Publication Info: Knopf Books for Young Readers. June 2017
Where Did I Get this Book: audiobook from the library!
Book Description:Julia and a mismatched band of revolutionaries, scholars, and thieves have crossed the world searching for a witch. But for all the miles traveled, they are no closer to finding Ko Dan. No closer to undoing the terrible spell he cast that bound an ancient magic to the life of a small child. Casimir wants that magic will happily kill Theo to extract it and every moment they hunt for Ko Dan, Casimir s assassins are hunting them.
Julia can deal with danger. The thing that truly scares her lies within. Her strange ability to vanish to a place just out of sight has grown: she can now disappear so completely that it s like stepping into another world. It s a fiery, hellish world, filled with creatures who seem to recognize her and count her as one of their own.
So . . . is Julia a girl with a monster lurking inside her? Or a monster wearing the disguise of a girl?If she can use her monstrous power to save Theo, does it matter?
Review: I saw that the third novel in this series was due to come out shortly, so it was a good reminder to check out this second book. Somehow the “Julia Vanishes” had slipped completely off my radar, all the more surprising for it having a few rare qualities that stand out in a sea of fantasy fiction that can be all too filled with tropes. These rarities were on display once again in this second book, and some of the quibbles I had with the first have also largely been resolved.
Several months have passed and miles have been crossed since the ending of the first book. Julia and her rather enormous cast of fellows now find themselves in a foreign land, loosely based on China, still on the search for a way to remove the magical book from the body of little Theo. Julia, in particular, is devoted to this mission in an effort to make up for her past disastrous choices with regards to Theo. But as she works towards this cause, she begins to discover more aspects of her unique vanishing ability and with these discoveries come unwelcome questions about her own history and identity.
First off, it is absolutely necessary to read the first book in this series before getting to this one. Even the several months break I had between the two lead to a longer than usual re-familiarizing period of time when I started this one. Several of the points that make this book and series so good (a large cast of characters, unique worlds, complicated histories) also make it very challenging to jump into with out refreshing oneself on the events of the past book. Beyond our cast of familiar characters, we’re also dropped into the middle of a new portion of this world with its own politics with regards to witches, its own powerful individual with whom Julia and co. must work, and new settings. After I finally felt like I had caught myself up, I greatly enjoyed this change in scenery. (It’s also noteworthy that for all of these challenges with complicated names/histories/etc., I greatly appreciated the author’s choice to trust her audience to catch up with things on their own. There were no info-dumps or clunky prologues to help with this process, but instead readers are left to put the pieces together on their own, which, with some patience, is perfectly doable.)
One of my criticisms of the first book was the fact that it felt like it had two dueling stories competing against each other, both detracting from the other. This problem has been completely handled in this book. The plotting felt much more streamlined and there was an appreciated increase in the action of the story. The book is driven by the mission to save Theo and this action is balanced by the character growth and inspection that comes through the ongoing mystery into Julia’s past and her abilities. Rather than having two plot pieces tangling together, this balance of plot and character development feel much more natural and give this book a stronger sense of natural flow.
Julia’s development is probably one of my favorite parts of this story. Her increased confidence and clever use of her vanishing powers could have opened a door for her character to lose value due to being “over powered.” But instead, the author finds ways to not only bring large questions into her magical abilities and history, but also focus in on the very human struggles that Julia is still managing. Her feelings of self-hatred with regards to her past choice to give up Theo to the enemy. Her relationship with a brother and her realization that he has lived a restricted life in an effort to support her. The ongoing fallout from her broken heart in the last book, and her realization that there are more fish in the sea.
What makes this last point stand out so well is the way the author introduces other fishes without setting any of them up as a “soul mate” or “one true love.” I loved the “Alanna” series by Tamora Pierce growing up. And I think one part that I liked then and have grown to appreciate more and more as I get older was the way that Pierce exposed Alanna to different romantic interests throughout the series until, in the end, she finally is able to recognize what is important in a partner and what she specifically needs. All to often in YA fiction, romantic interests are introduced who are A.) the protagonists first love of any kind and B.) perfect for them in every way, no questions asked. This never sits well, and I commend the author of this book for exploring a more honest take on the trials and tribulations of young love. Your first love may not be perfect for you. What’s more, your SECOND love also may not be perfect for you. But you learn things from them all. I had a hard time thinking of a similar current series that has tackled this subject as well as this book has, especially given how small a role the romantic aspects play in either book, all told.
I really enjoyed this book, even more than the first. My quibbles about the plotting where deftly handled, and this one was a quick read full of intense action sequences, strong characterization for a large cast, and solid character growth and exploration for Julia herself. Of course, as I’ve said, you have to read the first book first. But if you enjoyed that one at all, I definitely recommend this book as I think it’s even better!
Rating 8: With a realistic portrayal of the challenges of young love and an increased amount of action, “Julia Defiant” is an even better novel than the first!
Book: “The Cabin at the End of the World” by Paul Tremblay
Publishing Info: William Morrow, June 2018
Where Did I Get This Book: A friend let me borrow it!
Book Description:The Bram Stoker Award-winning author of A Head Full of Ghosts adds an inventive twist to the home invasion horror story in a heart-palpitating novel of psychological suspense that recalls Stephen King’s Misery, Ruth Ware’s In a Dark, Dark Wood, and Jack Ketchum’s cult hit The Girl Next Door.
Seven-year-old Wen and her parents, Eric and Andrew, are vacationing at a remote cabin on a quiet New Hampshire lake. Their closest neighbors are more than two miles in either direction along a rutted dirt road.
One afternoon, as Wen catches grasshoppers in the front yard, a stranger unexpectedly appears in the driveway. Leonard is the largest man Wen has ever seen but he is young, friendly, and he wins her over almost instantly. Leonard and Wen talk and play until Leonard abruptly apologizes and tells Wen, “None of what’s going to happen is your fault”. Three more strangers then arrive at the cabin carrying unidentifiable, menacing objects. As Wen sprints inside to warn her parents, Leonard calls out: “Your dads won’t want to let us in, Wen. But they have to. We need your help to save the world.”
Thus begins an unbearably tense, gripping tale of paranoia, sacrifice, apocalypse, and survival that escalates to a shattering conclusion, one in which the fate of a loving family and quite possibly all of humanity are entwined. The Cabin at the End of the World is a masterpiece of terror and suspense from the fantastically fertile imagination of Paul Tremblay.
Review: Paul Tremblay, you fucked me up again.
I knew that this was going to happen, because he has done this twice before. First with “A Head Full of Ghosts”, a book about a family dealing with a teenage girl’s possible possession, and then with “Disappearance at Devil’s Rock”, a book about a family dealing with a boy’s disappearance. Now he came for me and his readers with “The Cabin at the End of the World”, a book about a family dealing with the threat of a home invasion and an impossible choice they may have to make. As you can see, Paul Tremblay likes to put families through the ringer, and that makes his books not only all the more scary, but it also makes them deeply emotional reads with characters whose pain you feel in the very pits of your stomach. The emotional connection to the characters is one of the things that sets Tremblay above many other horror authors today, and has him up there with Joe Hill, Stephen King, and Caroline Kepnes when it comes to horror and thriller fiction. CLAIM YOUR RIGHTFUL PLACE ON THE THRONE OF AGONY, YOU MAGNIFICENT BASTARD.
This time our family is comprised of Wen and her fathers Eric and Andrew. Wen is an eight year old trans-racial adoptee who is generally happy with her two dads, but has a nagging identity crisis that she can’t quite shake. Eric is an anxious person who has a healthy but somewhat hidden Catholic Faith, and he loves his husband and daughter even though he’s always worrying about her. Andrew is the more easy going of the pair, though a past trauma is always in the back of his mind even as he tries to be as pragmatic and logical as possible. So when they are cornered by a doomsday cult during their cabin weekend, a group of people who all came together by shared visions of the end of the world, they are suddenly forced into a dangerous situation that none of them are at all equipped for. The intruders believe that to prevent the end of days, this family needs to sacrifice one of it’s own. Eric, Andrew, and Wen are all complex characters who make realistic decisions based on who they are as people, from an eight year old child to a man consumed by nerves to a man trying to keep complete zen control of himself. I liked that while we didn’t see much interaction in the present outside of the home invasion, we are told through flashbacks and little hints and interactions just how much they mean to each other. I also appreciated that Tremblay did address the complex intricacies for families with transracial adoptees. While Eric and Andrew definitely do their very best to help Wen connect to her heritage (as she was adopted from China), there are still hints and references to her feeling out of place in her surroundings. It’s a narrative that isn’t seen much in adoption stories, and it was refreshing to show her multilayered feelings on her adoption and life with Eric and Andrew. Eric and Andrew were also well explored in their relationship and their own anxieties about parenting and living as gay men in a world where there is still stigma, no matter how much progress has been made. It was especially interesting exploring Andrew, who encourages Eric to be more relaxed but is still affected by a hate crime that was committed against him years before.
