the only one of us who would be disappointed if all this ended tomorrow. Cassie hates all this, Marco has personal reasons for being in this war, Ax just wants to go home and fight Yeerks with his own people, Tobias . . . who knows what Tobias wants anymore? But you, Rachel, you love it. It’s what makes you so brave. It’s what makes you so dangerous to the Yeerks. I thought you’d scare David. I thought you’d say the things it took to scare him. I thought you’d say whatever you had to. And I thought that of any of us, David would be most likely to fear you.” 

Rachel responds by saying that she has a line, and she knows where it is. Jake says he has his own line, but he learned here and now that it wasn’t where he thought it was: he was willing to use his friend and cousin to do his dirty work, and apologizes.

Back in the barn, the group put on a masterclass performance for David whom they know is lurking around inside spying on them. Everyone plays their roles, with Cassie upset about Saddler. Marco taunting Rachel about being beaten, Tobias not being there and them all referencing the fact that David killed him. Cassie tells a tall tale about having Ax break the blue box down into pieces and “slips,” mentioning that Rachel was the one to hide it with her. They all go home, poor Jake returning to his house where now Saddler!David is in residence.

The next day they arrange to meet with David at a Taco Bell. David swaggers in and Rachel forces herself to not smack him, but play the humiliated and defeated role that they all figured David would want to see. David announces that he wants Rachel to lead him to the box because he was (surprise!) spying on them in the barn and heard everything. (Again, it’s so shocking how stupid David thinks they are. Even the brief amount of time he had with them, you’d think he’d have a better read on their abilities, but guess not). They head to the construction site.

Rachel morphs rat, and then snake!David threatens to bite her unless the group all morph cockroach and climb into a jar he found lying nearby. He seals them in, knowing that they can’t demorph without crushing each other. He then morphs rat and Rachel leads him into the maze.

They get one piece (a blue lego block, but the rat’s poor eye sight can’t see that), but as they head for the second one, Rachel realizes that she can small fresh air and hear a jet plane, belying the fact that they are supposed to be deep underground. David begins to put things together, and Rachel makes a dash towards the exit pipe. They wrestle and Rachel privately thoughts speaks to the others to be ready. She turns, chews off her own tail, and dashes out, just avoiding getting hit with the box lid slamming shut behind her, trapping rat!David within.

The group explain to David that they planned it all, that Tobias wasn’t dead, and then they sink into silence as David tries to talk his way out of it, saying they won, he’d just be going now.

“You tried to kill us,” Jake said. “You threatened to turn us over to Visser Three. Not to mention what you’ve done to Saddler’s family.”
<You can’t judge me!> David cried. <You’re not God!>
“David, we have fought the Yeerks for a long time now. It seems like forever,” Jake said wearily. “We are not going to let you beat us. We are going to save the human race if we can. There are larger issues . . . more important . . .”

They all leave, but Rachel and Ax. Ax to keep time. Rachel because she volunteers, saying that she can take it. After two hours, David is trapped in rat morph and they fly him out to a rock on the ocean that is known to have a thriving rat population. Later, they hear rumors that the rock is haunted and that passing boats have heard yells of “No!’ coming from the rock.

Xena, Warrior Princess: This is a huge book for Rachel. Some fans, myself included, have theorized that the action of this book (not only her own choices with regards to David, but her realizations about how the others, and particularly Jake, see her) are a tipping point in her arc and a direct point of reference for the further struggles her character goes through, particularly in the last few books of the series.

From the very beginning, it’s clear that Rachel is pretty messed up by the fact that Jake sent Ax to get her specifically. At the same time, she completely agrees with his decision. Not only because she is particularly close to Tobias, but after Marco!David tries to kill Ax and is chasing and taunting her in bird morph, she knows that she is capable of leading David to his death. Jake was right.

But what seems to be the killing blow is the fallout from her one-on-one with David where she threatens his parents. Jake allows her to go. She does her thing, knowing it needs to be done and that that’s what Jake “sent” her to do anyways, but still feeling sick about it. And then, worst of all, later when they’re all in the ocean and David begins taunting her once again and exposing what she said to the group, they all just….leave her hanging out to dry. It’s not a good look for any of them, but particularly not Jake.

