Kate’s Review: “Bring Me Back”

35857495Book: “Bring Me Back” by B.A. Paris

Publishing Info: St Martin’s Press, June 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: I was given a copy by the publisher.

Book Description: Finn and Layla are young, in love, and on vacation. They’re driving along the highway when Finn decides to stop at a service station to use the restroom. He hops out of the car, locks the doors behind him, and goes inside. When he returns Layla is gone—never to be seen again. That is the story Finn told to the police. But it is not the whole story.

Ten years later Finn is engaged to Layla’s sister, Ellen. Their shared grief over what happened to Layla drew them close and now they intend to remain together. Still, there’s something about Ellen that Finn has never fully understood. His heart wants to believe that she is the one for him…even though a sixth sense tells him not to trust her.

Then, not long before he and Ellen are to be married, Finn gets a phone call. Someone from his past has seen Layla—hiding in plain sight. There are other odd occurrences: Long-lost items from Layla’s past that keep turning up around Finn and Ellen’s house. Emails from strangers who seem to know too much. Secret messages, clues, warnings. If Layla is alive—and on Finn’s trail—what does she want? And how much does she know?

A tour de force of psychological suspense, Bring Me Back will have you questioning everything and everyone until its stunning climax.

Review: Thank you to St. Martin’s Press for sending me an ARC of this book!

Every once in awhile my book pile gets out of control. Okay, more than every once in awhile. It’s always teetering on the edge, and it does start to get to be too big. But earlier this year it was SO big that I felt a need to make two separate piles on my nightstand. My husband would taunt me saying that it was too much, TOO MUCH, but I told him that I had a system and that it was fool proof. Unfortunately, the second pile fell a bit to the wayside, as it was filled with non-library books and non- ARCs, which I deemed not as big of a priority… Until I looked at it a few months later and realized that one of the ARCs, “Bring Me Back” by B.A. Paris, had been sitting in that pile the whole time.

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My system! How could my system FAIL me so?! (source)

Kicking myself, I threw it on the regular pile, and when I finally, FINALLY, sat down to read it I promised myself that I would check these two piles a bit more frequently from now on, as I had missed out on a read I had been looking forward to.

And then… THEN. I finished it and wished that I hadn’t let the anticipation build. Because I did not care for “Bring Me Back”. And to fully explain my frustrations with this book, I’m going to give this a big ol’ SPOILER ALERT. If you still want to read this book, by all means have at it, and skip the bulk of this review because you’ll find nothing but sadness here.

For one thing, none of the characters are very likable or sympathetic. We get this book in two narratives: Finn and Layla. Finn is creepy as hell and has moments of toxicity and violence towards women in his life, be it verbal or physical. He is the epitome of ‘broken fellow who is deathly obsessed with one woman’, but unlike in books with similar characters (HELLO, JOE GOLDBERG) there are no interesting or complex or SATIRICAL things about his personality. He’s just a mess. We eventually find out that that Layla didn’t just ‘disappear while he was in the toilet’ while at that roadside stop; she’d confessed that she’d slept with someone else and he DRAGGED HER out of the car in a rage.

Then there’s Layla. Her parts are a little more understandable in their muddledness, given how her character enters into all of this. But my biggest problem with her is that, in SPITE of the fact that Finn is the goddamn worst and that she runs away with him in a fear that he’ll kill her, SHE STILL WANTS HIM BACK. And I kept waiting and waiting for a reveal, or a twist, or something that I had missed. But nope. She just wants him back, and wants Ellen out of the way. I really hated that aspect of this book, and while I know that there are a lot of complicated factors that enter into abusive relationships when it comes to how abusers can control and keep sway over their victims, but this seemed far fetched and really seemed to sweep Finn’s violence under the rug (as Layla repeatedly says that she KNOWS he’d never ACTUALLY hurt her, as if dragging her out of a car in a rage isn’t damaging).

But the biggest frustration for me was the end. The other B.A. Paris book I’ve read is “The Breakdown”, and if you recall I was very ‘meh’ on it until the last third of the book, when it did a surprising and well pulled off twist that pretty much saved the read for me. Going into “Bring Me Back” I hoped that it would get to the point a little faster than “The Breakdown”, but then it did the other extreme and about a fourth of the way in I figured out what one of the big reveals was. It is set up from pretty early on that Finn is an unreliable narrator. He talks about having moments of rage that he can’t control, talks about moments where he’s had minor black outs, and talks about his obsessive love for Layla. So from the get go I was saying ‘Layla is dead, Finn killed her, and now the guilt is resurfacing and he’s made a split personality a la Norman Bates’. I’m not quite right. The end is far more ludicrous. Turn back, y’all, if you really don’t want to know. The whole time, Ellen WAS Layla. Finn had been with Layla thinking that she was Ellen, because she has been wearing concealer, lost some weight, and tinted her eyebrows and changed her hair, along with other minor physical tweaks. Also, she took on all of Ellen’s mannerisms. I just CANNOT suspend my disbelief to this point, guys! Paris tries to make it all work, with other ‘changes’ that Layla made being brought up, and the fact that before Layla had disappeared Finn had never met Ellen (P.S.:Ellen is dead, y’all: their father killed her) so he didn’t have a frame of reference. But it really, really didn’t work for me. On top of all of this, the big reveal happens in the form of a long winded letter, a literal telling as opposed to showing faux pas being laid out on the page.

There were a couple of things that I liked about this book. Mainly a couple of side characters named Ruby and Harry. They are both meant to be red herrings, but I liked Ruby’s kind personality and I liked Harry’s tolerance of other people’s BS. They both seemed like supportive friends at the end of the day. It was also a quick read, and while I was having a hard time with everything, it did keep me going and I didn’t find myself slogging as I went through. It’s fast paced to be sure, and clocking in at less that 300 pages it could be a way to spend an afternoon during this holiday season if you find yourself with time off.

So it’s another book that pulls out Ranganathan’s Law 3.

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“Bring Me Back” wasn’t the book for me, but that doesn’t mean it’s not the book for you.

Rating 3: With a twist that was easy to guess and an incredibly improbable ending that felt way too far fetched, “Bring Me Back” really didn’t work for me.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Bring Me Back” is included on the Goodreads lists “Matryoshka/Nesting Dolls”, and “OMG Where Did That Come From?!”.

Find “Bring Me Back” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “The Last Namsara”

32667458Book: “The Last Namsara” by Kristen Ciccarelli

Publishing Info: HarperTeen, October 2017

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

Book Description: In the beginning, there was the Namsara: the child of sky and spirit, who carried love and laughter wherever he went. But where there is light, there must be darkness—and so there was also the Iskari. The child of blood and moonlight. The destroyer. The death-bringer.

These are the legends that Asha, daughter of the king of Firgaard, has grown up learning in hushed whispers, drawn to the forbidden figures of the past. But it isn’t until she becomes the fiercest, most feared dragon slayer in the land that she takes on the role of the next Iskari—a lonely destiny that leaves her feeling more like a weapon than a girl.

Asha conquers each dragon and brings its head to the king, but no kill can free her from the shackles that await at home: her betrothal to the cruel commandant, a man who holds the truth about her nature in his palm. When she’s offered the chance to gain her freedom in exchange for the life of the most powerful dragon in Firgaard, she finds that there may be more truth to the ancient stories than she ever could have expected. With the help of a secret friend—a slave boy from her betrothed’s household—Asha must shed the layers of her Iskari bondage and open her heart to love, light, and a truth that has been kept from her.

Review: This book came out a bit ago, but it’s been lingering around on my audiobook holds list for a while. So when I was looking for a next book to listen to and saw that it was available, it seemed like fate had finally decreed that now was the time! And, really, a book about dragons? ANY time is THE time as far as I’m concerned! But, while the dragons themselves were, of course, awesome, I didn’t end up loving this book as much as I had hoped.

