The Great Animorphs Re-Read: “Visser”

343187Animorphs #35.5: “Visser”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, December 1999

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: In an hour or so, once I was out of sight of land, I would lower my sails and wait for a Bug fighter to come lift me off the deck. The engine backwash of the Bug fighter would capsize the boat. Or I might put the Taxxon pilot to the test and see if he could ram the low-slung boat. That would puzzle the humans.

Either way, my body would never be found…

My time of lying low was over…

I would spearhead the invasion of Earth. I would take charge of our greatest conquest. I would stand alone atop the Yeerk military hierarchy.

I was to become Visser One.

Narrator: Edriss 562

Plot: It’s pretty well-established that most fans love “Visser.” Not only is it such a unique story, but it’s a great insight into the Yeerk mindset, culture and history. All told from the perspective of one of the few Yeerks that, even while still terrible, it’s hard to not kind of like and root for. Though this might also just be a side effect of rooting against Visser Three.

Oh Edriss, you’re so terrible, but also so cool.

Edriss 563, or Visser One, is on trial for treason. Leading the prosecution is none other than her nemesis, Visser Three. Hosted on earth, the Council of Thirteen, the leading Yeerks of the Empire are holographed in to oversee and rule over the case. Unknown to the Council, Visser Three has beaten and starved Edriss for the last several days and she is already close to Kandrona starvation. However, not one to be cowed by a Yeerk she sees as so beneath her as Visser Three, Edriss begins relating her tale, beginning all the way back to before Earth was discovered and she was a lowly subvisser. While she begins spinning this tale, she neatly implicated Visser Three in some suspicious behavior regarding Elfangor, the Taxxon home world, and two humans. All too soon, she has successfully raised enough suspicion to make it clear that now this trial is not only evaluating her own actions but the amazing lack of progress that Visser Three has made in the effort to conquer Earth.

In her early years as a subvisser, Edriss participated in the ongoing main objective of the Yeerk Empire: locating a Class 5 species. This would be a species that would serve as good Controllers, be easy to conquer, and, most importantly, exist in large numbers. While on duty, she hears a report come in of a new species that was seen on the Taxxon home world. This report was filed by none other than Visser Three (then a subvisser himself). Using these early interactions with Elfangor and Alloran, Visser One neatly ties Visser Three into the trial as a potential traitor himself.

Without the exact location, Edriss searches for an entire year to find the homeworld of this new species. But when she learns she is to be transferred to a new host, this time a Taxxon, she knows she must do more. She and a subordinate Yeerk, Essam, steal a ship and set out for the solar system that Edriss has narrowed her search down to. Visser Three tries to use this example of stealing a ship to end the trial, but the Council is unimpressed, knowing they have all committed some crimes in their quest to rise to power.

Throughout this all, Edriss’s host, Eva, Marco’s mom, fights back against Edriss. She mocks the Yeerk, saying that she will be killed for treason here and that her son Marco will defeat Visser Three. Edriss pushes Eva’s thoughts aside, but reflects that she has to get through this, to protect…them.

At this point in the trial, the Council requests to use a live memory file to relieve Edriss’s experience first hand. Through this medium, they see the next chunk of time. Edriss and Essam finally discover Earth. They make their way to Earth and disembark only to find themselves in the midst of a battle. They are shocked to find the humans attacking each other and worry that the humans have a level of weapons that would put them as a Class Four instead of Five,  being too dangerous to overtake. Edriss, however, is determined. They locate a lost solider and Edriss infests him. Through his mind, she begins to start piecing together what makes up humanity. She discovers that the soldier she is in is on the losing side of this war and that he sees his enemies, the Americans, as the most powerful beings on Earth. Edriss decides that the way to conquer Earth will be to conquer its most powerful first, so she and Essam set off for America.

The Council calls a break in the trial. While alone, Visser Three very unsutbly tries to trick Visser One into ganging together to take out the Council. Visser One sees through this plot quickly and mocks Visser Three for his idiocy.

“The real wonder, Visser, is that you ever rose to your present rank.”

The memory transfer continues. Essam and Edriss make their way to Hollywood. There, they each take on a human host. Edriss ends up in a young woman who has a drug problem and isn’t the brightest bulb. Essam takes on a male host as well, and through these two, the Yeerks continue to expand their knowledge of humans. Edriss is disappointed with her host, finding her silly and ignorant. But after digging further, she discovers what may be a weakness in humanity: people are sad and lonely, looking to belong and needing validation from others. She begins to think that humans can be made to come to the Yeerks willingly.

The memory transfer ends, and Visser One accuses Visser Three of squandering the opportunity she had left him, to conquer Earth. Visser Three claims that she left before the Andalite bandits showed up. Visser One ponders telling Visser Three the truth, that some of the “Andalite bandits” are human children. But Eva mocks her and warns her that by doing so, all Edriss will succeed in doing is handing over an easy victory to Visser Three that he can then claim as his own. Visser One goes on to explain that this understanding of human weakness is what lead to her idea of forming The Sharing. Visser Three calls for all-out war, saying Visser One’s strategy has been failing. Visser One can’t let this happen, she fears for the lives of two humans.

As the debate continues, two Hork Bajir suddenly attack Visser Three. Following them comes a tiger and a bear. As the battle wages, Visser One quickly becomes suspicious. There are only four attacking, not the usual six. What’s more, in all of the past attacks, there was always an Andalite fighting in his true form. He is notably absent. The tiger also seems unaware the its being fired at and the bear looks confused. It all becomes clear when the tiger suddenly turns and swipes at the bear itself: these are not the “Andalite bandits” at all. Visser Three has set the whole thing up. Visser Three takes out the tiger and incinerates the poor, confused bear.

After all four are killed, Visser One acknowledges that this round goes to Visser Three. He can now claim to have dealt with the Andalite bandits, and the flaws that Visser One saw would not be apparent to the Council who witnessed it. Visser One’s claim that Visser Three is incompetent is severely damaged. Eva is pleased, she would gladly die and be free to see Edriss herself defeated. Garouff, one of the Council members and a past mentor of Visser One, does seem skeptical of the convenience of the bandits attacking just now, but calls for the trial to continue.

There is a gap in Edriss’s memory dump of about a year, but Visser Three claims to have a witness for this time period: the host body of the deceased Essam. A human man is brought in raving and clearly mentally unhinged. But when asked, he clearly remembers Essam and Edriss and his time as a Controller. He claims that he, Hildy, and Essam were married to Edriss/Allison, and that Essam was in love with Edriss and was sure she felt the same way. That’s why he agreed to having the twins with her.

Edriss is shocked, as is the Council. She struggles to continue her story in calm, rational voice, all the while thinking that her only possible saving grace would be being able to contact Marco and the other “bandits.” Eva appreciates this irony. As her tale unfolds, she discusses her switch from her original, drug addict host to the much more clever and conniving, Allison Kim. Allison showed her the greater depths of humanity, especially their ability to patiently plan and work against a foe.

Visser Three is not satisfied with Visser One simply recounting this tale and calls for a live memory recall, a process in which others can enter the consciousness of the target and relive their memories. Visser One is horrified at this violation. Eva smugly points out that this is how it feels to be Controlled. After protesting, Edriss has to finally agree to letting Garouff perform the memory recall.

Through Edriss’s memory, Garouff witnesses her grow closer and closer to humanity. Not only does being disconnected from her own people have a great effect, but Allison Kim is a clever host and finds ways to draw Edriss and Essam further into the sway of the pleasures of living life as a human. Garouff is surprised and put off to find Edriss and Allison merging in a way and developing feelings for Essam/his human host. Through a series of flash forwards, Garouff sees what he thought to be impossible: two Yeerks falling in love along with their hosts. He witnesses the announcement that Edriss and Essam are expecting twins and finally concludes that Edriss, too, had become an addict, but to humanity itself. He says that while he believes Edriss may not be a traitor in the present, this is proof that she was in the past.

After the birth of the twins, the situation becomes more dire for Edriss and Essam as they realize that their portable Kandrona is running low and will soon expire. Not knowing what to do, the four of them, Edriss, Essam, Allison and Hildy all agree that if nothing else, the children must survive. Garouff ends the memory recall and calls for the trial to continue.

Edriss is shocked. What was revealed in the memory dump was more than enough to convict her, but Eva realizes what is going on: Visser One was not supposed to be convicted and the Council is still looking for a way to avoid it. They need to discredit Visser Three. To delay, Edriss claims that her host body needs food, and the Council agrees to adjourn for an hour.

Visser Three and One make their way out and we discover that the trial is being held in a room off of the Yeerk Pool. In the cafeteria, Visser One notices that another human Controller has a cell phone on her that seems to be working. After bumping into said Controller, she manages to snag the phone and make her way to the bathroom where she calls Marco.

Marco is wary, but impresses Visser One with his clear thinking and, to her surprise, cold-blooded approach to helping. It’s only after Visser One comes up with a clear plan on how to get the “bandits” into the Yeerk pool through a Taxxon feeding station that he tepidly agrees, speaking directly to his mother and saying that he’s not sure he can save her, but that he’ll do what is right.

Back in the trial, Edriss continues her story, explaining how she finally contacted the Yeerk Empire and delivered the news of a Class 5 species and her idea for The Sharing. Back home, she described Essam as behaving emotionally and becoming upset. Edriss continued work building The Sharing, but one day came home to the announcement that Essam was taking the children and leaving. He had decided that he couldn’t go through with it and would let himself die after the three day period of time, after which Hildy could take the children and care for them. He partially starved Edriss until she was forced to retreat to the pool, though he left her alternative host attached so she could Control him. After she regained a host body, Edriss set off after Essam/Hildy, Allison and the children.

Visser Three is lived at the story being told and the clear bias that Garouff shows towards Visser One. But Visser One scoffs at him and rattles off a long list of foolish plans of his that would have been avoided had he, like her, spent the time to more fully understand the humans. Visser Three continues pushing until Visser One finally bursts, ignoring warnins from Eva, that she doesn’t care for the human children. Visser Three uses this moment to walk in her son, now Controlled and tells her to prove her loyalty and shoot him. Visser One struggles, but it is clear that she still values her own life over love and prepares to fire the gun. Luckily, she is interrupted at the last minute by an attack by the Animorphs.

