The Great Animorphs Re-Read #50: “The Ultimate”

363403Animorphs #50: “The Ultimate”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, February 2001

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: “Really big trouble” is an understatement these days. The war between the Yeerks and the Animorphs is full on–and it’s definitely going to get worse. But Cassie, the other Animorphs, and Ax have a lot more going on than just trying to stay alive. Now they have to actively protect others. And they no longer believe they can do it alone. The Yeerks are just too powerful.

So, Cassie and the others have to ask themselves a very important question: Is it time to increase their numbers? They all remember too well what happened with David–the Animorph gone bad. But this time do they really have a choice?

Narrator: Cassie

Plot: I was kind of dreading this book. I only really remember one part of it, but it’s one of the two big moments that made me dislike Cassie as a character when looking back on the series: when she gives up the blue box, inexplicably. So, it was with trepidation, I started reading…

Cassie and the other Animorphs are drilling for the inevitable day that the Yeerks discover the new Hork Bajir valley where they, the Hork Bajir, and now their families are hiding out as the war continues. The drills aren’t going very well as Cassie is distracted by worries over her parents and Jake’s head and heart are clearly no longer in the game after the loss of his parents to the Yeerks.

What’s worse, their parents don’t seem to be catching on to the reality of their situation. Rachel’s mother keeps trying to escape the valley to contact the authorities, putting them all at risk and driving Rachel crazy. And Cassie’s parents don’t have a grasp on the enormity of the situation, fixating on the size and comfort of the enclosures where the Hork Bajir will hide if they’re attacked, not only treating the Hork Bajir like animals but clearly not understanding that comfort is the least of everyone’s concerns.

To try and get Jake’s mind back in the game, Cassie calls a meeting, putting Jake on the spot to come up with an idea. They eventually decide that the only real power they have is the blue box and their ability to give others morphing abilities. Due to the adults inability to, you know, act like adults, they rule out all of their parents, one by one. They then proceed to rule out all adults, deciding that adults struggle too much with coming to terms with so many changes to their world view. This leaves recruiting more kids. And to avoid the concern about approaching Controllers, they decide to target disabled kids. They figure that they Yeerks would never infest them in the first place, and after morphing cured Loren’s eyesight, they also wonder if some of these kids could be cured in the same way.

Dressed up in costumes, a few of them sneak into a facility to try and find some volunteers. They meet a group of kids, lead by a boy in a wheelchair named James. After various forms of show and tell, they manage to recruit some kids to the cause. With the first set, only James is cured of his disability, able to stand again after he demorphs back to his human form. It is also decided that James will be the leader of this other group of Animorphs. Over the next few days, the Animorphs continue to recruit more kids and even manage to bring them to the Gardens to acquire some fighting morphs.

Ax locates a new facility, one that is a home for blind kids. They decide to check that out next. Cassie’s dad overhears them all discussing this process and comes down on Cassie for it, asking whether or not she thinks it’s humane. She snaps at her dad to come to grips with the stakes they are working with and leaves with the other Animorphs.

They arrive at the school for the blind at night, but as they start to approach the kids, Cassie feels that something is off. She eventually morphs a fly and spots an infrared camera, but before they others can escape, Tom and a bunch of Hork Bajir burst in. They force Jake to hand over the blue box and march the others out of the room to the loading dock. Fly!Cassie escapes, morphs owl, and heads to the rehab center to fetch James and the others.

They wrangle everyone up and head back. On the way, they see a limo speeding towards the loading dock; Cassie guess it’s Visser One. Once there, she tries to give the others a quick pep talk on what the fight will be like, but they begin to freak out. It’s only a steady speech from James that gets them back on track. They all morph battle morphs. James has chosen a lion, which makes Cassie think of David and how very different he and James are.

A massive fight breaks out and in the chaos Tom loses the blue box which lion!James snatches up. Visser One arrives with Taxxons in tow and blames Tom for losing the blue box. The Animorphs all line up, ready to escape with the blue box. It’s a strange feeling, having enough numbers on their side for once. Visser One fights with Ax and Jake before beginning to morph himself. Bull!Kelly gets injured badly and has to demorph in the battlefield, leaving her fairly helpless. Gorilla!Marco snatches her up and heads away to allow her time to remorph.

Visser One completes his morph, becoming a tentacle monster of some sort. He snags tiger!Jake by the throat and begins slowly throttling him. Tobais is smashed into a wall, and things generally take a turn for the worse. Jake almost dies but is saved when a rogue Hork Bajir, a member of the Yeerk Resistance, slices off the tentacle holding Jake. The Taxxons converge on Visser One and the Hork Bajir have to fight them off. In the chaos, the Animorphs retreat. As they do, they see Tom take off with the morphing cube, clearly having decided to keep it for himself. Jake and Cassie set off after him.

In the woods, they come to a stand off, and Cassie decides that it’s not worth it, not worth Jake having to kill his brother to retake the morphing cube. Just as Jake is about to spring, she grabs him by his injured let. Tom escapes into the night.

The next day, Jake is still angry with Cassie. She tries to explain that she was saving him from having to kill Tom, but he asks why she didn’t go after Tom herself then. She doesn’t answer, because she doesn’t know, other than the fact that it had felt right and she still thinks it was the right choice.

