Publishing Info: Little, Brown, and Company, July 2018
Where Did I Get This Book: I received an ARC from NetGalley
Book Description:A mesmerizing psychological thriller about how a secret can bind two friends together forever…or tear them apart.
Kit Owens harbored only modest ambitions for herself when the mysterious Diane Fleming appeared in her high school chemistry class. But Diane’s academic brilliance lit a fire in Kit, and the two developed an unlikely friendship. Until Diane shared a secret that changed everything between them.
More than a decade later, Kit thinks she’s put Diane behind her forever and she’s begun to fulfill the scientific dreams Diane awakened in her. But the past comes roaring back when she discovers that Diane is her competition for a position both women covet, taking part in groundbreaking new research led by their idol. Soon enough, the two former friends find themselves locked in a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse that threatens to destroy them both.
Review:I want to say a special thanks to NetGalley for sending me an eARC of the book!
Megan Abbott is one of those authors that I want to call a sure thing, but can’t quite do so as of yet. While I loved her book “The Fever”, I wasn’t into “Dare Me” at all in spite of the fact that there were a number of bitchy mean cheerleaders at the center of it. Then I read “You Will Know Me” (reviewed HERE),and I was once again into her soapy and thrilling narrations of bad people making worse choices. I do love books like that, after all. So when I requested an ARC of “Give Me Your Hand”, her newest book, I was hoping that “Dare Me” would officially become a fluke and that I could hands down count her as someone I will always read no matter what. Unfortunately, we still aren’t quite there, as “Give Me Your Hand” just didn’t quite get there for me.
I will first start with what I did like about “Give Me Your Hand”. I liked that we had two separate narratives going on in this story, with a “Then” narrative (taking place when Kit and Diane were in high school), and a “Now” narrative (taking place when they are adults). Megan Abbott uses this structure to her advantage, as we slowly get clues presented to us in their time and in their place and at a pace that I found to be manageable. Abbott also did a good job of making the teenagers feel like teenagers, as sometimes thriller authors don’t really grasp teendom in an authentic way. Abbott would be a good crossover author to a YA audience because of this, as while the time spent with Kit and Diane as adults might not be as relatable, the time as teens certainly feels like it would be. I also liked that Abbott comments on how hard it can feel for a female working in a STEM environment, and how this inherent sexist and misogynistic culture can make women feel desperate and potentially drive them to do not so good things in order to get ahead out of feelings of necessity. Kit and Diane are both ambitious and driven, and wanting to impress their idol Dr. Severin and end up on her research team, but because they are the only women in the running in a field where male presences are seen as the norm and women are there to fill a quota, the competition is there, and boy is it deadly.
But these things aside, overall this book left me a bit underwhelmed. While I did like it more than “Dare Me” (therein assuring that I will definitely pick up the next Meg Abbott book, albeit not as desperately), I didn’t find much to root for in any of the characters. I appreciated that Kit was ambitious and beaten down by her knowledge of Diane’s secret, and that those anxieties weighed on her in realistic ways, but she was grating to follow. Diane was your run of the mill antagonist in this book, and while there were moments of trying to round her out they didn’t really come until it was too late. In fact, there weren’t really that many likable characters at all, outside of Serge, one of Kit’s colleagues who is a huge animal lover and takes no nonsense. I also was bummed that basically once Diane’s secret was out in the teenage timeline, we didn’t really spend much more time there and were left to deal with something of an unbelievable catalyst event that brought the drama to present day. I won’t spoil it here, but I will say that when it happened it didn’t have much emotional oomph behind it. I didn’t feel high stakes or fear for the fallout when it came to Kit and Diane, and was more just thinking ‘okay, so that happened…. Now what?’ If I’m not invested, it’s not really going to be suspenseful, and I think that had I not been on an airplane as I read this (and therefore a captive audience of sorts) I may have put it down a lot more often.
“Give Me Your Hand” wasn’t bad by any means, but it wasn’t really doing anything to stand out from novels of similar themes and thoughts. I like Megan Abbott, and I’m going to keep reading her, but I will go in with my hopes more evenly tempered the next time I read something by her.
Rating 6: While it had it’s merits and some good build up, ultimately “Give Me Your Hand” left me wanting more, and not in the way I like.
What’s up, Dino Nerds! “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” has come out and expanded the “Jurassic Park” franchise, and if you like dinosaurs fighting each other that’s gonna be your kind of movie. We here at The Library Ladies are more fans of the original movie, 1993’s “Jurassic Park” (why earlier this month Kate went to a Fantasy Sci-Fi Convention in an Ian Malcolm Cosplay). Given how fun it is to pick books for fictional characters, we thought we’d try our hand at recommending books for some of our favorite “Jurassic Park” players! While there are lots of characters to choose from, we have a feeling we’ll be picking some of the fandom’s favorites.
Even though Alan Grant seemed to be all about the velociraptors, he sure knew a lot about the formidable T-Rex. Therefore, he would certainly be interested in the story about Sue, the largest T-Rex specimen ever found. And if the largest T-Rex ever found doesn’t get him, how about the huge scandals, legal battles, fights, and drama that went with finding it? Because Sue caused a giant circus involving paleontologists, academics, a group of Indigenous people, auctioneers, and more. Since Grant is a very capable paleontologist who is credible to a fault, I think that this book would not only fascinate him, but would also reaffirm the fact that he wouldn’t get into the mess that so many people did over some dino fossils.
Lex gets some unwarranted grief from some people in the “Jurassic Park” fandom, because how many of YOU know Unix Systems like she does? For this teenage self professed hacker, a thrilling YA novel with a hacker protagonist will absolutely catch her eye. That’s why Marie Lu’s “Warcross” would be a good fit for her. Warcross is a popular online game that has become quite popular in the near future. When hacker Emika Chan hacks herself into the game illegally, instead of being punished she is recruited to weed out cheaters from the game. Not only would Emika be a protagonist that Lex could really get behind, the story itself is fast paced and very tech-y based while still remaining relatable for most any reader who picks it up.
Was Sarah in the original film? No. Is she still one of Kate’s very favorite “Jurassic Park” characters? HELL YES! So therefore she gets a spot on this list. Harding is an adventurous and empathetic animal behaviorist, and because of those traits she would probably love the book “Never Cry Wolf”. Farley Mowat was sent into the wilds of Canada to try and figure out why wolves were killing Arctic Caribou and messing with the population. But while he was living in the woods with the wolves, he learned a lot about their behavior (and how they generally aren’t dangerous to humans), and became a crusader for their survival. His compassion towards the animals combined with his research would absolutely appeal to Harding
Of course we couldn’t have this list and not include our beloved Ian! Especially since we used one of his lines to title this post. Other than posing in strangely sexual positions given the life-and-death circumstances, Ian’s main role in the movie was to highlight just how little control humanity has over life itself. With this in mind, “Annihilation,” a story about a mysterious location where nature has reclaimed the land from humanity, sounds like a perfect fit. Multiple expeditions into this strange Area X have lead to various outcomes, all disastrous in their own way. The book tells the story of the twelfth expedition, one made up of four women. We’re sure Ian’s on board for that aspect of the story, too!
Ellie is the paleobotanist of the group, which means she’s focused on the plants. We also get to see her holding her own in what is a very man-dominated movie/field. So for a mixture of plants and strong women characters, we turned to the upcoming book “These Rebel Waves.” This book tells the story of the soldier Adeluna who is fighting for the freedom of her home country, a land much fought over due to its wealthy of plant magic. There are a couple dudes there, too. But we feel confident that Lu will hold her own, just like Ellie did. Woman inherits the earth, after all.
And last, but certainly not least, we have the badass hunter extraordinaire, Robert Muldoon. And if you’re not all either saying “Shoooot her!!” or “Clever girl” in your head right now, we’re revoking your “Jurassic Park” card. What could be more perfect for Muldoon that “Death in the Long Grass,” a book based on the Capstick’s own experiences as a big game hunter in Africa. He covers not only the traditional big baddies like lions and leopards, but also delves into the challenges of dealing with rhinos, crocodiles and the supremely underrated hippopotamus. Given that the author survived to write the book, we can assume his title isn’t quite as literal as it would be for poor Muldoon.
What are some of your favorite “Jurassic Park” characters and books you might pair with them?
Publishing Info: Orion Children’s Books, September 2016
Where Did I Get this Book: own it!
Book Description:Kaz Brekker and his crew have just pulled off a heist so daring even they didn’t think they’d survive. But instead of divvying up a fat reward, they’re right back to fighting for their lives. Double-crossed and badly weakened, the crew is low on resources, allies, and hope. As powerful forces from around the world descend on Ketterdam to root out the secrets of the dangerous drug known as jurda parem, old rivals and new enemies emerge to challenge Kaz’s cunning and test the team’s fragile loyalties. A war will be waged on the city’s dark and twisting streets―a battle for revenge and redemption that will decide the fate of the Grisha world.
Review: As was established in our bookclub review of this book, I was definitely the side of our blogging duo who loved the first book. I was all the more surprised given the massive burn I’m still nursing from the author’s original Grisha trilogy that I’ve come to see as an example of how even great writing and great characters can fall prey to some unfortunate YA fantasy tropes. But “Six of Crows” seemed blessedly free of the concerns that plagued those original books, and I was so excited after reading it that I immediately ordered this, the second half of the duology. And, I’m pleased to report, that she stuck the landing on this one!
