“Get It Out There, Get It Reviewed, Get It in Libraries”: Self-publishing and Libraries

We here at The Library Ladies are occasionally approached by readers with questions and suggestions about things that we could write about on this blog. While it’s true that reviews and reader’s advisory are some of the main points that we like to make here, we also try to keep up with current trends in the library world. Something that is becoming more and more prevalent within literary circles and realities is the concept of self publishing. Some authors decide to take the route of publishing and promoting their work on their own, and with more and more services cropping up it is becoming more and more common. One question raised is how do libraries factor into this newish trend? How can self-published authors get their books into libraries?

Okay, honesty time! I am neither a cataloger or a selector at the library that I work for, so this is not a field in which I am terribly familiar. But that said, I have a couple of thoughts that I picked up through osmosis by the library system. I think that libraries should strive to include as many perspectives as possible within their collections, and that by providing as much information as possible they can serve more people and more communities. But that said, public libraries have budgets, and budgets can only go so far. There is just no way that every single library can purchase every single title. There are, however, some things that self-published authors can try to do to that might make their chances of getting their books into libraries higher than average.

f644d3e7-4360-4668-b862-318992eee009_text_hi
Disclaimer: I can only speak to potentially getting the books there, not if you will get paid for them. The Jack way vs the Miles way, which is, as you can see on Miles’ face, not always helpful. (source)

For one, consider contacting your local library and asking about their policy of donations and whether they might consider adding your book to the collection. I’ve seen instances where local authors would approach the librarian at my branch, and that librarian would get them in contact with the selectors at the library. Local interest is usually a plus, but even just having ties to the community may work in your favor. Along with that, sometimes libraries will be eager to host events where authors can come and talk about their works, as a way to not only make connections in the community but to also promote their writing in a public space. (But it’s also important to note that libraries, at least in my experience, are not down with hosting for profit events, so selling one’s book during the event will potentially be a no-no).

But something that is being done more and more is a library system teaming up with a publishing platform that enables the books inside that platform to be circulated within the library catalog. One of the best examples I have found is Smashwords teaming up with the Los Gatos Public Library in Los Gatos, California. That library made it so authors could publish their books to Smashwords, and then the library would carry copies of those books within their ebook collection through the partnership. Smashwords itself seems to be committed to this collaborative opportunity, so perhaps see if your library ebook platforms carry Smashbooks titles and authors. A local example of this (local being Minnesota) is the MELSA library system (a conglomerate of 100+ metro area libraries) providing a link to MN Writes, MN Reads organization. Essentially, local writers can write and upload their ebooks to MN Writes, MN Reads, and the libraries within MELSA will provide access to these books for their patrons. Try to ask your librarians if there are any similar resources at their library.

And as Serena tweeted last week, this organization is teaming up with the Minnesota Author Project to throw a writing contest for local, independent, self published authors (with support from the Minnesota Library Foundation). Winners will not only receive a monetary prize, they will also have their works promoted via write-ups in various library magazines and their story will be added to the catalogs of a number of Minnesota public libraries. It’s true that this is more of a pie in the sky scenario and not a solution that would work for everyone (outside of the winners), but if more and more organizations could get behind this kind of thing, I think more opportunities would be created for self published authors to get their work recognized.

Again, I’m not an expert and I don’t have as much experience in this realm as selectors may. But I do believe that as more and more authors turn to self-publishing, the more libraries will want to provide access to their works because of the foundational values of librarians as a whole. Hopefully more opportunities will arise as the demand does. Until then, I know that I’m going to be looking out for ways for independent self-published authors to showcase their work, and try to find ways that I can help promote it

– Kate

The Great Animorphs Re-Read #28: “The Experiment”

286582Animorphs #28: “The Experiment” by K.A. Applegate

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, April 1999

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: The Yeerks are ready to control humans where it counts — in their DNA. They’re working on a drug that saps humans of their free will. But the Animorphs show them that human free will runs deeper than any drug can reach.

Narrator: Ax

Plot: I have clear memories of the cow portions of this book, but as I discovered reading this again, that’s only, like, that last third of the whole thing! So let’s get started on all the rest of the book that I had somehow completely forgotten!

spn20dean20and20turducken
“Supernatural” totally stole this plot line with the whole “poison the burgers to make them susceptible” idea. (source)

Ax has built himself a scoop and also managed to get a TV. He and Tobias now have an afternoon ritual of watching some good, old quality “The Young and the Restless.” One afternoon, Marco shows up, bored, looking for mall trip buddies. On the way, they run in to Erek who has a possible mission. Apparently the Yeerks have been involved in some animal testing facility. The Chee don’t know what they’re doing, but with the Yeerks, it’s always safe to say it’s bad.

The group meets up in the barn and decide that yes, of course they must check it out. They all fly over to scout the place out. The building is highly fortified behind an invisible force shield that has been frying any animal that gets too close. But as they scout, they see a van pull up full of chimpanzees. There’s their in. The next day, Ax and Tobias scout out the route that the van with the chimps takes and note that it goes through a very long tunnel. And thus a very insane plan is sprung!

Together, all of the Animorphs in bird morph dive bomb the truck just as it heads into the tunnel. There, they all demorph and form a human chain, lowering Cassie down to open the back of the truck. They all jump in and quickly acquire the chimps. At a stop light, they release the other chimps (this doesn’t go well for some passing cars), and lock themselves in instead. At the facility, they are all carted into another room that is full of other caged chimps. Cassie demorphs to let them out, but just then they hear none other than Visser Three approaching down the hall. She races back to her cage and begins remorphing. To distract Visser Three and the others, they, of course, throw poo at him. Enraged, he leaves and they overhear him saying to release the Taxxons on the chimps, as that stage of testing is finished anyways. In chimp morph, the Animorphs release the others and fight off the Taxxons, making their way out of the facility. However, the mission is a success and they learn that the “next stage” of whatever is going on is taking place a meat packing plant.

Again, the next day Tobias and Ax scout out the plant. Later, in the barn, they report on what they found. While not covered with a force field, the plant is using the same Gleet BioFilters that now guard the entrances to the Yeerk pool, making it impossible to get in as anything but the poor, doomed cattle. The steer, however, are kept in a field some distance away. Cassie, however, comes up with a solution. Two of them morph steer, and the rest hide up in the steer’s nostrils as flies: organisms within other living creatures don’t trigger the BioFilters. Jake decides that Ax and Tobias will morph the steer, as they can demorph without revealing that they’re all humans if things go south.

That night, Marco, Rachel, Tobias, and Ax head out to acquire the morphs. While there, they have a close run-in with a few drunken cow tippers. Ax tries to disguise himself as a cow, but they spot him, and it’s only with some quick tail blade action that he able to knock them out.

The next day, they all head back to the field. Tobias and Ax aren’t concerned about the morph, as, obviously, cows are pretty docile. That is until they actually do the morph and realize that while they acquired steer, the DNA was that of bulls, so that’s what they become. Cassie is barely able to stop them from charging each other or her. But they now have a problem: any transport unit will definitely notice the fact that their cargo are bulls, and will call in about it. Jake has another brilliant plan: Marco driving, take two! Gorilla!Marco knocks out the two men when they arrive with the truck. Jake, being fairly tall, puts on the uniform of the passenger with the clipboard to confirm their cargo at the checkpoint. And gorilla!Marco, puts on what clothes he can manage (he’s too short to reach the truck petals in his human form).

What follows is yet another example of Marco’s terrible driving. The truck almost goes over on its side at least once, and several fences are damaged in the process of getting to the plant. Once there, the guards are convinced the driver is drunk, but pass off on letting them in. After they park, they morph flies and join Cassie and Rachel in bull!Ax and bull!Tobias’s noses and are able to successfully get through the Gleet Biofilters.

Once in, the others bail to begin scouting and create a diversion. Ax and Tobias are left in the line, slowly making their way towards execution. Ax is in front. They wait as long as they can, but Ax reaches the front of the line. He tries to avoid the man with the gun, but he gets tasered several times. Just before he’s shot, grizzly!Rachel shows up to rescue them. Controllers and Hork Bajir pour into the room, and Tobias and Ax frantically demorph.

The three of them charge off to find the others, who are not doing well, backed into a corner with a locked door. Visser Three shows up and begins his usual threats. Grizzly!Rachel can’t force the door, but Ax manages to quickly hard wire the key pad, and they flee into the next room. Ax rips out the wires behind him, effectively barricading it.

