Book: “Aliens: The Original Comics Series” by Mark Verdheim, Den Beauvais (Ill.), Sam Kieth (Ill.)
Publishing Info: Dark Horse Books, April 2017
Where Did I Get This Book: The library!
Book Description:In 1986, James Cameron’s “Aliens” brought to theaters the horrors of a new kind of war against a terrifying enemy. Long before Alien3 was even a glint in director David Fincher’s eye, Dark Horse Comics was already crafting a terrifying post-Aliens continuity for Ripley, Hicks, and Newt.
Earth is overrun by xenomorphs with no hope of saving it for humanity. But that doesn’t mean just leaving it to the Aliens. Ripley has a plan to capture, from what they believe is the Alien homeworld, a “Queen Mother”–a super queen that rules multiple nests–and bring it back to Earth. There the Queen Mother will command the xenomorphs to gather where they can all be destroyed by nuclear bombs.
Collects Aliens: Nightmare Asylum #1-#4 and Aliens: Earth War #1-#4. Includes cover art for all issues.
Review: Even though Science Fiction isn’t really my preferred genre, if there is an excellent horror theme to it I’m assuredly going to be game. So it most likely isn’t shocking that I love both the movies “Alien” and “Aliens”. Not only does it have a solidly excellent female protagonist (Ellen Ripley for LIFE!), it also has a very scary adversary in the Xenomorph, a creature that is essentially a giant parasitic space bug that you COULD fight, but you have significantly better odds if you just run away. The first two movies in the “Alien” franchise are awesome, and while I love them both my heart probably belongs to “Aliens” the most. Not only does Ripley get to kick more butt, but she picks up a rag tag group of friends along the way, specifically the Colonial Marine Corporal Hicks, the android Bishop, and the orphan Newt, a girl saved from an overrun colony. “Aliens” ends with the Alien Queen vanquished, and Ripley looking forward to taking her life back with her new found family in the wake of the one she lost while drifting in space post “Alien”.
…. And then “Alien 3” happened, and it completely trashed that perfect ending by crashing the ship, killing off Hicks, Newt, and Bishop, and throwing Ripley into a new clusterfuck of a PRISON COLONY SETTING because apparently she doesn’t get ANY breaks whatsoever.
What does this have to do with “Aliens: Nightmare Asylum and Earth War” you may ask? More than you’d think. SO, after “Aliens” came out, Dark Horse created two mini series set within the “Alien” universe, focusing on Hicks, Newt, and Ripley a few years after the action in “Aliens”. But when David Fincher’s dark for the sake of dark “Alien 3” came out, Dark Horse decided that it had to be retconned because HEAVEN FOR FUCKING BID THAT HICKS AND NEWT REMAIN ALIVE IN COMIC FORM. So Dark Horse went back and changed the names of Hicks and Newt to Wilkes and Billie, and they were SOMEHOW not Hicks and Newt in spite of the fact they were CLEARLY Hicks and Newt, and re-released the two series with a brand new ‘now agreeing with film continuity!’ seal of approval. Given how “Alien 3” ended and what happened to Ripley, what with her DYING, I don’t understand why the comics decided to change Hicks and Newt to fit THEIR deaths, but let Ripley come back unaffected. But whatever, what do I know? Happily, in 2017 Dark Horse went back and righted this wrong, and both “Nightmare Asylum” and “Earth War” were re-released in a hard cover collection with Hicks and Newt back in tact. And now that this “Short Brief History” has concluded, let’s get to the review.
I’ll start with “Nightmare Asylum”. Ripley wasn’t seen much in this story, but I was surprisingly okay with this because it gave Hicks and Newt some time to shine. Set a fewish years down the line from “Aliens”, Newt is now a young woman, and has been living as a surrogate daughter/sister/friend to Hicks. They have been floating in space, as Earth has been taken over by the Xenomorphs and they escaped by the skin of their teeth (along with an android named Butler with whom Newt has been in a relationship). But unfortunately they run afoul a crazed General named Spears, who has gone full General Kurtz and thinks that he can make an army of Xenomorphs to fight against the Xenomorphs on Earth, namely by torturing and trying to condition an Alien Queen to make her control her brood lest he destroy her eggs. And while Ripley is nowhere to be seen for the most part, I REALLY enjoyed “Nightmare Asylum”, if only because Hicks and Newt (her in particular) had some fantastic story lines and moments of riveting action. Given that I have ALL the love for both Hicks and Newt, I am a-okay with the focus being on the two of them. For Newt it’s because she has taken on the role of the determined and scrappy Ripley character, and it shows how she has gone from scared orphan girl to be saved to an adult who is out to save the world. For Hicks it’s his continued journey of being a tough and competent soldier who is more than happy to let the tough ladies around him take the reins. He had the utmost respect for Ripley and trusted her, and he has the same respect for Newt. And also, Hicks was played by Michael Biehn, who was foxy as HELL in the role, so yes, my libido has SOME influence over my affinity.
But I also REALLY liked the main plot with the crazed General trying to use the Xenomorphs to his own ends. Any “Alien” fan worth their salt is going to know that this is a TERRIBLE idea, but it feels original enough that it could totally fit within the hubris that we see so often in this universe. And with new but familiar protagonists coming in to deal with it it doesn’t feel like just another instance of ‘Ripley is right AGAIN and why doesn’t anyone listen to her?’. Ripley can be right til the cows come home, but admittedly it would get a bit old. And yes, Ripley DOES show up, right at the end, so it doesn’t feel like she’s been forgotten or thrown to the side. One note I do have, though: I didn’t like that there were so many sexualized drawings of Newt. Sure, she’s an adult in this story arc, but was it REALLY necessary to have multiple shots of her in skimpy underwear and spread legs?