Kaz and crew are in a tight spot. While they pulled off their last crazy stunt, the reward they were promised not only wasn’t forthcoming, but the powerful merchant with whom they had bargained instead kidnapped Inej and tanked the reputation of the entire crew with the other powerful gangs that make up Ketterdam. Now, stuck between a rock and a hard place, the group must not only recover their lost member and loot, but somehow resolve a political situation has the potential the change the world for the worse.
What sold me on the fist book was the strength of this cast of characters. There are a lot of them, and it speaks to Bardugo’s abilities as an author that she was able to balance so many competing personalities and story arcs. Many of those continue into this book, though there are slight shifts in focus. While much of the first book was taken up by slowly revealing Nina and Mattias’s shared past and resolving their ongoing prejudices, here, their romance and role in each other’s lives has settled down more. The fallout of Nina’s use of the highly addictive, powerful stimulant that she used in the last book to save the team at the very end, was an important and captivating arc for her.
Jesper and Wylan, instead, received more word count and chapters than they had had in the first book. Jesper’s own past was delved into, as well as his continued confrontation with his own gambling addition and the ongoing damage that his past poor choices are wreaking on his own life and the lives of those he loves. Wylan, too, further explores his own highly toxic familial relationships and the true horror that lies at the heart of many of his father’s lies. Their relationship, together, is also given more focus, especially as Jesper begins to realize that his crush on Kaz is a dead end and that Wylan may have always been the better match for him.
Of course, for me, Inej and Kaz were my main points of interest. I enjoyed both of these two the most in the first book, and I continued to enjoy their chapters here. I do feel like they each had a bit less, ultimately, due to the increased focus on Jesper and Wylan, however, I still loved what we were given. Inej, specifically, had come to some pretty frank realizations about what she saw for herself in the future by the end of the last book. And here, it was learning how to follow through with two competing desires. She’s also confronted by a mysterious assassin who may actually be even more skilled than the Wraith herself. Kaz, too, still struggles to overcome the lasting effects of his past. His arc didn’t have as many clear points, as it was more a simple continuation of his rise as a force to be reckoned with in Ketterdam. However, his relationship with Inej and the vulnerability that is required to maintain (begin!) it, is a continual point of challenge for him.
As for the plot itself, I very much enjoyed the complicated heist that was put into effect. There were several points that were laid down here and there that later came to play in new and surprising ways. There was just enough made clear to see the building blocks of the plan, but enough was hidden from various characters to have a good number of surprises in store (this is probably another reason why we had fewer Kaz chapters than I’d like, since, by necessity of the plot remaining a mystery, the man who knows it all can’t have a lot of focus). I liked the multiple showdowns that came into play and the ways in which various crew members’ strengths were called upon at different times to solve different problems.
The story was a bit more sprawling than the close-focused mission of the first book and I both appreciated the added complication but also felt a bit more adrift in the middle when the pieces were still being put together. The goal itself was almost too ambiguous to give the action a clear focus. This resulted in some of what should have been compelling action scenes feeling a bit disjointed from the book, as it wasn’t clear until the end how they all added together to get the result.
I also really enjoyed the ending. The story definitely didn’t shy away from some grim choices, and while I know this will disappoint some readers, I felt that these decisions were necessary to reflect the true dangers of the situation at hand. Further, while broad paths were laid before each character, their stories were by no means neatly wrapped up. Instead, we saw glimpses into what could be the future, but they were left so wide-open that there’s room to imagine various outcomes for them all.
Overall, I very much enjoyed this duology. It’s hard to think of many fantasy/heist books (of course, there’s the insurmountable Megan Whalen Turner), so in many ways these stories felt like a breath of fresh air in YA fantasy fiction (is it even YA? This was a question we discussed at bookclub, and I’m not sure of the answer for books like this). If you enjoyed “Six of Crows,” or Megan Whalen Turner’s “Queen’s Thief” series, or other books by Leigh Bardugo, definitely check this one out!
Rating 9: A thoroughly satisfying conclusion to this duology.
Book Description:Harry Ackerson has always considered his step-mother Alice to be sexy and beautiful, in an “other worldly” way. She has always been kind and attentive, if a little aloof in the last few years.
Days before his college graduation, Alice calls with shocking news. His father is dead and the police think it’s suicide. Devastated, he returns to his father’s home in Maine. There, he and Alice will help one another pick up of the pieces of their lives and uncover what happened to his father.
Shortly after he arrives, Harry meets a mysterious young woman named Grace McGowan. Though she claims to be new to the area, Harry begins to suspect that Grace may not be a complete stranger to his family. But she isn’t the only attractive woman taking an interest in Harry. The sensual Alice is also growing closer, coming on to him in an enticing, clearly sexual way.
Mesmerized by these two women, Harry finds himself falling deeper under their spell. Yet the closer he gets to them, the more isolated he feels, disoriented by a growing fear that both women are hiding dangerous—even deadly—secrets . . . and that neither one is telling the truth.
Review:If you ever said to yourself “You know, I think that I would like a book that is ‘The Graduate’ meets ‘Double Indemnity’ with a little bit of ‘Black Widow’ for good measure,” then I have some good news for you. “All the Beautiful Lies” is what you may be looking for. Once again Peter Swanson has written a book that sat my butt down and gave me very little reason to stop reading unless it was absolutely necessary. Which rendered me basically couch ridden for an entire morning when there were other things I needed to be doing.
I liked that this book is told between a number of third person perspectives, and through a couple different points in time. The most pertinent perspectives are those of Harry, the newly orphaned twenty something who returns home when his father dies in an accident, and Alice, his young stepmother who has an air about her that sucks him in, just as it did his father. While Harry’s story is focused directly in the ‘now’, Alice’s is focused mostly in the ‘then’, two timelines that do eventually converge in ways that I wasn’t necessarily expecting, and which gave insight into both their characters. While I did enjoy the slow burn of the mystery of Harry’s father’s death, and whether it was an accident or not (and who the mysterious Grace is and how she factors into it all), I was definitely more interested in Alice’s story. We know that she is enticing and mysterious, and has a pull over Harry even though he doesn’t know her very well. It’s very fun to see how she eventually becomes the person that she is. Her story is complicated and doesn’t hold back in it’s complication; Alice is many things that may seem like contradictions, but hold together believably. Swanson has always been good at making complex characters with dubious to sketchy morals, and you can put Alice up there with Lily Kintner when it comes to ambitious and dangerous, albeit fascinating, morally suspect femme fatales.
Swanson is also someone who knows how to take a twist and really pull it off. Part way through this book, a huge shift came along and totally shocked me. Not only that, Swanson recalibrated and brought in two NEW perspective points that caught me off guard and knocked me off kilter for a little bit. While a less deft author might have bungled the pass off (and thoroughly frustrated me in the process), Swanson tied it all together while still expanding the scope, bringing more much needed clues to the forefront. And he is so good at slowly revealing his hand that I never reached any conclusion before he wanted me to; no matter how many times I tried to keep a few steps ahead, I never was. The burn may be slow, but I was so desperate to find out what happened next that it felt like an emotional rollercoaster until the very last page. Which managed to throw one more curveball in, with master level skill.
And the tone is just creepy at times, for lots of reasons. Sexuality is weaponized, seduction borders on the nerve wracking, and because you know things that other characters may not you just kind of have to sit back and watch it, totally unsettled as it all unravels. The constant sexual tension between Harry and Alice is just icky because she’s his stepmother, as is another relationship in the book which is even worse (but no spoilers here), and watching these relationships slowly unfold because of a predator casting a web will give you the serious, serious willies. But Swanson is also careful to show just how calculated these predators are, and how they can make their prey not feel like prey at all. But at the same time, it never falls into the bounds of bad taste: it’s not titillating or sexy, it’s deeply, deeply uncomfortable and upsetting.
All in all, “All the Beautiful Lies” is another winner from Peter Swanson. If you haven’t given his books a try yet, now is the time and this would be a good one to start with.
Rating 8: Another solid and salacious mystery/thriller from Peter Swanson, “All the Beautiful Lies” sucked me in and held my interest until I had reached the last page.
Where Did I Get this Book: audiobook from the library!
Book Description: Leah Westfall, her fiancé Jefferson, and her friends have become rich in the California Territory, thanks to Lee’s magical ability to sense precious gold. But their fortune has made them a target, and when a dangerous billionaire sets out to destroy them, Lee and her friends decide they’ve had enough—they will fight back with all their power and talents.
Lee’s magic is continuing to strengthen and grow, but someone is on to her—someone who might have a bit of magic herself. The stakes are higher than ever as Lee and her friends hatch a daring scheme that could alter the California landscape forever.
Review: This is the last in the “Gold Seer” trilogy and after the previous book which seemed to wrap up much of the story and do-away with its main villain, I wasn’t sure where this book would go from there. I was also still smarting from the pretty graphic and hard-to-read scenes that made up a good chunk of that book, so I went into this one hopeful that we’d have a return to the “Oregon Trail” adventures of the first book. What we got was probably something in-between.