Asha has grown up as a princess, but one who has been shunned by the general public for an accident she caused when young. To make repayment for this error, she has made it her life’s mission to hunt down the dragons that, through breaking her trust, scarred her face and terrorized her city, killing many. With an unwanted wedding swiftly approaching, Asha begins to slowly uncover secrets at the heart of her society and its history that may change everything. But can a cursed girl still be a savior?

So, while this book ultimately wasn’t all that I hoped it would be, there were still some pretty cool elements involved. And first and foremost of those was the world-building and history at the heart of the story. This book doesn’t just plop you don’t in some generic fantasy setting with dragons and call it day. No, instead there is a detailed history that is carefully laid out before readers in interludes between chapters. Not only is this an actual history of events that lead to the society and cultural situation that Asha finds herself living in during this book, but there is folklore and legends incorporated as well, all neatly tying larger themes together. I think I ended up enjoying these interludes more than the actual story itself. They provided a lot of depth to the world itself and crucial layers to the complicated social dynamics taking place, but the writing style seemed also best served by this type of storytelling. Many of these sections had a certain fairytale-like ring to them that I truly enjoyed.

I also loved the dragons. It took a while for them to really show up, and, of course, I was happy when we inevitably got past the “dragons are evil and I must hunt them” stage of things, which we all saw coming from the start. There was a really nice connection again between storytelling and the dragons, and I thought this concept was both unique and played well to the author’s obvious strengths in this area.

But, while it did have those strengths, I had a hard time really connecting with the story and instead found myself becoming increasingly frustrated with Asha herself and the pacing of the story over all. We’re told quite a lot about how badass Asha is, but again and again, the story felt like it was building to a moment where we would actually SEE this badassery come out to play only to have the story pull back at the last minute. Not only did this damage Asha as a character (it became increasingly hard to believe what we were being sold as far as her abilities when she continuously chose the cautious and inactive route), but it really hurt the pacing of the story itself. The tension would be racketed up, all of the players would be in place for conflict, and then Asha would just give up, pass out, not engage, whatever and the whole thing would deflate like a sad balloon. This happened again and again and AGAIN.

Asha was never a driving force in this story. Instead, almost all of the action that takes place to move the plot ahead was done by the characters around her. There was truly only once instance in the very end where we saw her make an active choice, one that wasn’t forced upon her, and by that point it was too little too late. It also takes waaaaaay too long for Asha to figure out certain secrets and reveals that are made very obvious to readers from the beginning. This kind of drawn out “suspense” does nothing but annoy readers who have already guessed and make the protagonist seem like an idiot for not figuring it out, too.

But, again, the dragons were super cool. I also liked that the book was written as a stand alone story, so Asha’s tale is now complete. The author has a companion novel featuring a few of the other characters who were present in this book, so I might check that out. Like I said, the storytelling and writing were strong enough, it was just Asha herself and the pacing that failed. Perhaps with a new tale to tell and new characters at its heart, everything will click together in a second go-around. If you like stories with dragons, this might be worth checking out, but I recommend it with cautions due to the main character and the story’s struggle with pacing.

Rating 5: Half of a positive rating for the dragons/history/world-building and half of a negative rating for Asha/poor pacing.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Last Namsara” is on these Goodreads lists: “Dragons” and “ADULT Fantasy books with stong female leads and a romantic SUBplot.”

Find “The Last Namsara” at your library using WorldCat.

A Revisit to Fear Street: “Silent Night”

843086Book: “Silent Night” (A Fear Street Super Chiller) by R.L. Stine

Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, 1991

Where Did I Get This Book: An eBook from the library!

Book Description: Don’t open that present!

If only Reva Dalby had listened to that warning.

But beautiful, cold Reva won’t listen to anyone. Reva thinks she can have whatever—and whoever—she wants. After all, her daddy owns Dalby Department Stores.

Now, someone has some surprises in store for her. Robbery? Terror? Even murder? Someone wants to treat Reva to a holiday she’ll never forget.

Holiday cheer quickly turns to holiday chills for Reva. Someone is stalking her, someone is trying to get to her.

Her money can’t help her. No one can.

After all, who can you turn to when murder comes gift-wrapped?

Had I Read This Before: Yes.

The Plot: Chanukah may have passed us, but my Jewish/non-denominational turned secular household still has Christmas/Yule/whatever to look forward to, and given that R.L. Stine felt festive while writing his “Fear Street” books I, too, thought that I could get in the spirit of the continuing season. Therefore, it just made sense to pick up “Silent Night”, one of the “Fear Street” Super Chillers! Had Stine written a book based on Chanukah I would have read that too (he could have called it “Eight DEADLY Nights” or some shit), but as it is, we get us some Christmas themed scares. But seriously, to all our Jewish readers, I hope you had a pleasant Chanukah!

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And I ate far too many of these bad boys this year with NO regrets. (source)

We meet our protagonist Reva Dalby, the spoiled daughter of Shadyside’s department store tycoon. She’s barely doing her job at the counter, and is instead judging all the plebeians around her because she is SO above working. What’s worse, it’s the Christmas season so the store is playing “The Little Drummer Boy”! While I’m sure that her hatred of it is supposed to denote what a jerk she is, if you ask ANY retail person this time of year what they think of holiday music they will probably tell you they’d rather puncture their eardrums rather than listen to the store soundtrack. Reva covers her ears, and then is confronted by her manager, Ms. Smith. Ms. Smith tells Reva she has to go work on some back room Chanel stuff, and Reva flat out refuses, saying she can’t because she ‘did her nails’ and doesn’t want to ruin them. Ms. Smith tells her that it’s the last straw, but we all know that since Reva’s dad owns the entire store she won’t do anything about it, and she stalks off. Reva ignores a customer and then decides to apply some lipstick to her mouth, but when she does a sudden pain leaps across her lips, and they start bleeding. When she looks at the lipstick, she finds that someone has stuck a needle in the tube! And given that she had used it previously, it must have been ON PURPOSE!

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Reva in that moment, I like to think. (source)

Now we jump back two weeks. Reva is driving with her boyfriend Hank Davis, and wondering why she’s been dating him for the past six months because he’s SO not her type. So she pulls over, and promptly tells him that they’re through, excited to see how badly it wrecks him. She then realizes that she liked going out with him because he is such an emotional lunkhead, so she REALLY hopes that he freaks out. When he asks if she’s mad at him she says no, she’s just done and he shouldn’t make a big deal out of it. When he asks why, she says she wants to spend the New Year with someone ‘interesting’, and this girl is a piece of work. He is understandably upset, and she tells him to walk home and unlocks the car doors. He tells her that she’ll be sorry as he gets out to leave, and when she calls for him he gets excited that maybe she’s reconsidered, but nah, she just tells him ‘happy holidays’ and literally LAUGHS as she guns it and drives away, planning to steal a guy named Mitch Castelona from some girl named Lissa Dewey. We’re putting Reva up there with past awful protagonists like Bobby Newkirk and Brady Karlin!

Shortly thereafter she arrives at Dalby’s Department store to pick up her Dad. As she walks through the empty store she’s scared for reasons she can’t really articulate to herself, but the empty space gives her the willies and it always has. She runs into a mannequin and freaks out, but then composes herself and goes up to the sixth floor. She runs into Mr. Wakely, head of security, who is in a piss poor mood as he storms on past her. She goes into her Dad’s office and asks him why Mr. Wakely was so mad (as she knows his son Mickey from school), meanwhile musing to herself that the picture of her mother on his desk must make him sad. See, she died four years previously, of course. It’s plot exposition. Mr. Dalby tells her that he just fired Mr. Wakely for drinking on the job. And the store has been having even more problems, what with rampant electrical issues and an employee shortage. He reminds Reva that she can have a job over break, but tells her that she should recruit her friends. Reva says she will, and immediately thinks of Mitch and how she will be able to steal him away all the easier that way.