The Animorphs are fierce in their battle, quickly taking out large numbers of the Hork Bajir. Edriss observes that now the Council will see what fighting this group really looks like, unlike the silly pantomime that Visser Three put on earlier. In the midst of the battle, gorilla!Marco shows up and knocks Visser One out.

When she wakes up, the Animorphs have her retrained within a hologram while still in the Yeerk pool. Visser One tries to threaten them and tell them that their job is done, but Marco notes that if any of them are ever captured now, then her treason will be known to Yeerk who has access to their memories and Visser One’s little plea for help. Marco tells Visser One to leave his mother, that he knows his mother would rather die than continue living like this. Eva tells her to go, that Eva herself is like her son and can see the clear line from point to point. Visser One wonders if this means Eva knows what she must do, but finally gives in and leave Eva’s mind.

After a long period in darkness, she is surprised to find that once again she is being given entrance into Eva’s mind. Accessing her memories, Edriss witnesses the converation between Eva, Marco and the Animorphs. She see Eva convince them that she has to remain with Visser One, that is Visser One dies or is seen as disloyal, than Visser Three will win and will get his way with open warfare. In the memory, Marco address Visser One directly, telling her that if they hear that she has retaken control of attacking Earth they’ll send a recording of this meeting to the Council of Thirteen, whom they very much can contact because not all Yeerks are as loyal as Visser One may think.

The Animorphs then stun Visser One and retreat. As she lays waiting to be discovered, she thinks over some of the parts of her tale that she didn’t share. How Essam had been in on the plan of creating The Sharing originally, how it had always been Edriss’s ambition that drove them still. She reflects on her success of the first human to willing agree to be Controlled. The real break with Essam came weeks later when Edriss decided that she no longer needed Allison’s body, but would instead switch permanently to the body of the leader of The Sharing. Essam is horrified by her plans to kill Allison, the mother of their children. She thinks back on how part of the reason she may have chosen Eva as her next host body is the fact that Eva had a husband and child, something that part of her still missed.

The trial finally starts again, and Edriss concludes her story by explaining how she finally caught up with Essam, Allison and the children in a hospital. Essam is almost dead from starvation, and when he starts coming out of Hildy’s ear he dies and Edriss tries to pull him the rest of the way out. But he was still fairly attached, so part of his body remained in Hildy’s head, leading to his insanity. She kills Allison as well and leaves the children in the hospital, knowing that they will be adopted out from there.

As the Council leaves to discuss things, Eva vents that she regrets helping Edriss, that only a monster would kill Essam, Hildy, and Allison and then leave her children to be adopted away. The Council returns and says that both Vissers have been convicted, but that their sentences have been suspended. Visser Three is excited to start open warfare on Earth, but Garouff says no, that a large Andalite fleet is finally starting to gather and that open warfare would draw them out even more quickly. As for Visser One, she remains their most successful military office, so they are sending her to another system where she is to begin taking over yet another race.

Visser One is thrilled, and as they leave, she taunts Visser Three that she has information on the Andalite bandits. But she’d rather not share it just now.

Edriss 563: Edriss is a fascinating character. It’s clear that she is much more clever that Visser Three, but it is also this same cleverness that likely got her in all of this trouble to begin with. It seems in many ways that she began to understand humans too well and this is what lead to her feelings for her children. Throughout her story, Edriss continuously reflects on the strangeness of her attachment to the children, but we also see throughout the narrative that her ambition always came first, even in her moments of weakness. Not only ambition, but self-interest and survival. Had the Animorphs not attacked when they did, she would have shot her own son. And, towards the end of the story, she reflects on how it may be ok if her kids end up Controlled anyways; that way at least they will be forced to love her. Even her concept of love is corrupted, ultimately.

Eva: Eva is also an excellent character. It’s easy to see the connection between her and Marco. She herself draws comparisons between them with their ability to “see a clear line,” and some of  her sarcastic and biting retorts are right there with what we would expect to hear from Marco. She’s also incredibly strategic, repeatedly anticipating what the Council will need to hear and predicting the fact that Visser Three might have something up his sleeve with regards to the children.

<Hey, what is that sound?> Eva laughed. <Oh, I know. It’s the jaws of a trap snapping shut.>

Our Fearless Leader: At one point when Edriss is reviewing Eva’s memory of the discussion between herself and the Animorphs, the “tiger” make a particularly strong strategic point which leads Edriss to conclude that he, too, must be an Andalite to have that type of logic and clarity. When Jake later leaves it up to Marco to decide what to do with regards to killing Edriss or letting her re-infest Eva, Edriss finally realizes that Jake is also a human and is even more shocked at the capability of the group.

Xena, Warrior Princess: Both Tobias and Rachel are in Hork Bajir morph and are never really identified between them. They only get a line or two of dialogue, and it’s not too distinguishable which one said what.

A Hawk’s Life: [see Rachel section]

Peace, Love, and Animals: Cassie strangely chooses to use her polar bear morph in the attack on the pool, so other than Jake, Marco, and Ax, the group isn’t in their usual formation. It’s an interesting choice. I’m guessing that they knew having two Hork Bajir morphs would be useful in adding to the confusion and that Cassie’s wolf morph wouldn’t have enough fire power with out the usual backup of Rachel’s grizzly, so she went polar bear. At one point, Marco turns to Cassie to confirm the truth of what is being said and she also, in bear morph, tries to hug him at one point.

The Comic Relief: Obviously Marco has the most of all the Animorphs in this book. And from the very beginning, Edriss is impressed not only by his quick thinking and ability to strategize, but by his cold-heartedness with regards to his mother. When he’s talking Edriss in the end, threatening to kill her/Eva if she doesn’t come out of his mother’s head, he references a license plate that said “Live Free or Die,” knowing that his mother (and Edriss through her) will recognize this discussion from his childhood and know that Marco knows that Eva will agree with his decision to approach things like this. Marco is really at his best in books like this when he’s dealing with Visser One/Eva. His ruthlessness is at its peak, but is balanced by his unique ability to quickly think through all of the options and anticipate the moves of other ones, like Visser One.

E.T./Ax Phone Home:  Edriss witnesses a bit of Ax’s particular vendetta against Visser Three as Ax goes straight for him in the initial fight at the Council meeting.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: Poor Hildy! What a horrifying concept, to have half a dead Yeerk still stuck in your head. Not only is the idea disgusting, but the results he has to live with, the insanity, sound pretty terrible as well.

Couples Watch!: Edriss and Essam’s “love affair” is the real “romance” of the story. But throughout it all, while Edriss does develop some sort of feelings for Essam and the children, we see her again and again chooser herself and her own future above others. Essam is the only one to truly understand and succumb to human emotion. In the end, he chooses to die rather than live in the world that Edriss is working towards, and what pushes him to it is a threat to Edriss’s host body, Allison, and his fear for the future of teh children. If he had lived, we can be sure he would have been part of the Yeerk Peace Movement.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: Some of the best parts of this book are the pieces of dialogue between Visser Three and Visser One. Not only is there no love lost between these two, but Visser One is on point with her put-downs. At one point, she reflects out loud that Visser Three is less likely to be working with the Andalites, but instead sounds as insane as the Helmacrons. We also get to see just how frustrated Visser Three has become with the war effort on Earth. While it is clear that he wants to get rid of Visser One, it seems he’s equally interested in gaining permission to start an all-out war on Earth, having had such little success following Visser One’s initial plan. Visser One also at one point notes how strange it is that Visser Three is this bad at understanding humans, as his claim to fame was the fact that he took such care to truly understand Andilites. You also have to wonder that if he knows Andilites all that well, the he’d start to pick up on some of the stranger behaviors of the Animorphs that aren’t inline with how a group of true Andalite bandits would attack.

“You’ve never understood anything but brute force and crude manipulation, Visser Three. Your plans are grandiose and absurd. You wasted how much time and how many resources inventing a clever potion to destroy human free will? A failure! As anyone who knows humans could have told you. You try and seize control of the head of state of the most powerful nations and end up alarming them, making half of them suspect our presence on Earth! You spend a fortune in pursuit of an Anti-Morphing Ray that doesn’t work! Why? Because you cannot even manage to wipe out a handful of Andalite refugees!”

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Obviously, as always Marco and his mom’s situation is one of the most tragic in this story. You have to feel particularly bad for Eva at the end of this book. After essentially coaching Edriss through the last half of her trial and then choosing to return to be Controlled to try to spare Earth, she ends up having to confront the true horror that is Edriss’s mind: no remorse for what’s she done and now simple glee at the fact that she has an entirely new space system to begin conquering.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: We have to give some credit to Visser Three for coming up with the plan to stage an attack by the “Andalite bandits.” It’s a pretty clever ruse and one that really had no immediate downside. There no way he could have suspected that Visser One would not only know where the bandits really were but would have a way of quickly contacting them and convincing them to, essentially, do her a massive, and dangerous, favor.

Favorite Quote: Here’s one of the great Marco moments, when he’s on the phone with Edriss and deciding whether or not he and the others will attempt to attack the Yeerk pool:

My mind was racing. Incredible! The little monster was cold-bloodedly writing off his own mother!
He didn’t answer. Instead he said, “Mom, I know you can hear me. I don’t know if I can save you. You understand that, right? I’ll do what’s right. I’ll do what I have to do.”

And one of the many great moments between Visser One and Three:

<Aaaarrrgghhh!> Visser Three screamed and slammed his tail blade into the wall.

“You really should learn some self-control, Visser.”

Scorecard: Yeerks 8, Animorphs 15

I’m going to give the Animorphs a point here. We don’t see it on page, but any attack on the Yeerk pool is a huge undertaking, and they pull it off seamlessly. What’s more, they did all of the right mental equations in this situation. Yes, it was worth the risk to save Visser One in order to prevent all out war. And they planned ahead using Chee technology to stay in the Yeerk pool longer and recorded the entire thing to use as blackmail against Visser One.

