The Great Animorphs Re-Read #37: “The Weakness”

125336Animorphs #37: “The Weakness”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, January 200

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: While Jake is away at an out-of-town wedding, Tobias discovers the place where Visser Three feeds. There is a unanimous decision to acquire cheetah morphs and run him down. But which Animorph will lead the mission in Jake’s absence?

Narrator: Rachel

Plot: Ugh, I don’t want to. I don’t want to! This is probably the first time I’ve been truly uninspired to write up one of these recaps. The closest other instance was probably…also a Rachel book back with the split personality thing. And given her characterization in this book, I guess it’s hardly surprising that I’d find this one to be torture. It’s as if the ghost writer only read the megalomaniac!Rachel chapters from that one book and then went straight into writing this one. It’s truly, truly awful. So, with those bright thoughts, here we go!

Pour yourself a nice big glass cuz semi-drunkness is the only explanation for how this even got written in the first place.

Jake is out of town and the Animorphs have discovered the location of Visser Three’s new feeding ground. Knowing that he regularly changes this location, they decide they need to strike now and strike fast. They also decide to go with a new morph, the fastest mammal on the earth, the cheetah. Conveniently, the Gardens just got a pair. They acquire the morph (don’t ask how! details like this don’t matter!) and head off to the meadow. There, with no plan whatsoever, they morph cheetahs and take off after the Visser. Of course, things don’t go as they planned and the HUGELY OBVIOUS downside of their morphs, the very limited endurance of the cheetah, quickly becomes a problem as they fail to capture the Visser and begin getting taken down by some new super speedy creature. When it finally stops, they discover a new species that looks vaguely similar to Andalites and which has fallen to the control of the Yeerks. This particular one is infested by a Yeerk who identifies himself as Councilor Thirteen, an up-and-comer who is on Earth to monitor Visser Three’s progress with the Andalite bandits and who aspires to a position on the Council itself.

After the Animorphs manage to drag themselves away, they gather back in the barn to discuss what to do with this new information. They all decide that this opportunity is too good to resist (is it?? is it really??) and that they should do something to further discredit Visser Three. But without Jake as a leader, the group worries that they will not be able to effectively make decisions as they go along. They need to elect someone temporarily. Rachel is super gung-ho for the job. For reasons. Mostly having to do with mentally calling herself an unconquerable hero and other bizarre ego-maniacal terms. Marco puts up a brief resistance, but it never goes to a vote as he figures Cassie and Tobias would both vote Rachel and Ax, as always, has taken himself out of the equation.

Rachel comes up with the “brilliant” plan (one of many the group has in this book!) that the best way to discredit Visser Three is to out-right attack and terrorize known Controllers in their places of work, causing general mayhem and destruction and convincing the Inspector that there are more Andalite bandits than they had suspected. They move forward with this plan, starting with a TV studio that they completely trash while terrifying a group of tourists who happen to be stopping by, one of whom is an elderly man who collapses from the shock. They locate the Controller, Rachel delivers their “threat,” and they all bounce. The team continues this tactic all around town, destroying businesses and “threatening” the one Controller who works there. Rachel revels in all of the action and is generally riding high throughout it all (I mean, like, actually “high.” She seriously read as if she was one on some type if stimulant or in the middle of a manic episode).

And here they would have Hork-Bajir shock troops. A very different proposition from scaring off civilians and roughing up human-Controllers. I wasn’t sure exactly what we’d do once we got there. But I knew I’d figure out something. I was Rachel! Hero warrior and interim king!

(Seriously, this is just one of the many quotes I highlighted where Rachel reads as truly insane. This could have easily fit in the mean!Rachel chapters in the starfish book without any adjustment needed. And here, we’re supposed to buy that this is just normal Rachel…)

As they go, the remaining members of the team begin to feel more and more unsure about this plan, especially worrying about the elderly gentleman who collapsed at the TV studio. But Rachel disregards their concerns, and they save the biggest priority hit for last: the community center that The Sharing built and where Tobias was captured and tortured several books ago. Rachel has another brilliant idea for this attack specifically: they should all forego their comfortable, secure battle morphs and instead all morph their relatively under-used polar bear morphs. More power, more better! (Sure, Rachel never actually said that, but seriously, it wouldn’t be out of place with the rest of the nonsense she was spewing in this book.) The group pushes to investigate before barging in, but Rachel will have none of it.

The group powers in in their polar bear morphs. Unsurprisingly, the community center is much more equipped than the other human-operated places they had hit before. Not only is Visser Three himself there, but there are a bunch of Hork Bajir and the terrifyingly fast Councilor Thirteen himself. Visser Three inexplicably morphs some disgusting alien creature and then just as inexplicably demorphs said creature. The polar bear morphs quickly begin to fade, not able to cope with the extra heat in the building. They struggle to retreat, with Rachel staying behind to cover their backs. They finally make it out, but realize that Cassie is not with them, she’s been captured by the Yeerks. Around this time, they also overhear some local news that the older man at the TV studio died of a heart attack, and while he had suffered from this ailment for a long time and could have went “at any time,” the group, and specifically Rachel, still feel responsible.

Back in safety, the group gathers together and begins to fall apart. Marco is enraged. Tobias is silently judgemental. And Rachel breaks down crying, feeling like an utter failure (cuz duh, girl, you were). Marco is particularly harsh on her, accusing her of using her tears to garner sympathy and saying that she fought him for leadership and look where it go them. Defeated, she gives up, saying she will no longer be the leader, and that she alone will go into the Yeerk pool to somehow save Cassie. Marco follows her and says that while his analytical skills could have been used back at the community center, right now the group needed her, the reckless one who would suggest a crazy enough plot that might actually work in a situation as dire as this one. Rachel has another plan.

In their human form (!!!), the group climbs a fence at an airbase and steals a jet. With Ax at the wheel, they take off, barely making it when Ax decides to swerve a bit to miss a deer that just happened to stray into their path. Once in the air, the truly crazy part of the plan comes into action. The team has decided that the best path into the Yeerk pool is simply straight down through the roof of a building that the Yeerks have constructed directly above the pool. One by one, members of the Animorphs bail as birds (why were Tobias and Marco even on this part of the mission if they just had to get on and off??) until only Rachel is left to direct the plane in its crash. She hits the building, but is only partially morphed to bald eagle as the plane crashes through. Somehow, she completes her morph and escapes the plane just as the wreckage crashes into the Yeerk pool.

Mayhem ensues as the Yeerks rush to lock up all of the host bodies. In the midst of it all, eagle!Rachel spots polarbear!Cassie being held captive and brazenly attacks the Hork Bajir holding her. Together, they manage to break free, but before they can escape, Visser Three and the Inspector show up. Instead of quickly taking the two of them out, Visser Three poses a challenge to the Inspector, daring him to take out these two Andalite bandits right now, proving that he can do what Visser Three cannot. The Inspector attacks, and his speed quickly gives him the advantage over the two. As they fight, Tobias and harrier!Ax carrying cobra!Marco swoop down from the hole in the ceiling. Visser Three continues to taunt the Inspector, telling him that now is his opportunity to take out not two, but an entire group of Andalite warriors, that he will gladly give all credit to the Inspector and immediately resign as Visser if he pulls it off. Harrier!Ax drops cobra!Marco and begins demorphing to his Andalite form. From there, he engages the Inspector one-on-one. As they fight (Ax only barely managing to hold off the Inspector), cobra!Marco slithers up and strikes. As birds, one carrying Marco, the group flies away. Visser Three gloats over the dying Inspector and allows the group to leave.

On her own, Rachel visits the grandson of the man who died at the TV studio. She claims to have been in the studio when he died, and apologizes to the kid. He’s confused, but she quickly leaves. She runs into Jake on the way out and he explains that he talked to Cassie and Marco who filled him in. He reassures her that as long as the number of Animorphs alive is the same, she did OK. He also says the rest of the group said she did alright (what??). Rachel asks how Jake deals with it, being leader. She briefly glimpses his own terror at the task, but he quickly puts up his mask and claims that he just doesn’t think about it. Rachel tells him to never leave again.

Xena, Warrior Princess: Oh, god, it’s so terrible. For all my whining about the lack of character development for Jake in the last book…I take it back! I TAKE IT BACK!! That was sooo much better than the complete abuse that has been done to Rachel’s character in this book. I was truly serious when I said that this book reads as if the author had read zero, ZERO, of Rachel’s previous books other than the mean!Rachel chapters from the starfish book. It’d be laughable if it wasn’t so infuriating. She repeatedly refers to herself as the hero and the king, seemingly in all seriousness. Her behavior is off-the-wall crazy and she is power-hungry from the get-go. Gone is any of the careful consideration that was put into developing Rachel’s fears of what she is becoming. Oh no, instead she is sure that she is the absolute baddest most awesome hero ever. Again, she is seemingly sane and serious when she is thinking these things.

Her fight for leadership is also completely bizarre. Throughout the series we’ve seen some good interactions between Rachel and Jake specifically, and in none of them did it seem that Rachel coveted his role as leader. So it’s absolutely asinine to see her fighting so strongly for the role here. Further, her “plans” are absolutely ridiculous, to the point that it’s crazy to believe that any of the others would follow her on them. While Rachel is brave and reckless, this has most often manifested itself as based on her own fears of appearing cowardly or not upholding her role on the team. She knows that she is seen as the brave one, thus she has to be the brave one, and often we see the enormous burden that this puts on her. But nope! Here that recklessness and bravery just manifest as literal insanity and, frankly, stupidity.