Reva calls Mitch and offers him the job, and he accepts because he could use the money. He then asks Reva if Lissa could also have a position, and Reva grudgingly says yes. When Lissa gets on the phone to thank her, Reva hatches a very cruel plan and tells Lissa to wear her best outfit when she reports for duty, because she’ll be at the perfume counter. But in actuality she will be loading and arranging items in the stock room. WHAT A HOOT REVA IS. Her little brother Michael comes in, and Reva is actually pretty okay to him because I suppose Stine thought that humanizing her a little bit was more in the Christmas spirit, but shortly thereafter the phone rings again and it’s Pam, Reva’s cousin who happens to be poor and lives in a tiny house on Fear Street. And Pam is wondering if there are any job openings at the store. Reva hates Pam because 1) she’s cuter that Reva, and 2) she’s poor. I guess this implies that Reva’s Dad really did build an empire on her own since Pam’s a Dalby that doesn’t have jack shit, but it also shows what a wretched family this is if Pam is literally calling begging for a job to make ends at her house meet. Reva lies and tells her that no, the store isn’t hiring, and hangs up, patting herself on the back for being such a goddamn bitch. But Pam seems to know that Reva is full of shit, because she says to herself she’d love to pay her back somehow. And girl, I hear ya, #teampam!

Shift to Pam’s perspective. She’s upset, but decides that meeting her friends Mickey and Clay will take her mind off of everything. She drives to the 7-11 to meet them, and thinks about how she enjoy’s Mickey’s company (he’s described as kind and funny, though sullen lately), but is kind of scared of Clay (who has a mysterious scar on his face and has been suspended for fighting before). The three hang out musing about various candy brands, as Mickey LOVES candy, but then decide they should go when the cashier is eying them. They go up to pay, and the cashier accuses Clay of trying to shoplift. Pam tells him that they weren’t stealing anything, but the cashier is insistent and says he’ll call the cops. Clay loses his cool and physically attacks the cashier, grabbing him and throwing him against the cash register. They hear sirens, and bolt, piling into Pam’s car, but the car won’t start no matter how much Clay tries. Eventually it does start, and then they’re in a chase with the cops! Eventually after a prolonged and unrealistic chase they lose them (though I would THINK that the cops would have taken a license plate number), and when they stop it turns out that Clay had been shoplifting after all, and he brings out his spoils to share with them. Mickey tells Pam that he needed to have fun like that because his Dad was just fired, and Pam tells them she’s mad at that family too because Reva said there weren’t any jobs for her there. But then Clay tells her that Reva handed jobs to Mickey and Lissa just that night. Pam tells them she’s going to get her cousin.

That next Sunday Reva is driving around town, thinking about how she’s blowing that pop stand soon because she got accepted to Smith starting that Fall. She then sees a classmate named Robb, a guy she thinks is nice and funny, but she’d never go out with him because he’s fat. She pulls up next to him and asks if he’d be interested in making money at Dalby’s, and he accepts under the pretense that it’s going to be an important PR job. She can’t wait to see his face when he finds out it’s actually a job for Store Santa!! Because how funny! Because he’s overweight!!!

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Pretty much my face whenever Reva is on page. (source)

That night she’s babysitting her brother and fantasizing about Mitch when there’s knock on the front door. It’s Hank, and he asks her why she hasn’t called him back. She tells him to take a hint, and then he asks her if he can have a job at the store and that this isn’t easy for him. She tells him no, happy to see him upset. He grabs her in his desperation and rage, and she LITERALLY SICKS THE GUARD DOG ON HIM. He pulls himself away from the dog’s mouth, and runs to his car, saying he’ll get her back, but Reva just laughs and laughs like a god. damn. sociopath.

At work that Saturday Reva laughs laughs LAUGHS in the faces of Lissa and Robb, both of whom she has humiliated with her ‘dress up nice for demeaning work tasks’ trick. Her boss, Mr. Rawson, chides her, but what power does he actually have given that she’s the CEO’s daughter? She tells him to put Mitch and Lissa in different departments. She goes back to her work station patting herself on the back, and then gets pulled into a closet by Hank, who is now working security. That’s inappropriate behavior and I just don’t have a horse to bet on here. As she leaves him in the closet she’s suddenly intimidated about how angry he is.

Jump to Pam, Mickey, and Clay all hanging out in Mickey’s living room, Clay futzing with a knife. Mickey confides in them that this father has been drinking nonstop now that he doesn’t have a job and only leaves the house to buy more beer. He asks Pam where their friend Foxy is, and she says that he got a job at Dalby’s, and she’s still mad at Reva but doesn’t want to start any family feuds. She and Mickey have a grudge against the store, and Clay asks if they can keep a secret: he plans to rob the place and asks if they want to help. He sees himself as Robin Hood and that they’re taking stuff from the rich to give to the poor (i.e. themselves). Plus he has a plant on the inside; his friend Maywood is a security guard there who is still mad about Mickey’s Dad, and he says that he’ll leave the door open for Clay to take whatever he wants, and they’ll stage it like an actual robbery. Pam understands why Mickey is bitter. She then remembers a time when she and Reva got along really well. In fact, they were thick as thieves until Reva’s mom died. Then Reva changed. But now she hates her cousin, and is considering going through with the plan. But she decides that she can’t rob the store, so Clay asks if she’ll at LEAST be the getaway driver. THAT she agrees to. And before they can discuss it anymore, Foxy shows up and they keep their plan to themselves since he wouldn’t approve.

Cut to Reva (with her cut lip, so we’re back up to date now) talking with Pam on the phone. Reva’s Dad told her to invite Pam and her family over for Christmas Eve. She resents Pam because she still has a Mom, after all. After they hang up, she thinks about maybe not going to work because of the needle incident, but then her mind wanders to Mitch and why he hasn’t fallen all over her yet. After all. Lissa is a ‘drip’, so how could he possibly want to be with HER over pretty, rich Reva? How indeed, bitch. Little brother Michael comes in asking if she’ll take him with her so he can see Santa, but Reva says not today, chump, and instead promises herself that today is the day she seduces Mitch. She corners him in the electronics stock room, and after some tepid overtures she kisses him (hoping that Hank is watching on the security cam). When Lissa walks in, she acts like Lissa, his GIRLFRIEND, is a mere inconvenience. Lissa runs off, and Mitch chases her, and then Reva chases HIM saying that he should let her go. He says that what they did was wrong, but she tells him he seemed pretty okay with it in the moment before heading back to work. When she gets back to her station (fifteen minutes late, inconveniencing Ms. Smith), she finds a present for her. She opens it up to find a bottle of perfume, but then she realizes that it isn’t perfume, it’s BLOOD! In her shock she drops the bottle, and it smashes, splashing blood all over her white sweater. With a card, mocking her, of course. Instead of freaking out, she storms to Hank’s office, ready to get him fired as she’s convinced he did this. But he’s been busy since that morning, helping install security equipment. She says he’s lying, and runs to her father’s office to tell him all about it. Then she hears popping noises, the sound of gun shots, and when Mr. Dalby leaves his office he sees her bloody shirt and faints, convinced she’s DEAD. When he comes to, it’s explained to them both that it was a power surge that made some Christmas lights explode. She tells her Dad she has to go home and change. But as she’s driving she realizes she’s being followed by a strange man with a moustache! Being a dim bulb she drives straight home, and when she gets out of the car he parks and gets out too. Is this her stalker?! No, it’s a guy who accidentally bumped her car with his and broke her tail light. He just followed her to give her his insurance info. Reva thinks that she’s really going nuts.

