Kate’s Review: “The Cheerleaders”

30969755Book: “The Cheerleaders” by Kara Thomas

Publishing Info: Delacorte Press, July 2018

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

Book Description: There are no more cheerleaders in the town of Sunnybrook.

First there was the car accident—two girls gone after hitting a tree on a rainy night. Not long after, the murders happened. Those two girls were killed by the man next door. The police shot him, so no one will ever know why he did it. Monica’s sister was the last cheerleader to die. After her suicide, Sunnybrook High disbanded the cheer squad. No one wanted to be reminded of the girls they lost.

That was five years ago. Now the faculty and students at Sunnybrook High want to remember the lost cheerleaders. But for Monica, it’s not that easy. She just wants to forget. Only, Monica’s world is starting to unravel. There are the letters in her stepdad’s desk, an unearthed, years-old cell phone, a strange new friend at school. . . . Whatever happened five years ago isn’t over. Some people in town know more than they’re saying. And somehow Monica is at the center of it all.

There are no more cheerleaders in Sunnybrook, but that doesn’t mean anyone else is safe.

Review: I want to extend a special thanks to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this book.

I am so, so pleased that the YA Thriller community has someone like Kara Thomas repping it these days. As you all know I’ve had a harder time with YA thrillers in the past, if only because they either aren’t gritty enough, don’t have enough interesting characters, or have predictable and spoon fed mysteries for their audience. While I understand that sometimes straight forward narratives are considered to be more ‘teen friendly’, I also think that it’s refreshing when authors don’t talk down to their teen readers and give them some serious narratives to chew on. And Kara Thomas trusts her readers enough that there is NO talking down to them. After reading her previous books “The Darkest Corners” and “Little Monsters”, I was practically chomping at the bit to read “The Cheerleaders”, her newest thriller mystery. When I finally sat down and began to read it, I pretty much devoured it all in two sittings. Thomas has done it again.

The first thing that really stood out to me about this book was our protagonist, Monica. Monica could at first glance be written off as your typical thriller heroine in novels like this: when we meet her she is in the middle of a medication induced abortion after a fling with an older man who happens to be the new soccer coach at her high school (side note: I super super appreciate the fact that Thomas has an abortion in this book and doesn’t use it as a melodramatic moment or a moment to proselytize to either side: it’s just a fact that Monica has one and that she made that choice without any hesitation). She has been having trouble coping for the past five years ever since her older sister Jen committed suicide, the fifth cheerleader in the five cheerleader deaths that have shaken the town, and has been distancing herself from everyone and succumbing to numbness. I appreciate the fact that while it’s never outwardly stated that Monica is suffering from a deep depression, Thomas makes it clear through her actions. Monica is flawed and Monica has moments where you just want to shake her, but she feels so freaking real that I just longed to hug her. I loved how intrepid she was, and think that she is one of the strongest protagonists I’ve seen in a YA thriller, or ANY thriller, in the past few years.

The mystery, too, was solid and intricate, and kept me guessing up until the end. It’s laid out in two different narratives: there’s Monica’s first person POV, and then a third person POV that follows Jen five years before in the months leading up to her death. Monica is starting to wonder if Jen actually committed suicide, and if all of the cheerleader deaths were as cut and dry as they seemed at the time. This leads her on a noire-like mystery with her own sidekick in Ginny, a neighbor that Monica has never really gotten to know in spite of the fact Ginny has always been around. The mystery surrounding the cheerleaders deaths is well paced and ever suspenseful, and Thomas doesn’t show her hand until she is good and ready to. I was once again left guessing until the end, and even though I had some small inklings of where things were going, I was mostly left surprised by the main mystery, and TOTALLY surprised by another that flits about off to the side, almost unnoticed but always present. The flashbacks to Jen’s story also give us clues that we can piece together while Monica is doing the same, and I really liked seeing Monica pick up on something that we picked up on previously, and vice versa.

And it’s gritty and bleak to be certain. Thomas doesn’t hold back in bringing up hard issues like abortion, statutory rape, violence in schools, and suicide, but they never feel like they’re exploitative, titillating, or over the top. At the same time, they they don’t feel like moments in an after school special either. Again, she trusts her readers to see nuance and darkness and be able to sort it out for themselves without any hand holding or deeper explanation. I think that it’s because of this trust that she knows how to strike the right balance in tone, and to make this book feel realistic and thrilling without having to go to any kind of extremes to send the point all the way home.

“The Cheerleaders” is another great mystery from Kara Thomas. Thriller fans, if you are reluctant to give YA thrillers a try, know that she is not going to let you down.

Rating 9: A suspenseful and well crafted mystery with realistic characters and a responsible handle on important issues, “The Cheerleaders” was a fulfilling read that kept me guessing.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Cheerleaders” is included on the Goodreads lists “Cheerleading”, and “Best Mystery & Thriller 2018”.

Find “The Cheerleaders” at your library using WorldCat!

Not Just Books: July 2018

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

Serena’s Picks

mv5bmjqxnziznzi1mf5bml5banbnxkftztgwmtuzndk2ntm-_v1_sy1000_cr006751000_al_Netflix Show: “Anne with an E” Season 2

While the first season of “Anne with an E” was met with varied responses, I was one of those who really enjoyed this new version of Anne’s story. I, of course, love the older version as well and the books themselves, but I don’t have the same nostalgic attachment to it as others do that would tinge my appreciation of another series going in a completely new direction. In fact, I very much liked not knowing exactly the way the story was going to go. Here, in season two, the creators and writers have doubled down on this “new version” of Anne and we see a good number of new story lines introduced. Not only did I love the increased action they brought to the story, but through these new avenues, the show was able to explore a variety of topics like racism and homophobia that weren’t addressed in the books. So yes, this isn’t the “Anne” you grew up with, but I, for one, enjoy now having both options at hand! Plus, Gilbert is as cute as ever.

mv5bnzixmjywndewn15bml5banbnxkftztgwmzk5mdi3ntm-_v1_Movie: “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom”

Of course I went to see this movie!! Was that ever even a question? And I, for one, don’t think it deserves the critical panning that is is receiving! Is it as good as the original? Absolutely not! Is it better than some of the other sequels? Definitely! Is it as good as its own direct prequel? Yep, I think it’s even better! Honestly, I think that “Jurassic World” got a big ole pass from the movie critics simply for being a Jurassic Park sequel that came after a long drought, and it threw in quite a few references and familiar musical themes to pluck the nostalgia threads. But other than that? It was kind of just ok. But where it struggled, “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” improved upon. It got rid of the annoying nephews that no one cared about. The woman lead was given a bunch more to do and was generally made less intolerable. They allowed Chris Pratt to make more jokes. Plus, there was a lot more action in this one to keep you distracted when you brain started to wake up and question the somewhat suspect script. Plus, there was a scene towards the middle that legit made me cry. Not that that’s saying much…

mv5bn2eyyjrhzjqtyznhni00mdbjlwfhodqtztrlotkyytfkmjq1xkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymjexmjk0odk-_v1_sy1000_cr007071000_al_Netflix Show: “The Frankenstein Chronicles”

This probably more likely falls under Kate’s usual genres, but I’m a sucker for Sean Bean and period pieces, so I thought I’d give this horror/thriller show a go. And I’m glad I did! Yes, it’s scaring the crap out of me, but that doesn’t stop me from enjoying the heck out of it. The story walks a thin line between science fiction/horror and mystery. What’s more, it often feels similar to many other detective stories, with the narrative following the investigation of Sean Bean’s character into a mysterious death of a child who washed up in the river and was made up of several children’s bodies sewn together. So, yeah…it’s fairly gruesome. But I do like playing the game “spot the British actor” and the beautiful cinematography and talented cast make up for some of its more icky bits. And no, I won’t reveal whether Sean Bean dies in this show.