She gets mildly better towards the end with the action down in the Yeerk pool, making decisions from the viewpoint that if someone was going to die or be left behind, it would be her. But even there, amidst even the better moments, she still refers to herself as the king. Ugh.

The scenes where she apologizes to the grandson and talks with Jake are also so truncated that they provide next to nothing. We don’t see any reflection, especially with the brief two paragraphs that we get with the grandson, and even her conversation with Jake never gets past the surface level. There is absolutely no pay off or explanation for the complete butchery that has happened to her character up to this point.

At one point we get this line from Marco, and honestly, he can’t be more right:

“Are you on medication?” Marco put his hands to his head. “No, I really want to know. Seriously. ‘Cause I think your dosage needs to be adjusted.”

Our Fearless Leader: Jake is gone for most of this book. When he does return, the conversation with Rachel is probably one of the stronger (??) parts of the book, but as I said above, even that was a big let-down. The Animorphs had just destroyed tons of businesses filled with regular people going about their lives and then topped it off by crashing a plane into a building. There is no way that A.) the others would have ever said that anything about this was “OK” and B.) that Jake wouldn’t flip out. I don’t care if he is trying to comfort Rachel about them all being alive in the end; this thing was such a complete shit show that if you actually stop and think about the repercussions, it has to be one of the biggest disasters the Animorphs have caused so far (other than the David incident, and arguably worse than that, considering the effects on innocents left by this). There’s no way Jake would just be patting her on the back about it all.

A Hawk’s Life: Most of Tobias’s role in this book is silently judging Rachel. Seriously, he uses the silent treatment on her repeatedly throughout the story and it was honestly one of the few times I actually felt bad for what Rachel was going through. In the past, we’ve seen the good influence that Tobias has had on Rachel and their ability to lean on each other to get through the tougher aspects of both of their ongoing struggles in the series. Here, it is acknowledged that Tobias and Rachel are together, but we see none of that support or care from him. Instead, like I said, there’s just a lot of silence and emotional abandonment. Sure, this version of Rachel also isn’t the one that we’ve seen before either, so I guess it makes sense that their relationship wouldn’t translate. But Tobias is kind of just a jerk here, too.

Peace, Love, and Animals: Cassie, on the other hand, is her usual supportive self of Rachel. While she again gets captured and ends up  in the Yeerk pool (this is a bit of a trend with her, and I think it might say something about the character that she’s the easiest to leave out of big chunks of the story when the author is looking to have a character captured), she quickly teams up with eagle!Rachel and seemingly the two could have made their escape on their own had Visser Three and the Inspector not conveniently shown up. She also had one of the more fun lines from the book right after eagle!Rachel shows up in the Yeerk Pool:

<Surprised to see me?> I asked.

<Sky falling in, flames everywhere, Yeerks running for cover? Who else would it be but you?>

The Comic Relief: March is harsh. Truly mean at times. Yeah, this version of Rachel completely deserves it, but it’s still tough to read. In a long, LONG, list of questions that arose from this book, why Marco wasn’t immediately considered the leader is one of the first ones that popped up in my mind. For one, we’ve seen him successfully lead the group at least twice before. This alone would make him the obvious candidate. Beyond that, the entire group has, at one time or another in their own narrated books, pointed to Marco as the most strategic of the group. Plus, the idea that Cassie and Tobias would automatically vote for Rachel is beyond stupid. We’ve hardly ever seen any previous votes be affected by relationships like this, so to think that that would have been the case here is pretty silly. Marco does have a nice speech to Rachel towards the end about needing her reckless bravery to pull off a rescue of Cassie, but given that that plan itself was so truly terrible, one has to partly blame Marco as well for not being his usual brainy self and helping out here.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: I don’t know if it’s just because I’m grumpy at this book, but I’m also starting to feel like the whole “Ax removes himself from the decision making process” trope is getting super old. By this point in the series, Ax has been on Earth for close to two years or something. The period of time when he was not around is so brief that it hardly bares mentioning. Regardless of how he himself feels about his role in the group, I have to imagine the others would push  back against this type of behavior. They’re all in this together, and that includes Ax. That is especially true of these challenging, voting situations. None of the rest have the privilege of just taking themselves out of the process, and it’s increasingly strange that it’s considered normal for Ax to do this.

Beyond that, there’s a very brief discussion about the resemblance of the Inspector’s host body to the anatomy of Andalites. There might have been something interesting to this, but nope! It’s completely dropped, and I honestly have no idea why the author even bothered to include it at all.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: Visser Three’s morph in the community center is described as being really disgusting, just a stinky blob essentially. Again, among the many questionable things in this book is this morphing sequence all together. The morph itself really seems to be nothing more than folds of stinking fat. Sure, he’s pretty inpenetrable when polarbear!Rachel attacks, but he’s also not very mobile and we’ve seen a bunch of more successful morphs in the past that would have worked much better here. The stink of the alien does prove hard for the polar bear morphs to handle, but given the level of ignorance we’ve seen from Visser Three in the past as far as Earth creatures go, there’s zero chance he would have known that this would be the effect on these morphs. And then, like I said in the recap, after he throws Rachel at the wall one time, he just as strangely chooses to demorph.

Couples Watch!: Other than Cassie being referred to as Jake’s girlfriend, there’s really not much. Tobias and Rachel’s relationship is terrible here, mostly due to the poor characterization of Rachel herself. The Tobias we know would never even WANT to be in a relationship with this headcase, so it’s not surprising that the author struggled to write any believable moments between these two.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: Probably the best part of the book is the Yeerk politics, especially the moments we get in the Yeerk Pool as Visser Three gleefully watches the Inspector fail to kill/capture the Andalite bandits. Not only is his dialogue pretty funny, but it’s a gratifying look into how much respect Visser Three has unwillingly built for the Animorphs. The Inspector’s host body seems pretty unbeatable with his speed, but even against only two of the Animorphs, Visser Three is supremely confident that he will fail. It’s also always fun to see the Yeerks shoot themselves in the foot with their own politics. The Animorphs would have been done for way back in book #5 if the Yeerks’ power struggles weren’t out of control. And here, the Animorphs escape multiple times because Visser Three and the Inspector are more caught up in show-boating than anything else.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Again, I cry over the remains of what used to be the incredible character work put into Rachel.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: There are so many! I mean, the entire book is made up of terrible plans! Let me list a few of them:

1.) Attacking business where a maximum of ONE known Controller works. Up to this point, the Animorphs have always operated very carefully in areas filled with regular people. But nope! That doesn’t matter now! Here, they destroy tons of businesses and terrorize countless people, all to deliver a very meaningless “threat” to one Controller at each location.

2.) Using the same morphs in all of these attacks. Seemingly the whole point of this was to have a show of force to impress the Inspector with what Visser Three is up against. They seem to think that this will make the Yeerks think that there are more Andalite bandits than previously assumed. But…how?? It’s common knowledge now that the Andalite bandits always attack in a group of six and all in the same morphs each time. And here, the same six, in the same morphs, attack place after place in sequential order, never at the same time as a larger group would do. Clearly it’s just the same group over and over again. It’s beyond stupid.

3.) They break onto an airbase IN THEIR HUMAN FORMS and steal a plane and then crash said plane into the Yeerk pool. Why?? Why are they human when they do this? Nice, identifiable-by-camera, humans. Not only would the Yeerks be able to easily trace this whole incident back to them using the tons of cameras that would be all over an airbases, but human law enforcement itself would be able to identify them and sure as heck send them to prison for this disaster.

4.) Ax swerves the plane for a freaking deer. That’s right people! Cassie’s life, and the entire future of their resistance and the planet, are on the line, but Ax can’t run over a deer. For one, I’m pretty sure most airbases have systems in place to prevent wildlife from casually ambling onto an airstrip. But beyond this, Ax of all people would be the last one to swerve for a deer. He’s probably one of the least emotionally-driven of them all and has even less connection to Earth animals than the others. It’s just ridiculous all around and a blatant attempt to  build two seconds of increased suspense that is completely unnecessary given the already action-packed scenario.

5.) THEY CRASH A PLANE INTO A BUILDING IN THE MIDDLE OF A CITY. Ok, sure, this book was written before 9/11, but even the least imaginative person out there would see the huge issues with this plan. There is no way that this wouldn’t kill innocents. But hey, that doesn’t matter. At least they missed the deer.

Favorite Quote:

Like I said, Visser Three gloating over the Inspector was probably the best part of this entire mess:

<Inspector!> he cried. <Look! The Andalite bandits are getting away! You must go after them!>

<I … I cannot… move …> the inspector responded weakly, haltingly.

<Yes, and very, very soon you will not be able to breathe,> Visser Three said matter-of-factly. <I will be sure to pass along your farewells to the Council.>

Scorecard: Yeerks 9, Animorphs 15

I’m giving another point to the Yeerks out of sheer fury at the stupidity of this book. The Animorphs sure do a good job for them, destroying human businesses and killing innocent people (the old man for sure, and the others who had to have died from that plane stunt).

