The Great Animorphs Re-Read #38: “The Arrival”

363404Animorphs #38: “The Arrival”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, February 2000

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: Ax’s people have arrived on Earth, and they want Ax back on board with them. Ax is torn. Should he join his fellow Andalites? Can he desert the Animorphs?

Narrator: Ax

Plot: Oh thank god, a return to sanity as far as these books go. Not only is our narrator blessedly in character, but we once again have a team that is capable of rational thought and pulling off complicated (and, importantly, NECESSARY) plans.

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Ok, maybe this is an overreaction. But after that last book?!? I’m not so sure…

The story starts off with the Animorphs already in the midst of a mission: rescuing Mr. King from where he’s being held by the Yeerks. In their battle morphs, they succeed in breaking in to where he is being held and fending off the few Controllers there. But before they can leave, things get bad. This is a trap and Hork Bajir warriors begin pouring out of all the doors into the room and even falling in through the ceiling. Of course, Visser Three is there as well. Very beaten up, the Animorphs struggle to escape. It doesn’t look good until suddenly a small troop of Andalites show up and start kicking butt. Ax ends up fighting alongside a young female warrior who he immediately admires. As they escape, she tells Ax that her name is Estrid and that they will find him.

Back in the barn, they all meet up to discuss what’s happened. Ax is thrilled to see his people again, but the others are skeptical, given that their last experience with the Andalites resulted in Ax’s abandonment to a traitor Andalite on Leera. Ax reassures them that he knows who is Prince is.

The next day, Tobias and Ax decide to go to the mall to get some tasty food. Once there, they realize a commotion is going on in the food court: some woman has gone crazy and is eating all of the jelly beans. They quickly realize that this is one of the new Andalites in morph. They nab her and manage to get her out of the mall and arrange a time to meet with her leader.

Jake and Ax make their way to the designated meeting place. Once there, they are introduced to the other Andalites: the commander of the mission, Gonrod, an assassin named Aloth, and a high-up intelligence officer named Arbat who also reveals that he is the brother of Alloran, the Andalite host body of Visser Three. Gonrod blusters about leadership, but Jake doesn’t flinch, stating that he is in charge on Earth and he and his team don’t take order from them. Ax agrees and remains with Jake. Enraged, Gonrod orders the others to fire on Ax but before they can get off a shot, they realize that cobra!Marco and snake!Cassie are poised to strike and poison each of them. Everyone calms down a bit, and they reveal that the larger Andalite forces are not coming, that they are away in another sector dealing with problems there. This small group has only come to assassinate Visser Three, as his remaining in control of an Andalite body is a shame the Andalites can no longer tolerate.

Back in the barn, the team discuss what they have learned. They are all disheartened and demoralized to learn that the Andalites aren’t coming. One by one they begin falling apart under this new reality. Marco takes one of his cynical jokes too far and Rachel gets in a fight with him. Tobias announces that he is out of the fight and flies off. Rachel says that she’s going to take out as many as she can before she dies and leaves as well. Cassie agrees that if there is no hope of winning without Andalite reinforcements, there’s no excuse for killing innocent Hork Bajir hosts. Marco throws his hands in the air and decides to spend his remaining time on the beach. Alone, Jake releases Ax from his vow to follow him as it looks like the Animorphs are through. After they are all gone, Ax calls out to Estrid and points out that Earth rabbits don’t typically follow larger animals into barns full of yelling humans, but that it’s ok, he’s decided to join the Andalites.

On the Andalite ship, Ax begins to notice strange things about these Andalites. Estrid doesn’t seem to follow orders from the leader. And, in many ways, it seems as if Arbat is calling the shots more than Gonrod. They ask Ax where Visser Three is most likely to be found and Ax points them to the Sharing, then the Community Center, and as a last resort, the Yeerk pool. While the first are more obvious choices, Arbat presses about how to get to the Yeerk pool, but Gonrod insists that the Sharing meeting will suffice.

Later Ax and Estrid go on a “date” to the Gardens where they morph humans and eat more candy and practice the odd human custom of kissing. As birds, they begin to fly back but Ax says he wants to see his friends once more. As they pass a McDonalds they see grizzly!Rachel destroying the parking lot. They see owl!Cassie fly off and follow her back to the barn. There, they watch as Cassie tries to convince Jake and Marco to do something about Rachel. But Marco is supremely uninterested in getting involved and Jake is too busy hiding from Tom who has been picking on him. Sadly, Ax says he has seen enough and they leave. Estrid crows that Andalites would never behave so poorly in defeat. As they fly back, Estrid points out that she’s seen a certain fierce looking bird near them before. Ax waves it away saying that there are many such birds.

Back at the ship, Ax takes the first shift to stand guard. He tries to access the computer files, but is denied access. Aloth catches him at it, but Ax talks his way out of it. Aloth then reveals that he and Gonrod were each in prison before this mission. Aloth for illegal organ sales from dead soldiers and Gonrod for cowardice on the battlefield. They were each chosen for their unique skills as an assassin and a skilled pilot, respectively.

The next day, they attack the Sharing meeting. Visser Three is there in human morph. They manage to get in quickly, but Arbat, who insisted that he would be the one to take the shot on his “brother” (another weird question for Ax who thought Aloth was there as the assassin), misses an easy shot. Ax and Gonrod also take shots and miss, but by this time Hork Bajir are pouring into the building. As they flee, Aloth is hit and injured. Ax tries to help carry him out, knowing he could survive, but Arbat shoots and kills him. They run out and find Gonrod already at the helm of the ship; he had fled.

Arbat hastens through any mourning and insists that now their only option is the Yeerk pool. Gonrod resists, and Arbat takes over leadership and locks Gonrod away. They all decide to rest before their next mission. Ax sneaks out and returns with Mr. King. Again, they break into the computer, but are successful due to Mr. King’s better tech abilities. There they discover the truth: in the records, Aloth, Gonrod, and Arbat are already listed as having died on their ship in some other sector and Estrid isn’t listed at all. This is a suicide mission.

Ax sneaks off to find Estrid and confront her. He discovers her in a new part of the ship and sees her conducting some type of science experiment. He grabs the vial she is holding and she panics. He forces her to tell him the truth or he will drop it. She reveals that she is not an aristh, but a science student who was recruited by Arbat. She has developed a virus that is deadly to Yeerks. However, it also mutates and can become deadly to humans as well. Ax realizes that Gonrod and Aloth were dupes and that Arbat was in charge the whole time. He doesn’t care about taking out Visser Three but instead wants to release this virus in the Yeerk pool. Arbat arrives and confirms this all.

Arbat admits that he was looking for a science student, any science student, to pull of this mission and Estrid can’t live to confirm what’s been done here. Only high level intelligence will ever know of this mission. He pushes a button, and Ax and Estrid become trapped in a laser cage. Arbat leaves with the virus to complete the mission, and Estrid despairs, regretting that she allowed Arbat to convince her that the humans were a sacrifice worth making because they are weak and easy to give up. She reveals that Arbat was also in the barn that day when the Animorphs broke up.

Ax replies that they knew that just as Marco walks in. Around the room, the rest of the Animorphs demorph from bugs. Estrid accuses him of lying to his people, but Ax replies that the Animorphs are his people.

They make their way to the Community Center and down into the Yeerk pool. Their they all morph/demorph to human and spread out trying to find human!Arbat. Ax realizes that Arbat has little experience with a human morph, so he is able to spot him just as he reaches the pool due to the fact that he turns his head often, not used to not having an extra set of eyes. Arbat spots them and fires a Dracon beam at them, creating chaos. The others all morph battle morphs and Estrid and Ax return to their regular forms.

The battle quickly goes badly with many Hork Bajir converging around them. Estrid begins to panic and starts to think that maybe just using the virus is better. But they continue to fight, with Ax making his way towards Arbat. He realizes that he is not going to make it, but Estrid manages to fire a Dracon beam and destroy Arbat’s hand and the vial. But the Animorphs are still losing and Ax prepares to die in battle. At the last minute, Gonrod shows up in his ship, having blown a hole down through the roof of the McDonalds (Tobias had seen things going south for his friends and retrieved Gonrod and the ship). They all run for the ship and Arbat calls for them to take him with them. They do not, and he becomes the Taxxons’ dinner.

The next day, Estrid and Gonrod prepare to leave. Estrid tries to convince Ax to join them, but he refuses, and they leave. Ax and the Animorphs go to get burgers, but only Cassie realizes how hard this has been for Ax and holds his hand as they walk.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: This is the kind of book that is again almost so full of action that we miss out on some of the character building beats. I mean, we get a lot of “fake” character building that is exploring how Ax is feeling about all of the fake scenes that he and the Animorphs are putting on. But we don’t get to see the real scene where he agrees that the Andalites aren’t to be trusted initially and that this whole plan is worth trying. Here and there we get a few insights into how he is coping with the continued steep descent of the morality of his people, but I have to imagine it hits harder than we see here.

I do like the fallout with his crush with Estrid. That entire storyline felt very real the entire time, from his initial crush, to their date where he wishes they could just fly away (he doesn’t say it here, but part of this has to be because he’s putting on a whole show that inherently speaks to the fact that he can’t trust his own people. No wonder he’d want to escape before getting any real confirmations either way), to his reaction when he finds out that she was playing at least a partially willing role in the planned genocide on Earth. He tells her in the end that she is beautiful but that he doesn’t think he likes her very much. I’m sure she makes up for it some with her shot on Arbat, but probably not fully.

We also get a few references early on to the fact that Ax still feels terrible for abandoning his friends on the escapade in Leera. So it’s also nice seeing him here so fully loyal to his human friends and Jake as his Prince.

Our Fearless Leader: Jake’s showdown with Gonrod in the very beginning is a really great scene. It’s awesome seeing him in these types of scenes where he has fully embraced his leadership role and is facing down someone else.

“Now we stop playing games. You’re not the Andalite fleet. And I’m not going to snap a salute and say ‘yes, sir!’ We deal as equals. Which, to be honest, is generous of us under the circumstances.” 