Peace, Love, and Animals: This is an interesting Cassie book, I’ll give it that. We essentially have two different Cassie’s: one, the girl who has been fighting a war for years now and, when confronted by her parents who are pretty much spouting some of the same naive things she’s said herself in the past, she finds herself coming down on the other side of an argument from her usual stance.

Cassie, the Animorph who has arguably the best relationship with her parents throughout the series, has to have tough conversations with both of her parents. Her mom fixates on the state of the hideaway shelter, falling into the trap of thinking about the Hork Bajir as animals whose habitat isn’t satisfactory. She is having trouble accepting that these would be shelters in the case of an invasion where to be found is to be killed. Comfort is the last thing on anyone’s mind. Cassie’s dad is then concerned when he overhears Cassie and the others discussing their project to recruit more Animorphs, saying that recruiting disabled kids is not “humane.” This is also an interesting point. I think in any other book, we would have expected Cassie herself to be making this same argument and to have never agreed to it in the first place. But there is also an underlying discussion throughout the book on how we view those with disabilities. Ax points out that putting them in a hospital and stashing them away is almost as bad as his own people’s problematic attitudes. Even the Animorphs themselves fall into this trap and James has to point out that they are capable of making their own choices. He uses this same point, that their hardships have made them more capable of fighting, not less, when he’s giving his pep talk at the end of the book.

So, Cassie’s dad, essentially, is doing the same thing that her mom was doing: he’s saying that Cassie and her friends are “using” the disabled in the same way you would use animals. This attitude completely disregards the kids’ choice in the matter, treating the disabled kids as not capable of making decisions for themselves or almost so helpless that “able bodied” people like Cassie and her dad need to protect them from the choice at all. And really, the fact that Cassie’s mom and dad have taken themselves out of the running as soldiers themselves by behaving so poorly and needing their own kid to parent them is much more worth her father’s reflection.

On the other hand, however, to counterbalance all the thoughtfulness and moral pondering that Cassie goes through during much of the book, her decision to let the blue box slip through her hands because it “felt right” is a return to the complete nonsense decision making that we’ve seen from Cassie a few times. The decision on its own is infuriating, but the fact that it’s slotted in at the end of a book that is really discussing some big issues head on is rather unfortunate. There’s a line where Cassie tries to draw it all together, that some things maybe aren’t worth the moral compromise, but I think the point is lost when you actually look at the stakes. Just like her father was wrong to behave so poorly that his own kid can’t turn to him as an option when looking for support and then to question the only option (as far as the kids see it) for winning this war, Cassie is also wrong to let the blue box go, potentially losing the war right there. It’s not “just morphing.” The whole premise of the series is that morphing is powerful enough to allow five kids and an alien kid to stand up to an evil alien empire.

Our Fearless Leader: Man, there’s a huge change to Jake from the last book to this. It really highlights how tenuous was Jake’s mental space and that losing his parents was really one of the last straws to his ability to lead. Even when he gets it together somewhat, we see him going into missions without plans and failing to provide the general strength and assurance that the others rely upon so much. The events in this book don’t help and the contrast between Jake now and James (very much like Jake was at the start of this war) is really heart-breaking.

Xena, Warrior Princess: Rachel doesn’t have a whole lot, but she does have a scene where she gets in her mother’s face about sneaking off. Apparently, her mother has done this several times, and each time she does it, it sets the whole valley on high alert and risks everything. Again, with adults behaving has poorly as all of this, you really can’t blame the Animorphs for coming to the conclusion that recruiting more kids is the way to go, even if, on its own, that seems like a really terrible idea.

A Hawk’s Life: We see a few brief moments of Tobias with his mother that are very sweet. It’s not clear whether or not Tobias has told Loren about her history at this point, but you think that would come up soon. And, given what we know of Loren, it’s almost hard to believe that she wouldn’t be insisting on getting into this fight on her own. She already has morphing powers and has proven that she is still brave. Losing her memory wouldn’t make her lose her entire personality, and the Loren we know of old would definitely insist on helping her son in this war.

The Comic Relief: Marco is probably doing the best in the ole parent arena, his mom being the only adult to truly understand what they’re in the middle of. But it also seems to make him oddly complacent about the fact that things are falling apart, especially his best friend Jake. This all felt a bit out of character for him. Yes, his mother was his main motivation, but we’ve also seen how singled minded and strategic Marco has been in the past about winning this war, even in the face of losing his mother. So it’s kind of strange to see him as disconnected as he is here. Obviously he has to be to push Cassie into being the one to take action, but it doesn’t really ring true on a character level. We do see how important his gorilla morph is though when he’s able to carry Kelly away from the battlefield when she had to demorph to heal herself and ended back up in her body which has limited mobility. One other new Animorph has a gorilla morph, but given this situation, more might have been better for just this circumstance. Plus, we’ve seen how valuable Marco’s gorilla morph has been in the past. Way more so than a bull. Just saying.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Ax’s prejudices about the disable make an unpleasant reappearance in this book. But it’s clear that he has learned a lot from his original book and has now evolved to the point where his questions shine a rather harsh light on the reality of our own world’s treatment of people who are different.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: Bull!Kelly gets gored pretty badly during the fight. And then the Taxxons get at her. She survives it, but I do think that getting eaten alive by the Taxxons has to be one of the most horrific things. But, on that note, I do have to question these battle morphs that the new Animorphs chose. I get that from a book-perspective, it’s cool to use new morphs. But from an actual war standpoint, these are some pretty limiting and poor choices. A bull is a prey animal. Sure, it can do some damage, but it simply isn’t built for fighting, with no natural armor, pretty spindly legs when you get down to it, and only one way of attacking, one that isn’t very nimble and depends on a lot of open space for charges. I could go down the line with the others, too. Crocodile? Bobcat?? Bobcats are only a tiny bit bigger than a large domestic cat!

