Where Did I Get This Book: An audiobook from the library!
Book Description:Monday Charles is missing, and only Claudia seems to notice. Claudia and Monday have always been inseparable—more sisters than friends. So when Monday doesn’t turn up for the first day of school, Claudia’s worried. When she doesn’t show for the second day, or second week, Claudia knows that something is wrong. Monday wouldn’t just leave her to endure tests and bullies alone. Not after last year’s rumors and not with her grades on the line. Now Claudia needs her best—and only—friend more than ever. But Monday’s mother refuses to give Claudia a straight answer, and Monday’s sister April is even less help.
As Claudia digs deeper into her friend’s disappearance, she discovers that no one seems to remember the last time they saw Monday. How can a teenage girl just vanish without anyone noticing that she’s gone?
Review:Tiffany D. Jackson, as you may recall, blew me away with her debut novel “Allegedly” back at the beginning of 2017. The story of Mary and her haunted past of being convicted of killing a baby was raw and unforgiving, and I knew that I absolutely needed to follow Jackson in her writing career because of her ability to weave modern themes of injustice into her stories. I thought that I was going to be ready for “Monday’s Not Coming”. I thought that I was going to be able to brace myself and handle whatever it was she threw at me given the gut punch that was “Allegedly”. And I was wrong, but wrong in the best way possible.
Jackson’s story about a missing girl and her determined best friend once again takes relevant social issues and applies them to a gritty and dark mystery. Claudia always comes off as a realistic teenage girl, her insecurities and her joys and her sadness and worry all culminating in ways that feel incredibly honest. Intense friendships in your childhood can be both magical and damaging, as while you have that person who may know you best, you also run the risk of relying too much on them, and the complicated center of that is very present as Claudia looks for Monday. I both wanted to shake Claudia and hug her as the story went on, as she makes so many bad decisions, but those decisions are rooted in very true to life realities. She wants to find her best friend, but there is only so much she can do on her own, so when those around her either can’t help or won’t help her powerlessness is painful and palpable. There is a sub theme in this book about her learning differences as well, which was a really refreshing theme to address. Perhaps it’s because I have a litany of diagnoses in this regard, but I loved how it made Claudia all the more well rounded, but never made her seem ‘special’ or used as a device to make her pitiable. Jackson just had it be part of her story, and connected it to why she was so reliant on Monday and how her disappearance is made all the worse for Claudia.
The story is told in a couple of different timelines, labeled as ‘The Before’, ‘The After’, and ‘Before The Before’, and while at some points it felt hard to follow it eventually becomes very clear as to how they all fit together. It adds another mysterious undercurrent to the centered ‘what happened to Monday’ aspect of this book, and while on audiobook it felt confusing at times (with no easy ability to go back and forth to remind myself which timeline I was in) I liked how it constructed the narrative. The clues about where Monday is are to be found in all of the timelines, and while I was pretty certain I knew how things were going to end up, I did find myself wavering in my deductions and speculations, enough so that it felt like every reveal was new and interesting. The mystery, too, is a very powerful way for Jackson to address an all too familiar reality when it comes to missing black girls in our society, in that they don’t get nearly as much attention as their white counterparts. Claudia is one of the few people actually trying to get to the bottom of where Monday is, and the fact that a missing teenage girl is so easily swept under the rug reminds us that there are still many racial disparities that need to be addressed in our society. So, too, is the very prevalent social issue of gentrification addressed in this story, as Monday’s family lives in a poorer part of town that is being bought up by real estate developers who want to bring in wealthier (i.e. white) tenants. This stress is just another factor that makes people more likely to look away from the situation at hand. I will say that with two kind of big reveals it felt a LITTLE bit overrun with twists, but ultimately I wasn’t upset with the two just because I bought them for the most part. I think that had this been written by a less talented author I may have been less forgiving, but as it is it didn’t hinder my overall enjoyment.
I should also note that the woman who narrated this, Imani Parks, did a wonderful job. Her voices were varied and she pulled out the right emotions from all of them. While I mentioned before that the audiobook format made it harder to keep track of the various timelines, I don’t think that I lost anything by listening to it as opposed to reading it.
“Monday’s Not Coming” was another emotional and wrenching novel from Tiffany D. Jackson. I was crying in the car as I listened to it, so if you do pick it up, make sure to have tissues on hand. Can’t wait to see what she comes out with next.
Rating 9: An emotional mystery with all too relevant themes, “Monday’s Not Coming” is another gut punch of a novel by the talented Tiffany D. Jackson.
Book: “The Wolf in the Whale” by Jordanna Max Brodsky
Publishing Info: Redhook, January 2019
Where Did I Get this Book: ARC from the publisher!
Book Description: Born with the soul of a hunter and the language of the gods, Omat is destined to become a shaman like her grandfather. To protect her people, she invokes the spirits of the sky, the sea, and the air.
But the gods have stopped listening, the seals won’t come, and Omat’s family is starving.
Desperate to save them, Omat journeys through the icy wastes, fighting for survival with every step. When she meets a Viking warrior and his strange new gods, together they set in motion a conflict that could shatter her world…or save it.
The Wolf in the Whale is a powerful tale of magic, discovery and adventure, featuring an unforgettable narrator ready to confront the gods themselves.
Review: I was very excited when I received a ARC of this book. I wasn’t familiar with the author, but the brief description was immediately intriguing. I’ve found very few fantasy/historical novels (especially adult fiction, for some reason) that focus on the culture and history of the Inuit people. What’s more, the ancient trips of the Vikings to North America are included, another topic that I’ve rarely come across. And, now a resident of Minnesota where the Vikings and their previous trips here are kind of a big deal, this book felt like a no-brainer. And I’m pleased to report that not only did it live up to my excitement, but it surpassed it!
Omat’s being is made up of many parts, but most especially she carries the spirit of her deceased father in herself. This duel nature between a man’s spirit and a woman’s body has not prevented her from contributing to her small, family group, struggling to survive, mostly alone, out on the tundra. But when their small life is intruded upon by strangers, Omat’s role, shaman abilities, and future are suddenly, horribly, called into question. Now alone in the world, it is up to Omat to carve her own path to save her people and to merge the powerful spirits she’s walked with her entire life with the new deities being carried to her world from across the frozen sea.
