Where Did I Get This Book: I received an ARC from NetGalley.
Book Description:When five hyper-successful women agree to appear on a reality series set in New York City called Goal Diggers, the producers never expect the season will end in murder…
Brett’s the fan favorite. Tattooed and only twenty-seven, the meteoric success of her spin studio—and her recent engagement to her girlfriend—has made her the object of jealousy and vitriol from her cast mates.
Kelly, Brett’s older sister and business partner, is the most recent recruit, dismissed as a hanger-on by veteran cast. The golden child growing up, she defers to Brett now—a role which requires her to protect their shocking secret.
Stephanie, the first black cast member and the oldest, is a successful bestselling author of erotic novels. There have long been whispers about her hot, non-working actor-husband and his wandering eye, but this season the focus is on the rift that has opened between her and Brett, former best friends—and resentment soon breeds contempt.
Lauren, the start-up world’s darling whose drinking has gotten out of control, is Goal Diggers’ recovery narrative—everyone loves a comeback story.
And Jen, made rich and famous through her cultishly popular vegan food line plays a holistic hippie for the cameras, but is perhaps the most ruthless of them all when the cameras are off.
Review:Thanks to NetGalley for giving me an eARC of this book!
As you’ve seen on my various “Not Just Books” lists on this blog, I do have a soft spot for a couple reality TV shows. I tell myself that my enjoyment of “ANTM” and “RuPaul’s Drag Race” is rooted within the inherent creativity that is at the heart of the premises; be it fashion modeling and the skills that go into it or the many facets of doing drag as performance and style, I love seeing these contestants do what I know I never could. But I’ll also be honest here: I do enjoy the petty catfights and drama that almost always arises when you put these people into high stress situations. So “The Favorite Sister” by Jessica Knoll was SUPER intriguing to me within it’s premise. I quite enjoyed her previous book “Luckiest Girl Alive” because of the issues that she tackled under guise of soapy snideness, so I had hopes that her next story would do the same. Along with juicy, sudsy characters tearing each other to shreds, of course.
So the good news is that this is a book that has a plot and mystery that will completely suck you in and not let you go until it’s good and ready to. I was reading this book on one of our late Spring snow storm days and it was the best way to pass the time because it kept me interested and wanting more. The plot concerns a reality show called “Goal Diggers” and the women who make up the cast of the show and all the problems that they have as they strive to maintain their status and fame. Mostly, it details the lead up to and fallout from the murder of the fan favorite Brett, a spinning studio owner who is proud of her curvy body and is an out and proud lesbian. It’s told between three perspectives and jumping through time: there’s Brett’s perspective, of course, but then there are also the perspectives of Kelly, Brett’s sister (mainly told after the fact), and Stephanie, Brett’s former best friend. They all have their own levels of unreliability, as they all have reasons to lie and distort the facts, and as the story slowly came out the rug got pulled out from under me a number of times. Knoll continues to be adept at creating twists and turns that you don’t see coming, even as she intricately lays the groundwork for them so they feel natural and believable. There were a number of moments where I said ‘whoa’ as a new surprise was sprung, and I definitely felt the need to keep reading to see what was going to happen next.
But ultimately, I think that the biggest drawback of “The Favorite Sister” is that all of the characters are completely reprehensible, and so unlikable that I didn’t find myself connecting to really any of them. While I had a fun time reading about how they were all behaving badly, and how they would all justify their behavior in ways that were totally laughable, I ultimately found myself hating almost all of them. The sole exception to this was Layla, Kelly’s twelve year old daughter, but you don’t get much sense of her outside of being a kind and creative (and driven) kid. I appreciate what Knoll was trying to convey, that even within a show that is supposed to be about lifting women up and encouraging them to think outside of what society wants them to be, they are still going to be judged by each other and by themselves because society is so damn ingrained in them. I get that. I appreciate that. It’s not a bad take at all. But when none of them really move beyond being laughably shallow (Lauren), ridiculously cruel (Jen), horrendously deluded by self grandeur (Brett), or just kind of there (Kelly), who do you root for? I had hoped that I could root for Stephanie, as she is probably the one who comes closest to having complexity. She is the only black woman on the show, she’s edging near the age where cast members generally get the ax, and she’s trying to prove herself beyond being a token and model minority. But ultimately she too was just terrible, and the various things that she was going through never QUITE justified the awful shit that she pulled. This was unfortunate because this derailed the commentary that I think that Knoll was trying to achieve. And it’s not like Knoll doesn’t know how to write unlikable characters who have depth and complexity; Ani in “Luckiest Girl Alive” is INCREDIBLY unlikable, but as you learn more about her past and her experiences you understand why she is the way she is. Stephanie, and the other characters, get some glimpses, but you never get the feeling that their behavior is justified with the limited exposure we do get.
I think that if what you’re looking for is purely guilty pleasure mean girl drama, “The Favorite Sister” will probably scratch that itch and give you everything you need. On a purely entertainment, watching bad people get what they deserve level it was very satisfying. But don’t go in expecting to have characters that you can relate to and root for, because you will not find that here.
Rating 6: While the story itself was engrossing and left me guessing until the very end, “The Favorite Sister” didn’t have the complexities to the characters that I was hoping for.
“The Favorite Sister” is a new book so it isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists yet, but I think that it would fit in on “Reality Show Themed Novels”.
Book Description: They call her Traitor Kate. It’s a title Kate Brighton inherited from her father after he tried to assassinate the high king years ago. Now Kate lives as an outcast, clinging to the fringes of society as a member of the Relay, the imperial courier service. Only those most skilled in riding and bow hunting ride for the Relay; and only the fastest survive, for when dark falls, the nightdrakes—deadly flightless dragons—come out to hunt. Fortunately, Kate has a secret edge: she is a wilder, born with magic that allows her to influence the minds of animals.
The high king’s second son, Corwin Tormane, never asked to lead. Even as he waits for the uror—the once-in-a-generation ritual to decide which of the king’s children will succeed him—he knows it’s always been his brother who will assume the throne. And that’s fine by him. He’d rather spend his days away from the palace, away from the sight of his father, broken with sickness from the attempt on his life.
With their paths once more entangled, Kate and Corwin have to put the past behind them. The threat of drakes who attack in the daylight is only the beginning of a darker menace stirring in the kingdom—one whose origins have dire implications for Kate’s father’s attack upon the king and will thrust them into the middle of a brewing civil war in the kingdom of Rime.
Review: This is another book that I requested primarily based on the beautiful cover art. Another win for the “no models on covers” team! I was also intrigued by the dueling narratives, though I think I generally tend to be a reader who prefers only one POV. But, if done right, I’ve loved alternating narrators in the past, and I was hopeful for this one. Plus, I’m always there for any fantasy story that involves animal magic!
Kate is living a life in hiding. After her father was executed for attempting to murder his good friend, the king, Kate’s life fell to pieces. Where once she had a best friend and burgeoning love in Prince Corwin, now she has only estrangement and bitterness at his failure to stand up for her and her father. Her cozy life working alongside her father in the palace stables has turned to one fraught with danger and hard work as she tries to support herself as a mail carrier in a land full of dangerous beasts that kill any out after dark. All of this while she tried to hide her magical ability to influence animals from the inquisitionists roaming the realm looking to round up and dispose of those like her.
Corwin’s life, too, is not what he once believed it would be. After years in self-imposed exile, he has returned to a country that doesn’t seem to need him, being well run by his brother in his ailing father’s place. But when strange attacks begin to happen in daylight, Corwin and Kate find there paths crossing again, as they both strive against dark forces at work in the kingdom.
Both Kate and Corwin were strong narrators with compelling arcs of their own, plus the storyline of their re-building relationship. Kate’s magic was intriguing and throughout the story, we learn alongside her what she is truly capable of. What’s more, her story is an interesting take on persecution and privilege. Up to this point, Kate has been comfortable enough hiding her magic. She has believed the stories she has been told about the dangers of her magic and that of others like her. So, while she lives in fear of being caught, she hasn’t had to truly confront what life is like for those who didn’t grow up in a palace, free from suspicion primarily because of position. Throughout the story, Kate witnesses the harsh realities of what this type of persecution, based on nothing more than fear, is like for those who have not had this type of shield. Once she is thrown back into life alongside those in power, she begins to see that her role can no longer be that of a passive player, content to use her powers in secret and live a quiet life.
Corwin’s story is fraught with insecurity and doubt. His self-esteem and self-respect have been poisoned by regret over his lost relationship with Kate and his perceived failures of her and of his country. The story introduces an intriguing concept with a sort of test that historically has been signaled by the arrival of a two-toned animal. This test determines which heir will inherit the throne. In his early 20s, the time is well past when this sign should have arrived and Corwin sees this as confirmation of his own failures. When the sign finally does arrive, Corwin must learn to accept his own strengths and make his own choices.
I also very much enjoyed the romance between these two characters. This isn’t first love, as that happened earlier in each of their lives only to be cut short by the trauma of Kate’s father’s betrayal of Corwin’s father. So when they are forced back to each other, their is doubt, hurt, and betrayal that must be dealt with. Beyond this is the understanding that Kate, the daughter of a traitor, will never be considered a worthy consort for a would-be king. What’s more, they each have secrets: Kate’s own magic, which she fears to reveal to Corwin whose own mother was killed by an out-of-control magic wielder; and Corwin’s lost years which clearly added to the self-doubt he feels with regards to himself.
