Kate’s Review: “The Death of Mrs. Westaway”

36373481Book: “The Death of Mrs. Westaway” by Ruth Ware

Publishing Info: Gallery/Scout Press, May 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: I received and ARC from NetGalley

Book Description: From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of In a Dark, Dark Wood, The Woman in Cabin 10, and The Lying Game comes Ruth Ware’s highly anticipated fourth novel.

On a day that begins like any other, Hal receives a mysterious letter bequeathing her a substantial inheritance. She realizes very quickly that the letter was sent to the wrong person—but also that the cold-reading skills she’s honed as a tarot card reader might help her claim the money.

Soon, Hal finds herself at the funeral of the deceased…where it dawns on her that there is something very, very wrong about this strange situation and the inheritance at the center of it.

Full of spellbinding menace and told in Ruth Ware’s signature suspenseful style, this is an unputdownable thriller from the Agatha Christie of our time.

Review: I want to extend a thank you to NetGalley for sending me an ARC of this book!

I was so excited when I opened up Ruth Ware’s previous book “The Lying Game”, as I had thought up until that point that I had found a new guaranteed-to-read author to keep in mind. I love having authors whose works I know I am going to like and therefore need to get my grubby mitts on ASAP. But when I was done with “The Lying Game” I was left with a slight dissatisfaction. It just hadn’t lived up to “In a Dark, Dark Wood”, nor “The Woman in Cabin 10” (which hadn’t lived up to  “In a Dark, Dark Wood” either, though it was still enjoyable). I hoped that my ennui with “The Lying Game” was a fluke, and picked up “The Death of Mrs. Westaway” with apprehension. This was going to make or break the guaranteed-to-read status of Ruth Ware.

In “The Death of Mrs. Westaway”, Ware exchanges the whodunnit murder storyline for a treasure trove of family secrets and scandal, which is a whole other kind of beast when it comes to mystery themes. While the slow decline of the aristocracy and family manor houses has made these stories less and less common, the Westaway Family at the center of the novel harkens back to a time of squabbles over inheritance and land ownership, which I quite enjoyed. I do love a good scandals of the upper class plotline, and Ware makes it feel believable even though the time of “Downton Abbey” has long past by the time we meet Hal and the family she is trying to infiltrate. Hal is the perfect protagonist for this kind of book, as she is a twentysomething who has recently found herself alone in the world and in monetary straits while she tries to run her deceased mother’s tarot card/psychic booth on a boardwalk carnival. While you know that her trying to masquerade as someone she isn’t is morally wrong, Hal is likable enough and sympathetic enough that you have to root for her. Unlike other train wreck protagonists that you see in the genre, Hal’s life is a mess, but she herself doesn’t seem like one, just a victim of circumstance and bad choices made during a time of vulnerability (in this case being the death of her mother). The various members of the Westaway Family are also well developed and understandable in their actions because of the fallout of their terrible mother’s death, and the sudden appearance of someone they believe is the daughter of their long lost sister. I loved seeing the conflict of a few of their members, the resentment of losing part of the inheritance mixed with the longing of connecting to their supposed niece. It makes Hal’s own inner turmoil about deceiving them that much more high stakes, because most of them are legitimately good, if not damaged, people.

The mystery itself was also pretty well done. This book didn’t have as many high stakes thrills as previous novels, but it was solid in it’s footing and the puzzles surrounding the family kept me reading. I was also left questioning many of the twists and turns that Ware threw out there, the clues being given in both Hal’s story and diary entries of someone who lived at the estate years in the past. While I kind of guessed the solution to part of the puzzle early on, there were definitely pieces that I didn’t get. Along with that, I did find myself questioning my guesses, so Ware did keep me on my toes until the final reveals. While there weren’t many moments of intense suspense, it was still what I would consider a page turner. It just wasn’t as focused on blood and gore as it was on intrigue and family scandals. I liked the diary entry angle, because it did give out clues at an even pace, and while it was truthful and reliable in its contents, it was written in a way that still could have been deceptive if you didn’t know what you were looking at. Ware was masterful in making it all come together in the end, which is a skill that not all authors can pull off.

I’m pleased that “The Death of Mrs. Westaway” has solidified Ruth Ware as a must read author for me. It went beyond what I normally expect from her, and shows that the comparisons to Agatha Christie are not just hyperbole. If you want a mystery by Ware that isn’t as intense, this is the book that you should pick up.

Rating 8: Ruth Ware returns to form with this strange and twisty mystery. It’s not as suspenseful as her past books, but it still keeps the reader invested and guessing.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Death of Mrs. Westaway” is new and isn’t on many Goodreads lists. But it is on “The Page Turners of Summer 2018”, and I think it would fit in on “What A Strange Family”.

Find “The Death of Mrs. Westaway” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Like a River Glorious”

18054071Book: “Like a River Glorious” by Rae Carson

Publishing Info: Greenwillow, September 2016

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

Book Description: After a harrowing journey across the country, Leah Westfall and her friends have finally arrived in California and are ready to make their fortunes in the Gold Rush. Lee has a special advantage over the other new arrivals in California—she has the ability to sense gold, a secret known only by her handsome best friend Jefferson and her murdering uncle Hiram.

Lee and her friends have the chance to be the most prosperous settlers in California, but Hiram hasn’t given up trying to control Lee and her power. Sabotage and kidnapping are the least of what he’ll do to make sure Lee is his own. His mine is the deepest and darkest in the territory, and there Lee learns the full extent of her magical gift, the worst of her uncle, and the true strength of her friendships. To save everyone, she vows to destroy her uncle and the empire he is building—even at the cost of her own freedom.

Previously reviewed: “Walk on Earth a Stranger”

Review: As I said in my review of the first book in this series, “Walk on Earth a Stranger” was pretty much what you’d get if you turned the old Oregon Trail game into a full length novel. Add in a small dash of fantasy with Lee’s gold sense, a few more references to the prejudices and wrongs of the time, and there ya go! As a travelogue, I very much enjoyed the story. But in the end, they arrived at California. Without the travel/Oregon Trail part of the story, would this series continue to hold up. And the answer is…kind of?

Lee and her friends have finally arrived in California, found a claim spot ripe with gold, relying on Lee’s gold sense, and begun to set up their own little town. But when a string of misfortune’s start befalling the growing township and its residents, Lee’s the only one to suspect the truth: her uncle Hiram is back after her and these little “accidents” are his way of warning her. Determined to set things straight once and for all, Lee and Jefferson set out to confront her uncle and gain Lee’s freedom. But it all goes wrong, and Lee is about to find out just how awful her uncle truly is.

So I have very mixed feelings on this book. But I’ll start with the things that I know I enjoyed. I still very much liked the mixture of a historical setting and Lee’s magical abilities. If nothing else, the author makes you feel like you’re in this time period. There are no missteps, and I always felt fully immersed in this world. The challenges of living during this period are clear: weather, nature, sickness/injury, they must overcome it all and the day to day life is so distinct and well-described that I never questioned the authenticity of this world. The real skill was then in merging Lee’s magical abilities into this world without disturbing the balance of realism. Her gold sense played a background role in the first book, serving primarily as a motivation for the villain and coming into play here and there when needed. Here, even with Lee’s growing understanding of her own powers, her gold sense still remains mostly in the background. It is the crux of the conflict, but it isn’t really used much beyond that, besides in the final conflict. This balance allowed the historical elements and characters themselves to serve instead as the main point of interest for the book.

