Serena’s Review: “Jane, Unlimited”

32991569Book: “Jane, Unlimited” by Kristin Cashore

Publishing Info: Kathy Dawson Books, September 2017

Where Did I Get this Book: ARC from the publisher

Book Description: If you could change your story, would you?

Jane has lived a mostly ordinary life, raised by her recently deceased aunt Magnolia, whom she counted on to turn life into an adventure. Without Aunt Magnolia, Jane is directionless. Then an old acquaintance, the glamorous and capricious Kiran Thrash, blows back into Jane’s life and invites her to a gala at the Thrashes’ extravagant island mansion called Tu Reviens. Jane remembers her aunt telling her: “If anyone ever invites you to Tu Reviens, promise me that you’ll go.”

What Jane doesn’t know is that at Tu Reviens her story will change; the house will offer her five choices that could ultimately determine the course of her untethered life. But every choice comes with a price. She might fall in love, she might lose her life, she might come face-to-face with herself. At Tu Reviens, anything is possible.

Review: I have a lot of thoughts on this book, on the book itself (which is of the sort that is probably best appreciated on re-reads) and on the reception of said book by the general reading public. But, without further ado: I, for one, absolutely loved the book and am absolutely baffled by the general reading public’s reception of it.

Jane parents died in an plane crash when she was a baby. They decided to sit on one side of the plane, and on that side, everyone died, On the other side, everyone lived. This choice changed Jane’s life, but led her to a happy childhood growing up with her Aunt Magnolia, a marine biologist with a general joie de vivre approach to life. Now tragedy has stuck again with the death of her beloved Aunt, and Jane finds herself aimless and alone, with only her love for umbrella-making to give her any purpose. That is until she is invited to Tu Revien, a house full of mysteries, and once again, there are important, life-changing choices ahead.

It’s hard for me to really get at this book and my reaction to it without wondering whether my prior knowledge of it affected my read. I’d like to think not, but I’m not sure. For one, I had the joy of getting to meet Kristin Cashore at ALA this last summer and hear her speak on a panel. During the panel, one librarian got up and asked if there were pages missing from her most recent book, as the librarian found it very confusing. Cashore said this was exactly what she had worried about when writing it, knowing that it was an experimental style. First, I was very embarrassed for everyone involved in this situation, as the panel was about a completely different topic and not the place for authors to be quizzed about their own works. Librarians should know better! But I won’t rant about that.

Here I am getting my copy signed by the author! A definite highlight at ALA!

Cashore was gracious enough to explain that she started the book as a “choose your own adventure” story, which than morphed into a more traditional novel, in that it is meant to be read in a linear fashion. So, I had this information going in and to a certain extent knew what to expect. However, that aside, I do think that she did an amazing job setting up that this was where the story was headed, with no prior knowledge of this required. As I laid out in my brief plot description, the story starts out with the idea that Jane’s entire life was shaped around a completely arbitrary decision that her parents made, which side of the plane to sit on. Further, Jane and her friend, Kiran, a member of the family who owns the house and the one who invited Jane there, discuss the fact that choices can lead you to very different places in life, and you never know which choice will be the one to make the big difference.

With this premise, the story starts out slowly putting together a great cast of characters, and many mysteries for Jane to follow. This takes about 100 pages or so, which is where I’ve heard the most complaints about it being a slow read. For me, this was completely necessary work for laying a foundation for the rest of the book. In these pages, we get to know Jane, and those around her. We have mysterious disappearing art, rumors of a missing family and their children, a dog that is obsessed with a painting, and the family’s own strange history with the missing first and second wife of the father. From there, Jane chooses.

And yes, those choices have drastically different outcomes! I’m talking, genre-defying outcomes. I don’t know how I’ll categorize this book when I get to posting it, because it’s a bit of everything. We have mystery, we have intrigue, we have horror, we have sci-fi, we have fantasy. You name it! And what makes this even more excellent is the way the story reads, as, like I said, it is still laid out in a linear manner, meaning each section is meant to be read after the last. You aren’t supposed to “pick” which story to read, but go through them in the order they are presented. Through this method, you see the real genius of what Cashore has done: with each storyline, the reader has more knowledge of all the elements at play. We see characters move in and out of a scene and have more knowledge of what is going on than Jane herself, because we’ve seen that side of the story already, through a previous choice. It’s the kind of book that I’m sure is even better the second time, catching all the small details that are woven throughout all of these various outcomes. It’s simply brilliant.

Beyond this, each genre was compelling. I had my favorites, but I was impressed by Cashore’s ability at them all. The horror story line was particularly disturbing. And, not surprisingly, I enjoyed the sci-fi and fantasy plotlines the best. Most of all, I spent a ridiculous amount of timing wondering which choice I would have made, and then dissecting which plot line would be the best to choose in order to increase one’s chances of eventually encountering ALL of the mysteries, but still avoiding the horror one. Seriously, I’ve continued to think about this for like a week even after finishing the book.

And this is why I’m so baffled by the book’s general reception! Cashore’s writing is as strong as ever. Her characters are compelling, and anyone who’s read “Bitterblue,” specifically, shouldn’t be shocked by her more introspective character in Jane. And yet, on Goodreads, there are so many low stars! And look, I’m all for that everyone has their own opinion, and I’m not here to tell anyone that they’re wrong, but I do find it surprising. I think much of it is simply due to the fact that here we have an author who wrote a beloved fantasy trilogy years ago, and everyone’s been waiting with baited breath for her to re-emerge with her newest YA fantasy work, preferably in the same world. And then we got…this. Which is so completely different than the books we all loved from her before. But if an author is allowed only to write what we loved and were comfortable with before, how limiting would that be? If we only expect one kind of book from any given author simply because they wrote a good one in that mode in the past, we are doing not only them, but ourselves, a massive disservice.

I don’t particularly think this result was anyone’s fault. It’s definitely not Cashore’s, who is free to write whatever calls to her. And I can even understand fan disappointment from those who so loved “Graceling” and were wanting more of the same (for the record, I, too, loved “Graceling” and “Fire” and have my hardback copies stored lovingly on my shelves). But I do challenge readers to strive against the tendency to limit authors and our own reading habits to only the “known” and comfortable. You never know what you’re missing out on. And, let me say, had some of those DNF reviews managed to get past the first half of the book that was not the sword-and-sorcery fantasy they had expected, they might have found themselves choosing a path that included its own delightful fantasy world!

Rating 9: A criminally under-appreciated book and the answer to “what would an adult ‘chose your own adventure’ novel look like?”

Reader’s Advisory:

“Jane, Unlimited” can be found on these Goodreads lists: “Bisexual Fiction in YA” and “Derivatives of Jane Eyre.”

Find “Jane, Unlimited” at your library using WorldCat!



Kate’s Review: “The Prince and the Dressmaker”

34506912Book: “The Prince and the Dressmaker” by Jen Wang

Publishing Info: First Second, February 2018

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

Book Description: Paris, at the dawn of the modern age:

Prince Sebastian is looking for a bride―or rather, his parents are looking for one for him. Sebastian is too busy hiding his secret life from everyone. At night he puts on daring dresses and takes Paris by storm as the fabulous Lady Crystallia―the hottest fashion icon in the world capital of fashion!

Sebastian’s secret weapon (and best friend) is the brilliant dressmaker Frances―one of only two people who know the truth: sometimes this boy wears dresses. But Frances dreams of greatness, and being someone’s secret weapon means being a secret. Forever. How long can Frances defer her dreams to protect a friend? Jen Wang weaves an exuberantly romantic tale of identity, young love, art, and family. A fairy tale for any age, The Prince and the Dressmaker will steal your heart.

Review: I first want to extend a special thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an ARC of this book!

It’s almost Valentine’s Day! While the hubby and I are pretty low key when it comes to the holiday, I do enjoy the little bits of romance that I see here and there. Given the holiday, it’s an appropriate time for me to talk about one of the cuter romances that I’ve read as of late! Before I saw it on NetGalley, I hadn’t heard of “The Prince and the Dressmaker”, and I requested it on a whim. I sat down one day thinking I’d at least start it, and then ended up reading the whole thing in one sitting.

Jen Wang has created a very gentle and quiet story about friendship and identity with “The Prince and the Dressmaker”. Within it’s pages we meet Frances, a quiet but ambitious dressmaker, and Sebastian, a Belgian Prince who also likes to dress in womens clothing and become Lady Crystallia. While Sebastian’s gender identity is kept vague, I am going to refer to them with they/them pronouns and as gender non-conforming/non-binary. I liked how Frances and Sebastian both interacted with each other and how they found a mutual understanding and respect within their Prince/Dressmaker relationship. Their friendship is sweet and simple, and I loved how it progressed as the story went on. While it did ultimately end in romance (Spoiler alert I guess?), I think that Wang approached it in a way that didn’t feel schmaltzy or in a way that negated the friendly, non romantic intimacy that had existed between the two of them at the start. I also feel that it’s important to have representation of more non-binary and gender non-conforming characters in stories, especially in positive, non-tragic ways, so Sebastian’s story arc was a story that I was happy to see. I will, however, say that as a cis straight woman the lens through which I approached this book and the story it tells is probably not the same as someone who would identify in other ways, and therefore I’m not sure that I can gauge whether or not it’s a good representation.