One of the primary themes in this book is identity, most especially called into light through Omat’s journey of self-discovery and self-acceptance. The religious beliefs of her people state that the spirits of the deceased can come to life again in a newly born person. That person is then both the new embodiment of that being but also still their new self at the same time. For Omat, this complicated balance is made more difficult by the spirit inhabiting her coming from her father, a man who had been an important provider for their poor family group before his unexpected death. Omat is thus raised as a man, developing both the important and necessary roles of shaman and hunger and garnering the respect that comes along with these duties, but also acquiring the same dismissal attitude towards the womens’ work accomplished by the women in their family. I particularly enjoyed how this tension played out throughout the story, as we see Omat’s struggles to retain the independence and respect that came with her man’s role, but slowly learns to respect and see with a new eyes the crucial roles that women play. The author also neatly avoids falling into any traps that would make Omat’s journey of self-discovery feel too modern or anachronistic. Instead, it feels like a natural path for a character in her position in the time. Meaning, of course, that while she comes to a balance for herself, she is still an exception, even in her own eyes, to the traditional roles assigned to each group. It was a fascinating journey.
The story itself neatly weaves in fantastical elements that pull from Inuit folk tales and religious beliefs. These then, eventually, mix with the Vikings’ own belief system, and we even see the beginning tendrils of spreading Christianity and how that rubs up against these two other, older beliefs. Again, the author presented an interesting balance between exploring faith but also presenting walking/talking gods in the more recognizable, fantasy-based way. The Inuit folklore was especially strong, with several of the tales introduced in the beginning of the book coming to life throughout the story and playing a major role in influencing the outcomes of certain events. I also enjoyed the romantic story that is introduced about halfway through, perfectly balancing itself within the greater story as a whole without overshadowing Omat or her journey.
This was almost a perfect read for me, but there were a few dings against it that came out mostly in the first half of the book. For one, it is slow to get started. There’s a good third of the book to get through before the real action begins to take place, and while this portion is laying important groundwork, it simply read slowly and delayed my full immersion into the story.
I also wish that the publisher had marketed this book differently. Since it’s all out in the open anyways, it’s no spoiler that Omat is a woman. But the way the story plays out, in the beginning chapters of the book, readers, and Omat herself to some extent, aren’t aware that the main character is female. The reveal is then ruined by our previous knowledge from the book’s marketing. I’m guessing this was just a risk the publisher didn’t want to take, but I think that it underestimates readers and severely undercuts what could have been a great reveal, and one that tied neatly to the major themes of the book (our perceptions of gender roles).
The last thing wasn’t so much a mark against the book as a general warning: there are a few fairly graphic scenes dealing with violence and assault against women. Readers can kind of get a sense that the story is headed in this direction, but these scenes were still very hard to read.
But, those quibbles aside, I adored this book! The setting felt fresh and new, and Omat’s journey was both exciting as an adventure and fascinating as an introspection into the roles of men and women. If you enjoy historical fantasy, and especially if you’re longing for something new, NOT set in medieval Europe, definitely give “The Wolf in the Whale” a try!
Rating 9: Simply excellent! I’ll definitely be on the look-out for more books from this author!
Marty never liked the cat—it always got in the way at basketball practice. But he never meant to kill it.
Now Marty thinks he’s going crazy. He sees cats everywhere. He knows they want revenge.
Too bad Marty doesn’t have nine lives. Because his first one is almost over.
Had I Read This Before: No
The Plot: When we meet our protagonist Marty, right out the gate in the prologue he’s talking about how much he hates cats. So from the get go, I don’t trust him and/or despise him. I get that he’s allergic, but he also doesn’t like them because they are ‘evil looking’, and are always ‘slinking around’. But he assures us that he didn’t mean to KILL that cat even if it drove him crazy, and that he’s now paying for it.
We now jump into the story itself. Marty is on the Shadyside Tigers basketball team with his BFFs Dwayne and Barry, and Coach Griffin is being really hard of “The Three Musketeers” because they have a big game on Friday. Marty and his friends are the best players on the team, but Marty is the star, so much so that people will sit in the bleachers and watch him during practice, like Kit Morrisey, one of the prettiest girls in school and one that Marty is very obviously fixated on. Gayle Edgerton and Riki Crawford walk into the gym, which isn’t good for Marty because he went out with Riki and then ghosted her. Gayle is hoping to write a story for the school paper about Marty, Dwayne, and Barry, and how they’re best friends and star players, but before they can start the stray cat that has been living under the bleachers runs out and causes a Benny Hill-like chase scene. The cat has been supposedly living in the gym for awhile now, and to that I say ‘no way’. Stine tries to play if off as really clever and no one can catch it, and that the kids leave it food and water, but I’m telling you a live trap would do the trick so something’s going on. The chase the cat but then Coach Griffin tells them to knock it off and focus on practice. Marty is paranoid that Riki is telling Gayle all about the kind of prick he was after they went out, and is so distracted by this concern he doesn’t see the cat dart back in front of him. He trips and lands on his knee, injuring himself like a dummy. Coach Griffin says that he may not be able to play in Friday’s game, and Marty blames the cat. As his friends and Gayle and Riki help him to a seat, he tells them that he may not have actually gotten the basketball scholarship he claimed he got so he NEEDS to play (and tells Gayle she can’t write that in her story). They see the cat again, and the boys chase it up the bleachers with Gayle telling them to stop. Marty grabs it saying that this is all it’s fault, and the cat, being a cat, squirms and claws at his forehead. He stumbles towards the edge of the bleachers, and loses his balance. He drops the cat and grabs Dwayne’s hand, but the cat falls off the top and lands with a crack on the floor. Gayle proclaims that it’s dead and that Marty threw it off the bleachers, killing it. Marty protests that it was an accident (kind of like when the cat tripped you, you sonofabitch?!), but Dwayne thinks that now is the time to make jokes about ‘roadkill stew’. Gayle says that Marty is a monster, and Marty insists that he LOVES animals and that he didn’t mean to do it. All the while, Dwayne asks Gayle if she’d like to make a fur coat out of the cat and makes jokes like ‘cat got your tongue’, and MY. GOD. Riki tells Marty she thought she knew him, but she guesses not, and Marty says he isn’t sad the cat is dead but he didn’t kill it. Gayle says he won’t get away with this, and she and Riki run out of the gym. The boys toss the cat in the trash can.
At school the next day Marty is instantly shunned and snubbed by his classmates and even his teachers! Gayle has worked her magic and I am living for it. Everyone knows that he killed the cat and now he’s Public Enemy Number 1. He complains to Dwayne and Barry that Gayle as gone too far, and Dwayne continues to make nasty cat jokes. They inform Marty that Gayle is the president of the Animal Rights Club at school, and they all figure that she’s probably seen an uptick in membership because of this. Gayle even goes so far as to make flyers with his face on them as well as mutilated animals, and that may be a bit much. Marty finds Gayle and says that he thought they were friends, and Gayle informs him that they sure aren’t anymore and that he’ll be hearing from her soon. Riki tells Marty to cool it and to focus on getting his knee better for the game next week, and ALSO tells him that she DOES think he killed the cat but the playoffs are more important, so he needs to play. Marty gets so riled up at her continued berating that his scratch wound opens and he starts bleeding. After he cleans himself up he is confronted by Coach Griffin, who says that he believes that he didn’t mean to kill the cat, but that if the papers find out about this it will be a BIG problem for Marty and the team. He tells Marty to face the Animal Rights Club’s charges against him in front of the Student Court. The problem with this is that it’s packed with Gayle’s friends, so Marty doesn’t think that he will get a fair shake and that none of this is his fault. I think that someone needs to explain to Marty Intent vs Impact.