In the room, there are several cages with humans who look to be in some sort of bio-stasis. A computer screen is open and on it they discover what is going on. The computer, with lots of sucking up to Visser Three included, informs them that this is Project Obedience, a biochemical component that can be injected into the food supply and remove the free will of anyone who eats it. The others are horrified and feel defeated, but Cassie scoffs, saying that it is impossible to remove free will. Even Controllers have free will beneath the Yeerk who is forcing them to do things.

They then notice a lab worker who has been hiding in the corner. He quickly breaks down, saying that they might as well kill him since Visser Three soon will anyways, once he learns that the lab worker lied. He confirms what Cassie said, that the whole project was impossible from the start, but that Visser Three wouldn’t accept failure, so the lab worker has been faking it. Just then, the door begins to give behind them.

They quickly wake up the sleeping humans and get them out of their cages. The lab worker would rather make a run for it than confront Visser Three, so he leads the Animorphs and confused humans out of the plant.

The next day they meet back up at the mall. Cassie is feeling smug that she called it on the free will thing, but Marco says that she’s the only one who could look at the last few days as anything other than a giant waste of time: at least they saved some animals! Other than that, the whole project had been a bust from the start, so all of their work was for nothing. But at least they can enjoy some tasty burgers free of concern! Cassie is horrified, but the others all chow down.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: For an Ax book, he doesn’t really have a whole lot as far as character moments in this book. There’s the running gag about various TV shows he’s watching, and his general narrating voice is as great as always. We again get to see his morning rituals, and it’s nice to see that he’s finally built himself a scoop.

Towards the middle of the book, he does reflect on the different challenges that humans face living on a world that still has predators that could kill them and by being omnivores. He reflects on the easy balance on the Andalite homeworld, that they have no natural predators and that they are vegetarian. It’s a nice exploration of the balance that has to be struck between being a human capable of moralizing, but also being a type of being that evolved to supplement its diet by eating meat.

More clearly, he is horrified by the treatment of chimpanzees, especially after they all morph them and he realizes how closely related they are to humans. Cassie, of course, has many strong opinions on this, and Ax becomes equally perturbed by whether they crossed a line morphing them. Towards the end of the book, he asks the scientist whether the free will injections worked on chimpanzees, in an attempt to finally answer the question about their sentience. The scientist says it didn’t work on them either, but wasn’t sure whether that’s because they had free will and it was affected, or whether they didn’t have free will to begin with.

Our Fearless Leader: Jake doesn’t have a lot in this book, other than the HIGHLY questionable decision of putting gorilla!Marco behind the wheel again. He also quickly picks Ax and Tobias to morph the steer, because they can demorph more easily without giving away their secret. I feel like this same reasoning would come into play more often than it seems to, but it’s a solid choice here as well.

Xena, Warrior Princess: Rachel also doesn’t have much in this book. She comes to the rescue as a grizzly just in time at the meat packing plant. Tobias is fairly sarcastic about this, but she handles it well (aren’t they cute??). She also tells Marco to shut up quite a lot, but nothing new there!

A Hawk’s Life: Tobias gets a lot of action and page time in this book. Ax spends a good amount of time discussing his close friendship with Tobias, and the fact that, by earth standards, he is Tobias’s uncle as well. It’s nice to read their little friendship moments. Tobias trying to explain TV and that maybe Ax shouldn’t remove power lines to enhance his TV as it caused a power outage in Jake’s neighborhood. Tobias saying that he sometimes wishes he had a ritual similar to Ax’s that could help him prepare on days where they have dangerous missions. He’s also, notably, the other one to go in with the bull morph.

Peace, Love, and Animals: Cassie, of course, has a lot of thoughts about the morality of animal testing, as well as the Animorphs’ own code of not morphing sentient species. Aside from these opinions, she also has a good amount of action in this book. She’s the one who is lowered down to open the door on the moving truck. She stands between two bulls (Ax and Tobias) and manages to get them calmed down. And she also immediately call the bluff on Project Obedience’s supposed success.

The Comic Relief: Marco, too, has a decent amount in this book. He’s pretty harsh on Cassie as far as some of her double standards go, and she doesn’t really even deny it. He notes that Cassie seems fine with morphing chimps since their mission will also save animals, but had they been doing it for any other reason (to save humans), she would have been very against it. She doesn’t really defend this point, which is kind of unfortunate for her. There’s also the highly entertaining driving sequence.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: When Ax first morphs human in the very beginning of the book, there are some overly graphic descriptions of his mouth forming first, but without lips to speak of. Also, when they’re all flies up the nose. As we know with some upcoming Marco book, I think, this “in the body” stuff gets much worse before it gets better!

Couples Watch!: Really, nothing at all. Fly!Rachel hangs out in bull!Tobias’s nostril? Super romantic, that. I guess, also, Ax is very confused by the whole process and point of kissing as he’s seen it on his favorite soap opera. Tobias assures him it has a purpose, but awkwardly evades any further questions on the subject.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: I’m still never a fan of times when these books fall back on the body humor, like the poo throwing at Visser Three. But it did lead to him cutting off some poor Controller’s hand, and Ax commenting that Visser Three was not the type of leader who thinks it’s important to be popular with his subordinates. Also, when Visser Three shows up at the meat packing plant, he makes some pretty great, campy orders to the Controllers to “butcher” the Andalite bandits. Very clever, Visser Three. The best part was probably the sycophantic manner in which the computer program spoke about the Visser’s role in Project Obedience.

“Project Obedience is the brilliant insight of our great and glorious leader, Visser Three, hero of the Taxxon rebellion, Scourge of the Andalite fleet, Conqueror of Earth.”

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: This was definitely one of the more comedic books, so there wasn’t that much sadness to go around. As they are running out of the animal testing facility, Ax doesn’t describe what he sees, but that’s because he says it’s too terrible to discuss, likening it to torture. He also mentions that though they all tried, they didn’t have much success leading the freed chimps out, as they were still chimps, and not capable of really understanding what was happening.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!:

<How come Marco drives?> Rachel demanded.
<He has experience.>
“Oh man, don’t even mention that,” Cassie said. “My dad cried over the twisted remains of that truck.”

Um, Jake? You do remember Marco’s last experience at “driving”? I mean, technically this plan works, but there is definite damage done. It’s a fun scene and call back to that book though!

Favorite Quote:

Good Rachel snark after they get to the meat packing plant:

<These cows are going to be looking forward to a nice, easy death after this ride,> Rachel said.

And, of course, just Ax’s general way of narrating the story:

[Human humor] is inexplicable, and Andalite readers should simply resign themselves to never understanding.

Scorecard: Yeerks 6, Animorphs 12

No change! Marco says it best (though it was still a fun ride from the reader’s perspective!):

“In the annals of stupid, screwed-up, pointless missions that was the stupidest, most pointless of them all,” Marco said.

Rating: For all that this story does nothing to progress the plot, it’s just a fun ride! Ax is always a great narrator, and his thoughts on TV (and his preference for the show “These Messages”) was a fun running gag throughout the story. There’s also some good action scenes, like the caper getting into the truck through the tunnel, and their various escapes from the facilities. I also enjoyed the trifecta that was Marco, Cassie, and Ax as far as the moral aspects of this story. The three provided a good spectrum of perspectives, and it was particularly interesting seeing much of it through Ax’s point of view, an alien who comes from a world where these challenges don’t exist. So, a pretty solid entry, all told!

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 Wife Between Us”

34189556Book: “The Wife Between Us” by Greer Hendrix and Sarah Pekkanen

Publishing Info: St. Martin’s Press, January 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: A novel of suspense that explores the complexities of marriage and the dangerous truths we ignore in the name of love.

When you read this book, you will make many assumptions.
You will assume you are reading about a jealous wife and her obsession with her replacement.
You will assume you are reading about a woman about to enter a new marriage with the man she loves.
You will assume the first wife was a disaster and that the husband was well rid of her.
You will assume you know the motives, the history, the anatomy of the relationships.
Assume nothing.

Discover the next blockbuster novel of suspense, and get ready for the read of your life.