The clearest giveaway that something is up is when we see Jake “hiding” from Tom in Cassie’s barn because Tom is picking on him. Every part of it is ridiculous for those who know Jake. He’s not only hiding in the barn, but is actually crouched down in a horse stall as if Tom is going to appear at any moment on Cassie’s farm to bully him. Right.

Xena, Warrior Princess: In the fake scene, Rachel’s response is pretty accurate to what we’d expect. She’s clearly stressed and a stressed Rachel is an angry Rachel so when Marco pushes it too far, she goes after him. It also makes sense that her approach would then be to go out fighting. Probably the most honorable of them all if this was a real scene, as the rest of them seem to be “out” in the sense that they’re going to just wait around for the end. But her destroying the McDonalds in the second scene was also kind of a give-away as it doesn’t seem like that’d be what she’d choose to do, go after one little Controller at a fast food place, when she could go out in a blaze of glory at the Yeerk pool trying to get to Visser Three or something.

A Hawk’s Life: In the fake scene, Tobias is the first to quit and really gives no reason for it, he’s just out of there. Probably the first sign that something’s off as Tobias has always been the most gung-ho about sticking with the fight and is the only one who is continually sacrificing himself (remaining a bird) to do it because it matters that much to him. He also follows around Estrid and Ax, getting spotted by Estrid at one point. And then in the end, he’s the one to fetch Gonrod and get him to bring in the ship to rescue the rest of them.

Peace, Love, and Animals: As it was all a fake scene, we can’t really take anything that any of them said here at face value. But at one point, Cassie is going on and on about how immoral it is for the Andalites to be there to take revenge on Visser Three because “revenge is wrong.” But wait, wasn’t it literally just two books ago that Cassie’s whole motivation for going after the Yeerks was in revenge for what they did to the Hork Bajir and Marco had to actually call her out on it? We’re just going to have to assume that this was part of the act, but a small part of me also wouldn’t have been surprised if this was her actual outlook, again conveniently adjusted for how others should behave vs. herself. But that scene at the end where she holds Ax’s hand is quite sweet, showing the one consistent strength of hers: to understand when others are feeling pain and to try to comfort them.

The Comic Relief: Marco has some good lines in this book, especially in the barn scene when he’s highlighting just how hopeless the whole scenario is if the Andalites aren’t coming. Makes me want to see the real scene where they discuss the fallout of this new situation. But Marco’s reaction is also out of character for where he is at this point in the series. Sure, the early version of Marco would have been all for beach days while you wait for the end of the world. But this version of Marco has been coming up against some of the hardest scenarios in the entire series with the interactions with his mom/Visser One. I think at this point that he’d likely follow a similar track to Rachel in going out swinging rather than waiting. Of course, his “going out” would likely be better planned than hers and have a greater chance of success, too. I could even see the two of them ganging up for something like this, though.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: There really weren’t many in this book. At one point Ax describes morphing human and how the flesh “flowed down to cover the bones” which is a pretty icky way of thinking of it. He also talks a bit about the non-pain of morphing and how knowing that it should hurt is its own kind of pain anyways.

Couples Watch!:  Awww, Ax goes on a date. I had completely forgotten this bit of the series and had been fully prepared to never really have much to include for Ax in these sections. But he goes on a full-on date here, more than we’ve seen from the other two couples really. There’s an event/location with the Gardens. There’s food with the candy. And there’s kissing. Of course, Ax and Estrid are just “practicing” a “strange human custom.” But alas, it all goes south fairly quickly and Ax ends up disliking Estrid quite a bit for a while there due to her role in things. He does come around a bit in the end, but I think his tears at the end were more for the loss of his people once again than Estrid specifically.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: Visser Three only makes a few brief appearances in this book, though Ax does note that he seems to be learning that bigger is not always better. When the Andalites attack at the Sharing meeting and begin shooting at him, he wisely chooses to morph something small and hard to hit.

In many ways, the Andalites themselves are the villains of this story. At what point do you have to start fully questioning their whole “moral leaders of the universe” claim? The Animorphs’ initial skepticism of them is completely and utterly justified, and I’m sure it turned out even worse than they had suspected. At this point, other than Elfangor and Ax, the Animorphs’ knowledge/experience of the Andalites has been finding out about the genocide of the Hork Bajir, being betrayed by a high up Andalite traitor on Leera, and then here, watching the Andalites seemingly go all-in on genocide 2.0, this time taking out the humans. As readers we’re taught that the Andalites are the good guys, but at this point…The story never really gets back around to the Animorphs’ true feelings about the Andalite fleet not arriving, but, I mean, after all of this, it doesn’t necessarily seem like them showing up is much better than them not. If anything, the Yeerks are a known and understood enemy with clear motives and goals.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: You have to feel bad for Ax. Not only did his first crush turn out to be a willing participant in plans to commit genocide, but as a whole, the Andalites are really not putting a good face forward. Not only does this make it hard to face his friends, but the story never really gets into the existential crisis that must be going on to realize how low your people have really sunk. And really, they’ve already killed off one species and planned on a second. Who knows what other atrocities they’ve done? Kind of seems like a regular thing for them. All of this makes that last scene where they’re walking to get food and Cassie is hold Ax’s hand while he cries a pretty dark experience.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: Hurrah for a return to the smart Animorphs who can spot a con early and pull off complicated plans of deception! I mean, after the David incident, they’re kind of old hands at this whole “put on a scene for the spies in the barn” thing. The one bit I do question is the necessity of the second little scene they put on, where Rachel is destroying things, Marco is supremely lazy, and Jake is bizarrely hiding from his brother. It’s the kind of things that just reads funny. For readers, we know something is up by several parts of this, but mostly the whole “Jake hiding from Tom because he’s being picked on.” Clearly, that’s not a thing. But, from a logical stand point, I’m not sure what the value was in putting on this performance. It seemed like none of the Andalites were questioning the original “break up” at all and Ax could have reported that that was the case. As it was, we later learn that Estrid had needed further convincing by Arbat that killing off the humans along with the Yeerks was ok. And he was able to do this by convincing her of how weak, pathetic, and easy to give up humans are. If anything, this extra little scene just reinforced this perspective and perhaps pushed Estrid even further over the edge on this thinking. The Animorphs couldn’t have know this, of course, but still, like I said, the Andalites seemed to already buy the first scene, so this was never necessary anyways.

Favorite Quote:

Not to beat a dead horse, but I think this quote shows some good insights into the problems of the last book too:

“Until we figure these guys out, let’s just hang loose,” Prince Jake said.

“Yeah. Like maybe not change our minds about who is in charge and who isn’t,” Rachel said bluntly.

I felt myself flush. In the Leera incident I had changed my allegiance from Prince Jake to the Andalite officer who betrayed us. I was still ashamed of this.

Rachel was one of the ones who came down the hardest on Ax when he abandoned them on Leera, and it is clear here that she is still the one to hold the most of a grudge on this subject, because she sees Jake as their leader. Her loyalty to Jake as leader has been clear for a long time, and both here and then she was the one to be most insulted by someone giving up on that. None of that makes sense with the Rachel we saw in the last book who was chomping at the bit to overthrow Jake and be the “hero” and “king” herself. Ugh. Sorry, I’m still bitter.

And one of Marco’s many good lines:

“In a world where slugs can take over entire civilizations, anything is possible,” Marco reminded me.

Scorecard: Yeerks 9, Animorphs 15

I’m not going to change the score on this one. Yes, the Animorphs prevent a catastrophe, but the enemy in this case was really the Andalites, not the Yeerks.

Rating: I really, really liked this book. Other than a few picky issues about their second little performance, the Animorphs had a lot of really clever plans in this book. All of the characters sounded like themselves, and the scene in the barn where they “broke up” read very true for how that could really have played out. Ax, as always, is a great narrator with his quips about his confusion about humanity, and there was a really solid through-line exploring the Andalites as a people and some of the problems that exist within their culture.

I didn’t really get to it anywhere else, but there was a really neat scene in the Yeerk pool when the Animorphs were getting their butts kicked where the humans in the cages formed a body shield to protect them from the Hork Bajir who could have just shot at them. We don’t really think about it much, but the humans who are being Controlled are fully aware during past attacks by the Animorphs. They, too, recognize this team and for them, we have to imagine that they’re seen as heroes whom they are rooting for silently in their own heads even as their Yeerk Controllers force them to fight against them. So it’s a nice moment for them to actually have the freedom to throw their support behind these heroes, putting their own lives on the line to protect them. It’s pretty cool.

Overall, like I said before, this book was a big relief after the disaster that was the last one. And it was a fun read on its own, regardless of what came before it.

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: “Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles”

36686229Book: “Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles” by Mark Russell and Mike Feehan (Ill.)

Publishing Info: DC Comics, August 2018

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

Book Description: Heavens to Murgatroyd! Hanna-Barbera’s very own Snagglepuss is reimagined in a brand-new series, EXIT STAGE LEFT: THE SNAGGLEPUSS CHRONICLES, by author Mark Russell (THE FLINTSTONES)!

It’s 1953. While the United States is locked in a nuclear arms race with the Soviet Union, the gay Southern playwright known as Snagglepuss is the toast of Broadway. But success has made him a target. As he plans for his next hit play, Snagglepuss becomes the focus of the House Committee on Un-American Activities. And when powerful forces align to purge show business of its most subversive voices, no one is safe!

Written by Mark Russell, the critically acclaimed mastermind behind the award-winning PREZ VOL. 1 and THE FLINTSTONES, EXIT STAGE LEFT: THE SNAGGLEPUSS CHRONICLES, enters the Hanna-Barbera reimagined universe! Collects issues #1-6.

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

Though I feel like I watched a good amount of Hanna-Barbera cartoons as a child, one character that I don’t have specific memories of is Snagglepuss. I remember him existing, and I remember a few of his quirks (like his catch phrase ‘exit, stage left!!’ and his smooth personality), but I don’t think I ever saw a full cartoon with him as the star. But even with my passing familiarity of the character, I still knew that I ABSOLUTELY needed to read “Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles”. It’s not exactly an obvious premise: Snagglepuss is a closeted Southern playwright in 1950s New York during the McCarthy Witch Hunts and the Lavender Scare, and finds himself and his friends targeted for their lifestyles. Is this a story I thought I’d see Snagglepuss in? No. Is it one of the best, if not the very best, graphic novels I’ve read this year. Heavens to Murgatoyd, yes.