Rating: All of the Chronicles books are so strong, and they’re all so different. The “Andalite Chronicles” is an adventure/romance, essentially. The “Hork Bajir Chronicles” is a tragedy. And this is strange, villain’s perspective type story. I do wish that there hadn’t been the pointless cliffhanger at the end of the last Marco book. Not only did it not improve that book one bit, but it spoiled some of the bigger moments of this book. Reading it this way, we all know that at some point she’s going to contact them, so readers are just waiting for it to happen. But if we didn’t know that was coming, how much more surprising and powerful would it have been when it did?! It would have been a huge moment in the series. But alas. Either way, “Visser” is an excellent book and adds a lot of background on the initial days of Earth’s invasion, especially with how and why The Sharing was created.

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 Outsider”

36124936Book: “The Outsider” by Stephen King

Publishing Info: Scribner, May 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: An unspeakable crime. A confounding investigation. At a time when the King brand has never been stronger, he has delivered one of his most unsettling and compulsively readable stories.

An eleven-year-old boy’s violated corpse is found in a town park. Eyewitnesses and fingerprints point unmistakably to one of Flint City’s most popular citizens. He is Terry Maitland, Little League coach, English teacher, husband, and father of two girls. Detective Ralph Anderson, whose son Maitland once coached, orders a quick and very public arrest. Maitland has an alibi, but Anderson and the district attorney soon add DNA evidence to go with the fingerprints and witnesses. Their case seems ironclad.

As the investigation expands and horrifying answers begin to emerge, King’s propulsive story kicks into high gear, generating strong tension and almost unbearable suspense. Terry Maitland seems like a nice guy, but is he wearing another face? When the answer comes, it will shock you as only Stephen King can.

Review: Goodness gracious, I seriously love Stephen King so much. He’s been one of my favorites since I was in middle school, and twenty years later I’m still always anxious and excited to read books by him that are new (or new to me, as his catalog is extensive and I haven’t read a good portion of it). I camped outside my old library the day that “The Outsider” came out because I knew that it was going to be on the new wall and up for grabs, as opposed to out on request. I finally started it a couple weeks later, when the due date was starting to loom on the horizon, and devoured most of it while in bed with the stomach flu. But honestly, even if I hadn’t been bedridden, I would have devoted most of my day to sitting inside reading “The Outsider” because it is that good. It is THAT good.

“The Outsider” is a combination of writing genres that we have come to know King for: there’s one part of it that is straight up horror, but then there is another that I would classify as a crime procedural not unlike his “Bill Hodges” Trilogy (more on that later, though). While it starts out as a tense crime drama, with our main character Detective Ralph Anderson trying to solve a horrific murder in his small Oklahoma town, it slowly and methodically evolves into a scary story that gave me an unshakable case of the willies. It goes slow, but it builds up the dread in a way that feels as effortless as it does suffocating. As we get to see the perspectives of a number of the players in this story, from the frustrating (a prosecutor who is more interested in his re-election than trying to solve inconsistencies) to the devastating (the family of the boy who was found raped and murdered), we get the full feel for the town and many of its inhabitants and become attached to a number of them as well. With all of the plot reveals with these characters and the case that has torn the town apart, I was almost always taken for a ride and surprised by the various reveals, outcomes, and twists that come to pass. And then the game completely changed, and while I knew it was going to change, it was still a gut punch. And a moment where I had to set the book down and decompress before going forward.

Then there are the horror elements. I feel like we’re kind of getting back to some old school King in this book, as his more recent forays have been more on the gritty crime drama (with a sprinkling of the supernatural) and fantasy sides. This one has some scary imagery and scary moments that go beyond the strange, and the monster of the book, or ‘the outsider’, as the characters start referring to it, jumps off the page in both quiet and violent moments. As the characters grapple with a supernatural threat that many of them don’t even believe in, we see ‘the outsider’ hoping to keep ahead of them, through any means necessary. The inspirations for this new monster are derived from a couple sources, specifically El Cuca, a monster that eats children that is derived from Portuguese, Latin American, and Spanish folklore, and “Dracula”. King, of course, adds his own twists, of course, and the final product is frightful and spooky. And don’t think that I didn’t see what parallels King was drawing back to “Dracula” with this rag tag group of individuals going out to hunt down ‘the outsider’ for a final showdown. It was grinning the entire time. Just when I thought that this delicious mix of horror and crime couldn’t get any better, something amazing happened….. Holly Gibney from the “Bill Hodges” Trilogy showed up.

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And in that moment, overwhelmed by sickness and terrible world events, I was overcome by emotion and burst into tears. (source)

As you might remember from previous reviews on this site, I love Holly Gibney with all my heart. She is determined and strange and anxious and loyal, and when it became obvious that this wasn’t a mere cameo, but a full on lead role in this book, “The Outsider” transcended everything I had expected of it. Holly is the perfect addition to Ralph and his group, as she adds a bit of her general quirkiness and social awkwardness to their no nonsense skepticism, and it makes for a fun combination. It was also a bittersweet tidbit of getting a glimpse into her life post Bill Hodges, and how much she misses him as well as how much he has influenced her. She is still the amazing Holly from the “Bill Hodges” books, but now she gets to stand on her own two feet and step into the spotlight.

I will say, though, that the ending did feel a little rushed once we got to the climax, and while I know that stuck landings are not a guarantee with King, I was hoping that this one would really knock it out of the park. The good news is that the journey getting there was still fabulous, but it was still disappointing that it didn’t quite go the distance that it could have gone given the fabulous lead up. King’s greatest foes are his endings, and we can consider “The Outsider” another casualty in this ongoing battle of stuck vs not stuck.

Overall, “The Outsider” was a great read and another excellent tale of horror from the horror master. King is in the middle of a new golden age of his writing, and I am sure that “The Outsider” is going to endure just as some of his other classics have.

Rating 9: Another triumph from my favorite horror writer of all time.

Reader’s Advisory: 

“The Outsider” is included on “The Definitive Horror Book List”, and “2018 Mystery Thriller Horror”.

Find “The Outsider” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “A Treacherous Curse”

26244626Book: “A Treacherous Curse” by Deanna Raybourn

Publishing Info: Berkley, January 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley

Book Description: London, 1888. As colorful and unfettered as the butterflies she collects, Victorian adventuress Veronica Speedwell can’t resist the allure of an exotic mystery—particularly one involving her enigmatic colleague, Stoker.

His former expedition partner has vanished from an archaeological dig with a priceless diadem unearthed from the newly discovered tomb of an Egyptian princess. This disappearance is just the latest in a string of unfortunate events that have plagued the controversial expedition, and rumors abound that the curse of the vengeful princess has been unleashed as the shadowy figure of Anubis himself stalks the streets of London.

But the perils of an ancient curse are not the only challenges Veronica must face as sordid details and malevolent enemies emerge from Stoker’s past.Caught in a tangle of conspiracies and threats—and thrust into the public eye by an enterprising new foe—Veronica must separate facts from fantasy to unravel a web of duplicity that threatens to cost Stoker everything. . . .

Review: I am now completely caught up on the Veronica Speedwell novels! Yay!! There are now no more Vernoica Speedwell novels to read until MARCH 2019! Boo!! But, as always, it is best to focus on the present instead of dreading the long, cold dreary months until next spring when the next book is finally released. And, surprising no one, this book was delight, and I blazed through it much more quickly than I would have liked!

Veronica and Stoker are minding their own business, busily cataloging the items that have been gathering dust in their patron’s expansive properties for generations. All seems well until a sensationalist story of a cursed expedition to Egypt begins making a splash across the local newspapers. But what should have remained a simple curiosity, becomes much more dire when the pair realize that the linchpin for the mystery is a man who was formerly Stoker’s partner. What’s worse, this partner was the one to run off with Stoker’s ex-wife. So when this man disappears, Stoker finds himself squarely in the cross-hairs of an investigation that is only too likely to recast him, once again, as a villain of society. Veronica, of course, has something to say about this, and so with her leading the charge, the pair set out to unravel the mystery and secure Stoker’s reputation and future.

I’ve made comparisons to the Amelia Peabody series from the start, but the subject matter of this one really hits that nail squarely on the head. I’ve always been interested in Egyptology (I blame my unrepentant love of 90s “The Mummy!”), so I was excited to see it as a focal point of this book. There are the requisite references to ancient gods, a few curses running around, and ancient jewelry that’s gone missing. And what would a good Egyptian mystery be without a mummy? So of course there is one of those as well. I enjoyed the sprawling cast of characters that made up the suspect pool of the story, all having an extensive history together working on digs in that area of the world. The tangled relationships and roles left me constantly guessing as to the motives of each player and how they could be involved with the disappearance of Stoker’s former friend.  It was even more fun reading these bits than usual, as references to famous hotels and locations in Eygpt were familiar from my reading of the Amelia Peabody books.

While I did like these elements of the mystery and my general appreciation for the topic remained, I was a bit put off by the constant comparisons to the other series that was going on in my mind. The line was just a bit too close between the two. Not Stoker and Veronica themselves, since as characters they have enough established to differentiate themselves from Amelia and Emerson. But the way the mystery unfolded and the roles the characters involved played did start to feel a bit predictable having come off reading so many historical mysteries featuring similar topics.

Veronica and Stoker were excellent as always. Veronica, especially, seems to really come into her own in this book. Stoker, understandably, struggles with the entire situation and is thrown into numerous scenes that shake him quite badly, most notably a confrontation with his ex-wife. I particularly liked Veronica’s tongue-lashing of Stoker when he too often fell into bouts of self-pity. Stoker’s arc and past have been slowly unrolling for the past several books, but I do hope that this confrontation with his past as forced upon him by this story will put an end to some of the more mopey and melodramatic moments he could be prone to. Veronica always plays nicely off this aspect of him, but at a certain point, there needs to be a bit more growth on Stoker’s side. So while I liked the situations that arose here, I’m hopeful that this will be the end of this particular plot point.

A complaint I’ve had in the past has had to do with the endings often feeling rushed and too convenient. This book mostly avoids that same pitfall. Mostly. Instead, there are various reveals scattered throughout the story. This allows what is really a very complicated mystery with a ton of moving pieces to come together in a more natural and less info-dumpy manner. However, again, the ending did fall prone to the convenience factor with the villains neatly doing away with themselves. It seems to be a common trait.

The romance between Veronica and Stoker was understandably muted in this story, given the nature of the mystery and the involvement of Stoker’s ex, whom he still struggles to move on from. Similarly to his tendency towards the morose, I’m hopeful that this book marks a turning point in their relationship as well. No need to rush to the alter or anything, but a bit more progress in this area would be nice.