Kate’s Picks

dg51ingu0aeyrqfNetflix Show: “GLOW Season 2”

My favorite Netflix show is back, and with it comes amazing ladies, some badass wrestling, and all the 80s nostalgia I could ask for! This season the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling have to contend with newfound fame, changing power dynamics, and the ugly and inevitable challenges of sexism and misogyny in the pro-wrestling world. While it’s hard for me to pick my favorite performance this season, Betty Gilpin’s turn as Debbie is particularly strong as she is dealing with the fallout from her divorce and her lingering resentment towards her ex friend turned wrestling partner Ruth. But then there’s Chris Lowell as Bash, the enthusiastic but spoiled fanboy turned producer who goes through some serious character growth. And I am of COURSE rooting for Ruth (Alison Brie) and Sam (Marc Maron) to JUST GET TOGETHER ALREADY. It’s such a good show. I need Season 3 yesterday.

mv5bzgvmmmixngetmtk1yy00ngiwlwe4mgmtytq5m2q1zte0ytqyxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymjqzotm1ntc-_v1_uy268_cr40182268_al_Netflix Show: “Aggretsuko”

Back at the beginning of July my pal Laura and I were waiting to head out to a Sci-Fi Fantasy convention and were looking for a way to spend the time. She suggested that we watch an anime on Netflix about a red panda who combats the ills of work life with death metal. Does that sound surreal? It is. But it’s also SUPER CUTE AND FUNNY AND EXCELLENT. “Aggretsuko” takes Sanrio characters (you know, the Hello Kitty people) and makes a comedy about the drudgery of office life. Retsuko is a frustrated office drone who feels trapped in her job, her only solace being death metal karaoke. But when she starts to be mentored by two other women at the company who are higher up on the food chain, she starts to realize her own worth and find her self esteem. This show is adorable and all kinds of relatable when it comes to frustrating jobs, sexism in the work place, and the ups and downs of adult social lives. Did I mention a Sanrio red panda who does death metal karaoke?

the-sinner-poster-183bbTV Show: “The Sinner”

When I was visiting my old library to pick up some books, I saw the DVDs of “The Sinner” on the new wall. I had heard of it in passing, mostly that it was a mystery involving a murder, and so I grabbed it thinking that I’d maybe give it a whirl. Boy, once I picked it up I couldn’t stop watching. Jessica Biel plays Cora, a young wife and mother who, for no apparent reason, gruesomely murders a stranger in broad daylight on a very crowded beach. Bill Pullman plays Harry Ambrose, a detective who is assigned to the case. But what he thinks is an open and shut matter turns out to be far more complicated than he could have imagined, as Cora has a dark past with a lot of secrets, some of which she herself doesn’t even remember. I binged this entire series in about 24 hours time, and I cannot recommend it enough. If you like thriller novels (this is, indeed, based on a novel), “The Sinner” is going to be right up your alley.

 

Serena’s Review: “Seeing a Large Cat”

66526Book: “Seeing a Large Cat” by Elizabeth Peters

Publishing Info: Grand Central Publishing, 1997

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

Book Description: No villain is safe in 1903 Egypt as feisty archaeologist Amelia Peabody embarks on her ninth adventure.

According to an ancient Egyptian papyrus, dreaming of a large cat means good luck. And that’s just what Amelia Peabody could use, as her growing family matures in the new century. What’s more, Amelia’s dashing husband Emerson has received a mysterious warning not to enter the Valley of the Kings. To Emerson’s annoyance, Amelia’s meddling distracts her attention as she exposes a fraudulent spiritualist, saves a marriage, and plays matchmaker. But diabolical forces are at work when an unknown tomb reveals a shocking murder — and the Peabody family dodges bullets from an assassin determined to put an end to their discoveries.

Previously Reviewed: “The Crocodile on the Sandbank” and “The Curse of the Pharaohs” and “The Mummy Case” and “Lion in the Valley” and “Deeds of the Disturber” and “The Last Camel Died at Noon” and “The Snake, the Crocodile, and the Dog.” and “The Hippopotamus Pool”

Review: I know, right?! Finally, we’re back with another Amelia Peabody book! I mean, yes, the Veronica Speedwell books have been a nice stand-in, but I can’t write a single review of those without referencing the OG female sleuth, Amelia. Plus, as much as I like the slow-burn romance in that book, I was also hankering for a nice, established relationship where I could just lounge in all of the lovely romance.

This book takes another pretty big leap in time between it and its predecessor. For the most part, the books before went year to year. But when we start this one, we see Amelia and Emerson waiting for the return of their son Ramses, who, now a young man, has spent the summer with the tribes and is only just not rejoining his family. I believe he is around 16 in this book? With Neferet being around 19? I was doing a lot of mental math throughout the book, and at a certain point, it was just distracting, so we’ll go with that.

Anyways! Reunited, the Emersons find themselves once gain caught up in a mystery. With dire warnings coming their way (which Amelia ignores, of course!) and old friends reemerging with romantic entanglements of their own, Amelia never wavers in her confidence that she is prepared to handle it all. This book also marks a change in that we get several chapters that are written in third person, detailing the goings-on of the younger generation. Here, we finally see behind the curtain and realize that while yes, Amelia does have a good understanding of much that is happening, her rapscallion child and wards also get up to a good amount of mischief that does fly beneath her ever-watchful radar.

It took a bit for me to get used to having to share my narrative time with these third-person chapters. Part of the reason I love these books so much is the brilliance of Amelia’s narrating voice, so it felt like a loss to give that up, even briefly. It was also unclear who actually wrote these other chapters. The rest of the books have clearly stated that Amelia is writing them for posterity. Who, then, is writing these? Especially since it is written in third person? It seems as if it has to be either Ramses or Neferet. But as the story progressed, I did begin to appreciate more and more this inner look into the “childrens'” eyes. One has to assume that as the series progresses, their own story lines will also begin to take more precedence (especially the thwarted love that Ramses feels for Neferet), and this device is a clever way of balancing both.

The mystery itself was also quite complicated and good. I also love the fact that Amelia’s penchant for match-making often seems to play a role in these stories. And here, that thread takes on a very different role with the return of two characters whom she had previously matched and who are now struggling quite a bit. From my view of things, I think the man in question never redeems himself and I was pleased to see Amelia think equally poorly of him for his failings. But, because these are happy books, things are resolved eventually.

Amelia and Emerson were as great as ever. Their banter and bond remain one of the biggest draws for the series. I also liked the action of this story, particularly the final scene. Of course the family ends up in quite a scrap, but the way things resolved was surprising and took on an unexpected, but appreciated, serious tone. I’m curious to see what the fall-out of this experience will be for the entire family.

All told, this was another solid entry into the series. I feel that it is ushering in a new age for the series with the introduction of the Manuscript H sections that feature the younger generation. But I was pleased to see that these sections never over-shadowed the real draw: Amelia herself!

Rating 8: An excellent return to a favorite series! This book brought forward new views on this familiar and beloved family.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Seeing a Large Cat” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Brainy/Genius Romantic Heroes” and “Sleuths in Silks.”

Find “Seeing a Large Cat” at your library using WorldCat.

 

Kate’s Review: “The Elizas”

35297385Book: “The Elizas” by Sara Shepard

Publishing Info: Atria Books, April 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: When debut novelist Eliza Fontaine is found at the bottom of a hotel pool, her family at first assumes that it’s just another failed suicide attempt. But Eliza swears she was pushed, and her rescuer is the only witness.

Desperate to find out who attacked her, Eliza takes it upon herself to investigate. But as the publication date for her novel draws closer, Eliza finds more questions than answers. Like why are her editor, agent, and family mixing up events from her novel with events from her life? Her novel is completely fictional, isn’t it?

The deeper Eliza goes into her investigation while struggling with memory loss, the closer her life starts to resemble her novel until the line between reality and fiction starts to blur and she can no longer tell where her protagonist’s life ends and hers begins.

Review: This may come as a surprise to you guys given my predilection for soapy and thrilling mysteries, but I never actually read the “Pretty Little Liars” series by Sara Shepard.

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Shocking, I know! (source)

I DID read the first book in her series “The Lying Game”, but didn’t feel a need to go on for five more books and instead opted to spoil myself thanks to wikis and Internet sleuthing. I think that knowing that there were LOTS of books in each series didn’t bode well, as in my experience having a thriller series with a long drawn out mystery sprinkled with OTHER mysteries isn’t as sustainable as I usually like to see. But since I DO like soap in my mysteries, I was interested in her new adult standalone “The Elizas”. I figured that maybe I could get some fun suds but not have to worry about going on and on and on long past the point of believability and my waning interest. Nor harm in trying, right?

Meh. Wrong, kind of. “The Elizas” on the whole failed to really suck me in, mostly because it falls into too many traps and tropes that we have seen all too many times before in the genre. My first big quibble was with Eliza Fontaine herself, our hot mess of a protagonist. Hot mess protagonists are kind of par for the course with this kind of book, as them being messes and screwed up lends to the unreliability that is needed for this kind of mystery. But as you all know, I have LONG lost my patience with this kind of protagonist, and Eliza checks all the boxes that turn me off. She’s struggles with addiction issues. She has fraught relationships with her family and her friends. She’s managed to be successful with her writing, but as fame and fortune try to fall into her lap she starts to unravel, and may self sabotage her success and happiness. She is an incredibly unreliable narrator because of these things combined with other things. And on. And on. I am willing to give these hot mess protagonists a pass if there is something about them that is relatable or likable, but Eliza is pretty blah, her only redeeming features based in her odd relationship with Desmond, the man who rescued her from her fall in the pool. But even that relationship didn’t quite work because they were thrown together, but you don’t know WHY they are together. Sure, there are some cute quirks that Shepard added in, like their fondness of donning Halloween masks and sitting on the apartment balcony, but even THAT is treading into ridiculously quirky territory. Desmond himself is a bit too quirky too, but at least this time it’s a guy who is fitting the manic pixie dream girl role, so I was more okay with it than I might have been.