Rating: I would give this book negative points if I could. It’s so awful it’s almost beyond words. Rachel’s characterization makes absolutely zero sense; it honestly feels like the ghost writer didn’t read any of the previous books for her. Their actions throughout the story are shockingly bad and stupid. And the book just glazes right over important scenes as if it’s no big deal.(How the heck did they acquire those cheetah morphs, for one thing? But nah, let’s not include that.) I really hated this book. Not much more to say.

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

Kate’s Review & Giveaway: “The Good Demon”

38945097Book: “The Good Demon” by Jimmy Cajoleas

Publishing Info: Amulet Books, September 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: I was sent an eARC from NetGalley and a printed ARC from Amulet Books.

Book Description: True Detective meets The Exorcist in this gripping YA mystery debut about one girl’s exorcism—and her desperate quest to reunite with her demon

Clare has been miserable since her exorcism. The preacher that rid her of evil didn’t understand that her demon—simply known as Her—was like a sister to Clare. Now, Clare will do almost anything to get Her back. After a chance encounter with the son of the preacher who exorcised her, Clare goes on an adventure through the dark underbelly of her small Southern town, discovering its deep-seated occult roots. As she searches for Her, she must question the fine lines between good and evil, love and hate, and religion and free will. Vivid and sharp, The Good Demon tells the unusual story of friendship amid dark Gothic horror.

Review: I want to extend a special thank you to both NetGalley and Amulet books for sending me an eARC and a print ARC of this book.

I know that Halloween Season isn’t QUITE here yet (though honestly, once Labor Day hits I’m thinking about ghosts and ghouls and all things horror), but I just couldn’t wait for Horrorpalooza to pick up “The Good Demon” by Jimmy Cajoleas. I was fortunate enough to get approved for a copy on NetGalley, but then imagine my extra delight when I was at Serena’s and she said that we’d received a print ARC of it as well.

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Me flailing in glee when I got this book. (source)

I’d been hearing about this novel since this past summer, when it was all over my twitter feed during BookExpo. While I’m not usually someone who is super into demonic possession/exorcism stories (with a FEW exceptions, as you guys probably remember), the idea of a girl wanting her exorcised demon BACK was one that piqued my interest. The demonic possession stories I like usually buck some of the familiar tropes that are associated with the genre, but ultimately they usually still maintain the demon=bad concept. “The Good Demon” sounded like it was going to take that down as well, so picking it up I went in with some lofty expectations.

What struck me most about “The Good Demon” was Clara, our main character who is desperate to find her demon, Her, again. In many demonic possession and exorcism stories, the person being possessed is usually passive, and a secondary character that the main character is trying to help. Clara defies these trends, as not only is she the main character, she is incredibly active and entrenched in ‘doing’ within the narrative. Her reasons for wanting Her back are understandable because of how Cajoleas has written her: her father’s death was a traumatic moment in her life, her mother is an addict who has effectively picked her new husband over her own daughter, and Clara has no other friends or support systems in her life now that Her has been exorcised. While there were ample opportunities for Clara to fall into stereotypical traps of a ‘bad girl’, Cajoleas always kept her from teetering, and kept her grounded in a realistic personality. She always felt like a realistic teenage girl who has seen some shit, and her voice was authentic and natural. As she uncovers the mysteries of the small, closed minded town that she is living in, you see her go up against obstacles that aren’t always because of supernatural or occult driven issues; many of the problems she faces are because of misogyny and prejudice that is entrenched within an Evangelical culture. I liked seeing her interact with basically all of the characters, be it within flashbacks to her friendship with Her, to the fraught and sad relationship with her mother, to the complicated and bittersweet relationship she takes up with Roy, the son of the preacher who performed the exorcism. Roy is a particularly interesting foil to her, as her sullenness is matched with his fundamentalist driven optimism, and her bitterness towards his father is in stark contrast to Roy’s submission to him. It was a relationship that felt very teenager-y, with both of them making decisions that feel right in the moment, but may have fallouts that they cannot see.

I had more mixed feelings about the actual possession story. I loved the flashbacks to Her, and I liked seeing Clara and Her interact, and have a complex relationship. It sets a groundwork that makes it very believable that Clara would go as far as she would go to get Her back. That was a very fresh take on possession, that perhaps this ‘demon’ wasn’t necessarily a ‘bad’ thing. But by the end, it becomes pretty clear that the full deconstruction of the ‘possession’ story isn’t going to happen. It gets part way there, I will give it that, but ultimately it didn’t take a bold stance on redefining ‘demons’, and why people like Roy’s Dad might conflate something that empowers or emotionally supports girls and women as ‘demonic’.  I appreciate that ultimately Cajoleas is promoting the idea that you should feel secure within yourself and to be able to stand on your own, but I think that this message ultimately undercuts the positive female friendship message that I was hoping we would get from it.

While it didn’t QUITE live up to my expectations, “The Good Demon” was a fast and fun read, and it’s absolutely one that dark fantasy and horror fans should pick up during the upcoming spooky season. And I have good news, because it’s your chance to own this new dark fantasy novel! We’re giving away the print ARC of “The Good Demon”! This giveaway is open to U.S. Residents only, other terms and conditions are within the giveaway information in the link below.

Enter the Giveaway Here!

Rating 7: An interesting take on the possession/exorcism story with an interesting protagonist, “The Good Demon” deconstructs common tropes to a point, but falls a little short in it’s deconstruction by the end.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Good Demon” is coming out on Tuesday, September 18th, and isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists yet. That said, I think it would fit in on “Demons, Mystics, and Black Magic”, and “Small Towns and Secrets”.

Find “The Good Demon” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Age of Myth”

26863057Book: “Age of Myth” by Michael J. Sullivan

Publishing Info: Del Rey, June 2016

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

Book Description: Since time immemorial, humans have worshipped the gods they call Fhrey, truly a race apart: invincible in battle, masters of magic, and seemingly immortal. But when a god falls to a human blade, the balance of power between humans and those they thought were gods changes forever.

Now only a few stand between humankind and annihilation: Raithe, reluctant to embrace his destiny as the God Killer; Suri, a young seer burdened by signs of impending doom; and Persephone, who must overcome personal tragedy to lead her people. The Age of Myth is over. The time of rebellion has begun.

Review: I’m not sure how I’ve missed Michael J. Sullivan for so long. My only excuse is that sometimes I get too mired in YA fantasy specifically (because, c’mon, keeping up with that stuff is a full time job and I’m failing at even that!!). But on a whim I saw that this was available through my audiobook service at the library and decided to check it out. And boy, am I glad I did! It’s like discovering an entirely new shelf (yes, SHELF!!) of good books.

It all began in an instant, when, in a moment of panic and anger, Raithe killed the unkillable, a Fhrey whom he and his people had worshiped as gods for as long as history could be remembered. The domino effects of this decision now lead the human world into a bold new era, one that Raithe himself is reluctant to enter. But others have no choice, like a chieftain’s wife, Persephone, who finds this fight brought to her own door. And a young seer named Suri who only wants to live in the woods with her wise wolf, Mina. Others, too, both in the land of the humans and the land of the Fhrey, begin to feel the ripples of this shocking change to the world order, and suddenly so many find their lives heading in frighteningly new directions.

Wow, I was just blown away by this book. I don’t even know where to begin my gushing! The characters? The story? The world? The amazing audio book narrator? THE FACT THAT THE ENTIRE SERIES IS ALREADY WRITTEN AND SCHEDULED TO RELEASE REGULARLY?

The characters. There are a lot of them. As I’ve mentioned (again and again and, annoyingly, again), I typically prefer stories where we follow one, maybe two, main characters through a story. I often find my level of investment greatly fluctuating between characters when the cast of POVs is much larger, leading me to feel varying levels of interest and tending to skim sections as books go along. Not so, here. While we are originally introduced to Raithe and then Persephone, and while they do likely have the majority of the chapters, the book also introduces several other key characters such as Suri and even a few members of the Fhrey. These last couple of characters, the Fhrey, were the ones I was most concerned about. Were they all going to be enemies? How would their stories actually tie in with the events going on out in the human world? But I shouldn’t have been concerned. While one of these perspectives is essentially that of the villain, both provide important context clues into the cultural dynamics of both peoples and play major roles in the story, especially towards the end.

I particularly enjoyed Persephone’s story, however. Not only was she an interesting character in her own right, she was a rare exception to the type of female perspective we’re used to seeing in fantasy fiction. She’s not a young twenty something who is set up as the perfect romantic interest for the hero or who has unique magical powers. Instead, she’s in her upper 30s, about ten years older than Raithe himself, a wife and a mother. But while these roles are important to her, they do not define her or limit her storyline. Instead, in many ways, Persephone is the driving force of this rodeo and proves to be one of the more competent players in the game. I also super dig the fact that there looks to be the beginnings of some type of romance being set up between her and Raithe and the fact that this is a gender swap as far as the age gap goes.

The story itself is action packed. It’s the very beginning of a 6-7 book series, so we know that this book will mostly be setting the stage for a larger conflict. It also has a lot of world-building and character-introducing to do. So with all of that, it’s truly impressive how many cool action scenes are set throughout the book. We have politics, we have betrayals, we have sword fights, we have magical battles. It’s all there and it’s all great. What’s even better, these action sequences aren’t limited to some grand stand off at the end of the book (though there is that as well, actually multiple even there!). The story is peppered with these little skirmishes, and the book never feels like it is being mired down too much under its own weight of world creation.