I very much enjoyed “A Treacherous Curse.” It remained true to all the aspects that I’ve enjoyed previously, most notably the strength of its two leads and the inclusion of a legitimately puzzling mystery. The topic of the mystery was a bit dampened  by comparisons to the Amelia Peabody books, because let’s be honest, there’s no beating those stories as far as historical mysteries in Egypt go. But this goes down as another solid entry in this series, and if you haven’t already, definitely check it out. Or save it up a bit until March is closer so you’re not waiting forever like me.

Rating 8: While Egypt remains Amelia Peabody’s stronghold, Veronica and Stoker are setting up camp as a strong second.

Reader’s Advisory:

“A Treacherous Curse” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Regency and Victorian Mysteries” and “Historical Mysteries and Thrillers Featuring Women.”

Find “A Treacherous Curse” at your library using WorldCat.

 

Kate’s Review: “#Murdertrending”

34521785Book: “#Murdertrending” by Gretchen McNeil

Publishing Info: Freeform, August 2018

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

Book Description: WELCOME TO THE NEAR FUTURE, where good and honest 8/18 citizens can enjoy watching the executions of society’s most infamous convicted felons, streaming live on The Postman app from the suburbanized prison island Alcatraz 2.0.

When eighteen-year-old Dee Guerrera wakes up in a haze, lying on the ground of a dimly lit warehouse, she realizes she’s about to be the next victim of the app. Knowing hardened criminals are getting a taste of their own medicine in this place is one thing, but Dee refuses to roll over and die for a heinous crime she didn’t commit. Can Dee and her newly formed posse, the Death Row Breakfast Club, prove she’s innocent before she ends up wrongfully murdered for the world to see? Or will The Postman’s cast of executioners kill them off one by one?

Review: Special thanks to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this book!

One of my cinematic weaknesses is Arnold Schwarzenegger movies from the 1980s. The best way to give me a great day is a glass of champagne and a marathon of movies like “The Terminator”, “Predator”, and “Commando” (and maybe toss in “Kindergarten Cop” just to lighten things up a bit). But if I had to pick the one that I like the most just based on cheese factor, it’s going to be “The Running Man”. For the uninitiated, the plot is that Arnold is a fugitive who gets roped into a reality show in which convicts are hunted down and killed by flamboyant ‘stalkers’, all in the name of entertainment. Richard “Family Feud” Dawson plays the nefarious TV show host Killian, and Minnesota’s own former Governor Jesse Ventura plays retired stalker turned Aerobics Coach Captain Freedom.

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Minnesota, hail to thee. (source)

“#Murdertrending” wants to be “The Running Man” with sprinkles of “The Breakfast Club” thrown in, and while it had the ambition to combine the two, it falls a little short.

But first I will start with the good. Given that I am a huge sucker for these deadly dystopian stories involving death as entertainment, “#Murdertrending” was going to always have the advantage right out of the gate. Honestly, if you have a story where people are being killed on a reality show and it stands in as a critique of society, I am going to be here for it. And McNeil has created a world that feels familiar enough so the reader can relate to it, but removed enough that it can definitely be considered future dystopia. Dee Guerrera is thrust into Alcatraz 2.0 at the beginning of the book, and it’s the perfect way to slowly reveal the world building in an organic way. One of my favorite aspects of this book was the social media bookends to each chapter, with viewers and ‘fans’ of the show chatting on message boards and Twitter-like sites. It was a good way to show how the world reacts to and perceives the show they are watching, and also shows how their perceptions start to change as Dee and her allies on Alcatraz 2.0 try to survive the island. The tech on the island was fun too, with cameras and drones being used in creepy and interesting ways. The stakes did feel fairly high, as McNeil did a good job of showing consequences and how deadly they could be if you made a wrong move on the island. In terms of plot and world building, “#Murdertrending” was an addictive and fun book.

But when it comes to the characters in this book, aka the Death Row Breakfast Club, I was left a bit underwhelmed overall. Dee was fine for the most part, but a lot of the time (given that it’s first person) she slips into the ‘I’m snarky and sarcastic, isn’t that cool?’ attitude that we see far too often in YA thrillers and horror. I wasn’t all that invested in her story, be it surviving the island or clearing her name in the murder of her stepsister, and while I liked how she interacted with some of her fellow prisoners (specifically Nyles, a British teen who is geeky as heck) I wasn’t worried about her well being. I also felt that some of her backstory involving a kidnapping didn’t quite mesh well with other parts of her character, and I wish that it had been integrated a bit better. The group mostly fit a bunch of familiar tropes: the jock, the bad girl, the nerdy boy, the weirdo, etc, and none of them felt like they were much more beyond their tropes. If I was pressed to pick a favorite character, I’d probably go for Griselda, the snarky and mean bad girl who is clearly the Bender of this Breakfast Club. But even that was more because I LOVE that character trope of ‘damaged bad boy/girl who is actually hurting’ and less because of who she was as a full person. Even when a big reveal came near the end of the book, while I didn’t necessarily see it coming I didn’t really have an “OH MY GOSH WHAT?!” moment from it either. And oh man, the ending. I hate endings like this one. I won’t spoil it, but just know that it was frustrating to get to the last page and have that tossed out there.

“#Murdertrending” had a lot of positives going for it and a couple negatives as well, but I did find it to be an entertaining read that kept me going. If you aren’t so worried about characterization and are just here for straight up thrills, it’s a good book to end the summer with!

Rating 6: An entertaining thriller that doesn’t rock any boats, “#Murdertrending” is a solid story that feels part “Running Man”, part “Breakfast Club”. I just wish that the characters had been a little more well rounded outside the usual tropes.

Reader’s Advisory:

“#Murdertrending” is new and isn’t on many specific Goodreads lists, but it is included on “Should Be Made Into a TV Show” , and would fit in on “Let the (Deadly) Games Begin!”

Find “#Murdertrending” at your library using WorldCat!

Book Club Review: “Deathless”

8694389We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing bookclub running for the last several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is “B-Sides,” where we pick different books from previous authors that we read in the club.

For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for book club. We’ll also post the next book coming up in book club. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own book club!

Book: “Deathless” by Catherynne M. Valente

Publishing Info: Tor Books, March 2011

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

A-Side Book: “The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making”

Book Description: Koschei the Deathless is to Russian folklore what devils or wicked witches are to European culture: a menacing, evil figure; the villain of countless stories which have been passed on through story and text for generations. But Koschei has never before been seen through the eyes of Catherynne Valente, whose modernized and transformed take on the legend brings the action to modern times, spanning many of the great developments of Russian history in the twentieth century.

Deathless, however, is no dry, historical tome: it lights up like fire as the young Marya Morevna transforms from a clever child of the revolution, to Koschei’s beautiful bride, to his eventual undoing. Along the way there are Stalinist house elves, magical quests, secrecy and bureaucracy, and games of lust and power. All told, Deathless is a collision of magical history and actual history, of revolution and mythology, of love and death, which will bring Russian myth back to life in a stunning new incarnation.

Serena’s Thoughts

This was my bookclub book choice. After reading and loving the entire “Fairyland” series, I was eager to see what Valente had to offered with a new fantasy setting and topic. How would her lyrical writing style and witty twists of nonsense translate to the seemingly much more dark and serious tone of a Russian fairytale?

As a young girl growing up, Marya sees more than most. She sees the bird-forms that her sisters’ husbands wore before changing into men and asking for their hands. She’s visited the small beings who run her house via committee. She knows there is magic in the world, and she is ready and waiting for her turn. But what she gets is Koschei, a dark being who has served as the nightmare in Russina folklore. However, Marya is no wilting flower herself, and over the years proves to be the challenging equal of even a being so great as Koschei.

This is the story of Marya, but it is also the story of Russia. And with that dual focus and the time period during which this is set, there is a darkness that permeates the story. There are some incredibly rough scenes that draw from historical events and Valente doesn’t back down from the tragedy of it all. It was quite the change from the up-beat and fuzzy tone of her other books, but not a change for the worse. I don’t have a strong foundation in Russian history, so there were various points where I had to put the book down out of curiosity about the real-life events that were being referred to. However, the book and fairytale aspects are also strong enough on their own that this type of extra research was by no means necessary.

I very much enjoyed Marya herself and the way she moved through her own fairytale. I also wasn’t familiar with the original folktale, so I read up on that as I went along, too. The story was slow to start, but once it gets into the truly fantastical elements and onto Marya’s own adventures and quests, I was able to zip along.

I did struggle a bit more with Valente’s flowery way of writing in this story. While she still had several very beautiful lines and highly quoatable sections, there were also portions that felt like they just dragged on just for the sake of lyrical lines. But those lines were actually adding anything to the story. It felt like an editor could have been used to really pair these sections down. This would have not only helped the pacing, which, like I said, could be slow at times, especially in the beginning. But it also would have left the remaining beautiful bits as stronger for being more rare.

Kate’s Thoughts

I was the person in book club who didn’t really care for “The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making”, but when I heard the plot of “Deathless” I was game to give Valente another try. I don’t know much about Russian folklore outside of Baba Yaga, and my knowledge of Russian history is admittedly limited, but I thought that this could be a fun break from the usual fairy tale retellings that usually have a huge focus on Western European stories. And these aspects were the things that I liked best about this book.

I had never heard of the Marya and Koschei story, but found myself completely taken in by their admittedly problematic relationship. Yes, he kidnapped her as a child and there was certainly a fair amount of manipulation to begin with (very “V for Vendetta”, as we agreed in book club). But ultimately, like in “V for Vendetta”, Marya became more than Koschei, became an incredibly tough and strong protagonist who takes back her agency, and has a new kind of connection to Koschei. Sure, in real life this isn’t a good thing, but HEY GUESS WHAT I DON’T EVEN CARE!! I was one hundred percent invested in them and was rooting for them, even when Ivan showed up (as he does in the original story), because Ivan can’t POSSIBLY get Marya like Koschei does. I went back and looked up the original Marya and Koschei the Deathless fairy tale, and I liked how Valente subverted it to fit along with important, and sometimes dark as night, moments in Russian history.