The mystery itself was okay in theory. The big questions of the book are 1) who pushed Eliza into the pool (or did she do it herself?), and 2) why is Eliza having these memory lapses. I’m one hundred percent on board with both of those questions, as they add some fun layers to plot points that may have been seen before.  The narrative is told through Eliza’s POV and through excerpts from her novel, “The Dots”, which makes this an epistolary thriller, a thriller genre that I generally like. “The Dots” is about a girl named Dot and her aunt Dorothy, and Dot’s childhood illness (which mirrors Eliza’s own medical history). I actually enjoyed those sections because I enjoyed seeing the relationship between Dot and Dorothy as it went from “Auntie Mame” to disturbing and sour, and found myself excited when we got to another “Dots” section. But the problem with this is that the proof is in the pudding because of the plot summary: “The Dots” gives away a whole lot of the mysteries surrounding Eliza! Whenever a question came up in Eliza’s life, we’d get a plot point in “The Dots” that would at least partly give away the solution. And even though Shepard tries to parse these moments out slowly and evenly between the two, by the time we got to some of the big reveals in Eliza’s story, they were already spoiled because of “The Dots”! Because of this, I didn’t feel terribly invested in finding out confirmation in Eliza’s side of things. And in turn, this book ended up being more of a slog than I wanted it to be. Eliza herself wasn’t likable enough for me to invest, so if the mystery can’t even give me what I need, what is the point?

So outside of an enjoyable side story and a kind of cute relationship, “The Elizas” was a disappointment, showing its cards too early. I will probably give Shepard another chance if she writes another adult standalone mystery, but I’ll have more managed expectations if I do. And they probably won’t be too high.

Rating 5: While there were some elements that worked, overall “The Elizas” didn’t impress me the way I had hoped it would.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Elizas” is fairly new and not on many relevant Goodreads lists yet. But I think that it would fit in on “Borderline Personality Disorder, Insanity, and Related Issues”.

Find “The Elizas” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Serena’s Review: “Keeping the Castle”

12871232Book: “Keeping the Castle” by Patrice Kindl

Publishing Info: Viking Childrens Books, 2012

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: Seventeen-year-old Althea is the sole support of her entire family, and she must marry well. But there are few wealthy suitors–or suitors of any kind–in their small Yorkshire town of Lesser Hoo. Then, the young and attractive (and very rich) Lord Boring arrives, and Althea sets her plans in motion. There’s only one problem; his friend and business manager Mr. Fredericks keeps getting in the way. And, as it turns out, Fredericks has his own set of plans . . .

Review: This book has been hanging around on my Goodreads TBR pile for quite a while. Like, years. Between all the new releases and series that I’ve been reading so far, it’s never made its way to the top. Until last month when I was heading out on vacation and realized I had nothing on my Kindle that was particularly calling to me. Not to mention, I’ve been reading a heavy dose of fantasy/sci fi books recently, it was about time I got back to good, old historical fiction. So without further ado, I checked it out and raced through it.

The castle that Althea, her mother, her brother and her two snobby (but rich!) step-sisters live in is falling apart around them. Literally. Pieces of the ceiling pose a danger at any moment and the family must carefully arrange chairs when they have guests over to limit the risk of said chairs caving in from sheer age and decrepitude. Althea knows her duty: to save the castle by marrying well. Luckily, while fortune is not on her side, she does have a good amount of looks. Armed with this and a healthy dose of determination, Althea sets her eyes on their new neighbor, Lord Boring. But can she even get at him when the ever present, ever annoying Mr. Fredericks is always by his side?

From that description alone, you can probably guess the majority of the story. That, or having read/been exposed to any Jane Austen in your lifetime. I’m not leading with this as a criticism of the book (though it did have its downsides, which I’ll get into later), but as a general description of what this book sets itself up to be from the very beginning. There are no illusions of creating a completely distinct work. Instead, the story walks a line between parodying other classic works while also trying to work in a few surprises of its own. Some pieces of this were more successful than others.

Many of the characters had similarities to other stereotypical characters one usually finds in historical romance. Althea was an entertaining blend of Emma from “Emma” and Elizabeth from “Pride and Prejudice.” At her core, she’s a good-willed, smart woman. But she also has a healthy dose of foolishness that leads to all of the some-what expected shenanigans one could hope for from a light-hearted story like this. The two step-sisters were, of course, terrible, each exhibiting comical combinations of idiocy, selfishness, and petty cruelty.

The characters I was a bit more surprised with were Althea’s mother and the two gentlemen who are introduced. The mother was neither foolish nor absent! That alone is kind of shocker for stories like this. Instead, Althea’s mother is a very compassionate character and had her own mini arc throughout the book. As for the men, it’s not a spoiler to reveal that OF COURSE Althea has it all wrong about both of them. But their backgrounds and motivations where different than one might expect. This played to varying success. I liked the evaluation of Lord Boring and the choices he makes, revealing that in some ways, men and women in this time are not all that different.

But, while I liked Mr. Fredericks for the most part, I still struggled a bit with his “change” and the romance between him and Althea. Her frustrations with him are, largely, completely valid. And while he does make up for some his errors, I wasn’t quite convinced that I saw a discernible change in their relationship as the book progressed. Althea just kind of suddenly realizes that she has feelings. But it several of the better traits about Mr. Fredericks haven’t even been revealed! It isn’t a huge complaint, as I still enjoyed their scenes and dialogue together. But I also never really felt the chemistry between them either, which is a problem for a book like this where the romance is key.

As for the plot, like I said earlier, there are a lot of references to plot points from Jane Austen novels and the like in this book. While I enjoyed these for the most part, there were also moments when the book simply felt predictable because of how closely it was following the storyboard of those types of books. There were very few real surprises in here.

But, again, this is a book that one reads for the light, fluffy romance and for the writing style itself. There, the author very much succeeded. She did manage to neatly grasp the way of talking and writing that is common to stories set in this time period, and there were several turns of phrase that had me laughing out loud and highlighting bits.

All in all, it was a very pleasing book. It didn’t push any boundaries or surprise me, but it was just what it claimed to be: a light historical romance with some witty banter.

Rating 7: A fun, easy read, but don’t expect to be surprised or challenged in any way.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Keeping the Castle” is on these Goodreads lists: “Teen novels related to Jane Austen” and “Clean Regency (or around then) Romance Novels.”

Find “Keeping the Castle” at your library using WorldCat!

 

A Revisit to Fear Street: “The Face”

176604Book: “The Face” (Fear Street #35) by R.L. Stine

Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, 1996

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

Book Description: Why can’t she remember?

They say something horrible happened that day. But Martha can’t remember any of it—not the smallest detail. They say it will come back to her in time.

But someone wants her to remember now. She draws his face, over and over—the face of a dead boy. She can’t control her hand. And she can’t remember how he died.

But she’s going to find the answer. Even if it lies with the dead.

Had I Read This Before: No.

The Plot: We start with a strange dream about drawing silver lines on a piece of paper and then the paper becoming soaked in blood or something. I don’t care for these prologues because they’re just nonsense. But then we meet Martha. Martha was in some kind of accident before the story began that has robbed her of huge chunks of her memory. Her besties Adriana and Justine don’t really know how to interact with her now that she’s an amnesiac, but her boyfriend Aaron is still loyal and loving (though Justine has a blatant crush on him, as is demonstrated during a wrestling match he’s in that they are both attending). We also find out that her friends MAY have been in the accident too but Martha was the only one who went into shock? It’s a confusing and clunky first chapter of exposition. We pick up after that inside Aaron’s den, where he and Martha are watching “Lethal Weapon”, and Martha tells the reader that Aaron kind of looks like Mel Gibson. I’m hoping she’s talking about The Mel Gibson “Thunderdome” era and not The Mel Gibson “He’s A Misogynistic Bigoted Abuser” era.

mel-gibsons-dui-arrest-los-angeles
Remember, Hollywood welcomed him back with open arms. (source)

Martha confides that she’s worried about Adriana, who has been looking super skinny and tired and whose grades have been slipping. Aaron asks if she’s talked to Adriana, but no, they haven’t spoken about the accident or anything. Martha wonders why it has affected Adriana so much but not the rest of them (excluding herself, I would imagine, since she CANNOT REMEMBER ANYTHING).

