The Great Animorphs Re-read #41: “The Familiar”

363352Animorphs #41: “The Familiar”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, May 2000

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: Jake wakes up one morning to find he is suddenly twenty-five years old, the Yeerks rule the world, all the other Animorphs are either dead or Yeerk-infested, and he alone is left to fight.

Narrator: Jake

Plot: Well…that was…a thing? Another book I had completely blocked from my memory, and another book where I completely understand why. It’s not that I hated the characterization (like a few of the dreaded Rachel books that I had also partially blocked), but, instead…

Similarly to Megamorphs 4, the story opens with a brutal fight scene. In many ways, it’s even worse than the one we saw there. Rachel goes into a beserk rage, not able to recognize her own injuries and the futility of the situation. Marco, trying to help Rachel, tells Jake to leave them behind. Which Jake does. Afterwards, when they make it all out, Cassie has a complete melt-down, questioning why they are even doing what they are doing any more. And, instead of comforting her like he typically would, Jake just walks away.

From there, the book spirals into an unexplained and unexplainable dream sequence/dystopian future/something? For the first time, I honestly don’t know how to sum up what happens because the story literally jumps from one nightmare sequence to another, with Jake often passing out in-between, and almost zero connection between one moment of horror and another. Throughout, implausibilities and inconsistencies are littered, making readers feel like some reveal is coming, and then the story just ends. So, instead of my typical beat-by-beat plot discussion, we’re resorting to bullet points, cuz frankly I don’t know how else to handle this BS.

  • Jake wakes up in a future where the Yeerks have taken over. He’s 25 years old and everyone around him thinks he’s a Controller.
  • On his way to “work,” he escapes to the ground level of New York City which is largely deserted but for roaming, almost-feral Taxxons and a new alien species called the Orffs which operate as police. He finds himself in the sewers and runs into what is essentially a homeless camp of disabled humans, Andalites, Gedds and others.
  • Back on the ground level, a building is blown up and topples. He runs into an adult Cassie who is working with her Yeerk to resist the Yeerk Empire. She claims that Jake betrayed the Animorphs by being careless which lead to them all being Controlled and Rachel dying. She enlists him to spy on a big project the Yeerks are setting in motion to turn the moon into a giant Kandrona ray.
  • At his work, Jake has a flash where everyone around him becomes zombi-fied versions of Controllers he’s killed in battle. Rat!David also shows up, scurrying around.
  • His Controlled!Dad shows up, and Jake morphs tiger. Everyone is shocked that a human can morph. He gets knocked out.
  • He wakes up to be confronted by Controlled!Marco. Cassie said Marco became Visser Two, but in their conversation, Marco says he’s Visser Three and then smiles mysteriously when Jake points out the inconsistency. Marco reveals that he has captured Cassie before he releases Jake, saying they’ll track his movements now that they know he’s connected to the Yeerk Resistance.
  • At the cafeteria (?), Jake runs into a crippled Rachel; she has lost both legs, an arm, an eye, and her vocal chords have been damaged. Jake wonders why Cassie said she was dead.
  • He gets chased by Orffs again and somehow falls through a trapdoor in the street and finds himself in a Resistance shelter where freed humans and Andalites are raising children. They say the floor doesn’t open for just anyone and that Cassie must want him to learn something. He talks to a few of the children, before making his way back to the surface through a tree.
  • On the surface, he runs into an adult Andalite that he at first thinks is Elfangor. He soon discovers it is Tobias in his Ax morph. Jake is confused because before this he had spotted an elderly red-tailed hawk flying in and out of areas and had assumed that was Tobias. They discuss the ethics of war, particularly terrorism’s role in guerrilla warfare. Tobias sends Jake to prevent the moon/Kandrona mission, dismissing Jake’s concerns about rescuing Cassie, saying one life is a sacrifice worth making in the bigger scheme of things.
  • At the Chrysler building, Jake ends up in a situation where he has to choose between saving Cassie or aborting the moon mission. He makes his choice, but we don’t know what it is.
  • He wakes up in his room to a voice, specifically mentioned to NOT be the Ellimist or Crayak, that says that he made an interesting choice and the humans will require more study. Shaken, Jake calls Cassie on the phone and asks if she is alright, saying he should have asked her the night before after the battle.

Our Fearless Leader: The plot is hot garbage, but the writer does stick true to characterization throughout. And in light of past complaints where the opposite has been true, I will give this book the smallest of props for that. Really, a large part of the problem arises with the placement of this story in the series. We had JUST come off a book that opened with a horrific battle, then focused on Jake’s feelings of hopelessness and failure, and then delved into some type of alternate reality that helped keep him on the right course. So, because of that, unfortunately, much of this felt familiar.

It was interesting that much of the internal struggle for Jake here had to do with the changes he saw in Cassie, her hardening towards warfare, and the Yeerk Resistance fighters’ use of terrorism as a combat tactic. The latter, in particular, is the type of topic we’ve perhaps briefly discussed in Cassie books, but it is given new life here what with the actual terrorism tactics being used (blowing up buildings that contain civilians) as opposed to the guerrilla warfare style of the Animorphs. That being said, some of Jake’s outrage is a bit hard to handle since the Animorphs do verge on these tactics themselves. I can think of many incidents, but the elephant/rhino beach invasion on the summit back in the David trilogy would definitely meet the definition of terrorism. However, it’s still interesting watching a character like Jake, rather than Cassie for once, grapple with these things.