At the Student Court in the gym things seem far more official than I imagine the Discipline Committee at my high school ever was (though I never had to stand before them; my detentions were sentences that didn’t stem from a day in court). Dwayne and Barry testify, as do Riki and Gayle, and Marty thinks that Gayle is perjuring herself when she says he threw the cat over the side but you did, Blanche, you did! The ‘attorney’ for the Animal Rights Council, Jessica, asks him if he did or did not say he was going to ‘get rid of’ the cat, and he can’t deny that. But somehow he’s still found not guilty for the murder of the cat, yet guilty for animal cruelty. He’s sentenced to 30 hours of community service at the animal shelter, and I’m not sure that this is at all enforceable, but it does seem like a fair sentence. Marty is pissed, and then is horrified when he sees the cat under the bleachers, staring at him! He tells everyone that the cat is alive after all, but they don’t see the cat and tell him that he isn’t funny.
Marty is sitting on the sidelines at practice working on homework, when Jessica sits next to him. She tells him that being the prosecutor for Student Court was something she had to do for a class, and she didn’t actually want to get him into trouble. They talk and flirt, but Marty notices Riki staring at them. When they call to her she leaves, and Jessica asks what HER problem is. After practice ends she leaves, and Marty tries to study but hears cat noises. It might have been the girls behind him, but was it really? Coach tells him that he will try and get his sentence reduced, but Marty says that he should serve all of it. That night at home Marty gets a phone call, and it’s Riki, who is berating him for flirting with other girls when they aren’t even together. She saw him with Jessica, and knows that he has a thing for Kit as well. He tells her he’s sorry that it didn’t work out between them, and she yells some more and why is she still so invested in this guy who killed a cat? Get better taste!
The next night Marty goes the the basketball game. He’s benched because of his knee, but that doesn’t stop the other team from meowing at him. Eventually he and Jessica talk and she asks if he’s actually dating a girl named Lisa, and he tells her no, and she’s happy to hear it. She also tells him that once Gayle’s rally is done things will probably calm down, but he didn’t do himself any favors when he claimed he saw the cat. He insists that he DID see the cat though. That night Marty is hanging out in his room when he hears to cats yowling and fighting outside his window. He then hears a clatter against the glass, but it’s just Dwayne and Barry, the creeps. Marty climbs out his window and they tell him they’re going to The Corner, a hot hang out spot for Shadyside teens, and THE HELL IT IS! I’ve never heard of this place! If it isn’t Red Heat or Pete’s Pizza it’s NOT a hot spot. Dwayne and Barry also have questions about his cat related freak out at Student Court. Marty tells them that he saw the cat, but they are skeptical… Until they are all walking home, and a cat drops from a tree on top of Barry’s head!!! He manages to get away from it, and asks Marty if it was the cat, and Dwayne says it CAN’T be, but bitches, you are in Shadyside, it absolutely CAN be.
The next day Marty starts his community service at the animal shelter. His supervisor, Carolyn, tells him to sweep the floors and feed the animals, and call her if any animals seem to be ill or sick. As he’s sweeping, however, the animals start freaking out at him because they KNOW he’s no good. He calls Carolyn to come back and help him, but of course, when she arrives they have stopped.
At school on Monday Marty tells his idiot friends about this and they don’t really know what to say. A bigger development, however, is that Kit Morrissey, back in school after a bout with the Flu, now has HER eyes set on Marty. She asks him what happened to his knee, and he keeps things close to the vest regarding his animal cruelty and just says he hurt it at practice. They hang out at The Corner (STOP TRYING TO MAKE THE CORNER HAPPEN) and have a wonderful time together. Marty notices Riki sitting in a back booth and glaring at them both, but who cares? He accompanies Kit back to her house, but when he walks inside he sees a LOT of cats.
She says that they are all hers, and that they’re freaking out because they’re hungry. Marty knows better, and bolts.
FOR SOME REASON, Marty, Dwayne, and Barry think that stealing a bunch of rats from the biology lab and setting them loose on the Animal Rights Club is a really good way to show that Marty has been unfairly maligned. Gayle says that she’s going to get them for this, and Marty is unfazed. He has another date with Kit that day and she LOVES this prank. They hang out some more, and even arrange a date for that weekend, and Kit kisses him when he drops her off. He isn’t interested in Jessica anymore because Kit has all of his thoughts. But as he’s walking home he realizes that he’s being followed by a bunch of cats. He makes a break for it, and while they chase him and do manage to get a few swipes in, they disappear pretty fast.
Things are going fine for Marty. He and his dick friends didn’t get in trouble for the rats, and while Jessica and Riki are still mad at him that’s okay because he’s with Kit now. And even though he still gets the occasional midnight phone call with a cat meowing on the line, things could be worse! He’s even back to playing on the team, and they win a huge game! Everyone celebrates in the locker room but then they go their separate ways, and Marty is driving home when he remembers he left his books in his gym locker. So he goes back to the school, and sees Gayle sprinting across the parking lot. He goes into the dark gym, and fumbles for the light…. but when the lights come on he sees Dwayne!!! He’s dead, and it looks like he’s been clawed to death! It’s then that Marty hears another disembodied meow!
Barry thinks that Gayle is the one who killed Dwayne, but Marty knows that it had to be a cat. Kit is very understanding and empathetic, and says to call her if he needs her, even if it’s just to talk. Marty knows that he has to confront Gayle, so he goes to her house. But when she opens the door she bursts into tears. She apologizes for how she’s been acting, and says she feels so awful that he found his best friend’s body like that. He asks her why she was running from the school that night, and she explains that she had been training for gymnastics and forgot about a babysitting job she was late for. She says that if she hadn’t been in such a rush maybe she would have seen who killed Dwayne.