We THEN jump to the next day where Martha is out and about in Shadyside buying art supplies and she runs into Ivan, Adriana’s older brother who has adopted a new ‘bad boy’ look, with an earring and a goatee. He’s also been getting into trouble and drinking more, so you know that I am smelling a love triangle here because Stine LOVES his ladies to be into misunderstood bad boys. After teasing her about her ‘doodles’, he offers to give her a ride home. While they’re driving he asks if she wants to just keep on going and leave Shadyside for good, and Martha asks if he’s joking, to which he says ‘of COURSE’, but we know better, don’t we? She asks him if he knows what’s up with Adriana and he seems less than interested/sympathetic to his own sister, but does say that she’s been taught some kind of self hypnosis. Also the atmosphere at home is awful with his parents fighting and literally throwing dishware at each other, and Ivan is so upset about it he starts driving erratically and the car drives off the road and heads for a tree! But it seems that it stops right before impact, and both Ivan and Martha hug and cry and he apologizes that he almost took her out in his impromptu suicide attempt that he couldn’t follow through with. He drives her home.

The next day Martha and Adriana are hanging out at Martha’s house and Martha brings up the murder suicide kinda thing that almost happened. Adriana doesn’t seem too worried and seems more interested in her make up, but confirms that she has been taught self hypnosis to try and help her fall asleep. Adriana says that Ivan is messed up because his girlfriend Laura (the most BEAUTIFUL girl in Shadyside, I guess) dumped him. Given that no one got why they were going on in the first place the only person caught off guard was Ivan himself. Martha thinks that someone should talk to him, but Adriana says that Martha should focus on herself and her own well being before leaving the house. Martha decides to draw a self portrait. But as she’s drawing, her hand starts to act of it’s own volition and draws on it’s own, as if a ghostly presence is controlling it!

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So you’re saying it’s a Kanderian Demon problem? (source)

When the hand stops, there is the face of a boy on the page. Martha thinks that it’s too detailed to be made up in her head, and notices that the face has a scar on the eyebrow. She freaks out and crumples it up, and decides to try again. She thinks maybe she should call Laura and ask her to work as a model, but apparently Laura isn’t cooperative and is always critical of the final product, so tries to draw herself again. But, once again, she draws the boy. She then rips but the drawings, and thinks she’s going nuts.

Later that night Martha is meeting Aaron at the mall for a movie. She’s running a little late, and when she arrives she sees Aaron and Justine are both there, with Justine flirting with Aaron. Martha is okay with Justine flirting with him when she is present, but when she’s NOT around and Justine is flirting? Could Justine possibly be a, dare I say it, BAD FRIEND? But since Martha doesn’t want to ‘start having evil thoughts’ about Justine, she just joins them and says hello, Justine backing off right away, claiming she happened to run into him, and he invited her to come to the movie too. Martha thinks that she sees Justine brushing up against Aaron the whole show.

Later that night, Martha is back home trying to sleep, when Justine calls. She wants to talk about the movie they saw and how much Aaron liked it, but then it turns into a ‘my life sucks’ kind of thing and she tells Martha straight up that she’s jealous of her because Aaron is so great. Justine doesn’t have a boyfriend AND she can’t afford to go to college next year AND Martha is such a good artist with good parents. When Martha says that her life isn’t actually perfect, Justine, oddly, agrees, and says that Martha’s life ‘isn’t as perfect’ as Martha thinks. Then she hangs up with a lame excuse.

That Sunday evening Martha is on the couch watching TV, when there’s a flash of a cabin on the TV. Which instigates a flash of memory for Martha! She remembers being at two cabins, with Justine, Adriana, Laura, and herself inside one of them. There’s a knocking at the door, and when Adriana answers it’s Aaron and two other boys whose faces she can’t remember. And then it’s all gone. And when Martha looks down she sees that she drew the face again.

The next morning there is no school because of teacher conferences, and when Martha goes downstairs into the kitchen Laura is there, reminding her that Martha was accompanying her to a photo shoot for her aspiring acting/modeling/whatevering career. Martha drives them, and wishes that she could ask Laura if she recognized the face, but her doctor told her friends not to tell Martha anything or give her any hints, because her memory has to come back on it’s own. That sounds like nonsense, but I’m not a medical professional. After the shoot is over, Martha is driving Laura back home, and Laura says that she was at a party the night before and Ivan showed up, acting a fool. Martha says that Ivan is a mess because of her dumping him, and Laura doesn’t give a rip. Laura then tells Martha to watch out for Justine, and declines to elaborate.

The next day Martha goes to meet with Dr. Sayles, the man in charge of her case and recovery. She tells him about the cabin memories, and he doesn’t betray any sort of emotion. But when she shows him the drawings she’s done, he looks genuinely shocked. Do we get to learn more about this? NOPE, we jump forward to that next weekend. Martha is still wondering WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN, when Adriana and Laura burst into her room and tell her to get inside, bitch, we’re going SLEDDING!, or something very close to it. So they go to Miller Hill and Martha resolves to have a little bit of FUN for once. Once they are at the top of the hill, Laura and Adriana take off, leaving Martha at the top. When Martha starts down, she starts to scream, and then doesn’t stop screaming, even when she gets to the bottom. She doesn’t remember how she got home, just that Laura and Adriana brought her back, and she wonders what triggered her. But apparently, she had another memory. Now she, Aaron, Justine, Laura, Adriana and IVAN are there, having a snowball fight. Then Justine takes it way too far and starts hurling them at Martha, hitting her hard and starting a huge fight between them. Then she remembers kissing someone in the cabin, but it wasn’t Aaron. It was the boy in the drawings!!

Martha decides to ask Aaron about everything the next day. She goes to his house, and his little brother Jake lets her in, albeit reluctantly. Then Aaron meets her in the hall and doesn’t want her to come in much further…. Because JUSTINE is there! They claim that she was just picking up a graphic calculator because hers broke, and that she only hid because they didn’t want Martha to get the wrong idea, especially after she had a freak out at Miller Hill. Justine leaves, and Martha wonders if she should believe them. She asks Aaron about the cabin trip, and he says that he isn’t supposed to tell her, doctor’s orders, and that she’s lucky that she doesn’t remember because something TERRIBLE happened on the cabin trip. She shows him the drawings, and he begs her to stop asking him. When she asks if he knows the boy he tells her that the boy is DEAD!

With Aaron not speaking to her and more questions than answers, Martha is at home on Tuesday evening and Adriana comes to visit. She tells Martha that things at home are bad. Her Dad has finally moved out but Ivan has a new tape player and a new Discman and she doesn’t know how he paid for it, so she thinks that he’s been stealing. After all, he’s been hanging out with some tough characters! She then notices that Martha’s been drawing the whole time, and that it’s the dead guy’s face. And after swallowing down whatever she MUST have been thinking in that moment. Adriana invites Martha to the basketball game that Friday. Not that the sudden change in topic is at ALL strange, right?

So Martha, Laura, and Adriana go to the basketball game. All is going well for a bit, but then Martha starts hallucinating that every player on the opposing team has the dead boy’s face! She starts to freak out, and so Laura and Adriana drag her out of the gym. While Laura goes to find her a drink (most likely just water even though Martha could PROBABLY use a nice hard whiskey), Adriana pulls out a coin and starts to use hypnosis on Martha, claiming that it’s to calm her down. Martha says she’s feeling better, and when Laura comes back they start to leave. Martha asks if they will tell her anything about this boy, but they refuse and say they’re going to take her home. But who does Martha see making out by the lockers???? AARON AND JUSTINE! Since the graphing calculator excuse is no longer viable, he starts to say something, but Adriana and Laura tell him to back the hell off, and Justine too, and they take Martha home.

Back at home Martha tries to calm down by drawing. But then another memory surfaces! She remembers kissing the strange boy, but this time it becomes clear that she doesn’t want him to be kissing her. She asks him to stop, and then calls him Sean, and the memory ends with them shoving each other and her slapping him. As she’s pulled from the memory she wonders why they were fighting (maybe because he was sexually assaulting you, Martha?), and then she notices that she has a message on her answering machine. The message is a low raspy woman’s voice saying ‘You keep drawing him because you killed him’. Martha thinks that it sounds like Laura, but why would Laura do this?!

Martha decides to go visit Adriana’s doctor, Dr. Corben, to see if hypnosis can help her. My first thought goes to planted false memories and Satanic Panic, but let’s see how this all plays out before I start ranting about the irresponsibility of this kind of therapy. So anyway, Martha asks if Dr. Corben will help her, because Adriana hypnotized her and Martha thought it might help. Dr. Corben is aghast that Adriana did that because it’s very dangerous since the girl has no training, and she says that she would need to get permission from both Martha’s parents AND her doctor before she would do anything. Martha decides that she needs to split because this woman isn’t helping her at all. Outside of the office, Aaron appears, and he tells Martha he isn’t going to sneak around anymore and that he and Justine have been going out for months, and that is what Martha and Justine were fighting about at the cabin. She asks him what happened to Sean, and he is shocked she remembers him. But he still won’t tell her because it is ‘too horrible’!