The world itself is also very interesting. When I started this book, as I said, I had never read anything by this author. I was also unaware that this is essentially an ancient history prequel to the author’s other large series. (This is now its own problem since I feel like I can’t read those until I finish this one as there might be some spoilers there as to how this all plays out…but this series isn’t even all released yet so that’s even more delay in getting to those!!) But as the groundwork is being laid out in this book, I never felt like this lack of prior knowledge was a hindrance. Some of this is due to the fact that many aspects of this story are familiar to fantasy readers. We essentially have the classic trio of beings: humans, elves, and dwarfs. The magic system itself, while so far only briefly discussed, is also fairly simple and approachable. This familiarity makes it easy to quickly feel connected with the world presented and allows the story devote more time to its characters and plot. While some readers may find these similarities as almost too familiar, not providing enough unique elements to make the series stand out on its own, I, for one, wasn’t bothered by it. If the story is strong, you have solid characters, and it’s clear the author is enjoying the world they built, I say there’s nothing wrong with sticking with the tried and true classic aspects of fantasy fiction.

As I referenced above, one of the unique aspects of Sullivan’s style of writing is that he completes an entire series before beginning to release them. This is so, so refreshing in epic fantasy fiction. I don’t even need to name names or point fingers, we all know the examples. All too often, beginning a new fantasy series feels a bit like rolling the dice. Will this series have massive breaks between books? How many total years am I looking at until I get some resolution? Will the author even FINISH this series? Here, those questions are answered, and I’m so thankful for it. There are a few other authors out there, like Brandon Sanderson, who you can count on to release their books quickly and efficiently, even if they write them one by one. But it’s a whole new level of reassurance to know that a series is already finished when you start. Not only will books come out on a regular schedule, but there’s some satisfaction in knowing the author has already thought through all the various plot points, and that he will not write himself into any corners.

Lastly, this book was read by Tim Gerard Reynolds, who, as always, was absolutely brilliant. He primarily reads for fantasy fiction, and I believe he’s narrated all of Sullivan’s prior books. I look forward to continuing on with this series through the audiobooks.

Whew! A long review for this one, but well worth it given how much I had to praise! If you, like me, have somehow been living under a rock as far as Sullivan’s writing goes, I definitely encourage you to check it out. While I’m loving this series, you may want to avoid the trap I now find myself in and start with his other series that have already been published. Who knows, I may break down and skip to one of those early anyways!

Rating 9: Near perfect! Why bother saying more here when I’ve already raved on forever above?

Reader’s Advisory:

“Age of Myth” is on these Goodreads lists: “High Fantasy Books That AREN’T The Lord of The Rings Or George R. Martin” and “Epic/Heroic fantasy with kick-butt heroes AND heroines.”

Find “Age of Myth” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Kate’s Review: “Pieces of Her”

35887251Book: “Pieces of Her” by Karin Slaughter

Publishing Info: William Morrow, August 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The publisher sent me a hardcover copy.

Book Description: What if the person you thought you knew best turns out to be someone you never knew at all…?

Andrea knows everything about her mother, Laura. She knows she’s spent her whole life in the small beachside town of Belle Isle; she knows she’s never wanted anything more than to live a quiet life as a pillar of the community; she knows she’s never kept a secret in her life. Because we all know our mothers, don’t we?

But all that changes when a trip to the mall explodes into violence and Andrea suddenly sees a completely different side to Laura. Because it turns out that before Laura was Laura, she was someone completely different. For nearly thirty years she’s been hiding from her previous identity, lying low in the hope that no one would ever find her. But now she’s been exposed, and nothing will ever be the same again.

The police want answers and Laura’s innocence is on the line, but she won’t speak to anyone, including her own daughter. Andrea is on a desperate journey following the breadcrumb trail of her mother’s past. And if she can’t uncover the secrets hidden there, there may be no future for either one of them…

Review: I want to extend a special thanks to William Morrow for sending me a copy of this book!

This may be surprising to some of you out there, but until I was given “Pieces of Her” I had never actually read a book by Karin Slaughter. Given that she’s such a prolific thriller and mystery author it’s a bit strange, and yet while I’d certainly heard of her I just never picked her up. But when William Morrow asked if I would be interested in reading this book, I said sure, and decided to give her a whirl, finally! And while I went in not knowing what to expect, I ended up really enjoying “Pieces of Her”.

The first thing that struck me about “Pieces of Her” was that I was going to be getting two separate stories, even if I didn’t realize that at first. The first narrative is that of Andy, a thirty one year old woman who has found herself drifting in life (as so many people around my age have, thanks in part to the Great Recession that slammed us right when we were set to be starting or ending college). She loves her mother Laura, who has always been a caring and devoted parent to her. But when Laura becomes famous for interfering in an act of violence and killing a killer, Andy sees a side of her mother that she never knew existed. For many people there is that one moment that you realize that your parent is a person beyond just being your parent, and Andy’s moment turns into a very engrossing journey. We follow Andy as she tries to piece together who Laura was before she had Andy, and why she seems to be comfortable with violence and destruction. This mystery is intriguing and the journey Andy takes kept me interested. But what was even more interesting was the story of Laura’s past, which is told as well through her own chapters and sections. These were even more fascinating, as we got to watch Laura face harrowing and upsetting circumstances (which I don’t particularly want to spoil here, as it was far more fun slowly watching it all come to fruition), and see how she moved from her experiences there to the picture perfect, but not really perfect, parent that she was in Andy’s eyes. Seeing their relationship evolve because of these revelations was also very neat, just as watching the story as a whole unfold and come together was very gripping. Slaughter is clearly a pro at devising a cohesive and intricate plot.

I also really enjoyed the various societal themes that Slaughter discusses in this book, specifically how our culture tends to gloss over or perpetuate violence towards women due to toxic masculinity and toxic men. There are multiple severe and relevant moments of violence in this book that target women, targeted by men who are entitled, who are angry, or who have been victims of societal standards of masculinity and therein take their pain and turn it against others. It’s no coincidence that the act of violence that sparks the entire story is perpetrated by a teenager who killed his ex girlfriend and her mother because said girlfriend dumped him. It’s no coincidence that a character who makes a pivotal decision in the past timeline was a victim of violence at the hands of her husband, who killed their children and himself. Other women in this book have had various abuses thrown at them by men, and it shapes them and drives them to do various things, some good, some bad. This is very much a book about how our culture can hurt and fail those who are vulnerable, and I greatly appreciated that Slaughter was willing to do a deep dive into some psychological darkness. It made the story that much richer, and made it feel that much more real.

“Pieces of Her” was a book that I ended up greatly enjoying. I’m sure that Karin Slaughter fans will find a lot to like, but I think that fans of thrillers who haven’t sought her out would find it to be an entertaining read.

Rating 8: A well plotted out and engrossing thriller/mystery that addresses hidden pasts, violence towards women, and the relationship between mothers and daughters.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Pieces of Her” is still fairly new and not on many relevant or specific Goodreads lists, but I think that it would fit in on “Witness Protection, New Identities, People in Hiding”, and “Bonds Between Mother’s and Daughters”.

Find “Pieces of Her” at your library using WorldCat!

Book Club Review: “Moonshot: The Indigenous Comics Collection (Vol 2)”

37675578We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing bookclub running for the last several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is “B-Sides,” where we pick different books from previous authors that we read in the club.

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

Book: “Moonshot: The Indigenous Comics Collection (Vol. 2) by Hope Nicholson (ed.)

Publishing Info: Alternate History Comics Inc., 2018

Where Did We Get This Book: The library!

B-Side Book: “Moonshot: The Indigenous Comics Collection (Vol.1)”

Book Description: The highly anticipated second volume of the multiple award-winning collection is here! MOONSHOT The Indigenous Comics Collection Volume 2 brings you even more original comic book stories, written by Indigenous authors from across North America. Gorgeously illustrated by a mix of award-winning artists, Volume 2 will take you on a stunning journey through this world, and to worlds beyond!

Kate’s Thoughts

If you guys remember, I read “Moonshot Volume 1” a couple years ago, and really really enjoyed it. I loved the artwork, I loved the varied stories, I loved that it gave a platform to voices who we don’t hear nearly enough of in literature. Now we come to “Moonshot Volume 2”, and I knew that while I would like it, it would be hard to top my love for the first collection. And yet “Moonshot Volume 2” did. I think that what I liked more about this one (as much as I loved the first) was that it felt like it tackled more issues within Indigenous communities, such as suicide, addiction, the murder and abuse of Indigenous women, poverty, and water rights. While I found all of th stories strong in their own ways, I had a couple favorites that I will lay out here.

“Worst Bargain in Town” by Darcie Little Badger and Rossi Gifford (Ill.)