The world-building and magic system were fairly standard, but I didn’t really see this as a down side. I very much enjoyed the magical creatures who descriptions were terrifying and whose presence and limitations based on day and night clearly shaped much of what goes on in this kingdom. I particularly liked the magical system set up for the process of inheritance. It was a unique concept and the trials themselves were exciting. The villain was also quite good. There were numerous red herrings and the motivations and methods of said villain were also a good reveal.
Overall, I had a blast reading this book. I was able to slip quickly and easily into this world. I cared about both Kate and Corwin’s stories separately, and was invested in their relationship as a couple. My only criticism comes with the ending. There’s this great battle scene full of magic, fighting, and sufficient stakes, and then it kind of just…ends. I was reading an ebook version, so maybe I was just caught by surprise more than I would have been had it been a physical book, but things did feel as if they got wrapped up fairly quickly. I’m also assuming there is going to be a sequel, though I haven’t seem mention of that anywhere! All in all, however, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It was a fairly standard fantasy, but the strength of its two narrators and the solid romance kicked it up pretty high on my own personal rating scale.
Rating 9: Two main characters whom you can’t help but root for!
Book: “Final Grade” (Fear Street #30) by R.L. Stine
Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, 1995
Where Did I Get This Book: ILL from the library!
Book Description:Everyone thinks she killed her teacher
Intense, competitive, Lily Bancroft had good reasons to hate him. She lives to win, and he was about to destroy her dreams. But murder? That was going too far, even for someone as driven as Lily.
She’s innocent. But that hasn’t stopped the whispers behind her back. Or the weird phone calls late at night. Then someone else is brutally murdered and suddenly Lily is drawn into a nightmare she can’t begin to control. Will her final grade be her last?
Had I Read This Before: Yes.
The Plot: We meet our protagonist Lily Bancroft as she’s arguing with her social sciences teacher Mr. Reiner. Seems that he gave her a B on her test and she feels that she deserves an A because she just does, okay? Mr. Reiner isn’t swayed, and after having a fantasy about killing him, Lily leaves the room, angry that she may not get the A that she needs to be Valedictorian at the end of the year to get the scholarship she needs. She runs into her friend Julie and says that she could just kill Mr. Reiner, which is poor phrasing and Julie’s older brother was murdered during a grocery story robbery, but hey, Lily is a Type A personality who is very much in her feelings. Besides, both of her older sisters were Valedictorian and she needs to keep up with them in her parents eyes. They stop by the library so Julie can drop off some books, and run into Lily’s boyfriend Alex, who used to date Julie but whatever, hormones gonna hormone. They then run into Scott, the editor of the school literary magazine The Forum, who mentions the deadline they have. But Lily says she can’t go to the meeting today, she has to work at her Uncle Bob’s pharmacy that night. See, her mother had a stroke and now Lily has to bring in a second income to help make ends meet at home. Damn, I feel like the college application essay alone will get her into any school she wants with a full scholarship, but hey, that’s not my business.
As she’s starting to walk to work Graham, Julie’s cousin and Lily’s rival for Valedictorian, offers her a ride in his sea foam green Porsche. He’s a total douchebag, but Lily accepts the ride because she doesn’t want to be late to work. He then brags about his grades and asks her if she’s ready for the state trivia contest they’re both trying to get a seat on, and she grits her teeth until she gets to work and thanks him for the ride. She really wants to win that because there’s a cash prize. While at work that night Lily is trying to do her homework as well as serve customres, when all of a sudden a guy pulls a gun and holds up the place. Uncle Bob comes out of the back room and then grabs the pistol he keeps in the drawer. The robber chickens out and runs off, and the new pharmacy delivery boy Rick runs after him (like a dope). Lily calls the police and Rick comes back empty handed. When Bob points out that he could have been killed, he shrugs in a ‘macho’ manner, and oh, he’s gonna be one of THOSE characters. He asks Lily what she’s doing, and she says homework. Then he asks her out, and is only swayed when she says she has a boyfriend. He confides that he’s a drop out because he had problems in classes, and she tells him that hey, she has problems too, and tells him all about that AWFUL Mr. Reiner. He asks her out again, and she says nope.
She gets off the bus at Fear Street and starts walking home. Then someone jumps out of the bushes, but it’s just Alex. She tells him about the robbery and he’s worried about her, but he also gets frustrated when she says that she has to go inside and study instead of sitting and talking with him for a bit. But he does agree, and lets her go inside. Her father seems less concerned about the robbery and more concerned about the B grade she got on that test, so Lily is more determined than ever to study her butt off. Her room phone gets a strange call, where the person on the line says that they know her and watch her ‘all the time’. They then hang up, and Lily focuses on her work.
The next day on the bus to school Lily is exhausted, but has decided that she is just going to ask Mr. Reiner if she can do some extra credit work to boost her grade. Alex says that’s a good idea, and they get off the bus and part ways. At her locker Lily runs into Lisa Blume, who heard about the issue with Mr. Reiner and needles her a bit. Lily says that she’s going to get her A ‘one way or another’, and Lisa, being a huge gossip, is probably not the person to say that to. When Lily goes to Mr. Reiner’s classroom to propose the extra credit idea, she finds him sprawled on the floor, a ladder and a broken lightbulb on the scene. And the poor man is dead.
So while Lily does feel bad about her bad thoughts about him, and the fact that there are rumors about her maybe killing him instead of it being an accident where he fell off the ladder and died, she is pleased that she is potentially going to get a better grade now, as the substitute has given her more options to raise it. She’s playing a friendly couple of games of tennis with Alex, Julie, and Scott, and this is the one place where she isn’t competitive (much to Alex’s chagrin). After the games Scott suggests that they all hang out some more, but Lily says she has studying to do, which miffs Alex even more. As she’s walking home Graham drives up next to her and offers her a ride. She agrees, but gets mad at him when he insinuates that maybe she killed Mr. Reiner over her grade. She gets out of his car and storms off. That night she gets another weird phone call, and the caller says that he knows she got what she wanted. So now she thinks that Graham is the caller.
Maybe a day later Lily meets up with Scott to look over her essay and the covers for the forum. Scott says that her essay is great (natch!) and that she should come to the paper mill that night to watch them print out the new edition on a huge printing press. She says that sounds fun and that she’ll come by after work, and then he asks her to help pick a cover. Alex comes in and is jealous, and when Scott leaves he tells Lily he doesn’t like that Scott likes her. Lily assures him he has nothing to worry about, and he trusts her. At work that night Rick comes in and starts pestering Lily. He teases her about Mr. Reiner, and she blows up at him. He asks her out again and she says no, and he GRABS HER HAND and asks her if she’s stuck up and he only ‘wants to get to know her better’, and she tells him to knock it off. He then apologizes profusely (of course) because he ‘needs this job’ so please don’t say anything to Bob. Stine LOVES these characters, the assholes who are actually just ‘misunderstood’. It’s so 90s. I like me a good bad boy trope as well, but you are NO Bender in “The Breakfast Club”, Rick, so fuck off. Uncle Bob asks if everything is okay, and Lily says yes, saving Rick’s undeserving ass from a swift firing.
Lily goes to the paper mill after work to meets her friends, but as she enters a bunch of HUGE rolls of paper start rolling towards her a la Indiana Jones. She jumps out of the way before being crushed to death, and her friends and the night foreman Mr. Jacobson all find her. He says that he has no idea how that happened, but now they’ll have to reload and delay the printing until later that week. Graham says that Jacobson is an idiot and that HE would know how to run this place better, and fuck yourself Graham because he’s the foreman and you aren’t. I don’t care if your Dad owns this place. They all decide to go to pizza instead. But because of this Lily doesn’t get home until after 11, and the trivia contest is the next day. She gets another weird phone call. Now the voice is saying that it wants to ‘help her’.
At the trivia contest it’s Lily vs Graham, and at first she’s holding her own pretty okay. But then Graham tells her that he saw his midterm grades, and that he’s getting basically all A’s. So poor Lily gets inside her own head, and the stress and exhaustion prove to be too much, and Graham ends up winning. Lily is devastated. As she’s walking home, Rick just happens to be in the neighborhood making deliveries, and offers to walk with her. He actually acts like a decent human being as they walk, but then he says that he wondered if he could ‘help her’ somehow when it comes to cheering her up. She then asks if he’s the person who’s been calling her….. And he says he has. She freaks out on him, but he swears that he never actually waits for her to pick up and always hangs up before she does. Lily doesn’t believe him, and when there is no call that night she is further convinced that he was the caller all along. But it’s NEVER that easy on Fear Street.