Frances’ story arc was the weaker of the two character progressions, but I still found it to be one that was engaging. She wants to become a designer, but as a woman (and a lower class one at that) she has very little agency and control over her life. She sees this arrangement with Sebastian as a way to get her work out there, and then finds herself in a place of power that she cannot speak of, lest it betray Sebastian’s secret. I also enjoyed her quiet but strong willed personality. Her strength may not be loud, but it is there nonetheless, and her moments of triumph were undoubtedly satisfying. And I don’t know why it struck me, but I loved that her hair is purple. Her entire character design just struck me as resonant for some reason. Possibly because I, too, like to wear my hair in a side braid and have thick eyebrows. Her expressions and facial designs really get her emotions across, so even though she was a bit more soft spoken I felt like I always knew what she was feeling.

The art, too, was fabulous. It fit the mood of the story well, simplistic and soft but popping off the page. There seemed to be some influence from manga and anime, but Wang also has made a mark of her own with the design. The imagery also harkens back to the time period of the regency (I think?) era. The fashion styles are absolutely gorgeous and delightful, with lots of colors used for Lady Crystallia’s dresses that just made me smile.


Overall, I found “The Prince and the Dressmaker” to be a calm and charming story with a complex and heartfelt relationship at the heart of it. If you are looking for something to read this Valentine’s Day, seek this one out.

Rating 8: A gentle and sweet graphic novel about identity and friendship. While I can’t speak to the accuracy of the depiction of non-binary gender identity, the story had complex and likable characters and a lovely central relationship.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Prince and the Dressmaker” is included on the Goodreads lists “Graphic Novels Featuring LGBTQ Themes”, and “2018 Books by Authors of Color/Native Authors”.

Find “The Prince and the Dressmaker” at your library using WorldCat!

Valentine’s Day Giveaway: “City of Brass”

Happy Valentine’s Day (week!) everyone! While Hallmark would have you believe that this holiday is meant to celebrate romantic love, we see it as yet another excuse to share our love of books and reading! And to do that, we’re hosting another giveaway!

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

Publishing Info: Harper Voyager, November 2017

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

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

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

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

Giveaway Details: I absolutely LOVED this book, guys! It was the perfect mix of a fresh new fantasy world, a unique setting drawing on the history and geography of the Middle Easy, and, most importantly, two amazing lead characters. Beyond that, given that this is, in fact, a Valentine’s Day giveaway, it does have a romantic subplot.

But really, the main reason I’m wanting to share it with your guys is based on my own absolute love of this book. It was #4 on my yearly Top Ten list and I’m pretty much stalking the author on Twitter for updates on the next book. Plus, I recommend following her and checking out her thread on the original story from 1001 Nights that this book was based on! For your reading convenience, here is a link to that thread! You can also check out my full review to read the entirety of my gushing about this book. So, without further ado, on to the giveaway! It’s open to US entrants only and will run until February 19. Good luck and happy reading!

Click here to enter!





Serena’s Review: “A Conspiracy in Belgravia”

33835806Book: “A Conspiracy in Belgravia” by Sherry Thomas

Publishing Info: Penguin Group, September 2017

Where Did I Get this Book: bought it!

Book Description: Being shunned by Society gives Charlotte Holmes the time and freedom to put her extraordinary powers of deduction to good use. As “Sherlock Holmes, consulting detective,” aided by the capable Mrs. Watson, she’s had great success helping with all manner of inquiries, but she’s not prepared for the new client who arrives at her Upper Baker Street office.

Lady Ingram, wife of Charlotte’s dear friend and benefactor, wants Sherlock Holmes to find her first love, who failed to show up at their annual rendezvous. Matters of loyalty and discretion aside, the case becomes even more personal for Charlotte as the missing man is none other than Myron Finch, her illegitimate half brother.

In the meanwhile, Charlotte wrestles with a surprising proposal of marriage, a mysterious stranger woos her sister Livia, and an unidentified body that surfaces where least expected. Charlotte’s investigative prowess is challenged as never before: Can she find her brother in time—or will he, too, end up as a nameless corpse somewhere in the belly of London?

Previously Reviewed: “A Study in Scarlet Women”

Review:  So this is the book that I bought when I was only halfway through the first one. That’s how much I was loving what Thomas was laying down in her re-imaging of Sherlock Holmes as a young, “fallen” woman named Charlotte. With this method, I was able to put down the first book and immediately pick up the next, and I think this worked in the books’ favor, though, let’s be real, I would have loved it in whatever manner I had gotten to reading it in.

The story picks up almost immediately after the events of “A Study in Scarlet Women.” Charlotte Holmes is still very much just figuring out what her new life will be like living the charade of marketing her services through her fictionalized ailing brother, “Sherlock.” Of course, there are those who know the truth.

Mrs. Watson, Charlotte’s business partner and roommate. Livia, her sister who remains stuck in their unhappy childhood home and whom Charlotte dreams of rescuing one day through her own financial independence. Inspector Treadles, the police detective who worked with her on her first case, and is less than enthused by the fact that the “man” he had esteemed for so long turned out to be a woman, and that, through this revelation, he’s had to confront the reality that his own wife might also be more than she seems. And, of course, Lord Ingram, Charlotte’s childhood compatriot with whom she has a challenging relationship, due to his unfortunate marriage.

This story takes this already large cast of characters and blows it up even further. Most importantly, Lord Bankcroft, the Mycroft of this world and Lord Ingram’s brother, makes an appearance. In the first book we learned that he had made an offer of marriage to Charlotte in the past. And here, we see that he is just as determined, regardless of her role as “Sherlock.” In fact, as an incentive to her consideration, he provides her with several puzzles from his own work in the field of secrets and mysteries. And of course, one turns out to be more than it had seemed. On top of this, Charlotte has a new client: Lady Ingram.

I’m already halfway through a typical word count for these reviews, and I’ve just finished laying out the bare bones of all that goes on in this story. Not only is the mystery just as compelling and complicated as the first, requiring me to again page back and forth a few times to keep track of things, but the interweavings of all of the characters’ relationships and interactions became even more complicated.

I loved that we got to meet Bankcroft in this book and explore the role that he plays in this world. He also provides a legitimate temptation to Charlotte, offering her a doorway back into “acceptable society.” Even one that could offer her some of the same mental challenges that she enjoys in her current position. Through these interactions and her tackling of this case, Charlotte really has to confront what she expects and wants from her life. It’s not as simple as it could be, either, as Charlotte is not simply thinking of herself, but of her two sisters who are languishing in the unhappy and neglectful home of their parents, and who depend on her for any hope of future freedom.

I also enjoyed the continuing expansion of Charlotte’s skillset. As I said in the first review, I appreciated the fact that this version of Sherlock doesn’t come with all of his/her skills already in place. Too often versions of Sherlock seem so over-powered with their supreme abilities in literally everything that they become practically unbelievable. Charlotte is brilliant, but she still has much to learn. I particularly enjoyed the introduction of self-defense lessons taught by none other than Mrs. Watson herself, who, living a life as an actress in the more seedy parts of the world, has a firm foundation under her belt in this area. Charlotte also begins exploring the world of lock-picking and disguise, two other typical areas of expertise for a Sherlock character.

The mystery was also particularly intriguing. As I said, it was just as complicated as the first, something that I find incredibly satisfying. But because we are getting at these mysteries through more personal connections to Charlotte and those around her, I felt that it was even stronger. The mystery she stumbles upon through Mycroft’s work obviously ties into her interactions and future with him. And the mystery brought to her by Lady Ingram clearly affects her tenuous relationship with Lord Ingram. How can she maintain her friendship and loyalty to one while respecting the secrecy of a woman who has come to “Sherlock,” a man wholly unconnected with her husband?

Obviously this is further complicated by the underlying tremors of romantic feelings that exist between Lord Ingram and Charlotte. This aspect of the story is still gradually building, and as a fan of slow-burn relationships, I have loved this part of the story. The author doesn’t hand-wave away the fact that he is married and has children. He chose his wife completely on his own, and he loves his children, regardless of his failed marriage. The realities of these things are solid and not to be easily done away with simply due to his complicated feelings for Charlotte. I love how the author has handled this so far, and that gives me full faith to trust where she is leading readers in future books.

This is going to go down as yet another book that I’ve read recently that is even better than the first. If you enjoy Sherlock Holmes stories, particularly re-imaginings of the classic character, than this is a must for your next read! I’ve now become quite spoiled, reading both books back to back, so the wait for the next book, due to come out sometime this year, looks like it will be quite tortuous.

Rating 9: Fantastic! Both this, and the first one, are early runners for my “Best of 2018” list already!

Reader’s Advisory:

“A Conspiracy in Belgravia” is a newer title and isn’t on many relevant Goodreads list, but it is on “Regency and Victorian Mysteries.”

Find “A Conspiracy in Belgravia” at your library using WorldCat!



Kate’s Reviews: “Is This Guy For Real?: The Unbelievable Andy Kaufman”

34506909Book: “Is This Guy For Real?: The Unbelievable Andy Kaufman” by Box Brown

Publishing Info: First Second, February 2018

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

Book Description: Comedian and performer Andy Kaufman’s resume was impressive—a popular role on the beloved sitcom Taxi, a high-profile stand-up career, and a surprisingly successful stint in professional wrestling. Although he was by all accounts a sensitive and thoughtful person, he’s ironically best remembered for his various contemptible personas, which were so committed and so convincing that all but his closest family and friends were completely taken in.

Why would someone so gentle-natured and sensitive build an entire career seeking the hatred of his audience? What drives a performer to solicit that reaction? With the same nuance and sympathy with which he approached Andre the Giant in his 2014 biography, graphic novelist Box Brown takes on the complex and often hilarious life of Andy Kaufman.