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No longer is my go to Snagglepuss reference a throwaway “Simpsons” joke! (source)

The thing about Snagglepuss as a character is that he was written at a time where gay characters were coded into entertainment, and they were usually portrayed as villains, buffoons, or, if people were feeling progressive, tragic victims who couldn’t survive the story if they wanted to be true to themselves. Snagglepuss is fussy, dapper, has a smarmy affectation, and acts ‘flamboyant’, so it’s probably safe to assume he was coded as gay, and meant to be laughed at. So to take this character and to give him this story is a very neat deconstruction of what the character was initially, especially since this story is set within the same general time frame that Snagglepuss first was introduced to the world (if not a little before). Mark Russell, the man responsible for other DC/Hanna-Barbera edginess like his take on “The Flintstones” and “Scooby-Doo”, has given Snagglepuss a similar, dark treatment where people thought darkness couldn’t possibly be found. But darkness there is, as Snagglepuss finds himself caught up in the fear of the House of Un-American Activities Committee, with it’s head Gigi Allen setting her sights on him specifically. Through this backdrop we get to explore and examine the hypocrisy, corruption, prejudice, and rampant fear that had the American Government and people in an uproar. Snagglepuss himself is reluctant to become a symbol of rebellion; on the the contrary he’s perfectly content living his life as a success on Broadway, meeting up with his lover at the Stonewall Inn and basking in his fame as an intellectual elite. What I liked the most about him as our main character is that he is thrust into this role of rebellion, and his complicated feelings about it make him a well rounded character who has his OWN privileges that he hides behind when others can’t. He is a compelling iteration of the original character, and someone who can’t accept how bad things have gotten until it’s too late. 

Other familiar faces pop up in this story, from Hanna-Barbera stallwarts to actual players during the Red and Lavender Scares. We get cameos from the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Lillian Hellman, and the Rosenbergs, whose execution is one of the darker plot points within this book. At the end of the graphic novel Russell has put together a handy dandy set of notes on various people and moments he includes in the story, and I found that to be very helpful and thoughtful of him (I had never heard of the great Cornfield War between Khruschev and an American farmer. Look it up, it’s hilarious!). On the Hanna-Barbera end, Quick Draw McGraw and Squiddly Diddly play key roles and have their own forms of prejudice to contend with (Quick Draw being a closeted cop on the Stonewall beat and Squiddly being an immigrant), but the stand out is Huckleberry Hound. Huckleberry is Snagglepuss’s childhood best friend, and has become a well known Southern Gothic novelist whose marriage has fallen apart because of his sexuality. They are exact opposites, with Snagglepuss being flitty and carefree and Huckleberry being anxious and depressed. The way that their relationship grows and changes, and how they cope, or don’t cope, is one of the saddest aspects of this book, and the one that had me weeping openly of Hanna-Barbera characters. I never thought I’d see the day. But that just goes to show how excellent Russell is as a writer: he takes two dimensional cartoon characters and breathes life into them, redefining them and bringing relevant social concepts to life through them.

The artistic style that Mike Feehan brings to this story is also incredibly compelling. The characters look realistic, with Snagglepuss absolutely designed like a mountain lion in stature and gait, but not out of place within the real world they are mingling in. The animals are the right amount of anthropomorphized without feeling uncanny or eerie.

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(source: DC Comics)

“Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles” feels timely because the rise of paranoia and corruption within our current administration, and the constant Othering of various groups that don’t fit into the mold that they deem as ‘true Americans’. It feels like a warning, and it makes it all the more intense and powerful of a read. But it also feels like you’re reading about familiar friends, and are learning a great deal about them that you never knew, even though they were always like this. It’s ingenious and effective, and I loved every bit of it. And it’s stories like this that make me run back to DC Comics, because this is by and large one of, if not the, best graphic novels I have read in a very long time. I have my issues with DC, but I stand by the fact that I find some of the stories they tell to be incredibly ambitious and outside the box. And, heavens to Murgatroyd, I cannot recommend “Exit Stage Left” enough.

Rating 10: This brilliant and poignant story takes a well known character and gives him depth, heart, and complexity. Snagglepuss and his friends jump off the page in a story that feels as timely as it does foreboding.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles” isn’t on many specifically relevant Goodreads lists, but I think it has a place on “My Country, The Enemy”, and “Graphic Novels Featuring LGBTQ Themes”.

Find “Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Serena’s Review: “The Sisters of the Winter Wood”

37854049Book: “The Sisters of the Winter Wood” by Rena Rossner

Publishing Info: Redhook, September 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: from the publisher!

Book Description: Raised in a small village surrounded by vast forests, Liba and Laya have lived a peaceful sheltered life – even if they’ve heard of troubling times for Jews elsewhere. When their parents travel to visit their dying grandfather, the sisters are left behind in their home in the woods.

But before they leave, Liba discovers the secret that their Tati can transform into a bear, and their Mami into a swan. Perhaps, Liba realizes, the old fairy tales are true. She must guard this secret carefully, even from her beloved sister.

Soon a troupe of mysterious men appear in town and Laya falls under their spell-despite their mother’s warning to be wary of strangers. And these are not the only dangers lurking in the woods…

The sisters will need each other if they are to become the women they need to be – and save their people from the dark forces that draw closer.

Review: The book description for this title reads like an itemized list of “what Serena looks for in fantasy fiction.” Fairytale-like? Check. Sisterhood? Check. Mysterious men? Check. Add to that a gorgeous cover and requesting this book really was a no brainer. And I’m definitely glad I did, as not only were the expectations raised by the description met, but the book offered up several other unexpected surprise delights.

Much of the main plot points are lain out in the book description itself. The two sisters who are suddenly thrust into a new reality, one filled with shape-shifters and magic. The sudden absence of beloved parents. The appearance of a strange group of men. And throughout it all, the looming fear of what it truly means to be these new, strange beings who can transform into bears and swans. Who are their people? Who is their family? And who will they be once they allow this power to emerge?

I very much enjoyed the fairytale feeling that was at the heart of this story. Many elements involved, the dark woods, mysterious stranger but oddly beautiful and compelling strangers who temp with delicious, rare fruits, animal transformations, and sibling relationships, all ring for the type of tale we expect. But what made it even more exciting to read was that together as a whole, this was a completely unique tale. Reading a bit of how the author read the book, it sounds like it is partially based on some Jewish folklore, so while there were familiar pieces (remnants of “The Goblin Market” story), it felt like a breath of fresh air into a genre often  bogged down in the same stories told a million different ways.

The writing in this book completely supported this fairytale medium, deftly laid down in beautiful and lyrical strokes. On top of this, the author included a good amount of the Yiddish language within the story and dialogue. Not familiar with the language myself, I often had to take advantage of the definitions at the end of the book, but I truly appreciate the added authenticity these language choices gave the book. Rossner did not pull back and dumb down any of these choices for the unfamiliar reader and added to the feeling of immersion in this world and culture.

Further on the writing, going in, I was unaware that half of the book was written in verse. The story alternates chapters between Liba and Laya, and Laya’s portions are told through poetry. This was an interesting choice to not only diversity the type of writing but to further examine the differences between Liba and Laya. Liba, the older sister and, rather stereotypically, more responsible sister is written in very straightforward prose. She presents her experiences, thoughts and emotions clearly and without much embellishment. This further ties together towards her animal form, the bear, an Earth bound creatures that is strong and steady. Laya, on the other hand, is a being of the air and has the ability to transform into a swan, so her bits flow wildly to and fro and benefit from the stylistic choices available through poetic style.

While I liked the overall choices behind writing these characters this way, it did ultimately present a bit of a problem with how I connected with each character. I was likely always going to gravitate towards the more pragmatic Liba, but Laya was also slightly damaged for both her storyline (she’s the one to get into trouble with the mysterious strangers after, something that is obviously a terrible idea from the get go) and the fact that she simply  had much less page time being written from a poetic form. But overall, stories of sisterly bonds are always going to pull together for me, so even while I was always anxious to return to Liba’s portions of the story, Laya pulled her own weight as far as valuing her sister which ultimately endeared her to me.

There is also a good deal of history woven through the text, especially regarding the tensions that can so quickly build and the anti-semitism that can lurk below the surface even in seemingly happy secular and Jewish communities. Some of the portions of this book were rather hard to read with the challenges that Liba, Laya and her people face, but it was also a good exploration of how easily prejudices can be used to outcast an entire group of people from a home they’ve loved and built for years.

From the book description, and the fact that it is targeted towards adult audiences, I had some assumptions about this being a darker fairytale. And while there are dark elements in it, I’m not sure that that is truly the genre (or audience) that this story is geared towards. Instead, it read much more like a fantasy romance and I think would greatly appeal to YA readers, especially those who like reading poetry. But that being said, I do think all fantasy fans, especially fairytale fantasy fans, will enjoy this book.

Rating 8: A strong new entry in fairytale fiction, especially for those looking for unique tales with a heavy dose of sisterhood and romance.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Sisters of the Winter Wood” is a new title so isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists, but it is on “Atmospheric Woods.”

Find “The Sisters of the Winter Wood” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Bombshells United: American Soil”

37489649Book: “Bombshells United (Vol. 1): American Soil” by Marguerite Bennett, Marguerite Sauvage (Ill.), Marcelo DiChiara (Ill.), and Siya Oum (Ill.).

Publishing Info: DC Comics, July 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: The DC Bombshells unite in this collection BOMBSHELLS UNITED VOL. 1, continuing the hit franchise!

Author Marguerite Bennett (DC BOMBSHELLS, BATWOMAN) unites the women of DC BOMBSHELLS in an alternate history tale with Wonder Woman on the front lines of battle.

