Book Excerpt and Giveaway: “Mind Me, Milady”

Occasionally we are approached with the opportunity to promote books that may be of interest to our readers. And occasionally in lieu of a full review of the book, we will let it speak for itself by posting an excerpt from it. So if you like what you see in one of these excerpts, we have good news! You have the chance to win a copy of it! What could be better?

38085332Book: “Mind Me, Milady” by Anne Rothman-Hicks and Kenneth Hicks

Publishing Info: Melange Books LLC, April 2017

Book Description: Jane Larson is an attorney on the Upper East Side of New York City, and the Gentleman Rapist has chosen her to receive his calls announcing each conquest. He also reminds her in chilling terms that he will one day twist his wire around her throat and bend her to his will. 

Jane has professional and personal problems of her own, but she is forced to try to catch this monster when he stalks her newest client. Susan is a sweet young woman who cannot remember large time periods of her past and who has dreams about a prior life in which she was raped. Soon, the Gentleman escalates to murder, and Jane wonders if he was involved in Susan’s forgotten past, or if Susan is simply a means to get to Jane. Either way, Jane is caught in the deadly game of stopping the Gentleman before another woman feels the wire at her throat and hears his sinister whisper to Mind Me, Milady.

Notes from the Blogger:

Last year I was approached to run an excerpt and giveaway of the mystery novel “Weave a Murderous Web” by Anne Rothman-Hicks and Kenneth Hicks. It involved lawyer Jane Larson and a load of cash and some drug money, as well as a murky personal life for Larson herself. I really liked Jane as a character, and the giveaway was a huge success. So when Kenneth Hicks asked if I’d be interested of doing an excerpt and giveaway for the next in the series, “Mind Me, Milady,” I was more than happy to participate! Jane is back, and this time she’s on the case of a serial rapist, hoping to stop him before he strikes again. I still really enjoy Jane as a protagonist to follow, as her character is imperfect and completely relatable. I had a harder time with the mystery this time around, but that was more because of the nature of the crimes at hand and not the storytelling in and of itself. Kirkus has called this book “An engrossing, suspense-filled thriller with an intriguing protagonist” (source).  Basically, Jane is really great and keeps the reader itching for more (as someone who has many personal connections to lawyers, she speaks to my heart)!

For more information of the authors, you can find them on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads!  Jane Larson is still a fun mystery heroine with a unique occupation you don’t always see in procedural mysteries! Enter the giveaway below to try and win yourself a free ebook copy of “Mind Me, Milady”, and read the excerpt below! Trigger warning: this scene involves violence towards a woman.

Please note that the giveaway copy of this book is an Ebook, with your choice of an ePub, Mobi, or PDF. It’s open to US entrants only and will run until March 23rd at 11:59pm EST. Good luck and happy reading! – Kate

Enter the Giveaway Here!

Excerpt:

Chapter One

It was almost noon when he looked out to the street and saw Natalie step from the cab. A familiar pounding rushed through him—a blood rush of fear, of anticipation.

She ran up the stairs as he had expected she would. She was an athlete, after all, and desperate for this apartment. Rent-controlled, one bedroom, East Side, dirt cheap. Run, Natalie, run.

On the third floor, she saw the door was open a crack and came right in. This was one of the reasons he was drawn to her—her confidence. There was not a tentative bone in her body.

“Hello?” she called. “It’s me. Natalie.” She looked around, pleased by what she saw, no doubt—floors newly sanded and stained, walls freshly painted, kitchen appliances all scrubbed clean. For the rent he had quoted her, it was more than a steal. It was highway robbery. And she was carrying cash for a promised “bonus,” as she put it, because a bribe would be so tacky.

She stepped into the bedroom and heard nothing as he slipped the wire over her lovely head, pulling it tight around her lovely neck. She struggled, but not for long. A knee pressed against the back of her legs forced her to the floor. Lovely legs.

“Mind me, Milady,” he whispered in the British accent he affected for occasions like this. “Mind the Gentleman.”

There was no choice. Denied breath, she was seconds from dying. Quickly, he placed a wide piece of tape over her eyes and another over her mouth. Two longer pieces bound her wrists and ankles. Only then did the wire slacken. Air rushed in through flared nostrils. What was she thinking? Was she grateful just to be alive? And how many more times would he have to bring her to the very edge of death before she learned who was in control?

The Great Animorphs Re-read #26: “The Attack”

125335Animorphs #26: “The Attack” by K.A. Applegate

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, February 1999

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: The Ellimist has helped the Animorphs many times. He is all-powerful and has only one enemy, the Crayak. In a cosmic showdown, the two enemies choose champions to represent them in a battle to end all battles. The Crayak chooses the dreaded Howlers. The Ellimist chooses the Animorphs.

Narrator: Jake

Plot: I remembered exactly three things about this book:

  1. Crayak shows up
  2. The Howlers have lava skin
  3. JAKE AND CASSIE FINALLY KISS
bxj0k
Rachel literally says “it’s about time” after it happens. Preach it. (source)

Ever since becoming Controlled way back when and seeing a monstrous eye creature, Jake’s been having recurring dreams with this same eye-force-of-evil that keeps saying “Soon.” Now the answers have came in the form of the always-dreaded Ellimist who shows up at one of their school meetings, freezes times, and tells the Animorphs that he needs their help.

He gives them a brief overview of the state of things. Crayak is a similarly almost all-powerful being with whom the Ellimist has been warring with for forever. Once, they actually had a full on brawl, but after realizing that they took out huge swathes of the galaxy, they both agreed that their conflict needed to be continued in a different way (the Ellimist was upset by the general loss of life, Crayak at the loss of opportunities for continued dominion). Since then, they have been involved in an intergalactic game of chess, essentially. But they’ve come to an impasse. There is one alien species they cannot comprise my on. Crayak wants to destroy this species, the Ellimist can’t allow this to happen. To solve their problem, they’ve decided to host a cage fight, each putting up their seven bets fighters. Winner’s team takes all. The Animorphs are surprised and horrified to learn that the Ellimist has chosen them, plus Erek. Crayak has chosen his Howlers, the alien species that wiped out the Chees’ creators, the Pemalites, so long ago.

The Animorphs debate their options. They all wonder at the Ellimist’s choice: how could they be his best fighters? Knowing him and the tricks he’s pulled in the past, they are suspicious that there is more to the story. On the other hand, the fate of an entire species is on the line, so ultimately, they agree.

In a second’s time, they find themselves smacked down in the middle of an alien city on another planet. The city is made up of a series of buildings, bridges, and stairways all towering miles above the planets surface. It is populate by an alien species that do their best to give the Helmacrons a run for their money as most obnoxious alien species. The Iskyoort are all obsessed with buying and selling random things, up to and including body parts and memories, and continuously badger the Animorphs until they finally decide to sell some of Rachel’s hair to hire a guide…who calls himself Guide.

As they wander, they run into their first Howler. Even with six against one (Erek cannot fight, given his peaceful programming), the battle does not go well. Not only is the Howler vicious and powerful, but he uses his namesake ability to devastating affect, emitting a head piercing howl that cripples most of the Animorphs. Ax, the only one not in morphs, suffers the most and briefly runs away from the battle. He does return, but they all suffer horrific wounds. Tiger!Jake gets stabbed in the neck and passes out. He wakes up in a room somewhere and is informed that they all barely escaped, and only survived by listening closely to Erek’s directions when one of them was about to be attacked. Ax is clearly not dealing well with the fact that he ran away, and is hiding in a corner.

The Animorphs realize there’s no way they will be able to outfight the Howlers, they will have to out think. They ask Guide whether the Iskyoort have any memories purchased from the Howlers that they can review. He says yes, and Erek downloads them all into his memory bank and shows one horrifying scene to the Animorphs, a group of Howlers systematically eliminating a peaceful group of aliens who don’t understand why they’re being attacked. The scene is hard for them all to see. The realize that the Howlers simply kill for the pleasure of killing, something that Cassie is quick to point out doesn’t make any biological sense. Erek reveals that it is becomes Crayak himself created the Howlers with only this purpose in mind.

They sleep in shifts, but are soon attacked again. Jake orders them all to morph small, hoping to outrun the Howlers. Erek manages to block the doorway with his own body to allow them more time to complete their morphs to fly. After they escape, they have Erek find Guide and hide him in his hologram so the Howlers can’t simply follow him to the Animorphs. The others also demorph and hide in the hologram as well. They realize that the rules of the game prohibit the Howlers from attacking the Iskyoorts themselves. Guide leads them to a place he calls the “Servant Guild” where he says they will be taken care of. He then informs them that he needs to leave them for a bit as the Iskyoort are a symbiotic species, and one part, the Yoort, needs to feed every three days in a Yoort pool.