It’s the night of the robbery! Pam is way nervous even though Clay assures her that all is going to plan and that the new security system isn’t even hooked up yet. They arrive at the store and Pam says that she doesn’t want to wait outside stewing in her nerves, so she accompanies them inside. Clay has brought a gun with him for some reason. As they go through the store and the boys start looting, Pam hears a noise that makes her cry out. Mickey and Clay convince her it was nothing and continue to try and figure out how they’re going to carry their stuff. But then another noise makes Pam turn around to see a tall security guard. She thinks that it must be Maywood, but SURPRISE. IT’S NOT. Clay COCKED IT UP!! The guard tells them to raise their hands above their head and he’s going to call the police, but then Clay pulls out his gun to match the guard’s and then SHOOTS HIM. In the chaos they all bolt. As they are driving home police cars zoom towards the department store, and Pam somehow gets the guys home and gets herself home.

The next morning, she wakes up hoping it was a dream, but it wasn’t. She sees on the TV that the guard was fatally shot, but then the TV also says that the burglars made off with $25,000 from the safe. And THAT isn’t right, because they didn’t take any money! She calls Clay, telling him that the money thing is wrong, and then HE tells HER that his gun wasn’t even loaded!!! So he couldn’t have shot the guard! She says that they have to tell the police about this, but Clay says that there’s no way they’d believe them, and Clay is right on the (not taken by them) money.

As Mr. Dalby is driving to him and Reva to work that next Monday, he’s exhausted and telling her that the burglary must be an inside job, but even that doesn’t make much sense because everyone liked Ed, the guard who was killed. He was also shot in the back, so it doesn’t make sense for there to have been a stand off. He then realizes he never asked Reva what that stain was on her shirt (nice, Mr. Dalby), but she doesn’t want him to worry so she says it was just a ‘practical joke’. They get to work and Reva’s morning drags until Mitch asks if they can talk. They go to be together somewhere and he starts kissing her. He tells her that Lissa dumped him, and asks if she wants to go to a movie that Saturday. And Reva, being THE GODDAMN WORST, says ‘nah, I’m good’. Mitch gets so mad that he throws a bench against a wall, and she smirks to herself and walks back to her work station. When she gets there Ms. Smith tells her there’s a package for her, and it’s HUGE! Reva is excited and opens it, but then she starts to scream when she sees a body folded up inside! But surprise, it’s just a weird looking mannequin. And there’s another note, and this one says ‘HAPPY HOLIDAYS FROM A FRIEND’. Reva runs away, and nothing’s gonna stop her now. It’s a “Mannequin” joke, get it?

Three days after the robbery gone afoul, Pam, Mickey, and Clay are sitting in Mickey’s house, trying to figure out just what’s going on. Mr. Wakely is going out for more beers, so it’s good to know he’s still having issues. Clay says that he can’t get a hold of Maywood, because work said he called in sick, and that he swears he didn’t bring a loaded gun. They ask Pam if Reva’s father suspects anything, but Pam hasn’t been able to get ahold of Reva either. The phone rings, and Pam picks it up (even though it’s Mickey’s house?), and the voice says that THEY SAW WHAT THEY DID AND THEY WANT THEIR SHARE!

That next night Pam and Foxy are hanging out at her place and Foxy asks where she was the night before. She tells him that she was just hanging out with Clay and Mickey, and asks if he’s JEALOUS? Before they can continue their flirtation, the phone rings. It’s the guy again, saying he wants ten thousand dollars! Pam says that she doesn’t have any money, and freaks out as she hangs up. Foxy asks what the heck is going on, and she tells him everything. He’s horrified, and she tells him that she’s just so goddamn sick of being poor while her awful cousin gets everything, and hey, that’s totally fair. Foxy says that she needs to call the police, but she says that Clay would never go for it. He suggests they go talk to Clay together, and they drive to Mickey’s house (on really icy roads) because I guess Clay is a member of the household or something. Clay says he’ll kill the person threatening her, and I just… these Super Chillers are so long.

At work that Thursday Reva confronts Hank asking him if he’s the one who’s been sending her the creepy presents, and he says that no, he isn’t, and she says that it HAS to be him because who else would be doing it? And Hank points out that it could be anyone, LITERALLY ANYONE, because everyone HATES her because she is such a fucking ASSHOLE.

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It’s a GODDAMN Christmas MIRACLE! (source)

Reva realizes that since her mother died she’s become very cold and very cruel, as if that makes it all better, and Hank comforts her.

Meanwhile Pam is trying to get ahold of Reva and Foxy. When Foxy doesn’t answer (because she expected as much from Reva), she decides to go and find him. But when she gets to his house, someone grabs her from behind and clamps a glove over her mouth. The person tells her that they want ten thousand dollars, and that they could hurt her if they wanted to. They also tell her not to turn around, and then she does, of course. The attacker shoves her and pins her to the ground, but runs to their car and speeds off. Foxy shows up, and Pam tells him that she knows who’s been calling her.

Reva gets to work the next day, feeling a little better, but then stumbles upon Robb and Mitch physically fighting. Mr Rawson stops the fight, and Mitch says that Robb started it but Mr. Rawson is more concerned about opening and doesn’t want to hear it. She asks Mitch what happened and he tells her to suck it, in so many words.

Another jump in time. Reva has finally taken Michael to see ‘Santa’ (aka Robb). After he’s done he tells her it wasn’t the real Santa because he could feel the padding, but she assures him the tried and true ‘it’s a helper’, blah blah blah, what’s MORE important is that she sees Ms. Smith who tells her that another gift has arrived. Reva is ready for anything now, and when she opens the huge box she expects to find another mannequin. But sadly, it’s not Kim Cattrall this time, it’s DEAD MITCH WITH A KNIFE IN HIS BACK!

After the police are done questioning her, Reva is sent home and is basically in a daze for the rest of the day, feeling bad that she never apologized to Mitch. And as she’s falling asleep that night, at 2am she bolts up and realizes that she knows who did it!

Pam, meanwhile, thinks it was Clay, and asks him as much. Because it was Mitch who saw them the night of the robbery and was blackmailing them. Clay denies it, though, and says that he wouldn’t throw is life away for a worm. When Mickey asks if he’s telling the truth, Clay SCREAMS at him that he’s not a liar, and Mr. Wakely tells them to get out if they’re going to fight. The three of them leave, and Mickey apologizes for his Dad, and tells Clay he knows that he didn’t kill Mitch.

Reva, on the other hand, thinks she knows who did. She brings her Dad to the security office to watch the tapes, and points out Santa Land the day Mitch died. She thinks that it’s Robb that did it, because Michael told her that it wasn’t the real Santa because he could feel the padding, whereas, in Reva’s mind, Robb is so FAT that HE DOESN’T NEED PADDING. This bitch. Mr. Dalby says a murderer that does not make, and she tells him about the fight Robb and Mitch had. Mr. Dalby says that’s good enough for him, and calls the police. The police arrive and plan to arrest Robb IN HIS SANTA SUIT, but them Pam runs up, asking why they’re arresting Foxy?! Robb IS Foxy!! Suddenly I ship them all the more! As the police take him away he tells Pam that he did it for her! Pam is horrified, and Reva sees the awful glare that Robb/Foxy is giving her. Pam is also giving her a glare. When Reva leaves work that day at closing, Pam is waiting for her and tells her there is no WAY that Robb/Foxy could have killed Mitch. Pam explains that Robb/Foxy was fighting Mitch because Mitch was blackmailing Pam (but doesn’t tell her why), and that Robb/Foxy was only trying to protect her because they’ve been dating for six months. Robb/Foxy was the one playing the mean tricks on Reva (I don’t think that a needle in lipstick is a TRICK, but okay) because 1) Reva had been so awful to Pam, and 2) because Reva had humiliated him with the Santa gag. Reva kind of starts to realize what a jerk she is, and apologizes sincerely to Pam. Pam offers to drive her home, and Reva says sure, she just has to go grab her purse from her Dad’s office.