Xena, Warrior Princess:  Probably the second-most recurring struggle for Jake throughout this book is his growing discomfort with his own use of Rachel. In the opening battle, he chooses to leave her and Marco behind, partly knowing that Rachel will hold Yeerks off in her battle rage. And in the alternate reality, he at first thinks that his own carelessness gets her killed and then sees that he got her maimed. Obviously, much of this is on Rachel’s character itself: she would go down fighting rather than be infested, more so than any of the others. But Jake repeatedly thinks about how he “uses” Rachel and how he has finally/will someday break her by treating her like a weapon and not a person. Dun dun DUNNN.

A Hawk’s Life: So for half the book we think Tobias is some type of spectral, old hawk that flies in and out of scenes. And then we find him as a grown-up version of Ax. Of all of them, this route for Tobias makes the most sense. We’ve seen his leadership capabilities in the past, and his choice to get himself stuck in an Andalite body over his own human one also makes sense. As an Andalite, he has natural weapons and can better participate in the ongoing fight, and we know that this has been a driving force behind his choice to remain as a hawk. He’s also the one to get into the nuts and bolts of the terrorism conversation with Jake, and, again, it is easy to imagine a Tobias who would become hardened to the point that we see here.

Peace, Love, and Animals: Cassie has the second-biggest role in this story and the most marked change of them all (can’t really count Marco since we don’t actually get to see real Marco for more than a second). Her hardened attitude seems to scare Jake more than almost anything he’s sees in this version of the future. I have mixed feelings on this. I like how it really solidifies how important Cassie’s pacifism is to Jake’s ability to balance the choices he makes in the real timeline. He depends on her to have this outlook and to pull him back from terrible things. And it’s definitely believable that Cassie would manage to talk her Yeerk around to joining up in the Resistance and establishing a partnership of sorts. So for the first half of the book, I was completely on board. But when we’re introduced to the underground safe haven where the children are being raised…that kind of messes with things. That’s the kind of hopeful, peaceful situation that would both draw Cassie into working there instead of on the streets, but also provides the type of ongoing hope that we know is important to her to keep her general outlook. With its existence, it was harder to believe in this super hardened version of Cassie.

The Comic Relief: Marco is barely in this. We get half a word from the real him about halfway through the book, and that’s about it. His fate is obviously one of the most horrible, as, miraculously, the other Animorphs are all mostly still fighting somehow. We know that the fate of the Controlled being depends on the Yeerk they end up with (as we saw with poor Tobias in the last Megamorphs books), but you also get the sense here that Controlled!Marco has risen so high in the ranks due to it being Marco and him being the smartest of the group. As I said, that doesn’t actually track, but oh well. In any state of being, Marco will be supremely, sometimes horribly, effective. It’s also worth noting that in the opening scene, Marco is the one to both stay behind to try and help Rachel out, but also the one to yell at Jake to leave them. More points to the special relationship between Rachel and Marco (also, practically speaking, his gorilla morph is the only one that can really “help” a grizzly), but also a nice scene highlighting Marco’s “clear, bright line” approach to the war. He sees the same situation that Jake does and he agrees with his unspoken assessment that he and Rachel are best left behind for the good of the group.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Is Ax even in this book? Not only is he the only one we don’t see in the future (according to Cassie he is off in space after helping take down the Andalite home world), but I don’t remember anything special from him in the initial battle either. I’m sure there was some passing references, but obviously nothing memorable.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: The zombi-fied remains of Jake’s past kills were pretty bad. It’s one of the annoying, random scenes that just inserts itself into the middle of the story for no reason, but if I try and ignore that (it’s very, VERY hard to ignore all of these random plot scenes and issues), the scene itself is brutal. It’s essentially a personification of all the horror that Jake has dealt out. Not only are there Controllers sporting obvious wounds from a tiger, but rat!David even makes a brief appearance, ready and able to remind Jake that actual killing may not have been the worst thing he’s done so far.

Couples Watch!: Jake’s relationship with Cassie is pretty much the driving force of the last half of the book. He’s obviously horrified by her hardened state and his own supposed role in the entire situation, but things really get started after Cassie gets captured and he has to choose between trying to save her or stopping the moon mission. What makes this harder for him is that everyone he talks to has a clear answer: moon mission first. Tobias, even Cassie herself, all say that one person’s life isn’t worth the results of this mission going forward. We don’t know what Jake chooses at the end, though I think it’s pretty strongly leaning towards him saving Cassie. That would also be the more interesting choice, considering the events of the last book.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: No Visser Three in this book. Though I will take this opportunity to rant about one of the many weird inconsistencies in this book: the fact that the Animorphs were all taken as Controllers (or most of them) and yet, other than Marco, they were given to nobody Yeerks and then somehow everyone forgot that they could morph. It’s so bizarre and unlikely that it just pissed me off whenever I was reminded of the fact. And, of course, the set up for the book, revealed at the end, that it’s all some mysterious experiment, gets the author off the hook for having to justify any of this nonsense.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: The scene where Marco is given a brief second of freedom from his Yeerk and is clearly so unused to it that he barely remembers how to talk on his own. Like I said earlier, his and Ax’s fates are by far the worst. We can’t really count Jake in any of this, and the rest all managed to keep fighting in one way or anther. Even Rachel’s horrible disfigurement seems better, and we all know that she’d choose that over being Controlled any day.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: I don’t even know, the plan of this entire book and whomever came up with it?

Favorite Quote: For all of its stupidity, when the book actually slows down enough to give Jake real moments to interact with those around him, we got some good stuff, like his conversation with Tobias. And this brief interlude with a kid living in the underground safe haven:

I  wondered  how I  should  answer,  how I  could explain  to  him,  without  destroying  his  spirit.

“War doesn’t  always  let you  save the  people  you know,” I said.  “You might end up being assigned to  a  mission  that  saves  people  far  away  from here.   People  you  don’t   know.   Other  people’s friends.”