Review: One of my favorite memories of going down to Iowa to visit my grandparents was what my sister and I would do after the rest of the house had gone to bed. We would lie on the pull out couch turned bed, turn on the TV (low so as to not disturb anyone), and watch “Nick at Nite” well into the wee hours of the morning. Sometimes our Mom would watch with us at least for a short while, and I remember the night that I first saw Andy Kaufman. “Taxi” was up next on the schedule, and my Mom was visibly excited for it. When an awkward mechanic came on screen and spoke in a strange and high pitched voice, she said to me “That’s Latke. He’s hilarious.” And he was. As I got older I learned a bit more about Andy Kaufman, his beloved characters as well as his not so beloved characters, and I wasn’t totally sure of what to think of him. I knew I thought he was funny. But I also knew I thought he was nuts. “Is This Guy For Real?” is a graphic biography that examines both aspects of Kaufman, from his childhood years until his untimely death from lung cancer.

Brown is probably most known for his graphic biography about Andre the Giant, and this book is kind of a similar set up: it tries to strip down the affectations and public persona that Kaufman had, and show what drove him. It mainly focuses on his wrestling career, in which he first started wrestling women and then eventually started a ‘feud’ with Jerry Lawler, a popular Tennessee wrestler. Kaufman was VERY MUCH a heel, or a villain character, saying sexist shit about women and playing up the ‘Hollywood Elitist’ persona that really pissed off the wrestling fandom, especially those in Tennessee. To the public he was a complete jerk who harassed and abused people for a laugh. It was kind of a pattern in a way, as one of his characters, Tony Clifton the obnoxious lounge singer, was also excessively cruel. But by all accounts from those he was closest to, this was not who he was in his personal life. I think that Brown does a good job of framing his performance art personality by juxtaposing his love for transcendental meditation and yoga. The other ‘well known’ take on Kaufman’s life is the movie “Man on the Moon”, a Milos Foreman biographical story starring Jim Carrey. “Is This Guy For Real” almost feels a bit more subdued, as it is less about the conflict that Kaufman created with his antics, and more about the drive and creativity behind it. When you see the thought process and the need to entertain and create that was behind it, it puts Kaufman in a new light, and makes his untimely death all the more poignant.

What struck me about this book is that it’s main focus is on Kaufman’s wrestling career, which was controversial in many ways. I actually had no idea that his ‘feud’ with Lawler went on for as long as it did, and that they had been hyping each other up from the beginning and all the way up until Kaufman’s illness. We got to see how Lawler started out as well, and how even though he was a heel himself he and Kaufman crafted a role switch for him. I, too, had no clue that Kaufman was so engrossed in wrestling that it probably could have become a second career for him had he not become ill. It doesn’t focus as much on his time on “Taxi”, nor does it touch on the fact he was banned from SNL, or that he had a very public meltdown on the show “Fridays” (the veracity of this meltdown is disputed, however: some say that it was all planned). This book definitely takes the position that while a lot of people, Lawler included, didn’t really ‘get’ Kaufman’s motivations and performances, or his need to perform in such a way, he was ultimately far more self aware and grounded than his reputation would imply, and his relationship with Lawler is evidence of this. I don’t know how I feel about Brown leaving that more controversial stuff out, though. It felt a little dishonest to omit these abrasive and unpleasant facts about him.

I do have to wonder, though, how much of that is actually the case. In the last few pages of this book Brown refers to a conversation he had with Michael Kaufman, Andy’s brother, in which Michael says that he didn’t like “Man on the Moon” because it portrayed Andy as a self centered buffoon who was lost in his own performances, and he didn’t agree with that. I do concede that that film, as much as I like it, definitely had to pull out a narrative of conflict, and that’s a popular angle to take when talking about Kaufman. But Bob Zmuda, Kaufman’s comedic partner and close friend, had a HUGE hand in that movie. It kind of hits home that perhaps neither Zmuda NOR Michael really had a grasp on who Kaufman was at his heart. There was also one little ‘fun fact’ that I had a problem with, and it’s only because I have deep feelings about it. Brown says that none of Kaufman’s “Taxi” co-stars were at his funeral, and that’s not true. While most of them didn’t go, thinking he was playing a cruel joke on them, Carol Kane did attend. She played opposite Kaufman on the show, and by all accounts they got along very well. So to erase her from his life like that, even if it was just a side note to make a point about how misunderstood he was, felt wrong.

The artwork is pretty cool too! While Brown’s style is kind of simplistic in some ways, I think that it’s very unique, and just kind of adds to the whimsy that is already abundant.


All in all, “Is This Guy For Real?” was an enjoyable graphic biography about an entertainer that I really love. I feel like I learned more about him, and that perhaps I understand him a little bit better. Maybe. Because who knows with Andy Kaufman?

Rating 8: A poignant and well told biography about one of the strangest comedians of the 20th Century. While it left out some of his more notorious moments, it reveals a side that tends to get lost.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Is This Guy For Real?” is still new and not on any Goodreads lists yet, but I think it would fit in on “Non-Fiction Comics and Graphic Novels”, and “Best Eccentric Characters”.

Find “Is This Guy For Real?” at your library using WorldCat!


Serena’s Review: “Thunderhead”

33555224Book: “Thunderhead” by Neil Shusterman

Publishing Info: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, January 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: bought it!

Book Description: Rowan has gone rogue, and has taken it upon himself to put the Scythedom through a trial by fire. Literally. In the year since Winter Conclave, he has gone off-grid, and has been striking out against corrupt scythes—not only in MidMerica, but across the entire continent. He is a dark folk hero now—“Scythe Lucifer”—a vigilante taking down corrupt scythes in flames.

Citra, now a junior scythe under Scythe Curie, sees the corruption and wants to help change it from the inside out, but is thwarted at every turn, and threatened by the “new order” scythes. Realizing she cannot do this alone—or even with the help of Scythe Curie and Faraday, she does the unthinkable, and risks being “deadish” so she can communicate with the Thunderhead—the only being on earth wise enough to solve the dire problems of a perfect world. But will it help solve those problems, or simply watch as perfection goes into decline?

Previously Reviewed: “Scythe”

Review: Looking back, I’m kind of surprised that “Scythe” didn’t find its way onto my Top 10 reads for the year list. Just goes to show that I read a lot of amazing books last year, so even great ones that I completely enjoyed reading failed to make my Top 10. But reading “Thunderhead” just hit home again how much I enjoy Shusterman’s writing and the complex, nuanced, and entertaining world he has created in this series. If anything, I think “Thunderhead” takes this entire series to a new level.

Starting off a year after the events of the first book, Citra has settled in to life as a scythe and Rowan has fully committed to his rogue existence attempting to weed out the corruption that he sees within the organization. But beyond these two, we get two new voices. One is the Thunderhead itself who oversees the action of this story with increasing dismay and almost tragic realizations. And the other is a boy named Greyson Tolliver who has practically been raised by the Thundhead and who wishes for nothing more than do commit his life to helping it. But between them all, will they have the power to halt the terrifyingly fast descent into corruption that is taking over the Scythedom? Especially when new power come onto the scene with their own plans for the future of scythes?

As far as characters go, I was always fully on board with Citra and Rowan, and their arcs in this book just further reinforced my love for them. As a new scythe, Citra has come up with her own gleaning methods: she chooses to let her targets know she has selected them, but then gives them a month to come to terms with it and select the method with which they’d like to go. This seems perfectly in line with Citra’s morality and was also a fun surprise as it answers a moral question that we had at bookclub when we reviewed the first book, about the fact that some of the methods of gleaning were more gruesome than others and it would be rough having that completely left up to chance. So it was fun to see Citra recognize that same concern and solve it in her own way.

Further, this choice, as well as the way that she side-stepped having to glean Rowan in the first book, have lead her to become somewhat of a celebrity and leader among the younger and newer scythes. Citra is reluctant to take on this role, but throughout the book, she learns the importance of providing leadership, even if it’s not something you crave. Perhaps especially if it’s not something you crave.

Rowan’s arc is a bit less predictable, and I can’t get into many of the details of his story without resorting to spoilers. But I like the fact that his rogue existence is presented as incredibly challenging. The scythedom isn’t just sitting back and letting him do this. However, there is a lot of confusion about the fact that the Thunderhead, particularly, IS essentially just sitting back and letting him dot his. This complicated power balance between the Thunderhead and the scythedom is key to this story, and the path that Rowan walks is just one example of it.

When I saw that this book was titled “Thunderhead,” I knew that we were going to get a lot more information about the benevolent AI that runs the world in this series. In the first book, I remember particularly enjoying the fact that the Thunderhead was presented as a completely positive force, so I was worried that in this book we were going to fall back on the rather trope-y “but OF COURSE the AI is evil and trying to take over the world!” That doesn’t turn out to be the case…at least so far…dun dun DUN.

I was particularly pleased to see the interlude sections between chapters that before were made up of various scythes’ journal entries were completely given over to the internal musing of the Thunderhead. It was fascinating reading through the “eyes” of this being and exploring its own thoughts on humanity, its own awareness, and the balance that it has created between them. Further, the Thunderhead has its own role to play, and I loved the creativity and emotion that was given to a being that could have simply been a glorified computer system. By the end, I was completely invested in the Thunderhead as a character itself and upset on its behalf with regards to certain things that were happening. The ending, in particular, leaves some huge question marks about the Thunderhead’s future, and I can’t wait to find out where this is all going.

I also very much enjoyed the introduction of Greyson Tolliver. Through him, we get to see a lot of the inner workings of the rest of the world, outside of the scythedom and their work. For one thing, there is an entire organization that is centered around doing work for the Thunderhead, and this is where Greyson Tolliver first dreams of working. We also explore the lives and society of the “unsavory” members of the population, those who fight against the norms of the world. This could have so easily become a stereotypical portrayal of rebellion and anger, but instead it went in directions that I never would have expected. We also get to see more of the motivations and society of the Tonists, the sole remaining religious organization of the world.