And the antagonistic group itself has some depth and complexity. Leonard, the leader of the doomsday group, takes no joy in the task he thinks he is sent to do. You can tell that he is pained by his ‘mission’, but he is also blinded by his own zealotry and it means that he can’t see the pain that he is causing. There is certainly an ambiguity there with him and his followers/fellow members; Tremblay makes sure to leave a lot of ambiguity about whether the world is actually coming to an end or not, and lets the reader decide if the signs that Leonard is seeing are real, or just coincidences as Andrew believes. But in the same token, it’s hard to know what the greater horror would be: that the end of the world may be coming, and only a terrible sacrifice can stop it…. Or that Leonard and his followers are just out of their minds, and that all of the suffering and torment that falls upon Eric, Andrew, and Wen is just for nothing. The story line and plot is tense as hell, and it wound me up as each new development happened. The brutality that Leonard and his group brings is unrelenting, but never feels tasteless of exploitative. You can see the motivations and fears on both sides, and as some characters begin to question what they are believing on both sides, the reader also begins to wonder just what is real and what is not. I loved that. Even if it messed me up. Don’t go into this book looking for straight up answers and conclusions: it is more a meditation on faith, family, and zealotry than your run of the mill end of the world tale. And I closed the book and just had to stare at the ceiling for a bit.
Paul Tremblay is one of our best horror writers out there because he can find the horror in the extreme, and the horror in the all too ordinary. He taps into fears of loss and injustice, and the unknown, and his words will linger with you long after you close the book. He can terrify and devastate you, and if you are anything like me you will look forward to it every single time. “The Cabin at the End of the World” was well worth the wait.
Rating 9: Paul Tremblay has created another disturbing and heart wrenching tale of family, faith, paranoia, and love that scared me and made me cry. “The Cabin at the End of the World” is another winner from a horror maestro.
Where Did I Get this Book: audiobook from the library!
Book Description: London, 1887. At the Curiosity Club, a ladies-only establishment for daring and intrepid women, Victorian adventuress Veronica Speedwell meets the mysterious Lady Sundridge, who begs her to take on an impossible task–saving society art patron Miles Ramsforth from execution. Ramsforth, accused of the brutal murder of his mistress, Artemisia, will face the hangman’s noose in a week’s time if the real killer is not found.
But Lady Sundridge is not all that she seems, and unmasking her true identity is only the first of many secrets Veronica must uncover. Together with her natural-historian colleague, Stoker, Veronica races against time to find the true murderer. From a Bohemian artists’ colony to a royal palace to a subterranean grotto with a decadent history, the investigation proves to be a very perilous undertaking indeed…
Review: I’ve finally gotten around to writing a review for the second book in this series! Confession: I read this several months ago…But! There have been several more recent releases that I’ve read between then and now that I wanted to get in nearer their publication date, so here we hare. #blogproblems. Anyways, all of that to say, the delay in this had nothing to do with reservations about the series or this book in general, because turns out, I liked this one just as much as the first, maybe even more!
Veronica Speedwell and Stoker have finally settled into a routine and are excited to set out on their first expedition with their wealthy patron. That is until he trips on a tortoise and has to cancel the whole thing, leaving Veronica and Stoker at a loss with how to fill their time. Wouldn’t it be nice if a mystery would fall on their doorstep right about now? And lo and behold, one does! This time with a murder in a close knit of artist friends and a speculation that the man found covered in blood at her feet may be innocent after all. Now it’s up to Veronica and Stoker to not only get to the bottom of all the shenanigans that this group has been getting up to over the years, but also to unravel a complicated knot of possible relationships and motives to hopefully save the life of an innocent man. Or is he?
Man, I’m just enjoying the heck out of these books! Veronica is such a hoot, and she’s even better in this book, now having found a new pursuit at which to aim her talents and intelligence. Stoker plays the reluctant side kick in front of Veronica’s unparalleled enthusiasm, and it sets a great tone for the series going forward. Further, in the midst of the mystery itself, we get some nice added building blocks to both of our main characters. Veronica is still reeling from the revelations about her parentage that she discovered in the last book. It’s not something that can simply be shrugged off, and specific elements of this mystery bring some of these lingering feelings to a head. Stoker, too, is still managing reconciling his complicated history with his past wife with his growing attachment (mostly just partnership, at this point) with another strong-willed woman.
The mystery itself also plays to both of these characters strengths and there were some fun swaps in gender roles that played for a lot of good comedic value. Stoker, for example, ends up being the distraction for fawning admirers while Veronica sneaks around hunting for clues. The pair also find themselves caught up in an underground…um…risque club? Stoker, of course, is horrified. Veronica is curious and enthusiastic. Which leads to even more horror on Stoker’s part.
The cast of possible suspects was large and I enjoyed many of the secondary characters that were introduced through the artists’ group. However, like the first book, I did find the ending a bit rushed and was able to predict the correct villain and their motivation fairly early on. But for me this didn’t dampen my enjoyment of the story. The writing is swift and sure, balancing excellent comedic dialogue with a never-faltering first person narrator.
One last criticism may be that I feel like the relationship between Veronica and Stoker might be moving a bit slowly, but this might just be due to the mental comparisons I can’t help but draw between this series and the Amelia Peabody series. They are very alike, both with the historical setting and the general temperaments of the two leads. And with that one, we’ve seen how successfully the series moved forward even after the two main characters got married in the very first book. Here, it feels like the author might be shying back a bit out of fear that the romantic suspense is what is driving the story. I don’t believe it is, and I’ve seen how well characters like these can flourish, even if the initial romance has been resolved happily early on. But I just received the third book from the library today, so we’ll see how things progress there.
All told, I enjoyed this second novel just as much as the first. Having already been introduced to these characters and had the partnership between Veronica and Stoker already built, I might even say this was the stronger outing of the two. If you enjoyed the first book, definitely check this one out!
Book: “The Stepsister 2” (Fear Street #33) by R.L. Stine
Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, 2005
Where Did I Get This Book: ILL from the library!
Book Description:The doctor says Nancy is cured…
She’s over the murderous rage that made her try to kill her sister Emily last year. Now she’s home for good…
Or evil. Emily wants to forgive and forget, but the nightmare has started all over again. Someone wants to hurt her. Is it Nancy? Or is there someone else who wants Emily dead?
Had I Read This Before: No.
The Plot: For whatever reason, R.L. Stine has decided to write another sequel to one of his more lackluster early books. While part of me is relieved that he didn’t feel a need to revisit “Missing” or “The Secret Bedroom”, why oh WHY does he pick wet blankets like “Wrong Number” to follow up on? This time we’re revisiting “The Stepsister”, which means that Emily, Jessie, and good ol’ crazy pants Nancy are back at it again. We jump into Emily and Jessie, first sworn enemies now thick as thieves step sisters, waiting for Nancy to come home from her stint at the mental institution. If you remember she was there because she tried to kill Emily because she blamed Emily for their father’s death. We are also reminded that Jessie carries her own baggage, as her friend Jolie died and everyone thought she murdered her. As Jessie is putting her favorite crystal swan (a gift from her no longer around mother) on a shelf, screams startle her and she drops it. Rich, the third musketeer in this blended family recipe, storms into the room yelling at Emily. Apparently they were at the same party and Rich drank some beer. His Dad (remember Hugh? GOD he’s awful) found out and grounded him, and Rich thinks that Emily must have ratted him out. Emily denies it, but Rich says that he’ll get her back and leaves. Jessie and Emily talk about how WEIRD he is, with his love for Clive Barker and weird splatterpunk horror novels, and he doesn’t sound so bad to me. This is that time before Columbine and after the West Memphis Three where everyone thought violent horror media was what was driving kids to violence, so perhaps we’re foreshadowing. Then we get an appearance from Butch, the family’s new dog, and oh Butch, I’m not getting attached to you.
The doorbell rings, and Emily and Jessie go to answer it, assuming it’s Nancy… But it’s not, it’s Jessie’s friend Cora-Ann! Cora-Ann lives in a house where her parents are constantly physically fighting, so she’s spending time at Emily and Jessie’s house a lot. They retreat up to the girls shared bedroom (which is a new thing, and they are both getting used to it as they snipe on and off). Cora-Ann has some gossip about the party the night before, but just before it gets intolerably boring they hear the car doors. Nancy is home for real now. The girls go to the steps and Mrs Wallner greets them SUPER politely, which we are told means that she’s nervous. But then Nancy walks in, and she’s HOLDING A KNIFE!! But not to fear, it’s a prop knife that she found in the bushes, one that Rich must have left while filming a horror movie with his friends, and frankly THAT IS SO COOL. At first Nancy is a bit quiet as everyone bustles around her, but the moment that she says hi to Emily, Emily is super happy to see her. Mr Wallner yells at Rich to come down and say hi (using the phrase ‘insane’ in the process, way to be sensitive you fucking prick), and Rich does so while still showing his anger at Emily by bumping past her. Cora-Ann breaks the ice by telling him she likes horror movies, and then Rich acts like a fucking gatekeeper and tests her on what her favorite horror movie is and I don’t like him anymore. The family scatters, Nancy goes to her room, Cora-Ann and Jessie go to play with make up, and Emily assures her mother that she’s happy that Nancy is home….. But when she goes upstairs to her room she sees that the perfume that her boyfriend Josh gave her, all the way from PARIS, FRANCE, has been shattered on the floor. Emily is immediately convinced it was Nancy. Jessie convinces her not to confront her, and then Rich appears in the doorway and mocks the mess, which makes Emily think that maybe he did it. I find it very hard to give a hoot.