That Wednesday at school, Ivan gets into a huge fight with another kid and gets suspended. Laura and Martha are on the phone talking about it, and another memory comes back to Martha: Laura was going to dump Ivan for Sean! When she confronts Laura, Laura clams up and says she doesn’t want to talk about it before hanging up. But now the memories have recovered pretty much completely, and as they say on “Monk” here’s what happened!: After a day of sledding and Ivan and Laura fighting outside the cabin, Adriana suggests that the group go skiing! Ivan and Aaron bicker a bit, and Adriana suggests that Martha should go first because she was the sledding winner, and Sean says he’ll go second. Martha realizes that her ski straps are messed up, and says that Sean should go before her so he doesn’t have to wait. So he does. And then Martha realizes that there is a weird silver line between to trees that Sean is skiing right towards…. a silver wire. Before Martha can yell to warn him, he skis into it, and it cuts his FRIGGIN HEAD OFF!!!!!!

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(source)

So she calls Adriana and tells her she remembers everything, and Adriana starts to cry as well, saying that she can’t sleep and can’t concentrate because she’s been so traumatized. The police couldn’t figure out who set up the wire, and Martha asks if Adriana thinks that one of their friends killed him. Adriana says she doesn’t know, but no one else was up there so who else could it have been? Then she says she’s coming over so they can commiserate or something. Martha goes to find a change of clothes, wondering why she was the only one to lose her memory when all of her friends saw it. Then she finds her unpacked back from the trip, and when she opens it up, she finds SILVER WIRE!! She must have lost her memory because SHE killed Sean!!! She wonders if everyone has stopped talking to her because they know that she killed Sean! Adriana arrives and Martha tells her about the wire, saying that she must have killed him. Adriana asks why, and Martha admits she doesn’t know but says she’s going to tell her parents. But then IVAN comes in and says that Martha can’t turn herself in because HE KILLED SEAN!! Adriana understandably freaks out, and Ivan tells them what happened: he had stolen a car and felt so guilty about it he had to tell someone, so he told Sean. And then Sean, the asshole that he was, decided to start blackmailing Ivan. So Ivan took the wire and tied it up between the trees! But oddly, he remembers tying it up much lower, around ankle height, thinking it would trip Sean and rough him up a bit (yes, because THAT would absolutely stop a blackmailer). He saw the wire had moved, but only once it was too late to do anything. Ivan says that he’s going to  turn himself in so Martha doesn’t admit to something she didn’t do. But then Adriana freaks out at him, saying that he KNOWS that Martha did it, and that he can’t ruin this for her!

Yeah, as it turns out, Adriana had moved the wire to the height that it was! And she had done it because she wanted it to catch Martha in the wire and kill her!!! She was jealous because she liked Sean, and Sean liked Martha, and Adriana saw Sean kissing Martha and lost it. Martha tries to explain that she did NOT want to kiss Sean, but Adriana doesn’t believe her, of course. And apparently she hid the wire in the bag AND she used hypnotism on Martha to make her memories stay repressed!! And then she grabs the wire from the bag, kicks Ivan in the stomach, and wraps the wire around Martha’s neck, trying to strangle her and/or decapitate her. But as they struggle, Adriana suddenly stops. Because she sees Sean’s face drawn on the piece of paper that is on Martha’s desk. So Ivan disarms her and grabs her arms, subduing her. She then goes into a catatonic state, and Ivan and Martha hug as she just keeps staring at the portrait, the portrait of the face that ‘saved [Martha’s] life.’. The End.

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I mean, okay? (source)

Body Count: 1, and what a badass death it was!

Romance Rating: 2. Everyone was cheating on each other and it was a huge mess!

Bonkers Rating: 5. The story itself was kind of standard, but the misuse of hypnotism AND a ski death involving decapitation was excellent.

Fear Street Relevance: 0. There is NO mention of Fear Street in this book. Not even an off handed mention of one of the characters living there. I’m done with that kind of thing in these books, if Fear Street isn’t even mentioned, it’s a zero for me.

Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:

“To my surprise, he was staring at the drawings with bulging eyes. His mouth wide open. No longer the blank faced professional. He was staring at my drawings in total shock.”

…. And then we don’t get any kind of follow up as to how the rest of the appointment went. Like, as if that was that. I hate it when Stine ends a chapter on a cliffhanger that doesn’t have any resolution.

That’s So Dated! Moments: Well outside of Mel Gibson still being an acceptable sex symbol, Martha, Justine, and Aaron went to see a Jim Carrey movie with mentions of lots of gross out humor. OH, and Martha compares her doctor to a surfer on “Baywatch”. And he wears Bass Wejun loafers?? What are those?

Best Quote:

“Why do cats always have to act like cats?”

I ask myself that every single day.

Conclusion: “The Face” was pretty lack luster. I wish that it had been a recreation of the A Ha video for “Take On Me”, but instead we got something meh and not even trying to be a part of the Fear Street mythos. Up next is “Secret Admirer”! 

Summer Giveaway 2018 2: Freddy’s Revenge

As we said a couple weeks ago, it’s summer time and that means that people are probably traveling and needing entertainment while they do so. We know that we really only have about one month left of the season, and how scary is it that soon it will be winter again before we know it. But because of that, we’re feeling extra generous, and are therefore throwing ANOTHER giveaway. So if you feel like you missed out on some previous ones, now’s the time for another chance!! One is an acclaimed novel by Celeste Ng, author of “Little Fires Everywhere”, and the other is a book by the horror master himself Stephen King!

18693763Book: “Everything I Never Told You” by Celeste Ng

Publishing Info: Penguin Press, 2014

Book Description: Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.

So begins this exquisite novel about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee, and her parents are determined that she will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue. But when Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together is destroyed, tumbling them into chaos. 

A profoundly moving story of family, secrets, and longing, Everything I Never Told You is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive family portrait, uncovering the ways in which mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and husbands and wives struggle, all their lives, to understand one another.

20926278Book: “Revival” by Stephen King

Publishing Info: Scribner, 2014

Book Description: In a small New England town, in the early 60s, a shadow falls over a small boy playing with his toy soldiers. Jamie Morton looks up to see a striking man, the new minister. Charles Jacobs, along with his beautiful wife, will transform the local church. The men and boys are all a bit in love with Mrs Jacobs; the women and girls – including Jamie’s mother and beloved sister – feel the same about Reverend Jacobs. With Jamie, the Reverend shares a deeper bond, based on their fascination with simple experiments in electricity.

Then tragedy strikes the Jacobs family; the preacher curses God, mocking all religious belief, and is banished from the shocked town.

Jamie has demons of his own. In his mid-thirties, he is living a nomadic lifestyle of bar-band rock and roll. Addicted to heroin, stranded, desperate, he sees Jacobs again – a showman on stage, creating dazzling ‘portraits in lightning’ – and their meeting has profound consequences for both men. Their bond becomes a pact beyond even the Devil’s devising, and Jamie discovers that revival has many meanings. Because for every cure there is a price…

This rich and disturbing novel spans five decades on its way to the most terrifying conclusion Stephen King has ever written. It’s a masterpiece from King, in the great American tradition of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Edgar Allan Poe.

Giveaway details: We are giving away one (1) hardback copy of “Everything I Never Told You” and one (1) hardback copy of “Revival.” The giveaway is open to US residents only and ends July 29, 2018.

Click Here To Enter!

The Great Animorphs Re-Read #34: “The Prophecy”

366782Animorphs #34: “The Prophecy”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, October 1999

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: Cassie’s losing her mind. But she’s gaining the mind of another. Aldrea — daughter of Seerow, Andalite Prince. Aldrea’s persona, her memory, and a valuable bit of information now belong to Cassie.

Narrator: Cassie

Plot: Another book where I only had vague memories! Most notable, perhaps, was my lack of memories at being frustrated by a Cassie book, which had been the standard for the last few. And there’s a reason! I think this, so far, is the best Cassie book in the series! I always want to give book #4 credit for introducing Ax, but, really, it’s not that great what with the magical whale nonsense and some of Cassie’s “ponderings” on the morality of morphing dolphins. Is the fact that this is only half a “Cassie book” since she shares the narrative with Aldrea part of the reason I enjoyed it?

But I also think it’s legitimately one of the better ones for Cassie herself. Let’s dive in!

We start with the required mini-adventure that seems to lead off all the books now. This time it’s cat!Rachel and rat!Cassie invading a teacher’s house to retrieve a piece of paper with an “I love Jake” doodle that Cassie accidentally turned in with her homework. Teasing happens, but they manage to retrieve it.

Back at the barn, Cassie is surprised to find Jara Hamee waiting for her. He’s come to fetch the Animorphs to the Hork Bajir valley where something shocking as occurred: an Arn, the alien species that created the Hork Bajir long ago, has arrived and has a request.