Life is moving along in Glory, California. Lee and her friends have on their hands what looks to be a growing and bustling town. Except for the fact that the town charter they had paid for from the wealthy Henry Hardwick in the last book has yet to arrive. With this problem before them, a large chunk of our main characters head off to San Fransisco. What they find is a man much more villainous than they had suspected and before long, Lee and her friends have much more to deal with than just a small town charter.
With this as the last book in the trilogy, looking back, it’s hard to get a real sense for this series as a whole. The first one was a fairly straight-forward travelogue with fun call-outs to the tropes of Oregon Trail games and stories. The second took a nose dive into the worst parts of humanity and left Lee as a bit of a passive character. And this one gets the gang back together, adds a new villain, and pretty much turns into a heist story. It’s all a little strange, from that angle.
But to judge this book on its own, there were definite areas of improvement from the last book but it still didn’t manage to reclaim the highs of the first. I very much enjoyed the return of many of our familiar characters who were largely absent in the second book. In particular, Becky, who had snuck up on me in the first book as a favorite and then disappeared in the second installment. As a heist story, it makes sense to have this large cast and the book already had many of these people on hand, so it was fun seeing them all interact and plan together in a way that was intentional, rather than the hap-hazard manner in which they had been forced by circumstances on the trail to work together before.
Lee and Jefferson’s relationship was also good. I was glad to see them working together for much of this book after being separated for so much of it during the previous one. The lack of relationship drama was also a welcome relief given that all too often it seems as if authors feel the need to throw a wrench in their romances in the last book from a misguided attempt to “build tension.”
One of the strongest portions of this book, for me, was the increased focus on Lee’s abilities. There was a big shift in the end of the last book with how her gold sense operated, and it was interesting watching Lee continue to practice and explore the possible new uses of her powers. There were several moments in this book where she came up with clever ways to put this power to use, and after being mostly useless in the second book, the success of their plans ultimately did fall to Lee’s own abilities, both with her powers and her planning. I was also surprised when an arc was introduced that dealt more fully with where these abilities might have come from and what other forms of magic might exist in the world. It was a nice addition as, up to this point, it felt a little strange to have Lee be the only exception to a world that otherwise seemed magic-less and true to history.
Those were the stronger aspects of the book. However, I did still struggle with the main plot itself and the villains. It’s a weird complaint, but like the second book, the villains were almost TOO villainous. In that they all seemed evil simply…because. And while I know that money and influence could go a long way then (and still can today), it also bordered on unrealistic that some of the villains’ actions could have been overlooked for so long. A man is killed in a crowd of people at one point, and no one bats an eye. Even with prejudices in mind, I have to think that this would have lead to something more.
The heist itself was interesting enough. But it was also a bit too complicated, for my thoughts. Or, barring that, not easy enough to put together on ones own without a massive infodump at the end explaining it all. A good heist story keeps some cards hidden, but still leaves room for the reader to put things together for themselves. Here, while there were parts that I could guess, the infodump where “all was told” was still long and confusing. This could partly be due to the simple fact that no finesse was used for said infodump: characters just spilled it out in long chunks of dialogue. At the best, it was just boring. At the worst, it left me still confused but not wanting to expose myself to the boredom again in an attempt to try to understand with a second read-through.
In the end, the series never quite regained the high that was the first book and seemed to flounder around for purchase and focus in the last two books, each presenting wildly different stories both in tone and topic. If I was to recommend this series, I’d almost say to just stop with the first. The second two are not worthless, but they’re also the kind of books that I will quickly forget. But if you are still enjoying these characters and the unique combination of realistic history with small doses of magic, this book was still an improvement on the second and might be worth checking out.
Rating 6: A serviceable story with a few highs relating to Lee’s magic, but a heist that was too confusing to be truly enjoyable.
Book: “What Holly Heard” (Fear Street #34) by R.L. Stine
Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, 1996
Where Did I Get This Book: The library!
Book Description:Holly Silva not only has a big mouth, but ears like satellite dishes. If there’s a rumor, juicy piece of gossip, or scandal anywhere in Shadyside High, Holly can and will dig it up and spread it like peanut butter on bananas. New inklings of romance, BFFs on the outs, cheating, fights…Holly hears it all. Once she does, it’s a short trip from her brain to the brains of Miriam and Ruth, her closest friends.
Usually Holly’s gossip doesn’t amount to anything exciting, but this time is different. Rumor has it Mei Kamata’s involved in an on-going feud…with her own mother. The cause of strife is long-haired bad boy senior Noah Brennan, the guy Mei will no longer be dating if her parents have anything to say about it. When Holly walks by the pair in the parking lot after school one day, she hears the unimaginable: Mei tells Noah she’s going to kill her mother.
Ruth and Miriam don’t exactly see this as the jaw-droppingly incredible insight into teenage female psychology that Holly does. After all, how often to kids threaten to unleash exaggerated bodily harm on their parental units? It isn’t until Mei’s mom takes a fatal tumble down the stairs of her home that the three girls realize they might know more than they should. Somebody knows what Holly heard and is taking steps to ensure none of the girls hear the wrong thing again. Steps up to and including murder.
Had I Read This Before: Yes.
The Plot: Okay, first of all, that plot description above HAS to be updated. It doesn’t read like an old school “Fear Street” summary at all. And I am not totally clear on whether or not this Holly is the same Holly from “College Weekend”, as the descriptions sound similar but I don’t remember if the last names line up. But anyway, Holly Silva runs down the hallway to her friends Miriam and Ruth with some serious hot goss. This is what she’s known for, spreading gossip and feeding off of it like an emotional vampire (and as someone who loves a great gossip sesh over brunch, I feel her on that, though I like to think that I don’t spread so much as I ‘converse’). So maybe I’m more like Miriam, as she evidently lives for this while Ruth isn’t so down. Holly’s latest dish is that Miriam’s old friend and local rich girl Mei Kamata has been having bad fights with her mother all because Mei has been dating Shadyside’s newest bad boy, Noah Brennan. Holly is especially living for this gossip because she has a serious thing for Noah and this may mean trouble in paradise. Ruth is concerned about this, reminding Holly that she does have a boyfriend, a very cool and nice guy named Gary (Ruth and Gary are neighbors and BFFs), but Holly’s eye is wandering. Just then Noah walks up to them and Holly puts on her best flirtation display. Unfortunately, Mei walks up and sees the whole thing. Miriam, trying to diffuse the tension, asks Mei if her party is still on that night (it is), and Noah is immediately drawn back to her and they leave together and she tells him that her parents won’t be home until 6 (woo woo!). Holly is immediately petulant, and when Ruth says that she has Gary Holly gets crabby and heavily implies that she’s going to try and break them up. This girl is awful. Ruth storms off, and Holly tries to say that she can’t help herself because she loves Noah so much. They then run into Miriam’s boyfriend Jed, who is on the basketball team. We are told that Jed has always been Miriam’s dream guy, but he’s been acting strange the past few weeks. He’s been moody ever since the playoff season began. When she asks him if he’s still up for the party, he says he forgot about it, and asks if they REALLY have to go. They fight and he storms off saying he’ll pick her up at eight. Holly wonders what he was putting in his bag, and Miriam is at a loss. Holly says that she’ll dig up some dirt on him for her to find out what his deal is.
Later that night Miriam, Jed, Ruth, and Miriam’s cousin Patrick (who Miriam is trying to hook up with Ruth, who seems not at all interested) are driving to the party. Jed seems back to himself, and says that the playoffs are just stressing him out since college scouts are attending. They arrive at the party at Mei’s house, and Miriam laments the friendship she had with Mei before Mei and Noah started going out. They find Holly, who is wearing a dress that doesn’t sound at all age appropriate. Jed and Gary are basketball teammates so they start talking shop, and Holly tells Miriam that her dress is ‘working’ and that Noah’s been staring at her all night. When Miriam calls her out on it, Holly claims that she feels SO BAD about it now because Mei seems SO MAD at her. Miriam lays the blame squarely on Noah, and I’m not sure THAT’S totally correct. They go find their boyfriends and start dancing with them, but the music the live bad is playing is SO POWERFUL they blow the power in the house and the lights go out. Once the breakers get flipped, the lights come back on and Holly is clinging to Noah. Mei is PISSED, even though Noah seems totally not interested in Holly at all. Miriam asks Holly what she was doing, and Holly says that she was ‘afraid’, and that she wasn’t flirting, she swears, but now Noah has ‘something to think about’.
The next night Ruth and Miriam are in Ruth’s bedroom waiting for Holly to pick them up from the basketball game. Ruth is infuriated at Holly for acting the fool, and thinks that she’s jealous of Mei. Miriam says that no, she just really likes Noah, but I think that it’s VERY possible for those two things to go hand in hand. Ruth also says that she and Patrick didn’t really click as she tends to her two hamsters Lizzy and Tilly. She then says she likes staying at home better than parties, especially since a group of rough necks were pulling up just as they were leaving. Ruth then takes her backpack out and dumps it’s contents on the bed. One item inside it is a hammer, which she says belonged to her Dad, who died a year earlier. She is apparently using it in art class to build a loom. Miriam thinks that Ruth doesn’t like dating because she has Daddy issues, essentially. She also is still mad about how Holly treats Gary, and honestly she isn’t wrong. It’s then that Holly bursts into the room and says that she has AWESOMELY HOT GOSS! After Miriam and Ruth left the party, the roughnecks who showed up were Noah’s drunk friends! After Mei’s Mom kicked them out, the two of them got into a huge fight about Noah, and Mei was told that she’s not allowed to see him anymore. Holly, of course, is ECSTATIC. Ruth calls her out on her bullshit, and Holly says that Gary is boring (SO DUMP HIM), and Miriam begs them to stop fighting and says they should get to the game. Ruth opts to stay home because she’s obviously sick of Holly and her crap.