In so many ways, this book took what now seems like a very insular little story in the first book, and blew up it up by ten times the magnitude. This world is so much more complex and complicated than I first thought! With the unsavories themselves, the “free states” like Texas where the Thunderhead is experimenting with letting humanity have more free reign, the ways that the Thunderhead has attempted to move society past any point where they might romanticize the past, and the history of the scythedom and the creation of the Thunderhead itself. There’s just so much!

Through all of these things, Shusterman explores what it means to be human, what makes certain choices and expressions of emotion important to some and not to others, and how corruption can creep its way into even the most perfect of societies. By the end of the story I was both compulsively reading, unable to put the book down, but also absolutely dreading what could happen on the next page. Shusterman has definitely raised the stakes with this one, and while you should absolutely check this book out RIGHT NOW, be warned that you’ll be left completely ruined while waiting for the next one!

Rating 9: A fantastic sequel that expands this world exponentially and leaves readers craving more!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Thunderhead” is still a new book and so isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists, but it should be on “Best artificial intelligence books.”

Find “Thunderhead” at your library using WorldCat

A Revisit to Fear Street: “The Mind Reader”

176663Book: “The Mind Reader” (Fear Street #26) by R.L. Stine

Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, 1994

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

Book Description: A bony hand beckons from a shallow grave…

But only Ellie Anderson can see the skeletal hand. Ellie has visions—visions of past secrets and future horror. Her visions have led her to the body of a girl who was killed two years before. Now her power may help her find the murderer…unless he finds her first!

Had I Read This Before: No.

The Plot: Ellie Anderson is sitting in Alma’s Coffee Shop visiting her best friend Sarah Wilkins, who works there. I miss Pete’s Pizza, it hasn’t been seen in a few books, but maybe this was when coffee was starting to become the hip thing for teens and Stine saw an opportunity to connect with the youth. Ellis is also there to boy watch. She and her Dad have just moved back to Shadyside after being gone for fourteen years. They moved away when Ellie was two and her mother died, but Dad’s work brought them back. Lucky for her boy watching purposes, a cute older guy walks into the coffee shop. Noticing Ellis noticed, Sarah acts as wingman and goes to take his order, and brings back intel that his name is Brian Tanner. Ellie feels like maybe he’s watching her, but instead of excited she’s suddenly overcome with fear, and leaves the coffee shop abruptly.

While out walking her dog by the Fear Woods later that night, Ellie thinks about her old school and her old boyfriend Tommy. They broke up because Ellie is a psychic, and had visions that Tommy was cheating on her with her best friend Janine. She’s had these visions of the future and the past all her life, and it’s made life difficult. Awww, it’s just like Patricia Arquette as Allison Dubois on “Medium”! I love that show! Allison never took shit!

Look at her go!!! (source)

As she and Chaz are walking, the dog suddenly retrieves a long, suspicious bone, and then he drags her to a spot where he continues to dig. BAM, human remains. Ellie and Chaz run out of the woods, and Ellie hails down a car of her classmates (with names maybe I’m supposed to recognize from previous books, but I don’t), and they take her to the police station. She is eventually handed off to Sarah’s father, Lt. Wilson, who questions her about what she saw, and asks that she take him to where she found the body. After stumbling around a bit and building the suspense, she does lead him and the other officers to the grave. Eventually word gets around that a dead body was found in Fear Woods, and Sarah shows up to see if Ellie is okay. In the crowd of officials and gawkers, Ellis recognizes Brian Tanner. But before she can dwell too long, a piece of red fabric is pulled up from the grave, and Sarah, seeing it, passes out. Wilkins then insists that Ellie needs to go home, and has another officer take her away from the scene.

At school classmates Frank and Patty pepper Ellie with questions, and then tell her that Sarah had an older sister named Melinda who disappeared a couple years prior, and she was last seen wearing a red sweatshirt. Ellis is now convinced that since she’s become friends with Sarah, Melinda is trying to reach her from beyond the grave. At her job at the Public Library after school (YESSSSS!), Ellie notices that she’s being watched. Brian Tanner is there, and he asks her if she knows where he can find information and books on primitive weapons. He lets slip that he knows that she’s new to Shadyside, which is fishy, and Ellie would be more suspicious if he wasn’t so hot. But then while they’re talking she has a vision of a bloody knife on the shelf. That combined with her unease when he’s around makes her walk away, and I say GOOD FOR YOU, ELLIE. He calls after her by her name but she ignores him. She then thinks that maybe just the title of the primitive weapons book triggered a false vision. NO, ELLIE. But THEN she realizes that she never actually told him her name….. so why did he know it?

After work Ellie decides to swing by Sarah’s house to check on her. No one is home, but a vision of a creepy ass skull is in the window!! Ellie is jarred, but calms down, and realizes that Sarah may be at work. As walks, a strange car drives up next to her, and lo and behold, it’s Brian Tanner.

At this point, it’s stalking. (source)

He offers to give her a ride, and she says that she doesn’t accept rides from strangers. YES, ELLIE. But thinks to herself that he’s SO CUTE and is clearly tempted. Ellie, FFS. Eventually he asks why she won’t and she says that it’s because he knew her name when she never told him, and he claims that Sarah gave it to her. She still has a weird feeling, and says no before running towards the coffee shop. She wonders why she is so creeped out by him, and it’s called INTUITION, ELLIE, READ “THE GIFT OF FEAR”! She goes inside but finds no Sarah, so she asks Ernie, another employee, where she is. He says she hasn’t come in and hasn’t called, and that’s not like her. He also doesn’t know much more about Melinda. Just then, who should sit down, but BRIAN FUCKING TANNER. And Ellie isn’t at all freaked out by this?! He says that he lives with his grandparents in Waynesbridge, and says he was at the scene of the crime looking for ‘cheap thrills’. Lt. Wilkins comes in to tell Ernie that Sarah is going to be staying with her aunt for a few days, and then Ellie realizes that Brian has ditched out, right around the time that Lt. Wilkins came in…

When she gets home she decides to tell her father that it was her who found the grave. Her Dad is totally spooked that she’s involved, and tells her that she needs to stay out of it. And since apparently it’s a night of sharing, Mr. Anderson one ups her completely by confessing that her mother didn’t die of appendicitis like she was told, but that she was MURDERED. Then he breaks down into sobs, which sends Ellie into sobs and wow. This shit just got pretty real. Ellie locks herself in the bathroom and pukes, and her Dad begs for forgiveness for lying to her. She tells him she’s okay, and decides to take a shower. While thinking about all these things, she suddenly has a vision of not only a knife dangling above her head, but the tub filling up with blood! She slips and falls, and splashes blood everywhere (this is starting to sound a bit like “It”), and then hears a woman’s voice calling her name. It’s her mother!!! But soon the cries stop, the vision disappears, and her Dad is calling through the door telling her she has a phone call from some guy named Brian.

At this point, Ellis should be doing this through the bathroom window. (source)

She tells her Dad to tell him she can’t talk, and once she is all dressed and ready to go to bed she asks him how her mom was killed. He says he can’t tell her right now, and she goes to bed.

Before her shift starts at the library, Ellie decides to do some research. Though she doesn’t know the month her mother died, she uses her psychic powers to discern that it was October. She finds the right year and month, and starts microfiching! She finds the right article: her mother was murdered by a man who lived in Shadyside, and he stabbed her to death. AND two year old Ellie saw the whole thing! And since her gift is also a curse, she relives the moment in one of her visions. After her shift she goes to the Wilkins’s house to find Sarah, as she is convinced that Lt. Wilkins is lying about her whereabouts (because when she called from work, someone picked up the phone, but then hang up). She finds the door unlocked, and goes into the house. She finds Sarah in her room, and shakes her away, afraid she is dead. But she’s not, she’s just deeply, deeply depressed, as the body was indeed Melinda. After she cries herself to sleep again, Ellie goes a’snoopin’, and goes into Melinda’s room. There is a framed photo in there of the dead girl, and her face seems to come to life and scream right at Ellie, who high tails it out of there.

And who does she run into??? YOU GUESSED IT. BRIAN. She actually demands why he’s following her, and he tells her that he wants to apologize for the night before when he ditched out on her. Apparently JUST as Lt. Wilkins walked in he remembered that he was in a no parking zone, and decided to move his car lest he get a ticket. SURE. She also tells him that Sarah’s sister was the body. He then asks her out on another date, and she hesitates, and he asks her if it’s because of how her old boyfriend hurt her so badly. HOLD THE PHONE, HOW DOES HE KNOW ABOUT TOMMY? she asks, and he says that he figures she’s so skittish that it must be because of an old boyfriend. He then suggests that they have a romantic picnic on Fear Island the next day. And, for reasons I cannot fathom, she says yes.