The next day the entire family (sans grounded Rich) goes out for waffles in celebration. Mr. Wallner makes an ass of himself, and Emily thinks about what a boor he is, but then we also find out that she’s been calling him ‘Dad’ now and I can’t comprehend why on Earth she would do that. Nancy says that she wants to talk with Emily when they get home, and after a nice long breakfast they return to the house. Nancy leads Emily into the living room, and then WRAPS HER HANDS AROUND HER NECK! Emily freaks out, and Nancy says that she did it to ‘prove a point’, that Emily is still afraid of her. Emily astutely points out that Nancy just tried to strangle her, but Nancy says that no, she just put her hands on her neck but didn’t squeeze, which is not threatening at all.
Lucky for Nancy, this is Shadyside so Emily mostly concedes the point. They got to Nancy’s room and Emily comments on how it’s starting to look like it used to, sans a big sheet on the wall. Nancy says that’s the mural she’s working on, but no peeking until it’s finished. They chat about Emily’s life and Emily asks about the hospital Nancy was staying in, and Nancy says that it was okay. They have a heart to heart and Nancy says that she’s sorry. All seems well between the sisters, and Emily leaves to go on a date with Josh.
Josh and Emily as ice skating on Fear Lake as their date, and while that may seem like a bad idea given how cursed it is it actually sounds like a pretty tranquil evening. As they wrap up and take off their skates they suddenly hear the sound of dirt bikes, which then turns into actual dirt bikes driving very fast right at them. The bikes stop right before hitting them, and one of them is Rich (okay where did he get a dirt bike?). When Emily reminds him that he’s grounded, Rich threatens her not to tell, but then totally backs down when Josh steps in, and oh God did R.L. Stine predict the Incel movement? Is Josh a Chad and Emily a Becky? Rich rides away and Josh makes like the New York Times and tells Emily that they should feel sorry for Rich. They get back to Emily’s house and start to make out on the couch, but Emily notices someone watching them from the door. She thinks it’s Nancy, but it’s actually Cora-Ann, who gets all flustered and runs off. Emily tells Josh that she likes Cora-Ann and feels bad for her, and Josh suggests that they go out that next Saturday for a dancing date at Red Heat. It ‘takes him awhile to leave’, and what kind of metaphor is Stine throwing our way this time? Emily goes upstairs and chats with Jessie, is thinks that Emily and Josh are too gross and that Emily should try dating other guys, and mind your own beeswax Jessie. Then Emily naps, but when she wakes up to get some water she is tempted to look at the mural on Nancy’s wall. She decides not to, but when she runs into Nancy on the steps her sister must be able to smell the guilt because she tells her that she wants the mural to be a surprise and no one can look until it’s finished. Emily promises her that she won’t, and they seem to be okay. But as Emily starts to descend the staircase, Nancy’s foot shoots out and Emily tumbles down the steps after tripping on it. Emily wakes up to Nancy freaking out over her, and Emily accuses her of tripping her on purpose. Nancy tearfully insists that it’s her anti-psychotic medications make her muscle control completely non-existent. She apologizes profusely, and since Emily is somehow not a bundle of broken matter they don’t call an ambulance. Apparently in Shadyside concussions aren’t a thing.
At school that week Emily and Cora-Ann talk about their home lives. Cora-Ann confides that her father left potentially for good the week before, and when Emily tries to make it about herself by saying she too is having a bad time at home Cora-Ann shuts her down. After their heartfelt talk Emily feels SO bad for Cora-Ann, but when she tells Jessie about it Jessie snaps that Cora-Ann is HER friend. Then we fast forward to the weekend where the three of them are hanging out before Emily’s date with Josh. As Jessie and Cora-Ann lament that they haven’t had dates in a long while, I lament the fact that this book isn’t promoting the idea that a girls night of dancing could be just as fulfilling. But then it was 1995, and the Spice Girls “Wannabe” is two years away from changing all girls lives. When Emily goes to check on her perfect sexy dancing dress, she finds that it has been cut in half, which makes her scream. Jessie, Cora-Ann, and Nancy come running, and Emily accuses Nancy of cutting it. Cora-Ann thinks that it’s actually the press at the dry cleaners that does it, and Nancy runs off to her room. As Emily goes to apologize, she passes Rich’s room. He holds up a pair of scissors and says ‘snip snip’. HE’S ESCALATING!!! I’ve been watching enough “Criminal Minds” to know what escalation looks like!
The next morning Emily is talking to her mother about Rich and his ‘shenanigans’, but her mom brushes it off saying that they’re looking for a therapist for him and that until that happens Emily should ‘stay out of his way’. Christ, I can’t even with this. THEN when Emily confides that she is still kind of scared of Nancy (as she watches Nancy tool around outside), the person who tried to kill her, her mother scolds her and reminds her that she needs to be extra sensitive about this whole thing. And I get it. Nancy has problems, no doubt. But to ask her VICTIM to be a little braver and understanding is just wrong. Emily does wonder if she should be more understanding, and goes outside to talk to Nancy. They end up building a snowman to rival the one that Cora-Ann and Jessie made, and it turns into a lovely afternoon. But as Emily is driving to Josh’s house that night, the brakes give out on the car! She crashes into a tree, and wakes up in the hospital. Mr. Wallner, or “DAD”, is there, and Emily tries to tell him that she thinks that Nancy tampered with the breaks. He tells her that no, he knew that the breaks were feeling a bit loose but didn’t take the car in, and besides, how could NANCY possibly know how to tinker with a car? Even when Emily says that Nancy studied car repair during her psych ward stay, Hugh waves off this theory, most likely because Emily is a girl and what does she know?
A few nights later Emily wakes up to Jessie sobbing. She had a bad dream about Jolie again. The sisters bond over their mutual nightmares about the people they lost in their past, and reaffirm that they are good sisters to each other. Jolie realizes that Emily has never seen a picture of Jolie, and so she digs out a memory box and shows her a picture. Emily point s out that Jolie and Cora-Ann are strikingly similar. Jessie wonders if she’s been having nightmares because she’s been hanging out with Cora-Ann so much….. The next day (maybe?) Emily is trying to write a paper about what would happen to Holden Caulfield after “The Catcher in the Rye” (I have a theory: he grows up and becomes a phony). She attempts to call Josh but when she picks up the phone Rich is on the line with a friend who is encouraging him to sneak out. Emily listens in a bit but then hangs up, but Rich knew it was happening and comes into her room to yell at her a bit asking what he has to ‘do to her’ to get her out of his life.
Later, Emily and Jessie are watching a movie when there is a knocking on the door. They go to the door and find Cora-Ann with a white canvas bag. She says her Dad is back and wonders if she can sleep over. They say sure. The next morning Emily wakes up and brushes her teeth, but then can’t get her jaws to open. Then she sees a bottle of super glue in the garbage!!! Okay, this is straight up assault at this point!! She rushes out of the bathroom and demonstrates what has happened to Jessie and Cora-Ann, and Cora-Ann calls 911. She is told that they should take Emily to the ER, and as they are leaving Emily accuses Nancy through her glued teeth, who then bursts into tears, and Mr. Wallner says that they need to act like a family, dammit. But I put forth that it’s hard to act like a family when you are being assaulted by your sibling or stepsibling or WHOMEVER. After she gets fixed up and they are leaving the ER, Cora-Ann says that this is still better than HER family (not the time, Cora-Ann), and says that her Mom may be moving them back to Parkerstown. Jessie stops short, and says that Jolie was born in Parkerstown. Cora-Ann asks if Jolie was the girl who died, and Jessie asks how she knows about Jolie, because she has never mentioned her. Cora-Ann balks and doesn’t answer.
In French class later that week Jessie and Emily whisper about Jessie’s new suspicions about Cora-Ann. Jessie thinks it’s weird that she knew about Jolie, but Emily says that in Shadyside EVERYONE gossips and that must be how she knows. When Emily gets home that day she sees Rich and Nancy up in the second floor window, perhaps arguing. It’s very strange. We THEN jump ahead to Saturday night, as Emily is returning from a movie she saw with Josh. She’s thinking a lot about all the stuff that’s happened, but when she walks into the living room the worst thing that I KNEW was coming has happened: Butch the dog is dead. Emily freaks out, and starts screaming for Nancy. When the family comes down the steps to see what happened, Rich mutters ‘another dog bites the dust’ (prick), and Emily attacks him.
We cut to Jessie driving Emily down the driveway as Hugh digs a hole for Butch the next morning. That night Hugh and Mrs. Wallner are leaving their kids alone (?!?!??!!?!) because of a sick relative (do they BOTH have to go though?!), and Emily is scared that she’s going to be killed next. They drive up to Cora-Ann’s house, but then Jessie freaks out because she sees two people walking out of her house… and they are Jolie’s parents! Jessie wants to hide but they are spotted, so they get out to talk to them. After awkward pleasantries, Jolie’s parents tell them that Cora-Ann is Jolie’s cousin!!! Jessie insists that they have to leave now, and as they’re driving SHE thinks that it was Cora-Ann who did these thints!! When Jolie died Cora-Ann was devastated. Jessie had told Cora-Ann that she was going out the night that the brakes gave out, she may have thought that the dress was hers, and Jessie was always borrowing the perfume. AND Butch was always jumping on Jessie, AND she was there for a sleepover when the glue was put in the toothpaste!! Emily now feels TERRIBLE for accusing Nancy of these things!!! Because obviously it was Cora-Ann, right?