At the game, Jed is doing awfully. After a Waynesbridge player accidentally elbows Jed in the face, Jed full on attacks him, punching him in the face and then putting him in a choke hold! After he’s pulled off he’s thrown out of the game, and Miriam rightfully freaked out. Holly says she’ll talk to Gary about Jed to see what the scoop is. Once the game is over (the Tigers DO win, by the way, so they’re still in the playoffs), Miriam waits for Jed outside the locker room. She asks if he’s okay and he starts railing about almost getting kicked off the team (um, he probably SHOULD have been kicked off, so count your lucky stars, bucko), and how the other player meant to elbow him. Miriam says he’s been elbowed before and never did anything like that, and he asks how SHE’D like it if SHE was pushed around, and starts pushing her and twisting her fingers, and holy SHIT this is messed up. He then stops, as if pulled from a trance, and deeply and profusely apologizes to her, and she says that if he EVER lays a hand on her again they are DONE. But then they have a ‘cute’ exchange and I could just barf. When Miriam goes to find Holly in the parking lot, she finds her hiding between some parked cars, and she has some news that has actually spooked her: she overheard Mei and Noah talking, and Mei said that she could just KILL her mother, and that Noah says that he would do ‘whatever it took’ for them to be together. So OBVIOUSLY, since Holly has never heard of hyperbole in a fit of emotion, this means that Mei and Noah are going to kill Mei’s Mom! Miriam tells her she’s being ridiculous, and Holly seems to come to her senses. When Holly asks Miriam about Jed, Miriam tells her everything. And for once Holly is a GOOD person because she tells Miriam that Jed is abusive and that he’s not worth being with.
That Monday Ruth and Miriam are hanging out, when Holly comes up to them with not so hot goss, but sad news. Mei’s mother died that weekend. She was found at the bottom of the steps with a broken neck. Holly is convinced that it was murder, and no matter how much Miriam proclaims that Mei wouldn’t do that, Holly and Ruth won’t hear it. Holly thinks they should go to the police, and then when Noah walks up to them and says that Mei’s Mom is dead, and that he saw Holly at the game….. then he walks off. Okay, yeah, that’s admittedly a weird thing to say. Now Holly is convinced that he knows that she heard them and she is in danger! Seems to me that she’s REALLY making a tragedy all about her, but hey, at least she doesn’t seem into Noah anymore. She promises that she’s not going to say anything to anyone about this, and to THAT I say HA. Miriam asks if she can get a ride home from her that night, but Holly says she’s staying late to hang decorations for the victory rally post-basketball game. Miriam wonders if Noah is someone that she should be afraid of. Because you know, Noah wears leather, drinks occasionally, and has long hair, which means he’s gotta be a serial killer.
Later that night Miriam gets a phone call from Holly. She’s still at school but feeling jumpy, and she wonders if Miriam will come keep her company because she thinks she’s seeing Mei EVERYWHERE. Also, she has some news about Jed that she wants to tell her in person. Miriam says she’ll ask her Mom if she can take the car, but when she gets back on the line Holly isn’t answering her. She drives to the school, and when she goes into the gym Holly is nowhere to be seen. She goes by the door to the locker rooms thinking that maybe she went home… until she sees Holly’s scarf. When Miriam looks behind a pep rally sign, she finds Holly, dead. She freaks out and runs for the doors, but then someone grabs her. Luckily it’s just Jed, and when Miriam tells him what she saw, he goes to see for himself. He then takes her hand and says they need to go call the police. After he calls they sit in the parking lot, and he suddenly freaks out, kicking and punching Holly’s car in a fury. Miriam wonders why he’s doing this, but in his defense I don’t know how I’D react if I found the dead body of one of my friends. As they wait for the police, she realizes that it’s weird that he’s here, and she asks him why he’s at the school this late. He says that he and Gary were working out and Gary left just before Miriam started screaming. Miriam starts to suspect that maybe Mei DID do this.
The next day Ruth is dropping school work off for Miriam, who has been in bed basically since it happened. Ruth tells her that Gary is a wreck and wasn’t at school either, and neither was Mei. But Noah was, and Ruth says that he looked completely nuts. Miriam doesn’t want to talk about any of them, and Ruth says that she’s sad too even if she has a hard time showing it. There’s going to be a memorial at school the next day, and since Miriam’s Mom thinks that one day of mourning/processing time is perfectly adequate for a girl who found her best friend brutally murdered, Miriam will be there. Now Ruth is convinced that Mei and Noah killed her, but Miriam says they have no proof. And she says that if Mei DID do it, the police will be able to find proof that she did and will catch her.
Ruth opens up her backpack to give Miriam her homework, but when she pulls her hand out both it and the notebook are covered in a red, sticky liquid. A message in blood is written on the cover: “We know you know, that’s why you die next!” Ruth says that Holly must not have kept her big mouth shut, and Miriam finally concedes that perhaps the police should be involved.
After dropping the notebook off at the police (and it wasn’t blood, of course, just paint), Miriam is feeling better now that she’s home. The police say they’ll look into Mei and Noah, and Miriam calls Jed. He says he’ll come right over, and when he arrives they start to talk about all the horrible things that have happened. Miriam says that she never thanked him for being there for her the night before, he has a ‘murderous glare’ (as Miriam categorizes it, anyway). She decides not to tell him about Mei and Noah, lest he lose it. But then he says he doesn’t want to talk about Holly anymore because everyone is treating her like a saint but she was a bad person who treated his best friend like shit, AND he was trying to dig up dirt on HIM! She asks how he can be so cruel, and he says that it’s Holly’s fault that she was killed, and YUCK. She says that SHE was the one who asked Holly to go on a recon mission because he’s been acting different and being, you know, VIOLENT, and she’s worried about him. He says that it’s just pressure because of the playoffs, and he hasn’t talked to her and Holly about it because excuse HIM if he doesn’t want to gossip about Mei Kamata all the time. Ding ding ding, points for everybody I feel. But Miriam asks what he meant when he said that Holly was at fault for her own murder. He storms off, and she wonders what HE knows.
At school the next day Miriam doesn’t want to go to the memorial, so she ditches off to the bathroom. She’s confronted by Mei and Noah after she leaves it, and Mei asks her how she could spread the lies about her mother that Holly started, and how she could go to the police. Mei’s mother sprained her ankle the week before and it spasmed while she was at the top of the steps, that’s all. Miriam says that she doesn’t believe them, and if they didn’t kill Mei’s Mom then Miriam is being a grade A asshole right now. They also say that they didn’t kill Holly, and that Holly had a LOT of enemies because she got the dirt and spread it around the school. Miriam says that she and Mei used to be friends before NOAH came into the picture, and Mei says that while she WOULD kill for Noah, she DIDN’T. By the end of the day Miriam is totally over everything, and she sees Jed and Gary arguing, with Gary saying that he’s not covering for Jed anymore and that he knows everything that Holly knew. She waits for Gary to leave before she approaches Jed, and he apologizes again. So she asks what his problem is again, and here we go again as he gets defensive. She says that Holly knew something, and then she asks why he was at school the night she was murdered. He says that he was weight lifting, and that Gary was there, but she doesn’t believe him. He says that she can think what she wants, but he has a game to go play, and he looks less angry and more tired. They do their apology dance again.
Miriam asks Ruth to go to the game with her that night while they’re hanging out in Ruth’s room. Ruth says she’s not going anywhere where Mei and Noah are, and when Miriam expresses her doubts that Mei killed her mother, let alone Holly, Ruth says she thinks that it’s Noah who did everything. Miriam says she’s going to the game regardless because Jed needs her. When she gets to the school she sees Jed taking some kind of pill before the game, and when she asks what it was he says it’s a vitamin. They apologize to each other again, and he goes to play. While watching the game Miriam sees Noah watching her, but tries to focus on Jed. But then on the court Jed loses it again, and attacks another player, and now Miriam is convinced that HE is the one who killed Holly. She runs out, and Jed follows her. He tries to stop her from going, but she hits him in the stomach and bolts all the way to Ruth’s house.