I’m completely with Rachel on this. It’s one thing to send someone to do your dirty work, it’s another to leave them at the mercy of your enemy’s psychological mind games and let your silence serve as judgement. They completely abandon her in this moment. And while when Rachel and Jake are fighting at the hospital, Jake apologizes and even owns up to the hypocrisy of his actions, it’s still not enough, in my opinion.

He lays too much of it at Rachel’s own feet, and doesn’t acknowledge the fact that the entire group let her down here. Regardless of their opinions on her actions and threats, several of them (definitely Jake, and we’d assume Ax and Marco would likely agree with this too) essentially approved of what she did when she did it. And beyond that, even if they disagreed, not sticking together in this moment, letting David pick out one of them and letting it stand, is a huge breach of teamwork and mutual support. So, badly done, y’all.

Through this all, through being used and judged by her friends, Rachel still proves her own strength in several small scenes. When they are all dolphins, as is typical of her, she draws the attention of the threat away from another (this time Ax) and to herself. We’ve seen her do this countless times now, and it’s pretty unique to her character. In a very human moment, she comforts her younger sister as she grieves the imminent death of their cousin Saddler. And, most importantly, in the end, she volunteers to stay behind as David is trapped as a rat. This is the ultimate self-sacrificial move. Beyond simply staying, she tries to relieve the others’ guilt for not staying themselves, saying that it won’t bother her. She muses that some of them may actually believe that. But it’s hard to really think any of them would (Cassie is her best friend, Tobias is her…something, Jake definitely knows this isn’t true after their conversations in this book. Maybe Marco? But he seems too smart to fall for this line).

Our Fearless Leader: Another big book for Jake and his leadership skills. This book is a good look at how cold Jake has become when he begins evaluating situations and the assets in his arsenal. In this case, his assets are his friends and he’s beginning to see and use them like tools. He’s surgical, accurate, and, yes, cold. When he’s confronted by Rachel in the hospital, he seems to be almost surprised by his own actions. But, while he does apologize, it also seems pretty obvious that if he had to do it over again, he’d do the same thing. Because he didn’t make the wrong choice, even if it was one that almost broke his cousin.

His biggest mistake, I still think, was not standing up for Rachel to David when he begins coming after her while they’re in the ocean. It’s pretty unacceptable to leave a team member hanging there, vulnerable to an enemy’s jabs. Better to support her in the moment, and then, if he had qualms, confront her later. It’s even worse because the confrontation never comes, at least not on his part. He never expresses any regret that Rachel threatened David’s parents, so the judgemental silence is even worse in the moment.

In the end, Rachel also admires Jake’s leadership abilities when he makes the rest of them leave her and Ax with rat!David. She recognizes the fact that he knows he needs to spare as many of them as he can from the traumatizing scene that is about to unfold.

A Hawk’s Life: David is really terrible at counting (as is Visser Three in Jake’s book when he fails to see cobra!Marco). I mean, there are a bunch of times when David had to have been lingering around and Tobias was there in morph. Most notably, all the points during the world leaders summit mission. Flying there. As rhinos/elephants. As dolphins. Clearly David was around since he was so easily able to intercept them in his killer whale morph. So how did he not catch this? Highly questionable for some who is a self-proclaimed “genius.”

Tobias is pretty instrumental to the final plan in helping get them out of the jar. But, other than the moments when David should have spotted him, he makes himself scarce for much of the book to keep up the facade. I do wish there had been more Tobias/Rachel scenes in this book. Their reunion was nice, but too brief. And poor Rachel was left without all of her support systems it seems. Not only did she not have any scenes with him to talk through all of this, but she also doesn’t get any time with Cassie, her other primary support person.

 Peace, Love, and Animals: Cassie is on top of her manipulation skills in this trilogy! Her biggest move came during the cafeteria scene when David showed up to threaten them. She pointedly sits right next to him, reminding him that they are, in fact, people and not animals. And then talks very clearly to him about what he’s doing and the realities of trying to bargain with the Yeerks. It’s pretty slick.

Her morphing abilities are also paramount to their success with all of their morphs in the ocean during the storm. Rachel is pretty clear about how dangerous the water is and Cassie’s ability to quickly morph is one of the only reasons they manage it, with her able to be in dolphin morph to help the others. She’s also able to quickly leave, morph out of dolphin and then morph back to humpback whale during the fight with David.