The Animorphs all fly to the valley. Once there, Toby, the Hork Bajir seer, explains that the Arn arrived out of nowhere in a stolen Yeerk ship and wants the Hork Bajirs’ help, but she wanted the Animorphs’ insight before making any decisions. The Arn claims to be the last of his species. But he doesn’t want to go quietly into the night and has come up with a way to try to reclaim his, and the Hork Bajirs’, home world. Before Aldrea and Dak died, they had managed to capture a Yeerk ship that was loaded with weapons. With these, the Arn proposes to gather some Hork Bajir DNA and create another guerilla warfare combatant group on the home world that can fight the Yeerks who remain there. The Hork Bajir are all willing to contribute DNA. But the hold up becomes clear: the Arn doesn’t know where the cache of weapons was hidden, only Aldrea herself knew this. But, luckily (?) for everyone, before she died, Aldrea had her personality/memories transferred into this jar thing that can be used to bring her back, sharing the mind and body of a host. Once she locates the weapons, she can be returned to the jar. The danger is that Aldrea herself will need to choose to leave her host body, making it quite a risk.

Rachel, of course, volunteers, as does Toby. After some debate, they all agree it’s for the best, and the ritual begins. But it is Cassie who is chosen. Caught completely by surprise, Cassie still knows that the only choice she really has is to accept. From this point onward, the story breaks into alternating chapters between Cassie and Aldrea.

Sharing minds and bodies, Cassie and Aldrea struggle to find a balance. Aldrea is shocked, confused, and scared by this sudden turn of events. From her perspective, she was just alive, with Dak and their child Seerow on the Hork Bajir homeworld. She’s now awoken to find herself in the mind of an alien girl, years later, and that both her son and husband are long dead. Her, too. There is also a lot of tension and mistrust between Ax and Aldrea. But eventually, they explain what they need from her. Aldrea is able to keep some of her thoughts private and realizes that she doesn’t know where the cache is, it was hidden after she had transferred her memories. But still wanting to travel back to her home, she agrees to the mission anyways.

The Arn, Toby, and the Animorphs all take off in the Yeerk ship on their way to the Hork Bajir world. The Chee remain behind to pose as the Animorphs while they’re away. Days later, when they arrive, they get in a brief battle with an Andalite ship that is patrolling near the Hork Bajir home world (the Andalite only sees the Yeerk ship). They manage to escape by using Aldrea’s skills as a pilot and markswoman. This gains her further trust with the group. She also begins to appreciate Jake’s leadership skills as he makes calls.

On the home world, Aldrea is shocked and saddened to see the destruction the Yeerks have brought to her planet. Many of the trees have been razed and the land is barren in many places. The Arn leads the group down into one of the deep trenches where his civilization used to exist. As they discuss next steps, the mental barrier between Aldrea and Cassie slips for a second and Cassie realizes that Aldrea lied, and doesn’t know where the cache is. The other are furious and say that Aldrea has lost their trust.

There is nothing to be done, however, but to move forward with Aldrea’s best guess as to where she might have hidden it. They all morph Hork-Bajir and swing through the massive forest. Aldrea leads them to the valley that used to be her home with Dak and Seerow. But the Yeerks have destroyed it, razing the trees and damming up a portion of the valley to now serve as a Yeerk pool. Aldrea is crushed, the reality of her situation finally hitting home. However, she is able to spot one tree that is part of the dam that has a marking that she and Dak had put on it. That’s where the cache would be. The problem is that the entrance to the hollowed out tree is on the other side, submerged in the Yeerk pool itself.

Jake and the others come up with a crazy plan. Aldrea calls it crazy and is horrified when they decide to move forward. Cassie tells her that they been pulling off crazy missions for quite a while now, and that she trusts Jake’s leadership skills. The team sets up to put the plan in action. Of course, it all relies on Cassie and her unique morphing skills.

All of the Animorphs morph bugs and climb into osprey!Cassie’s mouth. She then flies as high as she can above the Yeerk pool and then begins to let herself fall. As she falls, she slowly begins demorphing, saving her wings for last. At one point, she manages to completely demorph her lower half and begin the whale morph, all while still retaining her wings. As they fall, Aldrea is in awe of what Cassie is managing, never having heard of anyone being able to control their morphing like this. But as Cassie draws things out (to avoid being spotted as a human girl somehow on the Hork Bajir planet), Aldrea begins to panic and tries to take control of Cassie’s body. Cassie manages to not only continue her complicated morph but shut down Aldrea’s attempts as well. Finally, fully whale, Cassie lands in the Yeerk pool. In her huge mouth, the other Animorphs begin their next morphs. She surfaces and Ax, Andalite!Tobias, and Hork Bajir!Marco leap out onto the dam and start fighting off the Yeerks. Shark!Jake and shark!Rachel take care of the Taxxons powering towards them in the water. Lastly, Aldrea/Cassie demorph from whale and morph back to Hork Bajir. In this form, they are able to open the secret door into the tree and they all escape into it. There they find the Yeerk shop and the cache of weapons.

There is only one way out, however. They all load into the ship and blast their way out, creating a massive sink hole into which thousands of Yeerks are sucked down to their deaths. Cassie mourns this and Aldrea, again, wonders at these humans. When they get back to the Arn’s home, Aldrea knows that it is time. After seeing her home destroyed and realizing there is nothing for her in this life (and that she cannot wrestle control away from Cassie), she agrees to return to the jar. She also insists that Toby, her remaining kin, not stay on the Hork Bajir home world. She wants one family member, at least, to not get caught up in a guerrilla war. With the Animorphs’ help, she puts on a scene saying she is trying to take over Cassie. Ax grabs Toby and tells Aldrea that they are keeping her as a hostage if Aldrea doesn’t leave. Aldrea leaves Cassie and slowly fades away. The other return, knowing that Toby will realize it was a trick, but that by then it would be too late.

Peace, Love, and Animals: This is actually a really good book for Cassie. The personal arcs/plot points fall directly into her wheelhouse. And the action itself is of the kind that could be accomplished only by her.

In the beginning, she is sure that Aldrea’s spirit won’t choose her. Aldrea was known as an independent, fierce woman. Naturally, they all assume she’ll gravitate towards Rachel or Toby. After being chosen, Cassie then spends most of the rest of the book wondering why she was chosen. As Aldrea begins to push the boundaries on controlling Cassie’s body, Cassie begins to suspect that Aldrea must have sensed some sort of weakness in her, one that she could exploit to remain in the living world. But it is only in the end when Cassie asks Aldrea that she finds out the truth: Aldrea can’t know for sure, as she wasn’t consciously choosing, but she suspects that she knew she would be tempted to stay and that she needed to be with someone who could remind her of her own “humanity” essentially and strong enough to show her that. I think this fits very well with Cassie as a character.

Also, Aldrea really struggles throughout this book, as would be expected for someone who just woke up years later and finds out they have lost everything. Cassie’s simple sorrows for her and empathy are comforting to Aldrea. Lord knows Rachel wouldn’t have pulled that off. And Toby would also have had some self-interest involved in a way that Cassie’s simple focus on supporting Aldrea’s emotions didn’t.

The morphing scene at the end was also awesome. We’ve seen Cassie pull off some amazing stunts before (all seemingly involving morphing whale while falling from the sky), but what she manages here takes it to a new level. I don’t believe we’ve ever seen her (or obviously, anyone) pull off morphing two different animals at once, getting her legs fully human and started up on whale while her arms are still osprey and waiting to go through the human stage. It’s pretty incredible and Aldrea’s own shock and awe is a nice cipher for readers to understand how truly extraordinary what Cassie is pulling off is. Throughout the book, Cassie also notes to herself that even while she has a particular talent, the Animorphs in general are all probably morphing experts, as compared to the Andalites who rarely actually use the ability, including Aldrea.

Aldrea: It’s great having another book with Aldrea in it. Through her memories, we get more insight into what her and Dak’s life was like with their baby before the end of everything. Obviously, we know it ended tragically, but there are some sweet moments between the two that we get to see through her memories and dreams.

She is also, understandably, dealing with a lot of anger, confusion and denial throughout this book. She’s never even heard of humans and now suddenly she’s on their planet inside the body of one. She’s rightly skeptical of the Arn’s motivations for his whole plot, and sees the Animorphs as children and finds it difficult to trust and follow their lead. Further, she and Ax have an ongoing conflict, each looking on the other with a sense of distaste.

The space fight scene is a good moment to highlight her skills as a combatant, and while they are all in Hork Bajir morph on the planet, we see just how comfortable she is in that form, having truly adopted it as her own.

We also see her struggle with the idea of returning to her unconscious state. She never outright plots to take over Cassie, but when, in a moment of panic, she tries to take over while they’re falling through the air, the realization that she actually can’t is a helpful push for her to realize just how wrong what she had been considering was.

It’s also a nice touch, in the end, for her to feel so strongly about Toby returning to Earth, not wanting the same life for Toby as the one Aldrea lead.