Reality hits: the Iskyoorts are a variation of Yeerks. They force Guide to explain and explain fast. Guide explains that they are not like the Yeerks the Animorphs know. Far, far back in their own history, the Yoorts created the Isk. And to make them true symbiotes, the Isk NEED the Yoorts to live, but the Yoorts also NEED the Isk to live. One cannot survive without the other, thus creating a unified being. Slowly the reality of this sinks in, and with their understanding of the species, they see why this fight is so important to the Ellimist. If the other Yeerks could see this, learn of this alternative, some of them might also see this as a better way of living. If they Iskyoorts are wiped out, however, the Yeerks may continue as they are now forever.

They are then attacked once again by the Howlers, this time they push an airborne poison into the air system, prohibiting the Animorphs from re-using their bug strategy. Jake has Erek project an image of birds flying out one window, drawing the Howlers’ fire, as the rest escape as actual birds through a back window. One Howler, however, spots them and takes off after them, shooting at them with a Dracon beam. Rachel and Cassie both quickly get hit, and Marco a bit later. Jake shouts at the others to use the Iskyoorts as cover. He tries to dive after Cassie, who is stunned on the ground, but realizes that he is simply leading the Howler to her. He is forced to leave her behind.

Jake manages to trick a Howler into chasing him through a hedge that leads to a drop off from one of the bridges. The Howler has miles to fall to his death. Jake manages to drop after him, demorph to human, acquire the Howler, and make it back to peregrine falcon before hitting the ground. On the flight back up, he meets up with Tobias who leads him to the entire group. Everyone is there, including Cassie. THEY KISS. Rachel says “Finally” and all readers agree.

Throughout this all, Jake’s had a series of revelations. First, he realizes that Crayak must have a way of controlling the Howlers, so he can direct them as he chooses. Second, Erek had mentioned that when he downloaded the memories of the Howler, it was ALL of the memories, reaching back millions of years. From this, Jake theorizes that the Howlers have some type of collective memory, and in this collective memory the Howlers have never lost.

Jake then asks for a volunteer to pose as bait to lure the Howlers in. Ax volunteers, and they move to a more populated area, full of Iskyoorts and put the plan in action. Ax wanders out, gets the attention of the Howlers, and then runs, using the crowds of Iskyoorts to prevent them from getting a clear shot at him. Meanwhile, with grizzly!Rachel and gorilla!Marco standing nearby to take him out should things go badly, Jake morphs the Howler. Once morphed, he is bombarded by the same collective memories that Erek saw. Worse, he realizes that the Howlers are children, with lifespans of only three years. To them, they don’t understand anything about killing other than it being a fun game. There are no adult Howlers, and they are all simply created by Crayak, with no reproductive system of their own. Jake is horrified to realize this, but there is still no other choice, so the plan proceeds.

A bleedy Ax barges into the room, followed by the Howlers. The Animorphs grab one, and using the Iskyoort memory device (a headset and a transmitter), Howler!Jake begins to download his own memories into the collective. All of the Howlers pause. Then suddenly they disappear. Seconds later, the Animorphs, too, disappear and find themselves in the presence of Crayak himself. Crayak isn’t pleased, but the Ellimist shows up and confirms that they Animorphs one, the Iskyoort will live. Jake searches his Howler memories. As they planned, Crayak had to kill his own Howlers to prevent Jake’s memories from polluting the entire species, not allowing the childlike Howlers to ever realize that this was more than a game, that their kills were actual beings. But Jake spots one memory that slipped through: his kiss with Cassie.

The Ellimist confirms that this will be problematic for Crayak, as in a future battle, he’s seen the Howlers attempting to kiss the species they were sent to kill. He also confirms that the big win of this entire ordeal was that the odds have now been somewhat increased that 300 years in the future, the Yeerks will meet the Iskyoort and realize that there is another way. The Animorphs are all a bit put out that this is all they will have to show for their work. Jake goes home, and his dreams of Crayak are gone.

Our Fearless Leader: It’s great to finally get the tie-in to Jake’s book #6 when he was a Controller and first saw the super scary red eye. From the very beginning, it’s clear that Jake feels a sense of relief knowing what this is really about, and also understands to a greater degree than the others the power and awfulness of this creature.

As I discuss in the “plans” section below, this book does a lot to highlight Jake’s quick thinking and ability to put together a complex plan using only pieces of knowledge. He also is able to anticipate the needs and actions of his group. He comments early that he’s grown to respect Marco’s suspicions and give them extra weight.  He effectively uses Ax’s adherence to military order to force him not to sacrifice himself when the Howlers attack, saying that he has to follow his Prince’s orders. He anticipates that Rachel will volunteer for the mission to pose as bait and is able to subtly warn her off, allowing Ax to volunteer. When Cassie goes down as a bird, he accepts that he has to leave her behind in order to draw away the Howler to save the entire group, even though this decision tears him apart.

It’s really great stuff all around. And particularly the end, when he has to confront the reality of the Howlers as children, we see the weight these decisions place on Jake and how he leans on his friends to help support him in making these choices.

Xena, Warrior Princess: There are a specific kind of Iskyoort whose who point is to shop (Guide explains that there must be people to buy all of the things they want to sell!). She claims that she has found her people: a species dedicated to shopping. Also, when Jake asks for volunteers for the dangerous mission to lure the Howlers to them, he has to quickly catch Rachel’s eye and subtly shake his head. She already has her mouth open to volunteer, when he spots her, but she quickly understands what he’s doing by giving Ax an opportunity to feel better about himself after running.

A Hawk’s Life: Tobias doesn’t have much in this book. He’s the most comfortable traveling around the city though, given his ability to fly. The others are quite perturbed by the heights and lack of railings that make up the world.

Peace, Love, and Animals: Besides the BIG KISS, Cassie provides further insights into violence and how out of whack with evolution and biology the Howlers are with their baseless violence. She is also an early “yes” vote in the discussion of whether or not to play the Ellimist’s game, as she sees the potential loss of an entire species as a nonnegotiable factor.

The Comic Relief: Marco suffers quite a bit of damage in this book. He gets hit badly in the first fight, gets a wing blown off in the second, and gets stabbed in the third. Other than that, the struggles to not be bitter and angry about the limitations of Erek’s programming that prohibits him from fighting.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Ax has a pretty distinct arc in this book, dealing with the fact that he is forced to run away when they are first attacked by the Howlers. He completely retreats into himself, and when the Howlers attack again, looks to want to go on a suicide mission to attack them, to prove to himself that he is now a coward. For the first time ever, Jake has to pull the “Prince” card out.

<Aximili-Esgarrouth-lsthill, you call me “prince” and you act like you mean it and I am giving you a direct order. Morph. Do. It. NOW!>

Later we see how savvy Jake is when he “offers” the opportunity for someone to take on a super special, super risky mission to serve as bait. Jake also takes the time to have a one-on-one conversation to Ax, telling him to snap out of it and cut himself some slack. The other Animorphs were all in morph and they know that the Howlers’ “howl” is meant to take out sentient species. That being the case, Ax, as the only one in his true form, was the only one hit with the full force of the howl. And given how much it messed up the others, even with their morphs shielding them somewhat, Ax running away was by no means a show of cowardice. Ax is skeptical, but it’s clear that some of this gets through to him, and with the opportunity to lure the Howlers in, by the end of the story, it looks like he makes it through this internal crisis OK.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment:  The gore of the fights with the Howlers was pretty bad. In the first fight, Jake describes gorilla!Marco getting hit by a flechette that pretty punched a hole the size of a pop can through him. Also when Jake is morphing the Howler, there are some lovely descriptions of his being able to see his own spine. Really, the Andalites need to work on this technology a bit more. It seems that morphers have an up-close view of their body without skin WAY too often in the process.

Couples Watch!: Um, obviously the kiss! I do like that the kiss itself played an important role in the story, as the one memory out of millions that slipped through into the Howlers’ group consciousness. This fact did help alleviate the problem that it really did feel like a “Finally!” moment in the the worst way. As I mentioned in a few reviews leading up to this, especially when laid parallel to the pacing and arc of the Tobias/Rachel romance, Jake and Cassie’s relationship has felt oddly lacking. It almost didn’t feel believable that they would have still been caught up in the teenage shyness and silliness after living the very traumatic and adult lives they’ve had to with this war. But, again, by tying the kiss into the actual over-arching theme of the book, Applegate does a good job of justifying the delay. It is implied that Cassie and Jake’s love is the firs step to the ultimate ruin of the Howlers.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: I don’t think I made either of these connections as a kid, but re-reading this book now, it was really hard to picture both of the big bads in this without referencing other, similar villains. Crayak might as well BE Sauron for all his descriptions sound exactly the same: big read eye that is on fire. Yep! The Howlers also are very similar to Predator, not so much in how they look (which I still think is super cool, with their dark lava-like skin), but in their general being that is focused on being the most efficient killers in the universe.