The next day the midterm grades are posted for all to see. How humiliating for those who aren’t doing so well!! I don’t understand why schools would do this. It was bad enough that my school posted the names of those on the Dean’s List AND posted the name of the ‘most improved’ student for the semester. That’s not encouraging, it just opens up for your asshole classmates to be like ‘HOW BAD WERE YOU BEFORE?’ Anyway, Lily is indeed humiliated because she is number 2 behind Graham. When her friends try to comfort her at the magazine meeting, because number 2 is still pretty good and there is STILL TIME for her to get her grades back up to snuff, she yells at all of them and storms out because
Lily leaves work early because the store is dead and Uncle Bob takes pity on her, so she goes to the paper mill to see the magazine get printed. When she arrives Mr. Jacobson has left a sign that says he’ll be back at 9:30. It’s 9:20, but Lily finds the door open. She goes in, hearing the printing press. She figures they must have started after all, so she heads towards the pressing room. She walks in and covers her ears because it’s so loud as it prints, and she gets splattered in the face with red ink that runs through the press. But wait, it’s not red ink. It’s BLOOD!! She runs around the other side and finds Graham HEAD FIRST IN THE PRESS!! She turns it off and checks to see if he’s still alive, but he’s not. She faints, and only comes to when her other friends arrive, and ask her how she got all that blood on her. I mean, there’s a bloody corpse next to her, guys, there are LOTS of ways it could have gotten on her.
The next morning at breakfast her mother asks her why she’s not eating. I ask HER why Lily hasn’t been taken straight to a therapist after seeing what she saw. Lily gets in Alex’s car to go to school (!?!?!), and he tries to comfort her. It doesn’t help that a bunch of Graham’s friends proceed to cut them off and stare at them, and Lily thinks that this is somehow all her fault, even though the police said that it was a tragic accident. When she gets to school she can’t help but gleefully think about how she is number one now. Kinda ghoulish. You get me to a sympathetic point and then knock it all down, Lily.
At the funeral Lily is really starting to lose it. She feels like people are looking at her, and when she goes to the viewing of the closed casket she hallucinates that Graham sits up and accuses her, but she gets her wits about her enough to understand that Julie is really hurting, as she just lost her brother and now her cousin is dead too. The funeral retreats to Julie’s house for refreshments (this officially isn’t the Midwest small town dynamic because it’s not in the church basement and there isn’t a spread of various bars to go with an unabashed reluctance to a bother anyone in any way), and as Lily and Scott are talking, but when Graham’s mom gives her a suspicious stink eye Lily takes that as her cue to leave. She rushes home to her empty house, and has a nice cry. As she empties out her purse looking for some tissues, she instead finds Graham’s glasses!! Suddenly there’s a bang and footsteps coming up the steps, and Scott is there! He says he was worried about her, and she tells him about the glasses. Which which Scott says that of course he knew about it, as he put them there! He wants her to know everything that he did for her to prove his love, aka killing Graham!!! He got the idea after Mr. Reiner’s freak accident with the light and slipping off the ladder. He told Graham to meet him at the printing press at nine, knowing the foreman would be on a break and then pushed him into the press so that Lily will be number one! He also was the one making the phone calls, and now they can be together forever! Lily tries to leave the room to call the cops, but he says that he’ll kill her if she leaves the room. Oh, and if she DOES try to turn him in, he’ll say that it was all her idea and that she also killed Mr. Reiner because she wanted to badly to be number 1. He grabs Graham’s glasses for collateral, and tells her that they can be together now. He leaves, and Lily doesn’t know what to do.
At the magazine meeting the next day Scott suggests that they make a special tribute issue to Graham. Lily thinks he’s demented but goes along with it. Julie is driving her to work afterwards and apologizes for being so distant lately; she’s just sad that Lily has no time for her outside of studying and Alex. Lily is relieved that Julie doesn’t blame her for Graham’s death. But then Julie, being a regular Nancy Drew, says that she isn’t convinced that Graham died in an accident, and believes that he was murdered! After all, his dad owns the paper plant, so of COURSE he knows how to use the press and not get caught in it. Julie assures Lily that she doesn’t believe the rumors and thinks that someone else killed him. Lily is scared that Scott will hurt Julie if she voices her suspicions or goes too deep. That night Scott calls Lily and tells her to break up with Adam and start dating him. Lily tries to deflect, saying people may be suspicious if she does that and may ask more questions. Then she IDIOTICALLY tells him that Julie is suspicious. He then threatens Julie, so Lily agrees to go out with him.
The night of the shitty date she has to go on, Lily runs into Alex outside her house and makes up a lame excuse about the library and studying. He gets miffed and walks off. She then meets up with Scott and has the actually pretty good idea of making it a terrible date for him so he’ll not want to do it again. She makes him drive to a town twenty miles away to see a movie, won’t hold his hand, and then makes him take her to a scary pool hall frequented by bikers and potential meth heads for dinner. Unfortunately they run into Rick, who just makes polite conversation, which gets Scott all possessive. As they leave he says that she better not be into Rick and that she better dump Alex or else. He drives her home, basically assaults her when he tries to kiss her and won’t let her go, but she squirms away and he walks her to her door. He tries to kiss her again but she ducks inside, and tries to figure out what to do…. Maybe CALL THE COPS!!! SCOTT HAS THE GLASSES!! There is EVIDENCE that he says he’s holding on to for collateral but EVIDENCE IS IN HIS POSSESSION!!!!
Lily avoids Scott okay at school that Monday, but at the magazine meeting he talks about their date in front of everyone. Including Alex. Alex, angry that Lily has been lying to him and has made time for Scott but not him, dumps her. Later that week (maybe? Time is being weird in this one), Lily is at work and Julie calls her telling her that she thinks she knows who killed Graham, because someone left a message for Graham at the paper plant the night he did. She asks Lily to meet her there the next night, because she wants to tell her in person. Lily tries to dissuade her, but when a customer comes in she has to hang up but says she will call her back. But she never gets the chance, because after a number of customers and Rick take up her time with all their bullshit, Scott comes in with a flower and an urge to make out. He starts to get grabby again (so much casual sexual harassment and assault in these books), and Lily blows up at him, saying that they won’t be together forever because Julie is figuring it all out!
So Scott says that they’re just going to have to kill her then. Ugh, SEE? She tries to get him to think that they can talk to her together and change her mind, and then SWEET KIND UNCLE BOB, in a moment if ill timed kindness, tells Lily that she can leave for the night and go have fun. Thanks, Uncle Bob! When he goes back to the back room with Rick to build some shelving, Scott tells Lily they’re going to take care of Julie now. Lily opens the drawer, hoping to grab the gun to intimidate him into stopping this whole thing, but oops, he grabs it first, and points it at her saying she better call Julie.
So they go to the paper plant, and Scott lets them in with his personal key the magazine has. Mr. Jacobson is nowhere in sight, and they wait for Julie. When she arrives, Lily screams at her to run before Scott can get the jump on her, but sweet idiotic Julie just stands there asking what’s going on. Scott confesses that he’s the one who killed Graham, but then tries to pin it on Lily as well. Julie doesn’t know what to think, but what does it matter because Scott presses her up against the press and points the gun right at her as Lily begs him to leave her alone. There’s a scuffle, and Lily almost gets the gun away from him, but to no avail. Scott aims the gun at Julie and shoots, and she falls to the floor. Lily cries over her best friend, and Scott says that they can be together now. He lets his guard down and puts the pistol in his pocket, but Lily gets the gun and aims it at him. She says that she’ll shoot him, but he calls her bluff. And he’s right, she wont’ shoot. So he embraces her…. BUT THEN JULIE STANDS UP, GRABS A LARGE METAL BAR, AND HITS HIM IN THE HEAD. He collapses, and the BFFs are reunited. Lily says she thought Julie was dead, but Julie says that nothing hit her. As they try to figure out why, Scott rallies for a moment, but then does drop dead while saying Lily’s name over and over.
So the police and medics come, as do Uncle Bob and Rick to pick them up and take them home. And turns out the gun was a starter pistol, and that’s why Julie wasn’t shot. Bob thinks real guns are too scary, and I LOVE Uncle Bob. Julie then eyes Rick and asks Lily if he’s single, and Lily says that Julie can have him because SHE needs to make sure that she keeps her grades up! After all, there’s still time to finish first, and she KNOWS that she will. THE END.
Body Count: 3. I feel bad for poor Mr. Reiner. Dealing with entitled kids all day and then he dies because maintenance won’t fix the damn light in his classroom is a rough way to go.
Romance Rating: 2. Alex was okay and I felt for him, but he didn’t support Lily’s need to succeed and was more focused on his own entertainment. Scott is a sexual extortionist, and Rick is definitely toxic in his own right so JULIE DON’T DO IT DON’T GO OUT WITH HIM.
Bonkers Rating: 4. Because of the printing press death. Everything else was pretty run of the mill.
Fear Street Relevance: 3, if only because Lily lives on Fear Street and because the past two books had absolutely NOTHING to do with Fear Street so that’s no doubt shading my opinions.
Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:
“Then she realized there was an answer. An answer that had been there all along. ‘I’ll kill him’, she thought.”
…. And then it’s NEVER brought up again. EVER. She goes back to just wondering how she’s going to get out of this mess.
