Serena’s Review: “Burn Bright”

35839437Book: “Burn Bright” by Patrica Briggs

Publishing Info: Ave, March 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: from the library!

Book Description: They are the wild and the broken. The werewolves too damaged to live safely among their own kind. For their own good, they have been exiled to the outskirts of Aspen Creek, Montana. Close enough to the Marrok’s pack to have its support; far enough away to not cause any harm.

With their Alpha out of the country, Charles and Anna are on call when an SOS comes in from the fae mate of one such wildling. Heading into the mountainous wilderness, they interrupt the abduction of the wolf–but can’t stop blood from being shed. Now Charles and Anna must use their skills–his as enforcer, hers as peacemaker–to track down the attackers, reopening a painful chapter in the past that springs from the darkest magic of the witchborn…

Review: This is going to be a really challenging review to write. For one thing, I have read all of the other books in this series, but they were all before Kate and I started this blog, so the progression of my feelings for this particular series isn’t already documented. I’ll try to discuss that a bit in the beginning to lend some context to this review. My feelings are also all tied up because a very small moment in this book has a massive effect on not only this series, but also the Mercy Thompson series which I have been reviewing here. I’m still not even completely certain if my ultimate rating is accurate. So with that super clear and stellar intro, let’s get into it, shall we?

This story takes place directly after the events in the last Mercy Thompson book, thus Bran is still away overseas. This leaves Charles and Anna in charge of managing the pack back home in Montana. All seems well until the some of the more dangerous members of the pack, those so wild that they live removed from the others out in the wilderness, begin to report being pestered and attacked by strangers with powerful magical tools. But how are these strangers even aware of these far and removed wolves and what do they ultimately want?

As I said, I’ve been reading this series right alongside the Mercy Thomspon books, as Briggs seems to release one book from either series almost yearly. I’ve had my up and down moments with the Mercy books, but overall, I’ve always enjoyed her as a character and had a fun time with those books. Not so with this series. For some reason, Anna’s more passive character has never seemed to translate well for me, and combining her with the often stoic and reserved Charles does nothing to add any more energy to the story. What’s worse, I’ve felt that the books previous to this have been pretty light on the action over all, leaving most of the story to be carried by characters alone, something that I never felt either Charles or Anna were up to.

So that’s what makes this story particularly hard. For the most part, action-wise at least, I enjoyed this book way more than I have other entries in the series. Particularly the one that came directly before this, “Dead Heat,” which I barely made it through out of sheer boredom. Here, the action takes off almost immediately and the tension and mystery remains interesting throughout the story. While I still did get to a point where I was over halfway through the book and wondering when the main plot was going to get going, I still had had enough action in smaller moments to keep me on board. I particularly liked the addition of a few new wolves in the half-crazed wildlings that live on the periferary of the Montana pack. One in particular, a crux point for the entire story, had a very compelling back story and new take on how one becomes a werewolf and how ones life prior to this change can affect their life going forward.

I also liked the way witchcraft was brought into this story. There were some new magical weapons that were introduced, and an longer story arc was referenced that I could see continuing to play out in exciting ways in both future books in this series as well as in the Mercy series.

Charles and Anna, too, were fairly strong in this one. While I still don’t enjoy them nearly as much as Adam and Mercy, they were interesting enough here. Anna’s passivity still makes her not the most interesting character, but her unique Omega powers were used in a new way that lent some new depths to her character. We also had some ties to her past that reinforced some of the challenges that she still struggles with. Charles was…Charles. Not much changed there, but oh well.

So, with all of that, I would rate this book on its own around a seven. I probably would have rated most of the other books in this series around a 5 or 6, so a 7 is a marked increase for me in general enjoyment. And yet, as you can see, it has a 4.I really can’t discuss the reason for this drastic drop without spoilers. So for those who still want to read this book, spoiler free, just know that there is a particularly conversation that massively retcons a certain character that has, in my opinion, a dire impact on both this series and, maybe even more so, the Mercy series. But for those want to know, spoilers below!

It’s bad guys, it’s real bad.

Apparently, Bran has had romantic feelings for Mercy since forever. And both Charles and Anna, and probably Leah, and pretty much everyone but Mercy (AND THE READERS) have known about this the entire time. I have so many problems with this, let me list the ways:

  1. First and foremost, we have had ZERO indication that this is the case through two entire series made of 14+ books. That’s a whole lot of writing in which this was never referenced in even the slightest way. Every discussion about Bran and Mercy’s relationship has firmly framed it as a father/daughter relationship. Nothing Bran has done or said has indicated anything else. Nothing Mercy has said or thought has indicated anything else. And no other character, even in passing reference, has even hinted that there is a romantic element to all of this. It’s a retcon in the most clear way.
  2. This is hugely upsetting and pretty much ruins Bran’s character. Up to this point, Bran had been one of my favorite characters in the series. He is supremely powerful, but has hidden it successfully for centuries. His love (fatherly!) for and loyalty to Mercy were always touching moments, especially for a character whose own real parents were largely absent from her life. Now he’s a pedophile. There’s just no way around this fact. Bran sent Mercy away from the pack when she was a teenager, fifteen or sixteen I think. He did this to prevent his own son from pursuing a relationship with her, knowing that the age difference and differing motives (Sam just wanting kids who will survive) made it an almost predatory situation for Mercy. She then spent the rest of her growing and adult years removed from Bran and the pack. So what this entire conversation between Charles and Anna sets up is a horrible, pedophilia-based interest from Bran in Mercy. Charles and Anna discuss that Leah’s poor treatment (abusive in its own right) of Mercy was largely due to her own knowledge of Bran’s feelings for Mercy. From what we know, Leah was terrible to Mercy almost always, meaning that Bran had romantic interest in Mercy from when Mercy was a very young child. Even in the best light (which again, doesn’t work with the Leah timeline), Mercy was only 15 when she and Bran were living in the same pack and had a relationship together. 15!!! And he’s thousands of years old!!! And the entire reason he sent her away in the first place was presumably  because of his own son’s age (and the child stuff).
  3. This entire thing also puts a horrible spin on Leah’s treatment of Mercy. It was always bad and cast probably the darkest shadow (up to this point) on Bran’s character that he didn’t stop it. Again, Mercy was a child and Leah tormented her to the point where Charles, in this book, admits that he followed Mercy when she was alone to make sure Leah didn’t try anything, hinting that he had legitimate concerns that Leah could do something extreme to Mercy. This book proceeds to try and make Leah a  more sympathetic character by setting up this “Bran having feelings for Mercy” thing. As if Leah has some sort of right to be angry AT A CHILD for inspiring wildly inappropriate feelings in her mate, and in some ways Mercy had the bad treatment coming.
  4. Anna, too, is ruined by this, because at one point she says she “understands” Leah and would “feel the same way” had Charles had similar feelings. Anna is supposed to be a character whose empathy and social awareness makes her unique among a species prone to emotional denseness. And this is terrible, to at all relate to essentially a mother who abuses her child (to the point that others fear for the child’s life) because the father has an inappropriate fixation on said child. For Anna to be on the wrong side of this situation, to be casually talking (and smiling!) about it as if no part of it is that big of a deal, other than pack gossip, pretty much ruins what is supposed to be her “super power.”
  5. This is a small thing in the grander scheme of disgustingness that is this entire situation, but we now have almost every male character in this series falling in love with Mercy. It was bad enough before with Samuel and Stephen, but now it’s just gone to a crazy level. As if no man is capable of having a healthy, platonic relationship with her without succumbing to wanting more.

I really can’t say enough about how upsetting this turn of events is. It’s truly going to make it difficult to continue with either series. If taken as fact, it makes Bran a despicable character, a predator in the most base sense, and someone who can only be seen as a villain going forwards. Any interaction between him and Mercy has now retroactively been made cringe worthy to read, and going forward impossible to support. I honestly don’t know how Briggs can fix this or if she even will try. I’ll probably read the next Mercy book just to find out, but I don’t really have any hope for the situation. Other than killing off Bran, I don’t know what can be done. And even that still leaves it very difficult to go back and re-read the other books in the series without feeling incredibly uncomfortable and put off. If I could just tear these pages of dialogue out of the book and pretend I had never read them, I’d be so much happier.

So, that’s my feelings on that. As you can see, I massively downgraded this book because of what is only a short conversation, but one that has dire consequences for this and the Mercy Thompson series as a whole. And it’s too bad, because on its own, I liked this book the best of all the others in this specific series. But if I could, I’d rather have not read it at all and kept my good feelings about Bran and the Mercy Thompson series instead.

Rating 4: Honestly, if you’re a big fan of the Mercy Thompson series, I wouldn’t read this. It does more damage to those books than the good it does for its own series, in the end.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Burn Bright” is a newer title so isn’t on many relevant lists, it should be on this list (like many of Briggs’ other books are): “Best novels with Native American main character.”

Find “Burn Bright” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Little Monsters”

32320750Book: “Little Monsters” by Kara Thomas

Publishing Info: Delacorte Press, July 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Kacey is the new girl in Broken Falls. When she moved in with her father, she stepped into a brand-new life. A life with a stepbrother, a stepmother, and strangest of all, an adoring younger half sister.

Kacey’s new life is eerily charming compared with the wild highs and lows of the old one she lived with her volatile mother. And everyone is so nice in Broken Falls—she’s even been welcomed into a tight new circle of friends. Bailey and Jade invite her to do everything with them.

Which is why it’s so odd when they start acting distant. And when they don’t invite her to the biggest party of the year, it doesn’t exactly feel like an accident.

But Kacey will never be able to ask, because Bailey never makes it home from that party. Suddenly, Broken Falls doesn’t seem so welcoming after all—especially once everyone starts looking to the new girl for answers.

Kacey is about to learn some very important lessons: Sometimes appearances can be deceiving. Sometimes when you’re the new girl, you shouldn’t trust anyone.

Review: I did not grow up in a small town, but both of my parents did, and they have many stories from their childhoods about small town life and culture. Rumors and gossip were things that spread like wildfire, and get passed down from generation to generation and live longer than anyone imagines they would. I think of the story my Dad tells about a rumor that Dick Hickock and Perry Smith, the murderers from “In Cold Blood”, stopped in the town limits on their way to Mexico after they killed The Clutter Family. No can prove that they did, but to some people it’s absolute fact. I really enjoy stories that explore the power of rumor and urban legends, especially within small communities. Enter Kare Thomas and her novel “Little Monsters”. Thomas is making her way up alongside Stephanie Kuehn for must read YA thriller authors, as hot off the tail of “The Darkest Corners” she put out another stellar YA thriller and mystery that kept me on the edge of my seat and needed to know more. I have her upcoming novel “The Cheerleaders” sitting on my Kindle thanks to NetGalley, and I can tell you that’s going to get priority on my reading list thanks to this awesome read about small town society, and interloper trying to fit in, and rumors and urban legends that take on lives of their own.