When they get home Emily runs up to Nancy’s room and knocks on the door. She apologizes through the door when Nancy won’t open it. Emily says she’ll come back later, and goes to find Jessie, who can’t get a hold of their parents. The phone rings, and Jessie picks it up. And since it’s Cora-Ann, she loses her cool and yells at her to NEVER COME BACK AGAIN EVER! Then the power goes out because of a poorly timed thunderstorm during a time of year where it’s usually snowing. The girls go to grab candles, when there’s a knocking on the door. When Emily looks out the window, she sees Cora-Ann on the porch, and she’s HOLDING A KNIFE!!! Jessie tries the phone, but the line is dead. Did the storm do it, or did Cora-Ann do it?! They look out the window again and Cora-Ann is gone, but then they remember that they didn’t check the windows and other doors. And then Cora-Ann bursts through the back door in the kitchen, and comes at Jessie with the knife! But NANCY TO THE RESCUE!! She bolts out of nowhere, grabs a pan, and hits Cora-Ann in the head! Jessie and Emily are stoked, and thank her for saving them…. But when Jessie goes to hug her, Nancy hits HER with the pan as well! Then she turns to Emily and says ‘you’re next’. I guess it was Nancy the whole time, and all the red herrings proved to be nothing and we just get a repeat of the first book.
SO apparently, Cora-Ann took Nancy’s bag by accident when she left, and that bag had a huge ass knife in it. Cora-Ann was coming to warn Jessie and Emily. Nancy has been biding her time and waiting, pretending to be well and better and fooling everyone, including the medical professionals who were tending to her. But now she’s going to kill Emily. She tries to stab her but misses, and Emily goes running. She eventually runs up to Nancy’s room, and pulls the sheet off the mural. The mural just says “HATE HATE HATE HATE” a bunch of times and it doesn’t exactly sound like a Diego Rivera level masterpiece. When Nancy comes into the room and says she’s going to kill her, Emily, remembering her mother’s toxic advice about having to forgive Nancy to truly save their relationship, instead wraps Nancy into a bear hug and tells her that she forgives her, squeezing her tight. At that moment their parents come home, thanks to a washed out road, and all seems to be okay.
And in a neat little wrap up around the dinner table a few weeks later, we find out that Cora-Ann’s parents are in marriage counseling, Cora-Ann and Jessie are friends again (Cora-Ann admits that she was trying to figure out if Jessie killed Jolie but figured out right away she hadn’t), and Emily has been visiting Nancy in the hospital, where she is going to stay for a long time. They tell Rich to turn off the TV and join them at the table, and when he does he tells them that he was watching “Family Feud”. The End.
Body Count: 1. Poor Butch. I hate it when Stine kills animals.
Romance Rating: I’ll give it a 7! I liked Emily and Josh’s relationship this time around.
Bonkers Rating: 5. Not really crazy, and kind of a rehash of the first one.
Fear Street Relevance: 4? They were ice skating on Fear Lake and there were mentions of Fear Street here and there, but not much of the true action felt Fear Street related.
Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:
“‘No!’ Emily let out a cry as she saw the blood-stained knife in Nancy’s hand.”
… But it was the prop knife. Which wasn’t a prop knife after all??? I wasn’t clear on this.
That’s So Dated! Moments: Well outside of Emily overhearing Rich talk on a shared land line, at one point Emily and Jessie are watching a VHS of “Sleepless in Seattle” but I’m not even mad about it because I straight up love that movie!!
“‘Pete is such a loser,’ she murmured. ‘I’m surprised I haven’t gone out with him.'”
I applaud your self awareness, Jessie.
Conclusion: “The Stepsister 2” was just a rehash of “The Stepsister” when it all comes down to it, so I wasn’t impressed. Next up is “What Holly Heard”.
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!
I probably highlighted this last year too, but I’m too lazy to check. Either way, I always look forward to summers and the return of yet another cooking competion show. While “Top Chef” and “The Great British Bake Off” are still my favorites, this one has been running strong for several years and I’ve watched faithfully the entire time. The judges have been rotating quite a lot, so I was surprised to tune in for the beginning of this season and see the return of Joe and the lost of Christina. It was a mix of feelings as I always liked Joe’s utter lack of f’s to give about doling out harsh criticism. It wasn’t a true season until he threw someone’s plate of food into the trash can. But Christina had also warmed to me quite a bit over the last few seasons, and I appreciated the show’s attempt to try to bring baking into it a bit more through her expertise. Ah well, change happens. I’m intrigued by the new format of the three judges each having teams, so we’ll see where this ends up going!
OMG, it’s been FOREVER since this show was on! And by “forever,” I mean an entire year. For a show that had regularly started each fall, this was a big disappointment when I started scouring TV schedules last September and couldn’t find it anywhere only to realize that it had been pushed back until May. I mean, I guess if the choice was cancellation or turning it into a summer show, I’ll take this, but man, the wait was long. I need me some Johnny Lee Miller! It also feels like the show has been revitalized during this delay. I was never a fan of the whole Shinwell arc last year and was more than happy to hate on the character even more now that we can blame him for Holmes challenging mental health condition. I’m also excited to see the show introduce what hopefully will be a season-long through line about this mysterious villain lurking around in the background. I like the procedural elements of this show, but I’d also be happy if it added a few more “Dexter-esque” serialized villains, too.
Let’s go back in time! As you will see later, Kate is following the more cutting edge games while I seem to be traveling back to the good ole 90s where gaming was much more simple. This wasn’t my own choice but instead that of my husband, while on several long plane rides this last month he insisted on downloading this old game and having us play it obsessively for hours at a time. And I have to say, it was quite addicting for being such a simple concept. I was also terrible at it. While he quickly pulled off complicated bank shots off the walls, I was lucky if I even hit the target I was aiming for that was straight ahead of me. Ah well. We can’t be good at everything. But I still had way more fun than one would expect. I mean, who needs inflight entertainment when you have this gem?
You know that this show was going to be on my list again, because every year I look forward to Kimmy, Titus, Jacqueline, and Lillian getting into dark and goofy hijinks all over New York. This season the show tackles a number of relevant issues in its own absurd, yet shrewd, way, from white privilege to sexual harassment to certain streaming services that make a WHOLE lot of money off of true crime documentaries, and I was laughing the entire way. Sadly, it is a short season with the first half out now and the second half coming out in the future, as it’s also the last season of this amazing show. I’m sad, but also ready to see where all of my favorite characters end up (please oh PLEASE let Titus and Mikey end up together!!!).
YEP THAT’S RIGHT, I FELL BACK INTO THIS GAME!!!! When it was announced that there was going to be a new Pokemon game on the Switch, I was pretty stoked. But then when they said that there was going to be a tie in to Pokemon Go, I felt a need to dive back into that addictive game. What I like about Pokemon Go is that it lets me fulfill my collecting desires, and that it makes it so (in good weather) my husband and I can go for walks and collaborate together on tasks, be it tracking Pokemon or teaming up to take on a gym. It’s just a fun little game. And while I may not know really any of the new generation Pokemon, going out and taking the steps to evolve the friggin’ flying dragonbeast Gyarados made the game TOTALLY WORTH getting back into.
Oddly enough, I only watched “Criminal Minds” on and off in college and didn’t really watch any more of it beyond then. You’d think that I would have been all over that show given that it’s about serial killers and the quirky and damaged people who hunt them. So I decided to jump in and watch the show on Netflix, and I must say it’s been a pretty breezy experience. While I have to imagine that it’s kind of lost it’s luster (it’s STILL ON), the older seasons are still chilling and highly watchable. I like trying to figure out the real life inspirations for some of the storylines, and I like watching the members of the Behavioral Analysis Unit track the killers. My favorites are ALWAYS going to be bubbly computer hacker Garcia, earnest wunderkid Reid, and no nonsense and sarcastic Prentiss. We’ll see how long I can keep going on this show (thirteen seasons, y’all), but for now I’m all in.
Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, August 1999
Where Did I Get this Book: own it!
Book Description:Rachel is falling apart. Literally. Her newest morph the ability to regenerate its limbs, but when Rachel demorphs there’s a lot more Rachel than when she started out. One more Rachel, to be exact. Rachel is an okay person to have around. But two could be considered overkill. Especially two Rachels with completely opposite personalities: one is pathetically weak; one is super strong and super nasty.Now the Animorphs have to figure out a way to put Rachel back together again. Because if it’s up to the “twins, ” Rachel the weak will surrender to Visser Three. Rachel the super bold will try to single-handedly take him down. And twice the trouble may be twice as much as the other Animorphs and Ax can handle….
Can that be my plot description? Just not continue? No? Ugh.
Rachel is out on a field trip when she drops a piece of jewelry into the ocean. Of course, this means she must morph the starfish she spots. On her way back out, some rude little kid cuts her in half with a shovel (that kid needs to be hunted down, just like Mean!Rachel thought, but mostly it’s due to the fact that he’s the reason we had to be exposed to this book). From there the chapters alternate between Mean!Rachel and Nice!Rachel. Mean!Rachel meets up with Tobias to go flying, as she had planned. Tobias immediately thinks something is up when she hunts and eats some prey on their trip. Cassie, too, notices that something is up with Nice!Rachel on their trip to the mall. For one, she admits to having skipped out on Tobias, and for two, after getting into a bit of a spat with another customer, she flees the mall crying.