But when she’s inside, she hears a strange noise. It’s Mr. Wakely, with a pistol aimed at her (as “Silent Night” blares on the store speakers, natch). So here’s what happened! He and Maywood were going to use the three kids as a distraction while they robbed the safe, but when Mr. Wakely saw that one of those kids was HIS kid, he freaked. And then when he saw the security guard Ed aiming a gun at his son, he shot him. Then he found out that Mitch saw the whole thing, and overheard Mickey and his friends talking about the blackmail, so he killed him. When Reva asks why he sent Mitch’s body to her, Mr. Wakely is confused, and says that he just stuffed him in the first box he saw, which happened to be the mannequin box that still had her name on it. He came back this day to get more  money, but now Reva has seen him and that won’t do. Reva runs, and lucky for her Mr. Wakely is drunk, as is the new normal, so the chase is on. Eventually he lunges at her, but misses, and he sails over the balcony, and lands on a huge Christmas tree. And the lights short out, electrocuting him. And Hank shows up, telling Reva that he saw the whole thing, and the confession recorded on the security footage. She collapses in his arms.

Reva, Hank, and Robb/Foxy are at the police station together. Robb/Foxy has been let go since he didn’t do anything, and he apologizes to Reva. She forgives him and says that she kind of deserved it (and I don’t want to say yes, but I also can’t say no). Pam eventually leaves questioning, and there is going to be a hearing regarding the whole quasi robbery thing, but since she’s never been in trouble before she’ll probably only be charged with trespassing. No news on Mickey and Clay, and Jesus, poor Mickey. The group all walks outside, and Reva and Pam hug, Reva thinking that finally, FINALLY, she feels again, but how sad that such horrible things had to happen before she could. And she walks with Hank into the ‘silent night’. The End.

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How nice that YOU were able to learn something from this, Reva. (source)

Body Count: 2, the poor security guard and Mitch, who I’m not as sad about because what a tool.

Romance Rating: 7 for Pam and Robb/Foxy, but the wretchedness of Reva and her dalliances brought it down from an 8 or 9 that Pam and Robb/Foxy probably could have had.

Bonkers Rating: 6. It wasn’t terribly over the top, but the blood in the perfume bottle and the Mitch in a Box was kinda nuts.

Fear Street Relevance: 3, just cuz Pam lives there, but so little happened on site.

Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:

“He stood over her, then dropped down, pinning her to the drive.

‘Too bad you turned around,’ he whispered.”

… And then he just ran away!! I mean, good for Pam, but what a clunker!

That’s So Dated! Moments: Mickey’s go-to for stealing is a couple of VCRs, and Reva laments the fact that Hank always wanted to take her to Arnold Schwarzenegger movies on their dates, and WHAT THE HELL, how can you LAMENT that?!

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How can you hate the man who brought you this smash holiday classic?! (source)

Best Quote:

” ‘Hey, man, did they really stop making Zagnuts?’ Mickey asked, upset.

‘Why don’t you write the company and ask?’ Pam suggested, reading the headlines of The Star and The National Enquirer.

‘Yeah,’ Clay said. ‘Write to Mr. Zagnut himself. ‘Dear Mr. Zagnut, I am desperate.”

‘I don’t think there IS a Mr. Zagnut,’ Mickey said seriously.”

I don’t know why, but this whole exchange tickled me.

Conclusion: “Silent Night” was long, but it was actually pretty okay!! Definitely a fun holiday read! Reva was awful, but Pam is a solid person to root for, and the story itself was entertaining. Up next we’re extending the holiday madness, with “The New Year’s Party”! 

 

Cozy Reads for Chilly Nights: A Winter Reading List

Looking out over the winter landscape filled with snow and ice (this is Minnesota, after all), we here at The Library Ladies are looking for a cup of cocoa, a warm fire, and a good read. With the Winter Solstice descending upon us, and the holidays that come with it, we have a list of winter-y reads to get your in the seasonal spirit. 

341288Book: “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott

Publication Info: Roberts Brothers, 1868

With the opening line “Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” we are introduced to the beloved March Sisters and their coming of age. The story of Jo, Meg, Amy, and Beth has been beloved since it’s publication in the 1860s, and has stood the test of time not only as a favorite children’s book, but an enduring Christmas tale. It has spawned numerous adaptations from stage to screen, and shows the love that a family has for each other during the best and worst times of their lives (we will never forgive Louisa May Alcott for Beth). If you haven’t read it before or if it’s been awhile, it could be fun to pick it up and see why this story is so immortal.

25773791Book: “Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube: Chasing Fear and Finding Home in the Great White North” by Blair Braverman

Publication Info: Ecco, July 2016

We in Minnesota know cold, but even the colds of Alaska and the far reaches of Norway are a bit intimidating. In this fun memoir, Blair Braverman recounts the time in her life where she uprooted from California and moved to the Arctic Circle, first working on a sled dog team in Norway and then moving to work as a glaciar tour guide in Alaska. Telling stories from her various jobs, as well as the stories that are far more about her personal life, “Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube” is a tale about adjusting to a new life, standing tall even when you feel like you don’t have it in you, and learning to love living in the deathly cold.

25489134Book: “The Bear and the Nightingale” by Katherine Arden

Publication Info: Del Rey Books, January 2017

I will take any and every opportunity to promote this book. And with my review for the third and final book in this trilogy coming down the pike, this reading list is the perfect place to once again highlight this series. Set in Russia and featuring a snow/death god, is it any wonder that this makes for the perfect read for fantasy lovers in the winter? Nevermore will you appreciate your warm cozy house than when you are reading about Vasilisa and her family all vying for the coveted chance to sleep on top of the househould oven. Like the cover of the book, the story perfectly captures the beauty and danger that can be found in the extreme cold. Fans of fairytale-like fantasy stories should definitely check this one out!

24485589Book: “Hunted” by Meagan Spooner

Publication Info: HarperTeen, March 2017

Another fantasy novel, this one a re-telling of “Beauty and the Beast,” “Hunted” is unique for the important role that winter plays in this classic tale. Much of the story is driven the the harsh cold and the winter hunting prowess of the main character. I particularly enjoyed this re-telling for its joining the rare ranks of fairytale retellings that do not demonize the main character’s sisters, but instead develop healthy familial relationships alongside the primary romance. The story also takes several divergences from the classic tale, so readers shouldn’t go in confident that they know already where this story is going or will end up!

20309175Book: “My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories”

Publication Info: St. Martin’s Griffin, October 2014

We read this book a few years ago for bookclub, and it is the perfect short-story collection for the winter months. As the title so obviously states, these are holiday stories, but they are a diverse grouping, focusing on different winter holidays and the many different people who experience them. While we both found the stories hit and miss (we had a few stand-out favorites, but also a few that we didn’t enjoy as much), as a whole this collection has a little something to offer up to everyone. Plus, you can read it one story at a time through-out the holiday season, drawing out the fun with a nightly new story!

What books do you enjoy reading during the chilly, winter-y months? Let us know in the comments below!