Thomas brings us to the town of Broken Falls, Wisconsin as our protagonist Kacey settles into her new life with her father and his family. Kacey is damaged and wary, a teenager whose mother had been toxic and abusive and whose behavior prompted social services to step in. Her transition to a new life from a life where she felt completely unwanted makes for an interesting and complex protagonist, and Thomas writes her pretty well and believably. I totally bought into why she would cling to Bailey and Jade, and also understand why she may not see some of their manipulations for what they are. So, too, is she believable when she makes poor decisions in the face of accusations that she has something to do with Bailey’s disappearance. I found myself feeling to Kacey as well as wanting to shake her whenever she was confronted by a suspicious authority or community member, but at the same time a teenager probably wouldn’t be making the best decisions without guidance from a busy father and loving, but stressed, stepmother. The town of Broken Falls itself, from the physical description to those who populate it, also felt well fleshed out and realistic in the reaction to Bailey’s disappearance. My folks have many a story about the mistrust of outsiders, and outsiders being looked at first when something awful happens because of the false idea that no one from the community could POSSIBLY do such a thing. Such ideas can be very damaging, and to see them play out with a teenage girl at the center kept me on the edge of my seat, especially since Kacey herself dabbles in unreliable protagonist tropes herself.

The mystery itself is told through two POVs: Kacey’s, and then through diary entries that Bailey left behind but are seemingly only seen by the reader. This allowed for a slow burn of a reveal to unravel at a good pace, and I loved seeing the facts come out one by one. I was definitely tantalized by the various clues that would be laid out, and they all come together so neatly and tautly that I was pretty blown away by it. Thomas did a great job of setting this all up, and the payoff was well worth it. I definitely didn’t solve this a moment before Thomas wanted me to, and as the results fell into place I was genuinely caught off guard and then totally satisfied by it. The mystery also does a good job of slowly revealing truths not only about Bailey,  but other people in the story, which make sense going back before they are revealed. And I don’t want to give anything away, so I’m going to leave the mystery at that.

The other component of this book that I REALLY enjoyed, even if it didn’t have as much obvious play, was the urban legend of The Red Woman. Broken Falls has a story about a man who murdered his family and burned down his house, but the body of his wife was never found. Now there is a legend about her ghost being seen on the property of the farm they shared, given the fact no one bought it and it has been left to rot. I LOVE a good urban legend, and Thomas does a really good job of creating a new, believable one that is INCREDIBLY creepy (images of and specters of bloody women running after dark, anyone?) and plays a very key, but subtle, role in the other themes of this book. I would read a book all about The Red Woman urban legend, if Thomas were so inclined to write it.

‘Nuff said. (source)

So all in all, “Little Monsters” was a fast, fun, satisfying read. Kara Thomas is up there with the other greats of the YA Thriller genre, and I can’t wait to see what she brings us with “The Cheerleaders”, and any other works that she puts into the YA literary world.

Rating 8: A tight and tense thriller with a solid mystery and creepy characters, “Little Monsters” is another winner from YA Thriller superstar Kara Thomas!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Little Monsters” is included on the Goodreads lists “YA Crime and Murder Mysteries”, and “First Draft Interviewee Books”.

Find “Little Monsters” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “My Plain Jane”

363010231Book: “My Plain Jane” by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

Publishing Info: HarperTeen, June 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss

Book Description: You may think you know the story. After a miserable childhood, penniless orphan Jane Eyre embarks on a new life as a governess at Thornfield Hall. There, she meets one dark, brooding Mr. Rochester. Despite their significant age gap (!) and his uneven temper (!!), they fall in love—and, Reader, she marries him. (!!!)

Or does she?

Prepare for an adventure of Gothic proportions, in which all is not as it seems, a certain gentleman is hiding more than skeletons in his closets, and one orphan Jane Eyre, aspiring author Charlotte Brontë, and supernatural investigator Alexander Blackwood are about to be drawn together on the most epic ghost hunt this side of Wuthering Heights.

Previously reviewed: “My Lady Jane”

Review: I picked up the first book in this series (?) pretty much on a self dare: how could the tragic story of Lady Jane Grey  somehow be turned into a fantasy/comedy YA story and NOT be terrible? Well, I was definitely proven wrong, so when I saw this book coming out, I did nothing more than glance at it, see that it was somehow a Jane Eyre retelling, and instantly request it. Seriously, I didn’t even read the actual book description, because I was surprised as heck that there were two other narrators when I actually started reading, even though it states it right there in the blurb. Anyways, long story short, I loved this book.

Jane Eyre is working as a teacher at the orphanage/school where she was raised, alongside her friend Charlotte Bronte. Their quiet, but not so happy, lives are interrupted with the arrival of ghost hunter extraordinaire, Alexander Blackwell, who sees in Jane a powerful addition to the supernatural services organization for which he works. Jane doesn’t see it the same way and flees to be a certain governess at a certain dark and creepy house with a certain brooding gentleman in residence. Charlotte, on the other hand, is all too willing to prove that she, too, has what it takes to hunt ghosts and gets herself involved, like all good heroines do.

It’s really hard to blurb this book as so much of the plot is caught up in the twists that the authors are constantly lobbing into what is a very well known classic tale of tragic love. And man, I don’t want to ruin the surprises that are in store! In many ways, I enjoyed this book even more than the first book. Other than her terrible end, I didn’t really know anything about the history behind the original Lady Jane Grey and, from what I do know, the story veered from that path pretty early on to allow for our leading lady to have a proactive role, rather than sitting alone and doomed on a throne for a few days.

But here, I am very familiar with the original plot line of “Jane Eyre” so watching the story unfold in a completely unexpected way, artfully tying in characters and events that mirror those from the original but who show up and do things that I would never have guessed was an utter delight. For all that we gain two additional characters, one of whom is the author of the original book in question, it was truly impressive how closely these authors managed to tie it all together with that story. They also neatly explored some of the criticisms that can be thrown at the door of the original, as well.

As characters go, I actually ended up enjoying Charlotte and Alexander more than Jane herself. Charlotte has the go-getter gumption that I like in my leading ladies, and Alexander was appropriately put off but also endeared by her, which I like in my romantic heroes. This all left poor Jane to still have to fulfill the role of the one who falls in love with the very brooding, slightly suspicious Mr. Rochester. Yes, things don’t all turn out as they do in the book, but given the dueling goals of retelling the story while also criticizing some of the peculiarities of its romance, this left Jane in the awkward position of having to mimic some of the foibles (at least they are presented as foibles in this view of the story) of the original Jane as well. But, don’t get me wrong, the book takes a massive turn halfway through the story, and in the latter half Jane gives it as good as she got.

I’m sure this was true of the first book as well, but what stood out to me the most in this one was the bunches of fun I was having simply spotting references to other pop culture memes and moments. I know that “Ready Player One” has come under a lot of fire (I don’t think deserved, save it for the second book!) for being nothing but a loose plot full of 80s references. And while I had fun with that book and those nods, I’m not a pop culture aficionado like Kate, especially not about the 80s, so I’m sure I missed the majority of the more subtle Easter eggs.  Not so here! These are the kind of references that I can get behind. We have “The Princess Bride,” “Harry Potter, ” “Ghostbusters,” “Lord of the Rings” and so many more! They were everywhere, and what made this even better was how artfully they were sewn into the story itself. It never felt like they were shoehorned in, but instead each reference came about in a natural and often very subtle way.

I again loved the way that the authors wove supernatural events into this story. Yes, it’s probably a bit easier to sell a ghost story with actual ghosts for “Jane Eyre” than shapeshifters in a real historical event like with the first book, but there are still a million ways this thing could have gotten away from them. Instead, the entire production felt tightly controlled and masterfully directed the entire time. The characters each had distinct and interesting character arcs, the magic was well thought out and integral to the story itself, and the original “Jane Eyre” was deftly retold and lampooned at the same time. I zipped through this book in one day! If you enjoyed “My Lady Jane” or are up for a good comedy version of “Jane Eyre,” than I definitely recommend checking out “My Plain Jane.”

Rating 9: Adding comedy, magic, and bucket loads of literary references only improves this retelling of “Jane Eyre.”

Reader’s Advisory:

“My Plain Jane” is on these Goodreads lists: “Derivatives of Jane Eyre” and “Brontës in Fiction.”

Find “My Plain Jane” at the library using Worldcat!


A Revisit to Fear Street: “College Weekend”

89804Book: “College Weekend” (Fear Street #32) by R.L. Stine

Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, 1995

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

Book Description: Nightmare weekend

Nothing can ruin Tina River’s big weekend at Patterson College with her boyfriend, Josh Martin. She’s so excited, she doesn’t even mind that her cousin, Holly, will be tagging along.

But when Tina and Holly arrive, Josh is gone. His roommate, Christopher Roberts, says Josh is stuck in the mountains, delayed by car trouble. That’s weird—Josh never mentioned he was going away.

It gets even weirder when Holly suddenly disappears. But Christopher isn’t worried—about Holly or Josh. Christopher seems to have the answer to everything. Tina is confused. But one thing is clear—she’s about to learn more about love and murder than she ever wanted to know.

Had I Read This Before: No.

Review: We open with a short prologue in which our protagonist, Tina, is on the phone with Josh, her college boyfriend. She’s going to visit him that weekend and unfortunately has to bring her cousin Holly with because her Mom doesn’t want her traveling alone. While Josh is a little miffed, they are still excited to see each other and he’s convinced his friends are going to like her. But we find out from the omnipotent narrator that they are going to have some problems that weekend.