“Earth War” was next, and that one brings Ripley more into the fold. As she, Hicks, and Newt (along with other brave fighters) gather together to try and take Earth back, Ripley also has to contend with her leaving Newt and Hicks behind after “Aliens”. I liked the device that was used in this case, as it doesn’t feel too cheap (like “Alien 3” did, and no I will NOT shut up about how much I hate that movie) and also feels wrenching. To Ripley Newt was sort of seen as a stand in for her daughter, who died while Ripley was in hypersleep out in space, and so it was important to give a GOOD explanation as to why Ripley would have disappeared after “Aliens”. “Earth War” absolutely achieves that. But I think that the reason I found it to be the weaker of the two, in SPITE of Ripley’s presence, is that it feels very rushed. While the smaller story of “Nightmare Asylum” works in four issues, trying to cram a reunion for Ripley and her friends, information as to where she was that whole time, AND a battle to take Earth back from the Xenomorphs in the same number feels VERY rushed. Plus, I think that for me there was a HUGE disconnect from the artwork between the two, and I much preferred Den Beauvais:
Versus that of Sam Kieth:
I generally like Kieth (I REALLY like his work on “Sandman”), but I didn’t feel like it fit in as well with the content at hand. Which means I was taken out of it a bit more than I would have liked.
All that said. this collection is FINALLY back the way it is supposed to be, and I am SO happy that I finally got to read it. “Aliens: The Original Comics Series” gives “Alien” fans the stories that we’ve always deserved, and it gives Ripley, Hicks, and Newt a lot to do without getting dour or unnecessarily bleak. I greatly enjoyed this series as a whole.
Rating 9: The “Alien” continuation that we deserve to have, “Aliens: The Original Comics Series” is action packed, powerful, and a shining light on favorite characters from the first two movies.
We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing bookclub running for the last several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is ‘genre mash-ups’, where we pick two random genres and try to find a book that fits both.
For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for book club. We’ll also post the next book coming up in book club. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own book club!
Book: “The Shadow Cipher” by Laura Ruby
Publishing Info: Walden Pond Press, May 2017
Where Did We Get This Book: Audiobooks from the library!
Genre Mash-up: Science Fiction and Mystery
Book Description:It was 1798 when the Morningstarr twins arrived in New York with a vision for a magnificent city: towering skyscrapers, dazzling machines, and winding train lines, all running on technology no one had ever seen before. Fifty-seven years later, the enigmatic architects disappeared, leaving behind for the people of New York the Old York Cipher—a puzzle laid into the shining city they constructed, at the end of which was promised a treasure beyond all imagining. By the present day, however, the puzzle has never been solved, and the greatest mystery of the modern world is little more than a tourist attraction.
Tess and Theo Biedermann and their friend Jaime Cruz live in a Morningstarr apartment house—until a real estate developer announces that the city has agreed to sell him the five remaining Morningstarr buildings. Their likely destruction means the end of a dream long-held by the people of New York. And if Tess, Theo and Jaime want to save their home, they have to prove that the Old York Cipher is real. Which means they have to solve it.
From National Book Award Finalist Laura Ruby comes a visionary epic set in a New York City at once familiar and wholly unexpected.
I don’t read much middle grade fiction. Yes, technically the Animorphs started out as a middle grade series, but I’m pretty sure most of us can agree that it pretty quickly veers into YA territory with the gruesome and serious nature of much of it. And there are a few examples of MG fiction (even some recently, like “A Flight of Swans”) that do appeal to me, but by and large, it’s just not my jam. With this in mind, it’s really hard for me to review this book objectively, since much of it simply didn’t connect with me as I’m just not the correct reader for this book. So, with the criticisms to come, keep in mind that this book may still very well appeal to many actual middle grade readers and plenty of adults who like to read this age level of fiction. I can definitely see how it might!
To start with some pros, however, I did like the general concept of the story, how simply adding two brilliant inventors into a time period could effect all of history that follows. It’s an extreme example of the butterfly effect. I was also very much into the opening chapter of the book that was set in the 1800s and seemed to be presenting a sort of “steam punk” like world. This portion of the story also featured adult protagonists, so that also probably had something to do with my preference for it.
I also liked the diversity of the main cast of characters and a look into what life would be like growing up in a huge city such as New York. I grew up in a tiny rural town, so the idea of running around a massive city on my own at age 13 is hard to comprehend.
But, those pros aside, this book just didn’t hit the mark for me. For one thing, I struggled with the mash up of science fiction technologies alongside other elements of the world that were unchanged. There seemed to be a really random assortment of new inventions that would simply pop up here and there. And yet, in other parts of life, that same advancement was no where to be seen. It made it feel less like a naturally developed world, but instead a collection of weird concepts, none connecting to another in any fundamental way.
I also thought the book was incredibly slow and the urgency was lacking. This is a long book for a middle grade title, and much of the middle of it just felt like a slog. Not only did it take a while to even get into solving the mysteries, but once there, the sense of urgency never seemed to connect with the actual situation. I was left feeling kind of cold and uninterested about it all. If you’re going to have a book that revolves around solving mysteries, it really needs to revolve around those things, and this just didn’t feel like that. I also really didn’t like that, going in, I knew the mystery wasn’t going to resolve, as this is the first book in a series. All of the mystery series that I read and enjoy will feature the same cast of characters, but the mysteries themselves are solved in each book, with maybe one or two other through-lines as far as the stories go. I just don’t like books where the mystery itself is left unresolved at the end.
So, yeah. This book wasn’t for me. That said, all of my complaints are very subjective and revolve around my own reading preferences. Nothing in the book is actually truly objectionable. The characters are solid, the world is interesting, and the mysteries are clever. If you like middle grade fiction, this book may very well work for you. But if middle grade books are more hit and miss for you, I would skip this one.
I read Laura Ruby’s “Bone Gap” a few years back, and while I understood how people would love it as much as they did, I found it to be ‘pretty okay’ at best. So when “The Shadow Cipher” (not “York”; I’m going to touch on that in a bit) was our book club selection, I was hesitantly optimistic that I’d get another read that was ‘pretty okay’. The problem is, “The Shadow Cipher” had a number of things working against it for me, and because of that I didn’t enjoy it as much as I had hoped I would.