But ultimately, I still have a very hard time with Valente’s writing style. While I liked the plot, I found myself slogging through this book because of how detailed and flowery her writing is, and also found myself having to skip back and re-read sections just to figure out what was going on. I don’t like having to do that repeatedly in a book, and I was doing that a fair amount in “Deathless”. I think that her writing style and the way that she likes to make her fantasy worlds (another thing I am not keen on) are just not conducive to how I like my stories.

I’m glad that we read “Deathless” if only because we stretched our reading muscles a bit and covered unknown folk tales from a not as familiar culture and history.

Serena’s Rating 7: I enjoyed this book, especially the darker fairytale aspects and the tie-ins to Russian history, however I felt that Valente’s writing style too often distracted from the story itself or needlessly dragged out sections of the plot.

Kate’s Rating 6: I’m still not really into fantasy and think that Valente’s style is a bit too flowery for me, but I liked the Russian fairy tale aspect, and I was deeply invested in the messed up romance between Marya and Koshchei.

Book Club Questions:

  1. This is a fairytale re-telling. How does it compare to other fairytales you’ve read? Were you familiar with the original fairytale this was based on? Or Russian fairytales in general?
  2. The story blends fairytales with historical fiction. How did this work for you? Were there parts you particularly intriguing or you felt could have been expanded upon more?
  3. There was also some subtle or not too subtle commentaries on politics and the Communist regime, like the committees of house imps and references to Party slogans. How did these work for you?
  4. Mixed with the topics of war and fear, the story explores love and marriage. Marya and Koschei have a tumultuous (to say the least) relationship. What did you think of the arc of their story? How did you feel about the character Ivan and his role in the story?
  5. Valente has a very unique writing style. Did this add or detract from the story in your opinion?

Reader’s Advisory:

“Deathless” is included on the Goodreads lists “Dark, Lyrical Fairytales”, and “Russian Motifs in Fantasy”.

Find “Deathless” at your library using WorldCat!

Next Book Club Book: “Moonshot: And Indigenous Comics Collection (Vol. 2)” by Hope Nicholson

Serena’s Review & Giveaway: “Spinning Silk”

39810065Book: “Spinning Silk” by T. Cook

Publishing Info: Amazon Publishing, May 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: provided for review

Book Description: A weaver’s genius ignites the jealousy of her peers, the possessiveness of her mill’s proprietress and the hopes of an unborn nation.

Furi knows she was born to create, but the fabric of her life otherwise weaves mysteries. These things are more than they appear:

Shin, the gardener, with his unlikely power over life and death;
A mysterious illness with a selective death route;
Kitsuke artist Madame Sato, who would fashion Furi into a reincarnation of her own dead daughter;
The princess of a puppet emperor, who has strange loyalties to a humble gardener; and
The vaporous rumor of a war with no apparent aggressor.

“Spinning Silk” is inspired by Japanese folklore including the love story of Orihime and Hikoboshi as well as a radical reimagining of the terrible tsuchigumo (spider spirits) and jorogumo demons.

Review: I was sent an excerpt of this book several months ago, and while reviewing it the strength of the author’s writing and the intriguing plot nabbed my attention. After receiving my copy, I blew through this story quickly. While it’s not without faults, “Spinning Silk” was a unique story, almost a fairytale-retelling but inspired by Japanese folklore instead of the Western-based fairytales that are all too common.

Furi is an orphan who has been raised as a slave. However, she has an incredible talent for weaving, a talent so great that it draws the eyes of some very important people. Her path soon crosses with several other unique characters, most importantly, perhaps, a gardener who has power of his own. Her journey is one filled with death and darkness, a mysterious illness that strikes in an unknowable way. But Furi persists through it all, discovering her own strengths within.

We all know how I feel about fairytale-retellings. That said, is is more and more difficulty to find truly intriguing stories. The basic fairytales have been told over and over in almost every way. So I’m always incredibly excited when I see a story like this that is not only drawing from folktales that I am not familiar with, but that is set in a place and culture that is A.) not my own and B.) one that is rarely called upon as a setting and foundation for a story such as this. All cultures have stories at their heart, and yet we’re only familiar with a very few.

I know very little about Japanese culture and folklore. I was not familiar at all with the story that serves as the basis for this book. But what made it so excellent was that this didn’t matter! While I can’t speak to the authenticity of these things (again, given my lack of prior knowledge of the subject), I will say that coming from a fairly ignorant standpoint, I felt that the world that Cook drew and the tale itself felt truly authentic. She avoided several of the pitfalls common to stories set in places/cultures that are not one’s own. Notably, her use of Japanese language. The book does has a helpful list of terms in the back for those of us who are not familiar, but the story itself is blessedly free of any in-text explanation for terms and words. Because, of course, why Furi explain words that are common to her?

I also liked the way the story wove together the fantastical elements and the historical parts. While I do wish there there had been a bit more lead up to the fantasy aspects (they come into play much more strongly towards the end), the historical portions of the story were spot on. I felt immediately immersed in this setting and became quickly invested in Furi’s story. The writing is excellent (again, this was one of the things that immediately drew me to the book), and while the story does unfold slowly, I felt that it was worth the payoff in the end.

However, this book definitely falls into the “dark” category, as far as fantasy fiction goes. The tone is often somber and bad things happen to good people. I like dark fantasies as a whole, so I was mostly fine with this. I did struggle a bit with the end, but I understood the point the author was making and, while a valid one, it simply isn’t my preferred reading experience. But that should in no way take away from the reading experience of others. This is just a very subjective preference of mine.

I also very much like Furi herself. The story is told from her perspective, but even being in her mind, all is not revealed. Not only do readers need to piece together the motivations and histories of other characters, but Furi herself doesn’t come out and tell you everything about herself. This also contributed to the slow-moving factor of the book, but I didn’t mind it. Instead, I felt like I was slowly learning who Furi truly was and this increased knowledge built alongside the stakes of the story as a whole.

Overall, I very much enjoyed this book. And I don’t think enough people have read it! To help with that, I’m offering a giveaway of my copy of “Spinning Silk.” The giveaway is open to US entrants only and runs  until August 16.

Click here to enter!

Rating 7: An exciting new fantasy fairytale set in a culture that is often not seen in these types of stories. A bit on the darker side, but worth the slower reading experience in the end.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Spinning Silk” isn’t on many Goodreads lists, but it should be on “Re-tellings of Little Known Fairy Tales.”

Find “Spinning Silk” on Amazon!

Kate’s Review: “Force of Nature”

34275222Book: “Force of Nature” by Jane Harper

Publishing Info: Flatiron Books, February 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Five women go on a hike. Only four return. Jane Harper, the New York Times bestselling author of The Dry, asks: How well do you really know the people you work with?

When five colleagues are forced to go on a corporate retreat in the wilderness, they reluctantly pick up their backpacks and start walking down the muddy path.

But one of the women doesn’t come out of the woods. And each of her companions tells a slightly different story about what happened.

Federal Police Agent Aaron Falk has a keen interest in the whereabouts of the missing hiker. In an investigation that takes him deep into isolated forest, Falk discovers secrets lurking in the mountains, and a tangled web of personal and professional friendship, suspicion, and betrayal among the hikers. But did that lead to murder?

Review: Remember when I read “The Dry”,, and while I wasn’t fully into it I was excited about the potential of Jane Harper’s character Aaron Falk and where we could go with him? Shortly after that review was posted, I got my hands on “Force of Nature”, the second book in the Aaron Falk Series. My ambivalence towards “The Dry” meant that “Force of Nature” sat on my really too high book pile for far too long, and that by the time I got to it I only had a couple of days to read it before it was due. But almost immediately after I started it, my interest was piqued by the reference to an off page character whom I knew right away was based on Ivan Milat, the Backpacker Killer. That little tidbit, combined with a mystery about a group of women who go into the mountains on a team building hike that leads to wilderness survival and the disappearance of one of them?

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Okay, I’m intrigued. (source)

The mystery of “Force of Nature” is what happened to Alice, a cold and ambitious corporate worker, while she and four others went on a hike. Alice has connections to Falk and his partner Carmen, as she was giving them information of a nature that we are not necessarily privy to when our story begins. We switch off between two perspectives: the first is of Aaron and Carmen as they get tied into the investigation after Bree, Beth, Jill, and Lauren leave the woods without Alice. The second is what exactly did happen in the woods between the five women, and  how the tensions that were already present between them could have erupted into something more than arguments and spats. Like most thrillers, we get to see the two narratives give us different insights, and we get to see the statements given to Falk unravel and transform into different realities as we go back into the disastrous hike itself. I knew that the four remaining women were going to be unreliable to Falk, but it was fun seeing it all unfold. I liked how it all slowly came together, and while I figured out a majority of the solution pretty early on, I still really enjoyed traipsing along the way as Falk and Carmen sleuthed. For me, the most fun of this story were in two things: the survival story of the five women (and how they quickly descended into paranoia and belligerence), and the hints and clues to Ivan Milat (known as Martin Kovac in this book) and the horrific serial murders he committed. For those who don’t know, Milat found backpackers and campers in the Belangelo State forest in New South Wales, Australia, and killed them in awful, violent ways. He’d then leave their bodies off trail in the forest. He’s officially responsible for seven murders, but in reality it was probably many more. The possibility that these characters might not only have the elements and each other to fear, but ALSO a crazed murderer, is really my kind of cup of tea, and it gave this book the oomph that REALLY made it a fun read.

But Harper has also given us a bit more to chew on with the characters this time. I don’t know if it’s because this time it’s not as personal for Falk, or because it isn’t seen mostly through his eyes, but I found myself more taken in by this group than I was by those in “The Dry”. I loved his partner Carmen, with whom he has some undefinable heat that neither of them are willing or able to explore, because she is very sensible and a good foil for Falk. She has his back, but also can read people in her own right. And plus, I like the heat that they share, even if nothing very well may come of it. And I also liked seeing the awfulness of Alice, and how the other women in her group have had problems with her in one way or another. Harper does a very good job of creating a ruthless person who very well may have a target on her back, while still giving her enough humanity (mostly through her daughter) that she doesn’t feel like a caricature who doesn’t deserve to be found in one piece. And if the Aaron Falk stories are going to be like this, where Falk is there as a grounding force of good, but with most of the focus on a different cast of characters for each book, I would be totally here for that. It clicked so well this time that I will almost be more frustrated if we go back to the structure of “The Dry”, because I felt like the groove I wanted from that book was more present here.