After the funeral Coach Griffin gives the team armbands to wear in honor of Dwayne. Marty isn’t sure that he will be as good now that Dwayne is gone, but Barry says Dwayne would have wanted them to do their best. The team promises to play as hard as they can for Dwayne. Gayle, Riki, and other kids watch them practice, amped for the big games, and once practice is over Barry asks if Marty wants to study with him, but he has a shift at the animal shelter and says he’ll come by after. Barry asks for a ride home, and Marty says sure, but hurry up. He waits for awhile but Barry doesn’t leave the gym. Marty goes back to look for him, and is worried that he’s going to find Barry dead next, but nope, Barry is preoccupied with Riki, as Marty walks in on them making out. Marty, relieved that Barry is alive AND that Riki has moved on, heads off for his shift.
Carolyn tells Marty that the new big dog, Brutus, isn’t to be trifled with because he’s violent and is going to be put to sleep. Marty is more than happy to do that, but as he’s cleaning up he realizes that he’s slowly being surrounded by cats. Someone has let them out of their cages, and they are poised to attack him. As he tries to defend himself with his broom, Carolyn walks in and all SHE sees is an animal abuser abusing more animals. She tells him to go with her to her office, and explains that she understands that he’s been through a shock, but it had to have been HIM who opened the cages. She tells him that he can come back when he feels better. So Marty goes to Barry’s house for their study session, and the door is open so he walks in. But wouldn’t you know it? Barry and Riki are in the middle of a heavy petting session instead. Marty tells them about what happened at the shelter, and they think that he’s losing it too. A nosy neighbor walks into the room, having seen the open front door, but Marty and Barry say everything is fine.
The next morning Marty is awakened by his mother, who has been crying. She tells him to come downstairs because there are cops in the living room that need to speak with him. Marty puts on some clothes, and walks to the living room. The cops tell him that Barry is dead, that he’s been clawed to pieces, AND that the nosy neighbor said that Marty was acting weird. The cops also bring up the fact that Marty killed a cat AND that he was the one to discover Dwayne’s body. But they also concede that Riki says that Marty left before she did, and that when she called Barry that night around 11:30 he was still alive, so really it seems like questioning Marty when he has an alibi is a big ol’ waste of time. They also mention that Marty had told Riki and Barry that the door was open when he arrived, but Riki swears that it was locked behind her. So perhaps the killer was in the house!!!!
School is cancelled that day, and Marty takes Kit up on her ‘call me if you need me’ offer. She is also devastated and says that if everyone was just nicer to each other things would be okay. He says that he can’t believe this all started because of the stupid cat that they all were complicit in killing (I may be embellishing his train of thought). At practice the next day Marty says that he doesn’t know if he can play with his best friends horrifically murdered, but after the team has a meeting they all decide to play for both Barry and Dwayne. Marty, overwhelmed with emotions, leaves the meeting, and runs into Gayle and Riki. They point out that two of the three Musketeers have been murdered, and Marty is the only one who is left. Does he think he could be next?
Deciding that he needs to take his mind off of his imminent mortality, Marty goes to the shelter to burn some more community service hours. Carolyn is surprised to see him, but says that he can sweep up. She also informs him that Brutus the Evil Dog may have a stay of execution, because someone who wants a vicious guard dog may be buying him to guard his store. HOW RESPONSIBLE, I don’t see anything going wrong with that decision. Carolyn leaves and Marty starts to sweep, but, of course, the cats start freaking out. Marty calls out, asking if someone is there. And lo and behold, there is. It’s Kit! He says that he’s glad to see her and asks why she’s there, and she tells him that it’s his ‘turn’. She then raises her hand and the animals stop. She reveals to him that he killed her, and that his friends laughed. Because KIT is THE CAT! She is a shapeshifter, one of the few shapeshifters left on Earth, and that she would shift into a cat to watch him play basketball because she liked him so much, and he killed her!!! She explains that she has nine lives, natch, and that’s why she was able to come back after he killed her. Marty thinks that Kit is nuts, but then she turns into her cat form and attacks him.
After Kit gets some good swipes in Marty is bleeding and dazed, but then when pulling himself up with the dog cage he sees Brutus. He lets Brutus out, and Brutus does the dirty work for him and snaps Kit’s neck in his teeth. Marty passes out.
The doctor gets him all stitched up and Marty just contends it was a cat. He doesn’t mention shapeshifters to his parents. Riki calls him after he gets home and after they talk awhile NOW Marty decides that she’s ‘terrific’. The big basketball tournament is that Friday and Marty starts out strong. But then he sees glowing eyes under the bleachers, and sees The Cat. With blood stained paws. Marty begins to scream. The End.
Body Count: I guess three, since the Cat and Kit are one and the same.
Romance Rating: 3, only because Barry and Riki had a good thing going there before he bit the dust.
Bonkers Rating: 7. Because SHAPESHIFTERS NOW?!
Fear Street Relevance: 3. Sure, Marty lives on Fear Street, but that was barely touched upon.
Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:
“Squinting hard, my eyes fell on a crumpled, still form at half court.
Oh no… not again! my mind screamed. ‘Nooooo!'”
… And then it’s just Barry’s green backpack!!! How did he mistake that for a body!?
That’s So Dated! Moments: It is said that Barry looks like ‘the dude that plays Superman on television’, and Stine HAS to be talking about Dean Cain, right?!
“‘You idiot,’ Gayle sneered. ‘Rats are vermin. Cats are beautiful, sensitive animals.'”
Hear hear!!! A girl after my own cat loving heart!
Conclusion: While I had high hopes for “Cat” given the subject matter, I found it to be lacking on the suspense and then REALLY out of left field with the ultimate conclusion. That said, if you like cats and like hearing about them stalking dumb boys, give in a whirl. Next up is “Fear Hall: The Beginning”!
While we do love us some books, believe it not, we do have a life outside of reading. So to highlight our other pop culture interests, on the last Monday of each month, we each will highlight three other “happenings” from the last month. Big events on favorite TV shows, new movies we’ve watched, old movies we’ve “discovered,” etc. Pretty much whatever we found of particular interest outside of the book world during the last month. Share your own favorite things in the comments!
TV Show: “The Great British Baking Show”
I’ve highlighted this one before, but it’d just be a lie to not admit that I’ve spent a large chunk of January re-watching this show. But I have an excuse! My husband hadn’t seen it, so on a whim we put it on one night, and, predictably, he is now hooked and I have a built in excuse to re-watch it! Being the more experimental of the two of us, the unforeseen consequence of this is that now whenever we have people over or need to go anywhere, he sees it as an excuse to try out one of the complicated bakes highlighted on the show. For all that we do see failures on the show, it’s also too easy to watch an episode and take some of the smaller steps they go through completely for granted. For example, many of the bakers make macaroons purely for decoration on larger bakes. Well, we tried to make them…and it took several disasters before ending up with something worth eating! It’s much harder than it looks!