He shook his head.”I’ll  save my friends first.  Then  I’ll  save other people’s  friends.”

And then there was this:

I’d  decided a while  back to give  up analyzing what  was  happening  to  me  and  why.  I’d  figured that  sanity  depended  on  accepting  the  reality  I saw,  this  dream  or  nightmare or vision.  But that didn’t mean there weren’t times when all I wanted were answers — definite, concrete answers.

This almost felt like a slap in the face, because not only was Jake forced to have this approach, but it felt like this is where the author was pretty much telling readers to not expect anything else from this entire book. Just take what you have and be happy. We’re not going to explain anything, so give up hope waiting for that and deal with it. I’m sorry, but no. There have been plenty of other nonsense story lines in this series, and I’ve went along with them all because at least there we were given even the smallest tendrils of an explanation. As implausible as those explanations were, at least the author made an effort to rationalize it all and give it meaning. Here, there was none of that. The fact that it wasn’t even the Ellimist or Crayak in the end, but some other cosmic force that is never mentioned again was just insult on top of injury.

Scorecard: Yeerks 11, Animorphs 15

I’m giving a point to the Yeerks again out of anger with this book. And for the fact that during the majority of this book they had, indeed, won.

Rating: Man, I really didn’t like this book. The characters were strong and I did like some of the larger issues they tackled (the fact that this was set in NY city, had a tower come down, discussed terrorism repeatedly, and was published about 6 months before 9/11….yikes). But as I briefly got into in the section above, I can’t forgive the sheer laziness of the story as a whole. There wasn’t even an attempt to explain why or how any of this was happening. Beyond that, we were given small moments, like Marco’s slip-up calling himself Visser Three rather than Two, that IMPLY something bigger is happening that Jake and readers should be figuring out, or at the very least, waiting for the reveal for. But nope! Nothing means anything! And then, the stupid voice at the end. Frankly, I would have been more on board had Jake just woken up and realized the whole thing was a dream. But to add in another all-powerful cosmic entity, and just drop it in like it’s nothing, explain nothing, and have nothing ever come from it again? No. That’s just crapping all over your readership because you wanted to do something wacky and didn’t care enough to come up with a way for it to work.

Note: I’m not going to rate these books since I can’t be objective at all!

Kate’s Review: “Limetown”

30363835Book: “Limetown” by Cote Smith, Zack Akers, and Skip Bronkie

Publishing Info: Simon & Schuster, November 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: I was given an eARC by the publisher via NetGalley.

Book Description: From the creators of the #1 podcast Limetown, an explosive prequel about a teenager who learns of a mysterious research facility where over three hundred people have disappeared—including her uncle—with clues that become the key to discovering the secrets of this strange town.

On a seemingly ordinary day, seventeen-year-old Lia Haddock hears news that will change her life forever: three hundred men, women, and children living at a research facility in Limetown, Tennessee, have disappeared without a trace. Among the missing is Emile Haddock, Lia’s uncle. 

What happened to the people of Limetown? It’s all anyone can talk about. Except Lia’s parents, who refuse to discuss what might have happened there. They refuse, even, to discuss anything to do with Emile.

As a student journalist, Lia begins an investigation that will take her far from her home, discovering clues about Emile’s past that lead to a shocking secret—one with unimaginable implications not only for the people of Limetown, but for Lia and her family. The only problem is…she’s not the only one looking for answers. 

Zack Akers and Skip Bronkie are first-rate storytellers, in every medium. Critics called their podcast Limetown “creepy and otherworldly” (The New York Times) and “endlessly fun” (Vox), and their novel goes back to where it all began. Working with Cote Smith, a PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize Finalist, they’ve crafted an exhilarating mystery that asks big questions about what we owe to our families and what we owe to ourselves, about loss, discovery, and growth. Threaded throughout is Emile’s story—told in these pages for the first time ever.

Review: Thank you to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster for sending me an eARC of this book!

As the resident podcast junkie on this blog, it may be a bit surprising that until recently I hadn’t set aside time to listen to “Limetown”. For those unfamiliar, “Limetown” is a fictional thriller/supernatural podcast that is written in a “Serial”-esque format, following journalist Lia Haddock as she investigates the mysterious disappearance of an entire town population. Given that it’s totally up my alley, I don’t really know why I didn’t put it in the constant rotation of podcasts I listen to. But when I was given an invitation to read “Limetown”, the prequel novel, by Simon & Schuster via NetGalley, I decided that it was time to listen. I devoured the podcast in a couple days time, totally taken in by the mystery and the creepiness as Lia gets closer and closer to the solution, and the conspiracy, involving the town, the research it was doing, and the connection it had to her missing uncle Emile. And once I was done with that, I felt that it was time to finally read the prequel novel, hoping that it would expand upon the universe and give us some insight into the brand new Season 2.

I didn’t quite get that from “Limetown”, and I’m starting to wonder if the ever expanding media connections to podcasts is really necessary.

I’ll start with the good first, as I am wont to do. Given that the podcast “Limetown” is laid out in an investigative format, all we are seeing is what Lia Haddock, the host of the show, would have access to. Given that that narrative structure is only going to give us so much, I did like that we got to see a LOT more about Limetown within the novel. A lot of this comes from the storyline concerning Emile, Lia’s uncle who disappeared when the town population did. While the podcast does let us in on the true purpose of Limetown (spoilers: it’s a place that was being used as a research facility for psychic abilities in humans), getting to see Emile make his journey from outsider teenager to Limetown resident definitely shed some insight that we didn’t get to see otherwise. I liked Emile’s perspective and his somewhat tragic story, a person with abilities and feels on the outside of those around him. His connection to his brother Jacob (Lia’s father) is expanded upon, as is his relationship to Lia’s mother Alison. I definitely enjoyed his parts of the story. I had bigger problems with Lia’s parts. I like Lia as a character both in book and on the podcast, but within this prequel I feel like they retconned quite a bit about her character because of things she finds out in the book as opposed to what we THINK she knows in the podcast. There are certain moments and revelations within the narrative of the book that I would have THOUGHT that she would have addressed in the podcast just based on her character and her drive to find the truth, but as it is, in spite of the fact the book is definitely BEFORE the podcast, it seems that these truths either a) aren’t what they seem and the podcast is more unreliable than we thought, or b) don’t match up because of an unplanned prequel book. I’m inclined to believe the latter.