I also think a case could be made for getting the same morphs the original Animorphs already have, if possible. For one thing, everyone knows that Jake is the tiger and also the leader of the group. Having a bunch more tigers is not only good due to their fighting abilities but also camouflage for the general of the resistance, essentially. And Rachel’s grizzly and Marco’s gorilla are pretty hard to top. We saw the Animorphs try to direct David’s morph options, and while that didn’t go over well, I think a well-reasoned suggestion would fly with James and could have been helpful with some of these choices.

Couples Watch!: Nothing from Tobias and Rachel. And as for Cassie and Jake, this is the beginning of the end. It actually feels like it’s coming a bit after the beginning of the end as Cassie mentions that their relationship was already strained at the start of the book. We’re left to guess that their romance is yet another casualty to Jake’s loss of self when his parents were taken. And the events of this book sure don’t help things.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: Visser One uses his tentacle morph to pretty devastating effect in the last battle in this book. He flings tiger!Jake around like a ragdoll and almost kills Tobias when he smacks him into a wall. The only thing that saves Jake is a Hork Bajir member of the Yeerk resistance coming to his aid at the last minute.

There’s also an interesting bit where we see Tom make the decision to go it on his own with the blue box. Given Visser One’s penchant for killing his underlings on the slightest provocation or whim, it’s a wonder other smart Yeerks didn’t pull something like this ages ago. Visser One definitely doesn’t inspire loyalty, so it makes sense that an ambitious Yeerk like the one in Tom would think twice about handing over a powerful weapon like the blue box. Especially when he was already on the outs with Visser One after losing it earlier in the fight. Visser One isn’t one to forget and forgive, so there’s a decent chance that getting it back wasn’t going to save him anyways.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Jake’s situation is by far the worst at this point, which is saying something since Tobias has had that spot staked out since pretty much day one. In his own books, we’ve seen his inner struggles with the burdens of being the leader, but this is the first time where it’s really clear to everyone around him and his actual performance is starting to suffer. He’s angry, sad, indecisive, and generally lacking the patience and focus it takes to continue on as he has been. It’s only being pushed by others that gets him through this book, and even then, we see mistakes along the way. Knowing how he ends up after this all, this book is really the first one where it all begins to be foreshadowed.

Beyond that, I’m not sure if it’s so much crying out sadness, but the way the parents behave in this situation is really bad. At one point Cassie even narrates that half the reason she’s angry at her parents is because they are forcing her to be the adult in this situation. They’re all acting as if they don’t even know what war is. It’s one thing to question the enemy itself (though the Hork Bajir are right there), but general war time tactics and life should be perfectly clear with a simple history lesson. When your life is at stake, you don’t quibble about the conditions of the hidey-hole. When humanity is at stake and you find out your child has been fighting a war for years, you don’t leave them out there on their own still, essentially making yourself so useless (or an active problem, like Rachel’s mom) that your kid is forced to resort to recruiting other kids because all of the adults so far have proven to be completely incapable of adapting. It’s pretty tragic, when you think about it that way. For all the criticism about recruiting disabled kids, it’s pretty solidly on the parents’ shoulders at this point for being so unhelpful.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: Cassie’s decision to let Tom escape with the morphing cube is one of the most controversial decisions the character makes in the entire series, right up there with letting herself get infested back in book #19. There’s a decent build up to the emotional side of this decision, Cassie’s concern that she is losing her humanity to this war (well-trod ground for the character, so not super new other than its contrast with her parents who are somehow even more out to lunch about reality). But this time she’s also concerned about Jake’s downward descent, and from this emotional view, she believes herself to be saving the remaining thread holding Jake’s sanity together.

Sure. I can’t argue whether or not that is true. But in the very end of the book, Jake asks her why she did it, why, if she was just trying to spare Jake, she didn’t go after Tom herself and leave him behind? Cassie was in wolf morph, the perfect morph of them all to track someone down in the woods. Her going after Tom herself to spare Jake makes sense. Her choosing to let Tom get away with the cube? Is idiotic to the extreme and really enough to make others question whether she should be on the team, if her decision-making is really that screwed up.