Other than a few of their more exception original shows, one of the things I’ve liked the most from Netflix’s original programming is the increase in stand-up comedy routines available. I’ve discovered a good set up new comedians to follow, but have particularly enjoyed watching the several routines of Trevor Noah’s that are available. I confess to have fallen off the “Daily Show” bandwagon after Jon Stewart left, but the few segments I’ve seen with Noah as a host have seemed solid. But I’ve particularly enjoyed his stand-up routines, I’ve found. There are a lot of great reflections on American culture as seen through the eyes of someone who grew up in South Africa. But at the same time, he’s never just bashing the country and you can tell he has a genuine affection for the same nation that he’s ridiculing. It’s an endearing combination.
The latest Coen brothers film is everything you’d expect from the film-making duo. That is, it’s completely unexpected at every moment. I’ll confess to having mixed feelings about this one. I’m not an avid Coen brothers fan, but I’ve enjoyed some of their work in the past. Knowing that, combined with the film’s anthology structure that tells six, unique Western stories, I went in with some trepidation. And once you just accept that what you’re getting is going to be completely strange, off-the-wall, and at times, disturbing, the movie has you hooked. I’d like to place a slight emphasis on disturbing, since there was at least one vignette that I found particularly messed up. But the fact that I’ve still been thinking about this movie days later does speak to the strength and execution of the film makers’ vision.
When I was in high school my younger sister had a Nintendo 64, and one of our go to games was “Mario Kart 64”. I became very good at racing, always as Luigi, and we were always willing to challenge the neighbor kids or school friends to a grand prix race. Now our household owns “Mario Kart 8 Deluxe” on The Switch, and the races are between me and my husband (though I rarely ever win; he’s far better at video games than I). “Mario Kart 8 Deluxe” has a huge expansion from the game I was used to, with far more boards and cups to compete in, more options for Battle boards, and a huge swath of characters from not just Mario, but other Nintendo franchises. Playing this game has really taken me back to my childhood, and with old favorites like Rainbow Road and Yoshi Valley still playable and characters like Daisy and Ludwig as options, I am a true happy camper. Let’sa go!
I remember dwelling in the delicious, delicious schadenfreude of The Fyre Festival as it imploded in real time on social media. For those unfamiliar, a guy named Billy McFarland and rapper Ja Rule conceived of a luxurious music festival on a private island in the Bahamas, sold a bunch of tickets for thousands and THOUSANDS of dollars, and then when the day came to have the festival it was absolute chaos. It was all documented by angry, scared, and shocked festival goers in real time on all platforms of social media, and became a huge joke about entitled rich white people living out “The Hunger Games”. And now there are two documentaries about it, and how it all came to be. They are both good in their own ways, and while I’m sure Netflix didn’t appreciate Hulu dropping their version unannounced, DAYS before Netflix was going to unveil theirs, it just means we get two movies to relive the madness. But what I also appreciate about both of them is how they unmask a very duplicitous con artist, and how social media and its ‘influencers’ enabled him to run scam after scam. That’s not as funny.
Yes, it’s that time again! While I myself wasn’t totally bummed about how the last “All Stars” season turned out, I am, of course, back for more drag queens showing off their skills and gender bending! Some of my old favorites are back, most notably Manila Luzon, Monet Xchange, and Latrice Royale, and others who I wanted to see more of (Monique Hart!!) have also come back to try again for a crown, and a place in the ‘Drag Race Hall of Fame’. While I do think that the VH1 influence has made the show become more mainstream and less subversive, I still highly enjoy seeing all of these performers showing off their immeasurable talents. Now if we could just get rid of the ridiculous ‘jury’ system that they enacted in the previous season…
Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, August 2000
Where Did I Get this Book: own it!
Book Description: The Animorphs have been split up before. And they’ve had to fight battles without one another. But this time is very different. Not only is Cassie totally alone. She’s managed to find herself in Australia. In the rural Outback. The other Animorphs and Ax don’t even know she’s there.
Cassie doesn’t have any idea where she’s going, or if she can even survive the rugged terrain. But she does know she has to get to a town or village and contact her family and friends. Because she’s just realized that there’s someone else who is also new to the Outback.
Plot: Well, we’ve reached what is almost unanimously known as one of the most useless books in the series. Not the most hated. Not the most controversial. Just the most…useless. Again, I had very few memories of this book, but it’s not because I actually blocked anything out this time. Just not very much happens!
Cassie and co. are on a mission at the airport to try and capture a chunk of a broken Bug Fighter that the military has gotten its hands on. Of course, the Yeerks are there too with the same thing in mind. Everything goes south, however, when a gun fight breaks out between the Marines and the incoming Controllers. Jake calls for a retreat, but seagull!Cassie doesn’t want to leave the innocent Marines behind. She tries to get involved (ugh, by pooping on a Controller), but ends up shot and having to partially de-morph to make an escape using a luggage cart. Chased by Yeerks, she ends up hiding beneath a pile of luggage and trying to make herself demorph as she passes out.
An unknown amount of time later, she wakes up fully human, but freezing and still under the luggage. She then realizes that she’s on a plane, and what’s worse, the plane is in flight. While trying to figure out what to do, the plane suddenly stops moving and a green scanner sweeps through. She ends up partially paralyzed and realizes the Yeerks have followed her, knowing that an “Andalite bandit” is stashed somewhere on the plane. She decides to go Rachel’s route and morphs a polar bear. When the Yeerks open the cargo bay door, she attacks. She manages to take out several Hork Bajir and forces them to retreat, blowing up a Bug fighter on the way. However, she knows they’ll be back. She scratches up the inside of the cargo bay, hoping to make it look like she fell out with the Hork Bajir in the fight. When the green light strikes again, she hides and makes her way up to the passenger level.
Unfortunately, the Yeerks have a monitor that tracks movement and they are able to spot something going up. As a human girl, she quickly sits down in an empty seat and pretends to be frozen. This mostly works until the Controllers decide to start tazing the passengers, looking for a flinch. Cassie times her attack of the Hork Bajir doing the tazing in an effort to escape. She manages to get away and dives out one of the emergency exits, morphing osprey on her way down. In a deep canyon, she finds a crevice and hides out as flea. After waiting as long as she can, she emerges and demorphs, only to realize she’s been spotted by a local boy named Yami.
Yami is unphased, saying that his grandfather has taught him about the spirits of the Outback that can change their forms, so a girl who can turn into an osprey must be special. He also informs Cassie where she is: Australia. Yami offers to take her back to his place where she can make a plan from there. On the way, they pass a mob of kangeroos and Cassie sees a mother and joey that have gotten stuck in some fencing. She manages to release it while also acquiring it. Yami sees her ability to calm the wild animal as further proof of her supernatural origins. They head back to Yami’s home where she meets his family and the aforementioned grandfather.