Fast forward to Tina and Holly riding the bus from Shadyside to Patterson College. Tina is excited to see Josh because she hasn’t seen him for three months, and Holly is excited to check out all the college boys during the Spring Fling Weekend. Tina wants to be a fashion model, but as of right now all she is interested in is seeing Josh. I’d make fun of her or get snarky, but during my freshman year of college my then boyfriend/now husband and I were in a long distance relationship and I KNOW how it feels like the end of the world until you can see them again. So Tina, you’re a-okay in my book. The train arrives at Patterson Station, and Tina practically drags Holly off the train by her hair. The conductor tells them that they’re the only ones getting off and that the station is super deserted, so they should be careful, but JOSH is supposed to be meeting them so all is well!… Except, big shocker, Josh isn’t there when they get off, and the station is basically empty. Holly says that she hopes this isn’t a sign of how the weekend is going to go, and Holly, you have NO idea. Holly says that she has a bad feeling, but then asks if there are any good dance clubs around because she’s SO breaking curfew and staying out all night, so she’s not THAT worried. They leave the platform and go into the station and it’s JUST as deserted outside of a black cat (BAD SIGN Holly says), and when they go out onto the platform AGAIN Tina sees Josh! Except it’s not, it’s a random creep who demands that they give them money or else. But then another guy swoops in to rescue them from the person who is no doubt a casualty of Reagan Era Social Policy! The guy says his name is Chris and he’s Josh’s roommate, and that Josh got caught on a geology field trip and won’t be back until later that night. Tina is bummed because she wants to have as much time as possible with Josh, but they follow Chris to his Jeep. Chris is confused to see Holly because he thought Tina was coming on her own, but Tina explains the situation of a human chastity belt.

In the car Holly goes on about the drama programs she’s visited, while Chris puts in a CD by Psycho Surfers, which happens to be Tina’s favorite! Chris then tells her that he heard she wants to be a model, and that his uncle is THE Rob Roberts, famous fashion photographer! He could take some photos of her this weekend and then send them to Rob, but Tina says she may not have enough time because she’s planning on spending it all with Josh. They get to the dorm and Chris says that the girls can sleep in his and Josh’s room and he and Josh will crash at his photography studio (I should mention Chris is RICH). Tina asks Chris to call the studio to see if Josh is there yet, but he’s not. Chris leaves for the night, and Holly and Tina settle in. As Tina admires the absurd amount of rocks on Josh’s side of the room, she also notices that the plethora of photos Chris mentioned are all gone. Then there’s a knock on the door, and when Tina opens it a girl is there, who seems to freak out at her appearance. But then she says that Tina just looks like someone she used to know, and introduces herself as Carla. She’s dating Steve, who is in the geology program with Josh, AND she went to high school with Steve and Chris so she’s an old friend. Carla confirms the car trouble situation, and then tells Holly and Tina about Chris’s old girlfriend in high school, Judy. She died in a sailing accident and Chris is still really broken up about it. Carla says that she’s going to talk to Josh when he gets back, because she doesn’t think he appreciates Tina, and Tina thinks that’s a little weird. Chris comes back because he forgot his chemistry notes, and he suggests that they all go to a party to pass the time. Tina is reluctant at first but eventually agrees, and says she needs to put some things away first. But when she opens Josh’s closet, she sees his hiking boots. Why did he leave them behind on a geology trip? The others come back and Carla says that Josh doesn’t deserve Tina because he’s on that trip and he hasn’t seen her in months, but Chris stands up for him and they go to his Jeep. Tina asks Chris about the boots and he says Josh got new ones. He puts in another CD and OH WOW, it’s another band that Tina likes! How coincidental, I’m sure.

They get to the party and Holly is stoked while Tina is intimidated about the COLLEGE GIRLS. Carla takes Holly to meet some drama kids, and Chris asks Tina if she wants a drink. As they drink soda (SUUUUURE) they talk more and they have so much in common! He then asks her if she wants to dance and she says sure. Then they go out to the back porch and he tells her to wish upon a star (Christ). She says that she wishes to be a famous model one day, and he says he can help make that come true by taking her pictures. Then he kisses her. They’re BUSTED by Carla, and Tina is first scared that Josh is going to find out about this. But then she realizes that Holly isn’t there. Carla says she las saw her dancing with a townie. When they go back inside, the party has TAKEN A TURN BECAUSE THOSE ROWDY TOWNIES ARE THERE and perhaps a bike race is the only way to solve all their differences? I’m saying it now, I’m Team Cutters!

“Breaking Away”, anyone? Anyone? (source)

One of the townies tries to get Tina to drink beer by forcing it in her mouth and no, the Cutters wouldn’t do that, they’re gentlemen, and Tina can’t find Holly anywhere. But she does hear a scream that sounds like Holly, and she runs out back to see a curly haired girl (like Holly) being dragged off “Road Warrior” style on the back of a motorcycle, and Tina chases after them for a bit but tells herself maybe Holly wanted to go with them (UHHHH), but maybe it wasn’t even Holly at all. Then she finds an earring that looks just like Holly’s and yikes. She runs to find help but finds Carla instead, who tells her that she JUST SAW Holly go off with drama major extraordinaire Alyssa Pryor, who Tina remembers from Shadyside High. Phew, thinks Tina, but then wants to talk to Carla about the kiss she walked in on. Carla says Tina shouldn’t worry because in COLLEGE you totally hook up at will, and she and Steve aren’t monogamous so it’s really not a big deal.

Tina is in a mood by the time they get back to the dorm, and she hopes that Josh is finally back. Chris says he’ll walk her up because he has MORE THINGS to grab, and when they enter the room it’s still just them. She worries Josh has been in an accident, and Chris says he’ll call the studio to see if Josh has left a message, and says he’ll call her when he finds out after he gets there for the night. He does so, and claims that Josh did leave a message that he won’t be back until the next afternoon because the garage can’t get the car part they need til the next morning. Tina is now full on peeved and decides to try to sleep. But she’s awakened by a strange sound, and is convinced that someone is in the room with her, and the door is indeed open (there’s a weird moment here where she doesn’t realize it until she turns the light on, BUT wouldn’t the light from the hallway be a tip off??). She closes the door and locks it, admonishing herself for not locking it in the first place. Then she goes to Josh’s desk and finds his CAR KEYS. How is he on a trip WITHOUT HIS CAR KEYS???

The next morning Tina wakes up at tenish, and sees that Holly’s clothes remain untouched. She still isn’t back! While Tina knows she isn’t Holly’s mother, she is a good cousin and wants to make sure she’s, you know, ALIVE. She calls information and asks for Alyssa’s phone number, but there is no one listed under that name. She calls Chris at the studio to see if he’s heard from Josh, but nope. He says he’ll give her a tour around campus, and when she asks about Josh’s keys he says he can’t hear her and hangs up. Subtle. When he arrives with donuts she asks him about they keys again, and he says that he must have taken his spare set, and when she asks why he didn’t just bring his regular set with the quartz key chain she got him, he says he probably didn’t want to lose them. and she TOTALLY buys into it. Look, there’s gaslighting, and then there’s willful stupidity, Tina, and you are being WILLFULLY STUPID right now. He takes her to fraternity row and tells her that Josh is pledging, and Tina thinks that’s odd since Josh has never been into fraternity life, and maybe she doesn’t know him like she thought she did. They can’t find Holly at the drama department or the cafeteria, and Chris says he’ll go grab Alyssa’s number from the student directory at the bookstore. He comes back with it and gives Tina a quarter for a pay phone, but when Tina calls the number the voice on the answering machine is NOT Alyssa’s! Chris suggests that perhaps Alyssa is trying out a new voice because actresses, and once again Tina thinks that’s a very reasonable explanation.

The absurdity of this. (source)

Carla shows up and tells them that she just heard from Steve and Josh and their car broke down AGAIN, so she’s off to pick them up. Tina says she wants to go but she says no, she can’t come because her car is only a two seater and one of the guys is already going to have to trunk it (I’ve done this before. Don’t be dumb like me, kids!). Tina suggests the Jeep, but then realizes that she should wait around for Holly and Carla heads off to get the boys. Chris suggests that they should go rent a motorscooter and go for a ride. They go around town and he takes pictures of her on his camera, and then they go to the Spring Fling Carnival that afternoon because OBVIOUSLY Holly will turn up there.

As they hang out at the carnival, they run into a guy named Jack, who when to Shadyside the year before. Chris tries to get Tina to head off with him, but Tina wants to hang with her old friend for a bit. She tells him that Holly is here too, but she went off with Alyssa and she hasn’t seen her since. Jack tells her that Alyssa transferred to a school in Seattle and doesn’t go here anymore. Tina FREAKS, and Jack heads off totally unconcerned. Tina says that Carla must be lying, and Chris tells her to relax and that Holly is probably fine and just enjoying a spot of rebellious independence. He suggests they just try to enjoy themselves, and they end up at the Ferris Wheel. And they get stuck at the top, which makes Chris think it’s the perfect time to put the moves on her. They do kiss a little bit, but then Chris gets all pensive and shit. He says he hasn’t been on a Ferris Wheel since Judy, and she comforts him. He starts ragging on Josh for leaving, and says that if HE were her boyfriend he’d NEVER leave her. He then scoots closer, offsetting the balance of their car, and tries kissing her again, and when she refuses he threatens to tip it over because she’s a TEASE. Before he can, though, the car starts up again, and they start to descend. He tells her he was just kidding.  and that he’s sorry. Now Tina is back to the ‘I feel sorry for him’ portion of our reading journey, and thinks that if she’d never kissed him in the first place none of this would have happened. To that I say HELL NO AND I HATE THAT STINE EVEN PUT THAT OUT IN THE UNIVERSE.

Tina thinks they’re heading back to the dorm, but Chris says they should go to his studio instead so they can take indoor shots. She is reluctant, but he reminds her that his uncle is THE Rob Roberts, and Tina thinks that this is the only way to achieve stardom. As they ride the scooter Tina thinks she sees Carla who is supposed to be going up to pick up Josh and Steve! But when they swoop back they don’t see her, but another girl in similar clothes and with similar hair. So they get to the studio, which is in a basement, nothing sketchy about that, and she looks at all his state of the art equipment. She sees a picture on the wall of a girl who looks a LOT like her, outside of the darker hair and different eyes, and it’s implied that it’s Judy. Chris shows her where she can go get into modeling makeup, and when she nearly opens a closet door he FLIPS and tells her not that one because it holds lots of chemicals. She finds the bathroom, freaks out because she thinks a mannequin is a body (it’s not), and then he starts telling her how to do her makeup for his ‘vision’. He then applies it the way he likes and tells her what kind of outfit to pick out. Lucky for her all of the dresses are just her size! He starts taking her picture and telling her how to pose, and retouches her makeup just the way he likes….