But first I want to address the things that I did like, because there were a few stand out aspects: The first is that, like Serena mentioned above, I liked the diversity of and the somewhat unique issues that faced our main characters. One of the biggest threats in this story is that Theo and Tessa Biedermann could lose their home because of a real estate developer’s greed. Gentrification is absolutely a huge problem in large urban cities, especially in our version of New York City, so I appreciated that Ruby brought this issue up within this story, and showed the faces of those who bear the negative brunt of ‘progress’. She addressed it in a way that felt tangible to a middle grade audience, and yet didn’t feel TOO heavy handed or spoon fed to them. What we see are children who are afraid of losing their home, which shows a very human cost to the ever changing landscape of real estate in regards to the less privileged. I also enjoyed the alternate world aspect of this book. I’m a huge sucker for stories that are KIND OF in our world, but wax poetic on how the world could have turned out if one thing had been different. While I’m not totally certain that Ruby completely reconciled the science fiction/steampunk concepts with her world, I liked seeing the effort made.
But, like Serena, I too had a hard time with the pacing and seeming lack of urgency within this story. In other similar tales like “The Westing Game,” the puzzle that the characters are trying to solve is usually at the forefront and very much the driven focus of the novel. When a new piece is solved, it is on to the next. In “The Shadow Cipher,” it felt like it was slowly flitting from place to place. I feel that with their home on the line these kids would be far more rushed (I think about “The Goonies” and how they are so scared about losing their homes that they go on a crazy whirlwind of a treasure hunt that always feels like it’s moving).
My final criticism is probably far more petty and pedantic than it needs to be, and has less to do with the story itself. Look at that cover, folks. If you saw that cover, what would YOU think the title of this book is? The confusing graphic design made me unreasonably annoyed. I know that doesn’t have much to do with the book itself, but it really frustrated me and we had a long discussion about it during book club.
Overall, “The Shadow Cipher” really wasn’t my kind of book, and while I don’t think that it should necessarily turn readers away if they think it sounds like their kind of book, be warned that it may be a long read.
Serena’s Rating 5: Not objectively bad, but definitely not for me. The world-building didn’t come together in the way I would have liked, and the story itself lacked a sense of urgency.
Kate’s Rating 5: Though the characters were fine and I liked the alternate universe angle, “The Shadow Cipher” was too slow for the kind of mystery it was and just didn’t appeal to me.
Book Club Questions
Did you find the alternative timeline in this book believable and well conceived?
In this alternate version of our world, there are small changes that are mentioned in the culture of society (such as the superhero movie “Storm 2”). What do you think about these small changes and do you think that Ruby was trying to say something with them?
“The Shadow Cipher” is similar to other books with themes of kids trying to solve a puzzle such as “The Westing Game” and “Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library.” How do you think that it compares to other books in the genre?
This book is generally for older middle grade and YA readers, but it covers fairly topical social justice subjects like social disparity and gentrification. Do you think the target audience will make connections about what Ruby is trying to say?
What did you think of Tess, Theo, and Jaime as our protagonists? Were they believable characters?
This is the first in a series. Do you think you’ll move on to the next book? Why or why not?
Where Did I Get this Book: audiobook from the library!
Book Description:Julia has been ensnared in so many different webs, it’s hard to see how she’ll ever break free. She must do Casimir’s bidding in order to save the life of her brother. She must work against Casimir to save the lives of most everyone else she knows.
Casimir demands that Julia use her vanishing skills to act as a spy at court and ensure that a malleable prince is installed on the throne of Frayne. But Julia is secretly acting as a double agent, passing information to the revolutionaries and witches who want a rebel princess to rule.
Beyond these deadly entanglements, Julia is also desperately seeking the truth about herself: How is it she can vanish? Is she some form of monster? Is her life her own?
With every move she makes, Julia finds herself tangled ever tighter. Should she try to save her country? Her brother? A beloved child? Can she even save herself?
Review: I have thoroughly enjoyed this very under-the-radar fantasy series. I knew very little about the book when I picked up the first one, but was quickly taken in by its unique world and a truly strong and complicated main character. The second book then impressed me even more by proving that not all YA series must rely on a “one true pairing!” romance as the emotional core of its story. The stakes were left higher than ever, so I was anxious to discover how things would be wrapped up in this, the third and final book. And I couldn’t be more pleased!
Back in Frayne, several weeks after the events of “Julia Defiant,” finds Julia up against a literal countdown to disaster. Not only is her beloved brother in the grips of the nefarious Casimir, but the political upheaval between the dying King and his cohort of witch hunters and the witches themselves seems to be coming to a head. And at the center of it all, a small child who has been left in Julia’s care and who holds the most powerful magic of all within him. A tangled web has been spun around her like a noose, and it’s slowly tightening.
This book did everything you want to see in a trilogy. Most especially, it took the strengths that had been established in the first two books and seemed to almost perfect them, all while wrapping up a complicated story and resolving the character conflicts that had been left over.
Throughout the series, I’ve liked the complicated world that has been built. Here, the conflict has expanded out to a city-wide, even nation-wide, level as the witches have finally found a rally point in a new heir to the throne who will look with a more friendly eye on their kind and hopefully reduce the persecution they have been living through during the past several decades. But Julia and co. are quick discover that no cause is perfect and that methods can matter just as much as the lofty goals behind them. Through this lens, the story explores topics such as domestic terrorism and political balance. Those who start out as heroes are questioned and those who have been presented as nothing more than villains are given expanded histories. This all leads to delicious conflicts that Julia must navigate. Her extraordinary power makes her a valuable ally to all groups involved, but she is beholden to no one and must come to her own decisions and walk her own path.
I’ve loved Julia as a character from the beginning, and this book really solidifies her as a unique heroine. As I mentioned in my review of the second book, I’ve really appreciated the author’s approach that has allowed non-romantic relationships to come to the forefront as the driving emotional force behind Julia’s choices. Rather than a “one true love,” Julia fights for her brother and the small boy under her care. She also fights for herself. She knows the power she possesses is rare and valuable to those around her. She knows that others will likely try to use her and manipulate her into aligning herself with their own pet causes. But Julia is her own woman.