That’s So Dated! Moments: There’s the fact that Lily says that Julie prefers reading while most kids their age like spending their time watching MTV, and I have to assume that it was a reference to the music videos and not to shows about teen pregnancy. Also, there’s a mention of Winona Ryder’s new romantic movie. But to be fair Winona has made a comeback and I’M SO PROUD OF HER!
“She moved the press. She tugged at his waist. She pulled frantically. ‘Are you alive? Graham? Are you?'”
NO HE’S NOT ALIVE, HE’S HEADFIRST IN A PRINTING PRESS!! This reminded me of the scene in “Tucker and Dale vs Evil” where that one kid jumps head first into the wood chipper and Tucker freaks the hell out, turns if off, and asks ‘hey, you okay?’
Conclusion: “Final Grade” was better than “Dead End” but that’s not really saying much. Up next is “Switched”.
We 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 “B-Sides,” where we pick different books from previous authors that we read in the club.
For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for book club. We’ll also post the next book coming up in book club. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own book club!
Book: “Long Way Down” by Jason Reynolds
Publishing Info: Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books, October 2017
Where Did We Get This Book: Kate owns an ARC, Serena got it from the library!
A-Side Book: “Ghost” by Jason Reynolds
Book Description:A cannon. A strap. A piece. A biscuit. A burner. A heater. A chopper. A gat. A hammer A tool for RULE
Or, you can call it a gun. That’s what fifteen-year-old Will has shoved in the back waistband of his jeans. See, his brother Shawn was just murdered. And Will knows the rules. No crying. No snitching. Revenge. That’s where Will’s now heading, with that gun shoved in the back waistband of his jeans, the gun that was his brother’s gun. He gets on the elevator, seventh floor, stoked. He knows who he’s after. Or does he?
As the elevator stops on the sixth floor, on comes Buck. Buck, Will finds out, is who gave Shawn the gun before Will took the gun. Buck tells Will to check that the gun is even loaded. And that’s when Will sees that one bullet is missing. And the only one who could have fired Shawn’s gun was Shawn. Huh. Will didn’t know that Shawn had ever actually used his gun. Bigger huh. BUCK IS DEAD. But Buck’s in the elevator?
Just as Will’s trying to think this through, the door to the next floor opens. A teenage girl gets on, waves away the smoke from Dead Buck’s cigarette. Will doesn’t know her, but she knew him. Knew. When they were eight. And stray bullets had cut through the playground, and Will had tried to cover her, but she was hit anyway, and so what she wants to know, on that fifth floor elevator stop, is, what if Will, Will with the gun shoved in the back waistband of his jeans, MISSES.
And so it goes, the whole long way down, as the elevator stops on each floor, and at each stop someone connected to his brother gets on to give Will a piece to a bigger story than the one he thinks he knows. A story that might never know an END…if WILL gets off that elevator.
Thank god for bookclub! It’s books like this that remind me how lucky I am to be in a club with such a great group of ladies who love to read and know their stuff about what’s out there. The only other Jason Reynolds book I read was for bookclub (was great), but per my norm, since he writes the type of fiction that I don’t usually pursue on my own, it’s likely I would have missed out on this great read as well.
During our meeting, there was a persistent theme of us all having read it in one sitting (most of us the very day of bookclub, my bad!) due to the story being written in verse. But this decision was so much more than a device that made the book quick to read! Reynolds masterfully binds together all the strengths that can be gleaned from versed-novels, while deftly avoiding some of the pitfalls, such as melodrama and pretentiousness.
Instead, the limited number of words created an almost claustrophobic atmosphere that mirrored Will’s journey down the elevator. From page to page, the words would be laid out differently across the page, sometimes mimicking the topic that was being discussed, such as a jagged splatter of words about an earthquake and a question mark shape drawn in words themselves. The line breaks, and even page turns, were also effective in giving weight to moments and certain words, leaving them to fall hard on the unsuspecting reader.
Beyond the style of the book, Reynolds tackles a tough and nuanced topic in his exploration of gun violence in a poor, black neighborhood. His story is a frank reveal of the limited choices and persistent cycles that exists, without casting judgement or freeing characters from the responsibility of their actions. Again, the decision to write in verse just further supported this exploration. As the number of words are limited, Reynolds’ language is precise, clear, and devastating.
My only criticism is with the very end, and even there, I’m not entirely sure how I feel. I like the ambiguousness, but I also feel like it wrapped up rather suddenly. However, I also don’t know how else a story like this could have been finished, and the ending itself speaks to the limited and challenging options available in these communities.
I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Jason Reynolds while at ALA’s Annual Conference in 2017, and when I met him I got an ARC of “Long Way Down”. I hadn’t known what to expect from that book, but I knew that the concept sounded very intriguing to me. When I finally opened it up a couple months later I was pretty much blown away. I hadn’t expected to be as taken with the book, only because it’s written in verse and DAMN am I not a poetry fan. But I read it one sitting and said ‘wow’ as I set it down at the end. So when we did the B-Sides theme, I KNEW that I needed to pick “Long Way Down”.
Will is a character that the reader can instantly relate to, even if your circumstances don’t match his. He’s a person who has just suffered a great personal loss, and his grief, rage, and helplessness are pushing him towards making a huge mistake: shooting the man who he thinks killed his brother Shawn. As mentioned, this entire story, from his brother’s murder to the aftermath to Will’s experiences in the elevator, is told in poetry form. The poems split up the story into little segments, and you get the full span of anger and deep grief that Will is experiencing. Even though I don’t like poetry, it’s use in this book is incredibly evocative, and in some ways makes it more powerful because of the way Reynolds structures each poem. You know that Will is a boy who deeply loves his brother, and is within a community where cycles of violence can affect, and embitter, anyone.
I also really appreciate the way that Reynolds shows the different victims of gun violence in Will’s life, from his brother to his father to his uncle to a childhood friend. They all have different scenarios that led to their deaths, some because of a direct choice, and others because of sheer circumstance and randomness. The one that hits the hardest is that of Dani, a girl who was friends with Will when they were eight, and who died because of a stray bullet meant for someone else. But that isn’t to say that Reynolds makes any of the other victims less of a victim by including her, no matter what choices they may have made. As Serena mentioned above, Reynolds shows that they are all victims in one way or another, be it victims of gun violence of victims of a society that has forgotten about them. There are lots of greys in this book, and, as Serena mentioned, lots of ambiguity, and I think that given that life is filled with greys it hits the point home.
Reading “Long Way Down” for the second time cemented it as one of my favorite YA books as of late, and Jason Reynolds is a master who is telling stories that really need to be told. I can’t wait to see what else he brings to the literary world.
Serena’s Rating 10: I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It was beautiful and soul-crushing, and provided a clear-eyed look into the gun violence that exists in so many of our cities today.
Kate’s Rating 10: A powerful and emotional story about grief, loss, helplessness, and rage, “Long Way Down” makes the reader confront a very dark reality about life for some people living in America today.
Book Club Questions:
This story was written in verse. How do you think this affected the story that was being told?
Each page was laid out in a different way with a different structure. Was there a particular one that stood out to you? Why?
Of the individuals that Will meets in the elevator, was there one whose story stood out for you? Why?
This book tackles some challenging issues surrounding race, poverty, gun violence, and the police force. Were there any moments that stood out to you as presenting a new way of looking at these issues? Are there any aspects that you wish could have been explored more?
The ending of this story is ambiguous. What do you think happens next and why?
Book Description: The Animorphs are given the power to pursue eighteen-year-old Henry– a human Controller who has discovered Elfangor’s Time Matrix–through time, but one Animorph must pay for this power with his life.
Plot: What I remembered from this book:
The story starts out in the barn with our favorite team. But wait, is it our favorite team? Rachel’s not there, and instead Melissa is a member of the team. Jake is a burgeoning sociopath who is a hair’s breath away from turning in Cassie for being sympathetic towards her…slaves? And Ax’s opinion’s don’t matter. He’s just some dirty alien, anyways. The entire unpleasant scene is suddenly interrupted by the Drode. Everyone is back to themselves, and Rachel is once again there (turns out that in the other timeline she had been sent to some type of reform camp for being too aggressive for a woman). The Drode informs them that what they just experienced was the result of a Controller, specifically Visser Four, getting his hands on the Time Matrix that was discovered at the old construction site where they all met Elfangor. Crayak and Elfangor have once again struck a sort of deal with the Animorphs at the heart of it. They will be given a special connection to the Time Matrix that will allow them to time jump with Visser Four to try and re-capture it from him and undo his changes to history. But there’s a price: the life of one of the Animorphs.
Cassie and Marco know who the most likely casualty will be: Jake, with whom Crayak has a particular beef. But, at the same time, letting the future they so briefly experienced go forward is unacceptable. They vow to protect Jake, and the team agrees to the mission and terms. And so the time jumping commences!
Agincourt: The team find themselves in what seems like the middle ages, between two armies (French and English) that are about to go at it with horses, spears, and bows and arrows. Rachel and Cassie almost get taken out by an errant knight before they all manage to reconvene. From there, they begin looking for Visser Four. They realize that the best way to spot him will be to look for someone who is NOT covered in fleas and has terrible teeth. They finally do, just as the two armies collide. He’s in a tree aiming an arrow at the English king. Tobias manages to snag it out of the air. Rachel, Marco, and Cassie almost gets trampled in the fighting, but horse!Jake and HorkBajir!Tobias rescue them in the nick of time. Ax almost catches Visser Four and the Time Matrix in a local bell tower, but he manages to jump at the last minute.