It’s so fucking creepy, you guys. (source)

And when she compliments the dress he says that it belonged to Judy!!! She continues the shoot, and then he starts calling her Judy and tries to kiss her. She tries to remind him that she is NOT Judy, and he kind of gets it but, like, not really? She realizes that she has to play along or he’s going to flip out on her, and he tells her to put on this old fashioned dress now.

As she’s changing, Tina finds a picture in a drawer. It’s of HER SLEEPING IN THE DORM ROOM THE NIGHT BEFORE. When she exits he says that they’re going to photograph a beach scene, and it makes no sense given her gown but Judy died at the beach so it probably makes sense in his mind. She asks if she can have a soda, and when he goes to get her one she bolts! But all the doors and locked. And as Chris starts to chase her around, he says that he’ll have to kill her ‘again’. SO HE KILLED JUDY TOO. They struggle a bit and he locks her in the dark room. When she finds the light for the room, she realizes that she’s surrounded by pictures of her of all shapes and sizes, the photos being the ones that she sent to Josh, and the last one is of her at the train station the night before. She decides she needs to find a weapon, but when she opens that cabinet, JOSH’S BODY TUMBLES TO THE FLOOR!!! Looks like she threw chemicals in his face and then based his brains in. Chris bursts in and grabs her, calling her Judy all the while. She tries to reason with him, and then tries to throw acid in his face… but it’s just water. Some acid does drip on her arm and it sizzles, and just as Chris is about to lunge she distracts him and then hits him in the head with a tripod.

She runs and tries to think of a way to escape and/or call the police. THen she opens the door that Chris didn’t want her to open, and HOLLY IS IN THERE! Chris introduced her to a guy the night of the party, and when hse got back to the dorm Chris grabbed her and tied her up and threw her in the closet. Tina tells her that she thinks she killed Chris, and unties her. But unfortunately, CHRIS IS ALIVE! He’s about to lunge at them with scissors, but then Carla and Steve enter. THey look like they are taking Chris’s side, talking him down and suggesting that he get one more picture of Judy, the two of them together. Tina refuses, but then does when it looks like it could mean life or death. But when Chris goes to get his camera, Carla and Steve subdue him and tie him up. Carla explains that they were only going along with him to disarm him. Chris had told her that Josh was with another girl this weekend and to cover for him, which is why Carla was participating in the lies. But then Steve told her as she picked him up that Josh would never do that, and they put two and two together. Holly calls the police, and Tina tells Carla and Steve that he killed Judy too, and Carla and Steve feel like fools for thinking otherwise. As Chris rants and raves about developing ‘Judy’s’ photos the next day, Tina runs outside into the night. As she looks up at the first start of the night, she thinks forlornly that no matter how much she wishes it away, she’ll never be able to forget what happened to her and Josh this past weekend. The End.

Gee, for once I wish we did have a dumb quippy end line. (source)

Body Count: 1, but if we’re going to count Judy it would be 2. The injustice of Josh dying is too much.

Romance Rating: 2. I feel so badly about Josh because he and Tina seemed happy, but we never saw them actually interact. And Chris and Tina is obviously gross and creepy as hell.

Bonkers Rating: 7, just because of the SUPER disturbing ‘dress this girl up like my dead girlfriend’ photo session that sounds like something out of “The Neon Demon”.

Fear Street Relevance: 1. ONCE AGAIN, we aren’t even in Shadyside and the only time Fear Street is even mentioned is when someone says something about Fear Street having a carnival, but NO, R.L., FEAR STREET wouldn’t have a carnival, SHADYSIDE would have a carnival, and it feels like you just forgot to even mention Fear Street and tossed it in at the last second.

Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger: 

“She glanced down at Josh’s body sprawled on the floor. Then she let out a horrified gasp. ‘Chris! It’s Josh! He’s moving! He’s getting up!'”

… But it was just a distraction tactic so she could hit him. I mean, of course it was, but what a stupid cliffhanger. A kid reading it might think this was turning into a zombie story, which would have been SO cool….

That’s So Dated! Moments: Chris’s Jeep is described as not only having a fancy CD player, but EVEN A CAR PHONE!!!! And he has a COLOR MAC WITH A CD-ROM AND A LASER PRINTER!

Best Quote:

“‘Well, I always say,’ Carla continued with a grin, ‘if you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with.'”

Uh, NO, Carla, YOU don’t say that! Stephen Stills says that, you goddamn plagiarist! And he isn’t exactly the best person to ask for relationship advice, if you’re going to ask a member of CSN about love I would argue Graham Nash is the way to go. He wrote “Our House” for Joni Mitchell for God’s sake (not that she was very, uh, grateful in the end)….

Conclusion: “College Weekend” was surprisingly dark and a pretty good, creepy read. Definitely one of the more twisted “Fear Street” novels I’ve read. Up next is “The Stepsister 2”! 

Book Club Review: “Six of Crows”

23006119We 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: “Six of Crows” by Leigh Bardugo

Publishing Info: Henry Holt and Company, September 2015

Where Did We Get This Book: Serena owns it, Kate got it from the library

A-Side Book: “Shadow and Bone”

Book Description: Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price–and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can’t pull it off alone…

A convict with a thirst for revenge.

A sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager.

A runaway with a privileged past.

A spy known as the Wraith.

A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums.

A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes.

Six dangerous outcasts. One impossible heist. Kaz’s crew is the only thing that might stand between the world and destruction—if they don’t kill each other first.

Serena’s Thoughts

This book is probably one of the perfect diverging points for Kate and my own differing book tastes. I’m pretty sure that everything I love about these genres are the same things that turn off Kate, so be ready for some whiplash in our opinions!

It’s no secret that I love fantasy. Pretty much any fantasy, but high fantasy (rather than, say, urban fantasy) is definitely my preferred type. After all, that’s the primary genre that I cover on this blog. But I also love heist stories. I don’t read many heist books, because frankly most of the ones I’ve tried fall into the worst category of “beach reads” where the writing and plotting is so simplistic that I just can’t acknowledge it as worth my time to read. But I do love heist movies (though even I have my doubts about this new “Oceans 11” reboot…). So reading this book description, I was all over this!

I did have a few points of hesitancy, however, going in. I don’t typically prefer books with multiple narrators, let alone five. And I’ve been burned by Bardugo in the past. While I liked the first book in her “Grisha” series, my rage boiled over in the second and I don’t think I even finished the third. So, I was excited, but hesitant.

All for nothing! I had a blast with this book! Set in the same world and a few years (?) after the events in the last book of the “Grisha” trilogy, our team is made up of a ragtag group of individuals all with complicated pasts and motivations that lead them to be involved in what everyone says is an impossible mission.

I very much enjoyed the world building in this story. It’s been a few years since I read the other two books, but for the most part this world and history is presented in such a way that prior knowledge of it was not necessary. If anything, I think my half reading of the first trilogy almost made it worse, as I could sort of remember things here and there and was never quite sure whether something new was being introduced or whether I should be remembering it from before. In that respect, it might even be easier to read this book with zero knowledge of the original trilogy. All of that said, this story takes place in two new and distinct locations: the gang-riddled streets of Ketterdam and the Ice Court where the people of the north capture and exterminate Grisha, as they see their magic as contrary to the natural world. Bardugo does an excellent job in painting clear and brilliant scenes on which to work her stories. I particularly liked the Ice Court itself, and the complex inner workings that the team had to overcome to break in and out.

As for the characters, Bardugo masterfully juggled a very full cast, somehow managing to weave together a very action-packed story while also slowly revealing the complicated and often dark histories of each individual character on this journey. I had a few favorites, but I ultimately enjoyed them all. I would say that Jesper was probably my least favorite, due to the fact that he had the least developed back story of the group and, for plot reasons, had to be kept in the dark about certain events. I enjoyed Inej the most, as her character type (silent, deadly, masterfully proficient at what she does best) is one of my favorites. But I think that Nina and Matthias, as a pair, had the most compelling journey in this story. Raised in very different cultures and with very different views on the world, they both have to confront prejudices and the darker side of their own beings.

I had a few quibbles of plausibility here and there, as far as the heist itself goes. But for the most part, I was having such a blast that I didn’t have time to pause and really think about the viability of some of their more outrageous plans. Bardugo is particularly effective with her dialogue, and with a cast of 6+ characters, there were ample opportunities for this strength to shine and overcast any weaker plot points. Over all, I greatly enjoyed this book and have the second one sitting on my shelf ready to read!

Kate’s Thoughts

Say it with me folks: I don’t like heist stories, I don’t like high fantasy, and while I read “Shadow and Bone” in Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse, I didn’t particularly care for it and never went back to that trilogy. So yeah, going into “Six of Crows” I wasn’t terribly stoked. But I like to think that I’m a good sport and something of a trooper, and given that I really liked other works by Bardugo (specifically “Wonder Woman: Warbringer”, and the short story “Verse Chorus Verse”), I had a little bit of hope that I would enjoy at least parts of it.

Turns out I was right on both counts. So, yay?

For not liking heists or high fantasy, there were plenty of things that I did find likable in this book. As Serena mentioned, Bardugo has a knack for world building, and while I remember very little from her Grishaverse I greatly enjoyed seeing aspects of it popping up in this book, even if it was in a different time and place. The Dutch influence in Ketterdam is a fun thing to watch as well, with references to various familiar landmark types and certain words clearly being derived from the Dutch language. Bardugo has a clear world idea, and in some ways she expands upon it in this book (as far as I know) with how Grishas (or witches) are viewed, and how this society functions in a more poverty stricken and corrupt society.

Bardugo also has a talent for characterization and dialog, and I ended up really enjoying a number of the characters. While in book club the solid consensus seemed to list Inej as a favorite, I myself greatly, GREATLY enjoyed Nina and her morally grey, duplicitous yet empathetic ways. Like Serena I was quite intrigued by her relationship with Matthias, and how they both have a deep connection but deep resentment and mistrust because of past actions. Whenever the story was focused on her, it had my rapt attention.

But, at the end of the day, Serena knows me very well: “Six of Crows” manages to run with a number of story themes that I don’t care for, mostly heists and high fantasy. And because of that, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I could have, and as much as others have. I am not a good judge for how good this story is because this is not a book that was written with me in mind, and it’s not quite strong enough (outside of a few aspects I did like) to rise above my preferences and prove me wrong. It’s no one’s fault. It just didn’t do it for me as a whole.

Serena’s Rating 9: Strong dialogue and a great cast of characters added to what was already a thrilling heist story.