In the end, she’s very broken up about what they have to do to David. But she also was the one to come up with the plan (again, probably largely due to her knowledge of animals and what morphs would work, but mostly because she understands people and could predict what David would want/do).

The Comic Relief: Marco ends up being the one to get sidelined a few times in this book. First getting attacked and left in a closet (more on that below) by David in the beginning, and then also needing to be shuffled out of the cafeteria once David shows up at school in a Marco morph. Part of me wonders if part of the reason Applegate did this was an attempt to work around the fact largely it was Marco, not Rachel, who had been set up as David’s primary rival (not only in his POV book, but Jake references the particular animosity between David and Marco several times in his book).

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Ax doesn’t have much in this book, other than being the second Animorph to stay behind with Rachel and rat!David. Supposedly this is because of his ability to track time. But…there are such things as watches, so I’m not sure I buy this reasoning for why Ax gets burdened with this.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: There aren’t so much “body horror” moments in this book as simply “horror” moments. David’s psychotic philosophy with the supposed non-humanity of the Animorphs while in morph is just so incredibly messed up. The bat to the face that Ax takes is particularly vicious  and it’s pretty surprising that he even survives it.

And the the sheer, traumatizing horror that is what happens to David at the end of this book. It makes Tobias’s situation look like a walk in the park. But did the Animorphs have much of a choice? They had to pick an animal that couldn’t hurt them. They had to find one that they could easily contain while in morph, preventing him from demorphing. And they had to find one that the could take somewhere away from the general population (so that he wouldn’t just start thought-speaking at anyone and everyone telling them all of the Animorphs’ secrets). So, supposedly Cassie (it had to be her, right?) already knew about this rock out in the ocean that had a thriving rat population and…well, there you go. But man, it’s cold. Luckily, Applegate spares us a blow-by-blow description of the two hour time period that they’re waiting him out, but even the brief glimpses are bad enough. It’s hard to think of anything in the series that is more horrifying than this.

Couples Watch!: When Ax first shows up to get Rachel in the beginning of the book, she assumes he’s Tobias. Another indicator that Tobias probably is a regular visitor to her room. She also shares this observation after hearing about his “death.”

And yet, as I completed the morph to fly, I knew Jake had picked the right person. See, I cared for Tobias. I don’t think I even knew how much I cared till right then.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: There a brief moment in the beginning when Rachel and Ax are at the mall and overhear two Controllers discussing how they know that the hurt tiger must be an Andalite in morph but that they don’t have enough Controllers on the police force. They both wonder aloud how mad Visser Three would be if they didn’t do anything….and agree to just not say anything about the whole thing. Another instance when we get a glimpse into the thought process of Visser Three’s underlings, all of whom seem to have a pretty good read on their boss and know that avoiding any interaction with him is always best.

But, again, David is the villain of this trilogy.

His biggest downfall in this entire thing is that he forgets that he’s not fighting regular teenagers, but kids who have been fighting a real war for months now. Not only are they more skilled with their morphs and know how to construct and pull off complicated missions, but, physically, they are capable fighters. Rachel’s own battle abilities were on display in the exchange outside of the school. David’s small-minded, sexist opinions of her abilities (as evidenced in the quote earlier) get him in trouble not only in that scene, but in the entire ending of the story. If he hadn’t been so firmly entrenched in his own need to validate his ego and look down on the others, he would have known better than to be tricked by their act. His sheer inability to view Rachel as the powerful threat that she is leads to his doom.

Another example of this, his inability to realize he’s not fighting normal kids, is his failure to anticipate the fact that they would anticipate that he would spy on them and to not simply buy their whole scene they put on in the barn. But it played to his ego a bit too much, and, like all ego-maniacs, he couldn’t look beyond his own assurance that he was the smartest one in the room, to realize that the Animorphs, again, have been doing this for a while and could guess David’s actions.

“See, David,” Marco said, “we knew you were in the barn, listening to our every word. How did we know? Tobias. So we played out that whole pathetic scene for you about how disgraced Rachel was. We knew you’d get so much sick pleasure out of forcing her to obey you.”