The Great Animorphs Re-Read #42: “The Journey”

363389Animorphs #42: “The Journey”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, June 2000

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: The Helmacrons need more power to escape the earth’s atmosphere, so they have returned to demand the morphing cube. When Rachel tries to destroy their ship, the tiny egomaniacs bail — right into Marco’s left nostril. And the other Animorphs have to get them out before the little aliens do some real damage.

Narrator: Rachel & Marco

Plot: We all know the story: a frizzle-haired teacher, a class of students, and a magical school bus that goes anywhere and makes even the most ridiculous things seem fun and cool. Sure, many of their adventures were legitimately cool on their own; who wouldn’t enjoy traveling to all of the planets! But some of them…definitely could have gone another way. And Animorphs is here to prove how!

I mean, I could get worked up. But like the Atlantis book, it’s just so wacky that why even bother?

The story starts off in the normal way: the team returning from yet another battle. But as they demorph in an alley, they are temporarily blinded by the flash of a camera. Some kid has taken a picture of them mid-morph! They chase after him, but he disappears into an apartment complex. The team sets up a state-out and agrees to meet up at Cassie’s barn the next day to discuss next steps.

And from there, it all goes haywire with the sudden reappearance of the Helmacrons. All together in Cassie’s barn, the tiny Helmacron ship reappears and, predictably, is again after the blue box that Cassie has hidden there. Rachel and Marco both lunge to grab the ship before it can get to the box, and in the process, Marco hits his head and falls to the ground. From there, Tobias gets to witness the truly terrible image of a group of Helmacrons marching straight up Marco’s nose.

Now the team is in a real pickle. The Helmacrons have their tiny lasers on them, and there’s a real concern over the amount of damage they could do to Marco if they should start firing inside of his body. So naturally, the only thing to be done is to go in after them! Jake strictly instructs Marco to lay low and not to morph, not knowing how morphing could affect them while inside Marco’s body. They use the Helmacrons’ ship to shrink themselves down to size, and Marco uses a bit of straw to deposit them in his nose.

Insert lovely scenes about snot and walking through snot and burying oneself in snot to avoid a sneeze. Lovely stuff. They eventually come upon the Helmacrons but quickly notice something is wrong: the Animorphs are much, much smaller than even the Helmacrons. They realize that they had been set up and fallen into the trap. Luckily, the Helmacrons are engaged in a bit of a civil war between the genders and aren’t making too much progress with whatever their plan is either. After a few mishaps, the Animorphs and the Helmacrons all end up falling down Marco’s throat and end up in his stomach.

Meanwhile, Marco is getting bored of waiting. He can’t speak to the team, and for some reason Ax is just not updating him on what’s going on. Restless, he decides to go check out the kid’s apartment and try and get a hold of the camera and film. Breaking in doesn’t go as planned and he ends up being bitten by the kid’s pit bull.

In Marco’s stomach, the team struggles to survive being eaten away by the acid, an all too familiar scenario for poor Rachel and Tobias. Cassie morphs a whale at one point and the team huddles on top of her to try and gather their bearings. From there, they witness several Helmacrons die in the acid themselves, but the others manage to slice a whole in Marco’s stomach and make their way out into his blood stream. The team figures that they must be capable of breathing “under water” and determine that the best way to follow would be in shark morph. They morph sharks and all struggle at first with the madness that their close proximity with blood inspires in the sharks’ minds. They follow the Helmacrons out into the arteries. Along the way, Cassie shares “body facts” about what they’re seeing.

Back in Marco’s perspective, things are not going well. He has begun to feel strange, reckless and anxious. He decides to go back to the kid’s apartment once more and try again to get the camera. Once there, he decides that he needs to morph a cockroach. He proceeds to morph.

Inside Marco, the others realize that Marco is morphing and frantically wonder what is going on that would force him to take such a reckless action. They all manage to survive the morph, and immediately thought speak to Marco asking him why he felt the need to risk their lives morphing. Marco responds in a very petulant manner and Rachel begins to wonder what is going on. She knows that it’s not a great situation for Marco, but that he’s never stupid, and morphing with them in his body was stupid.

They finally catch up with the Helmacrons, but they won’t be reasoned with and start firing their guns. Marco goes still. The others are convinced that he has been killed by the internal damage. They manage to get a hold of the laser guns from the Helmacrons and force them to give in. They cut a hole in cockroach!Marco and make their way out. Outside his body, Cassie begins to theorize that it seems strange that Marco would have died as a cockroach, since they are practically unkillable. The team takes turns trying to wake him up before the two hour deadlines expires. At the last minute, he comes to. He morphs a gull, the team climbs on, still holding the Helmacrons hostage, and Marco grabs the camera in his beak on the way out.

Xena, Warrior Princess: Like the Atlantis book was for Jake, and the first Helmacrons book was for Cassie, these books that veer all the way into crazyland tend to be rather dud-like as far as any real character growth goes. But, on the other hand, the last several Rachel books have been more damaging to her character than anything, so maybe I should count this as a lucky miss that there’s practically nothing worth discussing for her here. Sure, there are a couple of moments where we see her dive head first into the action, but even those instances are pretty restrained and not too notable. Towards the end, there are a couple of moments that reflect the deeper understanding of Marco’s character that she has gained from being an Animorph with him. Before, I imagine, he was just her cousin Jake’s annoying friend. Now, she knows him well enough to notice that his defensive and weirdly aggressive responses to why he morphed when Jake had expressly told him not to were out of character for him. She notes that while he can be annoying, he is anything but stupid, and morphing in this instance was stupid. It not only risked the other Animorphs’ lives, but Marco’s own.

Our Fearless Leader: Jake has a few comical moments when he tries to mimic the Helmacrons’ grandiose way of speaking in an attempt to convince them to leave Marco and give up their quest for the blue box. He also shows how comfortable he has become giving members of the team orders, noting in the end that he still needs to talk to Marco about why exactly Marco disobeyed a direct order. This is definitely the type of comment that we’d not expect to hear from early-series Jake who was still struggling to accept his role as a leader, especially when it comes to laying down laws on his best friend.

A Hawk’s Life: Not much from Tobias in this book, which is always a bummer on its own, but is worse in Rachel books where we stand a better chance of getting more from him.

Peace, Love, and Animals: Cassie plays the role of “Ms. Frizzle” in this book and is pretty much giving them a tour of Marco’s insides throughout the story. At one point, she is so caught up in this role that she is essentially evaluating the state of Marco’s immune system instead of paying attention to anything else that is going on. It’s pretty bizarre, frankly. But with a book like this, which is essentially setting out to accomplish exactly the same thing that the Magic School Bus episode was, to teach kids about the body’s inner workings, we would need a character like this along the way, and Cassie makes the most sense. She’s also the one to realize that Marco is likely not dead in the end, noting how difficult it is to truly kill a cockroach.

The Comic Relief: This is a strange book in that it’s another one where we get weird insert of POV chapters from another character’s point of view. Rachel is one of my favorite characters and, not only do I think she gets short-changed in a lot of books, other than Jake, she has potentially the most interesting arc throughout the series to follow. So with that in mind, it’s a bit unfortunate to see one of her books divided between her and another character. But, if I was going to have to pick that character, Marco’s always a good choice. Of course, he’s also weirdly written for most of this as he is suffering from rabies-induced mania for much of it. Even without Rachel noting Marco’s strange behavior, fans of the series, especially this late in the game, are sure to raise an eyebrow at much of the out-of-character decision making we see from Marco here.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Also not much from Ax. On and off, he serves as a communication point to Marco as one of the few members of group who can use thought-speak. But…yeah, other than that.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: Really, most of this book. Unlike the cartoon-y take we get from Magic School Bus, this book tears that cutesy band-aid off right away with overly disgusting descriptions of the Animorphs having to bury themselves in snot to avoid getting sneezed out. It’s pretty disgusting and vaults this book up next to the “Andalite toilet” book as far as catering to middle grade body humor goes. I did not enjoy a return to this level of “entertainment.”