We get to learn much more about Julia’s own history and abilities. Questions were raised in the second book that serve as a central plot point here. And the answers were surprising and satisfying. She also forms a brief, new romantic relationship. But like the ones that came before, she sees these relationships for what they are: meaningful, but not THE MEANING. There is a particular line that comes in the story where another independent woman, when asked if she needs help before setting out on a mission, responds with “You would only slow me down.” Julia takes this short phrase to heart, setting it as a goal: to be a strong woman who is simply slowed down by others, free to choose her own paths and complete her own goals. It was a refreshing new take on a YA heroine, and I loved her use of this phrase as a personal mantra.
I honestly can’t say enough good things about this book and series. My one complaint, perhaps, is that events are quickly wrapped up in the end. But even that flaw barely registered in my general enjoyment of the book as a whole. As I’ve said, this book has flown mostly under the radar, and it’s such a shame! In a genre that is flooded by novels that often follow fairly tried and true (and increasingly predictable) paths with tried and true (and increasingly predictable) heroines, this series stands alone as presenting something different. Read these books! Read them now!
Rating 9: An excellent finale to an excellent series!
Publishing Info: Atria/Emily Bestler Books, September 2018
Where Did I Get This Book: A friend lent me a copy!
Book Description:From the author of the “compelling” (Star Tribune, Minneapolis) and critically acclaimed Everything You Want Me to Be, a riveting and suspenseful thriller about the mysterious disappearance of a boy and his stunning return ten years later.
There is a place in Minnesota with hundreds of miles of glacial lakes and untouched forests called the Boundary Waters. Ten years ago a man and his son trekked into this wilderness and never returned.
Search teams found their campsite ravaged by what looked like a bear. They were presumed dead until a decade later…the son appeared. Discovered while ransacking an outfitter store, he was violent and uncommunicative and sent to a psychiatric facility. Maya Stark, the assistant language therapist, is charged with making a connection with their high-profile patient. No matter how she tries, however, he refuses to answer questions about his father or the last ten years of his life.
But Maya, who was abandoned by her own mother, has secrets, too. And as she’s drawn closer to this enigmatic boy who is no longer a boy, she’ll risk everything to reunite him with his father who has disappeared from the known world.
Review:As a Minnesota girl straight down to my bones, I am always a bit tickled to see a book take place in my home state. I think that that was part of the appeal of Mindy Mejia’s “Everything You Want Me To Be”, because along with the stellar mystery and twists and turns it had a familiarity to it that I greatly appreciated. Mejia is also a Minnesota Native, and seeing local authors make good is always gratifying. Her newest book, “Leave No Trace”, is another book set in Minnesota, this time in the northern part of the state as opposed to the farm belt. But it, too, serves us a mystery with lies, deceptions, and people with secrets from their pasts they’d rather keep buried.
The setting itself is one of the most powerful aspects of this book, and I don’t think that I say that solely as a Minnesota girl. Mejia does a great job of conveying the very setting and culture of Northern Minnesota, from the harbor town Duluth, where Lake Superior is an ever intimidating and daunting presence, to Ely, where the wilderness is just on the cusp of a small town, to the Boundary Waters, where the wilderness is vast and isolating. These various settings felt like characters in and of themselves, and I loved the imagery that Mejia put on the page. I lived in Duluth for almost a year, and she really captures that town and what it’s like to be on a Great Lake, especially one as temperamental as Superior. No matter where the characters were, the setting was well described, and the players interacted with their surroundings or made reference to their surroundings in realistic ways. The mystery itself kept me going, as I pretty much sat down one morning and read well into the afternoon until I had turned the last page. It really did suck me in, and there were things that I didn’t see coming and red herrings that had me fooled. Place and plot were, for the most part, strong.
But it was the characters that I had a harder time with, be it in terms of their conception and characterization, or the choices that they made. Maya didn’t work as well for me as a protagonist, as while we got background on her and why she might do the things that she did I found some of her choices (and the consequences of said choices) far fetched. I also didn’t think that we really got enough of her through showing rather than telling, and she made a shift in character once one piece of her backstory was revealed that didn’t feel believable. I also found it very hard to believe that some of her, shall we say, poorer choices didn’t have the consequences that they really should have. I don’t want to spoil anything here just because it is a fun read, but there were a couple of things she does that would have had far greater reaching issues than the ones that panned out. Lucas, too, had some problems, and that was really just that he didn’t really flesh out beyond the two dimensional hermit he was introduced as. I didn’t really believe his character progression with Maya either, and I didn’t buy their instant connection because of parental loss issues. ALSO, the heat between them was SO unethical that I was quite uncomfortable by all of it. He’s a patient who is going through a huge trauma (in this case being separated from his father AND having to acclimate to a new life outside of the Boundary Waters), so for this romance to be presented in a complicated skewing towards positive light was not settling well for me. And finally, the end itself felt a little too neat and tidy, and it went very fast in the wrap up, with a time jump and everything. I wish that things had gone a bit longer, or that we’d been able to see some of the difficult things that got swept away because of the time jump epilogue.
So while “Leave No Trace” didn’t live up to “Everything You Want Me To Be”, the Minnesota origins and settings of Mindy Mejia are still going to pull me back to whatever it is she writes next.
Rating 6: Though it’s fun to see a Minnesota setting was well portrayed, “Leave No Trace” had characters that I didn’t care for and didn’t have as many thrills as I wanted from it.
Where Did I Get this Book: audiobook from the library!
Book Description: The empress in the east—the unspeakably cruel ruler whose power grew in Flamecaster and Shadowcaster—tightens her grip in this chilling third installment in the series.
Vagabond seafarer Evan Strangward can move the ocean and the wind, but his magical abilities seem paltry in comparison to Empress Celestine’s. As Celestine’s bloodsworn armies grow, Evan travels to the Fells to warn the queendom of her imminent invasion. If he can’t convince the Gray Wolf queen to take a stand, he knows that the Seven Realms will fall. Among the dead will be the one person Evan can’t stand to lose.
Meanwhile, the queen’s formidable daughter, Princess Alyssa ana’Raisa, is already a prisoner aboard the empress’s ship. Lyss may be the last remaining hope of bringing down the empress from within her own tightly controlled territory.