The next day Ellie sees a news expose on Lt. Wilkins and Melinda, and he tells the reporter that he had assumed that she ran off with her boyfriend Brett Hawkins, as she had told her friends that she was planning to do so. She wonders if the visions are also trying to tell her if she herself is in danger. But no matter now, she has a date with Brian Tanner! To her credit, she brings good ol’ Chaz with her. They walk through a very picturesque Fear Street Woods (Autumn is in full swing I guess) and he kisses her gently before suggesting they rent a canoe to go out to the island. They get to the island and actually have a really nice picnic, and he offers to cut her an apple slice. But, when he reaches into the basket, he pulls out THE SAME KNIFE SHE’S SEEN IN HER VISIONS. He says it was his grandfather’s knife, and she excuses herself to go panic in the woods a bit. Eventually she calms down, but when she returns to the beach, Brian is gone! Wait, no he isn’t, he packed up the canoe and went looking for her. She’s convinced he knows something’s amiss, but gets in the canoe anyway, and who can blame her, really, as there are no other options. As they are paddling, Chaz acts afool and knocks her into the water. Ellie tries to swim to the surface, but a hand pulls her down! When she does surface, she sees that Brian is unconscious. Luckily, a passing fisherman gets them all up in his boat. After they are back on shore and the fisherman goes to get his truck, Brian tells her that when she fell in he dove in after her, but then panicked and got disoriented, grabbing for anything he could, and pulled her down more. All seems fine to Ellie, until he makes a passing comment about how he’s supposed to be saving her. She asks him what that means, but he’s fallen asleep, I guess? Then he mutters the name ‘Melinda’. Did he know Melinda? Did he hurt her? Is he trying to hurt Ellie?

The fisherman drops her and Chaz off at home, and she changes clothes and goes straight to the police station. She first asks Lt. Wilkins why Sarah won’t talk to her, and he says it’s because she’s depressed. Then she asks what he knows about Brett Hawkins. He says that Brett is probably dead too as he’s been missing for two years, and that whoever killed Melinda probably killed Brett too. She asks if Melinda knew a Brian Tanner, and he says no. Oh, but then he pulls up a photo of Brett Hawkins, and shock and awe, it IS Brian Tanner! Which then sparks off a vision of the murder weapon in a deep deep hole, a knife, not unlike the one that Brian had. She tells Lt. Wilkins what she saw, and admits that she has visions, but doesn’t tell him about Brian just yet. He takes her out to the grave site, as she thinks the knife may be there, and she remembers a twisted up tree from her vision. He gives her gloves to reach inside, and she pulls out a knife with a silver handle, with rust and grime on it. Lt. Wilkins confirms Brett had a knife just like this, and Ellie is finally ready to face the fact that Brian is a goddamn creeper. She tells him that she may know where he is, and that he’s going to a false name. Lt. Wilkins says to try and get an address if she sees him next, but warns her that he could be dangerous and to be careful. Ellie starts to walk home, going up Fear Street, when someone jumps out of the bushes! It’s Sarah, who looks totally unkempt. Ellie tells her everything, and Sarah freaks out and runs away.

When Ellie gets home, she walks into the living room to find BRIAN there, livid that she showed Lt. Wilkins the knife. She runs for the door but he slams her body against it, pinning her, and clamps a hand over her mouth. He asks again about the knife, and she tries to play dumb but he tells her he knows about the knife in the tree, which must mean he put it there! She keeps trying to escape, but he keeps begging her to listen to him and honestly, roughing her up, and I’m getting flashbacks to “The New Boy” and I have feelings about this. He admits that he is Brett Hawkins, and that two years ago he and Melinda were going to run away together because they were in love, and Ellie finishes his thought by saying she changed her mind and he killed her because of it. THen the police show up because a neighbor heard screaming, and Wilkins arrests Brett. So obviously, it’s all over…. Except it’s not, because later that evening Ellie’s Dad tells her that Brett escaped custody and may be coming for her!

Ellie wants to help the police, but her father is insistent that she not because of what happened to her mother. Apparently, his wife also had visions, and had a vision of a man who killed a little girl. The man was the girl’s uncle, and Ellie’s Mom went to the police with the vision. The police arrested the uncle but couldn’t hold him, and the man ended up murdered Ellie’s Mom as an act of revenge which makes NO SENSE because it sure sounded like he was off scott free, so why kill her in broad daylight? Ellie understands his fears, but tells him that like her mother she has to help. So he lets her go to the police station. Wilkins keeps asking her for any visions that she may have, but nothing concrete comes to her outside of a shimmery image of gold, so she gives up and decides to go home. But she stops at Sarah’s house first to finally confront her. Sarah doesn’t want to talk, but then confesses that SHE was the one who killed Melinda!…. Well, indirectly, because she helped Melinda plan her escape from home because she was jealous of her and wanted her gone, so she blames herself for helping her get in touch with Brett. Get therapy, Sarah, it will do you wonders. Ellie is still not sure WHY Brett killed Melinda… THen she has a vision of being in a grave, grasping something in her hand as she is buried alive. She interprets it as Melinda telling here there’s a clue in the grave still. Then she tells Sarah about her powers, and Sarah is super supportive and grabs one of her Dad’s guns, just in case they need it.

MAN GUYS! THIS IS SERIOUSLY MAKING ME MISS “MEDIUM”! Not only was Allison great but the girls who played her children were all adorable, and Jake Weber, who played her husband Joe, was HOT.

Married life goals. (source)

They go to the site and start digging, looking for something small and round. What they find is a gold button, and Ellie postulates that perhaps the killer dropped it. But the BRETT SHOWS UP and asks them ‘did you find the button?’, and ALLISON DUBOIS COME SAVE THEM!! Ellie has a vision of Melinda fighting with someone, and then Lt. Wilkins shows up and aims is gun at Brett!!… But then, SARAH SHOOTS HER DAD!!! BECAUSE SHE REMEMBERS THAT HE WAS FRANTICALLY LOOKING FOR A MISSING BUTTON SHORTLY AFTER MELINDA WENT MISSING. Turns out, he found her before she left and they argued, and he shoved her in the moment and she fell and hit her head, dying instantly. So he staged the stabbing (I’m not clear on how Melinda got Brett’s knife, but I’m sure I just missed that detail), and buried her, thinking he could pin it on Brett, but Brett zipped pretty quick. He tries to shoot Brett again, but is too wounded, so Sarah goes to call for help. Brett and Ellie talk, and he confesses that he too is a psychic, and he’s been having visions of her standing in the woods with Melinda, who was begging him to help her. In fact, he’s having a vision now, and he bets he can guess what she’s thinking. Then he kisses her. And she says “You’re right.” The End.

He’s no Joe and he NEVER WILL BE!! (source)

Body Count: Just the one off page.

Romance Rating: 2. It’s nice that Ellie has found another mind reader, but Brian/Brett was a total creep for most of the book and I can’t say that I’m pleased they ended up together.

Bonkers Rating: 4. It was actually pretty straight forward. The final twist was more tragic than anything else.

Fear Street Relevance: 8. From Melinda’s body being found in the woods to the picnic on Fear Island, this one was pretty Fear Street heavy.

Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:

“She was a few feet from her car, when the dark figure burst out from the bushes and leapt on her with a furious grunt.”

… And it’s just her dog Chaz. Who was somehow let out of the house just for this moment.

That’s So Dated! Moments: My very absolute favorite one was when Ellie is told that they are hoping to be able to track down Brett using ‘new computer technology’. WHATEVER THE HELL THAT MEANS!

Best Quote:

“Shelving books at the Shadyside Public Library didn’t pay much, but Ellie loved being there. She loved the musty, old-book smell of the library. And she loved the quiet.”

Oh you smooth talker, Stine, knowing how to flatter us librarians. (source)

Conclusion: “The Mind Reader” gets props just because I love the Psychic Trope, and it felt like an episode of “Medium”. But ultimately it fell into the trap of toxic boys and why that’s perfectly fine, and I’m really not here for that anymore.

Highlights: February 2018

What? It’s only February? How is winter not over yet?! But I guess we have Valentine’s Day to look forward to! And the most important love of both of our lives: books (jk, husbands…it’s our cats.) Here are the books we’d most love to get our hands on this month!

Serena’s Picks

17312156Book: “Tempest and Slaughter” by Tamora Pierce

Publication Date: February 6, 2018

Why I’m Interested: Um, because I absolutely adore Tamora Pierce?? This book has been torturing readers for five years now, showing up on Goodreads and then having the publication date get pushed back year by year. But it’s finally here guys! For those familiar with Pierce’s world of Tortall, this book is a prequel to her “Immortals” series and follows the early life of Numair, the romantic hero of those stories. Which is super exciting. But also super worrying. What will these books be like, taking place before he’s even met Daine? From what we got in those books, Numair was a bit of a ladies man before meeting her, and I’m just not sure I’m up for reading about his romantic entanglements when I am all “Numair/Daine forever!” But, what am I talking about, it’s not like that concern is going to stop me!

35098412Book: “The Queen’s Rising”

Publication Date: February 6, 2018

Why I’m Interested: This book has a plot synopsis that sounds fairly familiar to those who read a lot of YA fantasy: young woman dreams of only one thing, but is perhaps too average to accomplish said thing. Suddenly gets caught up in political shenanigans and realizes her role is something more than she had imagined. But I like those stories, so I’m always up for another! Plus, this one seems to have an interesting system set up with five “passions” that people can be skilled in that will earn them patronage once they come of age. So I will be curious to see how that will play out in the story of a brewing war.

30129657Book: “Honor Among Thieves”

Publication Date: February 13, 2018

Why I’m Interested: I’m always on the look out for a good YA sci-fi story. They’re sadly underepresented it seems. So I was thrilled when I stumbled upon this new release by Rachel Caine and Ann Aguirre. I’ve read a few books by Rachel Caine in the past and enjoyed her writing. Plus, the plot description of this one is right up my alley. Zara is a criminal on the run. That is until she gets caught up in a group that recruits people to explore space with sentient alien ships. And when Zara meets her ship, Nadim, she realizes that much more is going on. I love that this story seems to be focused on the pairing of Zara and a sentient ship! How fun is that!