Delaware River: It’s night, it’s cold, and it’s raining. And George Washington and co. are about to cross the Delaware. In human form, Marco and Jake end up on a boat alongside him when it all goes wrong. Visser Four had already warned the Hessians on the other side that they were coming, and a volley of bullets sprays across the boats. Jake falls, a bullet hole in his head. The team panics. Marco tries to hold onto Jake, but he falls into the river. Dolphin!Cassie tries to collect his body. Rachel insists that Ax attack the Hessians for killing Jake. In the chaos, they all jump again.
Battle of Trafalgar: The team is on a ship. They’re all still reeling from the loss of Jake and trying to find their way. Dolphin!Cassie gives up hope and heads out to sea. Marco and Ax fight their way up from the brig. Up above, Tobias and Rachel spot Visser Four. Chimp!Rachel follows him up onto the crow’s next, but just then canons begin firing. Rachel falls, blown in half by a canon ball. Back below decks, Marco and Ax almost nab the Time Matrix again, but just miss as Visser Four sets an explosion that blows up the ship. Another jump.
Princeton: Cassie and Tobias find themselves on what appears to be the campus of Princeton. But the American flag is not flying. Washington was killed crossing the Delaware, and America doesn’t exist. Cassie is done with all the death, morphs polar bear, and lays the smack down on a passing college student when he expresses some racist opinions. Suddenly, Marco and Rachel (!) show up. The team realize that the rules of this mission were that one, and only one, of the Animorphs would die. Are they all now invulnerable? They wring more news out of the terrified student and realize that Visser Four was likely here to kill Einstein. But history has already changed so much that he miscalculated. Einstein isn’t even here. The team realizes that their plans need to change. History has already been too damaged by Visser Four. They need to get back the Time Matrix for themselves, change history back, maybe even get back Jake. Time jump!
D-Day: Several of the Animorphs experience the unique horror of charging the beaches and seeing hundreds of soldiers gunned down. Ax is particularly horrified by the violence. In small morphs, they are able to escape the rain of bullets. As birds from above, they see a line of tanks making their way towards the beaches. They realize that the French are on the side of the Germans, yet more proof that the timeline has been changed in crazy ways. In an attempt to get at Visser Four, HorkBajir!Tobias gets shot in the chest, but miraculously just stands right back up, confirming their theory that they can’t die. Eagle!Rachel takes out a tank with a hand grenade, but afterwards, realizing that so much is different, has a panic attack after realizing that it is no longer clear who the bad guys are. In this timeline, Hitler is just an old man driving a truck. They manage to finally nab Visser Four and the Time Matrix, but the host body is too injured to survive for long. The Yeerk makes a break for it, but Marco manages to grab it. None of them want to be the one to kill it, so Marco takes one for the team and throws the Yeerk into the fire that was the tank. With the Time Matrix now in their hands, they debate what to do. Cassie is the one to come up with the solution: she asks the man whom Visser Four had Controlled where his parents met.
The 60s: They then time travel to that point to break up the meeting, figuring that if his parents never met, then he would never exist and Visser Four would never Control him and discover the Time Matrix. While they are waiting, they discuss the horrors that they saw and that at every point in history they visited, people were senselessly killing each other. They debate whether or not they could do more to change the world, making it a more peaceful place. While they are talking, several hippies wander by and are impressed by the Time Matrix itself. Suddenly, they are back in the barn.
They realize that one of the hippies admiring the Time Matrix had been the would-be mother and that her distraction had resulted in her missing meeting the would-be father. What’s more, Jake is back, alive and well, not remembering anything after their attempted crossing of the Delaware. The world may not be better, but it seems that at least things are back to the way they were.
Our Fearless Leader: Jake gets the short straw as he is out of the story fairly early on and misses much of the action. We have some good leadership moments from him, particularly during their first time jump when Cassie, Rachel, and Marco are in the middle of the battlefield about to be trampled at any moment. Tobias is going crazy with worry about Rachel, not wanting to focus on Visser Four at all, and just go in after her. Jake reminds him that Cassie is down there too, but that just wildly going after them will not get them anywhere. His calm, even in the midst of crisis, is really highlighted.
While I like the tie-in to Jake and Crayak’s particular beef when it comes to the likelihood that Jake will be the one to die, it also lowers the stakes quite a bit. There are a few of the Animorphs who, theoretically, we might have bought as actually being killed off in this book. Rachel or Tobias are probably the most likely candidates. But with Jake, there’s never any question that he’ll be back somehow.
Xena, Warrior Princess: Rachel is at her reckless/brave best (worst?) in this book. In their very first jump, she and Cassie end up in a tight spot with a few knights when Rachel’s go-to response of morphing elephant doesn’t turn out so well. Though I did, as always, love the Cassie/Rachel scene!
<See, Ax? Told you it was Rachel. Any time you hear a bunch of screaming and see people running, you’re going to find our girl Rachel somewhere close by.> [Tobias]
“Very funny,” Rachel said. ” They started it. Cassie: Tell them who started it!”
Later, she has a really cool scene taking out the tank with the hand grenade, though it is questionable later whether this was necessary. Mostly, she was just gungho to take out Nazis. But once she realizes that the French were teamed up with Germany in this timeline, she begins to understand that she doesn’t know whether they were the enemy or not in this scenario. It’s a really small scene, but it does highlight Rachel’s own knowledge and fear of her recklessness. She’s scared by herself in this way.
But, as I’ve pointed out in the past, she’s also, again, the first one to go into danger to try to save one of the others. This time, she’s the first to try to save Marco when he gets stuck in the middle of the battlefield in the first jump.
A Hawk’s Life: This whole book is a perfect example of why Tobias should use his Hork Bajir morph more often. He uses it to great success multiple times within this book. It doesn’t hurt that the clearly alien morph is sure to freak out any nearby people, thus clearly the way quite effectively without having to even do anything.
He also has another impressive hawk moment when he catches the arrow that Visser Four is shooting straight out of midair.
Tobias is also particularly vehement about taking out Hitler in the D-Day jump. Cassie tries to talk him down, pointing out that they don’t know who he has become in this new version of reality, but through a series of events, HorkBajir!Tobias does end up killing him, rather accidentally. As everything gets undone, it doesn’t matter one way or the other, but now Tobias can brag that he did in fact kill Hitler at one point.
Peace, Love, and Animals: Cassie gets a lot of chapters in this book. As I discuss in Marco’s section, she and Marco have a unspoken plan to protect Jake. When they don’t succeed, Cassie succumbs to a moment of weakness and tries to flee out into the ocean in dolphin morph. Obviously this doesn’t work out, and she finds herself tugged along in the next jump anyways. It’s also nice to see her get mad and take things into her own hands when it comes to dealing with the racist guy in the Princeton jump.
She’s also the one to come up with the plan for out to set things right in the end. She’s not outright “killing” anyone, but her plan does result in the end, or more like, lack of existence, of a man’s life.
The Comic Relief: This is one of the first books where we’ve really seen a strong connection between Cassie and Marco. In the very beginning, when the Drode is laying out the situation, Marco is resistant to agreeing. It doesn’t take long for Cassie to realize why and for the two of them to come to an unspoken agreement about not letting Crayak take Jake. It’s nice seeing them both recognize the special relationship they each have with Jake. Rachel, too, has a close connection with him, but, as we’ve seen, she and Jake have a bit more of a fraught relationship than the BFF relationship that Marco has or the quasi-dating relationship of Cassie.
It’s also worth highlighting that Marco is the one to ultimately kill Visser Four. He tries to pass it off as a casual thing, but this is only marginally successful. But it does show that he is also willing to shoulder the burden when it is clear no one else is capable of it. Given their ultimate plan, though, I don’t know why this was so much of a concern. They change the timeline for the man he was Controlling, but it seems as if the Yeerk Visser Four would be alive and well back in their new timeline, so his “death” here is rather meaningless.
E.T./Ax Phone Home: After the Hessians shoot Jake, Rachel orders Ax to take them out. He tries to argue that they are innocent (at least of meaning to take out Jake specifically), but in the end, he goes for it. Throughout the rest of the story, we see this decision continue to haunt him.
On the beaches on D-day, he has a similar moment to Cassie’s where he thinks to just flee. He is horrified by the violence all around him, and struggles again to understand the duplicity of humanity, that people like his friends can exist yet throughout history humans just seem to kill each other. He is even more horrified when he learns the reasons for this particular war and what happened to the Jews.
Best (?) Body Horror Moment: There’s so much actual action taking place in this one, that we get a lot fewer descriptions of disgusting morphs. That said, this has to be one of the most violent books we’ve seen, made worse that it is drawing from history. Rachel’s death is probably the most gruesome. Her chimp body is literally blown in two and as she falls, she sees the remaining half of her own body still hanging from the ship’s masts. Then we switch perspectives to Tobias and get to have even more lovely descriptions of her blown apart body.