The next day, she wakes up and knows she needs to find a way back home. It turns out that the Bug fighter she took out in the air had crashed nearby and taken out the radio transmitter that Yami and his family use to communicate with the outside world. Without it, she’ll have to a wait a week for the mail delivery people to come by. She forms a plan to morph the kangaroo that night and make her way to the nearest city, which is is about 70 miles away. During the day, Yami and his grandfather gift Cassie a boomerang and show her how to use it. While they are practicing, she sees several small airplanes flying overhead. Yami says they are tourists and they usually fly out in the morning and will fly back over later that night.
As the practice, Yami’s grandfather suddenly collapses. Cassie and Yami bring him back to the house where they discover a badly infected cut on his leg that Yami’s grandfather says came from a strange piece of metal he found out in the wilderness; Cassie recognizes it as part of the downed Bug fighter. The leg worsens throughout the day until finally, near the end of the day, Cassie realizes that they have no choice but to amputate. She morphs Hork Bajir for both the blades and strength to complete the task. Yami looks on with fear, but helps Cassie perform the surgery. Yami’s grandfather quickly starts to look better. But before she can think of a next step, the Blade ship arrives and she hears Visser Three’s voice booming out insisting that the “Andalite” show itself or he will destroy everything in sight.
Cassie morphs the kangaroo and tries to lead the Yeerks away. Hork Bajir and Taxxons give chase. She ends up in a mob of other kangaroos all of which also attack the Yeerks, some dying in the process. She manages to take out a few herself before becoming injured. Yami, his family, and his dog come to the rescue, killing a few Hork Bajir with their boomerangs. However, it won’t be enough. Luckily, the returning tourists are spotted and Cassie hears Visser Three calling for a retreat and speedy clean-up of the area. She manages to demorph just as familiar member of the Chee shows up, saying he caught a ride with the Yeerks and is here to take Cassie home.
Back home, Cassie and the rest meet up at the zoo. Cassie had wanted to go “shopping,” which Rachel was disappointed to learn meant “getting a postcard from the zoo.” The team tease Jake about his frantic search for Cassie while she was missing and he asks to see the postcard she purchased: it is of an osprey an on it she has written two words: “No worries.” It’s a phrase that Yami repeated many times throughout her stay, and she knows that he will recognize it and know the card is from her and that she is safe.
Peace, Love, and Animals: For all of its rather boring plot and lack of contribution to the larger story, I actually liked this book for what it had to offer for Cassie’s character. Again, we have Cassie on her own. (I still really don’t understand why this is a repeated theme for this character. It’s rarely a good thing for ANY of them, but I also think Cassie in particular is less suited for it.) But throughout the story, we see her evaluating her options against what other members of the team would do: Rachel’s penchant for action, Marco’s deliberation, Jake’s caution, etc.
We also get to see some clever thinking on her part when it comes to escaping the Yeerks on the plane. I think there might have been a few better options to be had, but on her own, she did fairly well. She also has to fight one-on-one with several Controllers and, while she does struggle with this (especially the fact that she shoots a Hork Bajir with a Dracon beam that was set on high and instantly killed him), she also doesn’t get too caught up in things.
It’s also always fun seeing her doctoring abilities come out, and she’s given a great platform for that with her amputation of the grandfather’s leg using her Hork Bajir morph. Again, not sure that that was the only option there and that using actual knives like a real doctor wouldn’t have been better. But it was a cool combination of morph mechanics and Cassie’s medical abilities.
Our Fearless Leader: We see Jake abort a mission early in the book, something that doesn’t come around that often. But it does lead to the interesting idea that there are a lot of missions that could have happened between books that just went down as failures and wouldn’t be written about. Like this one, if Cassie hadn’t, you know, ended up in Australia.
Xena, Warrior Princess: There were some good bits of dialogue for Rachel both in the first part of the book when she makes fun of Marco’s driving and in the end, when she bemoans Cassie’s definition of “shopping.” There’s also a really interesting moment about halfway through the book where Cassie is reflecting on her past choices and how, as a whole, they don’t all make sense, but she just had to make up her mind with each individual situation, without knowing what new horrible choice would come from that first one. Ultimately, she notes that she might be more reckless than Rachel, even though Rachel is the one with the reputation for rashness. Rachel’s recklessness presents as bravery to the point of foolishness and a preference for action above all. But Cassie realizes that some of even her more deliberative choices ultimately are more reckless than Rachel’s “go get em” attitude. It’s a really interesting character moment. And it speaks to one of the annoyances I’ve had throughout the series both with regards to the increasingly bad reputation that Rachel has gotten for being reckless and the free pass that Cassie has also been given for making what are ultimately way more dangerous decisions. It’s nice to have the book acknowledge this, as well as Cassie herself.
A Hawk’s Life: Tobias really had nothing in this book. He jumps on the “tease Jake” bandwagon with Rachel in the end about the fact that Jake was behaving “like a zombie” when Cassie was missing. His description of Jake’s behavior was pretty funny, and it’s always nice to see Tobias’s snarky side come out.
The Comic Relief: Gorilla!Marco ends up careening around driving a luggage truck in the opening mission in this book. It’s a nice nod to the fact that somehow Marco always ends up driving (not just when he’s in gorilla morph either!). And apparently he hasn’t improved at all, which is a bit surprising because you’d think they’d all be coming up to driver’s ed about now in the timeline.
E.T./Ax Phone Home: Ax, too, has very little, other than the fairly typical scene of him trying to eat the popcorn carton when they’re all hanging out at the zoo in the end of the book.
Best (?) Body Horror Moment: We’ve seen the Animorphs use partial de-morphs as a way to disguise their identity in the past, and it’s almost always sure to land in this section of my review. There’s no way around the sheer horror factor of what most of these half-morphs look like. But…I also have a deep fear of birds, so the idea of half-human, half-seagull Cassie lurching around on the tarmac…truly, truly horrific.
Couples Watch!: There were a few interesting things in this book. For one, we have the continued evidence that Rachel and Tobias are the more acknowledged, steady couple in the series. In the brief scene at the end of the book, we see them sitting together and teasing Jake and Cassie together, very confident in their own relationship. Jake and Cassie, on the other hand, are still nervous about even sitting next to each other and are still doing awkward things like putting their hands near each other and hoping the other one touches them. Jake even asks Cassie to stick around to “talk” and Rachel and Tobias jump on that saying he just wants to kiss Cassie.