This story, originating from Lipan culture, is mostly about cultural appropriation of Native aesthetics and fashion, and how White Culture tries to benefit off of it while taking power and ownership from Native groups. Kat and Laura are two Lipan women who are wary of the new beautician in town, who REALLY wants to cut their hair. Turns out this hairdresser is a demon that is taking the hair she cuts and consuming it, sapping the power from the hair’s owners. I liked that it touched on the issue in two ways. The first and more obvious connection is how the beautician is taking the culture from Indigenous women and benefiting from it. You see this in non metaphorical ways in everyday life, be it buying Native designs from non-Native artists for clothing or decor, or through those people who wear head dresses at outdoor music festivals, etcetera. But the other way goes back to a more direct form of colonialism, as Native Children in America were taken from their homes and sent to boarding schools in an effort to ‘civilize’ them, where their hair would be cut. Given that within the Lipan culture hair is a source of strength, the metaphor in this story is especially chilling. The illustrations, however, are fun and lighthearted, and while one may worry that it may take power away from the story, it doesn’t.

“Water Spirits” by Richard Van Camp and Haiwei Hou (Ill.)

Given the visibility of the NODAPL movement, Water Rights have been a hot topic within the public consciousness as of late. Richard Van Camp’s story concerns a school field trip going to a now defunct mine, and being led on a tour by a Native man who has a lot of knowledge of it’s history and how the mine has changed and affected the community. This story examines the consequences of capitalism at the expense of the environment, and how our Western culture tends to value things that are arguably not as essential (like gold within this mine) as VERY essential things (like water). There is a certain simplicity to this story, as it’s really just a field trip, but the message comes through loud and clear: we are poisoning the Earth because of our capitalistic values, and we won’t be able to come back from it. What really stood out for me in this story, however, was the artwork. It has a very realistic, almost Roto-Scope quality to it, and it’s uniqueness really made it pop off the page.

water-spirit-by-haiwei-hou-600x946
I mean just look at it. (source)

But all of the stories are strong. If you haven’t read the “Moonshot” books yet, do yourself a favor and get your hands on them.

Serena’s Thoughts

Unfortunately, I had to return my copy to the library, so I don’t have have a list of the individual story titles and authors in front of me. Instead, my portion of the review will focus on general topics/themes throughout the book.

I’m also in the camp of enjoying this collection more than the first. While I didn’t review it here, I did read it and really liked many of the stories. In this second iteration, it felt like the collection simply felt more comfortable in its skin, more fully embracing its own concept and messages. As opposed to the first collection, many of the stories in this collection delved into topics that are currently heavy hitters in the Native population.

Kate mentioned water rights, but there were also intensely sad (and sensitive) explorations of the high suicide rate that exists in Native nations. I particularly enjoyed (doesn’t feel like that should be the right word about such a sad story) a story about a young man who is experiencing grief at the loss of another boy close to him to suicide. The artwork in this particular story was also gorgeous and worked perfectly with the somber subject matter, painting its images in muted hues of blues and greens.

There were also a few stories that leaned into the science fiction/fantasy angle, and of course I really loved those, too. The art in these were particularly love, with vibrant colors and interesting animation choices for how characters are drawn.

There were a few stories that I did struggle with, however. Particularly the first story in the book. This one picked up seemingly in the middle of a story and also was incredibly short. It was interesting, but also a bit confusing and off-putting. I think it was definitely worth including, but I question choosing to have that story introduce the collection as it isn’t really representative of what’s to come and could turn off the casual browser.

Overall, however, I very much enjoyed “Moonshot Volume 2” and highly recommend it!

Kate’s Rating 9: A fabulous and powerful collection that has a lot of salient points and a lot of heart, “Moonshot Volume 2” is a must read for comics fans.

Serena’s Rating 9: An even stronger outing that the first, “Moonshot Volume 2” leans into contemporary challenges faced by the Native nations.

Book Club Questions

  1. If you have read “Moonshot Vol. 1”, which collection did you prefer more? Why?
  2. There are multiple issues that affect Indigenous Communities that are touched upon in these stories. Did any of these themes have an especially striking affect on you? Which one, and why?
  3. How familiar are you with topics that were discussed in this collection, such as Water Rights, Cultural Appropriation, abuse cycles, etcetera? Did reading these stories make you want to learn more about these things?
  4. Did you feel that the artistic choices and illustrations reflected all of the stories well? Were there any stories where you felt that the art really strengthened it? Or weakened it?
  5. What was your favorite story within the collection? What was it about this story that stood out for you?

Reader’s Advisory

“Moonshot: The Indigenous Comics Collection (Volume 2)” is not included on any Goodreads lists, but it would fit in on “Indigenous Peoples”, and “Graphic Novels & Comics By The Aboriginal, Indigenous and Native People’s of the World”.

Find “Moonshot: The Indigenous Comics Collection (Volume 2)” at your library using WorldCat.

Next Book Club Book: “A Thousand Nights” by E.K. Johnston.

Serena’s Review: “Strange Grace”

32824058Book: “Strange Grace” by Tessa Gratton

Publishing Info: Margaret McElderry Books, September 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss

Book Description: Long ago, a village made a bargain with the devil: to ensure their prosperity, when the Slaughter Moon rises, the village must sacrifice a young man into the depths of the Devil’s Forest.

Only this year, the Slaughter Moon has risen early.

Bound by duty, secrets, and the love they share for one another, Mairwen, a spirited witch; Rhun, the expected saint; and Arthur, a restless outcast, will each have a role to play as the devil demands a body to fill the bargain. But the devil these friends find is not the one they expect, and the lies they uncover will turn their town—and their hearts—inside out.

Review: I requested this book a whim based on the book description and, frankly, the beautiful cover art. I mean, c’mon, that’s one attractive book cover! But the description also appealed to me, seeming to follow some standard fairytale modes of storytelling as well as focusing on the love and friendship between three characters. While I did feel there were a few stumbling blocks and surprises along the way, I think “Strange Grace” will be a sure fire hit for many audiences.

A small village has existed in a state of semi-paradise for many, many years. No one is ever injured or killed. But this idealic life is bough with a steep price. Every seven years, the town folk must sacrifice a boy to the dark woods to buy themselves another period of safety. But this year is different, falling only a few years after the last sacrifice, a new boy is already being demanded. Three friends find themselves searching for an answer to what seems like an impossible choice, and they and their town will never be the same again.

The strongest aspect of this book for me was the writing and the tone. While I don’t typically read straight up horror novels, I like dark fantasies. A few that come to mind as similar to this are “The Beast is an Animal” and the “Raven Cycle” series. Each delve into magical elements, but instead of fairies and unicorns, there’s a lot more dark shadows and tree branches shaped like fingers scraping at our heroes’ backs. So, too, here. ‘”Strange Magic” fully embraces its own dark themes and doesn’t pull back from exploring some fairly graphic body horror. While I enjoyed most of the creepiness here, there were bits that were a stretch for me, so go in with that warning.

So, too, this story also aligns similarly to those previously mentioned fantasy novels in writing style. The writing is lyrical, whimsical, and edged with unexpected sharp points at times. For those looking for straight forward writing this might be a bit off-putting, but if you are a fan of the writing found in books like the “Raven Cycle,” this is very well might appeal to you. I for one found it lovely and was immediately caught up in the weave of the story.

What did hold me up, however, was the pacing. While the writing was beautiful, it didn’t do quite enough to distract me from the fact that the first 40-50% of the story was very slow-moving. What’s worse, that slowly built arc was never fully resolved. The story moved as if a climax of sorts was coming, but instead the author chose to use some odd time jumps that leap-frogged right over some of the parts of the story that I had been most looking forward to experiencing. It was an odd choice that made the story feel choppy and unresolved.

The other stumbling block was the characterization of our main trio. There is a lot of diversity to be found in this group of individuals, and if you’re looking for a fantasy story that features non-binary leads, than this is a great book to find that. But other than representation alone, I never felt fully invested in any of the three characters. I understood their individual motivations and histories, but as the story unfolded, I could never quite latch on to how they were processing their own experiences. There was a lot of “telling” and not much “showing” as far the relationships between them all went. One relationship is already established when the book begins, and not much is done to expand that much further, even though events occur that would at the very least warrant a re-evaluation of how each members is experience said relationship. Instead, we are simply told that characters feel a certain way and don’t see much internal dialogue about how they are processing these changes. Another relationship between another two is established with only a few brief conversations, but based on that, we are meant to understand that they, too, have deep feelings. In the end, as far as characters go, I was simply left wanting more.

Overall, I like much of the writing and fantasy/horror aspects of the book, but I struggled more with the pacing/structure and the characters themselves. However, if you like dark fantasies and are looking for a diverse cast of characters, “Strange Magic” is definitely worth a look!

Rating 7: Beautiful writing and truly creepy dark fantasy was a bit hindered by a clunky plot and characters who never felt like they quite connected with reader or with what was happening around them.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Strange Grace” is a new title so it isn’t on many Goodreads lists, but it is on “2018 YA Books with LGBT Themes.”

Find “Strange Grace” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Sadie”

34810320Book: “Sadie” by Courtney Summers

Publishing Info: Wednesday Books, September 2018

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

Book Description: Sadie hasn’t had an easy life. Growing up on her own, she’s been raising her sister Mattie in an isolated small town, trying her best to provide a normal life and keep their heads above water. 

But when Mattie is found dead, Sadie’s entire world crumbles. After a somewhat botched police investigation, Sadie is determined to bring her sister’s killer to justice and hits the road following a few meagre clues to find him.

When West McCray—a radio personality working on a segment about small, forgotten towns in America—overhears Sadie’s story at a local gas station, he becomes obsessed with finding the missing girl. He starts his own podcast as he tracks Sadie’s journey, trying to figure out what happened, hoping to find her before it’s too late.