Couples Watch!: As I said, one of my big memories of this one was the Tobias/Rachel kiss. Once again they are blowing Cassie/Jake out of the water as far as relationship goals go. Tobias thought she was dead for like fifteen minutes, but the minute he sees her, he runs to her and kisses her. Cassie thinks Jake is dead for quite a long time, but when he shows back up in the barn, everyone’s kind of like “Oh, hey there!’ and Cassie casually kisses him on the cheek while talking about the philosophy of time and humanity. Romantic it is not. Seriously, what is with these two??
“Whoa, Cassie! That is so Rachel,” Marco said. [Cassie in polar bear morph threatening the Princeton guy]. I recognized the voice immediately. He’d come up behind us.
“Really,” Rachel said. “What are you doing? Stealing my act?”
“Rachel!” Tobias yelped. And a millisecond later he had spun around, grabbed her, and kissed her. Then he held her back at arm’s length.”You’re dead!”
If Only Visser Three had Mustache to Twirl: Visser Four is obviously the big bad in this. But we never really get to know much about him. Throughout the book he’s seen more as a distant figure that they are chasing, and the few interactions they have with him are pretty typical Yeerk boasting.
“So. The Andalites pursue me still,” he sneered. “I was careless. I did not expect to be pursued. But I’ll be careful now. Yes. And you know what? It’s better this way. I have the power now! I have the POWER!”
More telling, when John Barryman is finally freed from the Yeerk, he is astonished and amazed that they are all just kids. He mentions how much the Animorphs are driving the Yeerks, and especially Visser Three, absolutely crazy trying to catch them. He tells them they’re heroes. Probably something they needed to hear about now.
Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Ax’s complete bewilderment and horror at the violence throughout human history really struck home. There’s a particularly heart-wrenching scene on the beaches when he witness a man get shot, and then sees a army doctor run up to try and help him and the doctor is shot too. All while trying to help a solder whose injuries were to dire to begin with.
Jake’s death, while not really worrying as something that will stick, is made more poignant because of Cassie and Marco’s silent agreement to protect him and how suddenly and completely they failed. In many of the other books, we see them get horrific injuries and then slowly start dying but have the time still to morph out to save themselves. Here, Jake is shot in the head. He’s dies in a second and there was absolutely nothing Cassie or Marco could have done about it. It really hits home how dangerous the war with the Yeerks is. This same thing could happen at any moment in their ongoing war, and the others would be equally helpless to stop it, and wouldn’t have a convenient time loop hole to get them out of it.
What a Terrible Plan, Guys!: Really, the fact that they were even for a second discussing messing around with the Time Matrix more than just trying to set things right. They’ve already seen how even the smallest changes have had huge repercussions on the world. How could they ever think they could figure out this impossible puzzle in a way that wouldn’t be disastrous somehow? And it’s not like this is even their first experience with time travel! In the last megamorphs book with the dinosaurs, they saw how fragile the balance was for things to need to happen in a very specific way to get to the world they knew. Plus, you have to assume that any further messing around with time would have been put to a quick stop by either (or both!) Crayak or the Ellimist.
There’s quite a bit of dark stuff and deep, timey-wimey musings, but, as always, Marco quips win the day:
“Oh, man, the colors, man!” A “hippie” had come up to admire the Time Matrix’s shimmering globe.
“Right, the colors, whoa! Cool! Go away. We’re trying to figure out the space-time continuum here,” Marco snapped.
Scorecard: Yeerks 6, Animorphs 12
I’m not going to change the score for this one. Like the other megamorphs books, this one kind of exists on the sidelines of the main plot, so there aren’t any long-lasting repercussions from their success here.
Rating: I still really enjoyed this one. I forgot about Marco and Cassie’s mini alliance, and all the details of the historical time periods they visited. I had completely forgotten how this book started out, just dropping readers into the other timeline. I was pretty confused at first since I know the last megamorphs deals with an alternate reality and I started questioning whether I had somehow gotten the order mixed up and that was this one. And, of course, I’m going to love any book with good Tobias/Rachel moments!
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!
Book Description:The killer housewife is back! The Schuller family has moved to Cocoa Beach, Florida, where life carries on as usual. Josie continues to juggle Tupperware parties, her kids, and a few human heads. However, when someone from her past tails her on a hit, she may be in for more than she bargained for.
“Lady Killer is worth its weight in gold for the art alone, but the enigmatic Josie Schuller is the real appeal.”—Newsarama “A level of violence that can only be described as Mad Men’s Betty Draper meets Dexter.”—Comic Book Resources
Review:Given that I enjoyed the first volume of “Lady Killer” by Joëlle Jones, it was a long and difficult wait for “Volume 2” to finally come out. Assassin Housewife Josie Schuller was a character that went above and beyond my expectations in the initial tale, an archetype that could have easily fallen into sex kitten kitsch lie so many other ‘badass’ women before her (Harley Quinn, anyone?). But the strength of her character lies within her complexity, and her multifaceted life and personality makes her an intriguing and fascinating protagonist, and I was excited to see where the choices she made in the previous book took her.
When we left Josie she had broken ties from the group that hired her on as an assassin. In a rather, uh, flamboyant way. Now she and her family (consisting of her husband Gene, her twin daughters Jane and Jessica, and her suspicious mother in law Mrs. Schuller) has moved to Florida, and Josie is working as a free agent assassin as well as maintaining the role of a perfect homemaker. By day she throws cocktail parties and barbecues, by night she’s killing targets. The duality of an ideal 1960s housewife and a cold blooded killer is both hysterical, but a bit barbed as well. Even hit women need to juggle it all, and have certain facades to maintain just as many women today feel a need to do so. I love seeing Josie interact with both her targets and her family. Her love and devotion to Gene is lovely to see (especially since he’s so clueless about who she is and what she is capable of), and little interactions with her daughters shows the fierce love she has for them and keeping them safe, be it from physical dangers or loutish, inappropriate men and their ‘humor’.
One of the realities of Josie’s new life, however, is that by working solo she doesn’t have the support she had in the past, which makes flying under the radar more difficult. It was one thing to take out a target and have others there to clean up for you; it’s quite another to have to deal with it yourself, especially if you are a petite lady. I like that Jones was realistic in that Josie, capable assassin or not, struggled with body disposal and clean up, and had to turn to a shady character from the past, Irving, to help her with it all, as well as finding herself approached by another group that may want to strike a partnership. I like that Josie is frustrated that she needs help, and wants to continue her career on her own terms. But of course, with everyone having ulterior motives and underestimating the excellence that is Josie Schuller, nothing can come easy, and she finds herself the victim of the toxic assumptions that even though she’s a trained killer, ultimately she’s a woman, and therefore exploitable. The themes are evergreen, aren’t they?
Speaking of underestimating women, Josie isn’t immune to it. We get some background to her crabby and suspicious mother in law, Mrs. Schuller, who up until now Josie has seen as a mere thorn in her side. Turns out, Mrs. Schuller has a lot of stuff she’s been hiding, and some of her knowledge and backstory sparks off some dangers for Josie, and in turn their shared family. I am going to go into this a bit because I have a lot to say and dissect with this revelation, so consider this your warning for
As it turns out, Mrs. Schuller used to work as a clerk for the Nazis. She’s now living a secret life in the U.S., hiding her past from those around her. I personally was uncomfortable with this revelation. While I like that it helped propel another plot line further along, it feels gross to me that this woman is pretty much getting off scott free as of now for being an honest to God Nazi. I appreciate the device of her being able to recognize ‘badness’ when she sees it, and that it means that she has some, um, skills that may come in handy down the line, but ultimately I really dislike that she is a foil to Josie. It’s a monster recognizing a ‘monster’ kind of situation, and I find it hypocritical that she wants Josie away from her son and grandchildren when she actively helped commit genocide. It’s a huge blip in what had, up until that point, been a stellar story, and sets it off kilter for me. But if we are willing to set aside the whole Nazi thing, it does show some interesting parallels between Josie and her mother in law, and how they both love their family fiercely in the face of hiding very large and very dangerous secrets. Secrets that can’t keep sustaining themselves.The idea that Gene will forever be in the dark about Josie’s profession is a tedious one, and I was worried that we would continue to see Josie making roasts, stirring martinis, and keeping him in the dark to a laughable degree. But Jones makes a pretty ballsy decision in this volume that lays the groundwork for Josie’s perfect facade to start cracking as things become more and more out of control. We are left on a pretty big cliffhanger and potential gamechanger about this, as well as the return of someone who could REALLY mess things up for Josie’s personal life.
So Nazi storyline aside, I really enjoyed “Lady Killer: Volume 2”, and the growth and shift that Josie Schuller maneuvers within in. I had to wait so long for this volume, and I have the feeling the the next one will also be a wait. It’s one that I am more than willing to wait for, though. However impatient I may be.
Rating 8: A fun follow up with my favorite assassin housewife, Josie Schuller continues to buck gender norms and subvert expectations of 1960s womanhood! “Lady Killer: Vol. 2” keeps the fun going and I can’t wait for the story to continue.