Our Fearless Leader: Jake really highlights his strength by repeatedly standing up to Aldrea. It’s mentioned several times that she’s essentially a war hero straight out of history. So it’s natural that there might be tension regarding who makes the calls. Jake never wavers, however, and as the story progresses, Aldrea begins to see why he has been so successful for as long as he has and why the other Animorphs trust his judgement with some of their more crazy plans.

Xena, Warrior Princess: Rachel, of course, volunteers immediately and is very confused when she isn’t chosen. She outright asks Aldrea about it early in the book, but Aldrea doesn’t really know at that point. Along with Jake, Rachel is also the most on the alert for signs that Aldrea may be trying to take over Cassie or not give her up. There were a few instances when Aldrea talked from Cassie’s mouth and Rachel was immediately angry and upset, insisting that she let Cassie back.

A Hawk’s Life: Tobias doesn’t have much in this book, other than it being recognized that he is the closest to the Hork Bajir and the one who had heard Aldrea’s story from Jara Hamee originally. When they’re all on the Hork Bajir planet, he stays in hawk morph and struggles to navigate around the massive trees.

The Comic Relief: Marco also doesn’t have much. He has a few good one-liners here and there. His usually commentary on how insane all of their plans are. And there is a moment when Jake is in the middle of a big “leader” speech where he interrupts him to make a joke. Cassie notes this as a good service that Marco provides his best friend when he thinks Jake is getting too serious or caught up in things.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Ax struggles the most with the appearance of Aldrea. His normal Andalite arrogance is amped up when presented with the daughter of the Andalite who essentially created the Yeerk threat. Not only does he have the usual Andalite disdain for Seerow, and through him, his daughter, but his own prejudices regarding Andalite superiority are on display. He cannot understand why an Andalite would choose to live as a  Hork Bajir. Aldrea does a good job calling him out on both of these fronts, noting that Elfangor did the same by giving the Animorphs their powers and naming his prejudice for what it is with regards to her decision to become a Hork Bajir. By the end of the book, both have come to an understanding and appreciation for the other, but it’s rough there at the start.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: Cassie has one of her biggest moments of panic and horror when Aldrea takes over the morphing process when they morph wolf back on Earth as a practice run. For the first time, the morphing process is described as being painful, likely largely due to the psychological strain of having one’s body go through that but not to be in control of it. Probably especially for Cassie, as she is used to having more control over the process in general than any of the rest of them, so to have it completely out of her hands…

Couples Watch!: Obviously there’s the bit in the beginning when they’re fetching the love note. Maybe aware that Tobias/Rachel jumped the “using the ‘L'” word hurdle in the last book, it is noted here that Cassie and Jake have kissed other times (though usually just after battles) and, while they haven’t told each other, they both know they love each other.

Unfortunately, what should have been big miles stones for these two (but AGAIN, all of that supposed kissing happened off screen, so I’m still calling these two the wet blanket couple of the bunch) are over-shadowed by the much-more compelling and adult-feeling relationship between Aldrea and Dak. Not only do they have a whole book of backstory for the two of them together, but Aldrea’s emotions and memories of Dak just feel deeper and more meaningful.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: Another book without Visser Three! Really, this is one of the few books that had no main villain. Like we saw in the last book, sometimes other Controllers step in for the villain role, but here we don’t have much other than the generic Hork Bajir and Taxxon Controllers they all fight in the end. And even there, Cassie/Aldrea are never really in that battle. But the Arn is viewed with quite a lot of suspicion from everyone. He says he is the only one left, and they all question his motivations for wanting to start up another guerilla war with the Hork Bajir serving as warriors. What’s in it for him? It’s not like the Arn have a great history about caring for anyone other than themselves, especially not the Hork Bajir. He also has an unfortunate habit of referring to the planet as only his own. Though, to be fair, they were there before the Hork Bajir. So while it’s the Hork Bajirs’ home, too, they can’t really deny the Arn some ownership of it. But, in the end, there doesn’t appear to be anything to all of this suspicion, and while the Arn is still arrogant and a bit off-putting, his claims seemed to be true.

An example of his sliminess, when they are discussing who needs to make the trip to the Hork Bajir planet:

“But she is just a vessel,” Quafijinivon [the Arn] said with a sort of greasy smile. “Why would you humans need to come?”

<Because you think she’s nothing but a vessel, that’s why,>  Tobias said.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: The scene where Aldrea first sees what used to be her, Dak, and Seerow’s home, now converted to a Yeerk pool of all things. It’s pretty crushing. Especially because up to this point, some small part of Aldrea has been in denial about her situation. Seeing it really makes it hit home what she’s lost and how far removed she is from everything she knew. It’s really tragic when you think about it. To her, she had just minutes ago been alive and well, transferring her memories. And now it’s all gone. Her husband is dead. Her son went on to be taken by the Yeerks and die in captivity. Her home is a freaking YEERK POOL. The tree in which she and Dak essentially carved “A hearts D” is part of the dam itself!! It’s rough. And then, in the end, she has to choose to return to oblivion, not knowing if she’ll ever wake again.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: The plan with Cassie’s morphing feats was really awesome. The plan to trick Toby was…really not. It all happens in about two pages and it just doesn’t make sense. I feel like Toby knows that Ax threatening her is an empty threat, so it’s hard to believe she’d fall for it. Beyond that, I have to think she’d be more open to an honest conversation with Aldrea and none of it might have been necessary. Beyond that, once she does learn the truth, I’d think the fallout would be massive. That’s a HUGE betrayal by the Animorphs. And it’s only made worse by the general way that Hork Bajir have been mistreated in the past, manipulated by “smarter” species “for their own good.” I have to believe that Toby would see it as such and have a hard time forgiving them all for taking away her agency.

Favorite Quote:

Aldrea notes with some confusion the Animorphs’, and Cassie in particular, sadness over the death of all the helpless Yeerks in their pool. It’s over this concept that Ax and Aldrea begin to understand each other:

<Let  us agree,  then,  that all  civilized  species must share a  hatred of war,> Aximili said.

Funny AND super dated moment. Marco expresses an opinion that does not hold up well!

<He [the Arn] had to come. Star Wars: The Phantom Menace isn’t coming out on DVD there for, like, two years. He buys up a bunch of copies here, takes ’em home, makes a fortune.>

<Good grief, Marco, you live science fiction, why do you want to watch science fiction?>

<Don’t be dissing TPM,> Marco said. <Cool is cool.>

Scorecard: Yeerks 8, Animorphs 14

This is a big win for the Animorphs. Like huge. Having another battlefront break out on the Hork Bajir home world will be a huge help in dividing the Yeerk’s attention and assets. Plus, as sad as they all are about it, they took out a good number of Yeerks in the process.

Rating: I actually really enjoyed this book! All of Cassie’s strengths were utilized in excellent ways, and of course, it was great having the character of Aldrea back, if only briefly. I’m not sure why I forgot this one as much as I did, given how much I liked it this go around. But I was definitely pleasantly surprised.

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

Kate’s Review: “The Invasion”

35292343Book: “The Invasion” by Peadar Ó Guilín

Publishing Info: David Pickling Books, March 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: After so much danger, Nessa and Anto can finally dream of a happy life. But the terrible attack on their school has created a witch-hunt for traitors — boys and girls who survived the Call only by making deals with the enemy. To the authorities, Nessa’s guilt is obvious. Her punishment is to be sent back to the nightmare of the Grey Land for the rest of her life. The Sídhe are waiting, and they have a very special fate planned for her.
 
Meanwhile, with the help of a real traitor, the enemy come pouring into Ireland at the head of a terrifying army. Every human they capture becomes a weapon. Anto and the last students of his old school must find a way to strike a blow at the invaders before they lose their lives, or even worse, their minds. But with every moment Anto is confronted with more evidence of Nessa’s guilt.

For Nessa, the thought of seeing Anto again is the only thing keeping her alive. But if she escapes, and if she can find him, surely he is duty-bound to kill her…

Review: I was so very pleasantly surprised by Peadar Ó Guilín’s novel “The Call” that when I found out that it was getting a sequel I was on pins and needles for it to be released. His take on a malevolent and violent faerie world was something that I hadn’t seen before in such brutal and disturbing fashions, and it definitely took the concept of faerie worlds and put it in a dark reality, all while making their rage somewhat understandable. I also loved our protagonists Nessa and Anto, friends and would be boyfriend and girlfriend who beat the odds when they were ‘called’, Anto being a pacifist and Nessa having a disability because of childhood polio. Plus, the concept of humans being the actual monsters at the heart of that book (in the form of violent misogynist Conor) is a theme that I always enjoy. It combined into one of my favorite reads of that year. So when “The Invasion” showed up in my holds, I waited a little bit to savor the anticipation of revisiting Nessa, Anto, and the Sídhe of the Grey World.

Perhaps I put too much anticipation into it, because ultimately, I was kinda disappointed with “The Invasion”.