Review: The super hyped heavy hitter thrillers are the ones that scare me the most. Not in terms of content, mind you; in terms of my fears to even give them a try. I’ve been burned by a number of them in the past. I was marginally impressed by “Girl on the Train”. Mary Kubica’s recent works have left me a bit cold. I flat out hated “Gone Girl” and “Behind Her Eyes”. So when “The Wife Between Us” was available at work, I felt a tug to check it out, but also the nagging ‘what if you don’t like it?’ apprehension. But I did take a chance on this one, steeling myself for potential, sullen disappointment, so much so that I kind of let it sit for a bit, knowing I could renew it and just delay the potential inevitable disappointment. But I can safely say that when I did pick it up, I had a very, very hard time putting it down. Praise be, “The Wife Between Us” lived up to the hype that made me very hesitant!

giphy
TAKE THAT, HORRIBLE STREAK OF ANNOYING THRILLER BLOCKBUSTERS! (source)

The dual narrative device isn’t really new to the thriller genre. Many books use it, including a number that I’ve reviewed on this blog. But given that this book was written by two women, the voices that each character, Nellie and Vanessa, have are incredibly unique and feel totally separate. Nellie’s story is told in the third person, as the new younger woman that this man Richard is about to marry, while Vanessa is in the first person, the ex wife who hears about this new marriage and is intent on stopping it. I tend to feel that when a book promises that ‘this book isn’t what you think it’s going to be’, I’m going to go in looking for hints and clues as to why that is. But with Nellie and Vanessa and the perspectives they each give to the overall story, while I was looking for clues I wasn’t distracted by my personal search. In fact, when we get to the first big reveal, I actually said ‘wait, WHAT?!’, and had to go back and look for clues because I was so totally caught off guard. The thriller genre seems to be stepping it’s game up, as this isn’t the only book that has done that lately (but more on that another time). I also liked that neither Nellie nor Vanessa were very stereotypical, even if they appeared to be at first. As the stories progressed, you saw a whole lot of growth in both these narratives, and I ended up really liking and feeling for both of them.

While Nellie and Vanessa were refreshing and kind of new for the genre, there were some familiar traps that the plot itself fell into. I’m not going to spoil it, as this is a fun book and shouldn’t be spoiled for those who want to read it. But while I didn’t call one of the super big twists, the other one was fairly obvious from the get go. It’s a device and a twist theme that I’m honestly losing my patience with, as we’ve seen it so often now that it’s long past stale and definitely overused and overdone. And then (and I can’t tell you how ridiculous this moment was), in the last few pages, yet ANOTHER twist was thrown in for good measure that harkened back to a long lost plot point. And the biggest grievance I had with this one was that not only did it fall right in the last few pages, it was revealed in a way that didn’t actually have ANY bearing on how anything turned out!! So I don’t know what I find more frustrating, that it was a quick ‘gotcha!’ reveal a la “Into the Water”, or that it didn’t even go anywhere or change anything. It just felt tacked on, and tacked on in a way that was incredibly superfluous and unimportant to anything.

But given that I picked “The Wife Between Us” up and didn’t put it down, reading it in one sitting, it clearly had a serious hold on me, which is what a good thriller ultimately needs to do to be effective. This is one that, in my opinion, deserves the hype that it’s getting.

Rating 8: A thriller that kept me entranced with a couple of unique and interesting narratives, “The Wife Between Us” had few pitfalls and lots of really good curve balls.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Wife Between Us” is included on the Goodreads lists “Chilling New York Novels”, and “Unique Narrators”.

Find “The Wife Between Us” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Torn”

35959724Book: “Torn” by Rowenna Miller

Publishing Info: Orbit, March 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: from the publisher!

Book Description: Sophie is a dressmaker who has managed to open her own shop and lift herself and her brother, Kristos, out of poverty. Her reputation for beautiful ball gowns and discreetly-embroidered charms for luck, love, and protection secures her a commission from the royal family itself — and the commission earns her the attentions of a dashing but entirely unattainable duke.

Meanwhile, Kristos rises to prominence in the growing anti-monarchist movement. Their worlds collide when the revolution’s shadow leader takes him hostage and demands that Sophie place a curse on the queen’s Midwinter costume — or Kristos will die at their hand.

As the proletariat uprising comes to a violent climax, Sophie is torn: between her brother and the community of her birth, and her lover and the life she’s striven to build.

Review: I love to cross-stitch, have loved it for years since I learned to stitch as a little girl. It’s also a handy hobby to support a very unhealthy Netflix binging habit. But it’s also a less common craft nowadays. I have a bunch of friends who knit, a couple of crocheters, but none of my friends embroider. So I was stoked when I saw this book coming this spring from Orbit. A fantasy novel where embroidery IS the magic? I immediately requested a copy and started reading when it arrived (though this then lead to mental confusion: should I READ about embroidery or actually DO my embroidery? Which will be more fun?!?!)

Sophie is a successful business woman, and in a land that is highly regulated with limited mobility for common folk, she is unique in her quick rise. But she possesses a special skill, the ability to sew charms into her elaborate garments. However, her clientele, the nobility of the city, put her in the awkward position of hovering between the wealthy aristocrats whom she serves and the poorer working class where she was born and still lives. Just as she begins to break into this upper class of clients (maybe even a dress commission for the princess and queen!), things begin to go sideways, starting with her brother, Kristos, who is leading a grassroots revolution. Tensions rise as Kristos and his ilk push against the restrictions of their current lives and Sophie tries to balance her ties to her brother, while also maintaining her relationship with her noble clients. But the situations is untenable, and eventually, something will fall…

I always love unique magic systems. There are far too many that simply say “and then magic!” But here, Miller has brilliantly mixed a subtle sort of magic in with a task that is often brushed aside as menial. It is a clever expansion on the “hedge witch” motif that so often appears in the background of other novels, women with barely understood abilities that they tie to the work of their gender, often in cooking and healing. It’s a clever way of taking a domestic task and imbuing it with power, all while acknowledging the value of the task itself, with or without magical elements. All along, Sophie’s success comes not only from her magical abilities, but from her acumen as a business woman and her sheer skill at constructing and predicting fashion.

Sophie also only has a limited understanding of how exactly her charms work, so as the book progresses, the reader gets to explore the inner workings and expanding possibilities of charms alongside her. But from the beginning, I enjoyed the small scenes of her sewing light into garments. It was such a peaceful, lovely image, especially for someone who sews herself.

Other than the magical elements, the majority of the story is devoted to the growing unrest between Kristos’s revolution and the nobility whom Sophie works with and befriends. Miller presents an excellent exploration of what it means to exist between the battle lines of a revolution such as this. When evaluating history, it’s too easy to slot everyone into one camp or the other, but to do so is to ignore what has to be the large number of individuals who just want to go about their lives, understanding the positions of both parties. Sophie has familial ties on one hand and a general sympathy to the plight of the less lucky commoner, but she also has faces to put to the nobility, and through her work with them, understands them to be individuals with their own worries and concerns. At its core, this is a story of the line where idealism meets pragmatism, and the truth of what revolt and revolution looks like for all involved.

The book isn’t perfect, however, and it was perhaps a bit long for my taste. The story begins to sag a bit towards the middle as Sophie struggles to find her role in this building conflict. It also focuses heavily on the ins and outs of her day-to-day life and work in the shop. I enjoyed many of these details, but it might be a struggle for others who are looking for a more action-packed story.

It also has a sweet romantic plot line. While I enjoyed Theodore, and thought that his and Sophie’s relationship was developed well, I also never became fully attached to it. I’m not sure why, really. I very much enjoyed Sophie as a character, but I think maybe Theodore was also a bit TOO perfect, which made him a bit less interesting. This is a minor quibble, however.

All in all, I really enjoyed “Torn.” It stands out as a unique in several ways, presenting a magical system built around a common, domestic task, as well as its close examination of what the middle ground could look like in the midst of a brewing revolution. For fans of classic fantasy, and those who are ok with a slower building read, definitely check out “Torn.”

Rating 7: Magical sewing and an introspective story of revolution make this a fun read, if a bit slower read.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Torn” is a newer book so isn’t on many Goodreads lists, but it is on “Crafty Magic.”

Find “Torn” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “The Truth Beneath the Lies”

28533271Book: “The Truth Beneath the Lies” by Amanda Searcy

Publishing Info: Delacorte Press, December 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Fight or Flight. 

All Kayla Asher wants to do is run. Run from the government housing complex she calls home. Run from her unstable mother. Run from a desperate job at No Limit Foods. Run to a better, cleaner, safer life. Every day is one day closer to leaving. 

All Betsy Hopewell wants to do is survive. Survive the burner phone hidden under her bed. Survive her new rules. Survive a new school with new classmates. Survive being watched. Every minute grants her another moment of life. 

But when fate brings Kayla and Betsy together, only one girl will live.

Review: You may remember that I put this book on my Highlights list for December of 2017, perhaps a gamble to do since teen thrillers/mysteries can be so dicey sometimes. I feel like I either really enjoy them, or find them too cliche or unbelievable. I didn’t really know what to expect from “The Truth Beneath The Lies”, as this is Amanda Searcy’s debut novel and the description was vague as vague can be. But I decided to take a page from ABBA and took a chance on it. And I’m not totally sure if it paid off.