This isn’t a BAD book, and I think that fans of the podcast would definitely find things within it to like. But, much like “Welcome to Night Vale”, I’m not certain that it would stand on it’s own two feet to non-fans to intrigue them enough to bring them into the fold. Does it have to? No. But I do think that if the show wants to perhaps reach out to non-fans to build their fandom, their non-podcast media should be able to stand alone.

It’s not an unfamiliar story for a podcast to get expansions via other means of consumable content. “Welcome to Night Vale” has two books now. “Dirty John” is getting a TV adaptation with Connie Britton and Eric Bana. Julia Roberts is starring in an Amazon Prime Adaptation of “Homecoming”. And hell, even “Limetown” is getting a Facebook Watch adaptation starring Jessica Biel along with this book. It will be interesting to see how these various adaptations fare. But if they aren’t bringing in many reasons to expand, it may end up feeling a bit pointless. “Limetown” the book was fine, but I don’t see it as being essential reading.

Rating 6: While I enjoyed learning some new things about the mysterious Emile, “Limetown” didn’t feel like it expanded much on the universe at hand, and it didn’t feel like it could bring an unfamiliar person in.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Limetown” is included on the Goodreads lists “Books Based on Podcasts”, and “Podcast Books”.

Find “Limetown” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Empire of Sand”

39714124Book: “Empire of Sand” by Tasha Suri

Publishing Info: Orbit, November 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: ARC from the publisher!

Book Description: The Amrithi are outcasts; nomads descended of desert spirits, they are coveted and persecuted throughout the Empire for the power in their blood. Mehr is the illegitimate daughter of an imperial governor and an exiled Amrithi mother she can barely remember, but whose face and magic she has inherited.

When Mehr’s power comes to the attention of the Emperor’s most feared mystics, she must use every ounce of will, subtlety, and power she possesses to resist their cruel agenda.

Should she fail, the gods themselves may awaken seeking vengeance…

Review: A big thanks to Orbit for sending me an ARC of this book! I’ve been on a bit of a roll lately with fantasy stories set in desert climates, so reading the description for this one, I was quick to place a request. Unfortunately for me, while not a bad book, this one didn’t quite do it for me. My streak had to end sometime, I guess, and it was unfortunate that it had to be with this book.

Mehr has grown up straddling two worlds. In one, she is the noble daughter of an imperial governor, raised in luxury and comfort and largely protected from any tumult going on in Empire at large. In the other world, she is the bastard daughter of a mother whose people have become outcasts in their own land and who are becoming increasingly persecuted by the Emperor. Of course, these two worlds will inevitably clash, Mehr must find a way to fight for not only her own future but that of her people.

While I already noted that this book wasn’t a win for me, there were a few things that played in its favor that I want to highlight. Firstly, the setting. I still love a good desert-based fantasy novel, and this one perfectly captures the wild nature of its location and plays with usual cast of fantasy characters often found there, such as daevas. I also enjoyed the descriptions of Mehr’s Amrithi culture and the intricate dances they perform as part of their power.

And lastly, Mehr herself is a strong enough character. She’s not one that will likely stand out in my memory, but she also didn’t commit any of the cardinal sins that get my hackles up with main characters. She’s practical and level-headed (though she does make a few confusing decisions early in the book, but no one’s perfect, I guess). She also has a lovely relationship with her much younger sister. Sadly, this character and a few others that we meet early in the book pretty much disappear from the story, which is too bad.

Ultimately, I think my biggest problems with this book had to do with pacing and the odd balance that was trying to be struck between YA fantasy fiction and adult fantasy. There are elements of each in the book, and yet they never mesh together well, and what may appeal to one set feels like exactly the points of note that would ring false with others. The pacing is quite slow and the world-building, history, and politics are quite detailed. These are elements that one is more often able to find in adult fantasy. However, on the other hand, character moments and the overall story arc largely follow a pretty familiar beat-by-beat YA story. Put together, I was never able to fully engage with the book. The detail that was given to the world and history combined with the very familiar order of events left many of the “reveals” feeling predictable and lacking the excitement and thrill that one would want. Even with a few more surprises, I think the pacing itself would still have been lacking. It was just slow. There was a lot of discussion and preparation and very little action for a book that is following the now very established “weapon floating on cover” book design.

As I said, there’s nothing objectively “wrong” with this book, perhaps other than its slow nature. But even that may appeal to some readers. For me, the other elements in the story were all just…fine. And “fine” characters, “fine” romance, and “fine” magical elements just weren’t enough to boost this one up my interest scale. But fantasy readers looking for a slower-moving story that plays to its strengths with its desert setting may still want to check this one out!

Rating 6: Just kind of meh, for me, unfortunately.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Empire of Sand” is a newer title, so it isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists, but it is on “Diverse Books by Diverse Authors.”

Find “Empire of Sand” at your library using Worldcat!

Kate’s Review: “Harley & Ivy Meet Betty & Veronica”

38369243Book: “Harley & Ivy Meet Betty & Veronica” by Paul Dini, Marc Andreyko, and Laura Braga (Ill.)