Kate’s Rating 6: While the characters compelled me and the dialog was snappy, the story line and themes didn’t interest me.

Book Club Questions:

  1. This story is set in the same world as Bardugo’s original “Grisha” trilogy. How did reading that trilogy before (or not reading it) affect your experience with this book?
  2. This book is made up of a large cast of characters. Which ones stood out to you as particularly interesting? Were there any that you felt less connected to?
  3. Through Nina and Matthias’s story arc, this book confronts some challenging themes regarding prejudice and persecution. What moments stood out to you in this area? Do you think this could have been explored even further?
  4. The heist itself is made up of several moving pieces and changed throughout the story. Did any parts of it strike you as particularly surprising or fun to read about? Did you have questions about any parts of it?
  5. There are a lot of surprises revealed throughout the story. Which ones took you by surprise and which ones could you predict?
  6. The story ends on a bit of a cliffhanger. Where do you think it will go from here?

Reader’s Advisory:

“Six of Crows” is on these Goodreads lists: “Villain Protagonist” and “Speculative Fiction Heist/Caper Stories.”

Find “Six of Crows” at your library using WorldCat!

Next Book Club Pick: “Deathless” by Catherynne M. Valente


The Great Animorphs Re-Read #31: “The Conspiracy”

363424Animorphs #31: “The Conspiracy”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, July 1999

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: Jake’s dad and brother Tom have left for a meeting of The Sharing, where Tom may force their dad into involuntary Yeerk infestation. Jake must save his father, but for the first time, his quick-thinking tactical mind freezes up … with everything at stake.

Narrator: Jake

Plot: Another one where I only had vague memories of the entire plot. I knew that it was a big Tom book and that Jake’s leadership came under question. And then the entire read through I was wondering why they didn’t just break Tom’s leg, and then they do in the end, so that entire thought must have just been an extremely vague memory of that specific plot point. And now after reading it, my main take away is:

Jake and Marco nooooo!!!

Jake arrives home to see his mother getting in a taxi crying. It turns out that Jake’s Grandpa G has died, and the entire family is going up to his remote cabin in the woods to prepare for the funeral. Jake, Tom, and their Dad will come up in a few days and stay for four days. Four days, one day past the three day limit that will lead to starvation for the Yeerk in Tom’s head. This presents a problem, especially when Jake’s Dad refuses to budge on insisting that Tom come on this trip. (We’ll give Jake a break for emotional distraction, but he doesn’t realize that this four day limit will be a problem until he runs into Marco and after telling him the whole story suddenly realizes ah, that’s why Tom as so upset.) What’s worse, Marco points out that Jake shouldn’t have left Tom alone with Jake’s dad, surmising that he might do something desperate to get out of this trip.

When the two get back to the house, Tom and his dad are gone, but there is a crumpled note in the trash (Tom through it away to cover their tracks) from his dad saying that he and Tom are going to the Sharing so he can explain why Tom will need to be away. Jake and Marco know the truth: they’re going to try and infest his dad with a Yeerk. Still panicking, Jake thinks to have the Chee track his father down. Marco steps in saying they need to be careful and use a pay phone so they’re not tracked. The Chee have Jake call his dad’s cell phone so they can track its location, but to make sure to stay quiet so the Yeerks won’t get suspicious. When Tom answers it, Jake almost speaks and Marco has to lunge to get the phone away from him before he reveals them. The Chee narrow the location down to a few blocks and Jake and Marco morph birds to check it out.

They arrive at a mini mall where Jake spots his dad’s car in the lot. He starts to morph tiger and once again Marco has to pull him back, pointing out that they can’t barge in and make it known that the “Andalite bandits” have any interest in this. Instead, gorilla!Marco begins setting off car alarms, punching Jake’s dad’s car and Chapman’s car for extra fun. Tom, his dad, Chapman and few other Controllers come out. Jake is able to confirm that his dad is still free when Tom tries to convince him to leave the car and come back inside. But Jake’s dad refuses, saying he needs to take care of his car now.

The group meets back up in the barn and discuss the general crappiness of the entire situation. Rachel is mad that Marco and Jake went in alone, Tobias is confused by family dynamics having had a terrible aunt and uncle his entire childhood, and the group as a whole recognizes that there is no larger fight going on here, but that it’s a terrible position for Jake. They all come to the conclusion that there is a good chance that Tom will simply try to kill his dad as a way out of this situation and that they will all need to go on surveillance to try and prevent it.

The next day, roach!Jake follows his dad to work, hitching a ride on his dad’s pants leg. At the doctors office, Tobias spots an angry looking guy lurking around the entrance. But throughout the rest of the day, nothing of note happens. On the way back out, the angry looking guy is still there. Tobias and Ax ask Jake what they should do, and Jake freezes. Deciding to go with the “gross out” method, roach!Jake runs up the angry man’s body and perches on his hair. Just then, Tobias swoops down and tries to rake his hair, but instead ends up with the toupee and Jake caught in his talons. Jake realizes that because of his freeze, Tobias and Ax made the wrong call, exposing weird animal behavior that could have been spotted by Yeerks. And all for nothing, as the angry man just had a beef about parking spots.

Back home, Jake tells Tobias and Ax to head out and no need to send reinforcements, he’ll cover it. After dinner, Jake notices that Tobias is outside, clearly having ignored his instructions to go home. Jake decides to join him for a bit and morphs falcon. From the air, the two of them spot Chapman and another man with a gun in a car heading their direction. Jake frantically swoops down and starts to demorph on his own roof, in plain sight of anyone who would be looking. As he demorphs, he slides down the roof and is dangling in front of a window. Tom is facing the other direction on the phone, the only reason Jake isn’t spotted. Jake overhears Tom telling someone on the phone that his dad is outside, take the shot. Finally demorphed, Jake drops to the ground and rushes around to volunteer to finish watering the lawn for his dad. As the car drives by he “accidentally” sprays it with the hose, and they continue on.

Again in the barn, Tobias relates everything that happened that day (Rachel and Ax are away watching Jake’s house). No one is too impressed with Jake, not only for freezing up in the parking lot but for demorphing in plain sight. Even Cassie doesn’t come to his defense. But Marco is the most harsh.

I glared at him. “You’re enjoying this, aren’t you? This is payback for when I doubted you over your mother.”

“I was ready to do what had to be done,” Marco said.

“So am I!”

“No. You’re not. You endangered all of us. You demorphed on your roof! On your roof! In daylight. With your brother in the house! If Tom had seen you do that you’d be head down in the Yeerk pool right now, and the rest of us would be standing in line behind you!”

Marco insists they take a vote on what to do next, saying that Jake’s not in a position to make a good call. Cassie, through silence, sides with Marco, surprisingly. They assume that Ax will take himself out of the vote and Rachel will side with Jake. Tobias essentially defuses the situation by saying they need to come up with a plan that isn’t just reacting to what’s going on. Jake bursts out that he has such a plan: capture Chapman and use him as a distraction so the Yeerks won’t have the time/energy/resources to focus on Tom’s problem.

To pull this off, they go for the very unsubtle route. Rhino!Jake, grizzly!Rachel, gorilla!Marco and partially human morphed Ax (to make his human more unrecognizable) all barge into Chapman’s house under the pretense that Ax is a friend of Melissa’s. There they bring down destruction (with a near miss of Marco being shot and just being able to demorph/remorph), but manage to nab Chapman in the end and smuggle him to a nearby house where they tie him up and begin the charade. Ax is tasked with convincing Chapman that the Andalite bandits have captured him to torture information out of him.

The next morning Jake checks in on Ax who has had enough with this entire plan. He tells Jake that this was a dishonorable plan, to be threatening torture. Then, after deliberately leaving behind some broken glass, they leave Chapman behind for him to “escape.” Back home, Jake tells the others that his family is leaving at noon, but really they leave in the next two hours. After all of the missteps on his own part, Jake has decided that this is his problem to solve on his own.

After a tense ride, they find themselves at the cabin and reunited with Jake’s mom and other members of his family. Jake’s grandpa had fought in WWII, and while discussing this, Tom makes a few insensitive comments about wars and sacrifice. He and Jake go up to the attic to look through some of their grandpa’s things. There, Jake tries to get through to his brother Tom one last time, hoping to get a glimpse of him beyond the Yeerk’s control. They again discuss war and what parts honor and courage play in it. They discover some medals of honor and an old Nazi dagger that their grandpa must have retrieved from a fallen soldier. Jake insists that Tom not take it, knowing that the Yeerk would like to use it to kill Jake’s dad.

Later that night, Jake has disturbing dreams about being in a war, freezing in the trenches and wishing for the fighting to be done. He wakes up and sees that Tom’s bed is empty next to him. He goes downstairs and sees that his father is no longer asleep on the couch with his mother. Outside, he sees his father and Tom sitting together on the dock on the lake. Peaking out of the back of Tom’s pants is the Nazi dagger.

Jake starts to morph tiger, knowing that this is what it has finally come down to, him having to kill Tom. But before he can even finish the morph, he hears a loud crash and watches the dock collapse into the water. Both Tom and his father go under. Even more strange, his father, who is a good swimmer, is bobbing up and down in the water, being pulled somehow away from the dock and Tom. While Tom tries to keep his eyes on his dad, a dolphin fin appears in the water and rams him in the back, leaving him to float face down in the lake. Jake hears one of the Animorphs thought speaking to him to demorph, that he is out in the open in a partial form.

He is unable to get to Tom whom he is sure must be drowning with his face in the water. But suddenly Tom’s body begins skimming across the water being pushed from below. Jake grabs him and he coughs, coming to. His leg has been broken  badly, however.

In the end, Tom is taken on a medical helicopter all the way back to their hometown. The next day, Jake goes out in the woods and meets up with his friends who explain how they did it. Tobias watched the house and notified them when Tom and his father left. Whale!Cassie managed to drag herself through the shallows and ram the dock, crashing it into the water. Rachel and Ax as dolphins broke Tom’s leg and dragged his father to safety. Looking around, Jake asks where Marco is. Cassie says that he’s hanging back, unsure how happy Jake would be to see him. He finally comes out and Jake notes that this all had to have been his plan, which he admits. Marco adds that the Chee helped: they were the ones who showed up in the helicopter and insisted that Tom be flown all the way back to their home town.