The other notable bit is that while Yami is teaching Cassie to throw the boomerang they have a bit of a “moment,” enough of one even that Cassie feels mild guilt about it when she gets back and the others are teasing Jake about his freak out while she was gone. She worries that she was essentially flirting while he was worrying.
Knowing what we do about the end of the series, both of these things are kind of interesting: the fact that Cassie and Jake are still, after several years at this point, kind of awkward and uncomfortable with their relationship and the fact that Cassie had this small connection with this other boy.
If Only Visser Three had Mustache to Twirl: The Yeerks really commit to chasing down this one Andalite. I mean, given how often they run into conflicts with the Animorphs and they all end up going their own ways without extremes taken to chase each other down…this all seems a bit much. Especially after Cassie gets off the plane. There’s really zero reason that Visser Three should know to show up at Yami’s house thinking the “Andalite bandit” will be hiding out there. Why would they be? A rogue Andalite could have morphed any animal and be anywhere, most likely heading towards a major city to get back home (like Cassie’s plan is anyways). Really, the last place an Andalite would go would be to hang out with a bunch of humans on a ranch. It’s very strange.
Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: The closest I came was probably the descriptions of the poor kangaroos that got taken out by Hork Bajir and Taxxons. And my extreme concern in that same fight when Yami’s dog got involved, and I couldn’t remember whether the dog survived.
What a Terrible Plan, Guys!: I actually found the explanation for how Cassie ended up on the plane fairly plausible as far as strange things that happen in these books go. I do think she could have managed to get off it a bit easier, mostly be morphing a bug right next to the airlock so that when the door opened, even if they gassed the plane, she would be out in no time, and the Yeerks would have had no way of knowing.
It’s not so much a terrible plan, but the explanation of the Chee randomly showing up and getting her out of there has to be one of the most blatant examples of lazy writing. They literally show up out of nowhere, with no explanation for how they even knew to follow the Yeerks to Australia, and then there is still no explanation for how they really get back. I mean, Cassie’s still a minor with zero documentation off in Australia. It’s all pretty weird and best not think about, in the end.
This was the main chunk of the bit where Cassie is reflecting on her past choices, and I think it’s pretty good. Just too bad that it got stuck in such a nothing book where I think many readers forget she even reflected on some of these things. Same thing goes for her comparison between herself and Rachel with regards to recklessness.
I’m not trying to be some kind of martyr, or say that I’m always a screwup. I’m not. In my world, making hard choices is part of the deal. Sometimes I’m right, sometimes I’m wrong. Sometimes I just can’t tell, even when the mission is over and we’ve all come out alive, at least. Leave the Animorphs. Come back. Trust Aftran, the Yeerk. Trust her again. Take responsibility for the never-ending, always unfolding consequences of those decisions. Say, no, I can’t be part of this mission, can’t be part of a mass killing of innocent people no matter what the ultimate goal, I won’t. Get involved anyway, commit acts maybe much worse. Why? To save some lives, not others. A choice. There’s always a choice.
There’s also a good line from the grandfather when Cassie is freaking out that she lead the Yeerks right to them, and it’s a good line for not only Cassie to remember, but all of them, at one point or another.
“They’re here because of me.”
Yami’s grandfather touched my arm. I looked down, startled. He drew a sharp breath. His face twisted in pain, but his eyes stayed bright and alert.
“They’re here because they’re evil.”
Scorecard: Yeerks 11, Animorphs 15
The Animorphs literally call this one a tie themselves, so I’ll stick with their rating.
Rating: There’s no getting around the fact that this book is incredibly slow. Cassie doesn’t even get to Australia until almost over halfway through the story. And for a book that is marketed completely on her adventures in Australia, that’s pretty disappointing. It’d almost be more realistic for it to be “Cassie’s adventures at an airport and on an airplane.” Beyond that, any book that separates one character away from the others is almost always worse. It’s even more depressing in this one because not only is Cassie not the strongest character on her own, but the brief bits we get of dialogue from the others is great, so the ghost writer clearly had a good handle on the group dynamics (something that is not always a given at this point). And, of course, this book does nothing to advance the ongoing story. Not to mention the hot garbage that is the explanation for how she gets back with some weird “the Chee did it!” handwave-solution.
But! As far as Cassie herself goes, there’s actually a good amount that I really enjoyed. She addresses her own past decisions and how a lot of the times they were contradictory and even more reckless than Rachel’s, and that adds a really nice layer to the character. She has some shining moments of having to choose to fight and accept that, as well as the great scene of her utilizing her badass medical knowledge.
One last thing, however, has to do with Yami and his family. With Cassie sending the postcard in the end, it’s assumed that Yami and his family are safe and well in the end. But…why would they be? Not only is the idea that the Yeerks just left them alive pretty out of place with our knowledge of how Visser Three and the Yeerks operate, but really Yami and his family are a massive liability for Cassie and the others! While they might think she has some strange spirit animal thing going on, a quick infestation of Yami or any of them would quickly bring down the whole house of cards. And, even more so than just kill them, again, why WOULDN’T the Yeerks infest these people? They know that Yami and his family were hiding the “Andalite,” so it seems like a pretty obvious source of information, at the very least. Oh well, chock it up as another “just don’t think too hard about it” moment, I guess.
Note: I’m not going to rate these books since I can’t be objective at all!
Where Did I Get This Book: The publisher sent me an ARC.
Book Description:A propulsive debut novel with the intensity of Luckiest Girl Alive and Before the Fall, about a young woman determined to survive and a mother determined to find her. When your life is a lie, the truth can kill you
When her fiancé’s private plane crashes in the Colorado Rockies, Allison Carpenter miraculously survives. But the fight for her life is just beginning. For years, Allison has been living with a terrible secret, a shocking truth that powerful men will kill to keep buried. If they know she’s alive, they will come for her. She must make it home.
In the small community of Owl Creek, Maine, Maggie Carpenter learns that her only child is presumed dead. But authorities have not recovered her body—giving Maggie a shred of hope. She, too, harbors a shameful secret: she hasn’t communicated with her daughter in two years, since a family tragedy drove Allison away. Maggie doesn’t know anything about her daughter’s life now—not even that she was engaged to wealthy pharmaceutical CEO Ben Gardner, or why she was on a private plane.
As Allison struggles across the treacherous mountain wilderness, Maggie embarks on a desperate search for answers. Immersing herself in Allison’s life, she discovers a sleek socialite hiding dark secrets. What was Allison running from—and can Maggie uncover the truth in time to save her?
Told from the perspectives of a mother and daughter separated by distance but united by an unbreakable bond, Freefall is a riveting debut novel about two tenacious women overcoming unimaginable obstacles to protect themselves and those they love.
Review: Thank you to Harper for sending me an ARC of this book!