The only thing they had going for them was that cube, a fact that was made all the more clear in this book. And she just let Tom take it. And her reason? “It just felt right.” She even goes on to say that she can’t understand it herself but that, even now, it still feels like it was the right thing to do. And we’re all the way back around to the Cassie who essentially breaks the third wall with the readers. She’s a character who has authorial finger prints all over her and pretty much just announces it with the line about it “still feeling like the right decision” even though she can’t even justify or explain it herself. Her decisions, in the world she lives in, don’t make sense or they are indicative of a person you sure has hell don’t want on your team in a fight to save humanity. They are only “right” because the author allows them to be in the end. Under no circumstances was this the “right” call in the world the character lives in.

Favorite Quote: 

These are two bits from the section where Cassie talks about her frustrations with her parents and the adults, and it really gets at what I was talking about:

Suddenly, unexpectedly, I was angry. Mad that my mother, a scientist, wouldn’t—or couldn’t—face the awful truth. That we were at war. That the rules had changed. That we had to do things we’d never choose to do under peacetime circumstances. That we didn’t have that luxury. That every single minute of every single day we had to make scarifices we’d rather not make. And I was angry that my mother was forcing me to confront her with this truth.

“That’s right, Mom,” I said, my voice hard. “The Hork-Bajir could die. Every single one of us, human and Hork-Bajir and Andalite, could die. Any day. At any time. I still don’t get your point.”

______

Angry mostly because I had wanted to hurt her. Because she was making me be the grown-up. And even after all the endless months of fighting, with all the disgusting acts I had witnessed—or committed—I still sometimes wanted to be normal again. Also, because I was worried. Not just about my own parents. If the adults didn’t accept the reality of the war, they would never be prepared when the time came to fight. And if they weren’t prepared, they wouldn’t survive.

Also, for some irony, here is Cassie giving the speech that she’s been on the other end of a few times and chosen to ignore coughQuitTheAnimorphs#19cough:

But being here, talking to James, seeing these kids, I realized in a serious way, maybe for the first time, that they weren’t helpless. Just like our parents. “You know what,” I continued. “You don’t really have a choice here. This is duty time. You’ve been tapped. So step up to the plate. Whatever. Fact is, we need you. Your friends need you.”

Scorecard: Yeerks 15, Animorphs 17

I’m giving them each a point. The Animorphs get a point for recruiting 17 more people to their cause, but the Yeerks definitely get a point for walking away with the blue box in the end.

Rating: I have mixed feelings about this book. It’s almost the exact opposite experience of the Super!Rachel book. Instead of hating the first 3/4 and then loving the last quarter, it was flipped. I enjoyed the majority of this book up to the last bit where Cassie undoes all of her good work by making one of the most boneheaded decisions in the series with no other excuse than an author-magic-wand-wave that it “felt right.” And yes, I know the explanation has been floated that it’s because of Cassie’s status as a disrupter (from Megamophrs #4) that she has a predictive feeling like this, but I don’t buy it. Even if that’s the case, it’s lazy writing. This moment also feeds into my overarching anger with the character at the very end where she’s the only one who comes out of this all OK and it’s mostly just because her bad decisions were allowed to be right ones without her having to pay the logical price that would most likely have occurred by these choices.

But, like I said, I did like the majority of this book. It’s a new side of Cassie to see her as one of team members who is more committed to the war effort. It also makes sense that having her parents present would have a tangible effect like this, making her more invested, not less. I also liked the reflections on Jake’s descent coming through her eyes. The only other character who would have a similar point of view would be Marco, so we’ll see what he has to say in the next book.

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

Kate’s Review: “The Spirit in the Crypt”

The Spirit in the Crypt - Ebook CoverBook: “The Spirit in the Crypt” by Alexander Lound

Publishing Info: Self Published, June 2019

Where Did I Get This Book: The author sent me an eARC.

Book Description: When fifteen-year-old Jonathan Roberts goes out with his friends on a summer night, he doesn’t expect to be forced to enter a crypt by Francis Everton. To be forced to look at skeletons decaying in their graves.

To hear the voice, screaming at him. Screaming into his mind. Commanding him to leave.

What the voice in the crypt belongs to, he can only wonder. A demon? A ghost? It gives him nightmares for weeks afterwards. Of skeletons strangling him. And then, bizarrely, of a girl from his school, making the long walk across the graveyard and entering the crypt. Never to come out before his waking.

When he returns to school in September, he never expects to learn that something awful has happened to the girl, turning his fear to panic.

Panic which will force him to unravel the mystery of the crypt, and in doing so, many mysteries about himself.

Review: Thank you to Alexander Lound for approaching our blog and sending me an eARC of this book!

It’s been a little bit since I read a good old fashioned angry ghost story, and luckily I didn’t have to look far. I was approached by YA author Alexander Lound to see if I’d be interested in reading his new book “The Spirit in the Crypt”, and by the time I was diving in I realized that I had been in a serious mood for a story such as this. It checks off the boxes of subgenres in horror that I greatly enjoy: it has an angry ghost, it has a cute romance, and it has a psychic/medium theme to it. Add in some gloomy weather in my neck of the woods and it’s a perfect atmosphere to indulge in a spooky story!