Jake admits that he was too close to everything, that he should have seen this solution of injuring Tom sooner. Jake takes Marco aside and thanks him for what he’s done. Jake hesitates, and then asks what the plan was going to be if Tom hadn’t made himself vulnerable by coming outside late at night with his father. Marco is silent, but Jake pushes, saying that Marco had to preserve the safety of the group and keep Jake alive. Marco finally agrees and coolly lays out his reasoning: If Tom killed Jake’s dad, Jake would kill Tom, and Jake and the others would be exposed. The expendable piece was Tom. He doesn’t finish saying what they would have done had Tom not come out before Jake stops him, saying he doesn’t want to know.

Back home, Jake looks at his Grandpa G’s medals and reflects on the fact that they had been stored away in a box in the attic and not on display. As a soldier himself, Jake understands this, that living it once is enough without being reminded constantly. He decides that if he is ever awarded any medals for the war with the Yeerks, he too will need to find a box for his attic.

Our Fearless Leader: It’s been a while since we’ve had a big Tom-related moment, let alone an entire book. It’s easy to forget that Tom was the reason that Jake signed on to this war to begin with. And here he is presented with the terrible decision to essentially choose between his brother and his father. It’s no wonder that he breaks down.

As readers, we’ve seen the inside of Jake’s head several times before and know that the confusion and fear that he feels pretty much constantly about his own abilities to lead this group effectively. He’s constantly asked to make split second decisions, many of which put his friends in mortal danger. In the very last book we saw him pretty coldly agree that Marco’s plan to kill his own mother was the best route to go. But what the other members of the group see is simply his effectiveness and sure handedness. So you have to imagine that witnessing him break down like this had to be a shock for the group. Again, as a reader, it didn’t strike as hard because we’ve seen Jake have these same moments of panic in the past. But here they really start affecting his outward behavior and choices.

Some of the strongest moments came outside of the Animorphs action and instead focused on Jake inner thoughts about war, honor, and what the choices that are asked of soldiers really mean in the larger scale of things. Particularly, he discussions with Tom about these things. Through Tom, the Yeerk is essentially presenting the case for the entire Yeerk forces’ view on war: there is only room for honor when the war is finished, while Jake is arguing the other side, that right and wrong always exist.

Xena, Warrior Princess: Rachel does very little in this book. She’s along for a few missions, but she’s also absent during one of the biggest debates when Marco brings up voting on Jake’s leadership abilities. Jake immediately says that Rachel would side with him, and no one questions this. I’m not really sure why this was so assumed. Looking at almost all of the previous book in which there is some type of vote, Rachel almost always sides with Marco. So much so, that when she doesn’t in the vote to make David an Animorph, Marco remarks on it as a surprising divergence from their usual like-minded way of thinking. She’s also proven herself to be more than willing to step into a leadership role if Jake is out of it for some reason, like we saw when he was sick and they were all eels in the pipes. So it’s not like she is unwilling to consider alternatives to Jake making the calls. I mean, for plot reasons Marco’s vote had to go against him. But I think it’s a mischaracterization to present it as if Rachel would have voted this way.

A Hawk’s Life: Tobias is present both times that Jake errs in his leadership abilities, first freezing up in the parking lot and then demorphing in broad daylight on the roof. He is able to cooling tell the group what happened and Jake notes that he does it without judgement. But when Jake starts pushing back against Marco’s harsher view of things, Tobias, still calmly, tells Jake that Marco is right: Jake’s been out of it and he isn’t putting the group and their larger war first and it could be disastrous. But when it comes down to a vote, Tobias is also the one to essentially diffuse what was becoming a pretty heated moment by redirecting the conversation away from the vote and onto the fact that they should be on the offensive rather the defensive with this situation. This allows Jake another opportunity to come up with his own plan, to capture Chapman.

Peace, Love, and Animals: Like Rachel, I’m not sure whether Cassie’s characterization in the vote scene is spot on. I get that the fact that her not  immediately siding with Jake is meant to highlight just how out of it he is, if even Cassie is questioning his decisions. But the fact remains that this book is coming directly after Marco’s book, and it just doesn’t make sense for Cassie to switch positions on this, especially when the person in question is Jake. If anything, the same concerns she had in Marco’s book should be present here, and even more strongly. But beyond that, she’s always had complete faith in Jake’s abilities, and I’m not sure either of his mistakes up to this point would be enough for her to question that. Unlike Rachel, for instance. I think the swap of their votes was done more for the “shock factor” than as a true portrayal of how these two characters would have acted in this situation.

The Comic Relief: Marco was by far the MVP of this book. Everything with him was great and I loved how it built off the fact that this was happening immediately after his own nightmare situation with his mother. It’s hard to count how many great moments there were from him. We had the parallel situation with him and Jake as we saw with him and David when it came to calling up Jake’s dad (reminding them both to use a pay phone rather than a trackable phone, stepping in when both Jake/David were about to slip up and give up crucial information). We had him calling out Jake on his bad decision making (though perhaps it was a bit much to be coming down on him about the public morphing given the, ahem, elevator scene from the previous book).

In many ways, I think the last book was a turning point in Marco’s character. Up to that point, he knew that he was probably one of the more clear-minded members of the group as far as completing an objective in the most direct manner, regardless of collateral. But after that book, he seems to admit his own ruthlessness. He knows that he is capable of doing the unthinkable, killing his own mother (he would have if Jake hadn’t knocked him out of the way) and that he is also the most capable of putting together a clear plan because of this ruthlessness. Not only does he not pull any punches when noting Jake’s priorities being out out of whack, but he early on sees the clear reality of the situation: Tom is the expendable piece. And he comes up with the plan to take Tom out, preferably by injuring him. But in the last conversation between him and Jake, we know that Marco had another plan for the more dire outcome, if that became necessary.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Ax has a very strong reaction to his role as faux interrogator/torturer of Chapman. This is probably one of the biggest moments for Jake to realize just how completely off the reservation his thinking has become. Ax is typically a “yes” man, and here we see him push back strongly against his Prince saying that this was the wrong thing to do, it was dishonorable, and while he’ll complete this mission, he will not do something like this again. That last bit in particular stands out as very rarely does Ax make statements like that, especially to and against Jake.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: I can’t remember any real gross out moments from this. I mean, Jake morphs a cockroach and that’s never pleasant, but we’ve also read that one so many times that the shock factor is kind of lessened. He does effectively use the grossness of the roach itself to freak out both his dad (unintentionally as he tries to hitch a ride) and the angry parking lot guy (intentionally, in case he was a Controller).

Couples Watch!: Early in the book when Jake first finds out about his grandpa’s death, he has a moment where he wishes he could talk to Cassie about everything. Instead, he runs into Marco. Probably for the best, given the events that followed, but it’s still notable that Cassie is more and more who he turns to for support. Marco, while still his best friend, is also something more now, and Jake seems to recognize that the tactician in Marco can never quite turn off now.

Another moment is when they are first discussing Tom’s situation. Tobias is confused and asks why Tom doesn’t just say he’s not going and be done with it. Tobias genuinely doesn’t understand family dynamics in this matter, as he slowly realizes that his aunt and uncle only didn’t push back against his own refusals to do things because they didn’t care about him.

Rachel, of course, is having none of this:

“Your relatives are jerks and they didn’t deserve you,” Rachel snapped.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: Another rare book where Visser Three doesn’t even make an entrance!

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: I mean, like Marco’s book, the whole thing is fairly tragic, with Jake’s slow realization that his father’s and Tom’s lives don’t really matter in the larger scheme of things. Especially when he stops Marco from telling him what the plan was in the end to take Tom out of the equation. He doesn’t even berate Marco for this anymore, some part of him recognizing that Marco was right.

But I think one moment that really stood out was about Tom himself. After Jake manages to break up the attempted shooting of his father in the front yard, he turns around and sees Tom watching from the window, hatred in his eyes. But Jake knows that his real brother is still there and that he had to helplessly watch as the Yeerk set up his father to be gunned down in his own yard and couldn’t do anything about it but watch from a window as his younger brother “luckily” steps in and stops it. It’s another reminder of just how awful the life of the host of a Yeerk must be.

We also get another rough Melissa moment, when Jake and Ax discuss the fact that Melissa has been wandering the streets crying and calling for her dad while they have him tied to a chair and are threatening to torture him.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: Well, a lot of this book is centered around the idea of Jake coming up with terrible plans due to being emotionally compromised. I guess three really stand out to me, though.

One, I get that the “capture Chapman” plan was meant to distract the Yeerks from Tom’s situation. And we have to assume it worked as nothing happens to Jake’s dad. But from a reader perspective, we have nothing really to base this on. We don’t see any Yeerk plans fall apart, and it ends up largely feeling unnecessary. Even a small thing, like seeing cars with Controllers who had been staking out Jake’s house pull away after hearing about Chapman would have been enough of a nod that something had changed because of this. But as it was, we never knew what/if the Yeerks had any plans for that night, so we can’t see any change when nothing happens.

Two, Marco’s plan in the end is good. Just injure Tom enough that he had to go back. So good in fact that it is kind of questionable that they didn’t think of this before. In the days leading up to them leaving, I feel like there had to have been a way they could have done something similar that would have forced Tom to stay home in the first place.

Lastly, why oh why is Tom still trying to kill Jake’s dad once they get to the cabin? I don’t quite get how murder is going to get him to a Yeerk pool any faster, and if it has to be murder, why it is so specifically the dad, when, as far as the Yeerk is concerned, anyone would do. Frankly, Tom is sharing a room with Jake. Easier to just murder your sleeping brother than anyone, if that’s really the plan. But again, why is this the plan at all? Even the Yeerk should have come up with the “break my own leg” way out of this.

Favorite Quote:

A good moment from Marco:

“You need to back off on this,” Marco said quietly. “You can’t make this call. Not about your dad and your brother.”

“You made it when it was your mom,” I said.

Marco shrugged.”Yeah, well, that’s me. If it’s any comfort to you, I’d like myself more if I was like you. But the question here is, how far do we go to protect your father?”

Also, a lighter moment, just after human!Ax has asked Mr. Chapman to go get Melissa about a homework assignment:

“Good,” Ax said. “She is my close friend and also classmate and thus this is a perfectly normal thing for me to do.”

Scorecard: Yeerks 7, Animorphs 12

No change! I think someone even notes that this had no effect on the larger war at hand. It was just a personal crisis for Jake himself.