Back in the barn, Cassie lets the group know that something is up and Rachel isn’t acting normal. This is confirmed when Mean!Rachel strides in the door wanting to kick Yeerk butt. Both Rachels are horrified by the other, but through their pieced together story, the group realizes that happens. The starfish DNA somehow allowed Rachel to demorph into two separate people, splitting her personality between them. Before they can figure out what to do next, Erek shows up and announces that the Yeerks are testing a new Anti-Morphing Ray gun. Jake tells the two Rachels to go home and sit this one out.
At home, Mean!Rachel is having none of this and immediately sets off after the Animorphs. Once she finds them, she barrels into the situation with a truck, ramming through walls and getting in fights with Hork Bajir. In the madness, the group manages to escape, but the plan to get destroy the gun is ruined. Back home, Wimpy!Rachel doesn’t know what to do with herself, so she decides to call her dad for comfort. After a very confusing conversation, she arranges to meet with him at the airport the next day and confess everything to him. Mean!Rachel shows back up rather put-out by how “unappreciative” the team had been to her escapades and promptly kicks Wimpy!Rachel onto the floor to sleep.
The next day, Wimpy!Rachel goes to school where both Marco and Cassie test her to see if they can figure out more about what aspects of the original Rachel is in each half of her. Mean!Rachel, of course, doesn’t go to school, but does decide to morph fly and spy on the group when they meet up in the barn at the end of the day. Ax says that he may have a plan to put her together again, but that it could also kill her. Cassie is vehemently against this. But Marco points out that the current situation won’t work either, that Mean!Rachel is too psychotic to left running around. Mean!Rachel flies into a rage, demorphs, grabs Tobias and threatens to strangle him if the team doesn’t agree that she should now be the leader. Jake sidles up and punches her in the face followed by a quick smack from Ax’s tail blade that knocks her out. Wimpy!Rachel shows up in the midst of this and flies into crying hysterics.
After Mean!Rachel wakes up, she heads home. But she’s begun to realize strangeness in her own ability to think, that she can’t figure out what to do next or plan. In her room, she sees the note that Wimpy!Rachel left to remind herself to meet her dad at the airport. With a new mission, Mean!Rachel takes off after her. At the airport restaurant, Wimpy!Rachel tries to suss out whether her father is a Controller, but before she can tell him the whole truth, Mean!Rachel shows up and forces her to leave. Mean!Rachel takes her place and is quite rude the her dad and the staff. She starts a food fight to prevent Wimpy!Rachel from showing up to ruin things and her dad finally has to leave for his next flight.
Back in the barn, the team meets up once again. They still need to deal with the Anti-Morphing Ray. The Yeerks are now up on the game that the Animorphs know of their plans (what with Mean!Rachel’s display the other day), so they have arranged for three trucks to transport the ray which means the team needs to split up. Cassie tells Wimpy!Rachel that they need her to come. Mean!Rachel demorphs and insists on coming along. During these exchanges, it’s made clear that the team doesn’t trust either of them and had been following them when they went to the airport. Ax once again knocks out Mean!Rachel to stop her from coming. And Jake invokes Wimpy!Rachel’s sense of duty to get her to come along, pairing her with himself so he can keep an eye on her.
During the mission, Jake has to continuously threaten and bride Wimpy!Rachel through every morph she has to make since she’s too scared to do most anything. After an “exciting” car chase, Jake and Rachel morph roaches as the truck they’re riding enters a building. They are quickly gassed, however, and knocked out. It turns out that Mean!Rachel woke quite quickly and morphed owl. She then followed the group, specifically her twin and Jake, and ends up in the same building.
Wimpy!Rachel and Jake end up captured. While Jake tries valiantly to keep Wimpy!Rachel calm, she ends up breaking and calling out to the Yeerks that she’ll do anything to be let go. In the mean time, Mean!Rachel had morphed Hork Bajir and casually marched into the room where Jake and her twin were being held. She attacks the Hork Bajir around her, but as she takes them down, the wall slides open and she sees even more Hork Bajir outside the room and Visser Three among them. After the remaining Controllers retreat, Visser Three orders the door to slam and turns on a machine that begins moving the walls and ceiling slowly down, taunting them that they must give themselves up or be crushed.
The boxes that Wimpy!Rachel and Jake had been in were crushed during the madness, so once free, she quickly demorphs. She doesn’t see Jake and Mean!Rachel casually comments that she may have stepped on him during the fight. Wimpy!Rachel can see a plan for escape, but she needs Mean!Rachel to carry it out with her bravery.
Wimpy!Rachel morphs Hork Bajir and calls out to Visser Three, threatening to cut her own throat rather than be infested. The door quickly opens and fly!Mean!Rachel swoops towards Visser Three. From within his ear, fly!Mean!Rachel calls out to Visser Three saying that he must give them their freedom or she will begin to demorph in his head, killing them both. Visser Three flies into a rage but quickly agrees and walks them both out. He leaves in a huff, saying that next time he’ll just kill them.
Jake demorphs next to them. It turns out he had been stepped on, but had been able to crawl his way to Wimpy!Rachel and hide out on her for the journey out. He says that this experience was necessary for both Rachels to realize that they need each other. That Wimpy!Rachel has the ability to think ahead and plan, but Mean!Rachel has the bravery to act. Back in the barn they go forward with the process to merge the two back together. Standing with the hands on each others shoulders, they begin acquiring each other and then morphing one another while Erek jolts them with electricity. It works and the newly reformed but shaken Rachel looks to Tobias to move forward with the knowledge that she is made up of two extremes.
Xena, Warrior Princess: I hate almost everything about this book. The entire plot is ridiculous, but my main frustration comes down to the way that this book mangles Rachel’s character. What always made her one of my favorites was the complexity of her character. In her we have a beautiful blonde who both loves gymnastics and shopping but is also the strongest and most fierce of this entire team. And she is never shamed for her “girly” pursuits. Those aspects of herself are never portrayed as silly or worth nothing when held up against her more heroic aspects. She’s an excellent example of how to write a strong, female character without feeling the need to throw traditionally female aspects out the window.
But here, both parts of Rachel are portrayed in truly despicable ways. For Mean!Rachel, this side should have had her bravery, her recklessness, and yes, her ruthlessness, all tempered with a high sense of practicality. She is willing to make the tough calls when the tough calls are also the most practical call. She’ll set aside emotional moralizing for this, yes. But here, she’s simply violent and there is no direction to her violence. She is just as likely to want to kill her friends as the Yeerks. As we’ve seen in book after book, Rachel is the character who is the first one to jump to the aid of her friends at risk to herself. She would never, NEVER want to kill her friends, not matter how ruthless she becomes. And for all of this, the reasons she wants to kill her friends are for stupid, petty reasons. Again, two more traits that we never see driving the real Rachel.
And then Wimpy!Rachel. For some reason, throughout this entire cluster of a book, we have to listen to Wimpy!Rachel insert the word “like” into every sentence. Real Rachel never spoke like this, so what aspect of herself is this, other than just a poor attempt to make this version of Rachel sound stupid? Her love of shopping and the mall are also reduced to the most basic stereotypes. In past books, we’ve seen Rachel approach shopping as a challenge to be accepted and conquered. Here, there’s none of that, just silliness. Further, her boy-craziness is based in nothing more than even more horrible stereotypes about “girly girls.” Real Rachel never gave even the slightest hint at having boy craziness in any part of her.
Both versions of Rachel are terrible and neither reflects most of the parts of the real Rachel that makes her such an excellent, complicated character. This book does a terrible disservice to all of the character building that has gone into Rachel for the last 30 books and basically it can die in fire for that.
Our Fearless Leader: Jake is clearly at his wits end with both Rachels by the end of the book. He pretty much says they have to agree to try to join back together or he’ll turn them over to Visser Three (a pretty empty threat, however, given their knowledge of the group). He also implies that part of the final mission was to convince both Rachels that they needed the other to help them to agree to the process. I’m not so sure about this, as it seemed pretty hap-hazard that they ended up in a situation that conveniently forced them to rely on each others’ skill sets. It’s not like Jake really engineered that situation. Sure, it worked out well, but I’m sure it wasn’t part of the plan since, in the end, dealing with the Anti-Morphing Ray was a bigger priority, and they failed at that.
A Hawk’s Life: Poor Tobias. In the very beginning, Wimpy!Rachel just ditches him for shopping and then Mean!Rachel hunts and kill some animal in front of him. And then tries to strangle him later in the book! But it was interesting to see that Mean!Rachel continually referenced having respect for Tobias because he was also a predator. To analyze that more than it probably deserves, it’s an interesting clue into part of the reason these two are drawn to each other. They each recognize the need for violence and have to reconcile it with their more peaceful other halves. And, unlike Cassie or even Jake sometimes, both are a bit more at peace with this balance overall. It’s also nice that in the end, once Rachel is back to being herself, she immediately looks to Tobias for support and he immediately picks up on the reason: that he too is made up of two very distinct selves.