What I liked most about “The Spirit in the Crypt” is that Lound makes his main character Jonny a pretty realistic teenage boy. While he definitely stands out from other kids his age in some ways, in a lot of other ways he ultimately wants to live a normal life and has the kinds of flaws you see in a lot of kids like him. From making questionable friend decisions to making impulsive choices, there were plenty of times where I wanted to smack him upside the head, but also could see a lot of realism within him. After he’s found himself pulled into a supernatural mystery, starting with an encounter in a crypt and escalating as he starts to see visions of children who have ended up in unexplained comas, Jonny has to look into himself and find out how he’s connected, and how far empathy will take him. Another aspect I liked about his character development was that not only was it about him figuring out his own supernatural abilities, but also learning about the power of empathy for those who have been victimized. Though there are a number of interesting ways this manifests, for me the most rewarding was when he befriends a girl named Cassy, who was the target of some pretty terrible sexual harassment at the hands of her ex boyfriend, who also happened to be a friend of Jonny’s for a time. Seeing Jonny have to reconcile the fact he’d shrugged off the abuse (never supported it or encouraged it, but didn’t discourage it either) was an arc that we’ve seen before (and frankly can be seen as frustrating when it’s framed as ‘he sees her as a person now that he’s gotten to know her and learned why he was wrong!’). But I felt that the way it developed and progressed in this story was more palatable if only because their friendship is definitely based on more than Jonny learning a lesson.

I’m also just a huge sucker for stories about mediums and ghosts. Jonny is taken under the wing of a psychic named Aaron, and they have to work together to figure out why this mysterious (and super pissed) ghost is victimizing kids. It also has a huge focus on Jonny himself learning about his own powers in this way, and boy oh boy do these kinds of stories really hit all my genre buttons! From seances to visions to exploring the true motivations behind the angry ghost, I was pretty hooked as I read this book. I also like it when an author or storyteller tries to give more depth to an antagonist, especially a ghostly one, and in this story there is a lot of background and reasoning that comes to light that makes the plot feel like it has more weight, both in a complexity sense and an emotional sense. I won’t spoil anything here, but I was pleasantly surprised with how much we got to learn about the titular spirit.

Was this book particularly scary? Perhaps not so much to me, but I’m old hat at this genre and it kinda takes a lot/very specific things to get me creeped out. But I think that for teens this is probably going to be a good match for levels of fear, as it does have its moments of creep factor in it. Because honestly, while I wasn’t particularly scared, I did find myself rather unsettled about being locked in a crypt, ghostly presence or not.

All in all, I thought that “The Spirit in the Crypt” was a fun read! I’m pleased that it showed up in my inbox, and given that it sounds like the start to a series, I can absolutely see myself reading the next one!

Rating 8: A fun and satisfying YA ghost story with a likable protagonist and the kind of story that I just love: mediums and angry ghosts.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Spirit in the Crypt” isn’t on any Goodreads lists, but I think that it would fit in on “YA Novels and Psychic Abilities”, and “Young Adult Ghost Stories”.

“The Spirit in the Crypt” isn’t available on WorldCat as of now, but it will be available for purchase in June. For more information, go to Alexander Lound’s WEBSITE.

Serena’s Review: “An Illusion of Thieves”

39662738Book: “An Illusion of Thieves” by Cate Glass

Publication Info: Tor Books, May 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley

Book Description: In Cantagna, being a sorcerer is a death sentence.

Romy escapes her hardscrabble upbringing when she becomes courtesan to the Shadow Lord, a revolutionary noble who brings laws and comforts once reserved for the wealthy to all. When her brother, Neri, is caught thieving with the aid of magic, Romy’s aristocratic influence is the only thing that can spare his life—and the price is her banishment.

Now back in Beggar’s Ring, she has just her wits and her own long-hidden sorcery to help her and Neri survive. But when a plot to overthrow the Shadow Lord and incite civil war is uncovered, only Romy knows how to stop it. To do so, she’ll have to rely on newfound allies—a swordmaster, a silversmith, and her own thieving brother. And they’ll need the very thing that could condemn them all: magic.

Review: Cover lust! I love everything about that illustration, the vibrant colors, the style, it’s all very eye-catching and definitely served its purpose as it instantly drew me in when I was browsing through NetGalley. The description helped quite a lot as well, as I can never resist a good heist story, especially if there’s a fantasy element involved! And while my hopes were not fully met, I still enjoyed this book quite a lot in the end.

For the most part, I very much enjoyed this story. Particularly, I enjoyed the detailed take on the political and economical environment in which the story took place. I’ve read a bunch of stories where magic being illegal is a central theme, but when combined with the other world-building elements twisted into the story, it still came off as a unique take. Pacing-wise, the story could read as a big slower with many of the little details getting more attention than some readers may prefer. Likewise, the main plot often takes a backseat to smaller, character-driven moments. I can enjoy both types of fantasy stories, but those looking for a grand epic might find themselves frustrated with the lower stakes of this story.

It was also an interesting read knowing that the author plans to write the series in an episodic manner. Most fantasy series typically follow a grand arc that takes place over several books, and while smaller offshoots exist here and there, the main conflict builds and resolves through all the books, linking them closely together. I can see the stage being set for a different type of read with this book, and I’m intrigued by what Glass has in mind with this type of tale.