The Bombshells are back in an all-new series! As our new tale begins, the year is 1943 during WWII, and Wonder Woman is called to Arizona for help by two young girls named Cassie Sandsmark and Donna Troy! The girls’ friends and families are being displaced from their homes and forced into internment camps! To save them, can Wonder Woman fight against the same people she once fought alongside?

To make matters worse, Clayface has infiltrated the camp and is disguised as loved ones to throw Wonder Woman off. Collects issues #1-6.

Review: Thus, we being with the first collection of the final series of DC Bombshells. I’m still livid and bitter that this series was cancelled, but I’m going to see it through and enjoy it/support it until the very end. What I found most fascinating when I read about the “Bombshells United” series is that this one isn’t going to just look at the ills that foreign nations committed during WWII, but also the rotten things that happened on the home front, and in the country that The Bombshells swore to protect. To me, it’s refreshing that Marguerite Bennett decided to turn scrutiny on the United States for this next arc, because we did some absolutely shameful stuff during WWII. The big theme of “Bombshells United: American Soil” is that of Executive Order 9066: Japanese Internment. And given that we seem to have forgotten our own history, it’s an important reminder that we are not unfamiliar with grievous civil rights abuses. Especially since we seem to be on the path to repeating them.

We get to see Wonder Woman back at the forefront at the start of this new series, and it is always a breath of fresh air to see her. Diana Prince is truly one of the most pure and good DC Superheroes, and it felt fitting that she would be the Bombshell to be confronting the evils of the Japanese Internment. It allows us as a reader to measure up our very imperfect (and in this case horrendous) policies to Wonder Woman as the ideal we should strive for. But what makes it a bit more interesting is the introduction of Donna Troy and Cassie Sandsmark, two Wonder ladies in their own right (both of them filling the Wonder Girl role at different times). Cassie and Donna in this both have vested and personal interests against the Japanese internment, as they are both Japanese American (though Cassie is white passing, she still would have been imprisoned based on the law). You throw in Emily Sung and Yuri and Yuki, and you have a group of marginalized people who are participating in the dissent and the resistance, which in turn makes it so Wonder Woman doesn’t act solely as a white savior. It’s pretty well done, and I liked the dynamic that Bennett created between them and Wonder Woman (as they eventually form to become The Wonder Girls) that allows them to fight against heinous domestic policy. In fact, at the end of this arc in the collection, Bennett lists a great number of resources people can look up regarding the Japanese Interment (along with some additional resources about how Indigenous peoples were treated during this time; Dawnstar does show up, and while I liked how powerful and important she was I’m a LITTLE afraid that Bennett is kind of falling into the ‘magical Indian’ trope with her).

HOWEVER, there were a few stumbling moments in this series to me. The first involves the introduction of Clayface. He is the face of antagonism in this series, as he’s a former soldier who is very in favor of the internment. It all comes back to him seeing the American Ideal that must be protected at all costs, and he is obsessed with Wonder Woman because to him, that’s what she represents. This in and of itself is a very intriguing concept and metaphor for blind nationalism. But my problem is less to do with that and more to do with the pay off. For those who don’t want to know, we have our usual

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(source)

Clayface, of course, sees the light through compassion, empathy, and the selfless sacrifice of Wonder Woman. This does two things: it makes it so the Wonder Girls get a little bit more to do in their own story (which is fine), but it also trades in one really well done and rounded character at this point for five new characters who are brand new to the story and not very complex as of yet. Donna is the exception, but the rest of the Wonder Girls as of now could VERY easily get lost in the crowd, which is a similar problem with the Bat Girls in previous issues. Speaking of the Bat Girls, the story of Harvey Dent going from villain to ally all through the power of love has basically been regurgitated with The Wonder Girls, as now Clayface is fighting on the side of good. We’ve seen this already! And I want to see more of that kind of thing with Harvey, if I’m being honest! Oh, and it happens with Baroness Paula van Gunther, as she ALSO shows up for about three seconds to say that SHE TOO has seen the error of her ways! WHY? In execution it’s because of Dawnstar, but in terms of why it has happened characterization wise, that remains to be seen. The good news is that Wonder Woman isn’t gone for good, as she has pretty much reappeared by the end of the collection (SORT OF, she’s kind of become a hybrid of Diana and Donna, it’s complicated), but it definitely feels like she may be stepping aside. Which I have a lot of feelings about.

On top of that, it has become very clear that even MORE Bombshells are going to be added to this universe. The heartening thing about that is that Bennett really wants to give all these awesome ladies their due, but the worrying aspect is we are getting VERY close to fantasy bloat territory here. I worry that by adding all these characters, they REALLY won’t be able to shine properly because they will always be competing for page time. Especially since the series was so unceremoniously cancelled before it could go as far as it wanted to. But hey, there is some good news in this slew, and I mean SLEW, of new faces.

BLACK CANARY IS HERE!!!!!

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Looking good, Dinah! (source: DC Comics)

So overall, BOMBSHELLS UNITED was an important collection with an important story, but I’m starting to worry that this series is getting overcome with the number of characters it has. I really don’t want it to get bogged down. But that said, I’m excited to see where it goes next!

Rating 7: An important message and mostly responsible storytelling kicks off this new Bombshells series, but some of the recycled themes and explosion of new characters was a bit harder to swallow this time around.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Bombshells: United (Vol.1): American Soil” is included on the Goodreads lists “If You Liked Agent Carter, Try…”, and “Historical Fiction About Japanese Internment Camps”.

Find “Bombshells: United (Vol.1): American Soil” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously Reviewed:

Not Just Books: September 2018

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

Serena’s Picks

mv5bmtk3ndy5mtu0nv5bml5banbnxkftztgwndi3mde1ntm-_v1_sy1000_cr006791000_al_Movie: “Mission – Impossible: Fallout”

I actually watched this in August but somehow forgot to include it in that list, so it’s going on here! The “Mission – Impossible” series is one of those strange beasts that somehow has gotten better with age. Not only do we all want to check in to see what crazy stunt Tom Cruise will be pulling off this time, but the cinematography with how said stunt is shot has gotten better and better. Chock full of action, this lasted movie leans in on all that was great with the ones before it. The cast is phenomenal (though I will always hold the weird blurred section on Superman’s face in “Justice League” against this movie as it was the mustache Cavill had to grow here that they were trying to cover up). The action was non-stop. And it was even fun to see a few familiar faces from movies past. If you’re a fan of the franchise, this is a worthy next entry.

mv5bmjizmdcymdcxov5bml5banbnxkftztgwmtg1ndk2ntm-_v1_Amazon Prime Show: “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan”

So apparently it was an action movie/show type of month for me, as my second pick features yet another franchise heavy weight. This time it’s John Krasinski who takes on the titular role, and does an excellent job of it (to no one’s surprise). I’ve seen several of the past movies, but haven’t read any of the books, and the character was always only mildly interesting to me. But Krasinki’s effortless charm brings a new level of soulfulness to the standard action hero, and the show wisely learns lessons from other successful mini series, especially that shows like this often live and die on the strength of the villain. And here they devote a good amount of time to developing the villain and even, at times, making him a sympathetic character. The show was also incredibly tense at times, and I’m sure more than one kitten was squeezed more than he would have liked as I watched.

mv5bntrjnta4ymetnmu5zc00yjfjltk0yzmtnmfhzdi0zgyxnmi5xkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymtk3ndawmzi-_v1_Netflix Show: “Safe”

Telling the story of a father who lives with his family in a gated community when he teenage daughter goes missing, “Safe” is both comfortingly familiar as well as interestingly new. “Broadchurch-like” could almost be a genre of its own at this point,  and this would fall well within that as the story plays the same mind games by introducing a wide cast of suspects all hiding their own secrets. However, it is an interesting twist plotting the story around a missing girl rather than than a known murder. The question of whether she’s alive or not is its own mystery for much of the story. While I, like many, was horribly burned by the ending of “Dexter,” I always liked Michael C. Hall, so it’s a blast to see him in action again. Yes, the accent is weird at first (the story is set in England), but after a while, even that faded as I focused in on the secrets that were slowly be revealed.

Kate’s Picks

220px-hamilton-posterMusical: “Hamilton”

Yep. I saw “Hamilton”. It is currently running in the Twin Cities, and my mother was one of the lucky people to win the lottery to get a time slot to potentially be able to buy tickets. And yes, it was that complicated. But she scored four, and my husband and I went with my parents (it was a birthday gift to him from my folks). I had high hopes that it was going to be good, because after all, I enjoy the soundtrack. But even with that knowledge I couldn’t anticipate just how excellent it was going to be. The music is, of course, phenomenal, but actually seeing the players on stage was a whole other experience, and everyone was great. Not only is it entertaining and in a lot of ways informative, it’s also an incredibly emotional show. By the end of the show I had been moved to tears multiple times, and all of us really loved the performance.

mv5bmjm0mda2ndeznf5bml5banbnxkftztgwodyznjg4ntm-_v1_ux182_cr00182268_al_TV Show: “You”

It’s finally here!!! Near the inception of this blog I read “You” by Caroline Kepnes, and really enjoyed it. Since that first read, I’ve re-read it multiple times, as I am downright obsessed with Joe Goldberg, the psychopathic stalker extraordinaire. You can imagine how excited I was when I found out that Lifetime was turning the Joe Goldberg books into a TV series, and now that it’s started airing it’s been so great to see on screen. Penn Badgeley is a VERY good Joe, and while the show has tweaked and made some changes to the book (some of which I’m not COMPLETELY on board with yet) it has really captured the essence of the narrative at its very heart. It’s been so fun seeing the various moments from the book play out, from mentions of a red ladle to ‘engine engine number 9’ (if you’ve read it you know what these mean), and two episodes in I’m completely hooked.

mv5byzg2zdq3mjctytqxyy00nzljlwe5mtgtyzjimmm5ztmyyjnkxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymjywnda2mde-_v1_uy268_cr00182268_al_TV Show: “The Purge”

I first saw the original “Purge” movie a few years ago, and found beneath the horror movie surface a story that had a lot to say about American society, specifically how the ‘haves’ victimize the ‘have nots’. For the unaware, the basic premise is that an extremist political party known as the New Founding Fathers of America is now the dominant party, and once a year they hold a Purge, in which all crime is legal for twelve hours.  The TV series takes place on the 10th Purge, and follows a number of people during the twelve hours, from a man looking for his sister, to a liberal minded couple who is wooing NFFA big wigs in hopes of getting funding for a charity project, to a woman who has a grudge against her colleagues, to a mysterious masked ‘purger’. It continues to ask a lot of good questions about who would support The Purge, and who would be victimized by it.