I also really loved the late-game reveal about the Howlers being children. For one, they were already awesome villains and were handily beating our heroes throughout most of the book in a way that we’ve never seen before. But then to realize that they are pretty much ignorant of what they’re truly doing? It’s like they think they’re in a very elaborate video game or something. And that they have no life outside of this game and are only kids, just like the Animorphs, but more sad, in that their lives are only 3 years long and they are just tools of this greater evil. It does a lot to “humanize,” as it were, the Howlers, making them not just mindless killing machines, but truly pitiable and almost tragic beings.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Appelgate doesn’t shy away from the reveal around the Howlers being children. Several pages are given to Jake fully coming to grips with what this means, and to Cassie’s horror. And to the fact that they still have no choice but to go through with a plan that’s success lies on Crayak destroying the remaining six Howlers. The very last bit of the book is what really got me though:

Instead I dreamed about Cassie. But in my dreams I also saw that Howler, falling and falling beside me. Falling still, as I spread my wings and split my fate from his.
Marco’s always saying you choose how to see the world. That you can look at what’s funny and cool, or you can focus on all the things that aren’t.
So I tried to follow Marco’s advice. I tried to turn my dreams to Cassie. But even looking into her eyes, I still saw that doomed Howler falling.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: All of their plans are pretty good here! Jake adeptly pivots and shifts as he gains experience with the Howlers’ methods. He quickly understands that simple survival is the key until they work out a better plan of action, coming up with first the fly morph to escape, and then the bait-and-switch with Erek’s hologram as they escape as birds. He also puts quite a few moving pieces together to form the final plan where they essentially hijack the Howler group mind.

Favorite Quote:

Throughout the story, there’s a lot of descriptions of precarious traveling from one level to another level using railing-less stairways miles in the sky, so Marco is a bit upset to learn:

Guide led us to a different level. This time we went up. And this time
we took an elevator.
“Elevators! You have elevators?” Marco raged. “We’re traipsing up and
down stairs and you have elevators?”
<The elevators are much
less scenic,> Guide said. <What value are memories of the inside of an elevator?>

Scorecard: Yeerks 6, Animorphs 12

A bit point to the Animorphs! Obviously they weren’t up against the Yeerks themselves, but in 300 years…But seriously, the Howlers were probably the toughest guys they gone up against yet, and the Animorphs were quite smart about putting together the one plan that would work to come out with a win.

Rating: I didn’t notice as much as a kid, but man, reading these again as an adult, it is so, so clear when you go from one of the ghost-written books back to one written by Applegate herself. Not only is the plot of this story so much more focused and clear, but the characterization is much more solid, and the series gets back to its roots of tackling the bigger moral and philosophical aspects of their ongoing battle. It’s such a breath of fresh air after the last few books.

Beyond that, this book is a solid installation into the series. We finally get an explanation for the red eye that Jake saw so long ago. The Ellimist shows up again, and we get a better idea of the sheer scale of his ongoing battle with Crayak. AndJake and Cassie finally kiss. FINALLY.

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: “Clueless: Senior Year”

34623127Book: “Clueless: Senior Year” by Amber Benson, Sarah Kuhn, Siobhan Keenan (Ill.)

Publishing Info: BOOM!Box, August 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Haven’t got your hands on the newest installment of this 90’s teen phenomenon? As if!

Your favorite girls from Beverly Hills are back in an all-new adventure! It’s senior year and Cher, Dionne, and Tai find themselves in a bit of a crisis of self… Where are they meant to go, and what are they meant to DO after high school? Luckily they have all year—and each other’s help—to figure it out!

Review: One of my all time favorite movies is “Clueless”. When I first saw it in fifth grade (my mom brought it home for us to watch together), I was immediately drawn to Cher Horowitz, our well meaning but flawed protagonist. I wanted to be her, wanted to live her life and be as clever and kind as she was. As an adult I still aspire to live up to her standards, so when I saw that a new graphic novel about Cher and her friends was coming out, I really could have only one reaction.

giphy4
(source)

The story picks up shortly after the movie ends. Cher, Dionne, and Tai are starting their senior year of high school, and Ms. Geist challenges them and the other students in her class to determine what their post high school goals are by the end of the year, and to figure out what they want to be in the world. After this, we follow not just Cher, but also her best friends on a journey of self discovery that was both incredibly charming and completely empowering. In spite of my excitement over this book, I was also nervous because I hold this movie so close to my heart (and “Emma” as well, the Jane Austen book that it takes inspiration from). I was worried that it was going to perhaps rehash the movie in some way, or throw in drama for drama’s sake. But I am very happy to report that Amber Benson and Sarah Kuhn absolutely did justice to the film and it’s characters.

I first want to talk about the characters and the arcs themselves. I worship Cher Horowitz, but it’s important to remember that even though she gets her life together at the end of the movie, she’s still a teenager who is going to have moments of stumble along with moments of triumph. I was very worried about her relationship with Josh, the Mr. Knightley analog who is played by Paul Rudd in the movie. Cher and Josh are perfect together, but happy bliss usually means no conflict. And hey, I am aware that stories need conflict (even if that’s an easy grab for conflict). But I am happy to report that while I do wish that Josh had been around a bit more (but that’s all I will say), Benson and Kuhn took their relationship on a trajectory that felt realistic for the characters, but didn’t completely decimate the lovely romance that lives at the heart of it. And it was done in a way that we got to focus on Cher learning how to define herself without  basing it all on Josh and his needs. But the thing that caught me the most off guard in the best way possible was that we got similar treatments for both Dionne and Tai, Cher’s partners in crime but sidekick status only in the film. Dionne starts to suss out what it is she wants to be outside of a good friend and girlfriend, and gets interested in civics within the high school by running for class president. And Tai has a tough decision to make when she is accepted to art school, but a family tragedy makes her second guess what her priorities should be. This enabled them to move from “The Best Friend” (Dionne) and “The Ditzy One” (Tai) and become well rounded, three dimensional characters just like Cher. The justice given to these ladies was so, so satisfying.

giphy5
The power of female friendship at the forefront! (source)

A number of tributes to the movie are sprinkled throughout the comic, which varied from being absolutely adorable to kind of ham fisted and distracting. The not so good were the kind of glaring references that didn’t feel like they really belonged (yes yes, Cher does wear Alaia in the movie during the robbery scene, but referencing Alaia in the way this graphic novel did was kind of awkward), or were misused completely. But smaller Easter eggs were far more entertaining (Dionne’s campaign signs saying that Murray is ‘toe-up’, for instance), and I liked seeing them. I was also a bit sad that so many classic characters from the movie were missing. Mel, Christian, Lucy, Mr. Hall, and Elton were no where to be seen, and given that I love ALL of the side characters in the movie I was sad when none of those arguably important faces could even muster a cameo.

giphy6
AS AN UNAPOLOGETIC ELTON STAN I FEEL VERY ATTACKED THAT WE WERE DEPRIVED OF HIM. (source)

I really liked the artwork for this book too. Not only did Siobhan Keenan really capture the styles and imagery from the movie, be it through outfits, faces, or background, she brought a fun and bubblegum pinache to the illustrations. With some potential manga influences as well just for funzies.

clueless_senioryear_sc_press_14-533x800
(source)

Bottom line is that if you like “Clueless” the movie, this graphic novel will never meet your standards of perfection. But it comes pretty close, and does a great job of carrying on the stories of these excellent teenage girls. I would say that it definitely improves upon the characters of Dionne and Tai, which is so excellent to see. Definitely check it out. If you miss it, I assure you, you’ll be totally buggin’.

Rating 8: A fun follow up to one of my very favorite movies! The nostalgia is great, and the characters are all fleshed out with a lot of positive girl power messages.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Clueless: Senior Year” isn’t on many Goodreads lists, but it is on “Black Girl Comics”, and I think that it should also be on “Girls Read Comics”.

Find “Clueless: Senior Year” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “The Heart Forger”

33918881Book: “The Heart Forger” by Rin Chupeco

Publishing Info: Sourcebooks Fire, March 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: from the publisher!

Book Description: In The Bone Witch, Tea mastered resurrection―now she’s after revenge…

No one knows death like Tea. A bone witch who can resurrect the dead, she has the power to take life…and return it. And she is done with her self-imposed exile. Her heart is set on vengeance, and she now possesses all she needs to command the mighty daeva. With the help of these terrifying beasts, she can finally enact revenge against the royals who wronged her―and took the life of her one true love.

But there are those who plot against her, those who would use Tea’s dark power for their own nefarious ends. Because you can’t kill someone who can never die…

War is brewing among the kingdoms, and when dark magic is at play, no one is safe.

Previously reviewed: “The Bone Witch”

Review: Due to happy scheduling chances, I was able to read “The Bone Witch” and “The Heart Forger” pretty much back to back. Not only is this always a fun way to read books and their sequels, but it’s especially nice with stories that have complicated world-building and non-linear storytelling. “The Bone Witch” was a beast of a book, with tons of detailed descriptions of the world, magic system, and a past/future POV character. The “Heart Forger” pretty much picks up immediately after the events of the first book, and doesn’t hesitate to expand even further on its own world, while also adding a healthy dose of increased action to the mix.