Couples Watch!: Ugh, practically nothing! There was literally one line where Tobias privately thought-spoke to Rachel when they were in Marco’s stomach telling her to morph quickly when she was stuck in the stomach acid. Which can also be attributed to the fact that the two of them already had a close encounter with potentially being digested back in Megamorphs #2. So yeah, as far as romance goes, a pretty big let down here. It’s all the more sad to see knowing how close we are getting to the end.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: No Visser Three in this book! The Animorphs note a few times that they can’t be sure that the Helmacrons aren’t working with the Yeerks, so this is meant to add another level of urgency to their mission, though I’m never quite sure their reasoning makes sense.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Again, I cry at the return of childish body-humor as a form of entertainment. Just…no.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: Kind of the whole thing? I don’t understand what the Helmacrons’ endgame was. How was getting the Animorphs to follow them into Marco really going to accomplish anything? I’m not convinced that all of the Animorphs going in after them was wise, rather than just a few of them. And why oh why the group then chooses to keep Marco completely out of the loop the entire time is beyond strange. Ax should have been updating him the entire time and then when they all morph sharks, they definitely should have been letting him know what was going on. You could make the case that Marco wouldn’t have felt compelled to go after the camera in the first place had he been more in the loop with what the others were up to. Beyond that, I’m pretty skeptical of the whole rabies subplot. How exactly did someone’s pet pitbull end up with rabies? It’s pretty rare for that disease to be found in household pets since most are vaccinated and then rarely would come into contact with the wild animals that would need to give it to them in the first place. And there’s no mention of the fact that, hey, some kid and his family are now LIVING WITH A RABID ANIMAL! And Rachel thinks it’s more important to let Marco question his own sanity for another night than, I don’t know, warn this poor family about this life-threatening situation.

Favorite Quote:

TRUTH:

“You know,” Jake said thoughtfully. “I think this is the most disgusting mission we’ve ever done.”

Scorecard: Yeerks 11, Animorphs 15

No change!

Rating: All in all, a pretty “meh” book. It didn’t enrage me, but I also kind of buzzed through it, not caring at all what was going on. I didn’t enjoy the return of body humor and I was sad to see another book where Rachel doesn’t really have much character progression. For all that we hear about her deteriorating mindset from other characters in their books, it’s a real shame that we don’t see more of it from Rachel herself and how she is coping with these changes. The potential here is gold and it’s so, so wasted. Plus, the whole story was stock full of ridiculous scenarios that don’t make much sense. From the very beginning, it’s clear that this is just a “concept” book that derived from a wacky idea. There’s no good reason for the Helmacrons to be back, or for them to take the actions they do, or for them to give up in the end really and agree to leave. If I think about it too much, I could probably get frustrated with the laziness, but as it is, I’m happy enough just letting this one slide back into cool indifference, lost to memory eventually.

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

Kate’s Review: “The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel”

37638211Book: “The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel: A Story of Sleepy Hollow” by Alyssa Palombo

Publishing Info: St. Martin’s Griffin, October 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: When Ichabod Crane arrives in the spooky little village of Sleepy Hollow as the new schoolmaster, Katrina Van Tassel is instantly drawn to him. Through their shared love of books and music, they form a friendship that quickly develops into romance. Ichabod knows that as an itinerant schoolteacher of little social standing, he has nothing to offer the wealthy Katrina – unlike her childhood friend-turned-enemy, Brom Van Brunt, who is the suitor Katrina’s father favors.

But when romance gives way to passion, Ichabod and Katrina embark on a secret love affair, sneaking away into the woods after dark to be together – all while praying they do not catch sight of Sleepy Hollow’s legendary Headless Horseman. That is, until All Hallows’s Eve, when Ichabod suddenly disappears, leaving Katrina alone and in a perilous position.

Enlisting the help of her friend – and rumored witch – Charlotte Jansen, Katrina seeks the truth of Ichabod Crane’s disappearance, investigating the forest around Sleepy Hollow using unconventional – often magical – means. What they find forces Katrina to question everything she once knew, and to wonder if the Headless Horseman is perhaps more than just a story after all. In Alyssa Palombo’s The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel nothing is as it seems, and love is a thing even death won’t erase.

Review: I’ve had a deep affection for “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” ever since I was a little girl. My first exposure to it was the Bing Crosby Disney vehicle, with it’s jaunty music and admittedly all too terrifying Headless Horseman. My favorite adaptation is the utterly faithless but still WAY fun and interesting Tim Burton film “Sleepy Hollow”, as while Johnny Depp is a creep his portrayal of Ichabod Crane as an earnest and logical detective is a preferable contrast to the original superstitious gold digger Washington Irving imagined. But something that cannot be denied in either version, from the fairly true to the quirky retelling, is that the female love interest, Katrina Van Tassel, really isn’t given much to do outside of being an object of affection. While it’s certainly true that Christina Ricci’s version of Katrina is perfectly adequate (hell, she gets to be a witch, which is pretty neat), it is mostly Ichabod’s story. So when I read about “The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel” by Alyssa Palombo, I knew that I had to read it, as it is a retelling of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” but from a female centered perspective.

This isn’t so much a ghost story this time around as it is a romance and mystery, and it’s certainly presented through a feminist lens. Like in the original tale, Katrina is the daughter of wealthy farmer Baltus Van Tassel, but instead of being merely a point in a love triangle she is a sharp and independent woman who sees life beyond Sleepy Hollow and the path that is planned out for her. While her father does encourage her studies and her interests, ultimately he sees her marrying her childhood friend Brom Van Brunt, aka Brom Bones, who remains the WORST. Katrina has other ideas, as she has come to despise him because of his treatment of her best friend Charlotte, the daughter of the town midwife. Brom is very much the macho and of the time ideal of a man, popular and the son of another successful (and therefore land owning) farmer, though his misogyny and bigotry turns Katrina off. It’s a solid portrayal of a timeless villain, and while he remains antagonistic, Palombo does a good job of making him a little more complex than merely the town brute. But don’t get me wrong, he’s still awful.

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It has to be done. (source)

Katrina’s loyalties are to Charlotte because Charlotte is one of two profoundly meaningful female relationships she has in this book, the other being Nancy, her former nursemaid. I loved that not only do we get Katrina to steer the ship of feminist interpretations, but that Charlotte and Nancy provide examples of positive and supportive female friendship that could otherwise have been completely waylaid. It also is a good way to address horrific realities of the time in organic ways. It brings up the distrust people had towards women like Charlotte and her mother, who are midwives and herbalists who are seen as potential witches, and the evil that was chattel slavery, as Nancy is a former slave who is now employed by the Van Tassels. While it is made clear that she is  given a wage and has her freedom, her past as property is not ignored, and it is addressed in a way that shows the privileges that women like Katrina and Charlotte DID have during this time because of their skin that were not afforded to Nancy. These three women band together and support each other, and it felt fairly even handed, as neither Charlotte nor Nancy felt like props there merely to hold Katrina up.