Serena’s Review: “The Reluctant Queen”

32600602Book: “The Reluctant Queen” by Sarah Beth Durst

Publishing Info: Harper Voyager, July 2017

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

Book Description: Not long ago, Daleina used her strength and skill to survive those spirits and assume the royal throne. Since then, the new queen has kept the peace and protected the humans of her land. But now for all her power, she is hiding a terrible secret: she is dying. And if she leaves the world before a new heir is ready, the spirits that inhabit her beloved realm will run wild, destroying her cities and slaughtering her people.

Naelin is one such person, and she couldn’t be further removed from the Queen—and she wouldn’t have it any other way. Her world is her two children, her husband, and the remote village tucked deep in the forest that is her home, and that’s all she needs. But when Ven, the Queens champion, passes through the village, Naelin’s ambitious husband proudly tells him of his wife’s ability to control spirits—magic that Naelin fervently denies. She knows that if the truth of her abilities is known, it will bring only death and separation from those she loves.

But Ven has a single task: to find the best possible candidate to protect the people of Aratay. He did it once when he discovered Daleina, and he’s certain he’s done it again. Yet for all his appeals to duty, Naelin is a mother, and she knows her duty is to her children first and foremost. Only as the Queen’s power begins to wane and the spirits become emboldened—even as ominous rumors trickle down from the north—does she realize that the best way to keep her son and daughter safe is to risk everything.

Previously reviewed: “The Queen of Blood”

Review: “The Queen of Blood” was a book that seemed to be flying under the radar and much deserved a bigger notice. The story of Daleina’s tremulous rise to the queendom was full of action, pain, death, and triumph, and I loved every minute of it. Ending with her finally on the throne, I was so excited to see where her story went next, so I went into “The Reluctant Queen” with high expectations. Unfortunately, while it still had strong aspects that I liked, over all it didn’t quite live up to those expectations for me.

Daleina has only been on the throne for six months when she learns that she is dying, having contracted a disease that results in her falling into a death-like coma at random intervals, until, after a few short months, she finally doesn’t wake from one. This leaves the kingdom in a terrible state, having lost all of its heirs in the massacre that occurred when Daleina rose to power at the end of the last book. Frantic, she sends out her Champions to search for an heir, but secretly places all of her hope and trust into Ven, her own Champion. And luckily for everyone, he finds someone. But unluckily for everyone, she’s a happy family woman how has no interest in ambition or taking on the dangerous role of Queen.

While this book didn’t live up to my expectations based on the first one, several of the strengths that I so appreciated there were still used here. For one, the world-building remains on point. Renthia is not a safe place to live, and even with a Queen in power, we see that challenges that face the people of a world infested with malicious spirits who wish to do them harm. Like the first book, this one doesn’t shy away from the bloody and tragic results when the spirits gain even an ounce of freedom. And it isn’t only nameless deaths, but ones that our characters and us as readers feel ourselves. By leaning into these horrors, the stakes of this story are high from the beginning and we’re never given a chance to forget what it would really mean should our main characters not find a solution.

There is also a compelling mystery at the heart of the story that leaves readers and the characters questioning the loyalty of everyone around them. While I could guess the identity of the person ultimately pulling the strings fairly easily, the traitor at the heart of things did come as a surprise and had its own tragedy tied up with it.

I also enjoyed reading once again about some of the familiar characters. Ven, of course, was still his excellent grumpy, but dangerous, self. We saw our favorite clever wolf Bane back again. And most surprising of all, got to spend a good deal of time with Daleina’s younger sister as she worked to find a cure for her sister’s illness. Daleina, herself, was also still a joy to read, but this starts to get into my qualms as well. There simply wasn’t enough of her! After spending the entire first book reading about her story, it was tough coming into this one and finding her largely side-lined for most of it, seen through the eyes of others as a regal, powerful figure, while we, who have seen her inner struggles, know there is so much more going on there. I think it was a misstep to essentially bench a character like Daleina who had been given such a good amount of development and was now finally facing the challenges she had been working towards in the first book.

And then, of course, that leaves us with our other major new character, the reluctant heir Naelin. Look, I really, really wanted to like Naelin. For one thing, she’s another example of a middle aged woman serving as a lead in fantasy fiction, something that’s not seen very often. And, what’s more, she’s a mother who must balance her this role with every decision she makes.

I’m not a mother myself, so I can’t speak to the realities of this situation, and I get what the author was trying to do, presenting Naelin in a manner that reinforces that this is the part of herself that she values the most. But after reading an entire book from Daleina’s perspective, a girl who had suffered her own tragedies and left those she loved behind because she recognized the greater duty of protecting them using even her own limited powers, it just rankled to read about Naelin’s struggles here. Naelin who is immensely more powerful than Daleina and who is presented with an even more dire situation. And yet, for almost three quarters of the book, all we get from her is not just reluctance, as the title would suggest, but out right, irrational, refusal to step up.

And I want to highlight the “irrational” portion of that. Her fears are largely based in not wanting harm to come to her children and thinking her best avenue to protect them is staying with them constantly. Yes, in a vacuum this is correct. But she lives in a land plagued by spirits who are only held in check by the power of a queen. Without that queen, without heirs ready to take over should that queen fall at any  moment, everyone, including her children, will be exposed to not only danger but likely death. Again and again, Naelin’s actions were so short-sighted that it became harder and harder to like her. At a certain point, it started to even come across as selfishness. Did she think all of the others heirs and queens didn’t have families and loved ones of their own? And she’s even being allowed to keep her family with her!

She does come around in the end, and the last portion of the book has some really intense action and it is fun to watch Naelin’s power at work. But for me, it was a bit too little too late. On top of not connecting to Naelin’s character fully, as the story went on and she dug her heels more and more into incomprehensible refusals, I also began to resent the lost page time that we could have spent with Daleina.

Ultimately, while the story still retained much of what made me like the first book so much (the dark work, great side characters, and Daleina herself), my dislike of the new main character plagued the story too much for me to fully ever enjoy it. I’ll likely still read the next one, as, like I said, Naelin does get herself together at the end of the book, and the story was left with several big questions left open. But fans of the original story should definitely expect a change if they pick up this one.

Rating 6: A disappointing sequel due largely to an unlikable new main character, but not without merit as a whole.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Reluctant Queen” isn’t on many relevant lists for some reason, but it is on “Queens.”

Find “The Reluctant Queen” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “We Sold Our Souls”

37715859Book: “We Sold Our Souls” by Grady Hendrix

Publishing Info: Quirk Books, September 2018

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

Book Description: A new novel of supernatural horror (and pop culture) from the author of Horrorstor, My Best Friend’s Exorcism, and Paperbacks from Hell.

In the 1990s, heavy metal band Dürt Würk was poised for breakout success — but then lead singer Terry Hunt embarked on a solo career and rocketed to stardom as Koffin, leaving his fellow bandmates to rot in rural Pennsylvania.

Two decades later, former guitarist Kris Pulaski works as the night manager of a Best Western – she’s tired, broke, and unhappy. Everything changes when she discovers a shocking secret from her heavy metal past: Turns out that Terry’s meteoric rise to success may have come at the price of Kris’s very soul.

This revelation prompts Kris to hit the road, reunite with the rest of her bandmates, and confront the man who ruined her life. It’s a journey that will take her from the Pennsylvania rust belt to a Satanic rehab center and finally to a Las Vegas music festival that’s darker than any Mordor Tolkien could imagine. A furious power ballad about never giving up, even in the face of overwhelming odds, We Sold Our Souls is an epic journey into the heart of a conspiracy-crazed, paranoid country that seems to have lost its very soul…where only a girl with a guitar can save us all. 

Review: A special thanks to NetGalley for sending me and eARC of this book!

My musical heart deftly belongs to New Wave and Punk music, but I have indeed dabbled in the wonders of metal, specifically Norwegian Black Metal bands like Mayhem and Darkthrone. So with my slight knowledge of some history of the evolution of black metal (thanks, Last Podcast on the Left!) I was all the more intrigued by Grady Hendrix’s new horror novel “We Sold Our Souls”. Given how much I thoroughly enjoyed “My Best Friend’s Exorcism”, I had high hopes that his newest work would be a similar reading experience.

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But with more corpse paint. (source)

We follow Kris, a former heavy metal musician whose life has gone off the rails. She used to be a founding member of gritty club band Dürt Würk that was on the edge of stardom, only for one night that has haunted her ever since to throw them all off track. Now Kris is working at a Best Western, and her former friend and bandmate, Terry Hunt, has found stardom through Nu Metal with a band called Koffin. Kris is a fairly typical Hendrix protagonist, in that she is flawed and damaged, but scrappy as hell. Her passion for metal is apparent from the get go, but Hendrix never falls into any familiar tropes that other less skilled authors may have implemented. Kris isn’t a sexy bad girl with dyed hair and a snarly attitude, nor is she too edgy for her own good (because ‘edgy’ is obviously how a woman metal head would be). On the contrary, she’s older, she’s a bit used up, and she’s somewhat unlikable, but she also has a heart and a soul and a drive to reclaim her past and the success that she assuredly is owed. Her love of the genre is thrown into every page, with quick and dirty history lessons tossed in here and there to give her a serious grounding within her place and her motivations. Hendrix is great at tossing in the pop culture without being overt about it, so it feels organic and natural as opposed to slapped on for the sake of it. Her journey of reconnecting with her bandmates, and then figuring out that they are in danger because of an ever present dark force that goes back to the night the band broke up, is a fun journey that has a lot of moments of pathos, be it about lost friendships, the unfairness of the music industry, or loving something so much and just not quite achieving a life within in no matter how hard you try. Kris’s story in this regard absolutely worked for me.