Newly-minted bone witch, Tea, has a lot on her plate at the start of this story. Her beloved mentor is still slowly perishing due to her lost heartglass, Tea’s brother’s love life has presented some political complications, her own crush on Prince Kance continues, there’s a murderous woman in the dungeons who promises great power and to reveal secrets about the elder Asha if only Tea would listen, and now a sleeping sickness is making its way through the royal family, in a direct line towards Kance himself.

This says nothing of the future Tea’s story, which has gone from zero to sixty from the last book to this. No longer is the older Tea content to live her life banished on a desolate beach, raising her daeva beasts from the dead. Her mission has started, and alongside her newly-raised beloved, Kalen, she sets out to conquer nations, all in a greater quest whose origins and purposes are still only vaguely hinted at.

Between all of this, the increased action is probably the most notable aspect of this sequel. If there was one fairly common complaint about the last book, it was that it was perhaps a bit too slow. I enjoyed it quite a bit, as I like reading books that focus on detail and slow character development. And given this one’s fast-paced story line, in retrospect, the time and effort that was put into place laying the foundation for this world, this conflict, and the characters who take part in it, were well worth the effort. Our characters quickly travel from one location to another, surviving and battling against multiple city-wide sieges and more slinky, sinister hidden antagonists as well. I particularly loved the increased action for Tea’s dragon-like daeva. It  was all very “Dany and her dragons” esque.

The political intrigue was also ratcheted up to a new level. With the sleeping sickness spreading between the royal families, tensions are high and everyone is looking for someone to blame. And the only man who might have the answer, the titular Heart Forger, is no where to be found.

In the future, an older Tea is fully committed to her plan, whatever that is. From what we (from the bard’s POV) can tell, it looks a lot like raising armies of the dead to attack entire countries. We get further insights into Tea’s vengeance, something about secrets that the elder Asha have been hiding, and a larger plot by this world’s ever-dangerous arch enemies, the Faceless. But for all of battles, both large and small, we still know very little about Tea’s reasons as a whole. There are numerous references to her having killed some woman, but we don’t know who this was or how it happened. In the end, there were almost too many question left unanswered for my taste.

One of the things I most enjoyed was the developing romance between Kalen and Tea. At the end of the first book, we saw Tea raise him from the dead and welcome him as her beloved. But at the start of this book, the younger Tea is still fully enthralled with Prince Kance. Her slow realizations about her feelings for Kalen and their relationship’s progression were very enjoyable and probably best took advantage of the solid foundation that was built between these two in the first book. I really dislike insta-love romances, and this was a particularly good example of how to avoid that, and instead have a strongly built and developed romantic story line.

For all of these good things, I did struggle with this book a bit more than the first one. For one thing, the first book spent a lot of time with all of the details and rules of this world. But then, here, we see numerous exceptions and loopholes built into the world, all seemingly used to simply move the story the way the author needed it to go. At best this was distracting as I tried to work out how these exceptions made sense in the larger scheme of things, and at worst it felt like blatant deus ex machina moments where the author’s hand was all too visible.

Further, there were a few characters who made decisions that seemed completely nonsensical and out of character even. In particular, some of the “revelations” in the future story line really seemed at odds with the characters. People keeping secrets for no reason, and then revealing them when the story would be best served for a dramatic moment. But why then keep them in the first place? I have a hard time when suspense is built in a story at the expense of consistent and rational characters

And, while I still enjoy the juxtaposition of the future and past story lines of Tea, the devise itself is starting to feel like its hindering the story. The secrets thing that I just mentioned is largely a problem because they’re needed to prop up the suspense of the future story line. And, by the end of the book, there are still too many question that were left unanswered. The older Tea has said several thing that sure, sounded cool, but don’t particularly tie-in very well to the events taking place with past Tea. In my opinion, the story has out grown this structure and that trying to maintain it was starting to actively work against this book. I hope that in the next the two story lines quickly meet up and we move forward with a single plot.

All in all, however, I still very much enjoyed “The Heart Forger.” The increased action made it a fun read, and now that the characters have all been established, it was a joy to follow all of their individual plot lines. Further, the romance between Tea and Kalen is one the best I’ve read recently. “The Bone Witch” is required reading for this book, but if you liked that one, than you’re sure to enjoy this one as well!

Rating 7: Action packedwith a sweet romance to boot, but became a bit bogged down by its own writing device with the past/present dueling story lines.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Heart Forger” is a newer title, so isn’t on many Goodreads lists, but it is on “Asian MG/YA 2018.”

Find “The Heart Forger” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Guest Post: Hannah Carmack – “Revisiting Old Classics: Book of Your Childhood or Lucid Dream?”

We here at Library Ladies are honored and excited to host Hannah Carmack, author of the novella “Taste Your Medicine” (reviewed HERE last week). According to her bio on NineStar Press, Hannah “…is a writer and spends most of her time connecting reluctant readers and bookworms alike to the world of literature and science. Although living with an auto-immune disease is difficult, she finds power in using her writing as a way to convey the world that people with disabilities live in to people who may not fully comprehend it.” Today she has taken a page from us and is revisiting some childhood favorites with a 20289817_10210333021905913_1360230417_nhealthy dose of nostalgia and a tongue planted firmly in cheek. You can find her at https://hannahcarmack.com, and look at the bottom of the post for more social media links to learn more about her! Thanks Hannah!

What can I say? The Library Ladies inspired me. Seeing some of my favorite Fear Street covers got me thinking about what I read as a kid. There were some books I swear I had read -turns out the book about an underground pizza club is not real- and some books I swear weren’t real and they actually were! Here are just some of my childhood classics revisited. 

lurleneBook: “Six Months To Live” by Lurlene McDaniel

This is the cover my copy had, and honestly it did not age well, holy cow can you tell those two aren’t really in the same shot or what? Either way, this is a short read about a young girl struggling with Leukemia. Super dark, but as a kid I loved these books. There are four to the whole series and I made my dad buy them ALL. At one point one of her friends refuses to continue their treatment and goes into a kind of hospice and I remember that messing me up as a kid, but in retrospect good for McDaniel. Kudos for including a realistic representation of the many ways people deal with illness.

travelfarBook: “Travel Far, Pay No Fare” by Anne Lindbergh

I was TOTALLY convinced this book wasn’t real. I remember a boy and a girl magically traveling into tons of classic books and getting all the cats from said classic books in some convoluted scheme to break their parents up (yikes!), and just saying that out loud made me think no way. that couldn’t have been a real book. But it totally was! Published 1992 (Dating myself) Travel Far, Pay No Fare is a super fun book and introduces young readers to a number of literary classics.From what I remember it was pretty short too! Def worth a revisit.

monsterblod2
Captioned: He’s One Hungry Hamster!

Book: “Monster Blood II” by R.L. Stine

What is this cover?! Leave it to Stine. I freaking loved this book as a kid, but couldn’t remember the name for the life of me. I just had to Google ‘scary hamster children’s book’ and what do you know. It was one of the first results. I’ll be honest, I can’t tell you anything about this plot. It’s all a blurred memory, but what I can say -again and again- is THAT COVER! He is one hungry hamster. Get him some food pellets and fresh water, please.

Do you have some classics that may or may not have been lucid dreams? I think we all do. Share yours below!

 

You can find Hannah at:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/HannahCarmackAuthor/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/manlyhamm/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/ManlyHamm

“Take Your Medicine” is available at Amazon and NineStar Press! 

 

Blog Tour: “The Demon Within”

We at the Library Ladies are excited to participate in the “The Demon Within” Blog Tour! For fans of supernatural and dark fantasy, this new series by author Josh Gagnier may be up your alley. We are also lucky enough to have Josh provide us with a special post for our blog that may give a taste of what to expect from this series! 

Demon Within by Josh Gagnier

Book: “The Demon Within” by Josh Gagnier

Publishing Info: PorterMouth, Dec. 18, 2016

Category: Dark Fantasy, Paranormal/Urban Fantasy

Book Description: Joe grew up listening to the voice in his head. It helped him through school, helped him gain wealth in his career.

The final temptation of power was too much. He hadn’t considered the cost.

Now he must find a way to defeat The Demon Within.

Little does he know, his every move is being recorded. Every misstep is being judged. As he gets ever closer to winning over his demon, heavenly eyes watch from above. Some root for his success while others hope he’ll fail.

While Joe fights his demon on the battlefront, the angel Michael fights for his Soul.

Will Joe win out? Will Michael be able to save Joe’s soul?

Or will the Demon win and thrust Joe into the Abyss.