Ruth answers the door and Miriam tells her that Jed is the killer, not Mei and Noah, and Ruth says that it couldn’t be him because there were two more murders tonight: LIZZY AND TILLY!!!!! DAMN YOU AND YOUR PET KILLING FETISH, STINE!!!! Ruth says that her Mom is working late and she was asleep on the couch when she heard a noise upstairs. When she got to her room, the hamsters were crushed to death, and they left a note: “Dead hamsters today, dead girls tomorrow.” Ruth goes to call the police, and when she comes back Miriam comforts her and asks if she wants to get dressed out of her pjs, but Ruth says that she can’t go back in her room with the dead hamsters. Miriam says that she’ll go cover them up. She can’t find anyhting to cover them with, so she goes to Ruth’s closet for a shirt, but when she opens the door, a bloody hammer falls out. The hammer that Ruth had in her backpack. Then Ruth walks into the room, and it’s clear from the look on her face that SHE KILLED THE HAMSTERS!! Ruth dives for the hammer and they start wrestling on the ground for it. Ruth wins and pulls an Annie Wilkes (kind of) and smashes Miriam in the knee cap with it. It was Ruth the whole time! Ruth killed Holly! When Miriam asks why, Ruth says it’s because Holly treated Gary like garbage and that Ruth has been in love with Gary this whole time. She had gone to the school that night to tell Holly to just dump Gary and stop leading him on, and Holly LAUGHED at her and said that once she had Noah she’d happily give Ruth Gary but not a moment sooner. In a fury she strangled her. Miriam says that Holly was a good person (I WOULDN’T GO THAT FAR. While this is certainly NOT a capital offense, and while murdering her isn’t the answer or the right thing to do, Holly really was just awful.) and that she didn’t deserve to die, and Ruth says that Holly’s endless hard on for gossip provided the perfect motive to frame Noah and Mei, and that it helped her manipulate Miriam because she, too, took the gossip very seriously. Miriam says that Jed is going to come in here any minute and Ruth says she’ll just kill him too, because he’s been acting like a loon and she will say that he killed Miriam and the hamsters, and then claim self defense. Jed does enter, and Ruth immediately cracks him with the hammer. But before Ruth can kill her, Miriam grabs the hamster cage and smashes it over her head, knocking her out.
Jed comes to and has his own confession to make. He says that it is his fault that Holly is dead, because he told Holly to wait for him in the gym that day so they could talk. See, this whole time Jed has been acting weird because he’s on STEROIDS!!! The anger, the anxiety, the mood swings, ALL steroids. The pressure for a scholarship was too much, and he started the roids in hopes it would improve her performance. Gary knew and told Holly, and Jed wanted to talk to her before she talked to Miriam. But then he got in a weird ambiguous steroid fog, and he was late meeting her. If he’d just been on time, maybe Holly wouldn’t be dead! Miriam tells him it’s not his fault, and they make up. SHe says they need to call the police, and he asks her if she is will stay with him if he promises to get off the roids. She says ‘that’s the latest gossip’. The End.
Body Count: 4, if you include the hamsters. And you know that I do. Godspeed, Lizzy and Tilly.
Romance Rating: 3. Holly is hoping to cheat on Gary with Noah, Jed is lost in a roid rage and may in the future pull a Chris Benoit on Miriam, and Ruth killed Holly because she loves Gary. But that said, Mei and Noah seem like they’re a pretty good fit!
Bonkers Rating: 5. The Roid Rage subplot was totally nutso to me, but otherwise it’s not much to write home about, craziness wise.
Fear Street Relevance: 2. Miriam and Holly both live on Fear Street, but none of the action actually occurs there.
Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:
“They walked away from me now, Miriam thought. But will they come back?”
…. And nope. They won’t. Outside of a moment in the gym with Noah, that was it for them in this book.
That’s So Dated! Moments: I liked that Holly’s stylish hairstyle was very much a 1990s perm.
“‘I’m sorry. So sorry,’ Ruth murmured. ‘I won’t have any friends left after tonight- will I? Not even my two hamsters. My two real friends.'”
Girllllll….. that was kind of on you.
Conclusion: “What Holly Heard” was a lame duck with a strange Nancy Reagan style anti-drug subplot, and I am kind of flummoxed by it. Do better, Stine. Next up is “The Face”.
Happy summer everyone! We’ve already shared our list of favorite beach reads to keep you occupied during any and all vacations this summer. Now it’s time to hand out some free books to further support distraction from any beautiful locations you’re touring or long-missed relatives you’re supposed to be visiting. It’s a package deal of one fantasy novel (for the Serena’s out there) and one thriller (for the Kate’s.) Good luck and enjoy!
Book: “Rebel of the Sands” by Alwyn Hamilton
Publishing Info: Viking Books for Young Readers, March 2016
Book Description: Mortals rule the desert nation of Miraji, but mythical beasts still roam the wild and remote areas, and rumor has it that somewhere, djinn still perform their magic. For humans, it’s an unforgiving place, especially if you’re poor, orphaned, or female.
Amani Al’Hiza is all three. She’s a gifted gunslinger with perfect aim, but she can’t shoot her way out of Dustwalk, the back-country town where she’s destined to wind up wed or dead.
Then she meets Jin, a rakish foreigner, in a shooting contest, and sees him as the perfect escape route. But though she’s spent years dreaming of leaving Dustwalk, she never imagined she’d gallop away on mythical horse—or that it would take a foreign fugitive to show her the heart of the desert she thought she knew.
Book: “Lies You Never Told Me” by Jennifer Donaldson
Publishing Info: Razorbill, May 2018
Book Description: Gabe and Elyse have never met. But they both have something to hide.
Quiet, shy Elyse can’t believe it when she’s cast as the lead in her Portland high school’s production of Romeo and Juliet. Her best friend, Brynn, is usually the star, and Elyse isn’t sure she’s up to the task. But when someone at rehearsals starts to catch her eye–someone she knows she absolutely shouldn’t be with–she can’t help but be pulled into the spotlight.
Austin native Gabe is contemplating the unthinkable–breaking up with Sasha, his headstrong, popular girlfriend. She’s not going to let him slip through her fingers, though, and when rumors start to circulate around school, he knows she has the power to change his life forever.
Gabe and Elyse both make the mistake of falling for the wrong person, and falling hard. Told in parallel narratives, this twisty, shocking story shows how one bad choice can lead to a spiral of unforeseen consequences that not everyone will survive.
Giveaway details: We are giving away one (1) hardback copy of “Rebel of the Sands” and one (1) ARC copy of “Lies You Never Told Me.” The giveaway is open to US residents only and ends July 15, 2018.
Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, September 1999
Where Did I Get this Book: own it!
Book Description:The Yeerks possess a weapon that could be the biggest threat to the Animorphs yet. The anti-morphing ray transforms a person in morph back to natural form. Unless they find and destroy the top-secret ray, the Animorphs could be exposed for good.
Plot: What made getting through the last book so terrible (beyond the fact that it was god awful all on its own) was that I knew this one was coming up next. And this was one of my favorites as a kid growing up. Other than the first few and the David trilogy, this was by far the book I re-read the most and thus one of the rare later series stories that I have clear memories of. And yet, even I didn’t remember just how sob-worthy this story was!!
Tobias is at a school dance and feeling awkward. While many of us realize this is how ALL teenagers feel at school dances, Tobias attributes it to his discomfort being human again after spending so much time as a hawk. What’s more, he’s pretty sure Rachel wants to dance. Halfway through their dance, however, Tobias sees the clock on the gym wall and realizes he only has a few minutes left before he would be trapped in his human morph and out of the Yeerk war altogether. As he bolts for the outdoors, Rachel catches up with him and finally opens up about some of the challenges of their relationship. Notably, that with all of the craziness in her life, she needs something normal and would it really be that bad if Tobias were human once again? Unnerved, Tobias still makes a break for it and manages to escape outside and regain his hawk form. Jake, who also noticed the mad dash, comments that he is glad Tobias made it back to hawk as the team needs him for his eyes in the air. Tobias suspects that while this may be true, Jake has also become the type of leader to use his assets wisely and say what needs to be said to keep people in line.
The next day the team meets in the barn. Erek had caught up with Jake earlier and had some news to share about the Anit-Morphing Ray that the group had failed to destroy in their last mission. The problem is that they have no idea where the Yeerks are keeping the ray, but they do know that the Sharing is hosting a big unveiling for their new community center. Through this they come up with a plan: the Yeerks are likely looking to trap a “Andalite bandit” at this event to test their ray on. Instead, the Animorphs will purposely walk into said trap and then through capture figure out where the ray is located so they can destroy it. It’s clear to Tobias that Jake has more in mind than this, and he quickly understands that Jake means for Tobias to volunteer, reasoning that if Tobias is captured, the Yeerks will assume he in morph, use the ray gun on him, and then think that it doesn’t work when Tobias fails to “demorph.” Tobias will also need to acquire Ax so he can pretend to attempt “demorphing” to further convince the Yeerks that they do in fact have an Andalite in morph. Of course, there is no guarantee that the ray gun is even safe and won’t just kill its target, so this is a very high risk mission for Tobias. But the whole group recognizes it as the only option, and Tobias moves forward with acquiring Ax.
Back in their forest, Tobias and Ax bond over Tobias’s experiences as an Andalite, especially given their familial relationship with Ax essentially being Tobias’s uncle. Ax teaches him a few tail blade moves and walks him through the evening ritual.
The next day, the team goes into action at the Sharing event. Jake sits with his family as Tom is given an award. Tobias flies above. Ax is in human morph and is meant to guide the remaining team who are all in fly morph. Hi-jinks ensue as Ax inevitably gets distracted by food and causes a minor scene. Eventually, he and Tobias manage to sneak into the back of the community center and discover the location of the Yeerk’s “trap:” a playground with a tunnel. It’s clear that the Yeerks are trying to set it up to look as if this tunnel is a new entrance to the Yeerk pool so as to temp Andalite bandits into it.