Review: I want to thank NetGalley for sending me an ARC of this novel!

I fully admit to being a huge fan of true crime, even though I sometimes have a hard time reconciling the sometimes inevitably exploitative nature of it. Even if books, TV shows, podcasts, and the like do raise awareness when it comes to various crimes, especially murder, it also turns other people’s potential pain into entertainment to make money off of. I’m no role model, as I ultimately consume SO MUCH true crime stuff it borders on the obsessive. But it isn’t lost on me that there is something dark and a bit voyeuristic about listening to and reading stories about murder. So I knew that “Sadie” by Courtney Summers was going to be, at the very least, an interesting read. What I didn’t know was that it was going to be a phenomenal one.

I first want to start with how the narrative is laid out. There are two alternating storylines that we are following: There is the transcript of the podcast “The Girls”, hosted by a well meaning man named West McCray, and then there is the first person perspective of Sadie herself, as she goes on her lonely mission to hunt down the man that she thinks killed her sister Mattie. The podcast transcript feels very much like other breakaway true crime podcasts that involve an investigative elements like “Serial” or “S-Town”, as West is tracking down Sadie in ‘real time’ and finding his narrative as he goes. Given that I love these kinds of podcasts, I knew that I was going to be picky as hell with how Summers did it, but she pulls it off in spite of the fact a podcast is, in itself, an audio experience. But ultimately, West doesn’t have all of the pieces of the puzzle, so for much of the time we are a couple steps ahead of him. We get to see him slowly piece Sadie’s actions together, and see how he could frame the story in a way that can have many themes that his audience would take interest in: poverty, addiction, violence towards women, and familial loyalty all play a part in “The Girls” as West interviews and gets to know the people in Sadie’s life and those that she interacts with. Audience members (aka the reader) can see the big picture that came together to impact Sadie and Mattie’s life, and West gets to remain detached as well as interested, controlling the narrative as best he can and guiding his audience to feel sympathy for Sadie and the culture (poverty stricken and forgotten) that she comes from, while still maintaining the safety and comfort of their own lives.

Sadie, on the other hand, does not have that luxury. Her parts of the story are dark, grim, and filled with despair as this nineteen year old is trying to hunt down the man she thinks killed the only person in the world she loved with all of her heart. Sadie doesn’t care that their mother, Claire, is a victim of a society that gives little to no support to single mothers who live in poverty and with addiction. Sadie doesn’t care that she herself has been victimized by society that is steeped in misogyny and makes victims out of women of all ages. Sadie just knows that Mattie is dead, and that she is going to kill the man she believes did it. Sadie’s story is at times so hard to read because Summers doesn’t sugar coat or gloss over the violence and hardships that she encounters, but that makes it all the stronger. While West makes Sadie’s story a commodity, we SEE her story, and we see how bad it is. While West certainly has his heart in the right place, you can see the exploitation at the heart of it because you see everything Sadie goes through in her own words. But then Sadie is also unreliable in her own ways, and sometimes what she says doesn’t necessarily line up with later revealed realities. The ways that the two narratives serve to both confirm and also upend each other never ceased to catch me off guard, and I liked that it also emphasized the various struggles that victims of domestic violence face when their abusers can hide behind a mask and trick even those closest to the victims.

I’ve labeled this as a mystery, as it SORT of is (between who killed Mattie and what happened to Sadie), but ultimately the mystery isn’t the point of this story. The point is female rage, and Summers does a masterful job of keeping it grounded in reality and never treading towards melodrama or overcompensating. Too often with YA books do we see authors feeling a need to spell everything out, or take things to extremes that feel unrealistic. Everything in “Sadie” feels real, and because of that it kicks you in the guy repeatedly, and doesn’t try to placate to the need for a happy ending or absolute closure. I really hope that this book gets noticed by readers, because it is easily one of the best YA novels I’ve read in recent memory.

“Sadie” is another perfect example of why adults shouldn’t turn their nose up at YA, just as it is a perfect example of a YA author trusting her audience. This is a book that is going to stay with me for a long time, and I cannot recommend it enough for it’s relevance and it’s power. Go read it.

Rating 10: A gut wrenching and engrossing novel that cuts to the bone, “Sadie” is a story about victimization, revenge, and how the lines can blur between investigative journalism, entertainment, and advocacy.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Sadie” is included on the Goodreads lists “YA Missing Persons”, and “If You Love Veronica Mars…- YA Books”.

Find “Sadie” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Seafire”

378225341Book: “Seafire” by Natalie C. Parker

Publication Info: Razorbill, August 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss

Book Description: After her family is killed by corrupt warlord Aric Athair and his bloodthirsty army of Bullets, Caledonia Styx is left to chart her own course on the dangerous and deadly seas. She captains her ship, the Mors Navis, with a crew of girls and women just like her, whose lives have been turned upside down by Aric and his men. The crew has one misson: stay alive, and take down Aric’s armed and armored fleet.

But when Caledonia’s best friend and second-in-command just barely survives an attack thanks to help from a Bullet looking to defect, Caledonia finds herself questioning whether or not to let him join their crew. Is this boy the key to taking down Aric Athair once and for all…or will he threaten everything the women of the Mors Navis have worked for?

Review: There’s no doubt about it, this summer has been the summer of the pirates as far as my reading list as gone. It’s as if all of the authors and publisher all got together and decided that now, now was the time, just long enough for memories of the more recent “Pirates of the Caribbean” to fade away and soon enough that there is still nostalgia lingering from the very beginning. My feelings on the last several pirate-themed books have been very hit and miss, and the last was quite the miss indeed. But where “These Rebel Waves” failed, “Seafire” was there to redeem this budding genre!

Caledonia and her best friend trusted a Bullet once. And from that trust game death and destruction upon both of their families. Since then, the two women have gone on to gather together a crew of other women and a ship of their own. Together, they fight back against the Bullet’s reign of terror, and Caledonia is still looking for revenge on the boy who betrayed her. But when a Bullet ends up on their ship after saving Caledonia’s first mate, Cal is given a chance to trust again. Should she take it for the chance at new and potentially live-changing information?

So first off, thank god! A pirate story that actually has pirates and takes place on the sea! “Seafire” is just what it claims to be, as far as its action and world-building go. There are ships, a sea battles, and pirates, and all of the best type of action that one looks for in action adventure stories like these. It’s all fairly standard, but in this case, that’s a compliment.

What makes this book stand out from the rest is the cast of characters made up of the found family crew of women. The story delves into great themes such as loyalty, friendship, and of course, the love a family, be it your born family or chosen. It also explicitly deals with the challenges that family present to each other and the ways that they can let each other down, and that this applies to both born and chosen families. Each come with their own struggles, and navigating these relationships can be perilous.

Beyond these broader topics, I genuinely cared about a pretty large group of characters introduced in this book. I typically find myself only invested in the 1-2 main characters in most books, but here I found myself rooting and worrying for a much larger group. There is also good representation in this group with a solid f/f relationship between two secondary characters. But all of this investment also came with a price, since the book doesn’t shy away from the tragedies that can befall characters who regularly engage in sea battles.

As for the main characters, I mostly liked our main character, Cal. The fact that I only “mostly” liked her is also probably a point in the book’s favor, highlighting the attention given to creating a flawed, real teenage girl. Cal is by no means perfect. She is brave and determined, but all too often she makes choices based on her own personal need for revenge. She is slow to give up prejudices, but is also completely devoted to the group of women she has taken under her wing. Towards the end, I did begin to struggle more and more with her character and some of her decision-making, but I was on board enough with the rest of the story to not let myself get too bogged down in that.

There is a minor subplot of romance in the story, but I was fine with this part not taking up more time. The true relationships in this book are those built on sisterhood and friendship. As for the pacing, the book does have a slower start, but picked up quite a lot towards the end, so some patience is required when getting going. But, other than that, “Seafire” was a solid book full of badass women doing badass pirate-y things!

Rating 7: Delivers on its concept with an exciting pirate story full of strong women. The main character was at times not the most likable and it started slow, but was worth it in the end!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Seafire” is on these Goodreads lists: “YA Female Ensemble Casts” and “Lady Pirates.”

Find “Seafire” at your library using WorldCat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Revisit to Fear Street: “The Confession”

2870109Book: “The Confession” (Fear Street #38) by R.L. Stine

Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, 1996

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Five close friends…one murderer.

All Julie’s friends hated Al. They all wished Al were dead. But that doesn’t mean one of them killed him. Julie knows her friends. She knows they are innocent…

Until one of them confesses.

Julie and her friends promise to keep the killer’s secret. After all, they know he would never kill again.

Or would he?