Book Description: Caroline Oresteia is destined for the river. For generations, her family has been called by the river god, who has guided their wherries on countless voyages throughout the Riverlands. At seventeen, Caro has spent years listening to the water, ready to meet her fate. But the river god hasn’t spoken her name yet—and if he hasn’t by now, there’s a chance he never will.
Caro decides to take her future into her own hands when her father is arrested for refusing to transport a mysterious crate. By agreeing to deliver it in exchange for his release, Caro finds herself caught in a web of politics and lies, with dangerous pirates after the cargo—an arrogant courier with a secret—and without the river god to help her. With so much at stake, Caro must choose between the life she always wanted and the one she never could have imagined for herself.
Review: First off, a bit thanks to the publisher for sending this my way! Just in time for us all to gear up for the second in the series, “Whisper of the Tide,” to come out this June. And this was a super solid outing for a new fantasy series, so count me as on board that excitement train!
So I was one of those kids who went to summer camp. During middle school I just went to the regular camp, but then I discovered the magnificence of “themed” camps also offered through the sane organization. Specifically, sailing camp. It was a week long camp where a bunch of high schoolers and a few counselors pretty much sailed around this massive lake in northern Idaho and camped overnight at various places. So…yeah…I’m pretty much a sailing expert. Ha! Not all. But this little jaunt into memory lane is one of the reasons that I loved this book.
We’ve all read a million and one epic fantasies with dragons and magical powers A few trillion fairy tale retellings. And as much as I love both of those, it’s always nice to find a new take on the genre, and that’s what we get here. Not only does the majority of the story take place on the water, be it rivers or the ocean, but the main character’s entire life and that of her family revolves around living on and operating ships. What’s more, it is a crucial aspect of the magic system, the economy of the world, and its belief system.
I loved that the author went all in on this concept. She doesn’t hesitate to devote a decent amount of time describing ships and the skills necessary to successfully navigate them. I had a lot of fun picking out the few bits of knowledge I recognized, and it was interesting to learn even more. This may read as a bit dull to some readers, but I think if you know what you’re going to get and have an interest in sailing and ships, this sharp focus will be appreciated.
But the world-building goes beyond just detailed ship knowledge. As I said, the politics and economics of this world revolve in one way or another around the waterways. Caro’s path through this adventure is tied to the different parties involved who have an interest in what goes on out on the water. Caro’s mother and father both come from very different worlds, and I loved the very different outlook they both brought to what it means to love the water and the ships on it.
Caro, herself, was an excellent protagonist. It’s clear from the beginning that she is a skilled sailor, and as she moves through the story, she gains even more confidence in this area, all while still trying to find her exact role in this world. She’s pulled between the two opposite forces of her parents, and also is starting to suspect that she may be something altogether different than either of them would suspect. Here, the magic system was particularly interesting, including a very unique river god.
The other major player is Markos, a young man full of arrogance and swagger, and whose lot gets thrown in with Caro’s, much to her initial displeasure. This was a perfect example of one of my much loved romances: the dislike changing to love arc. But it’s also a tough one to pull off, with many authors succeeding a bit too well at the “dislike” portion, so much so that they can’t justify the love to follow. Here, Markos’s vanity and incompetence are humorous. And while it’s easy to see why he gets under Caro’s skin, as a reader, I was just having blast reading about his foibles. And, as Caro gets to know him better, he has clear strengths, such as an unbreakable love for his family and some pretty stellar sword skills.
For me, the unique world-building and the spot-on characterization of Caro and Markos are what truly sold me on the story. It does focus quite a bit on the sailing aspect of things, so if you have zero interest in ships and how they work, this might be a struggle. But for everyone else, jump on board!
Rating 8: This book was a romp, a fast-moving adventure full of ships, magic, and high stakes.
Publishing Info: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, February 2018
Where Did I Get This Book: The library!
Book Description:Kay Donovan may have skeletons in her closet, but the past is past, and she’s reinvented herself entirely. Now she’s a star soccer player whose group of gorgeous friends run their private school with effortless popularity and acerbic wit. But when a girl’s body is found in the lake, Kay’s carefully constructed life begins to topple.
The dead girl has left Kay a computer-coded scavenger hunt, which, as it unravels, begins to implicate suspect after suspect, until Kay herself is in the crosshairs of a murder investigation. But if Kay’s finally backed into a corner, she’ll do what it takes to survive. Because at Bates Academy, the truth is something you make…not something that happened.
Review: Oh ho ho what’s this? It’s another ‘horrible kids being horrible at boarding school’ book!! My freaking weakness of a book type (or one of many). “People Like Us” by Dana Mele was one of those books that I just randomly stumbled upon on GoodReads thanks to that site’s propensity to feature books on the side of your feed that they are trying to promote. Most of the time I ignore these ads, but on occasion I’m drawn in because of tantalizing covers or large words promising great things, usually of thriller kind. Knowing full well that I was pretty much taking a gamble, I requested it. When it opened with a bunch of boarding school popular girls finding a body, I was immediately drawn in. Because who doesn’t love a bit of salacious carnage to kick off a book? But as the book kept going, it became quite clear that it was going to be something we’ve seen before without pushing many boundaries inside of the genre.
The cast of characters is a pretty standard cast list for a YA thriller/mystery. Our protagonist is Kay, a girl who came to the prep school Bates Private School with two main motivations: to pursue a soccer scholarship for college, and to run away from a trauma from her past. She has a number of secrets she keeps from her other friends in their popular crowd, just as they have secrets from each other as they rule the school and sometimes torment other students. Unfortunately, there was definitely too much of her hinging on on this tragic and secret past of hers, and while it was slowly and carefully unfolded I never really found a moment of connection to Kay. While most of her relationships with her friends are pretty one dimensional, there are a couple exceptions to this: she is attracted to and perhaps in love with her best friend Brie, but their romance has never come to fruition because the timing has always been wrong (or Kay has been misbehaving in some kind of way). And along with Brie there is Nola, a classmate who has always been seen as weird, but may be Kay’s only hope in solving who is harassing her and targeting her friends. I really liked that Dana Mele treats Kay’s sexuality as just a fact of the story, and that all of these characters were fairly fluid in their sexual identities. But beyond that, none of them were particularly noteworthy or interesting. As Kay’s friends face their various consequences to being jerks, I never felt particularly bad for them, nor did I really feel a sweet satisfaction outside of a general ‘ha ha awful popular kids get what’s coming to them’ feeling. They weren’t likable, but they weren’t interesting enough to be fun to hate either. Too many of them were placed to either be non lethal body counts, or to make the reader wonder if they are the one who set it all up in the first place.
The mystery too was a little lackluster for me. There were plenty of red herrings the muddle the waters effectively, be it misdirection about the mystery at the forefront or the mystery of Kay’s past. But ultimately, I did kind of brush across the solution well before the solution was revealed, even if I didn’t let it stick in my mind. And by the time we did get to the solution, I didn’t feel like we’d come to a big revelation. It just kind of happened, and I felt neither positive nor negative about how it all sussed out in the end. There was one final twist that did shock me, though, which was a nice surprise given that I thought that I had everything totally figured out within that storyline. It’s the little surprises that felt rewarding in this book, but when you don’t find yourself as a ready very invested in the majority of the mystery, or the consequences that it is going to dole out of the characters.
So what made it so readable, perhaps you are wondering? Well honestly, I am always going to be a sucker for the boarding school brats being rotten to each other trope, along with the themes of the misbehaving idle rich getting what they so richly deserve. If you want a standard book within this trope and genre, “People Like Us” is going to fulfill that want and need because it is so by the book (as it were). It almost acted as a comfort read for me, in that I didn’t have to think too deeply about it and that I knew that bad people were going to have bad things happen to them. Sometimes all we want is a book that hits all the things that we want and to be able to just enjoy it for what it is, and I do have to admit that I got that from “People Like Us” when all was said and done.
If you are looking for a YA thriller mystery that reinvents the wheel, “People Like Us” probably isn’t going to be the read for you. But if you want that familiar comfort of a genre you’ve come to really enjoy without rocking the boat, it could be a good bet.
Rating 6: A fine example of the thriller genre, especially if it takes place in a boarding school, but “People Like Us” doesn’t really do much to set itself outside the genre.
Okay, so after a bit of a false start that led to multiple snow storms in April (including an honest to God BLIZZARD), May is here and now, NOW, spring is finally here. We’re celebrating by exploring the outdoors, opening the windows, and anticipating a number of new books. Here are the titles we’re looking forward to this month!
Book: “The Surface Breaks” by Louise O’Neill
Publication Date: May 3rd, 2018
Why I’m Interested: “Beauty and the Beast” will always be my favorite fairytale, but as a young girl, I also had a special place in my heart for “The Little Mermaid.” However, unlike “Beauty and the Beast,” that story has become a bit harder to swallow as I’ve gotten older. I mean, everything else aside…she’s sixteen!!! At least they don’t put an age on Belle! But, all of that said, I love fairytale retellings and ‘The Little Mermaid” doesn’t really have a ton of them. I’m a little wary about the “groundbreaking feminism” that this book is hyped to have (I’m now wary of much hype about anything it seems), but I’m excited to check it out and judge for myself. The cover is absolutely gorgeous, if nothing else!