What didn’t work as well were the actual horror aspects of this book. As it says in the description, Kris’s soul was sold to a demonic entity so that Terry could succeed. It isn’t as simple as a Mephistopheles kind of deal, as Hendrix makes his own mythos and runs with it. While I appreciate the creativity here, I think that Hendrix does falter a bit when it comes to the horror elements of his books. There were scenes with various demonic beings, creatures, and forces that were meant to scare and unsettle, but every time we interacted with them it felt a little bit forced. Some of the scariest moments had nothing to do with the demons, and more to do with everyday horrors that felt plausible and completely realistic. For example, there is a scene where Kris has found herself in an underground pipe system, and can’t go backwards, only forwards, not knowing if the pipe is going to dead end out, or if she is going to get stuck. THIS was the part of the book that had my heart racing, not seeing someone get torn to pieces by possessed followers of Terry. Hendrix’s true strength is within the heart he gives his characters, and if this book had just been about a former band member confronting the person who did her wrong, without the supernatural elements, it would have been just as lovely and effective. But that doesn’t say much about the horror elements, now does it.

All that said, I did enjoy reading “We Sold Our Souls”, and think that Hendrix has once again delivered an entertaining and heartfelt book. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go blast some Darkthrone on a loop for a bit and just get lost in the music that he so lovingly brings to life within the pages of this book.

Rating 7: A fun love letter to heavy metal, “We Sold Our Souls” has a lot of strengths, but also falls into familiar traps when Hendrix tries a little too hard to be scary.

Reader’s Advisory:

“We Sold Our Souls” is fairly new and not on any Goodreads lists as of yet. But if you are interested in metal music, “Lords of Chaos” may be of interest to you, and it would also fit in on “Books for Metalheads”.

Find “We Sold Our Souls” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Dreadful Company”

36518517Book: “Dreadful Company” by Vivian Shaw

Publishing Info: Orbit, July 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: from the publisher!

Book Description: When Greta Helsing, doctor to the undead, is unexpectedly called to Paris to present at a medical conference, she expects nothing more exciting than professional discourse on zombie reconstructive surgery and skin disease in bogeymen — and hopefully at least one uneventful night at the Opera.

Unfortunately for Greta, Paris happens to be infested with a coven of vampires — and not the civilized kind. If she hopes to survive, Greta must navigate the darkest corners of the City of Lights, the maze of ancient catacombs and mine-tunnels underneath the streets, where there is more to find than simply dead men’s bones.

Previously reviewed: “Strange Practice”

Review: I loved the brilliantly odd “Strange Practice” and blazed through it in a single summer day last year. So there was no question that I would get my hands on its sequel, “Dreadful Company” as soon as possible. And the quirkiness, strong characters, and unique world-building came through for me again!

Though a doctor to the undead, Greta Helsing’s responsibilities are very similar to those you’d find for any medical professional, up to and including attending conferences and presenting on obscure topics of medical interest. While at such a conference in Paris, however, things go astray when Greta starts noticing strange (but adorable!) little monsters popping up at her hotel room. Where did they come from? Why are they here? What starts out as innocent questions quickly leads Greta down a path that leads to a nasty group of vampires who read a few too many Anne Rice novels for anyone’s tastes. But even this may be just the beginning of a much more serious threat looming over the entire city.

One of the biggest strengths of the first book was its world building and the clever manipulation of classic monsters into new, often very suave, beings. And here that strength is just as evident. In a new city, we are introduced to several new creatures ranging from the adorable well monsters and hair monsters that lurk in Greta’s hotel room to the bigger power players such as a werewolf who has been the guardian of the city for centuries and two undying ghost experts who are just in town to handle a local haunting. They are all expertly crafted and incorporate interesting twists on the traditional lore associated with these types of supernatural creatures.

Of course, the vampire coven itself is one big mockery of many of the tropes found in vampire fiction. You’ve got leather, you’ve got glitter, you’ve got bones used to decorate gothic, blood orgies. And while they serve as menacing villains on their own, half of the fun is enjoying Greta and her friends scathing judgement of the silliness of this group.

Of course, among the new faces, we also have the familiar ones of our favorite vampires, Rutheven and Varney who must come to Paris when they discover that Greta may be in over her head (but is she really, guys? It’s Greta! Girl can get it done!). In the first book, there were several fun asides having to do with the classic vampire fiction which was derived from these two real vampires’ lives. Here, we have even more classic monster tales making an appearance, even if the monsters themselves remain in the shadows. Probably one of the most fun pieces of this story, for me, was watching how these classic tales were worked into the story on hand, and I was particularly thrilled when one in particular became a much larger focus than I had originally thought!

Greta, of course, is her usual excellent self as the heroine of the tale. While this book incorporated even more characters, which meant even more page time that needed to be shared between their stories that twisted in and out of Greta’s own, I still found myself preferring her story specifically. Not only is she a fun character to follow, but it was great seeing her in action in this story, winning over her foes with her competence and sympathy. She may not be up to fighting any battles with supernatural beings, but here she proves why she doesn’t have to.

The story was slower in the beginning, so it did take a bit for me to become fully invested in events. As I said, Greta is sharing the stage not only with the familiar characters from the first book, but with an entirely new cast of characters, friends and foes alike. And while all of their various plot lines tie together neatly in the end, in the beginning it was a bit tough reading some of the slower storylines while wanting to anxiously get back to the action with Greta. It all pays off in the end, however.

For fans of the first book, I definitely recommend continuing with this series! In many ways, it’s even stronger than the first.

Rating 8: A solid second showing proves that the clever concept and compelling characters weren’t a one-off!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Dreadful Company” is a newer book so isn’t on any relevant lists, but it should be on “Magic Punk.”

Find “Dreadful Company” at your library using WorldCat!

A Revisit to Fear Street: “The Boy Next Door”

176473Book: “The Boy Next Door” (Fear Street #39) by. R.L. Stine

Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, 1996

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: This guy’s got killer looks…

Lauren and Crystal think Scott has it all. He’s handsome. He’s the new star of Shadyside High’s football team. And he’s moved in right next door! Both girls will do anything. Say anything. Try anything to get the chance to go out with him. That’s all either of them want.

But that’s all Scott’s last girlfriend wanted, too—and now she’s dead.

Had I Read This Before: No.

The Plot: We open with an as of yet unnamed narrator who is attending their girlfriend Dana’s funeral. It’s first person POV, and the narrator is talking about how they convinced Dana to sneak with them into the backyard of their neighbor so they could go swimming after dark. They convinced Dana to do a swan dive off the diving board, and she did… but joke’s on her, the pool was empty, and since it was pitch black apparently (light pollution or other lights from neighboring houses nonexistent) she didn’t realize it and crashed headfirst into the cement. Our narrator muses about how they pulled her out and waited for her last breath before calling out for help. Apparently this was all done because they didn’t like that Dana started wearing short skirts and make-up because that’s ‘no way to behave’, but they say that they REALLY hope their next girlfriend doesn’t make them commit murder like Dana did.

Wow. Wow wow wow. You know, I’d say something snarky, but given that I feel like this is how incels actually approach women I just am kind of saddened by how ‘too real’ this prologue is.

Jump to Shadyside, specifically Fear Street, where Crystal is on the phone with her BFF since third grade Lynne as they talk about make-up and boys (NOTE: her name is Lynne, not Lauren, and boy was THAT a significant typo to be on the back cover of this book). Crystal notices that a moving truck has pulled up to the house next door, and who should jump out but a very CUTE BOY! Crystal gives Lynne the play by play as she watches the cute boy walk into the house, and then into the room across from her window. As Crystal watches him take his shirt off (at Lynne’s insistence, natch), she panics as he spots her. She drops the phone and disconnects from Lynne, and by the time she calls back he’s pulled his shade down. And, wouldn’t you know it, this new boy next door was our previous unnamed narrator. His name is Scott, and boy does he think Crystal looks like a TRAMP for wearing make up and a low cut LEOTARD, my GOD! He swears to himself that he won’t get so close to her that her wantonness makes him kill her.

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We aren’t even twenty five pages in and the misogyny is already trying the LAST of my patience (source).

Sometime later there is a knocking on Crystal’s front door, and while she hopes it’s Scott it’s just Lynne, whose blonde hair is now in ‘a thousand tiny braids’ in an effort to look like Bo Derek but really just looks like cultural appropriation. They split some ice cream and gossip about Scott (who is now Tailback for the Shadyside Tigers), and when Crystal’s Mom walks in the room Crystal internally laments that her mother is SO pretty but isn’t intersted in dating and isn’t that sad? I mean, Crystal, I get you want your Mom to be happy,  but maybe she is still a little bummed that your father died in that car accident a few years back? THEN Crystal’s sister Melinda walks in, and BOY IS SHE DRAB, with her sweaters and glasses and non polished nails! MAN! Then Lynne brings up some boy named Todd who asked Crystal out even though Melinda liked him, and Crystal can’t help being pretty and popular, Melinda, so why so upset about that blatant betrayal? Lynne asks Melinda what SHE thinks of Scott, and Melinda just blushes, which Crystal finds ‘sad’, because if she’s so SHY around boys she’ll NEVER get a boyfriend. Lynne states she’s going to ask him out, but Crystal says that SHE wants to ask him out, and they make a pact that whoever gets to go out with him (Melinda included, though Melinda isn’t too hopeful it would happen), rules need to be followed. 1) Be happy for whoever gets him, and 2) don’t try to sabotage the others to get an upper hand. They all agree, and Melinda goes off to read (NERD, amiright?), and Lynne goes to use the bathroom, but tosses a new tube of lipstick to Crystal. Crystal applies some, and then looks out the window to see Scott staring at her. Then he looks REAL mad about something, and hits the ground with the hoe he’s holding.