Publishing Info: DC Comics, September 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: The bad girls of Gotham meet the good girls of Riverdale!

Hiram Lodge (Veronica’s father) wants to invest in the future by building a university with free tuition for Riverdale’s residents. His site is a protected swamp on the outskirts of town, and once news of the plan reaches Gotham City, a certain eco-warrior (a.k.a. Poison Ivy) is determined to prevent the dream from becoming reality.

However, once Poison Ivy and her bestie Harley Quinn arrive, they get mixed up in the sort of hijinks that can only happen in Riverdale. At a superhero-themed costume party, the night’s entertainment–Zatanna– manages to place the personas of the Gotham City Sirens into the bodies of the town’s notorious frenemies: Betty Cooper and Veronica Lodge. While Ivy (in Ronnie’s body) seeks to derail Lodge’s agenda from within, more than a few nefarious forces–from Jason and Cheryl Blossom to the Clown Prince of Crime himself–have their own foul plans.

This groundbreaking miniseries teams up two of fandom’s best-known duos, bringing the ladies of Gotham and Riverdale together for the first time! This madcap mayhem comes courtesy of Paul Dini (Harley Quinn) and Marc Andreyko (Wonder Woman ’77), with art by Laura Braga (DC Comics: Bombshells)! Collects Harley & Ivy Meet Betty & Veronica #1-6.

Review: I’ve been a long time fan of “Batman”, as you all are well aware. I also have a very special place in my heart for “Archie” comics, and not just the horror comics that have been so genius as of late. When I was a little girl I loved old school Archie adventures, and really liked following stories involving Betty and Veronica. When I saw that Paul Dini, a writer for “Batman: The Animated Series” AND one of the creators of Harley Quinn, had written a new Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy story with Marc Andreyko, I was already pretty on board. But when I saw that it was a crossover with Archie Comics, and it was ALSO going to star Betty Cooper and Veronica Lodge?

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Two of my fandoms hi fiving each other in glee! (source)

Far be it from me to disparage goofy crossovers. As a former fan fiction author I have indulged in a number of crossover stories, some of which make absolutely no sense whatsoever, and I think that amusing and fun is one of the most important elements to do it successfully. But what makes the idea of Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy meeting up with Betty and Veronica so excellent is that they are all the epitome of gal pals, in positive and negative ways. While Harley and Ivy are definitely supportive and caring friends to each other, they are morally ambiguous if we are being generous (and if we aren’t they’re straight up criminals). And while Betty and Veronica are pretty normal and functional people, they are best known for their portrayal of being frenemies all because of a boy (who is a total DUD, I might add). So to give these two sets of friends a little wiggle room to explore the depths of where their personalities can go, and therein critique their base portrayals they are pigeonholed into, is kind of genius.

Deriving a plot that is part buddy crime comedy and part “Freaky Friday”, “Harley & Ivy Meet Betty & Veronica” is really just a comedy of errors and some fun fan service for people like me. I don’t know what a Venn Diagram of people who love Harley and Ivy vs people who love Betty and Veronica would look like, but I know that as someone in the overlap I found this to be an entertaining romp. Once the full body switch happened and we got to see Betty and Veronica dealing with the hot mess that is Gotham, and Harley and Ivy letting loose at Riverdale High, I just sat back and enjoyed the ride for what it is. I liked seeing Betty and Veronica completely aghast at Gotham and the ridiculous crime it harbors, just as I liked seeing Ivy and Harley have to contend with Cheryl and Jason Blossom, a whole different kind of enemy than they are used to. There is also something incredibly satisfying about seeing Ivy and Harley have NO interest in Archie WHAT. SO. EVER. The banter and situational comedy the two sets of gal pals get into while in the body swap is entertaining to be certain, and they bring a new zest to some of the tried and true tropes of both fandoms. There are also other fun little shout outs and meet ups for members of the “Batman” and “Archie” fan bases: Sabrina Spellman getting to hang out with Zatanna was a delight, and the idea of Smithers and Alfred Pennyworth being old friends was super sweet.

The art is fun and a nice mix of both worlds. Laura Braga of “Bombshells” art fame is at the helm this time, and she has a style that kind of suits both universes. It’s chic and stylistic, but it also lends itself to superhero situations, or perhaps supervillain situations is a better description.

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(source)

But I think that one of the weaker things about this collection was that it really does read like fan fiction. That isn’t to say that this is inherently a bad thing; like I said, I used to write that stuff and still dabble even if I don’t publish it anymore, and I do like a fun nutty crossover. What I mean by that is that sometimes I felt like plot points happened less because of the plot at hand, and more because Dini and Andreyko thought ‘wouldn’t it be cool if…?’. And that tended to make for a weaker story. I’m thinking mostly about this whole strange subplot with Reggie dressing up as Joker for a party, losing his memory, and then believing that he WAS Joker. I didn’t really understand what this did outside of ‘look, it’s like The Joker is here but he isn’t actually, isn’t that FUNNY?!’ As far as I’m concerned, Joker is a little played out these days, Mark Hamill excluded. Plus, why is it that we feel like whenever there is a Harley Quinn story Joker should show up in some capacity? I am willing to give Dini a little slack here since he is Harley’s creator, but honestly, it’s not necessary and I’m starting to get sick of it. ESPECIALLY since Harley and Ivy are pretty solidly a couple in the DC verse now, and that wasn’t very clear in this, now that I think about it, which ruffles my feathers a bit. Again, Dini can get a LITTLE leeway since he’s the creator, but COME ON.

So while “Harley & Ivy Meet Betty & Veronica” was definitely a bit of fluff and fun, I had hoped that it would be more than that. It gave me joy in the moment, but I wish that it had a little more substance.