Review: This book came out last spring, and yet I’m reviewing it almost six months later. Part of this is due to the way my library holds list played out, and the other part of it almost seems reflective about my attitude towards this series. I just don’t know what to expect anymore, and so, I delay. I loved the original series that was prequel to this one, but that love hasn’t translated well, at least not consistently or evenly. I wasn’t a huge fan of “Flamecaster,” and while “Shadowcaster” was an improvement, it still didn’t reach the highs of the originals. What makes these feelings all the more clear in hindsight is the fact that when I started this book, it took me forrrreeevveerr to remember the details of the story or who some of these characters even were. Not a good sign. And, while I did like this one more than the fist book in the series, I’m also starting to accept the fact that, as a whole, this series might just not be my jam.
Per the usual with the books in this series now, the story opens in the past, then catches up to events that were occurring to other characters during the present of the period that made up the first book and much of the second, and then finally catches up to the last portion of the second book and moves forward. Confusing? A bit. The timeline jumping didn’t help with my general disconnectedness from the larger narrative. Our newest member to the ever-growing cast of characters is the titular stormcaster, Evan Strangward, a character we met briefly in the first book as a pirate who delivered the dragon, Cas, that Jenna has paired up with. (Another example of my confusion and lack of memory of this series: I absolutely did not remember this at all until it was literally pointed out on the page much later in the book. I thought this was a completely new character for most of it. So…yeah, that says a lot, I think). Evan has his own motives and connections to the villainous Empress across the sea, and teams up with other familiar characters. Meanwhile, we check in briefly with our other main characters, including Jenna/Cas, Lyss, Adrian, Lila, Hal, etc etc.
Look, I’ll just say it: there are too many characters for this series to handle well. At this point, Jenna, our main character from the first book and a girl with a literal dragon best friend, has only gotten about 3-4 chapters in the last two books. Adrian, the son of Raisa, was almost gone completely from the second book, but gets a bit more here. Hal and Lila have their own roles to play, and Lyss finally shows up about halfway through the book, but it’s all just too little too late. For one, there are simply too many characters to feel equally invested in them all. This will inevitably lead readers to forming preferences and then facing disappointment in one book or another when those characters have to be pushed to the side to fit in all of the other characters that have been introduced. For two, trying to juggle this large cast while sticking with a reasonable page length leads to corners being cut as far as character development goes. Most particularly, the romance suffers.
This series insists on pairings all of its characters up, and so far I’ve only really been able to buy into one of these relationships, the between Lyss/Hal. And objectively, this is likely due to my preference for Lyss as a character rather than any particular strength of this relationship on its own. Adrian and Jenna suffered from an extreme case of instalove, and we saw another version of that here in the relationship formed between Evan and Destin. One of the biggest strengths of the first series was the slow-burn/development of its main romantic pairing that took place over four entire books. Because this series has so many characters and adds more in each book, every single romantic pairing suffers, if not in the beginning (like the cases of instalove), then as the story progresses (like Lyss and Hal who in this book spend the entire time on opposite sides of the world.)
The story itself also suffers for this large cast. The action often feels reduced and stunted because the book must jump around so often to cover what is happening to everyone in their own little corners. And then in this book in particular, the “big confrontation” that comes towards the end felt a bit subdued and predictable. There were a few exciting moments in it, but ultimately, in an epic fantasy series, it felt more like a small action scene that should have happened in the middle of some book, rather than the grand finale of the third in the series.
There were a few things that still intrigued me here. I still very much enjoy Lyss as a character and was very pleased when she finally turned up. It was good to hear (and see!) more from the Empress and what her motivations/plans are. There are also a few neat scenes where various characters meet up with each other for the first time, and that was particularly enjoyable.
However, ultimately this series is starting to fall prey to what I call “Game of Thrones” syndrome where the concept has started to kill what might have been good originally. Namely, too many characters and POV switches don’t always help a series and can often prove to be detrimental, especially as they continue to build and eventually start overwhelming the story itself. An author is so busy catching up with a million different people and POVs that the story itself begins to feel lost. At this point, I will still finish off this series, but I feel pretty confident that unless there’s a major turn-around in the last book, this won’t be going down as as much of a favorite as its predecessor series.
Rating 6: Stumbles under the weight of its own increasing cast size.
“Stormcaster” isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists for some reason, but it is on “2018 – Sequels.”
Book: “All Night Party” (Fear Street #43) by R.L. Stine
Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, 1997
Where Did I Get This Book: An eBook from the library!
Book Description:It’s Cindy’s birthday, and her friends are throwing her a surprise party on Fire Island. It’s a private party — no parents, no cops…in fact, no one around for miles.
Except there’s a madman loose on the island. A murderer who quietly crashes the party. And he wants to dance with the birthday girl…
Had I Read This Before: No.
The Plot: New girl Gretchen is driving her minivan with her newly acquired friends Patrick, Gil, Hannah, and Jackson. Gretchen moved to Shadyside about few months back, but this group of friends really welcomed her into the fold. Now they’re driving to their friend Cindy’s house, who is having a birthday that week. Since her parents have left town on a business trip, this group of friends has decided to kidnap her for the night and take her to Fear Island for an all night party. Gretchen is a little distracted because she’s been getting weird hang up calls, and she wonders if it’s been Jackson, the one person in the group she doesn’t know too well, and who therein gives her ‘the creeps’. They arrive at Cindy’s house, find the spare key, and let themselves in (with Gretchen catching Jackson staring at her). They barge into Cindy’s room, and she protests as they tie a blindfold around her eyes, but she should thank her lucky stars that they didn’t gag her with a giant jawbreaker lest that become a problem later. But there is a problem, because Patrick pulls out a gun and presses it into Cindy’s side. When Gretchen and Hannah start yelling at him, he tells them that it isn’t loaded or anything, he thought it would make the kidnapping look ‘more realistic’. After he puts the gun away, they tell Cindy they’re taking her to an all night birthday party, and she seems to forget about the gun that was until a few seconds ago jammed in her side. We’re in for a doozy here, folks.