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Why have your forsaken me? (source)

I do want to give “The Invasion” credit where credit is due. Ó Guilín is relentless in his portrayal of war and violence, and the price of war for those who are part of it. While Nessa and Anto think that perhaps they can live their lives out together and have a happy ending, the Irish Government has other ideas for both of them. Anto is recruited to fight against the invading Sídhe (against his will), even though he has survived the Call with a disfigured, giant arm and is a pacifist at his heart. And Nessa is assumed to be a traitor, because they don’t believe that a girl whose legs were weakened because of childhood polio could have POSSIBLY survived The Call without making a deal with the enemy, and so she is carted off to a life in prison, and then to be sent to the Grey Land as punishment. While it was a super bummer to see that these two are probably not going to get their happy ending together, I appreciated that Ó Guilín doesn’t try to sugarcoat how a reality these two are living in would actually be. He still keeps the violence and disturbing imagery and themes up to a solid eleven, and there were many times that I pretty much squirmed in my seat while reading this book. I also liked seeing Aoife have more of a role in this book. In “The Call” she is merely the mourning girlfriend to Nessa’s best friend Emma. In “The Invasion”, she is with Anto and other classmates of their old school, and she is becoming a warrior out of necessity, even though she is questioning so much. Her character arc was very satisfying to see. We also get to see more of the flora and fauna of The Grey Land itself, beyond the evil faeries. I liked Ó Guilín’s world building here and found it to be as creative as it was messed up.

But there were so many things about this book that didn’t make it feel as satisfying as I wanted it to be. As much as I appreciate that realistically Nessa and Anto are going to have obstacles, I wanted to see them together. I wanted to see them adjusting to life after The Call, but they really didn’t have much interaction outside of the two of them pining for each other. And I found myself frustrated with Anto’s storyline, Aoife aside. Yes, I appreciate Ó Guilín portraying war the way that it should be portrayed, I just didn’t care about Anto and his compatriots fighting on the front lines. ESPECIALLY since some things happen with Liz Sweeney, the mean girl from the first book who is still pretty much awful. And Nessa herself didn’t get as much credit this time around. She got some cool accolades and I did like her new adventure in The Grey Land, but I felt like she didn’t really get much to do. And she deserved so much more than she got.

Overall, “The Invasion” probably ended Nessa’s and Anto’s story realistically, wrapping it up and pretty much tying all the loose ends up as well. But it felt abrupt, and I wanted more, and not in a good way. I appreciate choosing the end that he did, but wish it had felt more like a worthy successor to “The Call”. I’ll definitely give another book by Peadar Ó Guilín a try, but I had wanted more from this.

Rating 6: A sequel that focuses on the price of war and how it tears people apart, “The Invasion” is a not as satisfying conclusion to “The Call”. While it didn’t live up to the first of the two, it was a realistic follow up.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Invasion” isn’t VERY new but isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists for some reason. But I think it would fit in on “Books About Faery”, and “Best YA Fantasy Series About The Fae”.

Find “The Invasion” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously reviewed: “The Call”

Serena’s Review: “Beast: A Tale of Love and Revenge”

31019831 Book: “Beast: A Tale of Love and Revenge” by Lisa Jensen

Publishing Details: Candlewick Press, July 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: ARC from the publisher

Book Description: They say Château Beaumont is cursed. But servant-girl Lucie can’t believe such foolishness about handsome Jean-Loup Christian Henri LeNoir, Chevalier de Beaumont, master of the estate. But when the chevalier’s cruelty is revealed, Lucie vows to see him suffer. A wisewoman grants her wish, with a spell that transforms Jean-Loup into monstrous-looking Beast, reflecting the monster he is inside. But Beast is nothing like the chevalier. Jean-Loup would never patiently tend his roses; Jean-Loup would never attempt poetry; Jean-Loup would never express remorse for the wrong done to Lucie. Gradually, Lucie realizes that Beast is an entirely different creature from the handsome chevalier, with a heart more human than Jean-Loup’s ever was. Lucie dares to hope that noble Beast has permanently replaced the cruel Jean-Loup — until an innocent beauty arrives at Beast’s château with the power to break the spell.

Review: Oof, another challenging “Beauty and the Beast” retelling. I think I could probably write an entire PhD on the pitfalls of re-telling this fairytale. When I first saw the book description, I was excited to read a version that was seemingly focused on an entirely new character, not “Beauty” herself. And while that aspect was still interesting, the book itself was very difficult to read and I will have a hard time recommending it to others, unfortunately.

Lucie is a servant in the house of the rich lord, Jean-Loup. After a horrific event, she is the one to wish the worst on her master, resulting in him turning into a beast, and her into a sentient household item. As time passes, she begins to suspect that this new, beastly version of her master might not be the same, and when a stranger arrives on the scene, the world begins to change once again.

So this is obviously not a positive review, but there are a few things I’d like to highlight as positives for this book. One, I still very much appreciate the originality behind the concept of this story. We’ve all read a million and one versions told from various “Beauty’s” perspectives. Some are better than others, but the basic construct is the same. They all arrive on the scene, confused and scared. And slowly come to change their minds and fall in love with the Beast. Here, Lucie knows Jean-Loup before his change and her experiences with him as a Beast are from the perspective of a servant, not the traditional heroine’s role. What’s more, Lucie isn’t even the “Beauty” in this story, and that character does make an appearance and play a part in the story unfolding. It’s a very creative take on things, and I truly wish that other choice had been made that would have allowed this new version to stand well on its own.

Further, I did like the writing for the most part. The “voice” fits well with the re-telling of a fairytale. It verges on rather simplistic and “younger” sounding, but I think that, done right, this tone actually works really well for fairytales which can be unique for having a different cadence, such as this. However, the writing also directly lines up with some of my major criticisms of the book.

It is very simplistic and straight forward. As I began reading, I started thinking “Huh, ok. So this is maybe more of a middle grade version of ‘Beauty and the Beast.’ Great!” Mentally, I started aligning it with the words of Shannon Hale, who’s written a bunch of fairytales, many of which have a younger-sounding voice and simple story-telling technique. But alas, this comparison died a sudden, very harsh death only a few chapters into the story.

(This might be a spoiler, but it’s pretty crucial to understanding the negative reaction I’ve had to this book, so if you want to go in blind, skip the rest!)

The prologue to the story sets it up that Lucie is the one who directed the fairy to go “all in,” as it were, on the curse on Jean-Loup. So we know that something awful has to happen to inspire this level of hatred. And something awful does indeed happen, in the form of a graphic sexual assault scene.

This was shocking to see on several accounts, but not least of all is the direct contradiction that the graphic nature of this scene lays across the middle-grade nature of the writing itself. I was mentally comparing this book to Shannon Hale, of all people, based on the writing style itself. The most sweetest fairytale writer you can find! And that’s a problem. Likely, the type of reader who is going to appreciate the tone of this writing style is going to verge younger. Even for me, a fan of middle grade and YA fiction, I was distracted by the simplistic nature of this writing. So those who may truly enjoy it are going to be young. And then you get a scene that could have been straight out of “Game of Thrones.” It’s going to be tough to read for even the most hardened among us who are semi-used to running across scenes like this in adult fantasy, let alone younger readers. But, on this side of things, readers who are prepared for this type of dark scene, are likely going to be completely turned off by the young-sounding writing. So there’s a contradiction there where the writing and content are, conversely, going to turn off both options for a reader-base.

Beyond this, I have problems with the actual story line, having included a scene like this as the basis for Lucie’s hatred of Jean-Loup. For all intents and purposes, Lucie ends up as the romantic interest for the Beast, instead of Belle. The book tries to roll out the tried and true rug of “magically separated/changed selves” that would absolve the Beast of past actions, as he is now no longer truly that person. I will always struggle with this type of wand-waving. Regardless of the fact that the “reasons” that Lucie points to as evidence that these two beings are inherently different are horribly minor (like food preferences and fears of spiders), there’s always going to be an insurmountable hill, in my mind, between forgiving an attacker (a hard ask on its own) and falling in love with him. I just can’t get behind that story, and I don’t think this book did nearly enough, even, to highlight any exception that could be made.

While the latter argument could be a matter of personal preference (though I still don’t think there is a huge swath of readers out there who are just searching for that great tale highlighting a victim falling in love with her attacker), my first point about the very real conflict between writing style and content is enough for me to give this a low rating. I honestly just have a hard time really focusing in on who exactly the audience is supposed to be for this book. At the very least, I wasn’t part of it.

Rating 4: Not for me. I don’t think this is a message we want to send out, regarding victims and their attackers, and the writing style was in direct conflict with the content.

Reader’s Advisory:

Again, honestly, if you want a good “Beauty and the Beast” retelling, go read “Beauty,” (the classic, in my opinion), “Heart’s Blood,” (by may favorite author, Juliet Marillier), or “Hunted” (for a more recently published option).

Find “Beast: A Tale of Love and Revenge” at your library using WorldCat!

 

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