Excerpt from “The Demon Within”

Sometime between the Prologue and Chapter 1…

“Belath?  Are you here?”  Sahiva asks as she opens Belath’s office door. “Grand Master has changed his mind.  You don’t have to go.”

She walks to his desk to check his schedule.  His desk is clear except for an empty bottle of spirits and a rolled up parchment.  Her eyes well with tears as she reads.

“Oh, Belath, What have you done?”

—-

Grand Master,

I have been loyal since the beginning.  I was a general in the Great War and I helped remove The Betrayer from Paradise.  I have lived hundreds of lifetimes, each harder than the previous.  With each of these lives I’ve been sent with a different Diabolus Entos each many lives stronger than my Soul.

I understand you say this is to prepare me for a great battle you see on the horizon.  I am writing this letter in hopes to impress upon you the damage done to my Soul.  I have become more powerful than all in our realm with, of course, the exception of you.  My Soul’s aura engulfs everything around me and has even instantly destroyed lesser Diabolus who ventured to close.  But the scars…

I will continue this path if you require it of me. I need you to know I feel a strain growing within.  I have pushed through lives in which greater Souls have failed.  My Soul has been scarred so many times I’ve lost count.  Then, when these scars finally dissipate, you send me back through a trial that makes The Abyss seem like a vacation.

I feel something growing inside.  Something I do not believe I’ll be able to control. Almost as if each of the Diabolus Entos I’ve encountered left a piece inside me.  These pieces have begun to flow into one another.  It’s as an angry spot in an otherwise perfect cloud, and it’s fighting against me.

Regarding this task you ask of me.  If it is possible, I ask it be assigned to another. Helping this Soul through his trial is needed, but, this darkness growing inside me…

I understand this young Soul’s Diabolus Entos is stronger than any I’ve faced.  I also understand if we fail we will be thrust back to the time of The Betrayer.

Even as I write this, I know, there is no other way.  

I will give everything I have to this task; even if that means sacrificing my Soul to save his.  I know you wouldn’t send me unless it was imperative to our existence.

Your Loyal Servant,
Belath

Praise For “The Demon Within” by Josh Gagnier

“The Demon Within is an outstanding read. It is a dark fantasy that will take you through twists and turns and keep you guess the whole way. The writer did a fantastic job with the creativity and complexity of the story line as well with the characters. You will not be disappointed!”- Nick Barth, Reviewer

“This book is amazing. The author has a way with words, his twists and turns keep you hooked. I couldn’t put it down. Waiting for part two, I see this as the door way into the fantasy realm!”- Andy Burk, Reviewer

About Josh GagnierDemon Within by Josh Gagnier

Josh has had a knack for writing from a young age; mostly poetry. The Demon Within is his debut novel and, according to Josh, nearly wrote itself. He is a US Army veteran and has been deployed to the Balkans and Middle East. He has been an IT professional for about a decade. Many of the events in The Demon Within were taken from Josh’s life and “put through the fiction blender” as he puts it. When pressed for more details, he said he couldn’t give specifics for fear of “giving spoilers,” but, he did say the book includes fictional spins on things ranging from childhood bullying to being placed in the Las Vegas foster care system. He currently lives in Columbus OH with his family and is working on book two of his ‘The Last War’ series.

Giveaway of “The Demon Within” by Josh Gagnier

This giveaway is for one print copy of the book and a $50 gift card to a U.S. winner. The ebook with $50 gift card is open worldwide. This giveaway ends on April 27, 2018.

Click Here To Enter the Rafflecopter Giveaway!

Buy “The Demon Within” by Josh Gagnier on Amazon  or Demon Within

For all stops on the blog tour, take a look below the cut:

Continue reading “Blog Tour: “The Demon Within””

Serena’s Review: “The Queen of Blood”

25036395Book: “The Queen of Blood” by Sarah Beth Durst

Publishing Info: Harper Voyager, September 2016

Where Did I Get this Book: ALA 2017

Book Description: An idealistic young student and a banished warrior become allies in a battle to save their realm in this first book of a mesmerizing epic fantasy series, filled with political intrigue, violent magic, malevolent spirits, and thrilling adventure

Everything has a spirit: the willow tree with leaves that kiss the pond, the stream that feeds the river, the wind that exhales fresh snow . . .

But the spirits that reside within this land want to rid it of all humans. One woman stands between these malevolent spirits and the end of humankind: the queen. She alone has the magical power to prevent the spirits from destroying every man, woman, and child. But queens are still just human, and no matter how strong or good, the threat of danger always looms.

With the position so precarious, young women are chosen to train as heirs. Daleina, a seemingly quiet academy student, is under no illusions as to her claim to the throne, but simply wants to right the wrongs that have befallen the land. Ven, a disgraced champion, has spent his exile secretly fighting against the growing number of spirit attacks. Joining forces, these daring partners embark on a treacherous quest to find the source of the spirits’ restlessness—a journey that will test their courage and trust, and force them to stand against both enemies and friends to save their land . . . before it’s bathed in blood.

Review: This is another book that I snagged after getting to meet the author waaaaaay back at ALA 2017. Seriously, this is how long it takes me sometimes to get to books, even ones that I know are going to be amazing! Book scheduling, I tell you! There are trials and tribulations there. I’m sure you all know what I’m talking about! Anyways, I’ve read a few other books by Sarah Beth Durst, and while some of them have been misses, overall, I enjoy her writing style and her strong female characters. When I heard her speak about this book, I was struck by the completely original fantasy world setting and another heroine who sounded bad ass but also real and flawed.

In Daleina and Ven’s world, everything around them is made up of spirits set on destroying them. Air, water, fire, ice, tree, and earth, all wanting nothing more than to create with abandon and destroy humanity. The people’s everyday existence is one fraught with a balancing act that is delicate and completely dependent on the strength of the land’s Queen, the only person with the power to hold this malicious, wild strength in check. And when a 10-year-old Daleina’s tree-top village is destroyed, and only her small family is saved by her own  burgeoning powers, Daleina’s life changes forever. Now she must work to prove her worth and her ability to become a Queen’s heir, one of many powerful young women who must be ready at a moment’s notice to step into the role as Queen should anything ever happen to their ruler. Alongside her, Ven, a disgraced champion, will work to stave off a looming disaster that has been slowly revealing itself over the years when the Queen’s power seems to slip, as happened with the destruction of Daleina’s beloved home.

As I remembered hearing when Durst spoke at ALA, there are quite a few things that make “The Queen of Blood” standout in the vast expanse of “Queen of something” books that proliferate fantasy fiction nowadays. First off, as I stated, is the world-building. I loved the exploration of this world that we get through this story. The entire civilization seems to live in the trees, with only brief time spent on the ground (it’s more dangerous on the ground level). The Queen, and to a lesser extent, the other young women who train as heirs, all have control over the spirits and, through them, are able to manipulate the vegetation and trees to grow into elaborate structures and bridges. For long distances, a terrifying, but thrilling-sounding, wire system is set up for travelers to hook onto and speed through the trees.

a927bd06cfb2cf6f8ae95a340e6efc68
I was pretty much picturing Lothlorian from “Lord of the Rings” the entire time.

The spirits themselves were equally beautiful and terrifying sounding. There were the expected descriptions of several spirits looking vaguely human-like, beautiful, and wispy. But there were others made up of animal aspects, or simply the elements themselves. There was one particular earth spirit that sounded especially terrifying, and another bird-like air spirit that sounded pretty awesome. But beautiful or otherwise, it was endlessly clear that all of them were wild, capricious, and only just contained from unleashing disaster on everything around them.

The other unique portion of the story is the way that it unfolds, both as a story and with its characters. The book begins when Daleina is only ten years old and concludes when she is near her 20s. To manage this, there are several significant time jumps ranging from only a few months to up to five years. But all of these jumps are done with care and each time, the characters and story are re-introduced with such precision and detail that it’s not jarring at all. I actually really loved this entire concept, as we got to experience Daleina and Ven’s entire existence over this fraught period of time. Particularly for Daleina and her schooling. Through these jumps in time, we get to see Daleina’s entire progress from completely untrained young girl to soon-to-be heir and grown woman. We see the steps of her process, but never linger too long on the ins and outs of her day-to-day life. It’s a difficult balance to strike: getting enough information in each glimpse to never lose sight of characterization and story, but also not getting too bogged down in any particular period of her life.

The characters, too, were both unique. Daleina, as the main character, was particularly well-rounded. She is the opposite of the “special snowflake/chosen one” and it is made clear that all of the accomplishments that she makes are through sheer determination and hard work. The hard work and training, in particular, are over and beyond what the other students must put in as Daleina doesn’t have the natural control or power over the spirits that the others do. I especially loved that the author never stepped back from this. Daleina never suddenly powers up or “discovers” some new unique thing about herself. She continues plowing forward in the face of many telling her that she can’t, and even in the face of her own understanding of her limited abilities comparative to her peers. Further, while she must work to find her own strengths, she doesn’t mope or become jealous of those around her. Instead, the story is made up of Daleina forming strong and powerful friendships with the other women around her.