Once they’re in the minivan Cindy asks if she can take the blindfold off but the others say no. She whines a bit, and Hannah seems annoyed. Gretchen hasn’t quite mapped out the complicated landscape that is Hannah and Cindy’s friendship, as they seem to be more like bitter enemies than friends, but hey, sometimes that’s how high school is. What makes matters more complex is that Gil is Hannah’s boyfriend, but up until recently he’d been going out with Cindy until Cindy dumped his ass. Hannah, there are so many issues with this. Gretchen asks Patrick why he brought the gun, and he is hesitant to tell them lest is ruin their fun night’, but after prodding he tells them his motivation. His father is a police officer living in Waynesbridge, and while he was visiting Patrick that day he told him that a convicted killer escaped from prison and had been spotted in the Fear Street Woods. His Dad gave him the gun for protection in case they run into the killer on Fear Island. Gretchen is more concerned about the fact he ruined the surprise than the potential killer on the loose. Cindy asks what this guy did, and Patrick tells them that he murdered three teenage girls. They all argue about whether they should change their plans, but Cindy says that the guy probably wants to get out of dodge so why would he go to Fear Island. Most of the others agree, though Hannah and Gretchen are reticent, for pretty okay reasons, but they arrive at the dock and all jump in a boat to row out to the island. Cindy complains about being cold since she left her coat in the car, and Gil gives her his and says that he could ‘warm her up’ in other ways, and poor Hannah is angry about this, of course. Patrick then jokes that he sees a shark because I guess he thinks they’re on Lake Zambezi or some shit. Cindy asks if Gretchen’s boyfriend Marco is coming, and Gretchen gets tense. Marco is your typical bad boy with long hair and a motorcycle, but Gretchen has realized that bad boys generally don’t give a shit about the ladies who want to save them and thinks she may need to break up with him. Suffice to say, she didn’t invite him to the party.
They land on the island and Gretchen runs ahead to light the candles on the cake. Jackson offers to walk with her and she is SO CREEPED OUT by the offer (after all it’s not like there’s the potential for a crazy person who kills women to be on the island or anything) she says no. She walks into the cabin, but the lights won’t turn on. She starts into the cabin to try and find a candle, but then someone grabs her in the darkness! She screams, convinced the killer has her, but no, it’s something that in some ways is worse: it’s Marco. She yells at him for scaring her since there’s a killer on the loose, but given that Patrick’s Dad told him to keep it quiet Marco couldn’t have known that. And I guess it was Gretchen’s Mom who narced on her and told him where she was, and he thought it would be fun to surprise her so he hid his boat and waited at the cabin. The others arrive and Cindy is so excited to see Marco. Gretchen sets up candles all around the room and they get the cake all lit, ready to celebrate her birthday. Cindy says that she’ll remember it as long as she lives, and it’s heavily implied that that may not be as long as she thinks….
Gretchen still is creeped out by Jackson who isn’t saying much but is watching the others. She thinks he’s studying them, and he says he’s going to build a fire for the hotdogs. Gretchen and Hannah go into the kitchen to prepare the dinner, and Hannah asks her why Marco is there. Gretchen tells her about her narc Mom, and they agree that hopefully Gretchen can just avoid him. They bring the food out and start roasting. Cindy and Gil continue to flirt, and when Hannah tries to exert her authority as girlfriend Cindy reminds her that she and Gil dated for SIX months while Hannah has only been with him for one. Hannah rushes to the kitchen, and Gretchen follows her. She asks Hannah if she’s upset that Gil is flirting with Cindy (as she would have every RIGHT to!), but Hannah says that Cindy is an even bigger dick than that. Apparently Hannah tried to win a scholarship that would have made it possible for her to go to college, but when Cindy heard that Hannah wanted it SHE applied, and SHE won. The kicker is that Cindy’s family already has more than enough money to send her to college, and Cindy didn’t need the scholarship. Hannah says that sometimes she wishes that Cindy was dead, and when Gretchen says that she doesn’t mean that, Hannah replies with ‘don’t I?’
They go back into the main room just in time for Cindy to open her gifts and be a totally ungrateful bitch about all of them, making snarky commentary about all of them. The earrings from Gretchen are ‘great’, but the perfume from Hannah ‘makes her break out’. The rock concert tickets from Gil and Jackson are met with neutrality (ROCK CONCERT TICKETS ARE NOT CHEAP, GIRL), and she doesn’t care that Patrick didn’t wrap his gift so he will give it to her later. Marco’s box of slasher movies (LOL) is met with derision. They put on the music and Gretchen tries to get out of dancing with Marco but he won’t take no for an answer. As they dance she watches Gil and Hannah dance, and sees Cindy glaring at them. She dumped Gil because he and his friends stole a car and Cindy’s parents were livid, so Cindy broke it off. Now it seems she’s having second thoughts. Gretchen notices Jackson looking at her, and she gets freaked out again. She says that she’s going to gather fire wood, and Hannah and Gil say that they will join her on their way to look at the stars at the dock (though Gil and Cindy continue to openly flirt). After they part ways, Gretchen gathers some wood and starts to return, but under the kitchen window she hears arguing. It’s definitely Cindy, and Gretchen is convinced that the male voice is Jackson. She then hears a slap, and wonders if she should go intervene, but remembers that Patrick and Marco are inside and they can do so. She decides to take more time alone in the woods, and is scared by Marco again. She is pissed, because he now knows about the prisoner, but he tells her to lighten up. She then dumps his ass, and he takes out his switchblade and starts stabbing a tree with it. He then walks back towards the cabin, and she for whatever reason tries to talk to him, but he isn’t interested.
They get back to the cabin and find it basically empty. Marco suggests that everyone else went for a walk and sits and sulks by the fire place. Gretchen goes to set up the dessert, but when she enters the kitchen she finds CINDY DEAD ON THE FLOOR, STABBED TO DEATH AND SPRAWLED IN FLOUR. She pukes, and then runs into the main room, where Marco holds her as she screams. Patrick comes upstairs asking what happened, and then Gretchen notices the blood on his shirt! She asks him how he got it, and he says he cut his palm trying to open an upstairs window, and shows her his bandaged hand. Marco goes to investigate, and Patrick stays with Gretchen in the main room. He says that it must be the escaped prisoner. Gil and Hannah come back, and Gretchen tells them what happened. Gretchen says that they have to call the police, but Patrick says that they can’t. When Gretchen asks why he hugs her and says that there are no phones on Fear Island. Gretchen says they can row back to shore, but a rain storm has started and Patrick says that the killer is outside and it’s not safe. He reminds them that they have the gun, as he did bring bullets. Then Jackson comes back with more firewood, and when they tell him what happened he doesn’t react in the histrionic way everyone else has, so Gretchen is IMMEDIATELY suspicious. Patrick says that they have to wait until tomorrow, and when they don’t come back their parents will wonder where they are and send the police after them. This is stupid as hell, but the others agree. They search the house to make sure the killer isn’t inside, and decide to wait it out.