I also still enjoyed Lee as a character.  Here, she is forced to confront the role that she plays in the way that history is unfolding. Yes, she is sympathetic and “ahead of her time” for a character living in this period of history, but she is not excused from responsibility. She’s still claimed land that belonged to others and through her and the others mining for gold, irrecoverably changed the very landscape upon which they’re living. I liked that she wasn’t let off the hook for these actions and, while she recognizes the harm, she doesn’t have, or is given, any quick and easy solutions. What’s more, she doesn’t always come to these conclusions on her own, but must be informed of her own ignorance and remaining prejudices by those around her.

However, Lee wasn’t given much to do in this book, frankly. In the last, we saw how she contributed to the wagon train which she was a part of. She took action on her own and used her own skills, not just her gold sense, to solve problems. Given the nature of this story, Lee is sidelined for much of this book. It is up to others to plan and plot, and while she’s not strictly speaking a damsel in distress, she’s probably only one step away. And, because the story is told from her point of view, the reader is left with a lot of inaction and waiting, just as Lee is herself.

And in that time, the book becomes very hard to read. As I said, the author doesn’t flinch away from portraying some very ugly realities for what this time period could be like for many people, especially at the hands of the worst of the white settlers (though, as I said, even the “best” are not let off the hook for their own compliance and ultimate self-interest). While I admire this dedication to revealing the ugliness that existed, it also began to be almost too much as the story progressed. Because of Lee’s own captivity, the reader also feels like a captive audience to pages and pages of depravity and various horrors.

It is this combination of reduced action for Lee herself and this laser focus on some very tough scenes that made the story lag quite a bit in the middle. “Lag” is even a strange word for it, since boredom was definitely not the emotion most sparked by the harsh images presented. But plot-wise, the story did feel adrift and wallowing. The action picked up again in the end, and I liked that even in the resolution, things do not end in any type of perfect, utopia-like fashion. This specific horror might have been ended, but the world that they all are living in is unchanged.

Again, this story also resolves in a way that leaves me questioning where the third book will go from here, similarly to the first. While I did struggle with this book a bit, I’m still curious to see where things will ultimately end up and I’m sure I’ll pick up the next one soon!

Rating 6: A reduced role for our heroine combined with some really tough scenes seemed to negatively affect the pacing of this book. But the historical aspects are still excellent.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Like a River Glorious” can be found on these Goodreads lists: “YA & Middle Grade California Gold Rush Fiction” and “YA Historical Fiction of 2016.”

Find “Like a River Glorious” at your library using WorldCat!

 

A Revisit to Fear Street: “Switched”

2534782Book: “Switched” (Fear Street #31) by R.L. Stine

Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, 1995

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

Book Description: She traded places with a killer…

There’s a little cabin in the Fear Street woods where a girl can really lose her mind. In fact, she can change it into someone else’s. That’s what happened to Nicole and Lucy. Now Lucy is in Nicole’s body, and Nicole is in Lucy’s. What a trip!

But for Nicole, what a trap! Because Lucy is using Nicole’s body to get away with murder!

Had I Read This Before: No

The Plot: We meet our protagonist Nicole, who is having a REALLY BAD DAY YOU GUYS. She broke a nail, her parents are totally unreasonable in that they want her to tell them where she is and if she’s going to be late (what the HELL parents?), and her boyfriend David has been acting SO distant lately! To make matters worse, when she didn’t hand in a biology paper that she didn’t even both to do (and when asked why she didn’t do it all she can say is ‘I don’t know’), her teacher Mr. Frost says that he will accept it late as long as she gets it in on Monday. BUT YOU GUYS, IT’S FRIDAY, THAT IS SO UNFAIR BECAUSE SHE WANTS TO HANG OUT WITH DAVID THIS WEEKEND!

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Yes, please tell me why your middle class healthy teenage existence is the worst thing in the history of ever…. (source)

Mr. Frost remains steadfast and Nicole is stuck taking responsibility. As she leaves the classroom she runs into David, and is about to break the news to him that she has to cancel their date, but before she can he stumbles through some monosyllabic wishy washing saying he can’t hang out because he made other plans. After more mumbling on his part, she asks if he’s breaking up with her, and he confirms that he is because it’s ‘too much’. She doesn’t know what that means but I’m sure we’re going to find out. He then hurries away but promises he’ll call her. As Nicole leaves the school, she runs into her BFF Lucy. When Lucy asks what’s wrong, Nicole tells her that she had an awful day, but confides in the reader that she trusts Lucy with all her heart and is so happy that she has such a good friend. To that I say ‘uh oh’. Lucy says that she had a bad day too, and says she knows how to fix it all! They should switch bodies!!! As if this is something totally natural, as natural as saying ‘let’s go to Pete’s Pizza!’, or ‘let’s have a slumber party!’.

Nicole is also confused but follows Lucy through Fear Street Woods and past the old Fear Mansion. She asks Lucy if they are REALLY going to switch bodies, and Lucy wants to be sure that Nicole is all in. Nicole says that she is, because 1) she’s so sick of her life right now, and 2) she wonders what it would be like to be with Kent, Lucy’s boyfriend. I feel like there is an absolute consent problem going on with that though, and even she herself admits that these are sick, strange thoughts. But they sally forth, and come upon a stone wall in the forest. Lucy says that her grandfather told her that no one knows how the wall got there, but it’s called the “Changing Wall”, and criminals would force innocent people to switch bodies with them so they could get away from the consequences of their crimes while someone else took the fall. Her grandfather learned this from the caretaker at Fear Street Cemetery. Lucy explains that all they have to do is climb to the top of the wall, grab hands, and jump. When they land, they will have switched bodies in a “Freaky Friday” kinda scenario. Nicole is skeptical and hesitant, but when Lucy insists that they HAVE to she’s convinced. They climb up the wall, and a bird’s freaky-ass screech is kind of putting Nicole off, and she wonders if it’s a warning? But to hell with it, because they grab hands and jump!…. AND IT WORKS! They have a moment of giddiness, and swear that the won’t tell anyone and that when they’re sick of it they’ll come back and change back. Nicole admits that she may not want to change back, and tells Lucy that David dumped her, and Lucy says that she may just try to win him back. When Nicole brings up the VERY UNETHICAL fact that she will be wooing Kent under FALSE pretenses, Lucy says that she doesn’t care. They start to walk back (though Nicole is having a hard time at first, not used to this body, which is actually kind of an interesting concept), and they part ways, Nicole excited to be trying out a fun, new life…. Until she gets to Lucy’s house, because when she opens the door, the finds Mr. and Mrs. Kramer SPRAWLED OUT DEAD ON THE FLOOR IN POOLS OF BLOOD!!!!

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THAT WAS FASTER THAN I EXPECTED. (source)

Nicole SPRINTS back to her own house, wanting to tell Lucy what happened, but no one is home. Which is ODD, because wasn’t Lucy going straight to Nicole’s house? Regardless, Nicole has no luck there, and decides that she can tell Kent EVERYTHING because Kent will OBVIOUSLY believe her, right? I am DUBIOUS, but she does run to Kent’s house and when he answers she immediately spills her guts about the Changing Wall and finding Lucy’s parents dead, and he seems to believe her story… But then when he goes to get her some water, she hears him talking to someone. When she looks into the kitchen, he’s on the phone with the police. Whoops. He comes back with water, but Nicole bolts and decides to go back to Lucy’s, get into clean clothes, and make a plan from there.

She goes back into Lucy’s house and goes to her room to change, but finds that her closet is empty! And so are her drawers! And what’s worse, there’s a bloody knife on her desk. Nicole is blindsided by this, but honestly, I’M not because of COURSE Lucy was going to be the worst because it’s fucking written on the back of the book! Lucy also left behind a note in her handwriting, with a bloody fingerprint and everything, saying ‘I HAD TO KILL THEM, I COULDN’T TAKE IT ANYMORE’. So now Nicole finally figures out that Lucy killed her parents, convinced Nicole to switch bodies on her, and is going to let Nicole take the fall since she’s in Lucy’s body and no one will EVER believe her.