Ven, our secondary lead character, was also quite a unique character to find in a book like this. For a story that seems to largely read like YA fantasy, Ven is a middle aged man who meets a young Daleina when he is already at the height of his skills. Throughout the story, and his own disgrace and redemption, Ven’s story is one of a mentor and grown man who is having to confront the realities of those he has always esteemed. Given his age and role in Daleina’s life, there is never a hint of romance (thank god), and instead a strong, steady mentorship bond is built and explored. I was there for all of this!

Throughout this all, Durst never backs down from the harsh realities and consequences of the world she’s built and the story she is telling. The action is built on true danger and violence, and no character is safe from the fallout of these fights with the spirits. The last third, in particular, took some pretty crazy and brave turns, as far as storytelling goes. I was honestly shocked by the follow-through on some decisions (in a good way!) and the ending was definitely not what I expected.

This book, and series, seems to have been skating along largely unnoticed and that’s such a shame! Durst has built an extraordinary world and peopled it with compelling and flawed characters whom you can’t help but root for. I strongly recommend it for any fans of fantasy fiction!

Rating: I loved it! The storytelling is bold and riveting, taking surprising twist and turns and committing to the tale that is unfolding.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Queen of Blood” can be found on these Goodreads lists: “YA Female Rulers” and “Gender Is No Object” Second-World Fantasy.”

Find “The Queen of Blood” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Take Your Medicine”

38492306Book: “Take Your Medicine” by Hannah Carmack

Publishing Info: NineStar Press, March 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: I was sent an ARC from the author.

Book Description: Alice “Al” Liddell is from Echola, Alabama. She leads the life of a normal teen until the day she’s diagnosed with vasovagal syncope – a fainting disorder which causes her to lose consciousness whenever she feels emotions too strongly.

Her mother, the “Queen of Hearts,” is the best cardiothoracic surgeon this side of the Mason-Dixon Line and a bit of a local hero. Yet, even with all her skill she is unable to cure her daughter of her ailment, leading Al into the world of backwater witchcraft.

Along the way she meets a wacky cast of characters and learns to accept her new normal.

Take Your Medicine is a southern gothic retelling of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Review: I want to extend a very special thanks to Hannah Carmack, who was kind enough to provide me with an ARC of this novella! Keep your eyes out for a guest post from Hannah that I will be posting next week!

So maybe you’re asking yourself ‘Fantasy? Isn’t that Serena’s wheelhouse?’ And yes, this is true, but I do enjoy a fantasy story every now and again! I especially like stories that make reference to “Alice in Wonderland”, as that is one of my childhood favorites. With its nonsense adventures and kooky characters, that book has had a place in my heart for a long, long time. So when Hannah Carmack asked if we would read her book “Take Your Medicine,” I kind of jumped all over it. It had been since I’d played “American McGee’s Alice” in high school that I’d encountered an adaptation of Alice that I’ve really, deeply enjoyed.

giphy7
Don’t EVER speak to me about this whole train wreck. (source)

So “Take Your Medicine” was a breath of fresh air for this Alice fiend. What I liked the most about it is that while it’s not a direct adaptation of the Alice story, it takes great influence from it and peppers homages throughout the narrative. Alice ‘Al’ Liddell is not a girl from the English countryside who falls into an alternate world of Wonderland; she is a teenager living in Alabama who has been dealing with vasovagal syncope her entire life. VVS causes her to have fainting spells in moments of stress or high emotion. The ‘Wonderland’ she encounters is near her rural home, and it involves some teenage witches named Rabbit and Kat, and her own mother, a surgeon known as the Queen of Hearts. What I loved the most about Rabbit and Kat is that while they are analogs for the White Rabbit and The Cheshire Cat, Carmack was very clever in her homages. It wasn’t like Rabbit was constantly checking her watch and freaking out about time, nor was Kat grinning like a fiend all day long. Instead the similarities were more based in subtleties, like Alice being drawn to Rabbit and attracted to her, and Kat being hard to read, motivation wise. And while I was worried that Al’s Mom, being the Queen of Hearts stand in, was going to be cruel and controlling, she was definitely more loving and understanding than I expected. Her strictness and control was born of out love for her daughter, and I thought that was a poignant choice. I loved looking for the other Wonderland characters within those that Al encounters throughout the novella.

The setting is just excellent. I love a good Southern Gothic novel, with sweeping and haunting vistas in backwoods and swamps in the American South. Moving an “Alice in Wonderland” adaptation from England to the American South works so well, because the landscapes and environments are dreamy and mysterious in their own right. I could totally imagine the characters walking through the backwoods, with the heat and the sounds of birds and insects permeating my imagination. I loved the descriptions, from Rabbit and Kat’s trailer to Al’s mother’s rose garden to a backwater dance party. They always felt very surreal and whimsical, and I was completely drawn into it, as I was in Wonderland so many years ago and so many times before.

Finally, as someone who is a big believer in the importance of diversity and representation in literature, especially juvenile and young adult literature, I was VERY pleased to see the diverse cast of characters in this book. Not only is Al a POC character who is living with a chronic illness, she is also exploring her own sexuality and her attraction to Rabbit. Carmack herself lives with an auto-immune disease, and so her story and the character of Al lends a voice to other teens who are living with chronic illnesses. Within the diverse books movement the Own Voices movement is super important, so I love that this book is out there removing stigma or confusion about what it can be like to live with a chronic illness.

“Take Your Medicine” was a highly enjoyable novella that did a spot on job of adapting “Alice in Wonderland”. I completely recommend that if you like the Alice stories you should go and get your hands on this novella.

Rating 8: A unique and sweet retelling of an old favorite. The fun characters and the diverse  cast made for a very enjoyable read.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Take Your Medicine” is new and not on any relevant Goodreads lists yet. But I think that it would fit in on “Best Retellings of Alice in Wonderland”, and “Best Southern Gothic Novels for YA”.

Find “Take Your Medicine” at both NineStar Press and Amazon.com.

Serena’s Review: “Rosemarked”

29346927Book: “Rosemarked” by Livia Blackburne

Publishing Info: Disney-Hyperion, November 2017

Where Did I Get this Book: from the publisher!

Book Description: A healer who cannot be healed . . .

When Zivah falls prey to the deadly rose plague, she knows it’s only a matter of time before she fully succumbs. Now she’s destined to live her last days in isolation, cut off from her people and unable to practice her art—until a threat to her village creates a need that only she can fill.

A soldier shattered by war . . .

Broken by torture at the hands of the Amparan Empire, Dineas thirsts for revenge against his captors. Now escaped and reunited with his tribe, he’ll do anything to free them from Amparan rule—even if it means undertaking a plan that risks not only his life but his very self.

Thrust together on a high-stakes mission to spy on the capital, the two couldn’t be more different: Zivah, deeply committed to her vow of healing, and Dineas, yearning for vengeance. But as they grow closer, they must find common ground to protect those they love. And amidst the constant fear of discovery, the two grapple with a mutual attraction that could break both of their carefully guarded hearts.

Review: I was very excited to receive a copy of this book in the mail for review. I had seen it bouncing around on a few review sites, but generally it seemed to land fairly unnoticed. Which, now having read it, is quite a shame! “Rosemarked” is a powerfully simple story of invasion and colonization, hope in the face of loss, and the resilience of two characters who are set with an impossible task.

Zivah, a young healer, finds herself with the unwelcome task of caring for a troop of Amparan soldieres who fall ill with the dreaded rose plague while passing through her home. While her people have arranged a peaceful treaty with these forces, their lands is still regularly plundered and their people harmed. But Zivah knows her duty. She saves as many as she can, including the commander of the guard, but finds herself now cursed with the plague herself, doomed to die in a few years when the fever returns. But her life is not over. She finds herself drawn into a plan to infiltrate the Amparan capital to better learn what their plans are for her homeland. Now, alongside Dineas, a young solder who only recently escaped the dungeons of the city he now marches back towards and who still carries mental and emotional scars from this time, Zivah has a chance to use her knowledge of poisons and healing to save her people.

The story is told with alternating view points between Zivah and Dineas. This worked particularly well due to the vast differences in not only their personalities, but also in their life experiences and how these have shaped their worldviews. As a healer, Zivah struggles with her new reality, doomed to a short life in which even her vast knowledge cannot save her. Further, as she is highly contagious, her entire vocation has been lost to her. In this new mission, she is asked to bend and manipulate her own oaths as a healer to do no harm. What is “harm” when the balance is between individuals and nations? Where is the line when using her knowledge of herb lore and poisons?