 

<All of your actions, even your emotions, were anticipated,> Ax said. <We anticipated how you would respond. So we were able to manipulate you.>

It’s also worth noting that David’s issues with Rachel largely seem to stem from a fairly insecure, sexist viewpoint. She’s the one to call him a coward in Jake’s book after he tries to turn himself over to Visser Three, and he knows that she’s widely agreed to be the bravest and best fighter in the group. And we have the quote earlier in this post when he tries to wave off Rachel as being “just a girl” when she’s not in morph. She proves that to be the load of bullshit it is pretty quickly. But his kneejerk judgements and insecurities with women are yet more nasty elements to David’s personality that were likely always lurking there before any of this happened.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Um, the whole book?! Rachel’s arc in this is just so sad and hard to read, especially knowing the mindjob it works on her that carries on throughout the series. But I won’t go into that all again, or the horror of David’s situation at the end.

Instead, we never see the fallout of David’s decision to morph Saddler and essentially bring him back to life. And now, suddenly, he’ll just disappear. It’s unclear what David did with the original Saddler’s body. He had a longterm plan to live Saddler’s life, so you’d think he somehow must have pretty thoroughly hidden/destroyed it. Not sure about the logistics there, but oh well. So now this family that was grieving the inevitable death of their son are miraculously spared, think they’re out of the woods, and then…he’s just gone. No signs where he went. No body. Nothing. Beyond the parents and family themselves who would be in mourning, shock, etc., this had to be terrible for Jake and Rachel. There had to have been a hunt for “Saddler” for months, and the family trauma would be ever present. And there sit Jake and Rachel, knowing the truth but not able to say anything.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: For the most part, their plans are very good in this book. For one, the way they cancel the summit was the obvious route to take from the beginning. I’ve already expressed my opinions on their whole “expose to alien invasion” plan in the last book/review. For two, all told, they fairly easily predict, manipulate, and capture David. For all of their concerns, they take him out in one day, essentially. And, while so, so cold, their plan to force him to be stuck in rat morph is a simple and effective way of handling a situation that could have easily gotten a much more dark, more murder-y route.

But there were a few things that didn’t make much sense. There were several instances in this book where David has to demorph/remoprh that you’d think would present golden opportunities to the group. In the beginning, when he’s in Marco’s room posing as Marco, he has to demoprh and the remorph golden eagle to chase Rachel. It’s supposed to take around 3 minutes either way. So, here, that’s six minutes for Rachel to either do the same and get into a more powerful morph. Or to easily get out of there and disappear. Doesn’t make much sense that he gets through these morphs so quickly without the Animorphs doing something about it.

And another big one is during this same scene when Marco is tied up in the closet. Why the heck wouldn’t he have simply morphed bug and gotten out of there? This is a huge flaw since he could have easily escaped and managed to either nab David himself (during one of his vulnerable in-between morph stages) or at the very least, warned Rachel and Ax.

Favorite Quote:

At points in the book, it was almost physically painful reading David’s gloating.

<You guys made a big mistake: You got me. See, I was smarter than any of you. That’s why you lost. I’ll be more careful. I’ll only choose the kind of guys who are too dumb to do anything except obey me.>
I rolled my little rat eyes. This guy’s ego just kept growing.

But on a more serious note, one of the last chapters about the two hours during which David is becoming trapped in morph…it’s rough.

It took two hours for David to become a nothlit. A person trapped in morph. Two hours. But that two hours of horror will last forever in my mind. If I live a hundred years, I will still hear his cries, his threats, his pleading, each night before sleep takes me. And beyond sleep, in my dreams. 

Scorecard: Yeerks 6, Animorphs 10

I’m giving a point to the Animorphs. Partly because their plan to break up the summit meeting worked out in the end (though why they didn’t start with this is beyond me), but they managed to handle the David threat pretty quickly and efficiently, for all the inner drama of the situation. David posed the largest legitimate threat they’ve ever faced, knowing all of their secrets, but also being a human kid whom they would have a bunch of moral tangles about attacking. But they find a neat (as in “orderly”) solution to the problem and the execute their plan with exacting precision.

Rating: Simply excellent. The re-read just reminded me why I love this trilogy so much. It really highlights the very adult themes that a fairly wonky, middle grade sci fi series takes on and why these books are definitely more than they seem on the surface.

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 Marriage Pact”

31748890Book: “The Marriage Pact” by Michelle Richmond

Publishing Info: Bantam, July 2017

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

Book Description: Newlyweds Alice and Jake are a picture-perfect couple. Alice, once a singer in a well-known rock band, is now a successful lawyer. Jake is a partner in an up-and-coming psychology practice. Their life together holds endless possibilities. After receiving an enticing wedding gift from one of Alice’s prominent clients, they decide to join an exclusive and mysterious group known only as The Pact.