So as Nicole tries to formulate a plan (force her to switch bodies again? Kill her?), but decides that just finding her for now is the best first step. But then there’s a knocking on the door. She goes back to the main area and she peeks out the curtain and sees two police officers on the front step. Determined not to give up without a fight, Nicole escapes out the back. The police pursue her on foot for a bit, but she escapes through the trick boards in the back fence and hides in a neighbor’s play house. The police don’t find her, and once they leave she climbs out, formulating a new plan in her mind.

And I am SO FUCKING EXCITED THAT THIS BOOK IS SO BATSHIT INSANE.

Nicole runs back to the school, and is able to get into her car because she is one of those people who hides an extra key in a magnetic box under the fender. So lucky for her it actually came in handy with it’s intended purpose, and didn’t end up being used by a car thief who knows all the tricks. As she drives, hoping to find Lucy at her house, she thinks about what she’s going to say, going for ‘I THOUGHT WE WERE FRIENDS’ kind of guilt trip. But there isn’t a car in the driveway and no one appears to be home, but the lights they leave on when they are gone AREN’T on so Lucy must have taken their car? It seems like a strange tidbit, but this is by far the strangest Fear Street story yet so I’ll let it slide. She eventually finds Lucy at Pete’s Pizza hanging out with some other girls, their friends Margie and Hannah, seeing her through the window (but seeing her in Nicole’s body, which has to be weird no matter how you slice it). The girls are arguing over the last slice of pizza. Nicole goes into the pizza parlor and Margie and Hannah look shocked to see her, AND they know that she’s Nicole instead of Lucy? So Nicole surmises that they must be in on it, and when she asks where Lucy is they say she isn’t there, and hasn’t been here. But Nicole points out that if they haven’t seen her how do they know that SHE is actually NICOLE? When they are still playing dumb, she leaves, thinking Lucy can’t be far. But she can’t find her, and when she gets back to her car she THINKS that she’s seen her, but no, it’s Margie, and she and Hannah say that they just want to talk. But Nicole CAN’T be bothered and zooms off, wondering why they looked so scared, and thinks that Lucy must have threatened them, and decides to go back to Kent’s house. She thinks that maybe she can threaten him for information and grabs a knife, but when she enters the den she finds that he’s been DECAPITATED!! And to make matters worse, as she’s processing this two police officers peek in the window and see her with a knife in her hand!! When they enter they also know that she’s Nicole…. And I finally see where this is all going. But anyhoo…. She tries to run to the back door but finds herself cornered, so she instead runs to the basement, dives into the coal shoot, and shimmies her way out and into the night.

She runs all the way to Fear Street and finds herself thinking about Lucy, whom she thought was her best friend, and the stuff in her life that might have driven her this far. Her parents didn’t like that she and Kent were so serious, but Nicole had always liked him. And when Lucy was in that car accident while back Nicole had stayed by her side in the hospital, never giving up on her when others had. She then remembers that she has a picture of Lucy in her wallet, and thinks that maybe she can use the picture to switch bodies back! So finds the Changing Wall, climbs up on it, and jumps off… but yeah, it doesn’t work of course. So in despair she falls asleep in the dirt.

The next day Nicole decides to try and get into some new clothes at her parents house, and when she arrives she scans the newspaper on the stoop for any news on the murders. There are no stories, but Nicole figures that perhaps they aren’t letting any info out until she’s caught. She peeks in the window and sees her parents looking way stressed and worried, and while she wants to go in and tell them that she is there she knows they won’t believe her. They get in the car and drive off, and Nicole sneaks inside, showers, and thinks that if she can just talk to Margie and Hannah again she may get information about Lucy. So she goes to the school, avoids the grey suited police officers from the night before, and hides until they leave (after a crazy rigamarole involving a bus, a hedge, and a crabby woman with a hose). She goes inside the school and runs for the girl’s locker room, knowing Margie has gym fourth period. She hides in a closet and waits. Eventually fourth period comes by and familiar girls voices fill the locker room, including Margie’s, who SCREAMS! When Nicole runs out to see if she’s okay, it turns out a Charley Horse just got the best of her. The other girls go ahead of her when Miss Hawkins blows the whistle, and then Nicole confronts Margie. Margie asks her to sit so they can talk but Nicole tells her EVERYTHING, the Changing Wall, the dead people in Lucy’s life, and she asks if Margie knows where Lucy is. Margie says she does, but before she can say any more people come into the locker room. Nicole hides in the closet again, and when she leaves MARGIE IS NOW DEAD ON THE FLOOR WITH A SKULL CRUSHED BY A SHOT PUT!!!

Nicole is now convinced that Lucy is following her because whenever she talks to someone about this, they end up dead. So for whatever reason her new plan is to go visit Lucy’s grandmother Carla who lives on a farm out in Conklin. Nicole used to spend a couple weeks of the summer there with Lucy and Carla, and Nicole thinks that maybe Lucy is there because she took all of her clothes. And Carla knows Nicole so if she saw Lucy in Nicole’s body it wouldn’t be too weird. So Nicole gets on a bus to Conklin (side note. I’m pretty sure that the witch girl in “One Evil Summer” was named Conklin, surname wise), and ends up at Grandma Carla’s farm. She knocks on the door, and Carla lets her in, happy/surprised to see her. She asks Carla is ‘Nicole’ is there, and Carla dodges the question and offers to give her some soup because she’s made a large pot today. When Nicole asks if ‘she’ has been there, Carla balks and goes to get the soup… and then calls the police. When Nicole confronts her about it, Carla suggests that they talk about it, but Nicole runs again and hides in the barn, certain that the cops are coming for her. And in the barn, who does she see? LUCY!!! When Nicole grabs her and confronts her, Lucy says that her name is not Lucy, but NANCY, and that Lucy made them switch bodies too!! Nicole freaks out but then ‘Nancy’ says no she really is ‘Lucy’ and she bolts out the barn door. Nicole follows her, but then is tackled to the ground by…. KENT!! He says that he has come for her to help her, and Nicole sees Lucy fall into the well, and hears her asking for help. Kent says that Nicole should just ‘let her drown’, and YOU GUYS KNOW WHAT’S HAPPENING RIGHT?!?! Nicole elbows him away and runs for the well to help Lucy, but it’s no use, she can’t pull her out, and Lucy drowns in Nicole’s body. Kent does come back to her and pulls her away, and he leads her back to Carla’s house. As they walk up the drive, suddenly Lucy appears and tells Kent that they should switch bodies….. AND PULLS HIS HEAD OFF LIKE IT WAS ATTACHED WITH VELCRO. Nicole freaks, but then a car door slam gets her attention. The Grey Suited police officers are here, and they come up to get Nicole. When Nicole turns back to Kent and Lucy, they’re gone. Then ANOTHER car comes up the drive, and who is inside???? Well, Nicole’s parents, for one. But then THE KRAMERS!! LUCY’S PARENTS!! THE ONES WHO NICOLE FOUND DEAD!!!  AND THEN KENT TOO!!! They all swarm her, making sure that is is okay. Because Y’ALL, LUCY IS LONG DEAD. SHE DIED IN THAT CAR CRASH AWHILE BACK. And Nicole has been having delusional spells ever since, imagining that Lucy is still alive, or SOMETIMES imagining that she IS Lucy!!! Those grey suited men?? NOT police officers!! THEY’RE DOCTORS!!! AND APPARENTLY, sometimes Nicole ALSO has hallucinations of people around her dying awful, violent deaths!! So The Kramers, Kent, and Margie are ALL just fine!!