Peace, Love, and Animals: Cassie has some good stuff in this book. She’s one of the first ones to notice that something is up with the version of Rachel she’s hanging out with. And then she’s the one to correctly analyze what portions of original!Rachel is in each version, giving Jake the hint that Wimpy!Rachel could be manipulated using her sense of duty. In the end of the book, she immediately asks Rachel is she’s ok and whether she wants to talk about her experience, another example of the solid friendship that these two have.
The Comic Relief: Marco is the other one who is sent to test Wimpy!Rachel to see what’s what. I think he was a bit more subtle about it than Cassie and was able to get some useful information out of Wimpy!Rachel regarding her inability to think quickly in the moment or have much short term memory. He also has quite a few good lines in this book.
E.T./Ax Phone Home: Poor Ax has very, very little in this. I hardly remember if he even spoke. He was the one to come up with the plan for getting the two Rachels back into one, but, again, Erek was the one who really pulled it off, leaving not much for Ax to do. Was he even in this book??
Best (?) Body Horror Moment: I mean, the whole concept of the book really? Being split in half and morphing two of herself? It does bring up some interesting ideas about just how much of one’s body can be lobbed off before demoprhing is a problem. So far, it seems that as long as you’re living, the demorphing process naturally regenerates any lost limbs/body parts. So I’m not sure how the starfish part lines up with this. Best not to think about it too much.
Couples Watch!: This is like adding insult to injury. I always love the Rachel or Tobias books because of the two couples, they often have the most in their books and I prefer their romance to the wishy-washy version that Jake and Cassie have. But what do I get here?!?! Mean!Rachel literally trying to strangle Tobias to death! Great. Just what I want to see. It was interesting to see that Mean!Rachel was much more into Tobias than Wimpy!Rachel.
Adding fuel to my secondary ship, Wimpy!Rachel admitted to Cassie that she could be into Marco. Marco, of course, took full advantage of this, saying at one point that Mean!Rachel could go with Tobias, leaving Wimpy!Rachel to give it a go with him.
But then she has to go too far…
Jake was there. He’s my cousin. He’s cute. Kind of big. I mean, if we weren’t cousins. . ..
If Only Visser Three had Mustache to Twirl: You’d think by now Visser Three would have finally, FINALLY, learned his lesson about trying to trap the Animorphs rather than just killing them when he gets a chance. But no, still too egotistical for all that, wanting to bring in more valuable hosts. I’ve said it before though, this plan also makes no sense for a Yeerk who revels in being the only one with a morph-capable body. He is selfish and self-centered enough to want to keep a distinction like that for himself. So why he’s still hesitating to take them out when he has the chance is beyond me. He makes a comment towards the end about next time just killing them. But sure, Visser Three, whatever you say. Empty words and all of that.
Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Again, another book during which I wept to remember the good books that came before and how far we have fallen to reach this point. There might have been some good stuff in there about Rachel’s seeming estrangement from her mother and need for her father, but there was too much other stupidness going on to even focus on that.
What a Terrible Plan, Guys!: Their last plan to go forward with tracking down the Anti-Morphing Machine in the midst of the Rachel crisis was just a bad idea. Not only did they leave Mean!Rachel behind, knowing full well that she’d simply follow them and they’d have no idea what type of damage she could do (I mean, at this point she was out-right threatening the lives of several of the group, so it’s not out of the realms of imagination to think she could have taken a few of them out, especially when they were all split up covering different trucks). But beyond this, manipulating Wimpy!Rachel to do what was necessary was also a risky choice. We saw several times that Jake barely managed to get her to do what was needed as they went along and he was spending by far more time watching out for her than on the mission itself. All told, they were way too vulnerable and weakened to be attempting a mission like this, and in the end, they failed anyways. And it was STILL probably the most lucky outcome they could have hoped for.
Rachel loses yet another arm in her grizzly morph:
“So you know what I do? I reach down, pick it up, and use it like a club to beat him over the head.” [Mean!Rachel said]
As they’re holding shoulders to start the merge process, finally a moment that sounds like the real Rachel either way:
“Do you, Dr. Jekyll, take Ms. Hyde, to have and to hold -”
“Shut up, Marco, you’re already on my list!” Mean Rachel snapped.
Scorecard: Yeerks 8, Animorphs 12
I’m going to give this one to the Yeerks. In all the Rachel craziness, the Animorphs failed to destroy the Anti-Morphing Machine, so that’s a pretty big hit. Plus, I feel bitter about this book and will unfairly take it out on my scoring.
Rating: The lowest of all ratings. Not only does nothing in this plot make sense with regards to how the starfish thing worked, or, worse, how getting put back together worked, but the character assassination that is done to Rachel is unforgivable. I always look forward to Rachel’s books, and in my mind, this doesn’t even count as a one since neither version of her that we’re given is even remotely familiar to the character we’ve spent 30+ books getting to know. I really have nothing good to say about this book. I had a very clear memory of hating it the first go around and reading it a second time has not changed things.
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: “DC Bombshells (Vol.6): War Stories” by Marguerite Bennett, Aneke (Ill.), Mirka Andolfo (Ill.), Laura Braga (Ill.).
Publishing Info: DC Comics, April 2018
Where Did I Get This Book: The library!
Book Description:The ultra-popular statues from DC Collectibles come to life in their own ongoing hit comic book series, now in its sixth and final installment!
The Bombshells face their final battle as a supernatural Nazi invasion begins! On top of that, Hugo Strange unleashes his failed lab experiments on Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy’s circus and Lois Lane has her chance to avenge her family on the villain — will she take the shot? Amid the chaos, discover Lex Luthor’s true colors as he reveals which side he’s really on, and what that means for the future of the Bombshells!
The incredibly popular DC Collectibles line is brought to life in these stories that reimagine the course of history! From writer Marguerite Bennett (BATGIRL, EARTH 2: WORLD’S END) and featuring artists including Marguerite Sauvage (HINTERKIND), Laura Braga (Witchblade) and Mirka Andolfo (Chaos) comes DC COMICS: BOMBSHELLS VOL. 6. Collects DC COMICS: BOMBSHELLS #25 and #30-33.
Review:I didn’t realize it when I reviewed our previous “DC Bombshells” Collection that “War Stories” was the last in the first large series within this alternate historical universe starring the awesome ladies of DC. I also didn’t realize that the second series, “DC Bombshells: United” was cancelled about a year into it’s run. Trust me, if I had known these things when we last visited this series, I would have gone on a long rant. In fact I’m pretty sure that I will be ranting before this review is through. But for now I’m going to try and focus on the big finale and pretty solid wrap up that was “DC Bombshells: War Stories”. Let’s see how long it takes me before I start going off. I’ll try to keep my cool.
When we left off, Ivy and Harley were in Russia helping civilians out, Raven had stowed away with them to try and find her father, Zatanna and Constantine were trying to find her, and Kara and Lois Lane had tracked down Hugo Strange and found that he’d used some of Kara’s DNA to make a clone of her, whom he called Power Girl. Also there was another captive they rescued, named Superman. And The Suicide Squad showed up, led by Batgirl and including Frankie, Killer Croc, Enchantress, and Ravager. So in this volume, all of these stories come to a head. Sadly, this means that Wonder Woman, Batwoman, The Batgirls, and Mera are all absent from this final volume in this large arc/first series, and to me that didn’t sit right. I know that all of them are going to have more to do in “DC Bombshells United” as the focus turns to the home front and the ills the American Government commits against it’s own citizenry, but this was a significant end and shift, and I think they should have shown up in some capacity. But the stories here as they are are all pretty satisfactory in spite of this glaring absences. I especially enjoyed the Suicide Squad mission, which took our team into a German Sub in hopes of finding Luc, Batgirl’s long lost paramour. I liked this storyline because while it continued the themes of Nazi occultism and mystic plotting, we got to see Edward Nygma and a few Lovecraftian-esque threats. Plus, this Suicide Squad is pretty excellent, all of them with a 1940s flair, which means that in my mind Killer Croc has a Mid-Atlantic accent and that just tickles me. Along with this already bonus storyline we get another one involving some of the Batgirl of Burnside characters, mainly Frankie, Qadir, and Nadimah dabbling in some magical mischief. It was a one off and didn’t really add much to the overall plot, but it was still enjoyable and fun to see more characters appear in this alternate timeline.
The climax of this series, however, comes with the Battle of Leningrad, as the Bombshells have to come together to not only fight Hugo Strange, Killer Frost, and the Nazis, but to try and save Leningrad and the people there. I liked seeing all of the ladies come together in one place, and I felt like they all got some decent moments to shine within this final battle. That said, it wouldn’t be a pivotal battle of a series if there wasn’t some sadness and sacrifice, and while it never reaches levels of Stargirl loss here, there are definitely repercussions and moments of sadness for some of our characters, which all were executed with deft emotion and feeling. What I love about this series is that it shows that sadness and pain are not weaknesses in our characters,, and it’s refreshing to see that some characters do get lost in their emotions, both in good ways and in bad ways. But even when it’s in bad ways you never get the sense that these emotions are bad to have, just that they need to be used in less destructive ways. Its a theme we see a lot in these stories and it makes me wonder if a comic that was starring the males of DC would be so bold as to take that stance. I think I know the answer to that, sadly.