Rating 6: A cute and fun mash up of two of my favorites, but it definitely could have gone further than it did.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Harley & Ivy Meet Betty & Veronica” isn’t on many Goodreads lists but I think it would fit in on “Crossover Fiction”.

Find “Harley & Ivy Meet Betty & Veronica” at your library using WorldCat!

Not Just Books: November 2018

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

Serena’s Picks

mv5bodcwotg2mde3nf5bml5banbnxkftztgwntuynty1njm-_v1_sy1000_cr006751000_al_Netflix Show: “Daredevil” Season 3

I’ve been pretty diligent with my Marvel Netflix show watching. That said, there have been some definite misses of late and I had started getting lazy. Truth time: I didn’t even finish the second season of Luke Cage. And honestly, given that it was cancelled shortly after, I count this as a lucky miss. But I’ve always loved “Daredevil” and “Jessica Jones.” Both had stellar first seasons and second seasons that dragged a bit but were still good quality. So this is the first (and maybe last with all of the cancellations?!) of the Marvel Netflix shows to get a third season. And man, if this one is evidence of anything, it’s that some series can get even stronger as they go! This was not only the best season for this show in particular but vies for a tie with my ultimate favorite in “Jessica Jones” season 1. It’s also one of the few shows that fully takes advantage of its 13 episode format and doesn’t ever succumb to filler plot lines. I love the intense look into Matt’s Catholic faith that comes to the forefront in this season, as well as the payoff in such a well-defined villain as Kingpin has become. It ties things up quite nicely, but I can’t help but wish for a fourth season if this is the quality we can expect!

250px-survivor_david_vs_goliathTV Show: “Survivor” Season 38

It’s time once again for me to remind readers that yes, I still watch this long-running reality TV show and yes, I love it enough to post it publicly on this blog. Look, it’s not that I love reality TV in general, but I have weaknesses towards certain things and other than cooking contest shows (my other main reality TV fare), “Survivor” hits on them all. Drama, but not stupid, relationship drama. Outdoorsy survival situations. And physical competitions. There’s no denying that it’s pretty impressive that a show that started in what, 2000, is still on today. And it speaks to the lasting appeal of the concept. I mean, who doesn’t have fun watching others willing place themselves into situations where it’s pretty much ongoing suffering and betrayal? Beyond that, it’s always thrilling to see the players who truly excel, and this season has a great cast of characters, many of whom I’d be happy to see win. Of course, this means they will all lose, since it’s been a while since my ultimate favorite has won. But I can hope anew each season!

mv5bzwflnjnmntetytfkmi00njdklwe0mdgtzgyzowm4nzu0m2njxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvyndg3ota0nzq-_v1_sx1777_cr001777999_al_Documentary: “The Tigers of Scotland”

Yes, that looks like a regular, old tabby cat in the picture. But guess what?! It’s not! It’s a Scottish Wildcat, the only wild “big cat” in the UK. I had never heard of these cats before, but when I saw this documentary floating around Netflix, of course I jumped on it. I mean, cats…need I say more? The hour-long documentary discusses the fragile state of the Scottish Wildcat, noting that there are perhaps only less than 100 living wild in Scotland today. Conservation efforts, challenges, and the unique makeup that marks the Scottish Wildcat as a distinct species are all covered. Plus, it’s just gorgeous and there are a lot of shots of adorable cats. I can attest to the fact that the show is only improved when watched with one’s own feline companion sleeping on one’s lap.

Kate’s Picks

80688Podcast: “Casefile”

As a true crime aficionado and true crime obsessive, I’m always on the look out for true crime podcasts that can keep me sated until the next episode of “Last Podcast on the Left” or “My Favorite Murder” is released. One that I have recently started listening to is “Casefile”, a podcast from Australia. Like “Last Pod” and “MFM”, “Casefile covers a litany of true crimes from all over the world, but unlike the previous two it is far more ‘just the facts’ without the humorous commentary. The host is an anonymous Australian man who tells the stories with a serious tone, and the cases range from murder to The Dark Web Silk Road to theft to fraud. For those of you who want accuracy, the research is impeccable. If you like true crime but aren’t comfortable with the shows that combine as such with black humor, “Casefile” might be a good fit for you! I’ve found it very informative and fascinating.

mv5bztc2zdq1odmtndzlys00zmeylthlotqtnjg0mgflzjkzyjhlxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvyoduxotu0otg-_v1_TV Series: “The Good Place”

I’m not horribly late to this show, as I did watch Season 1 on and off earlier this year, but it wasn’t until I got my husband into it that I really dove headfirst into “The Good Place”. This incredibly hilarious and also supremely heart felt show not only explores day to day ethics and philosophy, but it showcases a stellar cast whose chemistry is off the charts. Everyone is cast perfectly, and the plot lines are whimsical as well as dark. And even though there is something of a surprise ending to Season 1, Season 2 is able to roll with some interesting changes and upheavals. We’ve been enjoying unwinding with this show this month, as it really does know how to make the viewer feel pretty good as well as think deeply about philosophical hypotheticals.

220px-red_dead_redemption_iiVideo Game: “Red Dead Redemption 2”

I never played “Red Dead Redemption” back when it came out, but like many popular games it had been in my husband’s library. I had heard a lot of buzz about “Red Dead Redemption 2”, and was already interested in it because of what I’d heard. Then I decided to give it a whirl, and boy am I glad that I did. I’m not big into Westerns, but this game definitely has a lot of themes within it that I do enjoy: loyalty, morality, justice, and just plain out being an outlaw. I’m not very good at it (shooting games are really tough for me mechanics wise), but there are enough side missions and open world sandbox aspects that I can just pet my horse, fish, and wander around to my heart’s content, helping people along the way. And yeah, screwing others over is pretty fun too.