“Force of Nature” was a thrilling and solid mystery, and now that I have finally fully climbed aboard the Aaron Falk train I am very excited to see where it goes next. Fans of survival thrillers with a side of catty drama should absolutely pick this one up, and you may not even need to start with “The Dry” to fully enjoy this one.

Rating 8: A strong second helping of a new series, “Force of Nature” brings some focus off of Aaron Falk and centers it on complex and interesting characters.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Force of Nature” is included on the Goodreads lists “Best Survival Stories”, and “The Aussie List”.

Find “Force of Nature” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously Reviewed: “The Dry”.

Serena’s Review: “These Rebel Waves”

294220911Book: “These Rebel Waves” by Sara Raasch

Publishing Info: Balzer + Bray, August 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss!

Book Description: Adeluna is a soldier. Five years ago, she helped the magic-rich island of Grace Loray overthrow its oppressor, Argrid, a country ruled by religion. But adjusting to postwar life has not been easy. When an Argridian delegate vanishes during peace talks with Grace Loray’s new Council, Argrid demands brutal justice—but Lu suspects something more dangerous is at work.

Devereux is a pirate. As one of the outlaws called stream raiders who run rampant on Grace Loray, he pirates the island’s magic plants and sells them on the black market. But after Argrid accuses raiders of the diplomat’s abduction, Vex becomes a target. An expert navigator, he agrees to help Lu find the Argridian—but the truth they uncover could be deadlier than any war.

Benat is a heretic. The crown prince of Argrid, he harbors a secret obsession with Grace Loray’s forbidden magic. When Ben’s father, the king, gives him the shocking task of reversing Argrid’s fear of magic, Ben has to decide if one prince can change a devout country—or if he’s building his own pyre.

As conspiracies arise, Lu, Vex, and Ben will have to decide who they really are . . . and what they are willing to become for peace.

Review: After devouring “Song of the Current” and “Whisper on the Tide,” I felt a deep hankering for more fantasy/pirate good times. And, luckily for me, the topic seems to be a popular one right now in the YA fantasy world, as not only this book, but another “Seafire” (to be reviewed soon) were up and available on Edelweiss. I didn’t hesitate to request it. However, while the story was enjoyable enough, I think the unabashed joy and adventure that came from the “Song of the Current” series kind of left me feeling a bit cold about this more serious, political story.

The story is told from three perspectives: Adeluna, a young woman who grew up as the solider daughter of two revolutionary parents, fighting for the freedom of her island nation. She now finds herself transitioning into a role of politics, but is finding her fighting instincts harder to dismiss than she had thought. Deverux is the pirate of this story and is seemingly only for himself and his crew, collecting and selling the island’s magical plants. But all too soon, he finds himself caught up in intrigues that are way above his pay level. Benat is on the other side of things, quite literally growing up in another country and the one that fought on the other side of Adeluna’s revolution. The son of the king, Benat struggles to reconcile his own interest in magic with the teachings of his faith that draw any connection to magic as heresy.

Even in that brief description, you can see that this book is biting off a pretty big plot to chew upon. Not only do each of these three characters have very different histories, but they each represent a complicated group of individuals who are all operating against each other (openly and not so openly) in a nation-level tug of war over the future of the island and its valuable plant magic. I did like the complicated weave that the author put together here. None can say that she dumbed this story down for younger readers. However, I don’t necessarily think that she fully committed to the complexities of her world either, or, at the very least, explained them fully enough. I never really understood the religion that drove Benat’s nation, and as a major player in the series, this was a constant annoyance.

Further, the story was much more political than I had expected. This is one of those hard criticisms to diagnose. Is it really a fault with the story that readers went in expecting something else? Or is this simply a failure of marketing? Either way, I started this book hoping for more rollicking adventures on the high sea. What I got instead was a lot more political shenanigans. And I’m not against political stories as a whole, but I also don’t feel that this book pulled that aspect of the story off very well.

For example, we are told that Adeluna’s parents were both brilliant revolutionaries, able to successfully lead a group of guerilla soldiers against a much stronger nation and ultimately win freedom for their island. They came up with and planned intricate strikes. But in the very first few chapters, we see a political council meeting where both of Adeluna’s parents are apparently perplexed by the political maneuverings of a few of the other council members. But Adeluna, of course, sees right through this. And yes, I know this is a YA novel and that Adeluna needs to be the one to drive her portions of the story. But weird moments like this just make me roll my eyes. There are ways to make your teenage protagonist drive your story and come up with unique insights without directly undercutting the adults that you just spent some much time building up. I would recommend “The Tethered Mage” and “The Defiant Heir” as excellent examples of how to have powerful parental figures while not damaging the competence and leading force of your younger main character. This is only one example, but it was present throughout the book and I started having a hard time taking it seriously.

As for the main three characters, I did like them for the most part. The romance was completely predictable, however, and again, I didn’t feel like this book was really introducing anything new with either of these characters. I did appreciate the fact that it presented a gay main character and gave him a decent story. There have been some complaints that his wasn’t the main romance of the story, but I feel like, again, this was a disconnect between the way this book was marketed and what it turned out to be ultimately. I think a lot of readers were expecting “gay pirates” and that’s not this. I didn’t know much about this aspect of the story, so I didn’t have those expectations going in. So, from my perspective, it was still a good example of including diversity in your main cast. But, in the end, I still didn’t feel overly invested in any one of the three of these characters. They all felt familiar, but in a “been there, read that” type of way.

Ultimately, I didn’t love “These Rebel Waves.” There’s nothing objectively “bad” about the book, but it also wasn’t introducing anything truly new. Even the magic system, which on face value should have been points in the “new” column, turned out fairly bland. We never got any real look into how this work or any details: plants were just magic. Ok. I also feel like this book struggles against reader expectations. The story was much slower-moving and politically focused than I had expected. But even had I know this going in, I don’t think this is the strongest example of that type of story either. In the end, there have just been better books telling very similar stories.

Rating 6: Nothing terrible or anything, but pretty forgettable in my opinion.

Reader’s Advisory:

“These Rebel Waves” is newer, so it isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists, but it is on “2018 Queer SFF Releases.”

Find “These Rebel Waves” at your library using WorldCat.

 

A Revisit to Fear Street: “Secret Admirer”

308672Book: “Secret Admirer” (Fear Street #36) by R.L. Stine

Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, 1996

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Selena is on top of the world. Her acting career at Shadyside High is blossoming—everyone admires her. So when she starts receiving bouquets of dead flowers from a person called “The Sun,” she treats them as a joke.

But Selena soon realizes that this is no laughing matter. Her understudy is injured in a suspicious accident. Then a speeding car nearly kills her. Selena knows “The Sun” is responsible.

And that her number-one fan has become her number-one nightmare.

Had I Read This Before: No (I think we’re getting to the point where I aged up from “Fear Street” and dove head first into adult books).

The Plot: Another “Fear Street” book, another ominous prologue. This time it’s a bad and threatening poem directed at our protagonist, Selena, signed by “The Sun”. Then we jump into our story, where we find out that Selena is the star of the Shadyside drama department, and has just finished up the last night of the most recent play. Everyone loves Selena! She and her theater friends gather back stage, and they all congratulate her on a job well done. Alison, the second best, says she’ll NEVER be as good as Selena, and Jake, one of her best friends from her childhood, calls her ‘Moon’ (as Selena means ‘moon’), but says he’s not feeling up to going to the cast party. Mr. Riordan, the drama club director, says that the next show they are going to do is “Romeo and Juliet”, and Selena is thrilled because she would LOVE to do Shakespeare. She is then approached by her ex boyfriend Danny, who wants to congratulate her as well, though she’s not so keen on talking to him. Luckily for her her bestie Katy, a stagehand, comes up and pulls her away. She says that Selena will almost assuredly be Juliet, and Selena plays coy and says that there’s no guarantee she’ll get it. But she’s pretty and think and has been the lead multiple times before this, so…. yeah, she’ll probably get it. Mr. Riordan says that “Romeo and Juliet” will be an especially important production because theater scouts from colleges are going to be in the audience, including Northwestern, the school that Selena would love to go to. When Selena goes for her backpack, she finds a wrapped bouquet, but when she opens it it’s a bunch of dead roses, and a threatening note with a sticker of a Sun on it (hilariously, Stine decrees that these dead flowers ‘smell of decay’, and I wonder if he knows that’s not really how flowers work). Katy thinks that is’s scary but Selena brushes it off as a dumb joke, probably pulled by Jake, who has pulled jokes since they were kids. Katy says that Jake has been acting weird lately, but Selena hasn’t noticed.

They go back to Selena’s house, and Selena is already excited for the spring play. Katy laments the fact that she’s ‘too big’ to be in theater, as she’s about twenty pounds overweight, and Selena suggests that she could play Juliet’s nurse! Oh my God. Katy asks Selena if she ever thought she would be so popular, as Selena also used to be overweight, but then got thin because she loved theater SO MUCH and she knew she couldn’t get lead roles if she was fat. Jesus Christ this isn’t really body positive, is it? Selena also notes that she got the lead in a play sophomore year because the original lead actress had to leave the school (and later we find out this is a shout out to “The Prom Queen” when Simone went crazy and killed all those people). There’s a tapping at the window and then a crash. The girls rush to see what the commotion was, but don’t see anything… until they leave the house to go to the party. A metal ladder is on the ground beneath Selena’s window. Katy thinks that someone is stalking Selena, but Selena thinks her mother was probably working on something outside and didn’t put it away. Except there’s a sun sticker on the bottom rung…

As they are driving to the party Katy is practically begging Selena to take this seriously. Selena says she isn’t famous so why would someone stalk HER, but Katy rightfully points out that she doesn’t have to be Rebecca Schaeffer to have a predator target you. Selena thinks that it’s probably just Danny wanting to get back together. Just then a car starts following them and drives up super close to them. Katy starts to panic, but Selena keeps her cool and tells her to just drive to Mr. Riordan’s house, whoever this person is wouldn’t dare follow them into a crowded home. Yes and no, maybe a police station is better. When they park at Mr. Riordan’s, the person following them does too, and it turns out it’s Danny, who was ‘just playing a joke’. Well ha fucking ha, Danny. Mr. Riordan calls everyone around, and introduces them to Eddy, a handsome (as noticed by Selena) second year drama student from Waynesbridge Junior College, who is going to assist with the spring play. Selena feels like she’s seen him before, and goes to introduce herself. Eddy says that he’s seen her in a number of plays and that he thinks she’s a natural. He also says that he thinks it’s great that she can balance her grades and her acting, and when Selena asks HOW EXACTLY he knows this he claims it’s part of the job of being an intern, knowing everything about your actors. He then gets called away, and Selena is more flattered than freaked. She then goes to talk to Jake, who seems bummed as hell. When she asks him why he freaks out at her, and she asks him if he left her the dead flowers. He denies it, and says that it sounds like more than just a joke and that she should tell Mr. Riordan, or maybe the police. Selena does go over to talk to Mr. Riordan, but before she can Danny stumbles out of no where, covered in blood, and collapses in front of Selena! But, turns out, he’s pulling another prank, as it’s fake blood. No one is amused. When Selena goes out to get some air, Eddy is there. He says that he can’t believe she used to date Danny, and when she asks how he knew about THAT, he says he must have just overheard it, and then excuses himself.