Kate’s Picks

35068432Book: “I’ll Be Gone In The Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer” by Michelle McNamara

Publication Date: February 27, 2018

Why I’m Interested: As you’ve all probably figured out, one of my weaknesses is true crime, and while I don’t read as much of it anymore I still enjoy a good book about it. Michelle McNamara was a crime writer who did extensive research on the unsolved murders perpetrated by The Golden State Killer, but sadly she passed away unexpectedly at age 45 in 2016. Now the book she was working on has been finished, and word is that it’s well researched, atmospheric, and potentially could bring up new leads in the Golden State Killer case. Her death was a tragedy, but her words will always live on.

35235624Book: “The French Girl” by Lexie Elliott

Publication Date: February 20, 2018

Why I’m Interested: When a group of college students spend a week at an idyllic countryside farmhouse and a sexy interloper shows up, you KNOW something terrible is going to happen. And that means that I am one hundred percent interested in it. Switching between the past and the present, “The French Girl” sounds like it’s going to be a paranoid and tense thriller in which the puzzle pieces are presented slowly but surely between two times. Also, it’s going to involve a body that’s found in a well, and desperate people trying to cover up their culpability. Yes please. I have high hopes that this will be a page turner.

345069121Book: “The Prince and the Dressmaker” by Jen Wang

Publishing Info: February 13, 2018

Why I’m Interested: Just in time for Valentine’s Day, this new graphic novel looks like a sweet and lovely story about friendship and identity. When Frances is hired by Prince Sebastian to be a personal dressmaker, she is surprised to find out that Sebastian wants her to make dresses. For by night, Prince Sebastian turns into Lady Crystallia, a fashion icon like no other who longs to be the toast of Paris. Representation is so important in books, and I’m excited to see that “The Prince and the Dressmaker” has a main character who appears to be gender non-binary.

What books are you looking forward to that are coming out in February 2018?

The Great Animorphs Re-read #23: “The Pretender”

363421Animorphs #23: “The Pretender” by K.A. Applegate

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, November 1998

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: To Tobias, no one is who they seem. He has just heard a reading of his father’s last will and testament. That’s how he found out who his father really was: the Andalite Prince Elfangor Tobias is stunned, but can’t show it. Because Visser Three is watching his every move.

Narrator: Tobias

Plot: Tobias is having a problem: another red tail hawk is moving into his territory and food is getting scarce. Being Tobias, he’s feeling angsty about this, unwilling to fight the hawk in the usual manner OR the unusual manner (given he can morph other animals an all!) Also, obviously asking for help is out of the question! There is also a family of rabbits in his field that he and the hawk are vying for. Tobias has already ate one of the babies, and knows that humans would have a problem with that. But from his human perspective, sparing the mother gives her a chance to have more babies. And from his hawk perspective, adult rabbits can kick. Just as he’s going in for the kill on one of the babies, he has a flash from the POV of the rabbit, terrified by the shadow swooping in from above. He misses and gets whacked in the head by the mother rabbit for his trouble, while the other hawk gets the baby rabbit anyways.

We learn that this wasn’t the first time that Tobias has had a flash like this; it’s been happening for a few weeks, always just as he’s closing in on his prey. This has messed up more than one of his kills, leaving him almost starving. In a desperate move, he spots a dead racoon on the side of the road, and goes in to eat, hating himself for coming to this. In a terrible moment of timing, Rachel walks up and recognizes him, mid-feast. Humiliated, Tobias flees.

A few days later, Tobias flies to Rachel’s house. She tells him that someone has been asking around about him, a lawyer who is representing a woman named Aria who claims to be Tobias’s cousin. She’s also heard all of this secondhand, through Chapman, who was asking Melissa if she new a kid named Tobias, a conversation that Rachel overheard. Tobias is immediately skeptical. Apparently the woman was in Africa this entire time, but now is back and wants to give Tobias a home.

The next day, the Animorphs take up stations around the strip mall office of the lawyer, DeGroot.

I was picturing Saul’s office the entire time.

Tobias morphs human behind a dumpster and heads into the office to meet with DeGroot. The lawyer asks where he’s been, and Tobias avoids answering. DeGroot claims that the man who died, Tobias’s “father,” may not have been his real father, and that DeGroot’s own father had an old file stating to contact Tobias on his next birthday to have his real father’s final statement read to him. He then says that this cousin, Aria, wants to meet with Tobias in a hotel the next day.

Back in the sky, Tobias flies away, wanting to be alone, not wanting to deal with the ways that he knows his friends will dissect these events. Wanting the choice, problem, hope, to be his own. Instead, he flies to the Hork Bajir valley where he is surprised to see them waiting for him. Through Toby, their seer, they relay the fact that one of the children, a boy named Bek, has disappeared from the valley. Through this story, Tobias learns more: the Hork Bajir have been raiding a nearby, secret Yeerk facility where they have been freeing more of their kind. Toby explains that this is very important, not only for her people now, but so that there are enough of them that if the world is ever freed from humans, people can’t just overrun them. Toby says that the Hork Bajir trusted the Andalites once, and look where that got them? They will trust the Animorphs, but not all of humanity. They worry that if the Animorphs know about the secret base, they will attack it and thus deprive the Hork Bajir of future opportunities to save more of their kind. Tobais says he will talk to the Animorphs to set up a search party for Bek.

Later, back in the barn,  Marco is ranting, per the usual. Rachel shuts him down, also per the usual. And Tobias feels a flash of jealously at their easy, normal interactions. The Animorphs now have a lot on their plate, and Jake has Marco get on the Internet and see if he can find any mention of a strange creature spotted nearby, hoping to get a lead on Bek.

Tobias is paired with Rachel, and again describes her morph to eagle as her becoming on the outside what she is on the inside. Together, they go to spy on Aria. On the way, Tobias mentions the other hawk, but then immediately feels stupid for letting Rachel know about problems as if he can’t deal with them. They arrive at the hotel and begin spying. Rachel notes that Aria is changing into a dress that is three to four years out of date, cuz of course she knows this. After getting a call, Aria heads out and hails a cab, making it hard for eagle!Rachel and Tobias to keep up.

<Rachel, I have a plan even you will think is insane,> I said. <See that cop car? Going the same general direction as the cab? See the lights on top?>
Rachel laughed. <0kay, that actually is insane. Let’s do it!>

They careen after the cab for a few miles, riding the the police car. But when the police get a call, it begins to veer away. Tobias spots a helicopter and has another brilliant plan.

The helicopter lifted off and headed at right angles to us. It was going
the same direction as the cab.
<l have another really bad idea,> I said.

Tobias manages the crazy stunt, but Rachel misses. Turns out the whole thing was needless, as the cab had stopped just below them. They find themselves at a dumpy little mini gold and zoo advertising a new acquisition: “A deadly midget freak!” Tobias has a sneaking suspicion, and he and Rachel go in as humans. Inside, the place is as sad and pathetic as one would expect. Further in, they spot Bek in a cage. They overhear Aria trying to convince the owner to let her take pictures, but the owner says he already has someone on the way who will pay thousands. Aria berates him a bit for the treatment of the other animals and leaves. A limo pulls up and she climbs in and drives away.

The next day the Animorphs meet in the barn and quickly decide they need to rescue Bek. They morph birds and head to the zoo. The group splits into two, and Tobias morphs Ket Halpak so that Bek will come with them willingly. The others plan to turn of the power and have elephant!Rachel knock down a wall to gain entrance.

“Hey, did Jake say knock down one wall? Or did he say knock down some walls?” Rachel asked, dripping with fake innocence.
<You know perfectly well he just wants you to get us into that place. He did not say you should knock the whole place down just because Frank is a creep and he mistreats animals,> I said sternly. <0n the other hand, it is dark. You might get confused. . . . >

The plan goes well, except that when Tobias gets inside he comes up against three Controllers, also there to nab Bek. Wolf!Cassie attacks, and gorilla!Marco forces the cage door open. A massive fight breaks out between the Animorphs and Controllers, and Tobias ends up shot in the stomach. Jake orders him to take Bek and run, but on the way out he runs into Visser Three who is morphing yet another of his alien monster morphs. Tobias feigns surrender and manages to take out several of alien!Visser Three’s legs, but as Visser Three falls, he shoots Tobias in the back with acid. In a panic of pain, Tobias rushes to a nearby lagoon, but loses Bek in the process.

Later, Tobias blames this on the human part of himself, thinking that the hawk would have been able to ignore the pain. Ax shows up and proposes that he and Tobias continue their investigation of Aria, also theorizing that they found Bek last time by following her as well. They watch her all day and note nothing of interest, other than the fact that she seems to like her hotel, and returns every few hours. Tobias thinks that it might be a “woman thing,” preferring to use the hotel toilet than public ones. On her next trip out, Aria saves a little girl from a bus that is barreling towards her. Tobias sees this as clear proof that Aria is not a Controller. Ax sees this as clear proof, but Tobias is too distracted by his excitement that Aria must not be a Controller to really ask about Ax’s tone.

Later that night, Tobias flies to Rachel’s room. He had missed a meeting of the group, and Rachel tells him they’ve decided that the Yeerks will likely use Bek as bait at their secret facility to try and lure in the other Hork Bajir. Tobias brings up Aria, and he and Rachel discuss the fact that she might be the real deal, and that Tobias could be a human boy again. They get into a fight about the tough life Tobias is leading lately, Rachel accusing him of his rather starving than asking for help. Tobias is defensive, saying that he’s a hawk and that whey they’re weak, they die. Rachel (rightly!) scoffs at this thought. She also mentions their quasi-relationship and how impossible it is now, with Tobias as a hawk the majority of the time. Tobias turns to go, but Rachel stops him, telling him that she and Marco hacked the school records and found out that his birthday is tomorrow. And to come find her after he meets with the lawyers and Aria, regardless of what he decides.