As for the characters, I really enjoyed Romy. She was a fun narrator and it was exciting to see her so competently put her skills to work when she finds herself back on the streets, poverty-stricken and desperate. I was also surprised to find that the story is also largely Neri’s as well. I’m not quite sure how I feel about this character. His character type, that of the young, arrogant, swagger-ridden boy-o, has some natural flaws simply built in. But those same flaws are the points around which his characterization builds, so they have to be there to see any growth.

I was also surprised to find the story lacked a romantic plot line, instead focusing on the sibling relationship between Romy and Neri a its emotional crux. I confess that I typically prefer some romance in my stories, and second best is a sister-sister relationship, but I was also drawn in by the tense relationship between Romy and Neri as they learned to get along throughout the book.

Overall, this book was an entertaining read. I felt that the plot was a bit light for me and at times the author seemed to almost lose focus on her main story, caught up in the details of her world. But the interesting characters and the slowly built up trust and respect between Romy and Neri was a point in its favor. And, again, I’ll never say no to magical heist stories!

Rating 7: A fun, lighter read with a compelling brother/sister relationship at its heart.

Reader’s Advisory: 

“An Illusion of Thieves” isn’t on any relevant Goodreads lists, but it should be on “Popular Fantasy Heist Books.”

Find “An Illusion of Thieves” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Kate’s Review: “Catwoman: Copycats”

40996659Book: “Catwoman (Vol.1): Copycats” by Joëlle Jones

Publishing Info: DC Comics, April 2019

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

Book Description: Coming off of the wedding of the century to Batman, Selina Kyle stars in an all-new solo series written and illustrated by Eisner Award nominee Joëlle Jones!

The wedding night’s barely over, but Catwoman’s back on the streets, this time to expose a copycat who’s pulling heists around Gotham City. As Selina cracks the whip on her former criminal cohorts, she’s attracting unwanted attention from one of Gotham’s most dangerous groups. The mob? Nope. Try the GCPD. And as if the Bat-Bride didn’t have enough problems, don’t miss the debut of an all-new villain determined to make trouble for all nine of Selina’s lives.

Fresh off of her run on Batman with superstar writer Tom King, creator Joëlle Jones writes and illustrates this dynamic new series. Collects issues #1-6.

Review: Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this book!

Ever since I was a little girl, I have loved Catwoman and Selina Kyle. I’ve mentioned before that I had Batman Returns sheets, I was Catwoman for Halloween the year it came out, and I had my Catwoman trapper keeper that I held dear to my heart. My love for Selina is a double edged sword, however. Because i love her when her character is done justice it gives me all the happy feels. But, on the other hand, if Selina and Catwoman are written in ways that I don’t like, I will hate it forever. There’s a reason I put down Sarah J. Maas’s “Soulstealer” after a couple of chapters and refused to continue.

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(source)

I haven’t been reading the Batman stories in the Rebirth arcs of DC, though I’ve been following them peripherally. I was elated to hear that Batman and Catwoman were going to get married, but then crushed (and not really too surprised) when I heard that the wedding didn’t happen. The good news that comes from this, though, is that it means that Selina gets to have some stories for herself, and not find herself pin holed into being Batman’s Wife first and foremost. Because as much as I would LOVE for DC to actually explore how these two characters would (and I argue TOTALLY COULD) properly function as a married couple, I think that first Selina needs to get some time on her own, and to give Bruce the time to learn how to be both Batman AND Bruce Wayne. And that is where “Catwoman: Copycats” comes in. After leaving Bruce at the altar Selina has rushed away to Villa Hermosa in hopes of escaping her guilt, and that is SO Selina and so heartbreaking to see. I’ve always loved Selina because of her determined independence, but also because part of her drive to be independent is because she doesn’t feel like she CAN fully give herself to anyone, even if that person is her one true love Bruce Wayne. She is irrevocably broken in some ways, but what I liked about this arc is that Jones doesn’t apologize for it. True, she shows the sadness and damage that Selina feels, but she also explores it beyond the romantic relationships and looks into the relationship that Selina had with her sister Maggie. It gives Selina more depth, and lets us see into her motivations more than we did when they were based solely in Bruce’s and her relationship. It allows us to see Selina’s vulnerability without making it look like it only comes out because of a dude. Her love for Bruce hasn’t been what makes her scared of loss; it goes much further back than that. And she has to confront both of those relationships in this, as her guilt over both has started to come to a head.

We also finally get to see a villain who is worthy of Selina’s focus. True, there are copycats running around making her look bad, but the true Big Bad of this story is all too familiar: it lies within corrupt political circles. Raina Creel is Selina’s nemesis, and as the Gubernatorial First Lady of Villa Hermosa she has an image she presents to the public, while she hides a literal aged, rotting frame underneath the glitz and glam. And, of course, the ways that she maintains her ‘youth’ are not at all ethical, as she takes blood transfusions from people who have little to no recourse to fight back. Because of her place of power, the rivalry between her and Catwoman is far more based in cat and mouse intrigue (pun unintended) than usual. Jones has made sure to let the stakes build up at a proper rate, and also draws some parallels between the two women who have both chosen to do improper things in order to get what they want. I also kind of wonder if Creel is something of a sly nod to Sharon Stone’s character in the dreadful Halle Barry “Catwoman” movie. They both have obsessions with youth and beauty, and will got to drastic measures to attain both. If so, that’s a cheeky and fun reference.