But Gretchen thinks that she sees something outside, and HAS to investigate. She goes outside, and then Jackson is next to her, scolding her for going out on her own when there is a potential killer in the woods. They go back inside, and Gretchen thinks about the fight he had with Cindy that she overheard. After the others come back into the room, Marco says that he has questions for Patrick, because he didn’t see any blood on the window sill. Patrick says he cleaned it all up. Gretchen starts to fall into a paranoid spiral, thinking of all the motives those around her could have had for killing Cindy. After all, Hannah lost the scholarship and Gil was still interested in Cindy, and then there’s Jackson, who is just CREEPY. She decides to focus on him, and brings up the argument she heard. Jackson that he didn’t argue with Cindy, and Gretchen is adamant that she heard him. He says it wasn’t him, and is she calling him a liar? Patrick says that he was outside so it couldn’t have been him, and everyone else has alibis. Hannah keeps crying and Gil tells her to shut up because she and Cindy were fighting so how is she so sad? Hannah says that Cindy never cared about him and was only flirting with him to get back at Hannah, and GIL says that he doesn’t even like her and he liked Cindy, he was going to dump her, and he hopes the killer gets her next.
They all eventually agree that sticking together is the best plan. Jackson wants to check the body one more time, and they all trudge into the kitchen. Gretchen then notices a baseball can in Cindy’s hand, and Cindy wasn’t wearing a cap before. It may belong to the killer! Patrick owns up to it belonging to him, and they all think that he must be the killer. He says he has no idea how Cindy got his hat, as he put it on the hook in the front room. Gretchen notices that Cindy is also wearing a jacket that isn’t hers, so maybe she grabbed it and the hat to step outside in the rain. But Marco says that there’s no reason for her to have it after unless she was trying to give a clue to who the killer is, so it has to be Patrick because of that AND the blood on his shirt. He reminds them that he has a gun, so why would he stab her with a bread knife? They ask him how he knew what she was stabbed with, and he says he saw the knife missing! They back off, saying that they’re sorry and all on edge. But then they notice a boot print in the flour on the floor. Whose boot has flour on it? Gretchen goes to check his boots. And indeed, there is flour on the sole. And guess whose does? PATRICK’S! He still claims that he didn’t do it, but the others tie him to a chair a la “The Thing”. The decide to go through his stuff, and as Gretchen is going through his backpack she finds a note! It’s from Cindy, and it says that she can’t keep their secret anymore and is going to tell her parents. Was Patrick seeing Cindy secretly? They then find a bloody break knife in his sleeping bag!!! They confront him with the evidence, but he says that there wasn’t anything going on between him and Cindy so the note has to be fake. And on top of that, WHY would he leave all this damning evidence around? He begs Gretchen to untie him because if he was the killer he wouldn’t be so careless. The others aren’t convinced, but he’s making sense to Gretchen. She lets him look at the note, and he points out that the i in her name in the note isn’t dotted with hearts, which was Cindy’s trademark (GAG ME). The compare the note to some history notes in Cindy’s bag, and while the writing looks very close, it isn’t the same. The y’s are wrong too. So someone must be framing him. They show that to Patrick, and they untie him. Also, Hannah has disappeared. Gil freaks out, worried that the killer is going to get her, and they find a note from her that says she’s too scared to stay and is bolting.
As they’re getting ready to go find Hannah, Gretchen wonders if maybe Hannah is the killer and left because she felt guilty. Then she sees Jackson staring at her. She starts to freak out, and he says that she ‘must suspect…’, but before he can finish she runs out hte door and into the night. She realizes that he’s following her, and she trips and falls down a hill (goddamn it this is so stupid). Jackson is soon on top of her, but it’s because he also fell and not because he’s attacking her. He asks why she ran and she tells him she was scared of him because he’s always staring at her, and he admits that he does that because he’s had a crush on her ever since she moved there. He was about to tell her in the cabin when she bolted. He’d planned on telling her that night because he heard her talking to Hannah and Cindy about how she wanted to dump Marco. So when Marco ended up there he got upset, and then, you know, CINDY DIED. Gretchen lets him know that she did dump Marco, but they should probably focus on not dying before they do anything about that. They start back for the cabin, and then hear Hannah screaming. Gretchen grabs a rock to use as a weapon, but when they run back inside the cabin they find the others pulling another “The Thing” kinda deal and are trying to tie Hannah up! Gil says that while they were at the dock she left him to go get a sweater, and that could have been plenty of time to kill Cindy and plant all that evidence to frame Patrick! But Hannah says that when she got back to the dock with her sweater, GIL was gone, so HE could have done it! And the accusation wheel in the sky keeps on turning. Gretchen goes to her purse to get some chapstick, but then finds a note. She reads it, and then turns to Patrick, asking him why he killed Cindy. He says that they settled this, but she holds up the note. It’s one he left her saying he’d bring stuff for the party, and it’s the same handwriting as the note they found earlier. He framed himself. And he says that maybe he did, and pulls the gun on them!