Rating: I really liked this one. It was great to have another Tom-focused book, and this one really capitalized on the events of the previous book, playing with the differences between Marco and Jake in these similar situations. We see the aftermath for Marco’s character in going to the dark depths he did in his book, and Jake, too, has to confront the harsh realities of the situation with his brother. We know that his whole reason for joining this war was to save Tom, and for those of us who know the end, we know where that leads. This book is almost perfectly positioned in the middle of the series, and it’s an interesting point for the the story and Jake to come back around to Tom’s place in this war and what his life means in the scale of things and how that is changing as the war continues.

Note: I’m not going to rate these books since I can’t be objective at all! But I’ll give a one sentence conclusion and you can take from that what you will!

Kate’s Review & Giveaway: “A People’s History of the Vampire Uprising”

36341674Book: “A People’s History of the Vampire Uprising” by Raymond A. Villareal

Publishing Info: Mulholland Books, June 2018

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

Book Description: A virus that turns people into something somehow more than human quickly sweeps the world, upending society as we know it.

This panoramic thriller begins with one small mystery. The body of a young woman found in an Arizona border town, presumed to be an illegal immigrant, walks out of the town morgue. To the young CDC investigator called in to consult the local police, it’s a bizarre medical mystery.

More bodies, dead of a mysterious disease that solidifies their blood, are brought to the morgue, and disappear. In a futile game of catch-up, the CDC, the FBI, and the US government must come to terms with what they’re too late to stop: an epidemic of vampirism that will sweep first the United States, and then the world.

Impossibly strong, smart, poised, beautiful, and commanding, these vampires reject the term as derogatory, preferring the euphemistic “gloamings.” They quickly rise to prominence in all aspects of modern society: sports, entertainment, and business. Soon people are begging to be ‘re-created,’ willing to accept the risk of death if their bodies can’t handle the transformation. The stakes change yet again when a charismatic and wealthy businessman, recently turned, decides to do what none of his kind has done before: run for political office.

This sweeping yet deeply intimate fictional oral history–told from the perspectives of several players on all sides of the titular vampire uprising–is a genre-bending, shocking, immersive and subversive debut that is as addictive as the power it describes.

Review: I want to extend a special thanks to Mulholland Books for sending me an ARC of this novel.

It’s been awhile since I’ve read vampire fiction. I don’t know if it’s because the pop culture fascination with vampires has waned again and not much has come out, or if I have just been oblivious to what new offerings are out there. But when I saw that “A People’s History of the Vampire Uprising” was about to come out, I was immediately interested by the premise. I liked the book “World War Z” by Max Brooks, which is a similar premise, but with zombies, and was curious to see how such a thing would be done with vampires.

“A People’s History of the Vampire Uprising” feels like an amalgamation of “World War Z”, “The Strain”, and Charlaine Harris’s “Sooki Stackhouse” series, a brew that comes together to make a fairly unique new vampire mythos. We follow a few different perspectives and plot points as the rise of the NOBI Virus is laid out on the page. Once a person is infected with NOBI, they have a fifty fifty chance of transforming into a ‘gloaming’, a being that has gained a longer lifespan and other supernatural abilities, but cannot survive in the sunlight and must feed off of blood. This story postulates less of an immediate vampire apocalypse, and more of a slow shift as they appear to try to integrate into modern society. It’s a more in depth analysis than the “Sookie Stackhouse” books gave, and a bit more cynical as well. Villareal is far more interested in how this kind of shift would affect the laws and civil liberties of modern societies, and he has a number of characters who fall on either side of the gloaming ‘issue’. These characters include CDC Investigator Dr. Lauren Scott, the woman who was on the scene when Patient Zero, Liza Sole, is found along the U.S.-Mexican Border, only to escape into the night. Another is Father John Reilly, a Catholic Priest who is going through his own journey regarding the rise of ‘gloamings’ and how it’s changing society. We also follow Joseph Barrera, a political wunderkid and spin doctor who is approached to run the gubnatorial campaign for Nick Claremont, a gloaming who wants to become Governor of New Mexico, and Hugo Zumthor, and FBI Agent whose field is mostly gloaming issues. Along with various perspective sections with these characters we get newspaper articles, message board posts, transcripts, and interviews that slowly show how NOBI rises and changes society over the course of a few years. My favorite parts were definitely the ones that involved Lauren, as the description of the NOBI virus was fascinating and reminded me of “The Strain” series in the virology of this kind of vampirism.

I also enjoyed the various ethical and philosophical debates that Villareal brings up in this book that have been glossed over in other similar stories. The debates of gloamings being able to have similar rights as humans, and the question of tolerance and equity and how to accommodate for this new population, are addressed and waxed poetic in this book, and the legal and cultural perspectives were in depth and well laid out. I enjoyed that Villareal made it a complex and grey issue, with various likable characters having deep prejudices, but also having fair questions and reservations about gloamings and what their ultimate motivations are. Especially as they start coming into positions of power, and what that power does and what it means for the shared space between humans and gloamings alike. Villareal dives a bit deeper into the legal and policy aspects of this quandary than “World War Z” did in its ‘history’, and while it was mostly fascinating sometimes it felt a little bloated, as did some of the medical aspects that come with the description of the NOBI virus. Because of this, at times I was thinking that it was a bit tedious to get through, though overall it was neat that Villareal went the extra steps into the philosophy behind it all.

Overall I enjoyed reading “A People’s History of the Vampire Uprising”, and it’s a notable contribution to modern vampire lore. You will need to go in expecting a deeper dive than what you usually find in the genre, but ultimately it’s worth taking a look if you are a fan of vampires and vampire mythos.

And good news! I’m giving away an ARC edition of this book! Given that it’s on a number of ‘Hot Summer Book’ lists, this book is bound to be the talk of the town this season!

Enter The Giveaway Here!

Rating 7: A solid tale in the tradition of “World War Z”, “A People’s History of the Vampire Uprising” is a creative new take on the vampire mythology.

Reader’s Advisory:

“A People’s History of the Vampire Uprising” is fairly new and not on many Goodreads lists yet, but it is included on “June Buzz Books”, and I think that it would fit in on “Not The ‘Normal’ Paranormal”.

Find “A People’s History of the Vampire Uprising” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Whisper on the Tide”

345195361Book: “Whisper on the Tide” by Sarah Tolscer

Publishing Info: Bloomsbury USA Childrens, June 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: ARC from the publisher

Book Description: Caro Oresteia spent her life waiting to be called by the river god, as those in her family had been for generations. But when she’s swept away on an adventure to save the Akhaian royal prince, Markos, her destiny is sealed by the sea god instead.

For now, Caro is landlocked, helping Markos reclaim his throne after nearly his entire family was assassinated in a political coup. Without any financial or military support, Markos is desperate for allies, and Caro has fought off more than one attempt on his life. When a powerful Archon offers his army in exchange for Markos’s marriage to his daughter, Caro must choose: Her love for Markos, or the fate of Akhaia? And more importantly: How much is she willing to risk to defy the sea god’s wishes and chart her own course? 

With shipwrecks, lost treasure, old and new enemies, dark magic, and breathtaking romance, Sarah Tolcser weaves another epic story about chasing your fate.

Previously reviewed: “Song of the Current”

Review: Remember a time, not so long ago, when “Pirates of the Caribbean” was actually acclaimed and not a national joke? I mean, those first few movies were a blast! I may, may,  have even seen the first one in theaters three times. I remember being almost giddy over just how much unadulterated, unquestioned fun that first movie was offering up. Adventure! Romance! Great characters! And some top notch humor that the other films never seemed to really understand or replicate in all the many, MANY, iterations that followed. So you can imagine just how thrilled I was when I discovered about halfway through this book, that “Whisper on the Tide” was essentially what you’d get if you took that first movie and then took Kiera Knightley’s character from the third movie, but actually made her, you know, a good character and had her run the show.

While Caro has finally discovered her true calling, with the goddess of the ocean in her ear and a ship to her name, her time of late has been spent decidedly NOT at sea. After pledging herself to help Markos regain his lost throne, she’s recently discovered that much of what this help is made up of is running a few messages here and there and sitting through various speeches and rallies while Markos looks to drum up support for his cause. And all is not going well. The ocean god is displeased with Caro’s lack of sea time adventures and Markos few followers are pushing towards a marriage of convenience that would bring in much needed support. Caro has more and more difficulty seeing a path forward that allows her to keep both of her loves, the sea and Markos himself.

For all that the description of the story, both mine and the official one, puts a lot of weight on Caro’s decision about her future, part of what has made me like this series so much so far is Caro’s no nonsense approach to life and decision making. She doesn’t wilt away from tough choices and she is endlessly practical. In many ways, she sees her ability to make hard calls as her biggest asset to Markos, whom she often derides as getting too caught up in the emotions of things. Here, these character traits move the story along and keep it from being marred in the emotional duldrums of soap opera-ness that could have come about with a different character in this situation. But what makes it all the better is that through this book, Caro must learn that her own practicality and willingness to follow the harder path is not always a boon.

In short order, she’s back out on the ocean and beginning to understand how very little she knows of life as a sea captain, for all that she has her own ship and the ear of the sea goddess. The action never lets up and Caro’s adventures are filled with everything you’d want from a pirate adventure. We have storms, and ships sinking, and maroonings on islands, and lost treasure, and pirate lairs. Really, like I said at the beginning, all the best parts of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies, though each with their own unique spin and connection to the larger plot.

For secondary characters, we sadly saw much less of not only Markos, but Caro’s magic-wielding cousin, Kente, was also out of commission much of the time. But what we did get from her was integral to the plot, and I liked the the fact that she had a role at all, as with the way the last book ended, I wasn’t sure we were going to see more from her. Markos, also, was abscenfor much of the middle portion of the book. I was ok with this. I still very much enjoyed the romance between him and Caro, and their banter and Markos’ own cluelessness about certain things were still some of the most fun pieces of dialogue in the story. However, by sidelining him and their romantic entanglements, Caro was given the space and time to really come into her own as a character and drive the plot on her own.

This also gave room to add a surprising new (?) character who I had not expected to see at all. I don’t want to spoil it, but I thoroughly enjoyed this addition and the character added a much needed sense of ambiguity and moral greyness to an otherwise fairly straightforward adventure story. To continue the “Pirates” compariosons, if Caro is Elizabeth and Markos is Will, this new character was Jack Sparrow and lived up to the utter delight that any character should be if trying to fill that role.