And finally, there is a whole new threat that comes from the Russian side and brings more storyline to Kara and her origins: Faora Hu-El from Krypton has arrived once more (seen previously WAAAAAY back when Supergirl and Stargirl were being used as Russian Propaganda), and boy has she brought some serious baggage to our finale. And since I want to discuss it here, this is our SPOILER ALERT moment that almost always pops up in this series. One of the things that “DC Bombshells” has done is made this universe and it’s characters and storylines very female centric, and that has altered some backstories here and there. The biggest alterations to date are pretty Kryptonian centric. Not only is Superman a clone of unknown origins created in Strange’s lab (as far as well know at this juncture), Kara’s own origin story is shaken up with the arrival of Faora, who tells her that she is a perfect being created by Faora, Alura, and Lara. It’s pretty neat and ballsy to reveal within this final battle that Supergirl, the last true Kryptonian (given Superman’s new origin) and most powerful being in the story, is the product of three women and Kryptonian science. I have this image of ‘well actually’ toxic nerdboys pitching a HUGE fit about this. But that’s what “DC Bombshells” has always been about: it’s about women at the forefront, women supporting and loving and fighting women, and women as the main components of a story, with guys playing the traditional roles that women have played in comics for years. Frankly, it’s genius.
Which is ALL THE MORE REASON THAT IT SUCKS THAT DC HAS PULLED THE PLUG. Representation in comics is so important because representation in all types of media is important. With women being in the lead, women of all races, religions, and sexual orientations, “DC Bombshells” has been one of the best comic series DC has when it comes to representation (especially since apparently “Batwoman” is ALSO getting axed! Sure, I wasn’t a fan, but BATWOMAN IS IMPORTANT)! DC is still going to toss a whole lot of bank into it’s middling AT BEST movies (“Woman Woman” not included, and holy SHIT is THAT ironic given the context of this rant) and keep rebooting Batman and Superman over and over AND bastardize Alan Moore’s “Watchmen” universe for funsies, but it can’t throw a bone to a series where women are at the forefront and aren’t sexualized and objectified through a male-only gaze? IT’S UNACCEPTABLE!!!!
Well, regardless, this first arc of “DC Bombshells” comes to a solid close in “War Stories”, and while I know that “Bombshells United” isn’t as long, I’m going to really, REALLY savor it as I make my way through. These DC women continue to create a better world filled with compassion and justice, and I know that even though it’s ending that won’t change the importance of this series as a whole.
Oh, and is Black Canary going to show up in this next series? Asking for a friend.
Rating 8: A solid and mostly satisfying end to the first major arc of the “Bombshells” comics, “DC Bombshells: War Stories” is a wrap up with most of the characters we love, though a few notables were missing and it was very noticeable.
Publishing Info: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, July 2017
Where Did I Get this Book: audiobook from the library!
Book Description: In this third book in the epic Court of Fives series, Jessamy is the crux of a revolution forged by the Commoner class hoping to overthrow their longtime Patron overlords. But enemies from foreign lands have attacked the kingdom, and Jes must find a way to unite the Commoners and Patrons to defend their home and all the people she loves. Will her status as a prominent champion athlete be enough to bring together those who have despised one another since long before her birth? Will she be able to keep her family out of the clutches of the evil Lord Gargaron? And will her relationship with Prince Kalliarkos remain strong when they find themselves on opposite sides of a war?
Review: This review is a long time in coming given how much I enjoyed the first two books in the trilogy since we’re coming up fast on a years since it’s been out! But I will blame my audiobook library queue. I had this one almost finished months ago, and then had to return it to the library and had to wait in line patiently to get it back. Yes, yes, I could have just read a physical copy or done any number of things to get it sooner. But my dedication to one format and the library knows no bounds! Even if that leads me to nonsensical places like writing a review months later and then dedicating an entire paragraph to these very trials and tribulations. Anyways, on to the review!
Things are coming to a head in the fight for the future of Jes’s homeland. And not only are her parents on opposing sides of this battle, but her beloved Prince Kal is finding himself more and more likely to be called upon as a leader in these trying times. While Jes’s prowess as an athlete and the star-power she has won for herself there has gotten her this far, what role will she play as events greater than she ever imagined begin to unfurl?
The story picks up immediately following the events of “Poisoned Blade.” I always like books that could be read as one, continuous story, but coming after a long break between reads, it did prove a bit challenging for me to fall back into this world. There is just so much here! After two books already, Elliott has set up not only a complex and believable world, but one that is peopled and driven by two different cultures with very different outlooks on life, and, importantly, history. That’s not to mention the ever growing cast of characters, all of whom have been slowly revealed to have their own motives in the ongoing conflict. Once I caught myself up again, all of these details fell neatly into place and this same complexity reestablished itself as firmly a plus for the series.
Especially the history aspect of the book. Throughout the series, Elliott has done a thorough deep-dive into what it really looks like to have a history that has only been told by the winners. Through all three books we have begun to see just how thoroughly retold and rewashed events of the past have been, and how now, in the third book, people are trying to reclaim these lost bits of history. This also was carefully crafted and presented. There are no easy pathways and correct decisions that can be made to right the wrongs of the past. And Elliott explores how the choices made in the present will continue to play into this narrative as the future of these two peoples continues to unfold.
Jes, as always, is a great character through whom to view this conflict. As a girl from both worlds, we are given front row seats to her own harsh realizations about what actual change would entail. Throughout the first two books and a large portion of this one, Jes’s outlook on the future has been, frankly, pretty naive. Here she is forced to truly confront her own ignorance of the political powers at play and the limitations that exist for even rulers themselves.
The action takes a swing away from the excitement of the court of fives games that has made up much of the other books. With stakes as high as these, there simply isn’t room for these type of trials as often. However, even with that being the case, I was impressed by how neatly Elliott was able to tie this aspect of the story into the greater conflict as a hole. Don’t get me wrong, Jes’s skill as a competitor is still important and relevant to this book, and the few races we saw all had incredibly high stakes and were just as thrilling as always.
However, the real action came back to the conflict itself. We saw more battles, more personal struggles in Jes’s ongoing conflict with Lord Gargaron, and a epic resolution to the entire chain of events that was both heartbreaking and incredibly satisfying. Elliott doesn’t back away from the ugliness that would take place in an overthrow of this kind, even with the most benevolent and wise of leaders at its head. Further, Jes and Kal’s romance does not get the “magic wand” treatment and they, too, much confront the challenges of any future they may have together.
I thoroughly enjoyed this final installment in the trilogy. I did knock it down one point from the previous two, simply because there were portions in the beginning and middle of the book where the pacing seemed off (events would move quickly, only to suddenly lag for several pages). This book had to fit a lot into one story and there were times where I felt like it had a few missteps simply due to the challenges of getting it all in there. But that said, this was still a thoroughly enjoyable read and very gratifying end to a solid fantasy trilogy.
Rating 8: An epic conclusion to a high stakes fantasy trilogy, full of action, heartbreak, and an introspection on what it means for a nation to rediscover its history and reclaim its future.
Where Did I Get This Book: I received an ARC from NetGalley.
Book Description:A propulsive new thriller about the obsessive nature of love when an intensifying relationship between best friends is disrupted by a kidnapping.
Growing up as best friends in small-town New Hampshire, Jon and Chloe are the only ones who truly understand each other, though they can never find the words to tell one another the depth of their feelings. When Jon is finally ready to confess his feelings, he’s suddenly kidnapped by his substitute teacher who is obsessed with H.P. Lovecraft and has a plot to save humanity.
Mourning the disappearance of Jon and facing the reality he may never return, Chloe tries to navigate the rites of entering young adulthood and “fit in” with the popular crowd, but thoughts of Jon are never far away.
When Jon finally escapes, he discovers he now has an uncontrollable power that endangers anyone he has intense feelings for. He runs away to protect Chloe and find the answers to his new identity–but he’s soon being tracked by a detective who is fascinated by a series of vigilante killings that appear connected.
Whisking us on a journey through New England and crashing these characters’ lives together in the most unexpected ways, Kepnes explores the complex relationship between love and identity, unrequited passion and obsession, self-preservation and self-destruction, and how the lines are often blurred between the two.
Review: I wish to extend a thank you to NetGalley for sending me an eARC of this novel!
You all know that I love me some Joe Goldberg from the “You” series by Caroline Kepnes. I love how sinister, creepy, and yet hilarious Joe is, as an obsessive stalker and serial killer who takes us into his mind and judges others in both deadly, and incredibly superficial ways. So when I heard that Kepnes had a new book coming out, this one called “Providence”, I figured that it would be similar in tone and execution. True, it wasn’t about Joe and his ongoing adventures in murder, but it was billed as a thriller with Lovecraftian themes. I went in with some very clear expectations of how this book was going to go down, expectations that were not met. But they weren’t met in the best way possible, because “Providence” is my first perfect 10 of 2018.