It took me a little time to really get into this book. The first problem was that I had to keep reminding myself which girl was Betsy and which girl was Kayla. As you will find in a fair number of mysteries and thrillers these days, “The Truth Beneath The Lies” has a unique storytelling hook (in this case, two distinct narratives that seem separate but will eventually come together to tell a larger story), and a premise and set up that initially provide more questions than answers (and since I feel that this story definitely needs a lack of answers and clarity to be effective, I’m going to try and be, like the description, as vague as possible). The problem, however, was that Kayla and Betsy had so many interchangeable elements to their stories that I really had a hard time at first with keeping them straight. I can’t tell you how many times I had to say ‘okay, which one is this, who has the burner phone and who is working at a grocery store?’ and then look at the book description again. Of the two narratives I was more taken in by Kayla’s story (and even now I had to go back and remind myself who was who), as her frustrating existence made it so her motivations and choices were clearer. While Betsy’s situation was secretive for a reason, it still made it so I was irritated with just how much we were reminded that she was in danger, without explaining why. It all makes sense, but even though it does I still found myself more frustrated than intrigued.

The big twist wasn’t too hard for me to guess either. If you know what to look for and have the ins and outs of the genre in it’s present form down cold, you will probably be able to piece it together at the same rate that I did. And while that certainly isn’t to say that everyone will, or that they will be unimpressed with it, it did take away from my personal experience of reading this. Again, I’m going to remain a bit mum on what I mean by this, because I think that this is potentially worth reading if you aren’t as old hat and cynical as I am. But also figuring out the whole puzzle early on made me question whether or not how Searcy laid the clues out, and even in how she frames major parts of this story, treaded more towards deceit rather than deception. If you read this you will understand what I mean when I say that.

But I will say that ultimately, when all was said and done, I was entertained by this book. Once the cat was out of the bag plot wise, I did want to see how things turned out for our characters, and the consequences that were going to fall upon them all. So in the end it’s not like I regret reading this book, it was just that it didn’t reinvent the wheel when it comes to thrillers, or even YA thrillers. It was perfectly acceptable, but the problem is that with thrillers with twists and turns it’s more fun to be thrilled.

Rating 6: An entertaining thriller, but the twists were a bit predictable while some of the hints treaded more towards deceit than deception.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Truth Beneath the Lies” isn’t on many relevant (or even correct… superheros?) Goodreads lists at the moment, but I think that it would fit in on “Best Books of Secrets”.

Find “The Truth Beneath the Lies” at your library using WorldCat!

Book Club Review: “The Golden Compass”

119322We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing bookclub running for the last several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is a “Dewey Call Number” theme. This book comes from a Dewey Decimal Call Number range, and has to fit the theme of that range.

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

Book: “The Golden Compass” by Philip Pullman

Publishing Info: Alfred A Knopf Books for Young Readers, April 1996

Where Did We Get This Book: We both own in!

Dewey Decimal Call Number: 200 (Religion)

Book Description: Here lives an orphaned ward named Lyra Belacqua, whose carefree life among the scholars at Oxford’s Jordan College is shattered by the arrival of two powerful visitors. First, her fearsome uncle, Lord Asriel, appears with evidence of mystery and danger in the far North, including photographs of a mysterious celestial phenomenon called Dust and the dim outline of a city suspended in the Aurora Borealis that he suspects is part of an alternate universe. He leaves Lyra in the care of Mrs. Coulter, an enigmatic scholar and explorer who offers to give Lyra the attention her uncle has long refused her. In this multilayered narrative, however, nothing is as it seems. Lyra sets out for the top of the world in search of her kidnapped playmate, Roger, bearing a rare truth-telling instrument, the alethiometer. All around her children are disappearing—victims of so-called “Gobblers”—and being used as subjects in terrible experiments that separate humans from their daemons, creatures that reflect each person’s inner being. And somehow, both Lord Asriel and Mrs. Coulter are involved. 

Kate’s Thoughts

I first read “His Dark Materials” in college, at the insistence of my father, a huge fantasy nerd and book worm. I knew little to nothing about it when I opened the first pages of “The Golden Compass”, but was taken in almost immediately by the characters and the world that Philip Pullman created. And then my own personal copy (I have the whole series bound up in one) sat on my shelf, untouched until Anita picked “The Golden Compass” for book club. I was curious as to how I would view the book almost fifteen years after reading it the first time. But going back to “The Golden Compass” was worthwhile for me, even after all that time.

I will be honest, the stories of the entire series are so entwined in my mind that I can’t help but take influence from “The Subtle Knife” and “The Amber Spyglass” when I look back at “The Golden Compass”. So my opinions of “The Golden Compass” now are probably affected by works that aren’t within the text of the first book, which was an interesting quandary to be in. During Book Club when Anita would ask questions about the story, I realized that my opinions of various things took influence by the series as a whole (as well as the first prequel book “The Book of Dust”), and I haven’t quite been able to remove the two. But I will do my best here. I really, really love the world that Pullman has built, an alternate universe  that have the same locations in our world, but with various changes to make it unique to its own. When he describes Oxford, it sounds like the Oxford of our world, but there are differences that make it its own unique location. Within this world are daemons, beings that take on the form of an animal and are attached to all people, functioning as a soul outside of the body. It’s such a cool concept that Pullman made of having a huge and intricate part of you on the outside instead of within. This time around reading it I definitely felt it a bit more than I did in college, as my initial thought was ‘how cool to have an animal sidekick!’. Now I was more introspective about what that would actually mean for a person.

I also really like the way that Pullman completely trusts his readers to handle the complex and dark themes that he throws their way. This book is definitely YA, but it takes on religious fundamentalism, child torture, and institutional corruption without holding much back. While the philosophical meditations on religion and dogma play out a bit more in the later two books, with The Magesterium REALLY revving up into its quest for absolute power, there are moments, like with the Gobblers that want to separate children from their daemons because they feel it attracts Dust (aka Original Sin in this world). Pullman is not shy when it comes to his thoughts on organized religion, and he doesn’t mince words about it. Reading it again reminded me just how much faith he puts in his readers to be able to tackle some of this critical thinking he encourages them to tackle.

It was really great going back and re-reading “The Golden Compass”, and now I feel like I should continue with a re-read. I feel like it held up pretty well for me, and this classic series still remains a powerhouse in YA Fantasy.

Serena’s Thoughts

Well since Kate mentioned it, I will take this opportunity to propose joint reviewing the next two books as well! Yes? Yes?

As Kate mentioned, I too struggled separating my mind with this book as a single unit outside of the trilogy as a whole. Unlike Kate, I’ve OBSESSIVELY re-read this series throughout my entire life. My mom read the first book to my sister and I when we were little, and then I remember that the next two books were various Christmas presents the years they came out. And it’s been an ongoing love affair ever since. Reading a series this way was also a peculiar experience. As a kid, most of what I got from these books was the action and yeah, “wouldn’t it be fun to have an animal side kick??” But as I’ve re-read, each time a bit older, there’s always another level to find. This alone easily earns it a spot on my top 10 lists.

But yes, reading this book alone and then discussing it for bookclub was hard. So much of the groundwork that is laid in this one seems like major plot points here, but then as you continue, expand exponentially and you realize you only had the tip of the iceberg to start with. But here it goes.

“The Golden Compass” definitely reads as the most middle grade/young adult of the series. Lyra is the singular main character and her feelings and adventures are at the center of everything that takes. The story pretty much lives and dies on whether you are interested in her. And Lyra has to be one of the great child protagonists. What makes her special is the fact that, from the beginning, it’s clear that she’s not a “good” child. She’s precocious, meddlesome, and disobedient. And yet she’s never terribly punished for these traits. Instead, all of these aspects of her personality are crucial to not only her success in this story, but to her very survival. Lying, in particular, is a specific strength of hers, and it is always presented as such: a strength. But for all this, Lyra is also incredibly brave, loyal, and loves openly, taking in those who society might overlook. All together, she makes for an excellent child lead. Pantelemon, for his part, serves as a balance to her character, and their witty banter and the supports they offer each other were always at the basis of my desire for a daemon of my own.