I also greatly enjoyed the expanded idea of Caro’s relationship with the sea god. While we heard a lot about the river god and the solid, calm prescense that he transferred to those who were chosen by him, we only briefly met the sea god in the last book. And true to the nature of the sea, she is much more volatile and unpredictable than the god of the river seemed to be. I was relived that she wasn’t reduced to just another magical ability for Caro, but given her own agendas and whims that often came into conflict with Caro’s. Their ongoing battle of wills was a large secondary driver of much of the story and I was very pleased with how it played out.

In the end, I enjoyed this book even more than the first. While “Song of the Current” had a slow start, this one jumped right into the action and never let off the gas pedal. Caro was her same sassy self, but was given more room to proactively drive the plot herself this go around. I still very much enjoyed the romance, but was pleased to see that it played second fiddle to the action and adventure. And between the ocean god and the surprise Jack Sparow-esque character, there was enough double crossing and cross purposes to keep readers on their toes about what would be coming next. If you enjoyed the first book, I’m sure you’ll love this one!

Rating 9: Take all the good parts of the “Pirates” movies, make them even better, and turn it into a book and ta da!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Whisper on the Tide” is a new title, so it isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists, but it is on “Teen Pirate Books.”

Find “Song of the Current” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Bruja Born”

33918887Book: “Bruja Born” by Zoraida Córdova

Publishing Info: Sourcebooks Fire, June 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an ARC from NetGalley.

Book Description: Three sisters. One spell. Countless dead.

Lula Mortiz feels like an outsider. Her sister’s newfound Encantrix powers have wounded her in ways that Lula’s bruja healing powers can’t fix, and she longs for the comfort her family once brought her. Thank the Deos for Maks, her sweet, steady boyfriend who sees the beauty within her and brings light to her life.

Then a bus crash turns Lula’s world upside down. Her classmates are all dead, including Maks. But Lula was born to heal, to fix. She can bring Maks back, even if it means seeking help from her sisters and defying Death herself. But magic that defies the laws of the deos is dangerous. Unpredictable. And when the dust settles, Maks isn’t the only one who’s been brought back…

Review: I first want to say a special thanks to NetGalley for providing me with an ARC to this book!

Awhile back I read the book “Labyrinth Lost” by Zoraida Córdova, a fantasy novel that took some influence from “Alice In Wonderland”. I remember liking the characters in it for the most part (well, mostly Alex, our teen witch protagonist), but having a harder time with the fantasy world setting that she found herself in. Look, I have lots of opinions about “Alice in Wonderland,” as you guys know, and that one didn’t really live up to my very high expectations. But I liked Alex and her family enough that I told myself I’d continue in the series, so when I saw that “Bruja Born” was on the way I requested a copy from NetGalley, thinking I had little to lose. But I have great news. If “Labyrinth Lost” has similarities to “Alice in Wonderland,” “Bruja Born” also has a book to which it has similar themes and concepts. And that book is “Pet Sematary”.

Words that we should all take to heart. Especially if we live on cursed soil in Maine. (source)

The whimsical and dreamy fantasy setting from the first book has gone out the window, and Córdova has taken us straight into dark fantasy/horror for the second book of her “Brooklyn Brujas” series. And this is where, for me, the series has spread it wings and flown high, because THIS is the kind of book I was waiting for. This time, our main character is Lula, Alex’s older sister who was one of those who was in need of rescue in book one. Her emotional and physical scars from her time in Los Lagos have really weighed her down, and she has changed from popular and bubbly extrovert to sullen and bitter killjoy. I was really happy to see that we got to focus on her this time, as while I liked Alex I liked having a new character to explore. And Lula was so flawed and complex, more so than Alex, and getting to know her (as well as Rose, their youngest sister) made this book all the more rich. In fact, this book gave us a better grasp on all of the family members, and world building exploded and really sucked me in. Lula’s relationships, be it with her sisters or her mother or Maks as he becomes the living dead due to a spell that was cast, felt deeper and more rewarding this time around. I also really have to give Córdova props because while I found Lula to be really hard to take at times, I TOTALLY understood the choices that she made and believed every single one of them. And her romance with Maks is so, so emotional and tragic, as you know that it is doomed once he becomes more and more in tune with the undead side of him. But his emotions and feelings and memories are still there, and we have to slowly watch him fall away, and watch Lula potentially lose him all over again. Man was it painful and an emotional rollercoaster, and I, of course, was living for all the agony it was causing me.

The stakes have grown exponentially in this one as well. While those in danger in “Labyrinth Lost” was limited to the Mortiz family alone (which are high stakes for them, of course), the threat of an undead horde threatens all of New York City after the Mortiz Sister’s healing/resurrection spell goes terribly wrong. We get to see how the magical systems within the book not only affect the characters, but how they could potentially affect the world that they live in. There was a lot of loss in this book, loss that actually caught me off guard. This book goes dark, far darker than “Labyrinth Lost”, but I think that it is richer for it. Córdova also brings in concepts from her other stories outside of the “Brooklyn Brujas”, and fits them into this world and the Bruja culture seamlessly. When we find out that this world is not limited to witches, Córdova opens up a world of possibilities that I cannot wait to see her explore as the series goes on. This series has officially gone from ‘yeah, I guess I will go on with it’ to ‘OKAY SERIOUSLY WHEN DOES THE NEXT ONE COME OUT?!’, and now looking at both “Labyrinth Lost” and “Bruja Born” as two parts to the same whole, I’ve gained more appreciation for the former. The stories are very complementary, and the next one, almost assuredly following the youngest sister Rose, can only strengthen it more.

If you like teen horror and an emotional chaser to your terror, “Bruja Born” is definitely a book that you need to pick up. You do need to read “Labyrinth Lost” before going into this story, but given that I have a feeling that the “Brooklyn Brujas” series is going to be VERY strong overall, you’ll be glad that you did. And now seriously, when does the next one come out?

Rating 9: A solid dark fantasy that borders towards horror, “Bruja Born” brings the Mortiz Family into their own and expands into complex and deeply satisfying world building and magical systems.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Bruja Born” is included on the Goodreads lists “Latinx MG/YA Speculative Fiction”, and “#OwnVoices Novels of 2018”.

Find “Bruja Born” at your library using WorldCat!

Highlights: June 2018

Summer is here!!! Cook outs, volleyball, walks around the many lakes, you name a summer activity and the odds are one of us is taking advantage of it! And who can forget finding a nice sunny (or shady in Kate’s case) spot to read outside. Here are the books we’re most looking forward to in June!

Serena’s Picks

34519536Book: “Whisper on the Tide” by Sarah Tolcser

Publication Date: June 5th, 2018

Why I’m Interested: I just finished up the first in this series  and I’m definitely geared up for the second! I absolutely loved the romping adventures on the high seas from the last book, and am excited to find out what will come of our two protagonists. Will Caro finally begin to understand her place in the world? Will Markos continue his streak of not being an arrogant nincompoop? And, most importantly, will we continue to get all the sailing facts?? I love sailing facts.

34357122Book: “Starless” by Jacqueline Carey

Publication Date: June 12, 2018

Why I’m Interested: I’ve had a very hit and miss relationship with Carey’s work. I absolutely loved her Kushiel’s Dart series and really enjoyed her Naamah Kiss trilogy. Both had incredible world-building and two fantastic heroines at their heart. But I’ve also read some of her urban fantasy, and I absolutely couldn’t stand it. It’s still hard for me to reconcile the fact that one author could spark such extreme opposite reactions. I’m hoping that this return to high fantasy, with a young hero who fights in a world where a dark god is rising, will be the key to my enjoyment of this author once again.

36301023Book: “My Plain Jane” by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

Publication Date: June 26th, 2018

Why I’m Interested: I absolutely loved the super quirky, super weird, but super lovely “My Lady Jane” that these authors penned a few years ago, retelling the would-be-tragic story of Lady Jane Grey. Here, they tackle another famous Jane, this time pulling from literature rather than history. That’s right folks, it’s a Jane Eyre adaptation! My excitement for this book is completely out of control, but after having my doubts put in place so firmly with their handling of the first book, I can’t help but have high hopes for their take on one of my favorite novels!

Kate’s Picks

35226186Book: “Providence” by Caroline Kepnes

Publication Date: June 19th, 2018

Why I’m Interested: I love Caroline Kepnes and her “Joe Goldberg” series so, so much, that I of COURSE am putting her newest book, “Providence” on my list. Two teenagers have a deep connection, until one is kidnapped. When he resurfaces a few years later, he has been forcibly changed, and has gained ‘powers’ that he has no control over, powers that can hurt others. Kepnes always does such a good job of pulling complexity from all of her characters, and with themes of love, friendship, and H.P. Lovecraft being prevalent in this newest book lord knows she’ll be able to create something very special and very unique. It may be a bit of a departure from the thriller genre (with a gallows humor twist) that her devoted fans are used to, but if she can make someone like Joe Goldberg appear to have actual depth and feelings, think of what she can do with characters who AREN’T sociopathic creepazoids.

33918887Book: “Bruja Born” by Zoraida Córdova

Publication Date: June 5th, 2018

Why I’m Interested: So if you remember I read Córdova’s first “Brooklyn Brujas” book “Labyrinth Lost” and was mildly entertained by not completely enthralled. But when I found out that it was going to be the start of a series I knew I’d keep going, and THEN when the second in the series sounded like a mix of “American Horror Story: Coven” and “Pet Sematary”, I was SOLD!!! The second in this unique series follows Lula Mortiz, the sister of our first protagonist Alex. When her boyfriend dies, she tries to bring him back using her magic. And, as one might expect, there are unintended consequences. Given that I wanted to learn more about the Mortiz sisters within their home turf of Brooklyn, this book is going to give me all that AND more. I’m looking forward to a darker tale of love and loss and magic.

36381091Book: “The Cabin at the End of the World” by Paul Tremblay

Publication Date: June 26th, 2018

Why I’m Interested: Much like Caroline Kepnes, Paul Tremblay is one of my favorite authors writing at the moment. Both “A Head Full of Ghosts” and “Disappearance at Devil’s Rock” messed me up but good, both in terms of fear and sadness, so I have no doubt in my mind that “A Cabin at the End of the World” will do the same. It sounds like a combination of “Funny Games” and countless apocalypse stories, as a girl and her fathers are trapped in a cabin the woods with a doomsday cult that invades their living space, saying that a horrible and personal sacrifice must be made to prevent the end of days. So not only do we have a home invasion and an innocent family in danger, we also have the fact that Paul Tremblay knows how to twist the emotional knife relentlessly. So of course I’m all about it.

 What books are you looking forward to this month? Let us know in the comments!

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