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R.L. STINE YOU MAGNIFICENT BASTARD!!! (source)

We last see Nicole in a mental ward, feeling like the worst of her hallucinations are behind her.  She’s going to be let out any day now, given a clean bill of health. And the best part is that Lucy has been by her side the whole time. Nicole knows that when she and Lucy are let out they are going to graduate together, and it will all be perfect. THE. END.

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BRA.VI. SI. MO. (source)

Body Count: None, I guess! Except for Lucy off page before the story started.

Romance Rating: 1 because David dumps Nicole in the first chapter and there’s nothing else to see, romance wise.

Bonkers Rating: 10!!! A perfect 10!! This was actually a really great twist, the kind that you see all the time in thriller and mystery books now, but I didn’t expect R.L. Stine to craft it back in 1995 for his “Fear Street” fans!….. So did he actually write this?

Fear Street Relevance: 8, because the Changing Wall is in the Fear Street Woods and we revisit the good ol’ Fear Mansion ever so briefly.

Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger: Honestly, they were all golden. There was not a dud in the bunch. All were relevant and none felt like cheats.

That’s So Dated! Moments: At the mall there is still a CD store to make note of.

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Rest in Peace, Sam Goody. (source)

Best Quote:

“I wore a black tank top and dark denim jeans. Black to match my mood.”

2Edgy4Me.

Conclusion: “Switched” was AWESOME. It has a place up there with the other books I’ve greatly enjoyed in this series, like “Missing” and “The Secret Bedroom”. Definitely read this one if you have the chance because it won’t disappoint!! Up next is “College Weekend”! 

Not Just Books: May 2018

While we do love us some books, believe it not, we do have a life outside of reading. So to highlight our other pop culture interests, on the last Monday of each month, we each will highlight three other “happenings” from the last month. Big events on favorite TV shows, new movies we’ve watched, old movies we’ve “discovered,” etc. Pretty much whatever we found of particular interest outside of the book world during the last month. Share your own favorite things in the comments!

Serena’s Picks

mv5bmji0mdmzntq0m15bml5banbnxkftztgwmtm5nzm3ndm-_v1_sy1000_cr006741000_al_Movie: “A Quiet Place”

Yes, looking at that movie poster, you’re right to be thinking “Wait…this is Serena’s pick??” Well yes! While I am not the connoisseur of horror that Kate is, but I do like a specific variety of creepy films, mostly those that walk the line with science fiction. And the second I saw this trailer with Jim Hal-, I mean John Krasinksi, sneaking around a mostly silent set hunted by creepy alien/monsters, I knew this would be one I’d be checking out. And I absolutely adored it. Not only was it pitch perfect for the type of horror that I enjoy, but it felt completely new and refreshing. It’s one of those films that I found myself thinking and talking about for days after I’d seen it. I didn’t know until after the credits rolled that Krasinski was also the director of this film, and that just makes it all the more impressive. Plus there’s the cuteness factor of him and his co-star Emily Blunt being married in real life. Even if horror isn’t your first pick for movies, if you like science fiction, this is definitely worth checking out. I’ve been telling people that it’s like “Signs,” but, you know, better.

mv5bmjmxnjy2mdu1ov5bml5banbnxkftztgwnzy1mtuwntm-_v1_sy1000_cr006741000_al_Movie: “Avengers: Infinity War”

As Kate will admit to later in this post, I am the more dedicated Marvel movie fan of the two of us. I think I’ve seen all of them. Probably all in theaters, too. And while I’m still always going to prefer my beloved Superman and DC comics as a whole, there’s no denying that Marvel has completely blown DC out of the water with their film franchise. I mean, even this, a movie so bloated that even the most dedicated fan would have a hard time naming every cast member, somehow was pulled off and fun as heck. Fun, being the key word! coughDCcough. But the fun isn’t the heart of this movie, and while it does help lighten the mood, this is an action-packed culmination of years of build up. And it doesn’t flinch away from the realities of what a powerful villain would actually be capable of. Marvel’s most successful move, probably, is setting out enough pieces and clues to leave fans talking and theorizing while they’re forced to wait another year to get the second half.

mv5bmja4njuzntk4nv5bml5banbnxkftztgwodi1oty0ntm-_v1_sy1000_cr006741000_al_TV Show: “Arrested Development”

I know that I am very late to this train, but my husband has been making all of these jokes, and I’ve been so confused. Really, it wasn’t until I started watching this that I realized some of his jokes were even referencing something. I just thought he was kind of weird on his own. But I’ve finally arrived and I’ve been gobbling up this show with nightly installments. It’s another perfect palate cleanser from some stressful weeks with its quirky cast of characters and recurring jokes. I’m pretty picky about my comedy and there’s really only a handful of shows I’ve really enjoyed, so it always feels like a little bit of magic when I find a new one. I’m still in the early seasons, and I know it was cancelled and brought back, so I’m curious to see how it changes and compares as I get further in.

Kate’s Picks

22c4252b09ebb1d5923eea34392f2e1d495b8cb5Netflix Series: “Evil Genius”

So I was just starting college when the Pizza Bomber Case happened. Basically, a pizza delivery man named Brian Wells entered a bank with a bomb collar strapped around his neck and robbed the place. After police got him quarantined, not believing the the bomb was live, it exploded, killing him. I was both horrified and fascinated by the case, but it kind of fell out of my focus for awhile. Now, Netflix has put out the true crime docuseries “Evil Genius”, which chronicles the crime and the aftermath. And it is BANANAS. It also examines mental illness in American society, and how sometimes people who need help don’t get it… which can lead to deadly consequences. It’s an engrossing and disturbing four part series, and I devoured it in a day. But warning: It is graphic. It does show the actual explosion around Wells’s neck.

cobra-kai-william-zabkaYouTube Red Series: “Cobra Kai

Even though I was born in the 80s and did sustain myself on a steady diet of 80s cinema, I never really got into “The Karate Kid”. It’s fine, but it wasn’t a go to like “Bill and Ted” or “Ghostbusters”. But I was definitely into the idea of “Cobra Kai”, a YouTube series that picks up in the present day and follows both Daniel and Johnny and what they are up to now. Daniel is a successful businessman and car salesman, while Johnny is a down on his luck loser who decides to reopen the Cobra Kai Dojo, which leads to him teaching a new generation of misfits and geeks. I never knew that I needed this, but it is pretty great. The most interesting thing about it is that it mostly focuses on Johnny, and how broken and down and out he is. It’s really cool seeing William ‘Billy’ Zabka revisit this cardboard cut out character and to give him some tragic depth (most of which being the trauma of his abusive karate teacher from the movies), while still keeping him realistically assholeish. I haven’t finished the series yet, but I’m really enjoying it.

large_dp2Movie: “Deadpool 2”

While I’m ambivalent at best when it comes to most of the Marvel Comics world, I am ALWAYS going to be a fan of Deadpool and his snarky self aware raunchiness. I loved the first “Deadpool” movie, as it’s filled with laughs, sarcasm, and a whole lot of heart, so I was eager but nervous to see “Deadpool 2”. And outside of one issue that I had with it (must we really use women’s deaths to fuel manpain?), I GREATLY enjoyed the sequel. Wade Wilson is back, he’s as meta and morally ambiguous as ever, and this time he’s recruited some other people to help him fight against the bitter and broken Cable (Josh Brolin is KILLING IT this summer, right?). But the real stand out in this movie is Julian Dennison, who plays the teenage Firefist. Firefist is an abused and lonely mutant who is going down a dark path, and Dennison plays him with pathos, heart, and yeah, a healthy dose of attitude. I never expected a “Deadpool” movie to make me cry, but Dennison achieves it. It’s not as good as the first, but it’s still pretty damn good.