 

Serena’s Review: “Dragonshadow”

36300671Book: “Dragonshadow” by Elle Katherine White

Publishing Info: Harper Voyager, November 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+

Book Description: The Battle of North Fields is over—or so Aliza Bentaine, now a Daired, fervently wants to believe. But rumors are spreading of an unseen monster ravaging the isolated Castle Selwyn on the northern border of the kingdom. When she and Alastair are summoned from their honeymoon by the mysterious Lord Selwyn, they must travel with their dragon Akarra through the Tekari-infested Old Wilds of Arle to answer his call.

And they are not alone on this treacherous journey. Shadowing the dragonriders is an ancient evil, a harbinger of a dark danger of which the Worm was only a foretaste. And soon Aliza realizes the terrible truth: the real war is only beginning.

Previously Reviewed: “Heartstone”

Review: “Heartstone” was one of those unicorns of a book that was marketed as a retelling of “Pride and Prejudice” and actually managed to not only not disappoint but also hold its own as a solid piece of fantasy fiction, regardless of comparisons to beloved classics. What made it so special was the author’s ability to perfectly balance retaining the basic elements of the original story while not feeling bound to hit every beat or even exist in a world that looked very similar. I mean, the Mr. Darcy character rides a freaking dragon in this book! And “Elizabeth”  helps kill a gigantic, beastly worm. Your typical  Jane Austen re-telling this is not. This all left me in a strange state when I saw that there was a sequel. For one thing, the first book wrapped up so nicely that a sequel was by no means necessary. And for two, would the author be able to manage this again? Well, never fear, readers, “Dragonshadow” is proof that “Heartstone” wasn’t just a lucky hit, but evidence of a strong author with a clear story on her hands.

Aliza and Alastair have been on their honeymoon. But as enjoyable as it is, inevitably, it must come to an end. And with this change comes the stark reality of the life that Aliza has signed up for: not being a Rider herself, she is destined to remain behind, alone in a large house she is meant to run, knowing her beloved husband is battling danger at every turn. She quickly realizes that this is unacceptable. So now, together, she and Alastair and his dragon Akarra set out on a new adventure, one riddled with danger at every turn and a mysterious force pulling the strings from behind the curtains.

Well, I just loved this book. And what I most loved about it was the fact that it went in directions I never would have expected. I am going to do a bad thing now and compare this book to another Jane Austen retelling (of sorts), but it’s another one of the few examples of these types of books that I think succeeds. “Death Comes to Pemberley” by PD James is essentially a mystery novel that also serves as a sequel to “Pride and Prejudice.” It features a murder mystery at Pemberley, but also dives into Elizabeth’s experiences after the wedding, now mistress of a large estate. Like that book, “Dragonshadow” does an excellent job looking past the “happily ever after.” Both Elizabeth and Aliza are in worlds that are unfamiliar, that they were largely unprepared to enter, and that naturally bring out many insecurities into their own roles and the strength of their relationships with their husbands.

While Aliza played a major role in the action of the first book in this series, it was clear that her choices were largely driven by extraordinary circumstances. An unbeatable foe was on the move, Alastair was dying slowly of poison. Her actions were a last resort, not a natural next step for a character who grew up with no battle training herself. And here, we see how these realities play out, her now being married into a family of warriors. So much of her arc here is just excellent, from her pushback against expected roles put upon her, to the still very true realities of her inexperience and lack of preparation to participate actively in Alastair and Akarra’s world. Alastair’s reactions are equally compelling. He makes several “wrong” choices, but also is largely right in his fears. Aliza, and his love for her, is not only incapable of taking care of herself, but is also a risk for him as a distraction. That said, her insistence to be more than a lady waiting at home isn’t wrong either. It’s exactly the kind of complicated, both sides are right/wrong situation that provides a rich reading experience.

I also greatly enjoyed the action of this book. We’re exposed to a wide variety of the different magical  beings that make up this world, and much of the politics and interactions between their species and how they interact with humanity is explored in a bigger way than the first book’s “big, bad, monster.” Importantly, the wide swath of grey and neutral roles that exist between the building sides in this larger conflict are explored in great detail. There were some excellent surprises, especially towards the end, and I particularly enjoyed how Aliza’s strengths were used to suss these things out. While not a fighter, she was able to prove her worth in other ways.

I was also very surprised by another element added to the story about halfway through. At first, my kneejerk reaction was negative as it seemed to be following (or introducing) a fairly typical romance novel trope that I’ve never particularly enjoyed. But instead, the story veered wildly into a topic that is rarely explored in many novels, let alone fantasy fiction. And the delicacy and care that was shown to a particularly challenging subject was lovely to see. In the end, I have to greatly applaud the author not only for choosing to include this difficult topic, but for handling it so well.

“Dragonshadow” was exactly the sequel I didn’t know I needed. In many ways, it makes “Heartstone” read as a bit simplistic. There’s a compelling mystery, dangerous action, an incredible character arc for both of its main characters, and the exploration of deeper topics such as love, loss, and the choices that these greater forces inflict upon us. Fans of “Heartstone” should definitely check out this novel. And new readers should definitely get their hands on the first book, knowing that it is just the beginning!

Rating 9: An excellent, unexpected sequel that raises the stakes in every way: action, topic complexity, and characterization.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Dragonshadow” is a newer title, so it isn’t on many Goodreads lists. But it is on “Best Pride and Prejudice Sequels/Variations/Adaptations.”