Dineas, too, has a powerful arc throughout the story. After his time in prison, he is too broken to return to the capital as he is, not able to put on the performance necessary to convince the Amparan soldiers that he is one of them. Instead, Zivah uses a complicated potion to take away his memories. With this act, the story ultimately ends up with three characters: Zivah, original Dineas, and the Dineas who has no memory. This new Dineas, freed from his memories of torture and hatred, forms a close relationship with the healer who “saves” him. However, as their mission continues, the old Dineas must be brought forth routinely to report on what new Dineas has seen. This leads to much inner confusion and tension as he imposes his own memories, fears, and prejudices onto the actions and emotions of a self who has been freed of his difficult past. Both versions of Dineas’ are soldiers to the core. But through their two perspectives, one jaded and one naive, they each struggle with the harsh realities of warfare and the knowledge that soldiers on either side of any war are ultimately people themselves, with their own loves and lives.

The rose plague plays a large part in this story, not only through the massive impact it has on shaping Zivah’s now shortened life, but in the portrayal of this world as a whole. The plague kills the majority of those it touches. A small few recover but are doomed to live solitary lives in plague villages, waiting for the return of the fever that will claim them. And an even smaller number recover completely, the rose-colored marks on their skin browning, resulting in their being known as “umbertouched.” Through Zivah’s eyes, we see the half-life that those left with this in-between portion of life are forced to live. Cut off from society, the rosemarked are shuffled out of sight into grimy, lawless colonies, similar to a leper colony. They can not interact with loved ones, for fear of passing on the disease. And they have no future, living only on borrowed time. What’s worse, for the majority of them, society prefers to pretend they simply no longer exist. Zivah, and all the others she meets who are rosemarked, are living life in a very different want than the average person. They know their time is limited, and with this in mind, their mental calculus of risk and reward is very different.

Also, for a fantasy novel, there was practically no magic in this story. Really, other than the fact that it is set in a made-up world that is pestered by a fictional plague, this book could read as historical fiction. I quite enjoyed the lack of magic in this story, and the slow, methodical way the plot plays out. The story is simple and straightforward, relying heavily on the strength of its two central characters and their individual arcs throughout the book. For some readers, this may read as a bit slow and dull.  But for readers who enjoy character-focused stories and who can appreciate a fantasy novel with very little magic, “Rosemarked” is definitely a book worth checking out! It’s the first in a duology, with the second, “Umbertouched” set to release next fall.

Rating 7: A character-driven story that perhaps lacks depth, but still touches on important topics of vocation, one’s role in the world, and the horrible decisions that ongoing warfare brings upon a people.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Rosemarked” is a newer title and isn’t on many relevant Goodreads list, but it should be on “Best Fiction Books About Diseases or Viruses.”

Find “Rosemarked” at your library using WorldCat!

A Revisit to Fear Street: “The First Evil”

107928Book: “The First Evil ” (Fear Street Cheerleaders #1) by R.L. Stine

Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, 1992

Where Did I Get This Book: An ebook from the library!

Book Description: “Give Me a D-I-E!”

Newcomers Corky and Bobbi Corcoran want more than anything to make the cheerleading squad at Shadyside High. But as soon as the Corcoran sisters are named to the team, terrible things happen to the cheerleaders.

The horror starts with a mysterious accident near the Fear Street cemetery. Soon after, piercing screams echo through the empty school halls. And then the ghastly murders begin…

Can Corky and Bobbi stop the killer before the entire cheerleading squad is destroyed?

Had I Read It Before: No.

The Plot: Oh man guys!!! The infamous “Cheerleaders” series!!! I never read them because I was so anti girly girl things I immediately wrote these books off as dumb just because they had cheerleaders in them. How wrong I was! Now as an adult I know that cheerleader stories bring the BEST kind of drama!!!

giphy8
You know what the GIF theme for this review is going to be!! (source)

Bobbi and Corky Corcoran are sisters/BFFs, and when we first meet them they are putting a toy rat outside their little brother Sean’s door because he’s terrified of them. They then go join their parents for breakfast, and we get some exposition right out the gate. The Corcoran Family has just moved to Fear Street, and both Bobbi and Corky are already making jokes about their house being haunted and someone being murdered in Bobbi’s room. Bobbi and Corky are not twins, but apparently they look like it with their ‘lively green eyes, creamy, pale skin, and high cheekbones like models’. Oh boy. Bobbi is older but shorter, Corky is younger and lanky, blah blah blah, and poor Sean, recently freaked out by the fake rat, joins them and is inconsequential. We find out that cheerleader tryouts are that day, as Mrs. Corcoran has VERY strong feelings that her girls should be cheerleaders because they were just the best back at their old school, practically carrying the rest of the team to finals. Bobbi and Corky don’t know if they will be allowed to try out since the team has already been picked and it’s up to the cheerleaders, but since it’s clear their mother’s affection is based on their cheer status they better hope an exception is made. Apparently their alliance due to a stage mother only have certain limits, as Bobbi plays her own trick on Corky and pretends she’s dead just for a little bit. Ah, sibling love.

Now we meet Jennifer Daly, cheer captain and all around perfect girl who is described by Stine has having ‘full, sensual lips’. Huh. Jennifer is super slim and super nice, and her best friend/assistant Captain Kimmy Bass is….. not. She’s frenetic and ‘chunky’, so I guess she’s probably going to be the mean one. Kimmy is the one who doesn’t want Bobbi and Corky to try out, as the team has been built already, but Jennifer thinks that the Corcorans are SO good that they would be an asset. Miss Green, Cheer advisor, agrees, and Bobbi and Corky are told they can try out. The Corcorans do a routine that involves the chant ‘first and ten, do it again!’ and ‘Go Tigers!’, and I don’t know what all these movies are that Stine is describing but apparently it’s awesome because they are totally on the team now! Of course, Miss Green points out, that means that they have to cut someone. Jennifer targets the Frosh, Ronnie, to be bumped down to alternate, and Kimmy is livid at the injustice of it all. Kimmy, Ronnie, and some chick named Debra all convene in the locker room and bitch about how unfair it all is. Kimmy then gets burned in the shower, which is an excuse to 1) have a cliffhanter chapter ending, 2) mention Simmons, the stoner handyman who also drives the team bus, and 3) show off Kimmy’s necklace that has a megaphone pendant. Checkov’s pendant…..

A few weeks later the team is on the bus heading to a game in a huge rain storm! Bobbi and Corky have been pretty much accepted by everyone but Kimmy and Debra, and so many peppy cheers are flung in the bus. But oh no! Corky realizes that she and Bobbi left the fire batons at home! Annoyed by their irresponsibility by blinded by dreams of State Championships, Jennifer says that they can detour to Fear Street to get them. But the storm is super bad, and for some reason Simmons seems to lean into the storm and drive fast. As they are going down Fear Street, and after he inexplicably opens the doors to the bus, Simmons loses control! Probably too much reefer. The bus crashes, leaving all the girls in a heap. Bobbi, Corky, and the others manage to get out, and realize the bus crashed right smack dab into Fear Street Cemetery. They realize Jennifer is missing, and Bobbi remembers that right before they crashed, she had flown out the side door of the bus that was mysteriously open! They find her sprawled across the tombstone that belongs to Sarah Fear, who died in the 1800s. And she’s dead. An ambulance arrives and EMTs are immediately at Jennifer’s side. They pronounce her head, but then SURPRISE! She opens her eyes and it’s some kind of miracle! They load her into the ambulance, and Kimmy makes it VERY clear that she blames Bobbi and Corky for forgetting the fire batons and causing this detour.

giphy9
I promise it won’t just be SNL cheerleaders, but this was too good. (source)

So the bad news is that Jennifer has been paralyzed and can’t walk anymore. This means that the squad needs a new captain, and Kimmy is convinced that she has it in the bag since she was assistant captain. Miss Green is holding a huge pep rally to make the announcement. Jennifer makes a speech about how grateful she is, and then Miss Green takes the stage and says that she’s so proud of the fighting spirit her cheerleaders have, and that she’s made her decision on who will replace Jennifer as captain, with Jennifer’s input. Kimmy is thrilled….. until Miss Green names Bobbi Corcoran!! So, okay, we are supposed to probably think that Kimmy is a poor sport in all of this, but I’m super empathetic to her. I’ve MULTIPLE times been in a situation where I have worked my butt off, paid my dues, been pretty damn good at something, and then instead of being rewarded (be it promotion or a starring role in a school play), a brand new person with not as much experience and work done but perhaps a tiny bit more pizzaz has been rewarded instead. I’ve been there. It FUCKING sucks. So I gotta be me, which means I gotta be Team Kimmy here, even if Bobbi is one of our main characters. Kimmy, abjectly humiliated, breaks from the celebration routine and runs out of the gym sobbing.