The artwork is also done by Jones, naturally, and it continues to be stunning and splashed with life and color. The vintage designs are right up my alley, and Jones is easily one of my favorites in the business because her artwork is always so on point. It’s really wonderful that she is also a superb writer, especially when it comes to her women characters. What I also really appreciate is that Jones draws Selina in a way that doesn’t make her seem like a total sex object. Sure, she wears sexy outfits and looks chic as hell, but rarely (a couple times it did get close, but rarely) did I see her as drawn like she’s meant solely to be desired for sex; she just looks great and powerful without being a total fuck fantasy for male readers.

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Case in point. If comics could do the same for Harley Quinn that would be great. (source)

Overall, I really enjoyed “Catwoman: Copycats”. I am very interested to see where Jones takes Selina next, and I know that she will be in good hands.

Rating 8: A solid foray into the mind of one of my favorite antiheroines, “Catwoman: Copycats” gives Selina Kyle her own juicy story while remaining true to her full, complex character.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Catwoman (Vol.1): Copycats” is included on the Goodreads lists “Best of Catwoman”, and “Best of DC Rebirth”.

Find “Catwoman (Vol.1): Copycats” at your library using WorldCat!

Not Just Books: May 2019

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

Serena’s Picks

mv5bmte0ywfmotmtytu2zs00ztixlwe3otetytniyzbkzjvizthixkeyxkfqcgdeqxvyodmzmzq4oti40._v1_sy1000_cr006751000_al_Movie: “Captain Marvel”

I actually watched this last month before the second “Infinity Stones” movie, but I forgot to list it, so I’m including it here! I was a bit skeptical about how this movie would turn out as I’m not a huge fan of the actress. But surprise, surprise, I really enjoyed it! Per the usual for Marvel movies, it did an excellent job balancing action, humor, and a compelling narrative arc for our hero. The villain, also per the usual, left a bit to be desired, but as far as origin stories go, this one was excellent. I did wonder how they were going to handle her in the “Infinity Stones” movie, however, given that she’s pretty much invincible and could take out Thanos and his entire army herself, essentially. But I was also really pleased with how that was handled and also the built in excuse provided for where she is when the inevitable other conflicts appear in future movies that she could also handle without breaking a sweat.

p11936366_b_v8_aaTV show: “Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries” 

After a certain epic fantasy show proved to be a massive let down in my (our) personal opinion, I needed a bit of a palate cleanser that would just be some light, good fun. Enter “Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries,” a show I had been hearing good things about for a while but had never had the full motivation to start. And now I’ve blown through the first season and a half in about a week. And it already has such a short run! But I did read that they made a movie that is going to be on limited release in the U.S. sometime this year, so I’ll definitely be keeping my eyes out for that!

mv5bmdg3nmnjntitywu2mc00owjhltlkzjqtmmiynjlhztvizdljxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvynjg4nzayota40._v1_sy1000_cr006661000_al_TV show: “The Amazing Race”

It’s been a while since the last season of this show aired, so I was excited when it finally started up again. I was also intrigued by this season’s theme that brought back past teams from this show, as well as from “Survivor” and “Big Brother.” I have no opinion on “Big Brother,” having never watched that show. And I was sadly disappointed by the “Survivor” contestants that showed up, as none of them were really favorites for me on that show (really, of the three teams, two of them were made up of “villains” from that show, as far as I can remember). But I have enjoyed the returning “Amazing Race” teams, as several of them were favorites when they raced originally. I’m excited to see who comes out on top!

Kate’s Picks

22-the-last-days-of-august.w330.h330Podcast: “The Last Days of August”

I heard about “The Last Days of August” on another podcast, and after waffling about taking on another podcast I decide to give it a listen. And boy, am I glad that I did. In December 2017, adult film star August Ames, after tweeting out a message that was perceived as anti-LGBTQIA and getting piled on for it, committed suicide. Her husband, porn director Kevin Moore, accused a number of big names in the industry of being responsible for her death for piling on. Jon Ronson had just finished a podcast on the adult film industry when Ames killed herself, and decided to do a follow up, thinking that it would be a story about online shaming and the consequences (as he also wrote the book “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed”). But what he found was something much more complicated, and perhaps more nefarious. This podcast is very evenhanded and well researched, and Ronson does a GREAT job of telling August’s story, as well as addressing very difficult issues like emotional abuse, mental illness, and the horrible outcomes of misogyny when left unchecked. And a warning: there are disturbing accounts of sexual assault.

dead20to20me20poster20Netflix Show: “Dead to Me”

I don’t even know how or why I stumbled upon “Dead To Me”, a new Netflix show starring Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini. But one night I kinda saw it sitting there on Netflix and I said to myself ‘well why not give this a try?’ Before I knew it, I had binged the entire show. Jen Harding (Applegate) is a grieving and angry widow whose husband was killed in a hit and run, and decides to give grief counseling a try. There she meets Judy (Cardelinni), a free spirit who is attending because of a loss of her own. Jen and Judy become quick and close friends, and Jen invites Judy to come stay with her. But Jen doesn’t know that Judy may be hiding some things from Jen. Both Applegate and Cardellini are superb in their roles, and show the ups and downs of complicated, adult friendships, especially when grief is so prevalent in one’s life. There are lots of laugh out loud moments, which definitely dabble in gallows humor, but it also explores themes of sadness and loss in realistic, sometimes ugly, ways.