Find “Dragonshadow” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Kate’s Review: “Jar of Hearts”

36315374Book: “Jar of Hearts” by Jennifer Hillier

Publishing Info: Minotaur Books, June 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: This is the story of three best friends: one who was murdered, one who went to prison, and one who’s been searching for the truth all these years . . .

When she was sixteen years old, Angela Wong—one of the most popular girls in school—disappeared without a trace. Nobody ever suspected that her best friend, Georgina Shaw, now an executive and rising star at her Seattle pharmaceutical company, was involved in any way. Certainly not Kaiser Brody, who was close with both girls back in high school.

But fourteen years later, Angela Wong’s remains are discovered in the woods near Geo’s childhood home. And Kaiser—now a detective with Seattle PD—finally learns the truth: Angela was a victim of Calvin James. The same Calvin James who murdered at least three other women.

To the authorities, Calvin is a serial killer. But to Geo, he’s something else entirely. Back in high school, Calvin was Geo’s first love. Turbulent and often volatile, their relationship bordered on obsession from the moment they met right up until the night Angela was killed.

For fourteen years, Geo knew what happened to Angela and told no one. For fourteen years, she carried the secret of Angela’s death until Geo was arrested and sent to prison.

While everyone thinks they finally know the truth, there are dark secrets buried deep. And what happened that fateful night is more complex and more chilling than anyone really knows. Now the obsessive past catches up with the deadly present when new bodies begin to turn up, killed in the exact same manner as Angela Wong.

How far will someone go to bury her secrets and hide her grief? How long can you get away with a lie? How long can you live with it?

Review: Sometimes I get carried away in my request lists for library books. On my personal Instagram I have repeatedly posted pictures of book piles that are overflowing and busting at the seams, fifteen books high and not showing the books on my kindle OR the pile of ARCs in my home office library. And when this happens, I occasionally have to make sacrifices and send books back into the library pool. I did this with “Jar of Hearts” by Jennifer Hillier, thinking that it was probably going to be a book I liked, but one that could wait, like so many middle of the road thrillers ultimately can. But when I did eventually pick it up again (after sleeping on it AGAIN; I didn’t pick it up until a week before it was due), I was angry with myself for letting it go that first time. Especially since Caroline Kepnes, ONE OF MY FAVORITE AUTHORS, wrote the blurb on the cover, and I didn’t even notice! “Jar of Hearts” is one of the best thrillers I’ve read this year, and one of the reasons for that is that it is so dark in some ways it treads towards horror.

The story is laid out through a few different perspectives. The first is from Geo’s perspective, the woman who went to prison for helping her boyfriend Calvin James cover up the murder of Angela Wong, her best friend. We get to see Geo’s present day timeline, from her arrest to her trial to her stint in prison to her time out of prison, as well as moments from her high school days, when Angela was still alive and Geo was just getting involved with Calvin. Seeing how Geo changes over time because of the various experiences she’s had really gives the reader a feel for the character, and it allows her to become multidimensional in an organic way. To go from awkward and shy high schooler to world weary felon is heartbreaking to see, and you really see how much of a monster Calvin James is while also seeing why Geo would have fallen under his spell. Hillier does a very good job of showing the reader why Geo is the way that she is, and simultaneously doesn’t excuse her mistakes, but helps you understand them, and her. I really liked Geo, and while she had EVERY opportunity to fall into the tried and true ‘hot mess’ stereotype for this kind of thriller, I feel like she never did.

Geo and Angela’s high school friend Kaiser is our second perspective, and his is set firmly in the present. Kaiser was the sweet best friend who held a torch for Geo, who then ended up being the detective who solved the murder and then arrested Geo. While is isn’t as compelling as Geo is, I did like seeing this man with his own haunted past have to come to terms with his feelings for his old friend as he investigates a new spate of crimes that she may have a tie in, be it directly or not. While he DID fall into familiar traps of the genre (the cynical detective who is responsible on the clock but makes reckless decisions in his personal life), I really did like Kaiser and liked following him. He was also our main connection to the mystery at hand, while Geo was the connection to what happened to Angela.

And let’s talk about that mystery. Because “Jar of Hearts” is dark as hell. Kaiser is trying to figure out if Calvin James is back to killing women after years of being off the grid, as bodies start showing up that are similar to Angela’s murder scene. But along with the dead women, there are also dead children. This doesn’t match James’s original M.O., and as Kaiser digs deeper and does more investigating, things do start to fall into place because of the various perspectives we are getting. And not only is it suspenseful, there were moments in this book that I was completely unsettled. Hillier did a great job of slowly giving the reader the clues just when she deemed it necessary, and while I had an inkling as to where some things were going, I never got there too soon before Hillier wanted me to. The content was bleak and very upsetting at times, and while I greatly enjoyed this book, it is not for the faint of heart. It feels like it treads more towards “The Silence of the Lambs” than “The Girl on the Train”. Which is a SUPER positive in my book.

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If only the villain was as polite as Hannibal, though. (source)

But before I wrap things up completely, I do need to give a serious, SERIOUS content warning. This book has multiple depictions of rape in it, and while it doesn’t feel titillating or exploitative in how it’s done or portrayed, it absolutely could be triggering for those who are going into it. So just be aware that it is there.

“Jar of Hearts” is a fantastic thriller and an incredibly impressive debut novel. I truly cannot wait to see what Jennifer Hillier comes out with next. Do not let this one go, thriller fans! Don’t make the same mistake I did!

Rating 9: Suspenseful and disturbing, “Jar of Hearts” was a fantastic thriller that hit every bingo box for my dark thriller needs!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Jar of Hearts” is included on the Goodreads lists “Non-Caucasian Protagonists in Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, and Paranormal Romance” (I imagine this fits in horror?), and “Best Suspense Novels”.

Find “Jar of Hearts” at your library using WorldCat!