Had I Read This Before: No

The Plot: We meet Julie, our first person narrator, and she immediately starts waxing philosophical about what you would do if a friend of yours confessed to killing someone? Would you call the police? Tell his parents? Try to convince him to tell his parents? Tell your OWN parents? Or keep his secret? After all, at seventeen she thought she knew all the answers, but now, she sees the world is a bit more nuanced than that (and Julie, if you had seen ALL Twitter takes on the day of John McCain’s funeral, you’d realize that adults ALSO have a terrible time with nuance, so don’t get excited for knowledge with age). We then jump back in time to May, when it all began. Julie was hanging out with her friends Hillary Walker (intense, kind, smart) and Taylor Snook (new girl, cultured, a total bitch) at Julie’a house, sitting around the table drinking Mountain Dew, eating chips, and gossiping about boys. There’s Vincent, another member of their friend group, whom Julie has a HUGE crush on, and has for a long time… But that’s another story, she says. Then there’s Sandy, another friend who is a bit quiet and geeky, but whom Taylor has been dating (which is why they are friends with Taylor now). No one knows why Taylor likes him so much, but apparently that TOO is another story, and I get the feeling that they are going to be stories within this story. Then the final cog in this friendship machine, Al Freed, barges into the house and starts irritating all of them. Al USED to be friends with them, but then he started dressing in black and hanging out with some “hard dudes” from Waynesbridge (NOOOOO), who drink beer and cause trouble. Hell, he even brought a beer to her house! He starts berating Julie for twenty dollars, and when she says no he threatens to tell her Mom that he saw her smoking at the mall that past weekend. This is especially bad because Julie promised her Mom she’d never smoke in high school again, and her Mom bribed her with a thousand dollar reward if she kept that promise (DAMN, are we in North Hills?!). Apparently she gave him twenty dollars previously to not tell. He threatens to burn a hole in the table with his cigarette unless she coughs up the money, and when Hillary speaks up he threatens to tell the world that she cheated on an exam (an exam HE gave her the answers to, mind you) unless SHE gives him twenty bucks, and she hands it over. UMMMM, honestly girls, if this kid has such a bad reputation, why not just say that he’s lying? Do you think people would believe that kid who dresses in black and hangs out with those hard dudes from Waynesbridge of all places? As Al is leaving Julie’s Mom comes home and finds Al’s beer can in the sink and finds his cigarette on the floor, and so she grounds Julie on the spot, which means Julie can’t go to a hot party. This seems a bit unfair on her Mom’s part, since Al is out of control and Julie doesn’t seem to be able to control if he walks in and out of her own home, but oh well.

According the Hillary the party was amazing, much to Julie’s chagrin. A week later, though, as they are meeting their friends at Sandy’s house after school, Hillary is telling Julie that Taylor was being very cruel to Sandy during said party, barely paying him any attention as he fetched her drinks, and making out with other boys when he wasn’t looking. Hillary’s afraid that Sandy is going to get hurt, but Julie still thinks that they make a good couple (?????), and thinks that Hillary is jealous. They go to Sandy’s house, and Hillary confesses that she lent Al her car because she’s afraid he’ll tell about the chemistry exam, and Julie agrees that they’re in the same, blackmail-y boat. But honestly, Al is doing this like a chump, he should have taken tips from Adam from “The Cheater”, oh, but wait, that creep is dead, rightfully so. Julie says that he’ll eventually get bored with blackmailing them, and listen Julie, that’s not how blackmail tends to work. Sandy lets the girls into his home and asks them if they heard about Al, and Taylor tells them that Al was suspended! Apparently he picked a fight with one of the school wrestlers, and lost. Vincent says that if Al’s gonna mess up someone’s life it may as well be his own. As everyone is basking in Al’s downfall, Taylor (who oddly had time to change clothes, according to Julie) asks why they ever hung out with Al, and then proclaims she’s hungry, so Sandy hops to it to get her some chips and salsa (though he can’t open the lid, and Hillary has to do it. Instead of her just being naturally stronger we find out her Dad has a LOT of work out equipment in the basement). Then there is a pounding on the door, and Al is demanding that they let him in. He’s also super drunk (or ‘skunked’, or ‘totaled’, as the slang is here), and throwing himself against the door. Instead of calling the cops on his violent and drunk ass, Sandy lets him in. He goes straight for the fridge, and starts looking for more beer. Sandy tells him to stop, but Al goes on on all of them, asking why they think they’re better than him, and saying that Taylor only pretends to like them. Sandy tries to get him to leave the fridge, but Al starts roughing him up. Luckily, Hillary is ready for a fight, and SHE is the one to knock some sense into him. Al, drunk and humiliated, leaves.

Al is suspended for two weeks, and Julie is happy that she doesn’t have to see him in the halls. She’s meeting Vincent at his house to work on a chemistry project, sporting a cute new outfit, but Vincent is too wigged out to notice. He tells her that he lent Al his mom’s car, because he’d taken the car out that previous Saturday night without permission, and got a speeding ticket! And who had seen the whole thing go down? Al. And Al threatened to tell. Now he’s late bringing the car back. And when he DOES bring it back, it has been crunched up in the front! Al says that it wasn’t his fault, he didn’t see the stop sign because of the leaves on a tree! Vincent snaps, and attacks Al, and after Julie pulls him off Al runs away.

Later that week Julie calls Vincent to see if he’s going to the Roller Rink, as he’s a goof on skates. I totally, totally get why Julie has a crush on this kid, the descriptions that Stine gives him make him sound like the most appealing guy that he’s ever created. Gangly, kind, funny, awkward, I love Vincent as much as Julie does! Sadly, he can’t go, as he’s been grounded because of the car. Not only is he grounded, he has to work off the money it’s going to take to fix the car, and that means that he won’t be able to apply for his dream job this summer, which is, get this…. SUMMER CAMP COUNSELOR! He wants to help kids have fun this summer!!!

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High school Kate would have been in love with this kid! (source)

Julie and Vincent are both bummed out that he can’t go, and Julie says goodbye. When her other friends pick her up, she relays what happened. Hillary and Taylor are infuriated, but Sandy is oddly quiet… They get to the roller rink, and Sandy is doting over Taylor and her skates because she can’t figure out how to lace them (seriously?), and Julie is further saddened that Vincent isn’t there because he would have made a funny joke about it. They skate awhile, but eventually the group tapers off; Taylor and Sandy go off somewhere after making out, and then Hillary runs into some friends from Waynesbridge (who AREN’T hard dues, I assume), so Julie decides to skate awhile longer before bussing home. She cuts out through the back alley, as it’s a shortcut to the bus stop, but when she gets out there she sees Al. And someone has strangled him with rollerblade laces, AND shoved a rollerblade INTO HIS MOUTH!!! Julie freaks out, and as she’s standing over his body some shrimpy brats she used to babysit for see her and scream that she must have killed him!

Well the police don’t think she did, of course, but they still have to question her at the station. The lead detective doesn’t understand why Al was murdered, as he doesn’t see a motive as he wasn’t robbed. When he asks Julie if Al carried large sums of money that could have gone missing, she tells him no, he was always bugging her for cash (her parents are there, rightfully so, and they are surprised by this revelation). The detective asks her who might have had a grudge against Al, Julie DOES bring up the Waynesbridge creeps he’s been hanging out with (good, good), but then also says that Al was irritating to ALL of her friends (BAD, BAD).

At the funeral there are lots of rumors swirling around, and Julie is certain that none of her friends could have done it. Afterwards, the friends all go back to Sandy’s house to try and relax, have time together, blah blah blah. Vincent offers to get everyone sodas from the kitchen, and Julie follows him. He asks her how SHE is doing, since she was the one who found the horrifically brutalized body, but before she can really get into it Sandy calls everyone into the living room. Once everyone has gathered, he says that he has something to tell them: he’s the one who killed Al! Taylor starts to scream, insisting it isn’t true, but he says that it is. Hillary is mad that he told them, because now he’s involved all of them in it, and Hillary, if Vincent is the nicest coolest boy Stine has ever written, you are probably the most pragmatic and excellent girl! Sandy is pissed that she’s pissed because he did it ESPECIALLY for her, he says, and points out that they ALL hated Al and he did them a favor! Hillary says that now they are obligated to tell on him, and Taylor says NO WAY, and Julie tends to agree with Taylor, because Sandy is their FRIEND, and his life shouldn’t be ruined over this. Because HEY, if you murder someone you don’t LIKE, it’s TOTALLY okay, right?

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Detective Tutuola would like a word… (source)

Julie is having nightmares about Sandy now, and at graduation rehearsal she tells Hillary that she’s having second thoughts, and wishes that he hadn’t told them at all. Hillary agrees, as she feels especially bad because Sandy thought he was doing it for HER. They then realize that Taylor was watching them, and as she walks away they wonder if she heard them expressing their doubts. As they are walking back to Julie’s they are paranoid that someone is following them, but they don’t see anyone. What they DO see, however, is the police cruiser in Julie’s driveway, and it’s Officer Reed, the detective to questioned her the night she found Al’s body. Julie wants to run, but she and Hillary walk up to the door calmly. Julie, having no chill, blurts out that her parents AREN’T HOME, even though they totally are. Officer Reed says that he has a couple more questions for her. And then her Mom pops her head out the door, so there is no excuse not to have him question them. He runs some names by Julie and Hillary, but the girls pretty much remain clamped up, even though they WANT to confess. Eventually he leaves, and the girls look out the window and see SANDY HIDING BEHIND A TREE! Was he the one following them earlier?! They try to confront him, but he runs away before they can.