The story does have a slow start. I remember as a child being fairly bored for a good bit in the beginning of this story. As Kate said, Pullman doesn’t pull his punches with big ideas, and he dives right into these within the first 20 pages of the book, before readers have had time to form any other ideas for themselves. But once the action does start, it’s all great. And everything he includes strikes the perfect balance of appealing to both children and adults. Child snatchers called Gobblers? Significantly creepy for kids, but wait, they are also connected to this high-level religious dogma for adult readers. A child concentration camp where the kids break out? Great for kids! Super creepy for adults reading about events that look scarily similar to historical happenings. Armored bears? Awesome for kids! Awesome for adults! It’s really a testament to Pullman’s talent that he so neatly balance an action-packed adventure for kids while also introducing huge topics of religion and what makes up humans themselves.

And that ending! How can you NOT want read the entire series after that? Again, no punches pulled. Children are reading this, and yet Pullman doesn’t hesitate to introduce some really tough and challenging topics. Even as a kid, shocked and dismayed by these events, I remember appreciating the fact that this story felt so real, regardless of all the talk of armored bears and daemons, and I think it was because of the fact that Pullman treated these topics as not only acceptable but necessary for kids to read about as well as adults.

So, in summary, obviously I loved this book. Always have, always will.

Kate’s Rating 9: A complex and wondrous world of philosophy and fantasy, “The Golden Compass” holds up for me after all these years of holding it in high regard.

Serena’s Rating 9: A fantasy novel that finds the perfect balance to appeal to both adults and children, never shying away from addressing big topis, all while flying around in a zeppelin chasing after armored bears.

Book Club Questions

  1. Okay, everyone wants to share this: What kind of animal do you think your daemon would be? And what do you think a daemon is in that world vs our world?
  2. What did you think of the characters in this book and how did your opinions of them change as the book progressed?
  3. In this book, usually the gender of your daemon is the opposite gender from yourself, but sometimes you see a person and their daemon sharing the same gender. What do you think that Pullman was trying to convey with this?
  4. There are many different communities and groups within this world, from Oxford to The Bears to The Gyptians. Where/with whom would you want to live in this world?
  5. What religious parallels do you see between Lyra’s world and our world?

Reader’s Advisory

“The Golden Compass” is included on the Goodreads lists “Most Interesting Magic System”, and “Best Feminist Young Adult Books”.

Find “The Golden Compass” at your library using WorldCat!

Next Book Club Pick: “Challenger Deep” by Neal Shusterman

Serena’s Review: “Walk on Earth a Stranger”

17564519Book: “Walk on Earth a Stranger” by Rae Carson

Publishing Info: Greenwillow Books, September 2015

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

Book Description: Lee Westfall has a strong, loving family. She has a home she loves and a loyal steed. She has a best friend—who might want to be something more.

She also has a secret.

Lee can sense gold in the world around her. Veins deep in the earth. Small nuggets in a stream. Even gold dust caught underneath a fingernail. She has kept her family safe and able to buy provisions, even through the harshest winters. But what would someone do to control a girl with that kind of power? A person might murder for it.

When everything Lee holds dear is ripped away, she flees west to California—where gold has just been discovered. Perhaps this will be the one place a magical girl can be herself. If she survives the journey.

Review: I always love it when I can find a book that crosses several of my preferred genres. This time it is fantasy and historical fiction. What’s more, the period of history is unique and I don’t think I’ve ever run across a book quite like this! There are a million and one fantasy novels set in Victorian England, a handful during the Regency period, and tons and tons set in some made-up world that pulls loosely from medieval history. But fantasy on the Oregon Trail? Haven’t heard of that! Let’s dive in!

Lee’s life isn’t perfect, but she has a loving family, a loyal friend, and a steady life filled with honest work. But she also has a secret, and one that she and her family have had to hide her entire life: she can sense gold. A gift that should make them rich, instead forces the small family to live in fear of their neighbors. And these fears are realized in the worst way when tragedy strikes. Now, disguised as a boy, Lee flees West, hoping that in a land said to be dripping in gold, her unique skill will go less noticed and she can lose those those who pursue her.

As I said, the book is set up to mix fantasy elements along with a historical setting. But let me just say now, the fantasy elements of this story are so minor that they might as well be non-existent. Lee’s gift serves as a driving force for much of the action, and motivation for her secrecy and the villain’s plots, but other than a few moments here or there, this “magic” plays almost no part in the story. Instead, what we get is essentially a novelized version of the game “The Oregon Trail.” This is not a complaint!

oregontrail
The dreaded screen of my childhood.

Once Lee is forced out of her home and onto the road, the story is very episodic in the way that it plays out. There are mini events (a robbery, a trip down the river on a raft, illness) all spaced between jumps in time during which she continues to travel. I very much enjoyed this style of writing, but I will warn that it could be read as slow and plodding for those less interested in the day-to-day life of a wagon trip such as this.

And when I compared it to “The Oregon Trail” I wasn’t exaggerating. The same locations are visited, like Independence Rock. There are the required discussions about provisions and wagon weight (should we bring that extra wagon axel??). There are measles attacks, complete with terrible characters leaving behind measles blankets. A stampede, as well as a show of the terrible over-hunting of bison that took place, wastefully leaving behind hundreds of carcasses that couldn’t be carried. I mean, all it needed was someone to die from a snake bite. Again, I enjoyed all of this as I haven’t really read many novels about traveling the Oregon Trail. But it definitely wasn’t providing anything unique in these areas, either, I will admit.

Lee’s own story is one of learning to balance maintaining her secret and also growing to trust those around her. I also always love stories where girls dress up as boys, and through Lee’s own experiences, it is starkly clear the differences in freedoms she is allowed traveling the trail in this guise. What’s more, we’re spared any of the silly “I have a crush on this guy but he doesn’t know I’m a girl!!” angst by the fact that her best friend, Jefferson knew her before she took up trouser-wearing. Jefferson is also half Native American, and between him and a freed African American shop owner Lee also befriends, the story does a good job of acknowledging and addressing the prejudices faced by these groups during this time.

For the most part, the other characters largely served in fairly stock roles. You have the leader of the wagon train, various families with different foibles, the doctor (who has his own secrets), and the family that Lee has signed on with as a helping hand. The wife in this family group was probably the most interesting secondary character presented (other than Jefferson). I really disliked her when she first showed up, but through out the story the author continued to reveal layers of her story that, by the end, left her as probably the most complex character in the party.

Like I said, the magical elements were pretty non-existent, so your enjoyment of this book solidly lies on how much you want to read a novel version of “The Oregon Trail.” But I do feel that Lee herself was a solid narrator, and if you can get by some of the distracting “old timey” elements of the way she’s written to speak/think, she’s a fun character to follow through a story like this. I’m also pretty intrigued by what will happen now that they’ve arrived in California (spoilers??) and the author will have done away with the Oregon trail happenings!

Rating 8: Light on the fantasy, but heavy on the Oregon Trail goodness!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Walk on Earth a Stranger” can be found on these Goodreads lists: “Girls disguised as Boys” and “California Gold Rush Fiction.”

Find “Walk the Earth a Stranger” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “School for Psychics”

35297405Book: “School for Psychics” by K.C. Archer

Publishing Info: Simon & Schuster, April 2018

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

Book Description: An entrancing new series starring a funny, impulsive, and sometimes self-congratulatory young woman who discovers she has psychic abilities—and then must decide whether she will use her skills for good or…not.

Teddy Cannon isn’t your typical twenty-something woman. She’s resourceful. She’s bright. She’s scrappy. She can also read people with uncanny precision. What she doesn’t realize: she’s actually psychic.

When a series of bad decisions leads Teddy to a run-in with the police, a mysterious stranger intervenes. He invites her to apply to the School for Psychics, a facility hidden off the coast of San Francisco where students are trained like Delta Force operatives: it’s competitive, cutthroat, and highly secretive. They’ll learn telepathy, telekinesis, investigative skills, and SWAT tactics. And if students survive their training, they go on to serve at the highest levels of government, using their skills to protect America, and the world.

In class, Teddy befriends Lucas, a rebel without a cause who can start and manipulate fire; Jillian, a hipster who can mediate communication between animals and humans; and Molly, a hacker who can apprehend the emotional state of another individual. But just as Teddy feels like she’s found where she might belong, strange things begin to happen: break-ins, missing students, and more. It leads Teddy to accept a dangerous mission that will ultimately cause her to question everything—her teachers, her friends, her family, and even herself.

Set in a world very much like our own, School for Psychics is the first book in a stay-up-all night series.

Review: Thanks to Simon & Schuster for sending me an eARC of this book! It was a nice surprise to have in my email box, and I appreciate the generosity.