 

The Great Animorphs Re-Read #30: “The Reunion”

363402Animorphs #30: “The Reunion”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, June 1999

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: Marco is faced with a difficult decision when his mother threatens to seize control over Visser One.

Narrator: Marco

Plot: Didn’t remember much about this one either, other than the obvious fact that the “reunion” that drives the title was between Marco and his mother, Visser One. And then I started reading…and became very concerned. And kept reading…and was a bit less concerned. And then it actually kind of turned into a good book?

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But the beginning…man, it’s bad.

Marco decides to skip school and go downtown (for plot reasons cuz we’re literally given no other explanation.) He then just so conveniently happens to literally bump into his mother, Visser One, in the busy streets. What follows is a ridiculous series of events that in any other book would have never happened for so many reasons. At one point Marco morphs to a fly in the MIDDLE OF A FULL ELEVATOR but somehow we’re to believe that this is fine because he….puts a newspaper over his head? And then, after locating the office where his mother goes, fly!Marco gets sucked into an AC vent and ends up having to MORPH A HUMAN (whom he had conveniently acquired earlier to get into the building, somehow using the morphing trance to get through the door with him, claiming it was a “take your kid to work” day or something.) Again, there is zero reason for him to be morphing human when he could easily go back to bug. Not to mention the fact that when this happens, he’s alone in an office hiding behind a desk. A notably MUCH MORE HIDDEN spot than in the damn elevator where he just did this before. Whatever. He ends up back in the barn with the others and tells them that he found Visser One, and we can all pretend that this is the real start of the book since there’s almost a complete turn around in quality of the story after this point.

Jake quickly decides that they need to investigate this further, however he, Rachel, and Cassie are all out for a mission that night. This leaves Tobias, Marco, and Ax. Jake makes it clear that Marco is too close to this, and that because of this, Tobias has last say on what goes down. Later that night, the infiltrate the building in roach morph. After a wild ride down a stair banister, the small group make their way to the office. There, they see the horrifying image of a small Yeerk pool, portable Kandrona ray, and Marco’s mother, locked on her side with her ear in the pool. She’s free for a brief minute and Marco struggles not to go to her. They also notice satellite images of the free Hork Bajir in their valley. Before they can investigate further, the Yeerk reinfests Marco’s mother and the door is knocked down by Visser Three’s goons coming after Visser One.

Marco is not about to let his mother die at the hands of Visser Three, and he is able to spin it to Tobias that saving her could benefit them as well. Gorilla!Marco, Tobias, and Ax rush in and fight off the invading Hork Bajir. They manage to corner Visser One and get her talking. She reveals that she planned to find the free Hork Bajir and use that information as leverage to discredit Visser Three and regain her place on the Council of Thirteen. Visser One wants to strike a bargain: she will help them kill Visser Three, and the Animorphs will lead her to the free Hork Bajir. They agree, but Marco has a plan that will take out both Vissers and leave the Hork Bajir safe. They arrange to meet Visser One the next day.

As they fly away, Marco reflects on what it means to be ruthless and the fact that others have thought that of him in the past. Instead, he says that he is simply practical and sees a bright line between point A and point B. Through all the mess of worries & fears, the line is what drives his decisions. And that right now he sees a clear line, but one that will result in the death of his mother.

But for his plan to work, they need a specific morph. They fly to Cassie’s house and wake her up, asking where they can acquire goats morphs. She says there is a new mountain goat section at the Gardens, so the three make their way there and acquire the goats (not with out some knocks, of course).

The next day he begins to explain his plan and how it will result in them taking out both Visser Three and Visser one, while also convincing the Yeerks that they have destroyed the Hork Bajir colony. They will also need the help of Erek.

Using their best arrogant Andalite voice (Tobias is the best, having spent so much time with Ax), they instruct Visser One to go to the mall and buy mountain climbing gear. Various Animorphs keep an eye on her the entire time. They also assume that Visser Three will eventually spot her and send Controllers to follower her as well. Plus, they’re sure she has her own reinforcements.

As they head out, in the midst of a parlay between Visser One and Cassie, Visser One notes that there are significantly more Hork Bajir and Taxxon deaths in the casualty lists in the Yeerks’ fights with the “Andalites.” It is clear that she stumbles upon the truth, which only increases the stakes. No one can live who knows the truth.

In bug morphs, Marco, Jake, Cassie and Rachel stash themselves in her car, Tobias and Ax are waiting at the destination. Once they reach the mountain, they tell Visser One to start climbing. Jake tells everyone to go to bird morph. Rachel and Marco make it out of the car, but Jake and Cassie are still in the car morphing when Visser Three shows up in his limo and casually blows it up with a Dracon beam. Marco is the only one who sees it, and when he frantically calls for them, they don’t answer.

Sure that his friends are dead, Marco has no choice but to continue the mission, flying up the hill where he spots Tobias and Rachel in Hork Bajir morph meeting up with Visser One to “lead her to their valley.” As Marco continues to fly, he notes empty camp sites that look recently vacated. Ax has been successful at scaring away other innocents. When asked, he has to reveal to Tobias and Rachel the likely fate of Jake and Cassie.

The climb takes hours, with Tobias and Rachel having to slip away to re-morph every once in awhile. Far behind, osprey!Marco sees Visser Three and his Controllers making their way up after her, willing to let her live until she reveals where the free Hork Bajir have been hiding. On the way up, Visser Three morphs a new alien, one that is quite capable of climbing, and worse, has the ability to camouflage itself with its surroundings.

Marco demorphs and remorphs as a goat, and Ax meets back up with him in bird morph. Ax notes that the numbers are now not in their favor, with Visser Three having many more Controllers than they had anticipated. Marco snaps at him about not seeing any reinforcements anywhere. Ax then takes off. Goat!Marco zips up the mountain, quickly passing Visser One and arriving at the top near a cliff side with a sheer drop on three sides. When Visser one arrives, Marco “shows” her the Hork Bajir colony: Erek puts up a hologram of the Hork Bajir valley that has been “concealed” using another hologram in the mountainside. In a slip of tongue, Marco cracks a joke, even further confirming to Visser One that they are not Andalite warriors. What’s worse, Visser One is suspicious that she recognizes his voice and type of joke.

Visser Three is next to arrive. They both order their cloaked ships to attack. Visser Three with his Bug fighters and Blade ship and Visser One with a massive ship that Visser Three looks at with awe, calling it a Nova class Empire ship. He and Visser One go at it as well, each striking a hit on the other. Goat!Marco can’t stand it, and attacks Visser Three who shoots him in the leg. Visser One orders her ships to destroy the Hork Bajir colony and Erek  displays the valley’s destruction. However, the guns are still hitting a mountainside that in reality is much closer than a valley floor. A fissure cracks the ground, leaving Visser Three, his troops, and Hork Bajir!Rachel & Tobias on one side, and Visser One and Marco on the other.

Marco whispers that he loves her and Visser One instantly recognizes him as “the boy.” Goat!Marco charges her, but at the last minute a tiger!Jake knocks him aside and osprey!Cassie scrapes Visser One upside the head, preventing her from shooting Marco with the Dracon beam. Visser One overbalances and falls backwards off the cliff. The free Hork Bajir show up, lead by Ax, and the battle between the ships rages above. Marco is only dimly aware of any of it.

He stays in bed for the next week, watching TV and trying not to think. Jake shows up and explains that once Visser Three saw the free Hork Bajir arrive, he and his Controllers skedaddled, but five free Hork Bajir were lost in the battle. He also explains that when he and Cassie saw the limo arrive, they went straight to roach morph, assuming that nothing can kill a roach. Cassie made it all the way, but Jake was midmorph when the car blew up and was knocked unconscious. Cassie stayed by his side and was only able to wake him up a few minutes before the two hour time limit was up.