Bobbi is the new belle of the Shadyside High Social Hierarchy Ball, and is having many congratulations thrust upon her. Not only are a bunch of plebs she doesn’t know fawning over her, she is approached by CHIP CHASNER, quarterback for the Shadyside Tigers football team!!! If that doesn’t sound like royalty waiting to happen, I don’t know what does! They flirt a little bit, and he asks if she’s seeing anyone. She says no, and tosses the question back, and he gets a LITTLE skittish but says that he isn’t seeing anyone anymore, and suggests they go out for pizza after practice. Bobbi says yes, and it walking on cloud nine when she meets up with Jennifer at Jennifer’s home in North Hills. Apparently they were BFFs now, and I again feel for Kimmy because she and Jennifer were besties before now. Jennifer tells Bobbi she talked to Kimmy, and Kimmy will stay on the team, but she’s not happy about it. Bobbi, obtuse to the weird politics at play here, is relieved that Kimmy is coming back even though Kimmy hates her now, and Jennifer says that she better get used to it. Changing the subject, Bobbi tells Jennifer that Chip asked hr out on a date. And then Jennifer notifies her that until VERY recently, Chip was Kimmy’s boyfriend. Fucking Bobbi.

At cheer practice awhile later, Bobbi is having a hard time with her new captainly duties. The girls are out of step, Kimmy is still shooting daggers at her, and their routine of “Steam Heat” is a serious dud. Side bar: “Steam Heat” is from “The Pajama Game” and I remember watching that movie over and over and OVER as a kid. Doris Day for the win, bitches. Bobbi dismisses them for a dinner break before the game, and is bummed that only Corky is trying hard. Bobbi tells Corky she’ll meet her at home because she has to get her stuff. But while she’s in the hallway, suddenly all the lockers start opening and slamming shut. As she runs through a sea of lockers, a girl’s scream starts up too. Bobbi runs back to the front hallway of the school, it all stops. When she gets home and tells Corky, Corky thinks it must be the stress making her nuts. At the game things are going pretty okay, but then Chip has a weird episode where he totally freezes instead of throwing a ball, and gets creamed by the other team. He doesn’t return for the second half, and Bobbi is so distracted the cheers are lackluster and the Tigers lose. She meets him after game and asks what happened, and Chip confides that he doesn’t really know. He says that it felt like he was dead, and he didnt’ really have control of his faculties and doesn’t know why he didn’t throw the ball. They kiss, but he’s pretty shaken up.

At school, Kimmy confronts Bobbi about Chip. Kimmy makes it sound like she still thinks that she and Chip are dating, and Bobbi mocks that HE asked HER out.

giphy10
(source)

A catfight ensues. Miss Green breaks it up and reminds them that they have a new routine they have to work on together. Kimmy reattaches her necklace (foreshadowing?), and refuses to apologize. When Miss Green threatens them with team suspension, they change their tune. Bobbi then starts to explain part of the routine, or has Corky do it since she technically created it. It’s long and complicated and the only thing relevant to this review is that it involves Kimmy dropping and Bobbi catching her. So when they go to run through it, all is well….. until suddenly Bobbi can’t move, just like Chip! And then Kimmy thuds to the floor and smacks her face on the wood, as well as her arm. The other girls say that Bobbi didn’t even TRY to catch Kimmy, and Bobbi runs away. Chip catches her in the hallway, and she tells him the same thing that happened to him happened to her. He’s skeptical, though, as HIS is a muscle thing, or so his doctors say. What a dingus.

That night Bobbi is talking to Jennifer at Jennifer’s house, telling her about what happened at practice. Jennifer tells her that she heard Kimmy’s wrist is broken, but will heal. They talk and Jennifer doesn’t do much to assuage Bobbi’s guilt. As Bobbi is leaving, she looks back through the curtains, and sees the shape of someone walking around the house. But Jennifer is the only one home! Is Jennifer walking?! She walks back up to the house and opens the door, but Jennifer is indeed in her wheelchair. Bobbi is convinced that she is cracking up, but goes home and talks to Corky about it, who is skeptical. Bobbi calls her a traitor, and they fight with Corky thinking about how much she hates Bobbi. And we are informed that this is the last night that Corky will ever spend with her sister. Aw shit.

At practice the next day, its official that Bobbi has no control over the squad anymore, as they all refuse to practice until Miss Green shows up. When Miss Green does, she asks to see Bobbi in her office, and then asks her to step down from the squad after the accident the day before. She’s lost the confidence of the team, and that just won’t do. Bobbi, devastated, goes to the showers to try and calm down. As she’s showering, though, the water suddenly gets VERY hot, and it won’t drain! The steam and the hot water are too much, and Bobbi is suddenly overcome. When Corky arrives, fashionably late, she finds Kimmy’s pendant necklace on the floor of the locker room, but no one else is to be found. She goes into the shower room and finds her sister, dead on the floor.

Some time later, Corky is walking through Fear Street Cemetery, reminiscing. She ends up at the grave of Sarah Fear, and a number of other Fears who died the same year as she did. She thinks about the bus crash, and her sister, and the funeral, and it’s all very sad. She talks to Bobbi’s grave, telling her that Kimmy made captain and everyone expected her to freak out, but she doesn’t care about anything anymore now that Bobbi is dead. The police said that Bobbi died of a seizure or something, but Corky doesn’t buy it. And in that moment, she realizes that she has Kimmy’s pendant, and that KIMMY had every reason to want Bobbi dead. She runs to Kimmy’s house and confronts her and the other cheerleaders about finding the pendant, putting her at the scene of the crime. Kimmy tells her that she hasn’t had her pendant in weeks, and in fact she had given it to Jennifer before Bobbi died! Debra confirms this, and Kimmy says that while she resented Bobbi, she wouldn’t kill her, and that Jennifer couldn’t have either. But Corky points out that Jennifer NEVER changed in the locker rooms anymore, so how did the necklace get there? She goes to confront Jennifer.

Corky gets to Jennifer’s house and it looks like no one is home. She stakes out the place, and sees Jennifer drive up in her car. She decides to follow her, and follows her all the way to the cemetery. She watches as Jennifer STEPS OUT OF THE CAR and WALKS into the cemetery. Corky continues to follow, and watches her dance through the headstones like Linda in “Evil Dead 2”. Corky confronts her by Sarah Fear’s grave, asking what the hell is going on, and Jennifer tells her that she is NOT Jennifer, and makes a dirt tornado from the grave that surrounds them both in a suck zone like HELL. She says that Jennifer is dead, and that she died WEEKS ago when she landed on Sarah Fear’s grave. This evil spirit inhabited Sarah Fear’s body, and was waiting for a new one to inhabit, and now Jennifer’s enemies will pay the price! Corky looks into the grave and see’s Sarah Fear’s body all wormy and bug ridden and the spirit says that Corky is going to  end up in there too. The spirit shoves her in (as the other cheerleaders are coming to help), but Corky is a CHEERLEADER, and does a bunch of cheer moves to save herself and pull herself out of the grave as the dirt tornado starts to settle back into the pit. Corky and the spirit struggle, and the spirit starts to blow nasty air in Corky’s face, but as Corky turns it around it starts to vacate Jennifer’s body and falls back into the grave, the coffin lid shutting and trapping it inside. They all look at Jennifer’s corpse, and it has deteriorated as it would have when she originally died.

When Corky gets home, feeling good in the fact she vanquished the spirit that killed her sister, she suddenly realizes that there’s a pennant that wasn’t there before. And it says Jennifer’s name on it. And Corky starts to scream. The end.

giphy11
(source)

Body Count: 2. I liked the curveball of killing one of the POV characters!

Romance Rating: 2. There wasn’t really much in this one, except that creep Chip dumping Kimmy for Bobbi and then not even really mourning Bobbi’s death. Punk.

Bonkers Rating: 8. Mean cheerleaders, possession, a the very CONCEPT of Jennifer’s body going from ‘alive’ to WORM FEAST the moment the First Evil left her, oh MAN was this stellar on the crazy scale!

Fear Street Relevance: 10! This gets a perfect 10! Bobbi and Corky live on Fear Street,  the bus crashes into the cemetery, and the ghost that had also possessed Sarah FRIGGIN’ Fear is the villain!

Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:

” ‘Let’s give them something to stare at,’ Bobbi replied, grinning. ‘Break a leg,’ Corky said.”

…. Well, that’s not even a cliffhanger. That’s just a sister wishing the other sister good luck!! You’re losing your touch, Stine!!

That’s So Dated! Moments: One of the characters is told that she looks like ‘movie star Julia Roberts’, and I suppose in 1992 that would have been an age appropriate comparison. Also the stoner bus driver ALWAYS has his Walkman tape player attached to his ears.

Best Quote:

” ‘Fear Street,’ one of the policemen had said grimly, shaking his head. ‘Fear Street…..'”

If that isn’t a “Forget it Jake, it’s Chinatown” moment, I don’t know what is.

Conclusion: “The First Evil” was bonkers and bananas and the cheerleader drama gave me all the things I needed!! I can’t wait to move on to “The Second Evil”!