I’ve mentioned a number of times on this blog that I greatly enjoy wilderness survival fiction, so when “Freefall” by Jessica Barry was sent to us I was pretty interested in the premise. I’ve also had some luck with emotional dramas involving mother/daughter relationships in the past few months, and when I realized that the most prevalent theme in “Freefall was going to be the broken relationship of a mother and daughter I was all the more on board.
“Freefall” is told in two different perspectives between an estranged relationship of a mother and daughter. Allison has left her mother Maggie behind after feeling betrayed by her, and reinvented herself in the lap of luxury thanks to her engagement to a pharmaceutical CEO. Maggie is living alone in small town Maine, still mourning her husband’s death and missing her daughter. Allison’s perspective is more action and suspense driven, as the private plane she was in has crashed in the mountains, leaving her the only survivor in a vast wilderness. Barry slowly reveals that Allison isn’t only in danger because of her current situation, but because of something she discovered long before she got on the plane. As that all starts to unfold, mostly through flashbacks, we see a greater danger to her, and her mother, than we anticipated. I liked the slow burn of the conspiracy, and while I wasn’t as invested in Allison’s angst and how she got to where she was when we met her, I enjoyed seeing all of those pieces come together.
The other narrative is that of Maggie, Allison’s mother who has been told her daughter died in the plane crash. Maggie’s narrative goes at a slower pace than Allison’s, though through her research into her daughter’s life we are given more pieces to the puzzle. The estrangement between the two women makes it so we can follow Maggie as she goes through her discoveries in an organic and realistic way, and as the over arching conspiracy unfolds because of her research and Allison’s flashbacks, I was happy to see a complex and interesting conflict at the center of everything. I don’t really want to spoil it here, but just know that it harkens to old school conspiracies where whistleblowers find out something damning and then they end up with targets on their backs. The other part of these sections that laid some compelling groundwork is the complicated relationship between a mother and daughter, and how past hurts can throw familial links off.
But I will admit that as I was reading, it felt slow at times. Even though I liked a number of aspects of the plot, I think that the pacing was a little off just because of the time jumps in Allison’s chapters, and the mother/daughter angst in Maggie’s. I found myself skimming more than once, just wanting to get back to the action at the heart of the novel. Because of this, “Freefall” didn’t ever graduate from ‘pretty good’ thriller to ‘great’ thriller. I will be interested to see what Barry comes out with next, though, which shows that there was enough in “Freefall” to make me think her future writings have promise.
“Freefall” is a fun conspiracy thriller with a healthy dose of familial drama, and it may be a good read for those who are looking for those themes in their reading adventures.
Rating 7: Though I liked the conspiracy angle and the wilderness survival aspects, “Freefall” moved a little too slowly for me to become completely hooked by its two storylines.
Book: “The Winter of the Witch” by Katherine Arden
Publishing Info: Del Rey, January 2019
Where Did I Get this Book: e-ARC from Edelweiss+
Book Description: Moscow has been struck by disaster. Its people are searching for answers—and for someone to blame. Vasya finds herself alone, beset on all sides. The Grand Prince is in a rage, choosing allies that will lead him on a path to war and ruin. A wicked demon returns, stronger than ever and determined to spread chaos. Caught at the center of the conflict is Vasya, who finds the fate of two worlds resting on her shoulders. Her destiny uncertain, Vasya will uncover surprising truths about herself and her history as she desperately tries to save Russia, Morozko, and the magical world she treasures. But she may not be able to save them all.
Review: I don’t want to write this review. Writing this review is the last step in having to acknowledge that this trilogy is truly finished and I want to keep pretending there is more to come! I mean, obviously, Arden has accomplished something incredible with this fantasy series, so I’m sure we’ll be seeing more from her soon. But…but…what about this world and these characters?? Ok, I’ll try to pull it together and get through this.
The story picks up almost immediately after the events of “The Girl in the Tower.” Moscow almost burned and there is chaos and confusion in the streets. Blame is going around in spades and Vasya once again finds herself in the midst of a tumultuous situation. Even escaping the immediate threats to life and limb, larger forces are moving and lines are being drawn not only between the peoples of the world but also the magical beings who inhabit the unknown.
This entire series has been such an incredible journey of womanhood for our main character. In the first book, Vasya is young, wild and confident. In the second, we see here venture out beyond her comfort zone and build even more confidence in herself and her choices, even when those fly in the face of convention; however, some of this confidence leads to mistakes. And in the third, we see her as an adult, one who has faced her own failings and will hold those scars deep inside of her, but will not be defined by them. She begins to see the greys in the world and understand the weaknesses of herself and those around her. And through her acknowledgement of those weaknesses, she finally comes into her true power and potential. It’s an incredible arc, and this final act really nails the landing. Vasya is at her best in this story. These same flaws and fears that come to the forefront finally round her out as a complete character (this isn’t to say that I didn’t adore her before), and I think now having this finale in hand, I could re-read the first two and get even more out of those portions of her journey.
The story itself almost plays as three short stories, all drawn together through Vasya herself. The first third reads as an extended ending of the second book. The middle portion deep dives into the fantastical realms of the magical beings in a way that we’ve never experienced before. And the third brings us the resolution to the larger war taking place in Rus itself. All three were fantastic, but I think I enjoyed the middle portion best. The rest of the series has largely existed in the “real world” with magical elements interacting with humanity in various ways on that front. This story takes us “through the wardrobe” essentially. There were some classic Russian fairytale characters who show up, but also an introduction to several new ones (I don’t know enough about Russian folklore to know whether these were traditional elements as well, just less known to most readers, or creations of Arden’s own). I particularly enjoyed the magical horses, of course!
At the end of the second book, I really had no idea where Arden was going with the relationship that was being set up between Vasya and the Winter King. That book did a good job selling the idea that maybe that relationship was truly doomed, not so much in a tragic way, but in a “growing up” type of way. No spoilers for how things resolve here, but I was surprised with the direction it took, but ultimately quite pleased.
There were also a lot of surprises in store with some of the larger themes of the book and series as a whole. For the most part, we’ve had “good guys” and “bad guys” in the past books. Each story has touched on the complications of it all, but this one really tackles the idea of balance and what that truly looks like. Vasya must make sacrifices and compromises that she would never have imagined before. And readers will come to see certain characters in entirely different lights.
I could go on and on. The highest praise I can give this series is to say that I want to re-read it immediately and suspect that it will be even better a second-time around. It started out strong and got progressively stronger with each entry, a rare find in any series and a testament to the strength of the story and author.
Rating 10: January was a strong month for me; chock this one up as another shoe-in for next year’s “Top 10” list!