The group all reconvene near the playground. Fly!Rachel hides in Tobias’s feathers and it is her job to report back to the rest of them where the ray gun is so they can attack and rescue him. Ax and Tobias make a break for the tunnel, drawing the attention of the Yeerks. Tobias flies all the way in while Ax “aborts” at the last minute and draws the rest of the Controllers after him. Inside the tunnel in the connected room, hawk!Tobias confronts the Controllers who are in place to spring the “trap.” At their head is a young woman who looks eerily like Rachel. She identifies herself as “Taylor” and she is a sub-visser in the Yeerk ranks. She also happens to have a stun gun of sorts that she shoots at Tobias, not caring if it takes down a few Hork Bajir in the process. Paralyzed, fly!Rachel slips off to land on the floor, vulnerable to be stepped on. Now alone and with the plan already in shambles, Tobias is stuffed in a box and relocated.
When he is let out of the box, he finds himself in a larger clear box with the ray gun pointed directly at him. Visser Three shows up with two Controller scientists in tow. They test the ray gun on Tobias. When it fails, Visser Three is not pleased, feeding the scientists to a pit of Taxxons that is located beneath the floor. He instructs Taylor to torture Tobias into demorphing so he can be infested and give information on the other bandits.
And so begins pages of poor Tobias being tortured. Taylor uses the ray gun to shoot some type of rays at him that trigger pain sensors in his brain.Through it all, we get some great flashbacks to periods in Tobias’s life that highlight why he might be so hesitant to want to return to a human life. We see a bully who persistently comes after him. And a very sad scene where Tobias comes home with an award, only to be told by his lazy uncle that if there’s no money in it, than it’s worthless and Tobias should just get a job (we’re to remember that these kids were like 13 at the beginning of this series and that this scene presumably happened sometime before that even, so….yeah, the uncle is a piece of work). The scene and Taylor’s dialogue within it are a clear reference to the classic “Pit of Despair” scene from “The Princess Bride.” Eventually, Tobias realizes that he can retreat to the mind of the hawk in order to survive the pain. The hawk has no understanding of what is causing this pain or that it has any way of preventing it from happening again; to him it is just another unpleasant part of life now.
Eventually, Taylor figures out what Tobias is up to and introduces a third setting on the ray: the ability to send beams that connect to pleasure sensors in the brain, which brutally yanks Tobias back and forth between pain and pleasure, thus disallowing him from using the hawk for safety. In a few flashbacks here, we see there was once an elderly woman who would take Tobias in after school and feed him treats, one of the few good memories, it seems, from his childhood. He also has memories of showing up at Rachel’s room for what must be regular flying dates they go on.
During a break in the action, Tobias realizes that something strange is up with Taylor. It becomes clear that she has gone insane and Tobias is able to wheedle the story of her past out of her. It turns out that the girl Taylor had once been the homecoming queen of her highschool, but after a house fire she was left badly burned and missing an arm and leg. Having lost her looks, all that was important to her it seemed, she turned to the Yeerks who offered to heal her in exchange for becoming a Controller. Somehow throughout this all, the Yeerk who infested her and Taylor herself somehow merged their personalities, leaving the current Taylor to routinely switch between identifying past Taylor as herself or as a separate being. By this point, Tobias is past the two hour “limit” and Taylor realizes that she has failed to get the “Andalite” to demorph. The knowledge that there is a good chance Visser Three will also feed her to the Taxxons in the pit, she turns up the torture to a new level.
It is too much. Tobias feels himself dying and right near the end he experiences a vision. An Andalite comes to him and presses his tail blade to his forehead. He then experiences a series of “memories” from his father, Elfangor’s, point of view. At the end, Elfangor says that Tobias has come from a long line of warriors who put others before themselves, and that death to save his friends is a noble way to go. But before the light can finally go out, the other Animorphs arrive. They battle Taylor and the Hork Bajir who come to her defense and manage to destroy the ray gun.
Towards the end, grizzly!Rachel has an opportunity to kill Taylor, one that she is just about to take when Tobias tells her to stop. Throughout it all, he hasn’t been able to avoid drawing comparisons between Rachel and Taylor, two girls who are rarely beautiful. But where Taylor’s strength came from her beauty and without it lead her to do terrible things, Tobias sees the grizzly morph as an outer representation of Rachel’s stronger inner self. He asks her to let Taylor go; to be Rachel, and not Taylor.
The last scene is the Animorphs on the beach, trying to gain a bit of normalcy after all of the craziness. Tobias describes his last vision to Ax who is quite shocked. He says there is an Andalite legend that some memories are passed through the DNA and that they can be triggered in the last moments of life, but he’s been sure those were just tales.
Finally, Rachel joins them on the beach. Tobias runs to her and they hug, Rachel asking how bad it was and Tobias confessing that it was really bad, he almost gave in. But through it all, he comes to the conclusion that for now he knows who he is: the person that Rachel loves. She kisses him, and they go flying.
A Hawk’s Life: This is a great Tobias book. He has a lot to contend with before he even gets tot he torture scene. There’s his ongoing struggle with striking a balance between his hawk form and his human form and his fears that Rachel is becoming more and more unwilling to deal with the limbo that is their relationship as it stands.
The book also leans in heavily on the shortened life span of a hawk, something we haven’t seen before. Not only does Tobias see an inconveniently placed poster on this topic on the highschool walls while he flees to demorph, but there is an eagle that is dying from old age in Cassie’s barn (the team use the eagle as a way to gain entrance to the morphing ray room and save Tobias in the end of the book.) Whenever he looks at the bird, it’s a reminder of the shortened life span and the dangers that wild birds face.
He really gets into his Andalite heritage for the first time, morphing an Andalite and learning more about Andalite history and culture through his moments with Ax. The DNA-memory thing is also a great addition as it finally gives Tobias a more clear connection with his father. In one of the memories, Elfangor spends a moment thinking about how he misses Loren and wishes he was on Earth with her and his son. One has to imagine that this memory is a great comfort to Tobias, knowing Elfangor loved his mother and him and didn’t want to leave them.
And then, of course, there’s all the stuff in the torture scenes with the dark glimpses into Tobias’s past, as well as some of the more happy memories with Rachel and the woman who used to give him treats. Tobias also wisely catches on to there being something strange going on with Taylor and uses that knowledge to draw her into talking about herself and giving himself a break.
In the end, he confesses to Rachel that he almost broke. But Rachel reassures him that she knows who he is and that he’d never give them up, and Tobias realizes that his sense of self is well cared for him Rachel’s hands.
Our Fearless Leader: Tobias makes some pretty blatant statements about Jake’s transformation as a leader. He suspects immediately that while Jake might truly mean his words about being glad Tobias made it back to his hawk morph because he knows that’s what Tobias wants, Jake is also a leader who will say whatever he thinks will further his mission. He needs Tobias in his hawk form, and Tobias suspects that that is at the heart of anything he says.
Tobias also sees the manipulation at play when they’re all in the barn planning what to do about the ray gun. Jake volunteers at first, but Tobias sees that he isn’t expecting this plan to go forward. And then when Ax volunteers, he’s silent. It’s clear that he had a person in mind and is waiting for that person (Tobias) to volunteer himself, so that Jake doesn’t have to ask/order him to do it. It’s one of the more clear examples we’ve seen of Jake starting to use his friends a chess pieces. It’s cold, but it’s also necessary and Tobias recognizes this.
Xena, Warrior Princess: This book did a great job following up on the awfulness that was the last book. Rachel is clearly shaken from the experience and looking for normalcy in her life, and her romance with Tobias isn’t helping. In the very beginning of the book, she has one of the more honest conversations we’ve seen between the two. It’s clear that it’s not simply selfish, romantic reasons that she wants Tobias to consider staying human, but that her own inner struggles make it even harder for her to deal with the burden that is their romance. Further, she seems to be the only Animorph who is concerned by the way that Tobias is leaning into his life as a hawk and more and more prone to discomfort whenever he’s human. She repeatedly reminds him that his human form isn’t just a “morph,” it’s who he naturally is and that it’s worrisome if he doesn’t remember this.
It’s never made clear whether or not she was actually aware of the time and had been trying to trick Tobias into staying. My interpretation is that she didn’t really know herself what she wanted to happen, and that a small, secret part of her was both hoping he wouldn’t realize but not actively plotting to trap him.
Early in the barn conversation, she also volunteers for the mission before it becomes clear that Jake has Tobias in mind. We don’t see the scene when she insists on going in with him as a fly, but I feel confident we can assume it wasn’t much of a “discussion” at all. As they’re going in, she tells Tobias not to put the mission first. That if things get too bad, he should forget about the mission and save himself.
Peace, Love, and Animals: Cassie does very little in this book. After they all agree that Tobias is the one to go on this mission, Tobias notes that she gives him a particular sympathetic look that she reserves for only the most series moments. And then in the end when they’re all on the beach, she’s off looking for injured animals on the reef. Because of course she is.
The Comic Relief: Marco is the only other one to quickly realize that Jake has another plan in mind when they’re talking in the barn. He also is one of the quickest to realize what exactly that plan is. In the final battle scene, gorilla!Marco is the one to save Tobias, getting very torn up in the process. It’s a nice scene as often Marco and Tobias don’t have many scenes together and are two of the more disconnected members of the group, both due to differing personalities and a lack of any significant connection on their own. But here is is clear that Marco is unwilling to give up and leave Tobias behind, even if that means putting his own life on the line.