You’d think the Hoe Incident would have been a big ol’ red flag to Crystal, but at lunch later that week she and Lynne go to talk with Scott and another football player named Jake in hopes he’ll notice one of them. Lynne flirts relentlessly, but Scott seems more interested in talking to Crystal, and Crystal tells herself his garden tantrum must have been because of a fight with his parents or something. Lynne invites Scott over to her house that coming Sunday for a party (right in front of Jake, who has a thing for Lynne, so she cordially invites him too), but Scott says he can’t go. Lynne places her hand on his arm, and he raises his knife up in the air! Crystal thinks he’s going to stab Lynne, but he’s just pumping his fist for the sudden flash mob of a pep rally the cheerleaders are doing. She wonders if she’s losing it, and I’m thinking someone needs to give her “The Gift of Fear” STAT.

That Saturday Crystal goes into Melinda’s room in hopes of getting information on Scott (since Melinda shares a class with him). She also thinks about how lame Melinda is, what with her re-reading “Jane Eyre”, but I guess Melinda has her own prejudices because she rolls her eyes at her sister’s nail polish fetish. Melinda thinks that Scott is ‘sad’ about something (yes, very sad about murdering his girlfriend no doubt), and Crystal says that she thinks Lynne is going to win the contest because she is SO FLIRTY AND OUT THERE, and Crystal hasn’t gotten any phone calls from any guys in the past few weeks (except one, but that barely counts). Melinda isn’t exactly weeping in sympathy, and Crystal concludes that she’s jealous because Melinda is such an introvert and boys don’t pay any attention to her. She asks Melinda if she likes Scott too, and Melinda says she doesn’t even KNOW Scott so how could she like him? Crystal doesn’t accept that, but then Lynne calls so the sister conversation screeches to a halt. Lynne is bummed because Scott hasn’t called her either. Crystal mentions that Jake said that Scott is a good guy and a good football player, and Lynne decides that she should immediately hang up and pump Jake for information about this guy. Which seems a bit insensitive because Jake likes Lynne and Lynne knows it, but oh well. Crystal goes to get the mail and finds some that belongs to Scott’s dad, and sees this as the perfect opportunity to go ask him out. Meanwhile, Scott wakes up from a dream or something, thinking that he dreamed about killing the dog of a woman who ’embarrasses’ him by making kissy faces at him as he walks by. She’s described as having peroxide blonde hair and a nose ring, and could it be Suki Thomas?! I miss Suki!!! But then he looks at his hands, and realizes that there’s blood all over them. So maybe it wasn’t a dream after all. Luckily he has time to bury the dog!

After gathering the courage to go ask Scott out, Crystal walks up to the door (this has to be later…) and knocks on it. No one answers, but the door is open, so Crystal takes this as an invitation to walk inside. After all, if she doesn’t ask him out, Lynne certainly will! She climbs the steps, thinking her hears voices, and when she gets to the top she calls out for Scott. Someone then jumps out from behind a door and grabs her, but it’s just Jake playing a trick. Hardy har har, Jake. She follows him into Scott’s room, and Jake points out that they can see her bedroom from his bedroom. When he implies that Scott could spy, Scott gets SUPER offended and only calms down when Crystal says she knows he’d never do that. The doorbell rings, and Scott goes to answer it. When he comes back, Lynne is there! She claims that she was looking for Jake, but then looks VERY surprised and perturbed perhaps to see Crystal. Jake asks why she wanted to see him, and she says she needs help with her homework. So when Scott kicks them all out, Jake literally picks Lynne up and says he’ll help her right now. This is played for laughs, but given all the other creepy sexist stuff in here it just sticks out even worse than I probably would have before. Crystal doesn’t quite get the hint, but Scott asks her to leave too. Then he reiterates that he wouldn’t spy on her. Crystal hopes that he will kiss her, but when he doesn’t she leaves, humiliated. And then Scott is really mad that Crystal has been tempting him, and tries to calm down by reading the American Family magazine that she brought over… But then there’s a woman model in tight jeans, so he stabs himself in the hand. Like I said. Incel.

Later that week Crystal is determined to go ask Scott out, but when she gets to his house she sees Lynne parked on his porch with a bag of chips and a six pack of soda. Then Jake and Scott walk up, and once again they have an awkward hang out day in Scott’s house, watching TV together. Crystal not so subtly asks Scott if he has a girlfriend, and he says that he doesn’t anymore. Lynne asks why he hasn’t asked anyone out then, and he says he’s not ready. Crystal can tell that Scott seems upset, and wonders if Melinda was right about him. She crosses to sit next to him and asks why he doesn’t feel ready, and his weird flinchy reaction (so sexy, right girls?) makes her think that Melinda IS right. Lynne asks what the fuss is about and Scott says that he’s NOT ready to talk about it, and Crystal feels bad for being so ‘pushy’ with him because he probably has a broken heart and this is driving him crazy. Lynne suggests that they all go bike riding (though she implies that Crystal should go off with Jake), but once again Scott kicks them out, saying he has homework to do. The three of them start to leave, but then Lynne says she forgot her backpack. When she comes back out a few minutes later, Crystal can tell something happened. She waits for Jake to leave her house before asking Lynne, and Lynne says that she’s the winner because she kissed him. Crystal is mad, and Lynne reminds her of the first rule of the pact. Crystal says one kiss does NOT mean going out, but Lynne says she and Scott are going to be the talk of school. Meanwhile, Scott is so angry about her having the audacity to kiss him, he decides that she has to die.

So Scott goes to Lynne’s house and sneaks in, and finds her in the kitchen. He suggests that they go for a ride, and she says sure. He takes her to a cliffside under guise of looking at the view, but Lynne says she’s more interested in the view in the car. She tries to make a move, but he isn’t keen on it, and she says he’s weird because he broke and entered into her house and NOW he won’t even look at her, so what gives? She starts to kiss at him, and he’s about to smash her face into the dashboard, but then a random deus ex machina man knocks on the window asking for directions. Lynne gives them to him, and Scott knows he can’t kill her now. He thinks that she knew that he was going to kill her, but instead she comments on his ‘wild side’.

A week later Crystal and Lynne are hanging out at Lynne’s house and she’s SO upset that Scott hasn’t called her since their ‘date’. Crystal reminds her that he said he wasn’t ready to date, and maybe he tried but changed his mind. Lynne, so obsessed, doesn’t think that’s true, and for some reason they decide to call his with terrible French accents? For some reason? First two times it’s his mom. On the third time Lynne takes over, but Scott answers, and she panics. She admits that it’s her, and asks him if he wants to come over that night because her parents are out of town. Crystal is actually rooting for her now. But he says he has to clean up his room, and HONESTLY, LYNNE, at this point you need to just take the hint that he isn’t interested! I’m not siding with a psychopath, but if he was just a usual guy this would be really obsessive stalking behavior and it’s totally inappropriate. Scott hangs up and his Mom calls him to dinner. She complains about the prank calls and says that he shouldn’t hang out with ‘a girl like that’, and now we kinda get a glimpse into where his psychosis comes from.

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Mommy issues are truly an old reliable in horror! (source)

As she scolds him he decides that her weird anger at him over a dumb prank call is all Lynne’s fault, and imagines her guts spilling out.

Sometime later Crystal is calling Lynne but not getting an answer. It’s really late and she wonders where Lynne could be. She goes up into the attic, as Melinda likes to read up there, and they have a sisterly heart to heart about how different they are. Crystal says she doesn’t get how Melinda can be so comfortable being alone, but Melinda says that she doesn’t need other people to feel comfortable with herself. I like Melinda. Crystal is so worried about Lynne she goes to her house to check on her. She lets herself in with a spare key, noting a strange smell outside, and goes upstairs. She doesn’t find Lynne, but she does find a suicide note in which Lynne says that she had been acting in a way that was ‘no way to behave’!!! She realizes that the strange smell was exhaust, and runs out of the house and to the garage. She hears a car running, but can’t get the door open! When she jumps up to look in the window, she sees Lynne in the running car, dead!

At the funeral Scott thinks it’s dumb that Crystal is crying about Lynne being dead. After all, Lynne is dead because she ‘couldn’t behave’. He forced her by knifepoint to write the note and then locked her in the garage. He doesn’t like Crystal still because she had been throwing herself at him, but now that she’s stopped she’s a little better. He DOES, however, like Melinda, because MELINDA DOES know how to behave. He’s so relieved that Lynne is dead because now he won’t have to kill anyone ever again! Unless, of course, Crystal can’t behave…

A while later Melinda and Crystal are having another sisterly heart to heart, spilling their feelings and working out their differences. Melinda admits that she was jealous that Crystal and Lynne were so close. They are considering going to Jake’s house for a party when Scott calls! Crystal answers and they chat, and he says that he’d really hate for what happened to Lynne to happen to her. Crystal chalks it up to him just being worried about her, but then she’s floored, FLOORED when he says he actually wants to talk to Melinda! So Crystal hands the phone off, and Melinda talks to Scott… He then asks her to come over to the party at Jake’s! Melinda is freaking out, unsure of what to do or how to act, and Crystal encourages her to wear something cute and not like her dumpy usual clothes. Melinda isn’t sure, but Crystal says she will get her looking good, what a good deed she’s doing! And under normal circumstances, yes, but…..

At Jake’s party Scott is disgusted by all displays of women feeling confident in themselves. And when Melinda arrives, he is horrified to see her in a SHORT SKIRT!!! SO EVIL! But he does like that she waits to be invited in, so her manners are impeccable and that’s enough to grant a stay of execution for now. Later that night when Melinda gets home Crystal wants to hear everything. Melinda says that he didn’t kiss her goodnight, but he DID tell her about his old girlfriend, and that she died. He even cried about it. And then he asked her out for a movie that Saturday night. Crystal is wary about this, and she wonders if she’s just jealous, or if something else is nagging at her…

That Saturday Crystal is ‘helping’ Melinda get ready for her date. Melinda isn’t interested in wearing fancy clothes or make up, and refuses to let Crystal put any on. When Crystal protests, Melinda says that this is the way she dresses and she doesn’t want to gussy up! Crystal forces some blush on her, and there’s no time for Melinda to take it off because Scott is there to pick her up. Of course, when he sees her wearing MAKE UP he is FURIOUS. He takes the highway to the movie, and considers throwing her out the door! He almost does it too, but then changes his mind because he REALLY likes her, so he’s going to give her one more chance! Ugh. When Melinda gets home from her date she laments to Crystal that Scott doesn’t like her because he was quiet the whole time. Crystal says that that’s because Melinda is giving him mixed signals! SHE NEEDS TO DRESS SEXY AND WEAR MAKE UP, DAMMIT!