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(source)

Alison comes out to inform Selena that she, too, is trying out for Juliet, but Selena says that’s fine. Katy says that she can take Selena home if she’s ready to go, and Selena is, but before they can go Danny says that HE will take Selena home. Selena says she’s not interested, and then JAKE comes out and starts to knock Danny away, saying that if ANYONE is going to take Selena home HE will. He and Danny fight, and Mr. Riordan, you have OFFICIALLY lost control of this cast party. Selena breaks it up, and when Jake tries to apologize she won’t hear it. He then says he wants to see Danny dead. Then, to make matters worse, as Selena is trying to fall asleep that night her phone rings. When she answers it’s a weird voice saying that they are watching her before hanging up.

At school the next week, Danny tries to apologize to Selena, and she confronts him about the dead flowers, the note, and the phone call. He denies it all. Then we must jump ahead by a few WEEKS because we’re already at Spring play auditions! I did theater in high school, there was usually a month or two AT LEAST between productions. Regardless, Selena, Katy, and Jake are sitting around waiting for their turns to audition. Jake asks Selena if she still thinks it’s Danny, and she says maybe, and he says that she should tell Mr. Riordan. Selena says she doesn’t want to, because if she does he may not cast her in the play out of fear for her safety. My guy reaction was to say ‘OH COME ON’, but then I realized that she’s probably right, and instead of going after the stalker, it would be seen as easier to limit the victim. Fucking patriarchy. Regardless, Jake admits that he understands wanting something that he can’t have. Selena and Alison go to practice for their auditions, and Alison claims the usual area that Selena takes, which is by the wardrobes, so Selena goes somewhere else…. And then a horrible crash is heard! Everyone rushes to the wardrobe area, and Alison has been crunched by a heavy wardrobe cabinet that fell on her! Luckily she’s alive, and paramedics are called. Jake points out that usually that spot is where Selena practices, and when Selena inspects the cabinet there is a sun sticker on it.

A little time later Selena is practicing her Juliet lines at home (given that Alison is still hospitalized) when Danny calls her, asking if she wants to go grab a bite to eat. Selena goes off on him, telling him she doesn’t want to go out with him and that he needs to stop harassing her and/or trying to crush her with a wardrobe. Danny continues to deny his involvement, and Selena hangs up. The phone rings again, and this time it’s Eddy, who is calling to tell her that Alison will be back the next week and not to worry. They start talking, and he mentions that he is so impressed with how confident she has become, given that she used to be so introverted and used to wear baggy clothing. Selena asks how he knew that, and he claims that he must have seen an old yearbook, and then asks her out to a movie. She says yes, and he tells her that they shouldn’t talk about it since it’s probably totally unethical for this boy who is assisting with drama club to be dating the girl who is part of the club. She promises she won’t tell ANYONE, and I gotta say, this is some kinda power dynamic that’s not ethical AT ALL. After hanging up it starts to rain, so Selena decides to make sure all the windows in the house are closed. When she gets to the window by the front door, she sees a bundle on the porch. When she opens the door, she finds a dead, mutilated rat, and a note from The Sun telling her quit the play or else. She calls Katy and tells her about the dead rat, and Katy says that it must be someone in drama club…. And asks if maybe Selena should quit the play for her safety. Selena refuses, saying she needs the scouts to see her if she wants a scholarship. Katy asks her to at least tell Mr. Riordan, and Selena says that she will. Katy then reminds her about the sleepover they’re having that Friday, but OOPS, that’s the day that Selena made a date with Eddy, so she tells Katy she can’t make it after all and tells her about the date with Eddy, EVEN THOUGH she promised not to tell anyone. Katy is skeptical of this, given the ethical implications, but Selena is insistent that it’s all fine. She hangs up, and then tries to sleep. But she can’t stop thinking about her stalker. Her Mom comes home from her night shift (Dad died a few years ago so her Mom has a busy work schedule), and Selena considers telling her about the stalker, but doesn’t want to worry her, so doesn’t.

The next day the official cast list is posted, and Jake is upset that Danny got the part of Romeo over him. When Selena can’t even muster a fake ‘yeah fuck that guy’ for Jake and opts to say that Danny was good, Jake gets mad and says that Danny won’t get everything he wants THIS time. Katy tells Selena that Jake’s parents are splitting up and that’s why he’s been so moody lately. Selena had NO idea that her best friend’s parents were having problems, I guess. Katy asks Selena if she’s going to tell Mr. Riordan about the stalker, and Selena says that she will, soon. She and Danny talk and he asks if they can just try and get along since they’re starring opposite each other, and she agrees. As Mr. Riordan blocks a scene with Selena and Jake (who is Juliet’s father), suddenly a set of lights fall from the ceiling! Katy knocks Selena out of the way, undoubtedly saving her from grievous injury/death. Katy hurts her arm, and Selena feels awful since the lights were obviously sabotaged by her stalker.

After the movie that Friday, Selena and Eddy decide to get some burgers at a place called Sam’s. Eddy continues to praise Selena about how good she is, and is convinced that she will get the scholarship, but offers to give her private acting feedback if she wants it. Selena is wary, and wonders to herself why she is so SUSPICIOUS of him, and gee, Selena, perhaps it’s the fact that he is oddly interested in YOU and is in his twenties and you are still a teenager? When he asks why she’s so reluctant, she tells him about her stalker, and tells him that Mr. Riordan didn’t take it seriously, so the police probably won’t either. To that I say fuck you, Mr. Riordan. When Eddy goes to pay for the check, Selena sees Danny in the doorway! She goes to chew him out for following her, but then realizes that he’s there on a date with a girl named Susie. Embarrassed by her reaction, Selena meets Eddy outside (who is relieved that Danny didn’t see them there, UGH). Selena is now certain Danny isn’t her stalker since he has a new lady friend. As she and Eddy are walking back to the car in the parking ramp of the building (down a narrow tunnel), Eddy admits that he went to Shadyside High, and that he had a crush on her when he was a senior and she was a sophomore. So THAT is why he knows her. Selena finally feels safe with him (I wouldn’t go THAT far, Selena), but as they are going down the tunnel suddenly a squeal of tires gets their attention. A car comes ZOOMING down the tunnel with no headlights, and Eddy pushes Selena! IN FRONT OF THE CAR? No, past it so that the car doesn’t hit her. The car speeds off, and Eddy says that they were walking down the wrong side of the ramp so that must be why this happened. Selena isn’t so sure…. And wonders WHY they were walking on the wrong side….

The next day Selena gets a flower delivery! She thinks that it must be from Eddy, as it’s a pretty bouquet and not a bunch of dead ones. As she’s practically rubbing her face with the flowers and the greens, her mother comes in and points out WAIT THOSE LEAVES AS POISON IVY!!!! And Selena is VERY allergic. She’s still dealing with the rash a week later, and wonders how the stalker knew that she was so allergic. As she is sitting in the library with Katy and Jake, her friends say that they think she should quit the play, but Selena refuses. So Jake says he’ll do some snooping and try to figure out who is doing this to her. Later at rehearsal Selena sees Jake snooping around Danny, and Selena thinks that he’s too biased to investigate properly, so she goes to the theater lockers. She goes to Danny’s locker and opens it up… AND FINDS A SHEET OF STICKERS!! She double checks the locker numbers, but realizes to her horror that she didn’t open Danny’s locker… she opened JAKE’S LOCKER!!!!

That afternoon Selena and Katy are talking on the phone, and Selena tells Katy that she found the stickers in Jake’s locker! Katy doesn’t want to believe it, but says that Selena needs to talk to Mr. Riordan. Selena doesn’t want to get Jake in trouble because she feels so bad since he’s having such a hard time, but Katy says that if he needs mental help SElena needs to tell people anyway! Then there’s a call waiting click, and Selena answers, and it’s Jake! He says that he needs to talk to her, and asks that she meet him at the school ASAP. She tells him that she found the stickers in his locker, and he says he can explain it but it has to be in person, so PLEASE meet him at the school. She agrees, then goes back to Katy and tells her what’s up, and asks Katy if she can drive her. Katy says sure and they hang up, but then Katy calls right back and her Mom took the car so she can’t take her after all. So Selena goes by herself by taking the bus. When she gets to the school she goes to the auditorium, but doesn’t see Jake anywhere… until she finds him crumpled in a heap at the bottom of the ladder to the catwalk, DEAD!!!

Selena gets home after talking to the police and she tells Katy what happened, the theory being that he must have been hiding in the catwalk and then fell to his death after slipping. Both are very upset, but Selena is convinced that her stalker is dead, and wonders why Jake was doing it. After staying home for a few days and rehearsals being postponed, they start up again and everyone is bummed. Selena has decided to drop out of they play because she’s so upset, but Mr. Riordan is in SUCH a hurry he says that she can tell him whatever it is she needs to tell him the next day, and rushes off.