Tobias has a bad night, debating between becoming a human or staying a hawk. He is also weak with hunger, finally giving in and eating his fill of a cat that had been hit by a car earlier. The next day, the Animorphs meet up with the freed Hork Bajir. Toby comes up with the grim plan of attacking the base as a combined force, even if it means killing other Hork Bajir or losing Bek. She states that the Yeerks can’t be allowed to think they can use hostages against them. Jake is surprised by the wisdom of the seer. Ten of the Hork Bajir assemble with the group, and they head out. On the way, one of the Hork Bajir tells Tobias that he fought him once in the Yeerk pool and points to a scar on his head from Tobias’s talons. Tobias apologizes, but the Hork Bajir says he wasn’t free then, but is now, and they are friends.

They approach the base which is located in a valley that is hidden by a hologram. The base is made up of one building with a massive Dracon beam attached to the top, powerful enough, according to Ax, to take out the moon. They come up with a plan to have a handful of Hork Bajir pretend to conduct a raid and let themselves be captured, but they will have Animorphs in various bug morphs hitchhiking along with them. Once they are caught and put in a cage with Bek, Tobias demorphs, hidden in a circle of Hork Bajir.

I looked around and sighed. <No, Jara. You want to turn outward. This way it’s kind of obvious you’re shielding something.>

Tobias walks out of the cage, then hides and morphs Hork Bajir. He gets the keys to the cage and quickly he unlocks frees the others. Everyone morphs battle morphs. They plan on using the massive Dracon beam to blow up the base by aiming it down. They learn that Visser Three is expected at any moment, and soon see a helicopter coming in for a landing. Aria is inside.

Tobias is bereft, furious with himself for hoping, and for not noticing the two hour increments between her convenient “bathroom breaks” at the hotel. He feels that he, especially, should have caught on to this pattern, and retreats into anger, preferring that to the other emotions that are bubbling up. He crashes hard to the ground, completely destroyed by these realizations. Completely out of it, he isn’t able to help his friends who are fighting and is only saved when Toby snatches him off the ground and runs away with him, saying the weapon is about to explode. Toby saves him, then hands him to Rachel when they get away. At the barn, Cassie frantically looks him over, looking for the injury. Only then does Tobias confess what he’s seen and now knows about Aria.

He has no choice but to show up to the appointment, even knowing what he does, that it’s a trap. Not showing up would only confirm Visser Three’s suspicions about him, and then eventually this knowledge would lead him to Tobias’s friends. Tobias goes for a role as a tough street kid when he meets Aria and the lawyer, responding to all of their questions with scorn and indifference. But then they get to a big reveal…

I had forgotten how to use facial expressions. I was used to being a hawk and not a human.
It saved my life.

It is a letter from his real father, Alan Fangor, Elfangor-Sirinial-Shamtul. Tobias is shocked, but able to maintain his outward indifference and sarcasm, saying it’s just typical that his father shows up and turns out to be a lunatic who didn’t even bother leaving him any money. Aria!Visser Three and Controller!DeGroot are visibly disappointed, and Aria!Visser Three suddenly realizes that she’ll have to delay taking in Tobias because she got a sudden call to go back to Africa to reshoot some lions.

Tobias realizes what had to have happened: DeGroot was a Controller, saw the letter, realized what it meant, and brought in Visser Three. Together they had hatched the plan to try and trick Tobias, hoping that he had some connection to the Andalite bandits, since he is Elfangor’s son. Thinking about Elfangor’s time on Earth, Tobias quickly deduces that the Ellimist must have been responsible for erasing his father’s time on Earth. Tobias wonders if he should be angry, but realizes that Elfangor had to do what he did if he was to be where he needed to be to meet the Animorphs and give them their abilities and maybe save the Earth.

Through this, Tobias realizes that he, too, much do what is right and necessary, and not just what is easier for him. He must stay a hawk and do what hawks do, but he will always be both a hawk and a human. He will have to kill to eat, but he is a human, so he will also regret this. He kills the mother rabbit, but only after acquiring her. He then morphs the rabbit, and vows to keep the babies safe from the other hawk.

Later, he flies to Rachel’s room, waking her up. She’s grumpy, but then shows him the cake she made for him, lights a candle, and wishes him a happy birthday.

A Hawk’s Life:  As always, Tobias books are packed full of the feels. Through all of this, we have a lot of Tobias’s reflection on family, what that means, and the effects of not having this at all his entire childhood. We also see him beginning to lose his memory of what his life was like as a human. In the last book, he was forgetting what he looked like. Now we see him forgetting his own birthday and what his mom looked like.

We also get into the big conflict that he always has about how to balance the parts of him that are a hawk and those that are a boy. This is made worse by the bizarre flashes from the POV of his prey when he’s going in for the attack. It’s never really explained what these are all about, but I guess we’re left to assume it’s just all in his mind and is an extension of this existential crisis he’s having about feeling bad that he has to kill baby rabbits and such to live. But for a series that has so many other supernatural explanations for “visions” and such, it’s a strange leap to just have to assume that this isn’t anything more than Tobias processing his thoughts in a bizarre manner.

We also start getting the repercussions of the fact that he is now choosing to be a hawk. In his last book he received his own human morph, so he could go back to being a boy at any time, but he would lose his morphing abilities. This gets into probably my biggest issue with the whole series: why couldn’t he just get “stuck” as a human, and then they use the morphing cube to give him back his abilities? I can’t remember if this loophole is addressed later, but it always seems completely off that this wouldn’t have occurred to one of them immediately after getting the  blue box back. And then, if it wasn’t possible, that needed to be said right away!

Anyways! He goes on to have a lot of thoughts about where his duty lies vs. his personal preference. The parallels between his choice and Elfangor’s are pretty stark. Elfangor had to leave his life as a human with the woman he loved for the duty of fighting in a war. Tobias is having to choose to remain a hawk, not be a human boy who can be with the girl he loves, because he needs to be able to fight in this war.

Our Fearless Leader: At one point when they are deciding where to look for Bek after Tobias loses him at the zoo, Rachel cynically wonders if Jake’s plan to ask the Hork Bajir for the location of the base is just an excuse to find out where it is so they can destroy it. It’s a small moment, but it speaks to Rachel’s new perspective on Jake and the decisions he makes. She says that he has become more subtle in his decision making, and, from personal experience in the last book, she knows that he is willing to use people and circumstances in whatever way is necessary to win the larger war. We never find out whether this was actually Jake’s reasoning, but you have to think that it was at least part of it.

Xena, Warrior Princess: As we will get into a bit more in the “Couples Watch” section, this is a big book for Tobias/Rachel. For one, when the possibility arises that Tobias could have a home and go back to leading life as a real boy, Rachel has a very vulnerable moment with him:

Then Rachel, in a whisper, said, “What am I supposed to do, Tobias? I’m a girl. You’re a bird. This is way past Romeo and Juliet, Montagues and Capulets. This isn’t Kate Winslet and Leo DiCaprio coming from different social groups or whatever. It’s not like you’re black and I’m white like Cassie and Jake. No one but a moron cares about that. We are … we can’t hold hands, Tobias. We can’t dance. We can’t go to a movie together.”
<l . . . God, Rachel, don’t you think I know all that? Don’t you think I want to have all that? But I can’t keep changing. I can’t keep becoming something different.>

This is the beginning of an ongoing dispute between these two about Tobias’s choice to remain a bird.

Tobias also repeatedly notes the many things that he loves about Rachel. Yes, she’s beautiful. But he also notes that he loves it when she’s cranky about things, says she’s the bravest person he knows, and loves that she’s all-in on his crazy plans, like riding the cop car and trying to snag the helicopter. It is clear that Tobias regularly visits Rachel’s bedroom, and she makes him a birthday cake, regardless of what he chooses about Aria (back before any of them knew Aria was Visser Three).

It’s also noteworthy that Toby, too, recognizes the importance of Rachel in Tobias’s life, choosing to hand him to her when he’s in rough shape after learning the truth about Aria.

Peace, Love, and Animals: Cassie doesn’t have much in this book. When Tobias and Rachel first scope out the zoo, Rachel notes that Cassie would be appalled by the conditions and says that if she, Rachel, doesn’t get to destroy it, she’ll simply tell Cassie about it who will then rope Jake in and that will do the trick. One has to imagine that Cassie was more than happy to see elephant!Rachel stomp the place later during their rescue mission for Bek.

The Comic Relief: Marco, too, doesn’t have any of big moments. In the beginning when Tobias first hears about the whole Aria situation, he predicts that Marco will be the most instantly suspicious of it, which he then is. Given that in the end Marco’s completely right about it being a trap, it might be good for the rest of the group to stop categorizing him as the “overly suspicious one” and more as the “one who’s always right so maybe we should just listen to him in the first place.”

E.T./Ax Phone Home: For the book where Tobias finds out that Ax is technically his uncle, we don’t even get a scene between the two of them after this is revealed! It’s kind of a bummer. Also, we never get any follow up on the fact that it is implied that Ax is instantly suspicious of Aria’s convenient save of the little girl from the bus, which is too bad. Why exactly was he so instantly suspicious? Up to this point, we haven’t seen that many elaborate plots by the Yeerks like this, so how did he know?