The goal of The Pact seems simple: to keep marriages happy and intact, and most of its rules make sense: Always answer the phone when your spouse calls. Exchange thoughtful gifts monthly. Plan a trip together once per quarter. . . .

Never mention The Pact to anyone.

Alice and Jake are initially seduced by the glamorous parties, the sense of community, their widening social circle of like-minded couples–and then one of them breaks the rules. The young lovers are about to discover that for adherents to The Pact, membership, like marriage, is for life, and The Pact will go to any lengths to enforce that rule. For Jake and Alice, the marriage of their dreams is about to become their worst nightmare.

Review: Ahhh, marriage. I’ve been married to my husband for eight years, and while it certainly isn’t a perfect marriage, it’s a good one. Probably because we don’t strive for perfection. And because we don’t strive for perfection nor are we perfectionists in any way, I take solace in the fact that had we been approached by a deranged marriage cult we probably would have answered with a solid

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But lucky for us readers, Alice and Jake in Michelle Richmond’s “The Marriage Pact” did not make the same choices that I would make. After all, had they said ‘no thanks’, we wouldn’t have gotten this tense and dark thriller that took me by surprise. As someone who didn’t have any expectations going into it I had no idea what to expect, but I’m thinking that in some ways that worked in the book’s favor. Because after letting it collect some dust on my book stack, I finally picked it up and cursed myself for not picking it up sooner.

“The Marriage Pact” is a slow building thriller that puts the reader in the position of Jake and Alice, newlyweds who find themselves invited to join a prestigious and secret group specifically for married couples. They are both written in such a way that I could definitely see them getting sucked into it: for Alice, her commitment phobia from her past could easily make her nervous about falling out of step with Jake. For Jake, he’s so in love with Alice that he would happily indulge her in her eagerness to try it out. And because it’s seen from their perspectives, we too get to experience the gradual change from fun and quirky hobby to all encompassing nightmare. This point is what struck me the most as I read this book: it didn’t rely too much on major twists or turns to get the thrills into the narrative. While I do love a good thriller with lots of game changing moments, the horror and surprise in “The Marriage Pact” was far more based in the realities of the dark sides of human nature and group think, and how far we can be taken because of cognitive dissonance and denial. It felt fairly real that Jake and Alice would find themselves in a frog in the boiling water scenario because of this. The punishments for breaking the ‘rules’ of the group evolved from minor and silly consequences to full blown horror shows, and by the time we got to that they were in so deep that all you could feel was abject dread for them. The cultist perspective was masterfully done, as while Jake (our narrator) knew that things weren’t right, he also seemed under the spell in some ways, thinking that in spite of the horrific circumstances they were finding themselves in that his marriage to Alice was, in fact, stronger when all was said and done.

I do think that this book was a bit longer than it needed to be. While it was a fast read and an entertaining one too, I did find myself thinking that it was kind of repetitive at times. The various punishments and strange meetings with other ‘Friends’, as the members call themselves, tended to make things drag on a bit more than I would have liked, and I did find myself skimming here and there. I also found a few of the details unbelievable or farfetched, specifically about how much power and money this secret group could possibly have. And finally, given that Alice is a freaking LAWYER at a high powered firm, I REALLY found it odd that she didn’t have any problems with the giant manual of rules that you have to agree to abide by, via non negotiable contract. What kind of lawyer would agree to ANY of that without going through the entire manual bit by bit? But those are minor quibbles when the rest of the story was so creative and outside the box of what I’ve come to expect from thrillers today.

Overall I found “The Marriage Pact” to be a satisfying and compulsively readable novel. And it makes me thank my lucky stars that my husband and I are such lazy non perfectionists, lest we be approached by some crazy marriage cult someday.

Rating 8: A solid and original thriller that slowly burns to a disturbing level, “The Marriage Pact” relied less on twists and turns and more on the dark side of human nature.

Reader’s Advisory

“The Marriage Pact” is included on the Goodreads lists “Follow The Rules and Everything Will Be Okay”, and “Domestic Noir”.

Find “The Marriage Pact” at your library using WorldCat!