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In that moment I kind of really loved Mr. Riordan. (source)

Katy tells Selena that she thinks that she’s doing the right thing, and Danny asks what they are talking about. Selena tells him that she’s quitting the play because it’s ‘what Jake would have wanted’. And Danny finally, FINALLY, tells Selena what a self centered little jerk she is. And it may be harsh, but I am with Danny on this one. As far as Selena knows, her stalker is dead, so it’s not a matter of her safety that’s in question here, it’s her feeling sad about Jake and not wanting to do the play because of that. WE’VE ALL HAD DISAPPOINTMENT, SELENA. After Danny’s smackdown, Selena realizes that he’s right, and that the show must go on. So despite Katy’s skepticism, Selena says that she’s still in. That night, Selena isn’t able to sleep, so she goes down to the kitchen for a glass of water….. AND SEES A NOTE ON THE FRIDGE WITH A SUN STICKER! It basically says that Jake wasn’t the stalker and had to die because he knew too much, and that the stalker will be in the audience at the dress rehearsal.

Okay, now you could totally quit, Selena. But does she? NOPE! Unfortunately Mr. Riordan invited the entire football team and then some tot he dress rehearsal, so Selena won’t be able to notice any lone stalker in the audience. Eddy has to go to class that afternoon but wishes her luck, and Selena knows that the show must go on. The dress rehearsal goes well, and Selena is riding such a high she almost forgets her backpack in her locker, but retrieves it at the last moment, shoving all the locker contents inside in a rush. That night after dinner she opens her backpack, and finds another letter from the stalker! This one says that THEY KILLED SOMEONE THAT NIGHT!!! Selena panics a moment, but then remembers that, oh wait, NO ONE DIED AT REHEARSAL. She deduces that the stalker must not have meant for her to find it until the next day…. which meant that the stalker was going to kill someone TONIGHT!!! And Selena is convinced that Katy is going to be the next victim! She tries to call Katy, but there’s no answer at her house. She knows she has to go to the school. Before she can, though, the phone rings, and it’s Eddy, asking her out for later that night, but she says that there’s something that she has to take care of first. When he asks if she needs help, she says that only SHE can do it, and hangs up.

Selena gets to the school, and tries to find Katy in the auditorium. It seems like no one is there, but then she hears the soft voice of someone calling for help… and it’s coming from the catwalk. Selena, who is desperately afraid of heights, steels herself and climbs up to the catwalk, calling for Katy. But she doesn’t find Katy, she finds Danny in the prop room up top…. and he’s been beaten up and tied up. In his daze he tells her that she called him, telling him to come to  the school. She starts to look for something to cut his ropes, but hears a noise. Katy suddenly pops up, and Selena says that they have to untie Danny and go. Katy asks why they should untie Danny, as since he’s tied up he can’t cause any more trouble. Selena explains that he isn’t the stalker, that she thought the stalker was going to hurt Katy but it was Danny instead, and they need to help him. But Katy, instead, HITS HIM IN THE HEAD WITH HER FLASHLIGHT. She then tells Selena that she wants to talk about their friendship, and how she misses the time that it was just the two of them. And then she shows Selena the sticker sheet. YUP, YOU GUESSED IT, Katy is the Sun. Katy says that she knew Selena would assume it was a boy in love with her because she’s so vain and selfish now that she’s so thin and popular and obsessed with drama. Katy didn’t even WANT to join drama club, but wouldn’t see Selena anymore if she hadn’t joined!!! Katy was mad that she was losing her friend to drama and college, and that was why she stalked her, to try and scare her to drop out of the play and not get the scholarship. Jake found the stickers in Katy’s locker and was going to tell Selena, so Katy killed him by pushing him off the cat walk. Katy then attacks Selena, who runs out of the prop room and onto the catwalk. They scuffle and Selena ends up dangling from the catwalk, with Katy about to hit her with the flashlight, but then Eddy shows up at the top of the ladder, and so Katy’s attentions turn to him. But HE TOO ends up stumbling and then dangling from the catwalk as well! Katy starts to smash his fingers with her flashlight, and Selena pulls herself up and knocks her away. They wrestle a bit more (gawd they wrestle forever) and Eddy FINALLY gets Katy subdued. He drags her to the prop room and somehow keeps her subdued WHILE untying Danny (two sets of arms?), and ties Katy up. Selena asks how he knew that she was here, and he tells her that he had a hunch she’d come here. They kiss, and he asks if she’s acting. She tells him no, she’s not, she’s happy the show is over (no it isn’t, opening night is the next night). And he says, as he pulls her close, “Hey don’t say that, this may only be Act One!”. The End.

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Not the time for romance, guys. (source)

Body Count: 2, one for Jake, one for the rat.

Romance Rating: 3ish? Eddy was really just there to be a red herring, but hey, at least he wasn’t completely toxic (outside of the ethical issues of being the assistant director guy).

Bonkers Rating: 4. A fight on the catwalk is always going to be stellar, but everything else was kinda pedestrian.

Fear Street Relevance: 3. Selena lives on Fear Street and the woods cast a lot of long shadows in her room. But otherwise, all the action elsewhere.

Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:

“Selena didn’t even see the bank of the spotlights fall. But she heard the crash. Felt the stage rock. Heard the shatter of glass. The crunch of metal. Heard the high screams of horror all around. And knew that she was dead.”

…. But she isn’t dead, of course. In the words of Trixie Mattel….

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(source)

That’s So Dated! Moments: Not as many as I would have thought! Though I got an edition that was clearly updated. Outside of a reference to a tape player in Eddy’s car, it was fairly neutral in terms of dating itself.

Best Quote:

“Actually, she thought that if Eddy had suggested going to a place that served baked worms, she’d probably agree to it!”

… Oh.

Conclusion: “Secret Admirer” had the potential to be over the top ridiculous, but it just kind of limped home. Up next is “The Perfect Date”. 

Highlights: August 2018

Summer is starting to wind down, but we are going to cling to it until it’s forcibly removed from our cold dead hands. It’s been a busy season this year, but we always have time (and make the time) for reading. So here are some of the titles that we are looking forward to that are coming out this month!

Serena’s Picks

294220911Book: “These Rebel Waves” by Sara Raasch

Publication Date: August 7, 2018

Why I’m Interested: I’ve really enjoyed the sea-based fantasy adventures I’ve read recently, so I was excited when I saw several more coming down the line! This one features three main characters: a solider, a pirate, and a prince. All coming from very different backgrounds, they all must discover who they truly are and what is important to them in a fight to control the plant-based magic that is forbidden in their world. I’m not usually a huge fan of duel narratives, let a lone three, but I’m intrigued by what sounds like a pretty unique magic system that is focused on water plants.

37822534Book: “Seafire” by Natalie C. Parker

Publication Date: August 28, 2018

Why I’m Interested: See? I told you that these pirate-based fantasy stories were hitting some type of peak! What makes this one stand out is the fact that it’s about a pirate ship with a captain and crew made up entirely of women. You know how I love stories with female friendship and sisterhood! I mean, look at that tagline! “Sisterhood is survival.” I’m definitely all over this one. It also seems that this sisterhood of pirates is out for revenge against an all-male raider group, so that could be interesting as well. I’m a bit nervous that it might slip into some weird gender stereotypes what with the segregated ships and all, but I’m still definitely curious to see where this could go!

Magic_Triumphs.inddBook: “Magic Triumphs” by Ilona Andrews

Publication Date: August 28, 2018

Why I’m Interested: Gah, I was all geared up and ready to go last spring when this was originally set to be published in March or April. And then one day, I casually check on it and what do I see?? Not until August now! But, finally, August has arrived and I’m so excited to read this book! This is the final book in the Kate Daniels series and my expectations are through the roof. I only really follow two urban fantasy series right now, this and the “Mercy Thompson” series (and we all know my feelings on where that has been head cough“Burn Bright”cough). So that leaves a lot on the shoulders of this book to not only stick its own landing, but prove that yes, some urban fantasy series can not implode under their own nonsense. Plus, the showdown that’s been building over the last few books has been intense. I’m so excited, I’m so excited, I’m so excited.

Kate’s Picks

29749098Book: “Catwoman: Soulstealer” by Sarah J Maas

Publication Date: August 7, 2018

Why I’m Interested: UHHHHH, CATWOMAN, QUITE OBVIOUSLY. I’ve also quite enjoyed the “DC Icons” series as of now, which helps. I am always eager to find new Catwoman material, and so I was pretty happy that she was getting her own time to shine in this series, causing trouble for Luke Fox as he’s holding down the fort for Batman. My ONE qualm is that the author is Sarah J Maas, whose works I haven’t been impressed with in the past (we read “Throne of Glass” for book club and boy was I not a fan of it), but my hope is that Selina Kyle is an interesting enough character that Maas will be able to do her justice. And of COURSE Selina is. Bonus: Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn are in this as well, so my dreams of a bad girl power trio might be met!

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Book: “Toil and Trouble” by Tess Sharpe (Ed.)

Publication Date: August 29, 2018

Why I’m Interested: I am, of course, a huge fan of stories about witches and witchcraft. It doesn’t even have to be a scary story about witches for me to get my kicks; I just love books and stories about witchy women living their lives. “Toil and Trouble” is a short story collection from a number of different authors that all involve witchcraft and witches. Some are scary, some are romantic, all sound like they are going to be teeming with spells and magic. There are a couple of authors in this book that I’ve enjoyed in the past (Brandy Colbert, Zoraida Córdova), and perhaps I’ll find other authors that I will add to my list of favorites.

35403058Book: “City of Ghosts” by Victoria Schwab

Publication Date: August 29, 2018

Why I’m Interested: I have been meaning to read something by Victoria Schwab for a bit now, though it hasn’t been my priority because so much of her work is based in strictly fantasy settings. But her upcoming novel, while still in fantasy for the most part, involves GHOSTS AND GHOST HUNTERS! So you know that I’m interested. When Cassidy Blake, the daughter of ghost hunters, goes to Scotland to see a haunted castle, her actual ability to see ghosts comes into play. Apparently, her power plays a very specific purpose to the ghost world. This is a kid’s story, but I do enjoy middle grade novels when they fit my tastes, and this sounds like it’s REALLY going to fit my tastes. So here I come, Victoria Schwab! And I’m more than ready!

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