E.T./Ax Phone Home: This was a big book for really establishing the connection between Ax, Tobias, and their shared Andalite heritage. The scenes of Ax teaching Tobias about Andalite culture were very well done, and there’s an interesting moment when Tobias first morphs an Andalite when he realizes that the natural state of Andalites is to be optimistic. Ax confirms that they have had to “train” themselves to be warriors, against their natural instincts. Later, when Ax and Tobias are infiltrating the Sharing community center, it is clear that Ax is very worried about Tobias’s role in this mission, again highlighting the strong bond between them.
Best (?) Body Horror Moment: The scenes of the damage that is done to Tobias during the torture sessions is pretty vivid. Not only is the ray setting of pain sensors in his head, but in his mindless thrashing, he does a lot of physical damage to himself. He breaks a wing, loses feathers, and, yikes, breaks his beak. It’s so bad that when the other Animorphs show up, grizzly!Rachel takes one look at him and knows how bad it must have been, further spurring her anger and wish to kill Taylor at the end.
Couples Watch!: This is by far the most romance-centric book so far (and from my memory, in the entire series). It starts right out with the challenges that Rachel and Tobias face and the increasing pressure they both feel to make this impossible thing work. Rachel is clearly hitting a wall with her ability to juggle so much craziness in her life and is concerned about Tobias’s well-being, not only his increasing association with his hawk self but the fact that the stark reality is that hawks have much shorter life spans than humans.
Then of course we have all of the concern from Rachel about Tobias going on this mission, though it’s worth noting that even she doesn’t come out against it, knowing it’s the best option. She goes in with him and tells him to put himself first.
While captured, Tobias repeatedly refers to the fact that Taylor looks like Rachel and notes how very different these two beautiful teenage girls are. It’s not only a reflection on his own thoughts on Rachel (and his ongoing concern that something terrible might have happened to her when she fell off him while paralyzed. She even began to cry when this happened, one of the few times we see this), but a good reminder for readers (after the book that shall not be named…) that while Rachel is dangerous, she’s still a good person and nowhere near the type of person who would have fallen in with the Yeerks had she lost her beauty.
Then there’s the end, of course. I think this is the first time either member of either couple has said the “love” word. And not only is he saying it, but Tobias sees this love and his relationship with Rachel as the foundation of his own identity, whether human or bird. They also kiss, rather casually even, further highlighting how much more established their relationship is than Jake and Cassie who are still awkwardly skirting around each other and (like in the last Jake book) barely referencing the thing between them.
If Only Visser Three had Mustache to Twirl: When Ax and Tobias sneak in to find out where the “trap/Yeerk pool entrance” is located, they stumble on two Controllers who are discussing the mad idea that Visser Three has had that somehow in an open-air Sharing event they’re supposed to catch any animal that wanders in. But they note that you can’t say this to him or you’ll end up dead, as the two scientists discover when they try to assure Visser Three that they ray can’t possibly not work.
Taylor also makes this comment to Chapman after they’ve caught Tobias, which I’m sure is a direct jab at his learning to speak “villain talk” from Visser Three, though luckily for her, Visser Three’s not there to hear it:
“A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush,” he offered, smirking.
“Shut up, Chapman,”the girl said calmly. “You sound like some pun-spouting villain from a Batman movie.”
Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: As evident by the gif at the very beginning of this post, this book has by far been the biggest tear jerker of the series. Not only do you have an extended torture scene taking up a large chunk of the book (talk about not pulling your punches for a young audience!), but the thoughts and memories that come with it are rough. The scene with Tobias’s uncle is particularly heart-breaking as we have to imagine that this is just once moment from a long list of moments where a very young Tobias has been completely ignored and beaten down by the only parental figures he has had.
Then there are scenes of animal abuse that Tobias imagines when thinking about the hawk’s approach to pain and fear. Oof. There were legit tears in this section, what with the descriptions of the fear, the pain, and, in my opinion worst of all, the confusion that these animals would feel when being tormented by humans. Some of them were so specific (like the scene of a wild goose being clubbed to death on a golf course by cruel teenagers) that you have to imagine the ghost writer who wrote this book was pulling from some traumatic memory of their own. Yikes, it was a lot.
What a Terrible Plan, Guys!: This is another good plan from the Animorphs. It’s pretty complex, too, with all of the moving pieces, especially in the beginning. They really sell it hard that they are “accidentally” getting caught, even putting Ax at risk by having him run out and away in the open to be chased (and maybe caught) by the Yeerks. It’s not really their fault that they didn’t anticipate the freeze gun as that’s not technology they’ve run into before. I do feel like there is still a pretty big question mark about how exactly fly!Rachel was supposed to get off Tobias and, with very poor eyesight, find a place to demorph and get out to return to the others. But I’m sure this was a risk they felt they had to take (just like sending Tobias in in the first place) to destroy what would have been a game-changing weapon.
The Yeerks’ plan, however, was not that good. The group all comment that the Yeerk “trap” with the playground tunnel was all too easy to spot and that the Yeerks must really think the Andalites are idiots if they fell for it. But then again, the Animorphs were still choosing to go in, so….
There’s a great scene where Jake and human!Visser Three come face to face while at the Sharing event when Visser Three tries to swat fly!Cassie off Jake’s arm. It’s a really cool moment and one of the ones that I can so easily picture as if it were in a movie:
“Such filthy insects. Allow me to . . .” He swung at Jake.
Jake’s hand shot up. He grabbed the Visser’s wrist in his fist. For a long few seconds the two of them glared at each other. Visser Three, leader of the Yeerk forces on Earth. And Jake, his unrecognized foe.
The “Ax goes crazy with food” scene at the Sharing event also provided some much needed levity to an otherwise very serious and sad book:
<Marco,what exactly are you doing in the fondue?> Rachel asked.
<Exactly? Well … I wanted to see if it would still taste good sucked up through a fly mouth.You gonna help me or do you just want to bust me?>
<Let him get eaten,>Rachel advised.
Scorecard: Yeerks 8, Animorphs 13
The Animorphs manage to take out the ray gun and came up with a pretty clever way of tricking the Yeerks into thinking it didn’t work, in the event that they hadn’t been able to destroy it. Plus, bonus, the two scientists who came up with what was actually a brilliant idea, ended up fed to Taxxons by a very short-sighted Visser Three who had a tantrum. So a win/win/win!
Rating: I loved this book. Always did and still do. All of the characters are exactly on point. There are good references to past events, particularly Rachel’s struggle to find normalcy in her life after being so shaken up by her last book. Jake’s ongoing descent into pure leadership mode and his showdown with Visser Three. Marco’s smarts. Cassie’s concern. Ax’s acknowledgement of his and Tobias’s shared Andalite heritage. And all of the confusion and inner strength that make Tobias such an interesting character. We get a lot of extra information on what his life was like before the Animorphs, and I think at this point in the series, it’s very important to get these scenes to fully understand why Tobias is so hesitant to go back to life as a boy.
We also get a very good villain in Taylor. It’s always nice to have another villain other than Visser Three to focus on in these books, and Taylor is given quite a bit of character development herself. Not only does she have an interesting back story that ties into her crazed perspective that we see on display, but her similarities to Rachel lead Tobias to make some poignant and important comparisons and contrasts between the two.
And, of course, as I’m fully on the Tobias/Rachel ship, I like the focus on their relationship in this book. It doesn’t feel silly or immature, but really highlights the challenges faced by these two and why they are so drawn together and serve as much needed support systems to each other.
This is probably one of the better ghost written books in the series, and I feel like that had to have been clear since I’m pretty sure this same writer also wrote a good number towards the end of the series. It does present a weird contrast when placed next to the last book that was somehow written by Applegate herself. Just goes to show that even good authors can make big missteps and that the ghost writers shouldn’t be completely written off either.
Note: I’m not going to rate these books since I can’t be objective at all! But I’ll give a one sentence conclusion and you can take from that what you will!
Book Description:Jane McKeene was born two days before the dead began to walk the battlefields of Gettysburg and Chancellorsville—derailing the War Between the States and changing America forever. In this new nation, safety for all depends on the work of a few, and laws like the Native and Negro Reeducation Act require certain children attend combat schools to learn to put down the dead. But there are also opportunities—and Jane is studying to become an Attendant, trained in both weaponry and etiquette to protect the well-to-do. It’s a chance for a better life for Negro girls like Jane. After all, not even being the daughter of a wealthy white Southern woman could save her from society’s expectations.
But that’s not a life Jane wants. Almost finished with her education at Miss Preston’s School of Combat in Baltimore, Jane is set on returning to her Kentucky home and doesn’t pay much mind to the politics of the eastern cities, with their talk of returning America to the glory of its days before the dead rose. But when families around Baltimore County begin to go missing, Jane is caught in the middle of a conspiracy, one that finds her in a desperate fight for her life against some powerful enemies. And the restless dead, it would seem, are the least of her problems.
Review:Zombies have been a genre trope of choice for awhile now in horror fiction. They are usually used to show that in a world of zombies, humans are still the real monsters, and that’s a theme that I enjoy no matter how often it is invoked. But the thing is, zombies are starting to feel a bit stale. With “The Walking Dead” hemorrhaging viewers and post apocalyptic horror movies choosing to go other routes, the zombie story has needed a jolt for awhile now to, uh, revive it. So that is probably why I enjoyed “Dread Nation” so much. “Dread Nation” definitely breathes new life into the zombie story, quite possibly because the zombies are not the focus, nor are they the ultimate bringer of the end of the world. Zombies pale in face of the true enemy in this book, and that enemy is racism in American society. So that means fans of “Lovecraft Country”, this might be the next book you should add to your list.