Book: “The Queen of Sorrow” by Sarah Beth Durst
Publication Date: May 15, 2018
Why I’m Interested: Well, this is kind of a strange pick because it’s book three in a trilogy of which I’ve only read the first, “The Queen of Blood.” But I loved that book with its original fantasy world made up of cities built in trees and deadly spirits that only the most powerful queen can control. I’m trying to avoid looking too closely at the plot description of this story, since I haven’t gotten to book two yet, but it seems that Daleina is still queen and is now beginning to go head-to-head with her old school frenemy, Merecot. Merecot was only in the first book for a very short portion, but I really loved what we got from her there. She was incredibly powerful, witty, and a bit sociopathic. But there was also a strange bond between her and Daleina. Will be a bit until I finally get to this, but it’s always nice when a trilogy/series is already finished when you’re reading it and therefore don’t have to deal with any waiting!
Book: “Onyx & Ivory” by Mindee Arnett
Publication Date: May 15, 2018
Why I’m Interested: Yet another new fantasy series to start! At least I’m guessing it’s a series/trilogy, though I’d love to be proven wrong as standalone fantasy stories are rare gems. This story features Kate, a young woman attempting to live her life under the radar for two reasons. Her father was a traitor to the crown, attempting to assassinate his close friend the King, and she possesses a rare, and outlawed, magical skill to command animals. Corwin is the King’s second son. While the traditions of the land say that he and his brother are both viable heirs for the throne, Corwin has never felt worthy. Partly due to his perceived abandonment of his childhood friend and young love, Kate, after her father’s actions and execution. But, of course, they’re thrown together once again and their futures are not what they had planned.
Book: “The Outsider” by Stephen King
Publication Date: May 22nd, 2018
Why I’m Interested: This is probably obvious from the get go, but given that Stephen King is one of my favorite authors I would be remiss to leave his newest book, “The Outsider”, unacknowledged. This one is more like the “Mr. Mercedes” canon, with more emphasis on evils of a non-supernatural kind, in which a child is murdered and someone is falsely accused for it, while the real killer continues on a spree and remains undetected. King is always going to be a priority for me and my reading list, and while he has his ups and downs, I always enjoy the journey that he takes me on. While I did like “Sleeping Beauties” enough, I’m excited to see King back on his own.
Book: “Our Kind of Cruelty” by Araminta Hall
Publication Date: May 8th, 2018
Why I’m Interested: As you guys know, the Joe Goldberg Duology (please be a series!) by Caroline Kepnes is one of my favorite reads lately, potentially all time. Though a lot of that is because of the humorous voice that Joe has, it’s also the creepy stalker perspective that I enjoy. So I am very intrigued and interested in Araminta Hall’s new book “Our Kind of Cruelty”. This one involves Mike, who knows that he and Verity are meant to be together even if she doesn’t know it. So he figures that if he just keeps track of every move she makes, he’ll know the right time to ‘win’ her back. While I have a feeling it’s not going to be as ‘fun’ as “You” or “Hidden Bodies”, I’m ready to be scared by this kind of tale again.
Book: “The Death of Mrs. Westaway” by Ruth Ware
Publication Date: May 29th, 2018
Why I’m Interested: While it’s true that “The Lying Game” left me a bit underwhelmed, I still like Ruth Ware and her thriller writing skills and am excited about her newest book “The Death of Mrs. Westaway”. In her newest thriller, a woman named Hal is accidentally left an inheritance meant for someone else. Hal, a cold reader who scams people with tarot readings, thinks that she can probably fake her way into getting the money, and goes to claim the inheritance. But, of course, it becomes quite clear that things are very, very wrong. I’m down for a return to a gothic thriller with questionable characters and strange circumstances, and if this can return to “In a Dark Dark Wood” levels of excellence I will be completely stoked.
What are some books you are looking forward to that are coming out this month? Let us know in the comments!
Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley and BookishFirst
Book Description: When assassins ambush her best friend, the crown prince, Rielle Dardenne risks everything to save him, exposing her ability to perform all seven kinds of elemental magic. The only people who should possess this extraordinary power are a pair of prophesied queens: a queen of light and salvation and a queen of blood and destruction. To prove she is the Sun Queen, Rielle must endure seven trials to test her magic. If she fails, she will be executed…unless the trials kill her first.
A thousand years later, the legend of Queen Rielle is a mere fairy tale to bounty hunter Eliana Ferracora. When the Undying Empire conquered her kingdom, she embraced violence to keep her family alive. Now, she believes herself untouchable–until her mother vanishes without a trace, along with countless other women in their city. To find her, Eliana joins a rebel captain on a dangerous mission and discovers that the evil at the heart of the empire is more terrible than she ever imagined.
As Rielle and Eliana fight in a cosmic war that spans millennia, their stories intersect, and the shocking connections between them ultimately determine the fate of their world–and of each other.
Review: I’m pretty sure “Furyborn” wins the competition for most hyped book this spring. Everywhere I look there are lists including it as most looked forward to, rave reviews, or options to get your hands on it early. So props to the marketing team for getting this one out there. However, as has become a bit of a habit for me with much-hyped books, I had some mixed feelings on this one. Mixed though! I did enjoy this more than “The Cruel Prince” which was my last big letdown from the hype machine.
Most of the things I enjoyed in this story were also directly tied to aspects that I did not. Unlike other books, the problems I had with this story weren’t connected as much to the actual characterizations we’re given or the overall story. Both were mostly strong. But there are writing choices throughout the story that frankly sabotaged the good efforts made elsewhere.
For example, to start out. Both Rielle and Eliana are strong enough characters on their own. They live in very different worlds, and while some of their struggles are similar (trying to find their place in the world & hiding/fighting against perceptions that might set others against them and those they love), they are distinct in their own right. They each have a unique voice, always an important element in shared POV books. I personally found myself a bit more drawn to Eliana. Her story has a bit more mystery (for reasons we’ll discuss later), and as a character, I enjoyed her more morally grey worldview. However, I didn’t dislike Rielle either.
The other side of this coin, though, is the fact that both of these characters feel cut off at the knees by the alternating POVs. It’s not even a complicated problem: each POV is simply too short. The reader is being constantly bounced back and forth between each girl’s story, that one can never really settle into either character or plotline. This results in me kind of just not caring, when all is said and done. Readers need a chance to settle into a character, to really come into their world and understand their motivations and challenges. But when we’re constantly bounced back and forth between two very different stories every few pages, there is never a chance to really get that moment where you become invested. It was a fine read, but it was just that, a read. I never felt like I was really in this world. I was always just reading about it.
This problem extends to the world-building. There’s a lot that needs to happen on this front for a story that is going to try to present two very different worlds, thousands of years apart. The author essentially has to do twice the world-building to successfully pull it off. But, again, because of the quick switches between one character and the other, I never felt like I had a clear understanding of either of these worlds. There are angels in one? But the details are foggy. The other world has a empire that is set on taking over the world, but why and how? These details are all interesting on their own, but it ultimately felt like the author had bit off more than she could chew. Or, at the very least, more than could be reasonably fit in one novel that also has a lot of other things going on.
The action was fun. There is no denying that this book moves, and it was this that got me through some of the failings in my full connection to either character or the world itself. What’s more, I enjoyed that the action was very different between each girl’s storylines. Rielle’s ongoing magical trials were exciting and fast-moving. Whereas Eliana’s were caught up in politics and the violent nature of what the world has become under this ambitious empire. But, again, this same fast-moving action was also part of the reason the world-building and character development felt stunted. There simply weren’t enough pages to fit in all of this action while also developing two fully-realized characters and two fully expanded worlds.
I did also have one major criticism of this book. I read a good article recently that questioned whether a prologue is ever necessary for a book. The author of the essay mentioned that very talented authors could pull them off (like J.K. Rowling and her prologue in the first Harry Potter book), but even then, did you need them? This book serves as a perfect example where, for me, the prologue actively damaged my perception of the story right off the bat. It’s not long, but in even those few pages, the author managed to spoil almost every single reveal that was to come throughout the rest of the book. I already new the secrets that plagued some of our characters, thus making their confusion and ultimate surprise incredibly uninteresting to read about.
Further, I feel like this prologue was meant to inspire curiosity about how one character ended up where she did. But instead, I felt spoiled for her entire plot and thus her chapters held very little interest. There was no real threat behind any of the things she confronted because I knew where she ended up. If I hadn’t already been losing interest in characters because of the quick jumps back and forth due to the POV switches, this prologue alone did enough to pretty much kill off my interest and curiosity in at least one of these two.
All of that said, there book is still a fairly strong outing in a new fantasy world. There isn’t a lack of action or story, and the characters are interesting on their own. The problems I had were all down to stylistic choices (too short of chapters between switches, an uneven balance between action and world-building, and an unnecessary and ultimately harmful prologue). I’ll probably still stick around to read the next books in the series, however.
Want to judge for yourself? Get your hands on an ARC of “Furyborn” before it comes out! Giveaway is open to U.S. residents only and ends May 10, 2018.