As I’ve established on this blog in previous posts in the past two years of it being a thing, I have certain weaknesses when it comes to my favorite fictional tropes. These include but are not limited to boarding school stories and psychic characters. So when I found out that “School for Psychics” by K.C. Archer combined both of these things, I was immediately fascinated with where this book was going to go. We’ve seen books involving kids/teenagers that go to a boarding school to hone certain powers (Uh, “Harry Potter”, anyone?), but I was pleasantly surprised to find out that this one involves young adults in their twenties and all the fun baggage that can go with it. And while I haven’t read nearly as much urban fantasy as Serena has, I’ve been meaning to try and get more into that subset of the overall genre. “School for Psychics” is definitely a good place to start for one as unfamiliar as I am.

The strongest aspect of “School for Psychics” is the psychic mythology and world building in and of itself. In fiction about psychic characters and systems you will often see a character having a litany of powers, from telekineses to ESP to seeing the dead. But one of the aspects of “School for Psychics” that really stood out to me was that each character has different psychic strengths that he or she has honed into their main talent. I can only think of one other story that decided to give different powers to different psychics, and that was Stephen King’s miniseries “Rose Red” (underrated AF, by the way). Teddy, our main character (who I’ll speak more in depth about later), kind of bucks this trend, but there are a slew of other characters who provide various types of psychic powers. These include Molly, an empath who can become overwhelmed by the feelings of those around her, Teddy’s roommate Jillian who can communicate with animals, and Pyro, who has (you guessed it) pyrokinetic skills that got him into trouble when he was on the police force. I also really like the concept of the U.S. Government having a vested interest in finding, training, and using psychics in espionage and various layers of the government and justice system. It’s a cynical trope that’s been done before, but hey, I’m not going to argue with it because it still works and feels relevant.

giphy11
Though if we go by “Firestarter”, things may not turn out the way Uncle Sam wants them to… (source)

I did have a harder time relating to Teddy, our protagonist within the story. She has some fairly standard and old hat facets to not only her personality, but also her background. She doesn’t know who her biological parents are, as she was orphaned as a baby and adopted by a loving couple. She has a troubled history and has a snarky attitude, but the reality of it is that she doesn’t like feeling vulnerable or letting anyone in lest they hurt her. She is super smart but has up until now been using her intelligence to only benefit herself. I mean, look at the description above: she’s literally ‘scrappy’ and atypical. Hell, she even finds herself in a, you guessed it, love triangle, sort of torn between the sexy (but shallow as of now) Pyro, and mysterious (and also her teacher) Nick. The good news is that this is a series, so I do have hope that Teddy is going to grow and evolve and become more three dimensional as it goes on. But as of right now, growth is something that she really needs to do, because she doesn’t stand out within a setting that has some serious promise. As of now the world building is outshining her, and I really hope that she catches up in book two.

“School for Psychics” was an entertaining read, and I do intend on picking up book two when it comes out. Hopefully I won’t have to wait too long!

Rating 7: A decent urban fantasy with a promising premise, “School for Psychics” has some good mythology and potential, but has an (as of right now) fairly run of the mill protagonist who has room to grow.

Reader’s Advisory:

“School for Psychics” is not on many Goodreads lists as of yet, but I think that it would fit in on “Boarding Schools, Camps, and Private Academies”, and  “Psychic/Paranormal”.

Find “School for Psychics” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Sky in the Deep”

34726469Book: “Sky in the Deep” by Adrienne Young

Publishing Info: Wednesday Books, April 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley

Book Description: Raised to be a warrior, seventeen-year-old Eelyn fights alongside her Aska clansmen in an ancient rivalry against the Riki clan. Her life is brutal but simple: fight and survive. Until the day she sees the impossible on the battlefield—her brother, fighting with the enemy—the brother she watched die five years ago.

Faced with her brother’s betrayal, she must survive the winter in the mountains with the Riki, in a village where every neighbor is an enemy, every battle scar possibly one she delivered. But when the Riki village is raided by a ruthless clan thought to be a legend, Eelyn is even more desperate to get back to her beloved family.

She is given no choice but to trust Fiske, her brother’s friend, who sees her as a threat. They must do the impossible: unite the clans to fight together, or risk being slaughtered one by one. Driven by a love for her clan and her growing love for Fiske, Eelyn must confront her own definition of loyalty and family while daring to put her faith in the people she’s spent her life hating.

Review: I immediately requested this book when I strayed upon it on NetGalley. For one, I live in Minnesota, so it’s almost obligatory that I read any YA novel about Vikings. But that aside, the Viking things alone would be enough regardless of geography simply because it sounded like a breath of fresh air. I mean, I love fairytales and royalty fantasy fiction as much as the next person, but there’s been A LOT of those published recently. But a young woman Viking? Sign me up!

Eelyn is a warrior. Her father is a warrior, her brother was a warrior, before dying tragically several years ago, and her entire society is built around a strict rotation of warring and preparing to war with their rival clan, the Riki. But, as the book description above states, things go very wrong when she catches sight of her should-be dead brother battling against her clan alongside a fellow Riki warrior. Now, captured, alone, and surrounded by the enemy, Eelyn struggles to understand a brother she no longer knows and a people who seemingly frighteningly similar to her own.

The first thing I loved about this book was the author’s willingness to live in the world she built. Unlike other books, *cough*”The Cruel Prince”*cough*, Eelyn is a warrior and we SEE her fight. She kills people, and she doesn’t make apologies for it. This is her world, so why would she question these ways? Again and again, even as the battle lines move and the enemies change, we see Eelyn’s skills and why she is respected as a fighter. Further, there is never any mention of her gender playing any role in things. For one thing, she’s by no means unique for being a female warrior. Her best friend fights alongside her, and they have a practiced, methodical way of moving across a battlefield that only comes through much repetition and trust. So, too, in the Riki camp, women are just as likely to take up an axe or sword as the men. It was refreshing how free of comment this book was on this premise.

The action scenes in particular stood out. They are sprinkled throughout the story, successfully picking back up the pace just when things were on the verge of becoming a bit slow. The battles were also given a good amount of page time, with many details about the use of the land in strategy and the actual fights taking place. I was all over this, but it does mean you have to be a fan of battle scenes and sword/axe fighting to enjoy this book.

The storyline itself was fairly predictable. We all know going in that it’s going to be a pretty tried and true version of a main character learning that those she’s always hated might not be all that bad and oh look, here’s a convenient OTHER that they can both band up with against and she will be the point of connection between them. However, for all of that, I feel like the story was managed well and saved from too much predictability by the honest and challenging inner struggles that Eelyn goes through, particularly with her feelings towards a brother who she mourned but now finds alive and well, living with her enemy.

Eelyn is not a perfect person, and it is her imperfections that save what could have been a pretty typical story. Her anger, resentment, and prejudices do not go quickly or easily away. Even by the end of the book, it is still clear that she struggles to accept what her brother chose, and she is quick to understand and sympathize with her people’s distrust when she proposes banding together.

I did enjoy the romance as well, though it did progress a bit quickly for my taste. The book is fairly short, however, so this was maybe a bit unavoidable. What really made it was how free this plotline was from any grand romantic gestures or flowery, angsty prose. Fiske was an example of one of my more favorite romantic heroes: silent and steady. Between his solid presence, and the fact that most of the emotional stakes of the book were still tied up between Eelyn and her feelings towards her brother, the romantic plotline served as an understated but sweet portion of the book.

Again, given the shortness of the book, things did progress quite quickly throughout the entire story. I could have done with several more chapters of Eelyn’s time in the Riki village and a slower arc for her coming to understand these people. However, the writing was beautiful, particularly the descriptions of winter in the deep forest. And the action is appropriately violent and exciting. If you’re a fan of historical fiction and are looking for a quick, standalone read, I definitely recommend checking out “Sky in the Deep!”

Rating 7: A breath of fresh air in YA fiction, where the female warrior is appropriately badass and the action carries readers through what could be a slightly predictable story.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Sky in the Deep” is a new title, so it isn’t on many relevant Goodreads list, but it is on “2018 YA Historical Fiction.”

Find “Sky in the Deep” at your library using WorldCat!

A Revist to Fear Street: “The Third Evil”

260043Book: “The Third Evil (Fear Street Cheerleaders #3)” by R.L. Stine

Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, 1992

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

Book Description: It’s back!

Did the evil spirit really leave Kimmy’s body? The cheerleaders of Shadyside High can still feel its dark presence, and Corky knows that it is out there, somewhere close. And getting closer.

Corky is tormented night after night by dreams of her dead sister, Bobbi. What terrifying message is Bobbi trying to tell her? When the evil begins again—more horrible, more gruesome than ever—Corky knows it is up to her to learn the century-old secrets and destroy the evil spirit’s power for good. But so many have died already—will Corky be next?