Justina Ireland has created an alternate timeline history of America, the divergence happening during the Civil War when the Undead (or Shamblers, as they are called in this) suddenly rose from the ground. The alternate history is so rich and new, and yet so familiar, that it definitely feels like this how things would have worked out had this occurrence actually happened in American History. Jane is our protagonist, and she is a true delight as a YA historical fiction/horror/thriller heroine. She has some character similarities to other greats in the genre (Katniss Everdeen comes to mind), mainly because Jane doesn’t necessarily seek out being a leader or a rabblerouser and just wants to live life by her own rules. But unlike books like “The Hunger Games” series, which have a vague and malleable version of oppression and dystopia, the one in “Dread Nation” is right out of the history books: Jane is a black girl living in a racist society, and the injustices that she deals with are still relevant in real world American in 2018, not limited to an alternate history of this nation. Jane, like other kids of color her age, has been sent to a school to learn how to fight the zombie hordes so the white people in society don’t have to, and while she is learning to be an Attendant (a more prestigious position in some ways, as she learns not only to fight but also trains in etiquette to serve a rich white woman) it’s still a subservient place in society. Much like the modern wars of Vietnam and the Gulf Wars, it’s the minorities who are on the front lines giving up their bodies while the white elite sit by and live their lives blissfully unaffected. Jane faces systemic racism and oppression from positions of authority because of her skin, but those aren’t the only themes that still apply today. Jane’s classmate/frenemy Katherine is a white passing black girl, and while her skin means she can shield herself from racism, she doesn’t feel like she has a place in the black community or the white community. Ireland does a great job of bringing these themes (and more) to the forefront, and making them feel relevant today even though the story takes place two centuries ago.
(Note: There has been some criticism of “Dread Nation” regarding how it discusses and portrays the Native characters and themes, most prominently from Debbie Reese. While I did like the book for the most part and think that it does a good job with its portrayal of racism in America, these criticisms are important to see and think about.)
But what about the zombies, you may be asking. As a zombie aficionado (even as they start to feel a bit played out), I can say that I really liked Ireland’s take on them. The action scenes with them never failed to disappoint, and the mythology that Ireland has built around them feels fresh because this isn’t a fallen society, but a society that is trying to coexist with these things. That is a narrative that you don’t see often, and given that I’ve always wanted to see it explored more I was so happy that Ireland went in that direction with the Undead world building. I also felt like she integrated it enough into actual events in American History and changed some of the outcomes or paths in response to it that it felt believable that this is how society would have reacted. Because of this, it always does feel like Civil War Era America, even with a zombie uprising. The Undead storyline, too, finds ways to bring forward social justice topics on race that still concern society today and back then, with science, medicine, and research being done at the expense of black lives and bodies.
“Dread Nation” was a great read that has re-energized my love for the zombie genre. Ireland has given it so much more meat, and I hope that people who read it will think about all of the things she’s trying to say, even if they just came in for the Undead.
Rating 8: A tense and unique historical fiction/horror novel, “Dread Nation” not only tinkers with the zombie story, it also uses it to examine modern issues of race and racism in America.
Book Description: Miryem is the daughter and granddaughter of moneylenders… but her father isn’t a very good one. Free to lend and reluctant to collect, he has loaned out most of his wife’s dowry and left the family on the edge of poverty–until Miryem steps in. Hardening her heart against her fellow villagers’ pleas, she sets out to collect what is owed–and finds herself more than up to the task. When her grandfather loans her a pouch of silver pennies, she brings it back full of gold.
But having the reputation of being able to change silver to gold can be more trouble than it’s worth–especially when her fate becomes tangled with the cold creatures that haunt the wood, and whose king has learned of her reputation and wants to exploit it for reasons Miryem cannot understand.
Review: I was so excited when I saw that this book was coming out! “Uprooted” is one of my favorite more recent fairytale novels, and part of the reason I loved it was that it was a stand alone book. So to see that Novik was releasing yet another fairytale that would likely also be a standalone made my day. I was even more excited when I realized that it looked to be a reinterpretation of “Rumpelstiltskin” which has been, by far, one of the more underutilized fairytales in the midst of this retellings resurgence. And all of my wildest hopes and dreams have come true! I absolutely adored this book and my hardback copy is already pre-ordered.
Miryem’s life has been one filled with strained relationships. Her grandfather, a wealthy money lender, has struggled to watch his daughter’s family slowly slip into poverty as his son-in-law, Miryem’s father, has failed to make an earning as a moneylender himself. What’s more, Miryem, a decisive and strong-willed young woman, has never understood her father’s struggles to collect. After being pushed to far, with her mother’s health at risk, Miryem finally takes over the business, to her father’s shame and sadness, as this is by no means a “proper” task for a young lady. But Miryem excels. Far too well even, as she draws the attention of the magical beings who wander the winter woods looting and raiding villages for gold. And who could be more valuable than a woman you seems to turn anything she touches to gold? Now tangled in a complicated world of fairy rules and wars, Miryem will need to draw on all the strength she has to save not only herself but perhaps even her country.
It’s no secret that I love fairytales, be they original or retellings. But as I’ve had a string of bad luck with “Beauty and the Beast” retellings (oof, there’s another one coming, folks, so look forward to that!), I have been hankering for a more original tale, unbound from conventions that all too often skew what could have been a good story. What’s more, Novik has already proven herself as being able to masterfully take the bare bones of a fairytale and make it something that only marginally resembles the original. And this held true for “Spinning Silver,” as well. While there are the barest tinges of the original “Rumplestilskin” tale before the story quickly (I’m talking a few chapters in) swerves into new and uncharted territory. And much better territory, when it comes down to it.
For one thing, given the description above and my own false assumption that it would follow the standard set by “Uprooted,” I went into this book fully expecting it to be Miryem’s tale following her struggles to turn rooms of silver into gold. And for the first several chapters, that’s what I got. But then a new character was introduced, a young woman from the same village whose home life is terrible and who is looking for a way out for her and her young brothers. Ok, now we have two. A few chapters more and yet another new character comes in, this time a young woman who is the disappointingly plain heiress to a father who has high hopes of rising his family’s position in the nobility. And that’s only the first three and the three who would turn out to be the more traditional lead characters for a book like this! But Novik doesn’t stop there and we get even more chapters from characters like the younger brothers, the nurse maid to the heiress, and even the villain himself at one point.
As has been documented on this blog several times before, I typically prefer books with only one narrator. I can handle two. But, like all silly reading “rules,” an exception was bound to come along, and that exception came here. While I did have favorites, Miryem herself, of course, as well as the heiress who played a much bigger role than I had expected at first, I enjoyed ALL of these characters. Not only did they all contribute important view changes on what became a very twisty plot, but each had a distinct voice, a “must” for any multiple POV book, and the point where I usually have criticisms for same-ness. They also all experienced clear character growth as the story progressed, though the amount of this was tied to the varied amount of page time each was given. Miryem’s sense of responsibility warred with the pride that lead her to become entangled in fairy wars. The peasant girl with the bad home life grew to have an appreciation for what family should mean. And the heiress found her own power in a world that had already written her off.
It also takes a lot of plot to provide ample room for movement and growth for a book with a cast of characters as large as this. And, again, Novik met this challenge head-on. The story slowly builds with several seemingly disparate through lines following each of these characters. But as the book continues, steadily these lines get woven together until by about halfway through the book the complicated network of intrigue is coming together. The players have been established and it is now up to several young women, all of whom are hugely out of their depth with creatures of magic and power surrounding them, to come together and save a country that is more and more plagued by long-lasting winters.
The magical elements were also surprising and unique. With the “Rumpelstilskin” parallel presented right at the get-go, I fully expected to see plenty of struggles regarding turning various things into gold. But that was only a small part of the fantasy world Novik created here. For one thing, the villain came completely out of left-field and was appropriately threatening and devious. Further, Miryem is not the only one to encounter and wield power in this story, and I was thrilled to see small references to other fairytales sprinkled here and there throughout the story.
The book also surprised me with a careful look at the anti-Sematism that Miryem, her family, and her people experienced throughout this book. While the story is set in a fantasy world, the challenging tension that is balanced between the Jewish people, their neighbors, and their roles in finance and banking was all too familiar to real-life history. Through Miryem, we see the struggles her family has faced with these prejudices, but also the important role her religion and culture holds in her life. Through other characters, we see their own biases and prejudices challenged and changed. It’s a nice added commentary in an otherwise purely fantastical tale.
Like “Uprooted,” the romance is understated in this story and isn’t a driving force for any of its characters. While I could have liked a bit more of it, I was quite pleased with what we did get, and, again, surprised that it wasn’t limited to our primary main character.
All in all, I absolutely loved this book. If you liked “Uprooted,” or like fairytales, or like fantasy, or just like good books, get your hands on this one!
Rating 10: Should I have been surprised? No. Was I thrilled? Yes. I can pretty much guarantee this will make my “Top Ten” list in December.