Later that week Sandy is still acting funny. He and Vincent get into a huge fight, and Julie is convinced that they will never look at Sandy the same way again because of what he did. That Saturday Hillary and Julie are going to go to the new Jude Law movie (though I hear tell in the original printing it was Keanu Reeves, which has funnily enough become more plausible again!), and Julie calls Vincent to see if he wants to come, He says that he can’t, and Julie is sad that their group is falling apart! She gets to the theater a little late, but Hillary has her ticket ready to go. Julie tells her to save her a seat, she wants to stop at the bathroom. She then bumps into Taylor, who starts to berate her for being such a bad friend, because Sandy is NOT a killer and he’s hurt that Julie has turned her back on him. Julie asks Taylor if she overheard what she and Hillary were saying at graduation rehearsal, and if she told Sandy. Taylor denies it, but Julie doesn’t believe her.

After another graduation rehearsal, Julie gets home late, and when she gets out of her car and closes the garage door, she sees someone duck under and inside. It’s Sandy. He asks her why she’s been talking to the police. She says that Officer Reed just showed up, and why was he following her? He says he just happened to be in the neighborhood, but Julie calls out that blatant lie. She says she thinks the police are close to solving it, and he freaks out on her, saying not to believe that. He then says he wants things to go back to how they were, and that he’s having a pre-graduation party at his house that next Friday, and that she better come, or else. When Julie confides in Hillary about it the next day, Hillary says that he threatened her too. They deign NOT to sit with Sandy and Taylor at lunch, and Vincent sits with them, saying that he was threatened by Sandy as well. Sandy and Taylor stare menacingly at them the entire time, which no doubt makes for an awkward meal.

Taylor confronts Julie and Hillary again, and this time she and Hillary come to fisticuffs. The fight ends with Taylor vomiting all over the place (why?!), and Hillary getting scratches on her neck. They never thought that Taylor cared about Sandy so much, but Hillary says that she’s done, and she’s going to tell the police everything. Julie tries to convince her that Sandy’s life will be ruined, but Hillary shuts that shit down. She points out that Sandy didn’t HAVE to confess to them, but he did because he wanted them to admire him for it, and because he wanted to impress Taylor. Julie says that he won’t kill again, but Hillary isn’t convinced, given his new predilection for threatening them. Hillary thinks on it a bit, but then says that she wants to talk to Sandy before she goes to the cops, and asks Julie to drop her off at his house. Julie obeys (ARE YOU NUTS?), and Hillary tells her to go home, she will call as soon as she is done. Julie is tempted to wait for her, but decides to do as she’s told.

Julie waits impatiently for Hillary to call, and gets even more nervous when Hillary’s mom calls asking her if she’s seen Hillary. Julie says no, and they hang up. She is now convinced that Sandy did something to Hillary. But Hillary does call a few hours later. And when she does, she has her own confession. SHE KILLED SANDY!

Julie drives to Hillary’s house, and when she gets there she finds Taylor and Vincent are there as well. Hillary tells Julie that she hasn’t told them yet, and then has them all gather so she can tell them everything. As soon as he confesses, Taylor loses it. Hillary says that she went to confront Sandy, and he attacked her. She hit him with a sculpture in self defense, and it killed him. She says that she’s going to turn herself in now. Taylor screams at Hillary asking her why Sandy had to die? Because Sandy didn’t kill Al!! TAYLOR DID!!! Because she had been going out with Al BEHIND SANDY’S BACK! And apparently she stole some money from her parents to give to him, and he started blackmailing her over it. They got in a fight behind the skating rink, and he got rough with her, which made her snap. She ran to Sandy, and he said that he would confess for her. So now she’s enraged that Hillary killed an innocent man!! But wait, what’s that? A ring of the doorbell? Who could it be? When Hillary opens the door, it’s SANDY!!!!!! When Hillary confronted him that afternoon, it wasn’t about going to the police, it was because she’d figured out that he was covering for Taylor!! And they thought that the best way to get Taylor to confess was to fake his death!

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(source)

A couple weeks later, Vincent and Julie are walking home. He then says he has a confession to make: he’s had a crush on her since they were in third grade. Julie screams with glee. The End.

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Not bad, Stine! Not bad! (source)

Body Count: 1. And no one was sad.

Romance Rating: I mean, it averages out to a 5. Julie and Vincent are adorable when they finally get together, so those marks are high. But Sandy willingly throwing himself under the bus for Taylor were low marks to be sure.

Bonkers Rating: 4. It wasn’t totally crazy, outside of a rollerblade shoved into Al’s mouth, because OUCH.

Fear Street Relevance: 2. Julie lives there, but this fact is thrown in haphazardly near the end of the novel.

Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:

“The next night – Friday Night – I killed him.”

… Except no she didn’t, and she explains

“Well, SOME people thought I killed Al…  But of course I didn’t.”

Oh fuck yourself, Julie.

That’s So Dated! Moments: Well for one thing, look at that RAD ROLLERBLADING ENSEMBLE on the original cover! For another, Julie says that her Mom says that she looks like Demi Moore.

Best Quote:

“‘Why’d they suspend him?’

Vincent grinned at us. ‘Al rolled up his English term paper and smoked it in front of Mrs. Hirsch.’

Hillary and I both gasped. ‘You’re kidding!’ I cried.

Vincent’s grin grew wider. ‘Yeah. I’m kidding. He got into a fight.'”

Vincent is the best.

Conclusion: “The Confession” was actually pretty okay!! I kind of figured out the ending but I loved the way that it was executed, and I liked the characters in this one more than I have in other “Fear Street” books. Next up is “The Boy Next Door”!

 

 

Highlights September 2018

Happy Labor Day! The days are getting shorter, the temperatures are getting cooler, and some of us are very sad to say goodbye to summer. But others can’t wait to break out the Halloween decorations and pumpkin pie! You take the good with the bad. But, as always, we have some exciting books to look forward to regardless of our opinions on cooler weather.

Serena’s Picks

37588503Book: “A Spark of White Fire” by Sangu Mandanna

Publication Date: September 11, 2018

Why I’m Interested: I’m always on the lookout for new science fiction, so I was super excited when I saw this book listed. Much of the story sounds very familiar to other fantasy books: an exiled princess, a stolen throne, a fight to reclaim one’s inheritance. But add to that sentient warships and dark moons, and you’ve got yourself what sounds like an intriguing space opera! What makes it all the more appealing is the fact that the story is loosely based on ancient Indian folklore. All together, it sounds like an intriguing mix!

32824058Book: “Strange Grace” by Tessa Gratton

Publication Date: September 18, 2018

Why I’m Interested: Well, first off, look at that cover! Is that gorgeous or what? This is definitely one of those cases where I clicked through to read more about this title based simply on the lovely cover art. But then I read the synopsis and was even more in. The story is that of a town where long ago something terrible happened (or was it love?) between a witch and a demon. Either way, the result is every few years the town must sacrifice its best boy to the forest. At its heart are our three protagonists and what looks like the set-up of some complicated relationship drama. There’s also a good chance that Kate should probably read this, too, what with the witchcraft angle and the representation.

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

Publication Date: September 25, 2018

Why I’m Interested: Another beautiful cover! Plus, a fairytale-esque fantasy novel featuring sisterhood. Of course I’m all over this one! Liba and Laya are two Jewish sisters, and while they’ve heard of their people have troubles at other villages, in their small home, the community has lived together in peace. But the arrival of a strange band of young men begins to stir unrest, and Liba and Laya discover startling truths about their own heritage and that what were once fairytales may in fact be histories. Even that brief description pretty much checks all of my boxes, so I’m sure there will a review for this one coming up shortly!

Kate’s Picks

34810320Book: “Sadie” by Courtney Summers

Publication Date: September 8, 2018

Why I’m Interested: I’ve read another of Courtney Summer’s books, “Some Girls Are”, and I found it to be an interesting and gritty story. “Sadie”, on the other hand, makes “Some Girls Are” sound like child’s play. As someone who loves her share of true crime podcasts, I’d me remiss to pass this one by. After her younger sister is murdered, Sadie is on the trail of the man she believes killed her. Meanwhile, a podcaster has taken interest in Sadie’s story, and is trying to figure out where she disappeared to. This book is getting a lot of advanced praise, and it sounds like a realistic and rough look at violence towards women, and how our culture tries to capitalize on it.

377158591Book: “We Sold Our Souls” by Grady Hendrix

Publication Date: September 18, 2018

Why I’m Interested: Because who doesn’t love a little satire, a little heavy metal, and a really badass female protagonist? Given how much I loved “My Best Friend’s Exorcism”, it was a sure thing that I was going to get my ands on whatever novel he came out with next. And lo and behold, his follow up was about a washed up heavy metal player, an old grudge she has for a former bandmate, and the possibility that her soul was sold without her permission. Since I have a special place in my heart for metal music, and since Hendrix is a fun author whose books have some scares but a whole lot of heart, I am very much looking forward to “We Sold Our Souls”.

38255342Book: “The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein” by Kiersten White

Publication Date: September 25, 2018

Why I’m Interested: You all know how much Serena loves White’s “Conquerer’s Saga”, but now it’s my turn to see her take on a classic tale and twist it into her own thing. I do enjoy “Frankenstein” quite a bit, but I’ve always felt bad for Victor’s doomed ladyfriend Elizabeth. SO color me interested in “The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein”, as it sounds like it’s going to give this character more of a voice. While I’m sure that this story will be as emotionally devastating for me as “The Conquerer’s Saga” was for Serena, I am very excited to see what White does to this classic story, and the places she takes it.

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