Had I Read This Before: No.

The Plot: We are now at the end of the totally faboo “Cheerleaders Trilogy”, and I have to say, I missed out on some seriously good shit as a kid. I’m gonna miss Corky, Kimmy, Debra, and all the other menacing members of the cheer squad at Shadyside High. I hear tell that they get their own Super Chillers, though, so maybe that will be a special thing to visit at some point. But on with the show. We start our story off with, naturally, CHEER PRACTICE!! Corky is back on the team, and she and her friends are being totally schooled by the new girl, Hannah. Corky is plainly jealous of all the attention that Hannah is getting, but I do have to point out that she and her now dead sister Bobbi (thanks to the Evil Spirit that killed her, as well as former captain Jennifer and Kimmy’s/Bobbi’s/Corky’s boyfriend Chip) were in this exact position in book one, so turnabout is fair play, bitch. Corky is jealous that Kimmy and Debra are co captains instead of her and Kimmy, but again, you were off the team for a good chunk of time, Corky, stop feeling so entitled. Hannah continues to hot dog it and while Miss Green may be impressed, the other girls are not. Corky, Kimmy, Debra, and Ronnie retreat to a coffeeshop after practice (BUT WHERE IS PETE’S PIZZA?!) to bitch about Hannah. Debra stands up for the newbie, and as they all order their burgers (at a coffeeshop?), the topic moves from Hannah’s love life (with Gary Brandt, “Fear Street” stalworth) to the fact they’re all going to cheerleader camp for spring break! As Debra and Ronnie go to use the restroom, Kimmy and Corky talk about the Evil Spirit. Kimmy says that she still feels strange sometimes and is scared it’s still around, and Corky, in spite of the note she got at the end of the previous book, is remaining optimistic that it’s gone for good. They go back to the topic of cheer camp (and of the new hottie John Mirren making eyes at Kimmy), and their food arrives. Corky looks down at her pea soup, and it starts to bubble up and over the bowl. THE EVIL SPIRIT IS BACK. And Corky thinks it must have inhabited one of her friends.

Corky and Kimmy make a stop at the cemetery to visit Bobbi’s grave, and Kimmy is more convinced than ever that perhaps she’s possessed again. Corky tries to reassure her that she isn’t, but Kimmy is convinced that the Evil Spirit is going to kill them all. THen her face does a weird glowy thing and honestly, I think that it’s a BLATANT red herring on Stine’s part so I choose to ignore it. Corky arrives home to an empty house, picks up her clean laundry, and heads upstairs to her room…. AND FINDS A BLOATED CORPSE IN HER BED!!! But no no no, it’s just Sean, the scamp, playing a joke on her by leaving a Papier-mâché head in her bed. That night, however, a real scare happens, because as Corky is trying to fall asleep, Bobbi’s Ghost floats through her bedroom window! Bobbi’s lips move, but no sound comes out, and a blue light surrounds her and envelops the room. Then, in a moment of pure drama queendom, Bobbi pulls her head off, floats over, and shows Corky that it’s filled with cockroaches. Then Corky wakes up, and is convinced that perhaps it was just a dream…. Until she realizes that the floor is covered in cockroaches. She runs out of her room to get her parents (what could they do but call an exterminator?), but when they get back to the room, of course, there are no cockroaches to be seen. And Sean gets the blame for playing a trick on Corky.

But now it’s Spring Break and that means it’s CHEER CAMP TIME!!! Simmons the bus driver (he still has a job?) has driven them to Madison College for the occasion, and Ronnie is so disappointed that classes are out of session and she as a freshman can’t seduce college men (um….?). Corky, Kimmy, and Debra are sharing a room, and we see the quirky idiosyncrasies of Kimmy as she unpacks a whole lot of socks and her teddy bear, which Corky and Debra tease her for. Look, as a thirtyish year old woman who still has her childhood teddy bear at the foot of her bed, I say Debra and Corky can suck it. We find out that on the bus Corky had confided in Debra about her potential dream with Bobbi and the cockroaches, and resident occultist and office goth Debra said that Bobbi must have been trying to tell her something. But back in the present, Hannah comes into their room and says that she has to sleep in this room because Ronnie and Heather have taken the two beds that she would have wanted, and insists that a trade must be made RIGHT NOW, and this is giving me some old school “ANTM” vibes when there aren’t enough beds for all the girls and one of them inevitably freaks out. Debra agrees to switch, so Corky and Kimmy are stuck with the newbie whose first orders of business are to complain about the rules, and ask that Corky run a bath for her.

giphy14
Seriously, who the FUCK are you, Hannah??? (source)

Corky goes into the bathroom (WOW, a dorm that has not only connected private bathrooms but a bathtub?!) and runs the water, testing it to make sure it’s to Hannah’s liking, and then after Kimmy primps in the bathroom those two head to practice. They have to turn back because Kimmy forgot the pom poms, and as they enter the room they hear Hannah screaming. She bursts out of the bathroom and lambasts Corky for filling the tub with SCALDING WATER because she TRUSTED her!!! Corky says she tested the water, and Kimmy says that it probably just got hotter as it went along, and FUCK YOU HANNAH, RUN YOUR OWN DAMN BATH. Hannah is mollified by that explanation, and as Kimmy and Corky head to the first competition Corky remembers that Kimmy went into the bathroom briefly before they left…

At the first competition the Shadyside Tiger Squad gets a look at the other teams. They are especially impressed by the Redwood Bulldogs, led by a smoking hot redhead named Blair O’Connell whose description is VERY Cheryl Blossom, my favorite Riverdale bitch. As the Tigers practice and do their routines, Hannah decides to give Corky some advice and tells her how to improve in spite of the fact that Corky was a fucking All State Champion at her old school. Debra tells her to smile because they’ll get points off if she doesn’t, and Kimmy says that she could just ‘murder’ Hannah, and if that’s foreshadowing I’m okay with it because Hannah is insufferable. As Corky heads back to the dorms after the preliminary competition she is in the elevator, and the carpet snags her like it’s tar and pulls her down. When the door opens Debra is there and helps her up, not seeing the tarpit that used to be an elevator. Luckily, it’s Debra, who totally believes her and knows that it’s the Evil Spirit.

At the next competition, the Bulldogs are riding their win with beautiful perfect Blair leading the way with an ‘endless rap routine’, because this was 1992 and cultural appropriation wasn’t as frowned upon. We also find out that the overall winning team with receive batons they can take back to school, while each night the most enthusiastic member of the team will get a red baton. Hannah has a lock on it tonight, and does a literal cartwheel to accept it. God I really hate her. But Debra seems to be really chummy with her, much to Corky and Kimmy’s chagrin. Corky overhears Blair talking shit but does not retaliate with a hit, and goes back to her dorm to sleep. She has another Bobbi dream, and this time when she pulls her head off it’s snakes inside. Corky wakes up to screaming, and it’s Hannah. Someone has cut off her hair. Okay, yeah, that’s assault. She accuses Corky and Kimmy and says that they’re jealous of her because she’s the best, and Kimmy finally knocks her down a peg, though the timing isn’t great, and Hannah says she’s going to tell Miss Green what they did. Corky is convinced that Kimmy HAS to be possessed. Kimmy seems to be wondering herself, as she asks Corky if she’d remember if she cut off Hannah’s braid. After Kimmy goes down the breakfast to face the wrath of Miss Green, Corky discovers a pair of scissors on top of her own clothing.

At breakfast Corky asks Debra if they can talk, but Debra says that she’s talking to Hannah at the moment so it will have to wait. Miss Green then calls Corky and Kimmy over and says that cutting off Hannah’s hair ‘can be described only as an attack’, and to that I say GOOD FOR YOU, STINE! I was afraid that he was going to make it seem like mischief but he made it a very serious moment. Miss Green asks Kimmy if she did it, and Kimmy says that she did, but it’s clear that she thinks she’s covering for Corky. So Corky then says that no, SHE did it. With no confession Miss Green says they should just try and get through the week and then when they get back to school they will be further investigated, because Miss Green KNOWS that those goddamn Bulldogs need to be taken DOWN, probably. As they go outside for the morning workout, Kimmy remarks how much she hates Blair, who to me has done nothing outside of be good at what she does, so that seems extreme. At that night’s competition, the Tigers are watching the Bulldogs start their routine. Corky is still mad at Debra for blowing her off in favor of Hannah. As Blair starts the routine, she goes into a second handspring, but then trips over something and faceplants, breaking her front teeth in half and splitting open her lip!!! And she says that someone tripped her! Corky and Kimmy look at each other, and Kimmy has a strange look on her face.