The romance between Katrina and Ichabod was very satisfying as well. Since it is through Katrina’s eyes, her agency and intent are always present, as Ichabod is portrayed as a man of intellect who sees Katrina as an equal in all ways. Her self worth and independence are only bolstered by him, and their love affair is not only on even footing, it’s also VERY romantic. And smutty. My GOODNESS is this book heavy on the love scenes during the first part. Palombo manages to make these love scenes feel fairly real for the time and place, and the romance is a slow burn that really makes you root for Katrina and Ichabod, even if the original story has mapped out a very clear, and tragic, path for it to take. Unlike “Sleepy Hollow”, “The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel” doesn’t completely throw the source material out the window, and while I knew that going in there would absolutely be bittersweetness, I wasn’t prepared for how emotional Katrina and Ichabod’s romance, and his ultimate disappearance, was going to be. Palombo constructs a love that feels timeless and complex, and makes Ichabod far more than a gold digging schemer, as well as more than a deep thinking hero. Yet ultimately, this IS Katrina’s story, and while her love for Ichabod sets it in motion she is the one fully in control beyond her relationship with him. She has to make some tough choices in the wake of his disappearance, choices that she doesn’t want to make and yet must because of the time period, and her drive to find out what did happen to the love of her life, be it him running off or Headless Horseman taking him, make her an all the more intriguing heroine. Because while love is a huge theme, there is also a lot of grief, and what grief can do to a person.

But given the ambiguity of the original source material (was it a Horseman who was responsible for Ichabod’s disappearance, or a very mortal man?), “The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel” would be missing something if the supernatural aspect wasn’t there. Luckily, Palombo does have eerie elements. Katrina is haunted by visions of the Headless Horseman her entire life, her gift for Sight being a main theme in this book. She and Charlotte both have seemingly otherworldly powers, though they are never overdone or overshot. Given that I LOVE The Headless Horseman as a ghost and antagonist, I was worried that he was going to be more of an afterthought in this story. But while he does play a smaller role, and a more opaque one at that, there was enough of him and the idea of him that still gave him a presence throughout the narrative. Palombo brings in other folklore from the original tale and region (and provides handy author’s notes at the end about it), as Katrina collects and tells the stories of ghosts and spectres through the area. After all, she too is haunted by things, though they are perhaps more of this Earth. By the end of this book I really liked how the ghostly tales were woven into the overall story arc, and how they could serve as metaphors for the things that Katrina was going through. And yes, The Headless Horseman does have one pretty damn satisfying moment, as ambiguous as it may be. After all, he himself is an ambiguous character in the original tale, so this time around it feels extra sweet to see the big moment that is given to him.

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#teamhorseman (source)

Overall, I really liked “The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel”. It retold a story that I love in a unique and female centered way. I’m setting this book on the shelf next to my copy of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” so they can coexist in the way the two tales really ought to.

Rating 9: A lovely romance with a bittersweet mystery “The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel” re-tells an old classic with a female focused lens, and brings it satisfying new characterizations.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel” isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists, but I think that it would fit in on “The Best Fairytales and Retellings”.

Find “The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Magic Triumphs”

Magic_Triumphs.inddBook: “Magic Triumphs” by Ilona Andrews

Publishing Info: Ace, August 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: from the library!

Book Description: Kate has come a long way from her origins as a loner taking care of paranormal problems in post-Shift Atlanta. She’s made friends and enemies. She’s found love and started a family with Curran Lennart, the former Beast Lord. But her magic is too strong for the power players of the world to let her be.

Kate and her father, Roland, currently have an uneasy truce, but when he starts testing her defenses again, she knows that sooner or later, a confrontation is inevitable. The Witch Oracle has begun seeing visions of blood, fire, and human bones. And when a mysterious box is delivered to Kate’s doorstep, a threat of war from the ancient enemy who nearly destroyed her family, she knows their time is up.

Kate Daniels sees no other choice but to combine forces with the unlikeliest of allies. She knows betrayal is inevitable. She knows she may not survive the coming battle. But she has to try.

For her child.

For Atlanta.

For the world.

Previously Reviewed: “Kate Daniels Series” and  “Magic Shifts” and “Magic Binds”

Review: It’s kind of a rare and strange thing to reach the end of an urban fantasy series. For some reason, it seems that urban fantasy in particular tends to draw forth series that go on and on. This has obvious pros and cons, but I tend to think that every story must come to an end, and I’d rather that happen on the author’s own terms than any outside factor. And, ideally, before the creativity of the world begins to leak out, something that occurs all too often with long-running series in any genre. So, it was with mixed emotions that I picked up “Magic Triumphs.”

There have really been only two urban fantasy series that I’ve followed for the last several years, the Kate Daniels series and the Mercy Thompson/Alpha and Omega series. My most recent review was from a book in the latter, and oof, it was rough and in many ways serves as a perfect example of the concerns I listed above about long-running series. With that warning in mind, I was pleased to discover that the Kate Daniels books would end with this one, but also…now what do I read as far as urban fantasy? Ah well, a problem for another day.

“Magic Triumphs” opens over a year after the events in “Magic Binds.” Kate and Curran have had their son, Conlan, and he is about a year old at this point. The rest of their lives are going as expected: continuously shoring up allies and points of strength in preparation for the ultimate show-down with Kate’s father Roland that they know could come at any time. And here, of course, it does. But not only that. Of course not only that! A new, mysterious and powerful force has attacked Atlanta, and now Kate and co. have to balance a war on two fronts.

This book was facing a pretty big challenge for me right off the bat: introducing a child character. This is completely a personal preference thing, but I often find child characters in books to have several problems. They’re often annoyingly “precocious” or “twee” and they have the tendency to re-focus all of the story’s action or the main character’s attention to them. Obviously, a new addition like this will impact the story and the main character’s relationships with everyone around them. But all too often I feel like authors somehow end up losing much of what made up the original characterization of their protagonists under this new force and drive.

Luckily, that is not the case here. While Conlan is definitely a new focal point for Kate and Curran and a huge motivation in the decisions they each make, all of the aspects of these characters that we’ve grown to know and love were still present. Kate kicks ass and takes names, but also, adorably, frets about minor issues with her son, constantly dragging him to the Pack doctor for check-ups. Curran is still protective and supportive, with his own plans on how to get his small family through the trials ahead.

There are also all of the many, many, MANY familiar faces sprinkled throughout this book. Honestly, I don’t think I had a full grasp on exactly who everyone was. The cast is so large and some characters have only had large roles in various books throughout the ten book series that I couldn’t quite pin down some of them. But, as far as it goes, Andrews gives readers enough information to catch you up on who is who and why they are important, so I was able to pretty easily just go with the flow for some of this unknowing.

I did like the addition of the new big bad that was introduced in this story. I was pretty surprised that the book even went this route, honestly. The series has been building to the show-down with Roland for books and books now, so I fully expected that to be the primary focus of this story. That made it all the more surprising when that aspect of the story took a back seat through much of it. I was sorry not to get more page time between Kate and her power-mad father, but given the situation that had been built up over the entire series, there weren’t that many options for resolving it that would have made sense, so this new addition and focus seemed to help. There were several other surprises in store throughout the book, including some hidden plans of Curran’s, an introduction to a new group of magical beings, and some pretty disgusting magical threats.

My one critique of the book comes down to pacing. The story starts off fairly slowly, taking quite a while to even get to the point where the main characters even know what they’re dealing with. And then once they do, there is very little page time left to really deal with the fallout of this situation. This then leads to a rather rushed ending and what felt like a bit of a truncated last battle and ultimate resolution. Like I said, the series has been building to this moment, so I wish there had been just a bit more given to it, be that increased page time or maybe just a bit more “oomf” put into the proceedings.

In the end, however, I was very satisfied with the conclusion to this series. I was sad to see these characters go, but I was glad they were able to go out on a high note. For fans of the series, this final chapters is definitely worth getting your hands on.

Rating 8: A bitter-sweet goodbye to what turned out to be an excellent urban fantasy series.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Magic Triumphs” is on these Goodreads lists: “NEW ADULT fantasy & paranormal romance” and “Sci-Fi/Fantasy with Healthy Relationships.”

Find “Magic Triumphs” at your library using WorldCat!