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: The description of Rachel’s elephant morph was particularly bad this go around. Tobias says that her morph presented as sudden lumps of flesh just popping out of various parts of her body, like her thighs and her head. I mean, the thigh thing is every woman’s worst nightmare, and the head thing sounds particularly disgusting looking.

Couples Watch!: This is probably the biggest couples book we’ve had in the regular series so far. Cassie and Jake always seem to be still tip-toing around their feelings for each other. Rachel and Tobias seem to be well past that. In the first few pages, we get this line from Tobias:

Rachel would be beautiful in the middle of mud slides and hailstorms. On a sweet, sunny day, she made my heart ache.

Such a small, beautiful moment. But it goes to show that Tobias is very honest with himself and readers about where he stands with regards to Rachel. Further, as I highlighted in Rachel’s section, these two are even at the point where they talk openly with each other about their situation as a couple. Man, I love all the angsty tragedy of these two, and as a kid, I was always kind of smug about the fact that, in many ways, these two had things figured out way before Cassie/Jake. And, even with all of the bird-related challenges, they kind of turn out to be the most consistent, solid couple of the series.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: When Aria!Visser Three sees the non-reaction on Tobias’s part with regards to the Elfangor reveal, he quickly walks back on the offer to take Tobias in, saying that “Aria” needs to go back to Africa on a reshoot of some lions. I take the fact that he chose lions specifically as yet more proof that Visser Three is a closeted cat person and secretly has an entire room full of cats somewhere on his Blade ship.

Right when Tobias goes to leave, he also says this:

“I … I knew your father. We were, shall we say, on the opposite sides of certain issues. But he was no fool.” Suddenly Aria/Visser Three smiled. It was a faraway smile, like she/he was remembering something from long ago. “Prince Elfangor-Sirinial-Shamtul was no fool. And the galaxy will not soon see his like again.”

Another example that Visser Three not only respects the Andalites to a certain extent (as we saw burgeoning in the “Hork-Bajir Chronicles”) but that he has particular esteem for his once-nemesis, Elfangor. It’s a nice humanizing (?) moment for Visser Three, making him more than the somewhat campy villain he sometimes comes across as, particularly early in the series.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Again, pretty much the entire book. Tobias books are all particularly rough, not only because of his current circumstances, but by the fact that he was the most messed up before all of this happened anyways. The rest of them were leading normal, mostly happy lives (perhaps with the exception of Marco, but even he had most of his childhood spent with two loving parents). In this book, we see how deep the damage goes for Tobias, having grown up completely uncared for and unwanted by his aunt and uncle. In the beginning, he’s honestly confused by why anyone would want to take care of him.

Also, after learning that Aria is Visser Three in disguise, he goes back down a somewhat-suicidal route, similar to what was going on way back in book #3. He has a mental dialogue running about hating himself and wanting to die. It’s pretty dark stuff. Finding out that his father didn’t abandon him and his mother for nothing hopefully makes a lasting difference for him in this manner. Plus, now he has Ax as family!

But there’s also this bit, right after he left the office knowing that Elfangor was his father. He had to demorph to hawk because time was running short, but then morphed back to human.

See, I wanted to cry. I wanted to cry a lot, for a long time. And hawks don’t cry.

For those of you who have read the entire series, omg, the WORST kind of foreshadowing.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: Again, mostly good plans by the Animophs. And a very elaborate plan by our favorite villain. He really committed to playing up his life as Aria, what with the set up with saving the child, and the whole performance  he put on at the zoo when Tobias and Rachel see him interacting with the zoo manager about Bek. For all of that work, it’s kind of surprising that he didn’t take a minute to demorph back to his Andalite form before racing to the complex when it was under attack by the Hork Bajir. Sure, the freed Hork Bajir had mostly attacked alone in the past, but the Yeerks know that the Animorphs have helped them in the past, so there’s always a chance that they would be there too. Kind of a strange misstep in a plot that took so much work to pull off in every other way.

Favorite Quote: Obligatory Marco/Rachel banter quote:

<We need to unlock the lock,> Marco said.
<Do you think?> Rachel mocked. <With your intellect, maybe you could be our “seer.”>
<Hah. Hah. And also, hah,> Marco said.

And a more serious quote having to do with Tobias’ reflections on war and duty:

I guess it’s true what they always say about combat soldiers. They may start out fighting for their country, but they end up fighting for the guy next to them in the foxhole. I didn’t so much care about the fate of the human race at that moment. I wasn’t human. I was a hawk. But I cared about Jake, and Cassie, and Marco, and Ax-man, and Rachel. Always Rachel.

Scorecard: Yeerks 6, Animorphs 11

A point for the Animorphs for taking out that base. Between everything else that’s going on, it kind of gets passed right over that they managed to take out a massive laser gun that was capable of BLOWING UP THE MOON.

Rating: I always love the Tobias books. He has so many internal things going on. I also love the romance between him and Rachel, and I think throughout the series, Tobias’s books are the most romantic for our main characters. Rachel is always caught up in some of her own stuff, so while it’s there, we don’t get as much as we do from Tobias. And Cassie and Jake have their own issues. I also love the fact that we finally get the reveal for Tobias about Elfangor being his dad, though I think the book would have benefited from having a scene with Ax about this news.

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 Darkest Corners”

25639296Book: “The Darkest Corners” by Kara Thomas

Publishing Info: Delacorte, April 2016

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

Book Description: The Darkest Corners is a psychological thriller about the lies little girls tell, and the deadly truths those lies become.

There are ghosts around every corner in Fayette, Pennsylvania. Tessa left when she was nine and has been trying ever since not to think about it after what happened there that last summer. Memories of things so dark will burn themselves into your mind if you let them. Callie never left. She moved to another house, so she doesn’t have to walk those same halls, but then Callie always was the stronger one. She can handle staring into the faces of her demons—and if she parties hard enough, maybe one day they’ll disappear for good.

Tessa and Callie have never talked about what they saw that night. After the trial, Callie drifted and Tessa moved, and childhood friends just have a way of losing touch. But ever since she left, Tessa has had questions. Things have never quite added up. And now she has to go back to Fayette—to Wyatt Stokes, sitting on death row; to Lori Cawley, Callie’s dead cousin; and to the one other person who may be hiding the truth.

Only the closer Tessa gets to the truth, the closer she gets to a killer—and this time, it won’t be so easy to run away.

Review: When I’m not obsessing over podcasts (which is, admittedly, not often), I try and find a good and/or interesting book to listen to when I am either driving or at the gym. I usually don’t have a plan when I go into looking for an audiobook, and will just look for what’s available. I didn’t have many expectations when I randomly downloaded “The Darkest Corners”, as even though I’d seen it around I’m always a little hesitant around YA thrillers. They can be hit or miss, in my experience. But I think that my limited expectations worked in “The Darkest Corners” favor, because I ended up thoroughly enjoying this book as I drove around or ran on the treadmill.

Comparisons have been made to Gillian Flynn, and I actually enjoyed this book more than I have most of Flynn’s work. The first reason is the intricate and tense plot. When Tessa and Callie were seven years old, Callie’s cousin Lori was murdered, seemingly part of a serial killer’s rampage. They were the only witnesses at the trial, as Callie said she saw a man named Wyatt Stokes in their yard. Tessa never actually saw him, but was pressured into confirming it. Now time has passed, and Tessa is questioning whether they had the right guy or not. A lot of this reminded me of real life crimes where police interference and public prejudice focus attention on someone who may actually be innocent. The town of Fayette, where the book takes place, is a small one where difference is looked upon with suspicion and poverty is a plague that seeps into all facets of life, and the underlying tension of this reality lingers on the page. As Tessa looks more into the crime, the story takes on very noir-esque tendencies, which I greatly enjoyed. I did find myself surprised by a number of the twists, and was happy that most of them were laid out and unwound in ways that didn’t make them feel like they were out of nowhere.

The second reason is because of our main character, Tessa. While she has the same baggage and messed up background that you might see in a Flynn novel, I think that Thomas knows how to bring more humanity out of her main character. Tessa is certainly damaged, and is having a hard time coming back to her home town, but her struggles and inner conflict manifest in more understated ways. She and her best friend Callie both react to their self doubt and guilt differently, and while Callie being a walking mess might have been a more tantalizing POV in a story like this, Tessa’s subtlety and less obvious trauma was a more rewarding(?) experience as a reader. That isn’t to say that Callie doesn’t go through her own journey, nor that she isn’t an interesting character in her own right. Seeing both her and Tessa approach their investigation in their differing ways was a neat way to unfold all of the intricacies to this mystery. Their interactions with each other felt real too, as they are both aching for the other and the friendship that fell apart, as well as deeply feeling the resentment that each has for each other and the choices that they made after their testimony. Neither of them are totally right nor totally wrong in their baggage related to each other, and their coming to terms with their tattered friendship was one of the best parts of this story.

I do think that there were a few too many balls in the air regarding the various facets and side stories with the drama. From Tessa’s convict father to her MIA mother and sister to the abusive father of another friend to a run in with Neo Nazis, it did feel a bit much at times. I am all for red herrings, but when you have a whole school of them I feel that it’s a bit overwhelming and overwrought.

That aside, I found “The Darkest Corners” to be a very well done thriller, one that goes well beyond the YA set and could hold it’s own with other stories aimed towards adults. If you are suffering withdrawal from the lack of new Flynn stories, this is a book that you should probably get your hands on.

Rating 8: A very well done thriller that should absolutely be put on the same pedestal as the works of Gillian Flynn and Ruth Ware.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Darkest Corners” is included on the Goodreads list “Liar Liar: YA Books with Unreliable Narrators”. 

Find “The Darkest Corners” at your library using WorldCat!

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