A few days later, Rachel visits. She says she didn’t see Visser One’s body. Marco says the Yeerks would have cleaned up after themselves. She says that there were scorch marks where they burned other dead Controllers, but there was nothing where Visser One fell. Marco remembers a Bug fighter roaring past. Maybe it was able to catch her? Marco snaps that he doesn’t want her pity, but Rachel notes that telling him she may still be alive is worse. If Visser One was dead, Marco’s already being going through the stages of hate and sadness. If she’s alive, he’ll have to confront the same decision all over again. With some hope, they sit in silence and watch TV.

The Comic Relief: Like I said earlier, this book is very weird in the way it is written. The first 25% of the book is frankly awful, probably the worst I’ve read so far. There are no explanations for Marco’s choices and the plot convenience factor is out of control. He makes stupid decision after stupid decision, two that are against the most cardinal rules that Animorphs have: don’t reveal yourself by morphing public & don’t morph human. And his reasons for doing each are incredibly poor.

But when the story actually gets into it, there’s some really good stuff here. Whenever teh story focuses on Marco’s situation with his mother as Visser One we’re going to see some pretty heart wrenching stuff. What makes it worse and different than Jake’s situation with Tom is both down to who is Controlling Marco’s mother and who Marco is himself. Obviously, Visser One is a much more dangerous and well-protected Yeerk than whomever is currently infesting Tom. This makes the equation of saving her vs taking her out very different. Tom’s loss would have zero impact on the Yeerk war at this point. However, taking out Visser One is worth almost any cost, including the life of Marco’s mother.

And Marco himself knows this. Jake, though we’ve seen him hardening himself more and more through each book, is still hopeful for Tom (again partially due to his unimportance all told). But one of Marco’s defining characteristics is his all-consuming practicality of thought. He himself identifies it as ruthlessness. His metaphor of the bright line and how it drives everything he does, is spot on not only for how we see him in this book, but for the decisions and reactions to situations that we’ve seen from him in the past. Rachel is ruthless in a reckless, sometimes mindless, way. Marco is ruthless in a cold, conniving way. He knows what he is doing and he chooses to do it over and over again. At one point in this book, he thinks about what the history books will say if the Animorphs manage to win this war. That this Marco guy was cold. So cold that he took out his own mother. And while Marco hates this idea, he never wavers from following his plan. Of course, he hesitates at the last minute on the mountain, even intervening when Visser Three attacks her. But at the last, when he’s in goat morph, he chooses to go through with it. Had tiger!Jake not hit him, he would have succeeded in knocking her off that cliff. Everyone questioned his ability to make the tough calls throughout this book, but this one act really proves that the cold, calculating Marco will follow that line no matter what.

Our Fearless Leader: Jake has a few really good moments in this. They’re small, but notable. One, when he first sends them to check out Visser One in the office building. He can sense Marco’s reckless energy and wisely puts Tobias in charge (yet more evidence for my “Tobias should be second in charge” theory.) Then, when Marco is explaining his plan to take out both Visser One and Visser Three, Jake doesn’t question him. When Cassie explodes, saying that they can’t let this happen, that this is Marco’s mother, Jake silences her. Not only does he recognize that this is Marco’s decision, but the leader in him knows that this is the right call, and that the sacrifice of his best friend’s psyche or ability not to self-loathe himself is a price that needs to be paid. But again, in the end, Jake takes it out of Marco’s hands, knocking her out of the way. Had Visser One not fallen herself, one wonders if Jake would have been the one to actually push her.

Xena, Warrior Princess: Rachel comes down hard on Marco a few times in this book, about whether or not he’ll be able to take out his own mother. Most especially after she’s heard that Jake and Cassie are dead. Marco almost suspects that she will take out Visser One right then and there and is relieved when she doesn’t.

But, like in the last book with Visser One, it’s Rachel that takes the time to follow up on Visser One and give Marco hope. She checked out the mountain side in detail and tells Marco his mother might still be alive. There’s no mention that any of the others thought to do this. She also notes that she doesn’t fell that telling him this is a kindness, but that it’s just a fact. As she and Marco are often the two most prone to relying on facts over kindness, this makes a lot of sense. She also stays with him, not hugging but sitting with him. It’s a very sweet moment and speaks to a unique connection that the two of them have, for all of their  bickering in other stories.

A Hawk’s Life: Tobias also has a lot of action in this book. Not only does he end up as the leader in the late-night office raid, but he also does much of the talking to Visser One since he talks to Ax the most and is most capable of mimicking his patterns of speech. His dialogue for all of this is pretty spot on. When he feels that Marco’s plans are going sideways, we get another fun look at sarcastic Tobias which is, of course, the best Tobias.  Then, of course, he’s with Rachel as one of the Hork Bajir that leads Visser One up the mountain.

Peace, Love, and Animals: Cassie comes up with the mountain goat morph idea, and the fact that she is able to morph all the way to cockroach, unlike Jake, before the car is blown up is another example of her proficiency at morphing. It does seem like since she was in roach morph, she should have been able to let osprey!Marco know what happened instead of leaving him to think they were dead, so that’s strange.

When Marco first explains his plan to take out Visser One and Visser Three, she has this to say:

“She’s your mother!” Cassie exploded. “She’s not ‘Visser One.’ She’s your mother! Is everyone just going to let this happen?”

Jake sent her a cold look. “This is not the time, Cassie.”

It seems pretty inline with what we know of Cassie that she would be the one protesting this. After this bit, she goes on to say that they should be concerned about what state Marco will be in if they let this happen. And, as I mentioned in Jake’s section, he ignores her. It is a sign of her strong sense of friendship and concern for others, but on the other hand, she does make an already almost unbearable situation for Marco worse by having this outburst.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Ax has some funny moments being offended by the others’ versions of how arrogant Andalites talk, but it does seem pretty spot on. Throughout the book, it’s made clear that he’s on board for Marco’s plan mostly because of his ongoing mission to take out Visser Three, the killer of his brother, at any cost. While he feels bad for Marco, he’s also pretty cold about his priorities, regularly suggesting that they just take her out now.

He’s also the one to think to get the free Hork Bajir as backup when it becomes clear that they are outnumbered.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: Marco mentions that Tobias’s morph from bird to cockroach is particularly horrifying, noting that roach wings begin to form out of the top of his bird head.

Mother Nature didn’t come up with a birdbug on her own for good reason.

Couples Watch!: Not a lot of couple action in this one, as per typical for Marco or Ax books. But there is a pretty interesting moment between Rachel and Tobias. After Marco has told them about Jake and Cassie, Rachel is pretty hard on Marco. She continues to pick at him throughout the trip up the mountain, until at one point Tobias quietly interrupts her and says “That’s enough” and she immediately stops. Marco notes that he is surprised that Tobias stood up to her as he doesn’t do it very often. I think it’s another nice example of how Rachel and Tobias work well together. He mostly respects and values Rachel for the bad-ass she is, but he is also not intimidated or scared of her, and feels comfortable enough to speak up when he thinks she’s crossed a line. And Rachel respects him enough to listen when he does.

Also, when the three wake up Cassie to get the goat morph, her first words are “Jake?” Marco has some fun teasing her about this.

I’ve already briefly noted my feelings on the secondary Marco/Rachel thing that seems to go on. And like I said in her section, it’s important I think that she was the only one to follow up on the fate of Visser One and the one to sit with Marco and provide hope and comfort in the end.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: Man, Visser One is so much smarter than Visser Three. It takes her all of what, maybe a few hours total, talking to and interacting with the Animorphs to figure out their secret. And it wasn’t even first down to any slip up on their part. She’s done her research and noted the oddness of the casualty lists, information that is equally available to Visser Three. And then when Marco slips up, she’s quick to zero in on a familiar pattern to his voice, meaning she’s spent the time to learn and distinguish between individual humans. All told, the Animorphs are super lucky they ended up with a fool like Visser Three instead of her.