At practice the next day, Kimmy suggests that they do a complicated trick. A ploy to impress the judges, or a trap? Corky isn’t sure. Hannah asks to be on top, and Kimmy is perhaps a little too eager to let it happen. Corky says that maybe she ought to be on top, but everyone chalks it up to her being jealous and tell her that Hannah should get a chance.

giphy15
I say go for it, Hannah. (source)

But all goes well and maybe Corky is just losing her mind more so. That afternoon they are getting ready for dinner in their room, and Kimmy heads off first. As Hannah is getting dressed and predicting their win since Blair had to go home (ya think?), all of a sudden Corky GRABS THE SCISSORS and has an inner monologue about FINISHING WHAT SHE STARTED?!?! She starts to bring the blade down into Hannah’s back, but before she can Kimmy returns, having forgot the pom poms AGAIN. Corky runs into the bathroom, and realizes that she is possessed.

Back in Shadyside, Corky is still coming to terms with the fact that she has the Evil Spirit in her. She’s the one who made the pea soup bubble, she’s the one who tripped Blair, she’s the one who cut Hannah’s hair. Bobbi’s visits were a warning. Now she’s trying to keep control of herself, and it’s not going great. She has an attack in her bedroom, and when Sean comes in to see what’s going on she almost breaks his arm. And that night, she dreams about the day that Sarah Fear’s boat capsized in Fear Lake!!! YES!!! THIS IS WHAT I’VE BEEN WAITING FOR!!! Except it’s still pretty vague. Sarah Fear and the two kids on the boat with her are having a fine time (were there two children in the original story? I thought it was her, her lover, and her nephew and her brother?), but then a strange storm comes in and Sarah becomes terrified as the children scream. Sarah grabs for the deck rail, but it turns into a snake! Then Corky wakes up, just in time to start vomiting a putrid green gas. The Evil Spirit says it’s time to kill those who have betrayed her, and first up is Debra. Though she refuses to participate, the Evil Spirit drops some green goop all over her and then has fully taken over. It calls Debra, asking her to meet.

Spirit!Corky thinks about how awful Debra and Hannah were at camp as it drives towards the mall, where it’s meeting Debra. When it gets to the parking lot, it sees Debra standing out in the open, and hits the gas to mow her down! But Debra is a crafty sort, and jumps out of the way just in time to send Spirit!Corky into a concrete divider. Debra, unaware of the danger she’s in, opens the door and asks “Corky” if she’s okay and what happened. Spirit!Corky says the accelerator stuck but she’s just fine, and that she needs to talk to Debra about Kimmy and insists that they try to drive her now crunched car. Debra, sweet summer child that she is, gets in when the notion of a tow truck just doesn’t cut it for Spirit!Corky. They start driving, and Debra asks where they’re going. Spirit!Corky says the old abandoned mill. They get there and Spirit!Corky says that hse thinks that Kimmy is possessed, and does Debra have her occult books still. Also, let’s climb up to the top because why not? Debra isn’t keen on it, but follows her anyway. But just as Spirit!Corky is about to push her off, a crotchety old man tells them to get down or he’s calling the police. FOILED AGAIN, EVIL SPIRIT! So since apparently she had no plan B or impulse to improvise, she just drops Debra off at home. She tells her that she’ll ‘kill her tomorrow’, but then stammers ‘I said CALL you tomorrow’. Nailed it.

Corky wakes up in bed, and thinks that the Evil Spirit is gone, but realizes that it’s just sleeping and she’s working on limited time. She thinks that the key to it all is in the Sarah Fear memory she had the other night, and that the Evil Spirit must also have the memories of ALL of the people it possessed. So she goes deep into the memories that are now in her head too, and sifts through a shit ton of agony to get back into Sarah Fear’s memories.

So, Sarah and her nephew Michael are talking on the boat. Sarah’s brother is down below due to a headache. Her niece Margaret says she wants to go faster. Sarah’s servant/potential lover Jason is steering the boat, and as the kids go to hang out with him Sarah crushes a butterfly in her hands, but doesn’t remember doing it when Margaret asks what her friggin’ problem is. Then Saran and the Evil Spirit have a Gollum/Smeagol like argument about murdering more people. Sarah reminisces about all the people that she and the Spirit killed, and it’s a serious bloodbath. There was the guy who ended up ground up in the mill, the woman who was strangled by a clothesline, the cop who had his head boiled in a pot of water. Sarah knows that if she dies with the spirit inside, the spirit will die too, so she tries to throw herself overboard, but the Evil Spirit calls her bluff, kicks up a storm, and Sarah jumps in, drowning herself and trapping the Evil Spirit in her body. Corky wakes up and realizes that in order to defeat the Evil Spirit, she has to kill herself.

Okay, but what would stop it from hopping to someone else like it did at the end of book two?

giphy16
AND WHY WAS SARAH BETH AT THE BASKETBALL GAME?! (source)

The next day Corky wakes up and just thinks that she will either a) fight the Evil Spirit if it tries to take her over, or b) ignore it. Because sure. The Evil Spirit messes with her a bit more, making razor blades pop up out of nowhere on the floor and steps and Corky acrobats her way down to breakfast. But the eggs on her plate look like eyeballs, so Corky calls it a wash and goes back to bed. The Evil Spirit starts to take her over again just as Kimmy calls, and when Kimmy says that she is worried about her Corky has an inner Farrah Moan moment and plots to kill Kimmy and Hannah. But Kimmy first. She asks Kimmy to meet her up at River Ridge, a huge cliff overlooking the river, and plots to kill her in boiling water.

Kimmy meets Spirit!Corky  on the bluff, and Kimmy asks her if she’s feeling better and if she has any clue what happened with Hannah. Spirit!Corky says that she’s pretty sure that Hannah was faking it all, and that she cut her own braid to really sell it. Kimmy maybe buys it, but admits that she doesn’t really know WHAT to think. Spirit!Corky decides to say that maybe it’s in Hannah, and then tells Kimmy to look over the cliff. When Kimmy does, Spirit!Corky pushes her over, and Kimmy falls to her presumed death! Spirit!Corky is pleased, but actual!Corky is freaking out in the subconscious background. A fight breaks out (which I imagine looks VERY strange to any animals who may be watching a teenage girl flail about), and while Corky know she has to die to save her friends and family she decides that she doesn’t want to? As the Evil Spirit tells her then they have some work to do, Corky takes a flying leap off the cliff!!! She hits the water, which starts to roil and bubble, and Corky just lets herself succumb to her fate. As Corky dies, so too does the Evil Spirit, causing a boiling dramatic river surge.

Apparently Kimmy, though, survived the fall, and saw the whole thing (but somehow didn’t boil over like the Fear Family had…?). She swims over to Corky’s lifeless body, drags her ashore, and performs mouth to mouth….. Reviving her. They hug, and as they are leaving the water Corky sees Bobbi’s face, smiling.

After a successful cheer practice, Corky, Kimmy, Debra, and Ronnie go to that same coffee shop that apparently serves full meals too. Corky then orders the pea soup. All of her friends freak out, but then Corky laughs and instead orders the burger and fries. They all laugh and laugh. The End.

giphy17
And so ends the “Fear Street: Cheerleaders” Trilogy. (source)

Body Count: No one in the present timeline, but about seven in the past timeline.

Romance Rating: It’s not really applicable this time around! There is no romance whatsoever outside of that random guy eying Kimmy.

Bonkers Rating: 6. This one wasn’t as crazy as it could have been, in all honesty. I liked the expanded mythology of how the possession worked, but there weren’t any HOLY SHIT WHAT moments.

Fear Street Relevance: 8. It was some regurgitated Fear mythology, but we actually got to kind of see them in action, which was neat!

Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:

“The clothing fell from her arms as she began screaming. Lying in her bed, tucked under the covers,  was the hideous, bloated head of a corpse.”

…. And it’s that stupid joke that Sean played. So unnecessarily dumb.

That’s So Dated! Moments: The dorm room Corky, Kimmy, and Debra have has a U2 poster on the wall. This is the “Achtung, Baby” time period so I’m down.

Best Quote:

“I’m going to give Kimmy a flying lesson, she thought, her lips forming into a cruel smile. A flying lesson. And then a drowning lesson.”

I’d like to see the structure of a drowning lesson class.

Conclusion: A kind of lame duck end to a really stellar series, “The Third Evil” disappointed me a bit. But I think that as a whole this series was TOTALLY worth it! I’m tempted to try out the Super Chiller follow ups. But up next in this re-read is “Truth or Dare”!