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(source)

Guys, I’m so frustrated. Like, okay, Scott is disgusting because he is a violent misogynist, and girls can wear make up and sexy outfits because him valuing purity is ridiculous and it does nothing but reduce women to objects, and this objectification of them when they don’t live up to his standards allows him to see them as less than human, and therefore okay to kill. BUT IN THE SAME VEIN, if Melinda doesn’t want to wear sexy outfits and doesn’t want to wear make up, THAT IS OKAY TOO!!! Why are we trying to make this into a value thing by saying that ‘oh no, Crystal wanting to gussy her up is going to get her killed!’, when in reality SCOTT IS GOING TO KILL HER BECAUSE HE’S NUTS!? Fuck this book.

Crystal makes Melinda go to school dressed up in full makeover mode, and Melinda says she isn’t comfortable. Crystal brushes off her sister’s lack of comfort, and spots Scott down the hallway. When she approaches him he’s slamming his fist into his locker and screaming about ‘no way to behave’, but when he sees her he tells her that he forgot his combination. Crystal is relieved because she was certain he was losing it (YA THINK?!), and then drags him down the hall to see Melinda. She’s convinced that his sudden look of shock is a positive thing.

A few days later Melinda is getting ready for her date with Scott, asking Crystal for advice on clothing. Now she’s apparently into fashion. Crystal is taking her sister’s relationship with Scott like a champ, and is going out with a friend that night to take her mind off of it. But she keeps thinking about ‘no way to behave’, because that was the phrase Lynne used in her suicide note, how weird! YES CRYSTAL, IT IS WEIRD! Meanwhile, Scott is pissed that Melinda is so dressed up, and she can tell that he’s upset. She tells him that she and Crystal have been trying to hard, what with her new look and all, and then Scott realizes that it’s CRYSTAL that’s been making her change her look! He tells her that he likes her the way she was, and that this is all Crystals’ fault! So now he thinks he has to kill Crystal! Melinda gets home and yells at Crystal about all the clothing, certain that Crystal was trying to sabotage her, and when she uses the phrase ‘no way to behave’, Crystal FINALLY gets it! She tells Melinda she thinks there’s something VERY wrong with Scott, and reminds her of the locker thing and the fact his girlfriend died, but Melinda doesn’t want to hear it and locks herself in her room. Crystal goes to HER room and looks out the window at Scott’s room, and sees him with a knife in his hand! She turns off her light so he doesn’t see her, but then he’s gone…. and heading outside and towards their house through the rainstorm that’s going on outside!! He rings the doorbell, and Crystal tells Melinda not to open it, but Melinda doesn’t listen and lets him inside. He then proceeds to chase Crystal up the steps, knife in hand!! He tackles her and is about to stab her, but Melinda at the bottom of the steps claims that THAT is Melinda he’s attacking (see, they look a LOT alike now that she’s all made over and shit). Scott is confused, but falls for it, and goes back DOWN the steps, now chasing Melinda! He attacks her, but Crystal smashes a vase over his head. The phone is dead because of the rain storm outside, and so the sisters run up to the attic. They hide in the steamer trunk, and Scott comes up into the attic. He realizes they have to be in the trunk, and knocks it over. They fall out, but he can’t tell them apart in the bad light, so he’s going to just have to kill them both…. but before he can he falls through the attic floor (I guess it was established earlier in the book that there was a hole, but I missed it). We get one more jump scare with him grabbing Crystal’s leg when she goes to investigate, but then he passes out.

Three months later Melinda and Crystal are thick as thieves. Melinda is still wearing cooler clothing, but is also still true to herself because she still likes books or something. Scott’s parents moved away and he’s locked up in a mental institution. As the sisters are getting ready to watch an old movie, they notice that a moving truck has pulled up to the house next door. A cute boy jumps out of the car. Melinda says that she ‘saw him first!’ The End.

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Gross. (source)

 

Body Count: 3, kinda. We got Dana off page, a dog, and Lynne.

Romance Rating: Zipola. Fuck that.

Bonkers Rating: 5, mostly because Scott’s psychosis was all over the place.

Fear Street Relevance: I’ll give it an 8! Both Scott and Crystal live on Fear Street and lots of the important action takes place there because of it.

Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:

“She tugged open the door. Saw someone standing there. Saw someone staring back at her. And started to scream.”

… And it was a mirror!!!

That’s So Dated! Moments: Well Stine is making references to Demi Moore movies again, since Crystal thinks that if she makes her voice husky like Moore she’ll be more desirable. Also, she and Lynne think that Scott looks like Keanu Reeves, but honestly I’m looking at that cover and I am NOT seeing that at all.

Best Quote:

“‘I’m not like you,’ Melinda told her. ‘I’m quiet. I don’t want to go out just to go out. If I enjoy someone’s company – great. But I don’t want someone around whose main purpose is to keep me from being alone.'”

That is actually the most introspective moment I’ve ever seen in a “Fear Street” book, so props to you, Melinda!

Conclusion: “The Boy Next Door” wasn’t exactly promoting violent misogyny, given that Scott is clearly the bad guy in this, but it was still a little too hard to read given the higher awareness of violence towards women because of ideas of purity and chastity and owing men things simply because they’re women. So this is a hard, hard pass. Next up is “Night Games”. 

Back to School: A Book List

While both of us are well past the point where fall means it’s time to head back to school, there are quite a few good books out there that run wild with the concept. I mean, even “Harry Potter,” at its core, is a British boarding school tale! Here are a few of our favorites!

24337Book: “Ella Enchanted”

Author: Gail Carson Levine

Even after the unspeakable movie was released and tried to taint this book forever, “Ella Enchanted” remains one of the more charming fairytale retellings you’ll run across. Ella was given a “gift” when she was born, the gift of obedience. Unsurprisingly, this gift turned out to be much more of a curse than anything else. Luckily, our plucky heroine never wavers in the face of her challenges and is determined to make a life for herself free of those who would use her gift/curse for themselves. Much of the story takes part at a boarding school where Ella has been sent to be finished. There she makes both friends and enemies. The whole book is just a delightful affair and the school elements makes readers praise their lucky stars that “finishing” so isn’t a thing anymore.

3008Book: “A Little Princess”

Author: Frances Hodgson Burnett

Obviously we had to include this, the almost quintessential boarding house book! This classic tells the tale of the young Sara Crewe, the daughter of a wealthy and devoted father who sends her to boarding school. While there, she learns of her father’s tragic death and her idealic life quickly becomes a nightmare, re-located to the attic and forced to work as a servant under the vengeful eyes of the awful headmistress. But through it all, Sara’s imagination and caring nature continue to give her strength. It’s a lovely story and probably has one of the best villains as far as evil teachers/headmistresses go!

35465844Book: “Tempests and Slaughter”

Author: Tamora Pierce

While it is tempting to simply include the first two Alanna books here since they, too, are school stories, we thought we’d include Pierce’s more recent release. This story focuses on the childhood of Numair, the powerful mage we follow in “The Immortals” series alongside Daine. The book covers Numair’s years from age 11 to 14, detailing his time at school as he learns to wrangle his own powerful magical abilities. He also befriends the ambitious prince Ozorne, another familiar face to fans of the original series. This is the first book in its own series, so it will be fun to see where the tale goes from here!

434631Book: “Freak Show”

Author: James St. James

James St. James, known predominantly for his time as a New York club kid and his book “Disco Bloodbath” (about sociopath Michael Alig), has created an over the top and boundary pushing ‘new kid in school’ story with “Freak Show”. Billy Bloom, a gay teenage drag queen with a flair for flamboyance and glamour, has been sent to live with his straight laced and wealthy father in Florida, who sends him to an elite school filled with kids who are not like Billy at all. Billy is teased and tormented for being out and proud, but finds a friend in the handsome school quarterback, Flip Kelly.  When Billy decides to buck the norms and run for homecoming queen, things REALLY get complicated. While this book is admittedly dated in a lot of ways, and while St. James is known to push the envelopes of bad taste, “Freak Show” is ultimately about being yourself, loving yourself, and finding your place.

510632Book: “Killing Mr. Griffin”

Author: Lois Duncan

The original queen of teenage suspense was known for giving her characters a lot of moral quandaries, and none were as controversial as “Killing Mr. Griffin”. A group of teens really hates their English teacher Mr. Griffin, and thinks that it would be fun to pull a prank on him just to teach him a lesson, so they kidnap him in hopes of scaring him into kindness. But then something goes wrong, and Mr. Griffin ends up dead. Now the kids have a real problem, as while some want to come forward, others want to pretend it never happened. “Killing Mr. Griffin” is one of those Lois Duncan books that brings up questions about responsibility and culpability, and makes the readers muddle through some complex issues. And while it has been considered a controversial book (it has been on the Banned Book List before), it has a lot to say about cause and effect and the consequences of our actions.

6334Book: “Never Let Me Go”

Author: Kazuo Ishiguro

Though now people are kind of aware that this is a dystopian book with questions about the ethics of cloning, what sometimes gets lost in the sauce is that it is, indeed, a boarding school story to start out with. Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth are all students at a mysterious boarding school called Hailsham, in which they are taught about high culture and living a healthy life. What they find out, however, is that they are actually clones who have been created to donate their organs to unhealthy people. Our three main characters all meet at Hailsham, and forge strong bonds between each other in spite of the fact that they are not likely to live very long after they start donating their organs. “Never Let Me Go” is a heartbreaker of a novel as you get attached to characters who are seemingly doomed to die, and it raises a lot of questions about what makes a human, who society values, and how far is too far when it comes to medical science and research.

What are some of your favorite books that take place in schools? Let us know in the comments!

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