We also got another example of Visser Three losing his shit at one of his own Controllers.

Evidently encouraged by Visser Three’s seemingly tolerant mood, another human-Controller made the mistake of offering an opinion.

The end result is a missing arm. Probably should count himself lucky for that.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Um, the entire last half? As I discussed in Marco’s section, his books that deal with his mother are always going to be rough. And here, unlike the last time, from the very beginning the plan is for her not to make it out of this, and it’s Marco’s plan on top of that. Throughout the entire story he struggles with what this says about him and about whether he’ll be able to pull it off in the end. And while he is able to, he is not able to stop himself from trying to give his Controlled mother one last bit of peace. He’s been reflecting this entire time on what he would say to his father when/if he found out, and what his mother would think if she knew what he planned. So, before charges, he tells her that he loves her. Not only does this confirm that the Animorphs are humans, but now Visser One knows WHO one of them is as well. And as we’ve heard about ad nauseum, once one is outed, it’s a quick step to the rest. But with all of the inner torment we’ve read for the entire book, it’s hard to fault Marco for this small moment of weakness right when he is making the worst decision anyone could be forced to make.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: With all that goes wrong, it’s hard to actually see what the original plan was. Just let Visser Three and Visser One duke it out? But this seems like a pretty bad plan, knowing they’ll both be bringing reinforcements, including massive space ships. It seems like a given that the Animrophs would get caught in the middle and be overwhelmed. Maybe they were just going to take off in bug morph and avoid the whole thing. Who knows.

The one part I really don’t get is the goat morph. It seems like a pretty blatant shoe-in for some editor being like “But they don’t get any new morphs in this! Add one!!” Not only is the goat morph not really necessary (Marco could have just flew to the top of the mountain and morphed something with power there), but it’s completely bizarre that they decided to go acquire these morphs in the middle of the night after returning from the city. There’s no real reason for the urgency, and it’s even stranger that then that leaves only the three of them with this morph. I mean, as I’ve said, it doesn’t seem like any of them really needed it. Ax and Tobias don’t even use it and there’s no clear point in the plan where it seems like they would have. And why wouldn’t they all get it and not just those three if there even was a purpose in having more than one goat. It’s pretty dumb.

Favorite Quote:

Oh, delusional Ax:

<It will certainly require good acting skills to imbue the fundamentally humble and dispassionate Andalite character with a taint of arrogance,> he said.

“Yeah. Humble is the very first word that comes to mind when I think ‘Andalite,'” Rachel said with a drawl.

Also, when Marco first realizes that his joke may have alerted Visser One to his identity and he starts panicking:

<It’s okay, Marco,> a gentle voice said. But not my mom. Rachel. <It’s okay, man. It’s okay.>

Scorecard: Yeerks 7, Animorphs 12

I’m giving this one to the Yeerks, specifically Visser One. By exposing themselves for longer periods and through talking to her, the Animorphs gave up their biggest secret to the most wily Yeerk they’ve run across. And what did they get for it? Nothing! Not a good day for our team.

Rating: If I was actually rating these books, I’d have a really hard time with this one. The Marco and Visser One stuff is excellent, just top notch. And the whole last half was action- packed and dramatic. But that first bit. It was so awful that I actually caught myself wondering if I had really forgotten this book and that this was another Ellimist/Crayak weird thing. Like, the Ellimist was somehow triggering Marco to do these things, because in any regular world, his actions were not only completely out of character but just stupid to read about. He successfully morphed a fly in an elevator full of people…really? REALLY?! We’ve been told it takes 2-3 minutes to morph and no one noticed a kid weirdly ducking down behind them and turning into a bug. Sure. Suuuurre. And then the blatant abuse of human morphing, again for no reason. I really can’t express how terrible I thought these opening chapters were.  But, like I said, the book turned a huge corner and by the end I was really enjoying it. I just have to not think about the beginning or the rage takes over again.

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 French Girl”

35235624Book: “The French Girl” by Lexie Elliot

Publishing Info: Berkley Books, February 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: They were six university students from Oxford–friends and sometimes more than friends–spending an idyllic week together in a French farmhouse. It was supposed to be the perfect summer getaway–until they met Severine, the girl next door.

For Kate Channing, Severine was an unwelcome presence, her inscrutable beauty undermining the close-knit group’s loyalties amid the already simmering tensions. And after a huge altercation on the last night of the holiday, Kate knew nothing would ever be the same. There are some things you can’t forgive, and there are some people you can’t forget, like Severine, who was never seen again.

Now, a decade later, the case is reopened when Severine’s body is found in the well behind the farmhouse. Questioned along with her friends, Kate stands to lose everything she’s worked so hard to achieve as suspicion mounts around her. Desperate to resolve her own shifting memories and fearful she will be forever bound to the woman whose presence still haunts her, Kate finds herself buried under layers of deception with no one to set her free.

Review: Country weekends with friends are always so fun! The isolation, the quiet, the bonding time! It’s really just the perfect way to pass the time with people you like.

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Okay okay, so they can’t all be relaxing… (source)

I will admit that I like the potential for drama that this kind of story brings. Usually a weekend away, especially in thrillers, means that secrets will come out, betrayals will happen, and someone will usually end up getting hurt, be it emotionally or even physically. Given my love for this kind of tale, my interest was piqued by “The French Girl” by Lexie Elliott. Especially since a drama filled weekend seems to have resulted in a body stuffed down a well, and a cast of players who are automatic suspects! That’s a recipe for a book that I REALLY want to read. But unfortunately, given my high hopes for “The French Girl”, when it kind of fell flat it hurt a bit more than it would have had my expectations not been as high as they were.

But first let’s talk about what I did like. Kate Chambers, our main character and therefore resident complex and flawed female presence, was a pretty good person to follow within this story. Yes, she has her flaws and her complexities and her moments where I wanted to shake her, but she was likable enough and relatable enough that I did care about how things were going to turn out for her. She’s trying to forget about the mess of a weekend that she and her university friends spent in France, in which her toxic boyfriend Sebastian cheated on her with Severine, the French girl who lived next door to the estate. To make matters a bit more complex, Severine ended up disappearing that weekend, shortly after Kate and her friends left, which has left a sense of mystery and anxiety to Kate and her life as it moved forward. So you can imagine how she felt after a body was found in the well on the property. As she is reunited with her old friends, specifically Tom, one of her best friends whom she fell away from after he got married, she starts to think that they are all suspects, and is worried that scrutiny will fall on her. Watching her make pretty realistic mistakes and choices was kind of a breath of fresh air, since a lot of the time you get protagonists who act completely nutty just to move the plot along and completely outside of the character that has been previously established. Kate never gets there, and I liked her all the more for it. Her interactions with those around her, especially Tom and her friend Lara, were fun for me as well.

But the problem I had with this book was within the plot and the mystery. Specifically, the fact that none of it (or at least very VERY little of it) takes place during that fateful weekend, and only within the period that the body has been found and during the subsequent investigation. True, we get mentions of things that went on, but it’s all through the characters in the present, and it also manages to knock a few suspects out of the way right off the bat. I had hoped that there would be in the moment insights into what happened that weekend, and that it would shed some light into the victim herself (whose presence is haunting Kate as the book goes on). But because we don’t get to see her in action, and only through the eyes of the others, we get no sense of her as a person, and she ends up feeling incredibly objectified. What’s more, we didn’t get any solid red herrings about potential motives and potential suspects, as moments of doubt felt quashed soon after they were introduced. I had no problem discerning what happened to Severine and who was responsible, as Elliott presented that character a certain way from the beginning that, to me, made it obvious as to whodunnit. And that’s not really fun for the reader, especially when the story is supposed to be about whodunnit. Because of this, I wasn’t really gripped at the edge of my seat as I read it, and my concern for Kate was the only thing that kept me going. Had she been any less appealing or interesting, I probably would have been very bored and disinterested. Characters are great, but a thriller/mystery needs to keep me interested with the action as well as the players.