So apparently Cindy found out something about his past, and she also pretended to like him but went out with Gil instead. She’d also continuously tease him and remind him about whatever he’d done. He’d planned to kill her once they made plans for the party. He almost changed his mind and tried to kiss her in the kitchen, but she laughed at him and told him that she’d never kiss him. When he tried to stop her from leaving, she slapped him. So it was PATRICK that Gretchen heard. He then stabbed her. And now he’s going to have to kill ALL OF THEM!! But before he can shoot, two deus ex machinas police officers enter the cabin! Patrick turns the gun on them but Gretchen knocks him down. The police wrestle the gun out of his hands. When asked if they are there because of the killer in the woods, the police say that they haven’t heard of such a thing. Yes, Patrick made it up. The cops are actually there because Patrick stole his Dad’s gun and he reported it. And apparently the big secret was that Patrick set a fire in Waynesbridge and he thought that Cindy knew about it. But Hannah says that Cindy didn’t know jack about Patrick, she teased him because she liked him. So the book ends with the remaining friends all together, contemplating the existentialism of life. “Party’s Over”, says Gretchen. The End.
Guys… Okay, this is just… The sheer laziness and rubber stamp plotting of this book was just flabbergasting to me. And then, THEN, to not have any kind of twist or supernatural element, to just have it be Patrick…. I can’t. I did not like this. So let’s just get this break down over with.
Body Count: 1.
Romance Rating: 3, only because Jackson and Gretchen seem to be on track for an okay relationship assuming the shared trauma of the party doesn’t ruin it.
Bonkers Rating: 2. Nothing bonkers here, just the stupidity of everyone involved. There wasn’t a supernatural element OR a huge twist!
Fear Street Relevance: 7 given that the action takes place on Fear Island and there was talk of the not real killer hiding in Fear Woods.
Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:
“Cindy ripped off the red bow and lifted the lid of the box. She peeked inside- and her mouth dropped open in disgust.
‘Ohhhh. Gross!’ she moaned.”
…. And it was just a bunch of slasher movies, and listen Cindy, if YOU don’t want them, I will take them!
That’s So Dated! Moments: Sadly, this was one of those “Fear Street” books that was so bland and sparse that there really were no details outside the plot at hand. Maybe the fact that the slasher movies were video tapes?
Best Quote: This is going to sound super harsh, but nothing about this book was good, so it goes without saying that there weren’t any ‘best’ quotes.
Conclusion: “All Night Party” was haphazard and lazy, definitely up there with the worst of the worst “Fear Street” novels. Skip it. Up next, in honor of the season, is the Fear Street Super Chiller “Silent Night”!
The holiday season is officially upon us! And here in Minnesota, this is the one bright side of the onslaught of cold weather and dark evenings. But between decorating, holiday parties, and an excessive amount of baked goods, we still, of course, found time to look ahead to books we want to get our hands on this month! Here are our picks for December.
Book: “Fire and Heist” by Sarah Beth Durst
Publication Date: December 4, 2018
Why I’m Interested: Other than the fact that Durst is one of the author’s whose new books I always keep an eye out for, the title alone should probably say enough. A fantasy novel featuring a heist story? After my ravings about “Six of Crows,” my love for these types of stories should come as no surprise. Here, we have a protagonist, Sky, whose entire family has a long history of stealing treasure. So much so, that one’s first heist is essentially a coming-of-age moment. And for the fantasy element, Sky is a wyvern, a human capable of turning into a dragon. So, yeah. That all sounds pretty cool and I’ll be reading it ASAP.
Book: “Once Upon a River” by Diane Setterfield
Publication Date: December 4, 2018
Why I’m Interested: I think this book is technically categorized as literary fiction. But with its folklore-ish description of an inn where stories abound and where a stranger appears with a seemingly drowned girl who miraculously comes back to life hours later, it sounds like one of those genre-crossing stories that might be just up my alley. I haven’t read Setterfield’s popular “The Thirteenth Tale,” but I know people rave about it. So this book looks like just as good of an entry point to her work as any. Not to mention, that cover is absolutely to die for.
Book: “Splendor and Spark” by Mary Taranta
Publication Date: December 4, 2018
Why I’m Interested: For one thing, another beautiful cover! For two, this is another of those weird examples where I’m highlighting the second book in a series when I have yet to post a review for the first. Alas, these things happen. But hopefully my review for the first will be coming shortly, and in the mean time, I’m still super excited for this sequel. At its heart, it’s a fantasy story featuring the complicated emotions between two sisters. There’s romance, magic, and intrigue. Plus a very hateable villain. I also love the fact that its a duology, so this book should conclude the story. Not everything has to be a trilogy people!
Book: “Clueless: One Last Summer” by Amber Benson and Sarah Kuhn
Publication Date: December 4, 2018
Why I’m Interested: I’m sure you all remember that “Clueless” is one of my favorite movies, and that I was pretty satisfied with the first graphic novel that was based upon it. Given that it focused the stories on Cher, Dionne, and Tai, and didn’t make their main focus romantic, I thought that it was a fun, girl power romp. So when I found out that Amber Benson and Sarah Kuhn wrote another collection, this one taking place during the summer before college, I really wanted to get my hands on it. I hope that they can keep the fun kitsch up, and that it’s another worthy follow up that showcases my personal hero and idol Cher Horowitz.
Book: “Deadfall” by Stephen Wallenfels
Publication Date: December 10, 2018
Why I’m Interested: When two brothers, hiding secrets and on the run, come upon a car accident, they are hoping to help in any way they can. And then a noise starts coming from the trunk. What they find inside sends them into a situation more dangerous than they could have ever imagined. You had me at noise in the trunk. I love thrillers, especially thrillers that involve survival horror AND do-gooders trying to help only to find out that no good deed goes unpunished. It seems like it’s going to be the kind of book that I’m going to really enjoy reading on a snowy winter night.
Book: “Watching You” by Lisa Jewell
Publication Date: December 26, 2018
Why I’m Interested: Lisa Jewell has kind of flown under my radar when it comes to thriller novels. I’ve seen her books at the library and on my Goodreads feed, but I haven’t as of yet picked one up by her. But “Watching You” is probably going to be the one to change that, as it sounds creepy and dark. My favorite things! A well loved head master name Tom Fitzwilliam is living in a high end neighborhood, and his new neighbor Joey has found herself very attracted to him. But one of his students, Jenna, is convinced that Mr. Fitzwilliam has secrets that he’s hiding, dangerous secrets, and that he may be a predator. It sounds like it has multiple unreliable narrators AND a weird stalker who will set my teeth on edge, which I LOVE.
What books are you looking forward to this month? Let us know in the comments!