“Providence” has sort of framed itself as a dark fantasy thriller, but at its heart it is a story about love and what love can do to a person, be it good or bad. Our three narratives we follow are from the perspectives of Jon, Chloe, and Eggs. I’ll start with Jon and Chloe since they are the heart of the book. Their deep and intense friendship really propels this book, as they truly and totally get and understand each other, even when others may not. So when they are split up because of Jon’s kidnapping, and then the dangerous ‘powers’ he is left with afterwards, the injustice of it all just hits you right in the gut. Their love definitely treads the line between obsession and devotion, but I always found both of them giving equally and taking equally so it was never a problem for me. I also loved seeing their own personal journeys in the novel, from Jon trying to survive and figure out how to reverse his deadly powers without drawing too much attention to himself, or harming others. His captor experimented on him, and driven by an obsession with Lovecraft’s “The Dunwich Horror” Jon now is completely toxic to those he physically encounters. His slow realization that he is toxic was so upsetting, and the lengths that he goes to try to reverse it all because of Chloe is so heartbreaking that I just felt my heart breaking for him every step of the way. Chloe, too, has her own difficult road she’s travelling, as she knows that she should forget about Jon (as she’s under the impression that he wants nothing to do with her) but just can’t get him out of her head or her heart. Things become all the more complicated when she turns to her high school boyfriend in hopes that he can help her forget about Jon. It doesn’t help that said boyfriend was also one of Jon’s main tormentors, and has always resented her attachment to her long lost friend.
Eggs is the third perspective in this book that I was prepared to find underwhelming. After all, juggling three perspectives and doing them all justice is hard enough as it is, and when you add in the obsessive detective trope it can come off as old hat and unoriginal. But Eggs also had such a rich narrative that I found myself juts as compelled by his sections. They way that he approaches Jon as a threat, and gets fed stories and perceptions that don’t match the actual realities of what happened, just adds to the dread for Jon and also the injustice of it all. But Eggs is no villain. He’s a man who is trying to find sense in senselessness, his motivation partially being because he can’t find the sense in his only child’s autism. This whole aspect of his background, as a father who loves his son but can’t connect with him and therefore stays away from him, gave his backstory the same level of sadness that Jon and Chloe each had. They are all looking for solutions, and none of them can find any.
But there is always hope in “Providence”. The goodness of the protagonists is always apparent and all of their hearts are in the right places, even if they sometimes make mistakes that hurt others and themselves. They are all written in such a way that I completely believed all of the choices that they made, and I understood their motivations. I was rooting for all of them, even if my rooting came in direct conflict with what each of them wanted and needed from each other. Caroline Kepnes had already convinced me that she knew how to write a darkly funny thriller novel with an entertaining monster for a protagonist. Now I know that she can also write people filled with goodness, even if their circumstances may hinder it once in awhile.
I loved “Providence”. It’s my first 10 rating of 2018, and I can see myself revisiting it again and again as I do with the Joe Goldberg series. Caroline Kepnes is amazing, and I continue to be in awe of her story telling abilities.
Rating 10: A powerful and bittersweet thriller about love, friendship, obsession, and fate, “Providence” is not only entertaining and engaging, it’s also touching and emotional.
Back for 2018, here is a list of some more favorite beach reads! “Beach read” is a very fast and loose term for books people read over the beautiful summer months when we really should be outside “doing things” but are instead reading…maybe outside. Some people see these months as an opportunity to slog through long classics (we’re looking at you “Moby Dick”) before the busy-ness of of the fall starts up, but for the sake of this list, we’re limiting our choices to stand alone, mostly feel good books (though there’s some obvious leeway here for Kate’s horror tastes!) that could be easily brought along on vacations. So, still a very loose definition, but hey, we had to start somewhere! We will select one title for each of the genres we most read.
Fantasy Title: “Uprooted” by Naomi Novik
This book is a few years old now, but I always go back to it when I’m asked about favorite stand alone fantasy fiction. It’s one of those magical unicorns of a book that somehow walks the line between being a fairytale retelling (“Beauty and the Beast”) but blurring the events and twisting things around so thoroughly that by the end of the book, you’re questioning whether this wasn’t just an entirely new fairytale on its own and any similarities were just happen chance. I didn’t have a single criticism of this book when I read it, with its strong main character, beautiful writing, and complex magical world. What’s more, while it is a standalone novel, Novik will be releasing another fairtyale-esque book, “Spinning Silver,” in July and I can tell you right now, that one’s amazing, too!
Science Fiction Title: “Space Opera” by Catherynne M. Valente
I haven’t actually read this title yet, but I have much love for Valente’s “Fairyland” series as has been well documented on this blog. I also have two librarian bookclub friends whose judgement I trust who gave it high ratings, so on with the recommendation! The description of this one is about as wacky as it gets: intergalactic Olympics, but not so much the sports and more singing and dancing. And Earth has just made its first grand entrance. Will there song and dance numbers have enough glitter and air guitar to make the final cut? I don’t even know what more to say, but that the human band is called “Decibel Jones and the Absolute Zeroes.” I mean, c’mon, this has to be a hellava ride!
Mystery Title: “A Curious Beginning” by Deanna Raybourn
This was a no-brainer pick for me. I just discovered this historical mystery series this spring, and have absolutely loved the two I have read (the review of the second book to come shortly!). With its light tone, witty leading lady, and grumbly but endearing romantic interest, there’s nothing left wanting for a mystery title to while away the hours outside in the sun. Veronica Speedwell is right up there with Amelia Peabody and some of my other favorite female sleuths. The mystery itself was strong, even if the ending was a bit rushed. But who really cares. I was just there for the snappy banter and blistering romantic tension!
Historical Title: “The Beautiful Ones” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Technically, this one has magic in it, too. But its such a non-integral part of the story, in my opinion, that I’m throwing this one in here anyways. Mostly, this book has been criminally under-recognized and I want to do my part to bring it to the attention of readers who enjoy British manners and society books. In many ways, it reads the way a modern Jane Austen novel would. The primary crux of the story is one of relationships and the roles that women are expected to play in society in a time period where their options were limited. Here we see two very different women who have chosen different paths. One, giving up one dream of the future in order to conform to the expectations of family and society. The other still rebelling and pushing back against what is expected of her. And between them, one man who is still not sure of his own place in the world. This is a sure hit for fans for historical romances.
Horror Title: “The Amityville Horror” by Jay Anson
So I just want to say straight away that this book is advertised and technically classified as ‘non-fiction’, but it’s pretty common knowledge now that the Amityville Haunting was a big ol’ hoax. It was all a huge distraction and cash cow to make some bank for some people and to provide a legal defense for another (specifically Ronny DeFeo Jr, who killed his entire family with a shotgun). But the story of the Lutz Family moving into the large house on 112 Ocean Avenue is a VERY entertaining read, even if it is a big lie. Anson tells a haunted house story with a certain matter-of-factness and a fast paced vigor, and the now notorious story is truly best on the page. From flies to a ghost pig named Jody to the sounds of a MARCHING BAND stomping through the house, this novel hits all the cliches, and yet feels fun and fresh in spite of it. If you want a quick beach read that is just fluff and fun, “The Amityville Horror” is the way to go when you let go of the illusion that it’s true.
Thriller Title: “Dark Places” by Gillian Flynn
So unlike everyone else in the world, I was NOT impressed by the book “Gone Girl”. I didn’t find any of the characters likable, I called the twist early but didn’t enjoy the journey to the reveal, and I hated the ending. So if people ask me what Gillian Flynn I do like, I will ALWAYS say “Dark Places”. Libby Day survived a family massacre that her own brother was arrested for. Her notoriety dried up when media interest went elsewhere, and now she’s worn out and dysfunctional as an adult. But when a group of armchair detectives approach her with the theory that her brother didn’t do it, she is pulled back into her past, and starts to wonder if everything she remembers about that horrible night is actually untrue. This is a fast paced and well done thriller, and unlike “Gone Girl” there are characters here that you can absolutely root for. I remember devouring it in a couple sittings. If you hated “Gone Girl”, this is proof that Gillian Flynn still may have something to offer you.
Graphic Novel Title: “The Sculptor” by Scott McCloud
If you are looking for romance, despair, a meditation on artistry, a very readable story, and a beautiful art style, “The Sculptor” will be a good pick for you to take on your vacation this summer. Don’t be daunted by the size; while it is a thick book, it reads very fast just because it’s so engrossing. It’s the story of a struggling sculptor named David who makes a deal with Death: he will be able to use his hands to sculpt and manipulate any kind of material and matter, but he will die in 200 days. David accepts, thinking that’s plenty of time to make his mark on history as an artist. But then he meets Meg, and love becomes a true problem for a man with so little time. While the characters in this are grating (ESPECIALLY David and Meg), the story itself is filled with such emotion and raw expression that I couldn’t put it down when I read it.
Non-Fiction Title: “Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood” by Trevor Noah
If you are a fan of “The Daily Show” you know who Trevor Noah is (and even if you aren’t a fan you probably know too). He’s a very dry, observant, and intelligent comedian who has taken over one of the great satirical platforms of our time. But in “Born a Crime” he goes back to his childhood in South Africa during and after Apartheid. The product of a bi-racial relationship (which was illegal in South Africa at the time), Noah tells stories from his childhood that run the gamut of funny, scary, and very, very devastating. Noah’s voice is quite witty and down to Earth as he recalls these various stories, and his love for his mother is powerful and leaps off the page. Plus, you will probably learn about South African history and culture, as well as a first hand account of what Apartheid did to Black South Africans while it was in place.
What books are you bringing to the beach, the cabin, or the pool with you this summer? Let us know in the comments!