“The French Girl” wasn’t everything I wanted it to be, and while I think that others would probably enjoy it more than I did, it could have been stronger. There was a lot of potential there that didn’t quite get reached. But it is refreshing to see a main character that I felt fully invested in.

Rating 6: Though the mystery did keep me wondering what was true and what wasn’t, I wish we’d seen more of the actual crime time line instead of the investigation after the fact.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The French Girl” is included on the Goodreads lists “Girl”, and  “The Girl Who Didn’t See Her Husband’s Wife When She Disappeared From The Train” (I guffawed at both of these list titles).

Find “The French Girl” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “The Star-Touched Queen”

While I make an effort to complete most books I read, every once in a while I come upon one  that I just can’t get through. When I find myself repeatedly putting down a book to the point that attempting to finish it is taking up weeks of my time, I sometimes come to the conclusion that a book is a book, not a life and death contract to read until completion. There are too many books in the world that I will never get to to spends days on end trying to finish a book that I already know will not be my cup of tea. Sadly, one such of these books came across my desk recently.

25203675Book: “The Star-Touched Queen” by Roshani Chokshi

Publishing Info: St. Martin’s Griffin, April 2016

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

Book Description: Maya is cursed. With a horoscope that promises a marriage of death and destruction, she has earned only the scorn and fear of her father’s kingdom. Content to follow more scholarly pursuits, her whole world is torn apart when her father, the Raja, arranges a wedding of political convenience to quell outside rebellions. Soon Maya becomes the queen of Akaran and wife of Amar. Neither roles are what she expected: As Akaran’s queen, she finds her voice and power. As Amar’s wife, she finds something else entirely: Compassion. Protection. Desire…

But Akaran has its own secrets—thousands of locked doors, gardens of glass, and a tree that bears memories instead of fruit. Soon, Maya suspects her life is in danger. Yet who, besides her husband, can she trust? With the fate of the human and Otherworldly realms hanging in the balance, Maya must unravel an ancient mystery that spans reincarnated lives to save those she loves the most…including herself.

Review: Thankfully, it’s been a while since I’ve had to write a DNF review. There have been a few stinkers here and there, but usually I was able to push through for one reason or another. In all honesty, I’m not quite sure what makes up the real difference between a very low rated book that I managed to get through, and one that I just put down. But with this one, since it was an audiobook, I had the extra discouragement of looking down at my book and seeing how many hours, and hours, and hours were left of it. And I just couldn’t.

The story is one that we’ve all (those of us who read fantasy/fairy tale fiction, at least) read before. And that’s not a mark against it! I love “Beauty & the Beast”/”East of the Sun, West of the Moon”/Hades & Persephone stories. They’re probably my favorite of the typical fairytale inspiration pieces out there. And luckily for me, there are a lot of them. But unluckily for this book, there are a lot of them THAT ARE BETTER.

As Kate and I have said many times, each reader has their book and each book, its reader. What’s more, this was a very popular book when it come out so I know this is an unpopular opinion. And I can even see some of the aspects that would have drawn other readers to it. For me, the best part of this story was its connection to India, its traditions, food, clothes, and own fairytales and legends. This setting and cultural connection provided a unique stage upon which to set a very familiar story. And if it had been successful in other ways, I would have been praising this all the day long for pushing the conventions of what we’re used to seeing for stories like this.

However, it was not successful in other ways. There were three main flaws that lead me to reaching a breaking point with this book: the main character, the instalove relationship, and the writing style itself.

Maya is a terrible leading character. If you asked me right now to name personality traits for this character, I couldn’t. Is she brave? Does she have a good sense of humor? What drives her? I don’t have an answer. In the very beginning of this book, we get a few hints that she has an interest in scholarly pursuits, but this never comes into play throughout the rest of the story, leaving it less as a character development piece and more of a “oh, well Disney’s Belle loved books, so…” What’s worse, the entire story is driven by events happening around her and her being lead by the nose by others. She literally decides to kill herself because someone tells her to. And then five minutes later, marries a complete stranger because he tells her to. She also has strong tendencies towards the “too stupid too live” trope. What’s that? The castle is dangerous and might tempt me down bad paths? Yes! I will immediately run away from those I know and not tell them about a mysterious door that is COVERED IN BURN MARKS AND CHAINS that is calling to me. Nothing suspicious there!

This all leads into the instalove. Amar arrives out of no where, tells her to marry him, and then proceeds to wax poetic about his great love for her throughout the rest of the story. But why. Not only can I not identify a single personality trait that Maya can call her own (besides cow-like docility, perhaps), but given the nature of their “marriage” they know nothing about one another. It’s not flattering to have a complete stranger proclaim undying love, it’s creepy. What’s worse, the “happy ending,” as it were, is arrived at about halfway through the story. But, again, because Maya is an idiot, she must make terrible decisions and ruin this. Again, because a complete stranger tells her to and against all of the “love” that she has for Amar.

The older I’ve gotten, the more curmudgeony I’ve been about instalove stories. I never liked them, but now it’s almost an immediate death knoll to any enjoyment I might find in a book. Do you know what readers mostly like about romance? They like reading about how it develops! What makes these two people form this incredible and rare connection with each other? How do they learn to know, trust, and rely on the other? What challenges do they overcome, either plot-wise or emotionally to make this burgeoning relationship work? I only need about a paragraph tops of them fully in love telling readers about how great it is. Authors like this have taken literally the most boring part of the story and made it the ENTIRE story.

And this ties neatly to the writing itself. This book takes purple prose and melodrama to a whole new level. If you cut out the metaphors (and that’s a generous term for what’s going on here) and sugary drool of prose out of this book, you’d be left with maybe half? a third? of what the book is now. Let me put my English major nerd glasses on for a moment here. A metaphor or simile or comparative description of some kind is meant to draw an image in the reader’s mind. It might not be the common image associated with whatever you’re discussing, but it must be clear and make sense.

“I want to measure eternity with your laughter.”

“I see only night and smoke, dreams and glass, embers and wings. And I would not have you any other way.”

What does this mean. Seriously. What. And that’s only two examples. When it wasn’t straight out not making a lick of sense, the insta-love congealed with the prose to form a sappy, saccharine, gushy mess. Amar (again, after knowing Maya for a day) says that he would literally trade anything…for a strand of her hair.

His voice echoed with all the desperation of someone who has not slaked his thirst in eons and had just spied a goblet of water sweating beads of condensation, thick as planets. His voice lulled me, coated me.

Sentence, after sentence, after sentence of this. It was exhausting. If, as an author, you just want to string together pretty words that sound pretty together, perhaps write a nice poem. A novel requires more. Words that makes sense together is a very low bar.

I did not enjoy this book at all. The Indian setting was unique and there was a horse friend that I liked, but neither were enough to get me past the overly wrought language and a heroine who I began to actively root against shortly into the book. There was a very distinct decision that she made about halfway through the book that cemented my decision to put this down, and I really have no regrets. There are too many books in the world. And, most notable in this case, there are too many books in the world that tell almost this exact same story but do it well. I actually moved straight on to “Cruel Beauty,” a book this has been compared to, and am already enjoying it so much more. And I’m on page 30.

Rating: DNF

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Star-Touched Queen” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Hades and Persephone” and “South Asian YA/MG.”

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