santa-clarita-diet-season-3-netflix-scheduleNetflix Show: “Santa Clarita Diet”

First of all, I want to say that it’s a freakin’ travesty that this show was randomly cancelled by Netflix at the end of the third season. IT IS SO GOOD AND SO FUNNY AND EVERY CAST MEMBER IS A TREASURE! And the biggest shame is that it has changed and grown and still sustained its charm when the premise (that of a zombie housewife trying to live her not really life and her family dealing with it as well) could have easily been wrung out at this point. In Season 3, Sheila and Joel are trying to figure out what group is trying to hunt her down, and if they can potentially circumvent its detection, while their daughter Abby has to cope with the consequences of a crime she committed, as well as figuring out her feelings for her best friend Eric. EVERYONE on this show is perfection, the comedy is on point, and the mythology expands in the most satisfying ways. So the fact it’s done is a real shame. Go watch it. It’s a delight.

 

 

 

Serena’s Review: “Kingsbane”

40523458Book: “Kingsbane” by Claire Legrand

Publishing Info: Sourcebooks Fire, May 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: ARC from the publisher

Book Description: Rielle Dardenne has been anointed Sun Queen, but her trials are far from over. The Gate keeping the angels at bay is falling. To repair it, Rielle must collect the seven hidden castings of the saints. Meanwhile, to help her prince and love Audric protect Celdaria, Rielle must spy on the angel Corien—but his promises of freedom and power may prove too tempting to resist.

Centuries later, Eliana Ferracora grapples with her new reality: She is the Sun Queen, humanity’s long-awaited savior. But fear of corruption—fear of becoming another Rielle—keeps Eliana’s power dangerous and unpredictable. Hunted by all, racing against time to save her dying friend Navi, Eliana must decide how to wear a crown she never wanted—by embracing her mother’s power, or rejecting it forever.

Previously Reviewed: “Furyborn”

Review: As my review above indicates, I had some problems with the first book in this trilogy. But, as the book was so well-received, to a certain extent I know these were a lot of personal preferences, mainly having to do with the decision to include a prologue that, I felt, gave away a bit too much of the story, if read carefully. So, with that in mind, when I received an ARC in the mail from the publisher, I decided to give it a go. And, while I still struggled with aspects of the story, I also enjoyed it more than the first.

Rielle and Eliana both are thought to be the Sun Queen, though Eliana does have the dark history of her mother, Rielle’s, decent into darkness to back up her claim. But so far these titles and prophesies have brought nothing but danger and challenges, one after another. Eliana must bear the heavy load of her mother’s legacy, worrying constantly that she will follow in her footsteps, fearing her own powers. And Rielle, centuries earlier, must walk a tight line between protecting her kingdom and spying on the angels who threaten them, all while becoming increasingly intrigued by one of them, the mysterious Corien.

Having the world and writing set-up (alternating POVs from the past and the future) already established definitely helped me enjoy this book more than the first. If I worked very hard, I could even try and put the initial prologue out of my head and enjoy the story as it is. I’m particularly intrigued by the ongoing mystery of which Queen is really the Sun Queen and which is the one who turns to evil. While it feels fairly established as Rielle, I’m still on the look-out for a trick up this author’s sleeve in the eleventh hour.

As far as characters go, I still have enjoyed Eliana’s story more than Rielle’s. Part of this might have something to do with the timing of my read of this book. Frankly, I’m a bit exhausted by the “power hungry queens” in fantasy stories right now (I think the reason why is probably pretty obvious). This is definitely not the book’s fault. But timing aside, I do think that Rielle’s decision making and thirst for power made her a bit less appealing for me. At my heart, I always will prefer to the straight-forward hero character over an anti-hero. I also wasn’t a fan of the strange love triangle that was being built up between Rielle, Corien and Audric. I didn’t feel like there was enough established to really justify Rielle’s interest in Corien.

I do very much enjoy the general writing style and world-building of these books. The story feels expansive and epic, and the writing effortlessly flows between witting dialogue and engrossing descriptions of action and setting. If only the characters who populated it all were a bit better. The book is pretty long, however, and I do think some editing could have been in order to tidying it all up.

I also had some questions about the marketing of this book as YA. There are some pretty intense scenes in this book, particularly in the romance plot line between Corien and Rielle. This is by no means coming from a “the children aren’t ready for this!!” place, but more a general question about fantasy fiction and current marketing practices. It almost feels like a lot of good fantasy works are being relegated to YA regardless of that being the appropriate place for them simply because YA fantasy is booming. And look, I love that so many fantasy titles are coming out in YA. But I’m also starting to feel like there is an equal and growing lack of fantasy coming out in adult fiction for the very same reason.

I would place good money on the fact that several titles are pitched to publishers as adult fantasy fiction and then are sent back with the note “Great! But let’s make the protagonists teenagers so we can market it to YA, since that’s where this stuff sells!” It’s too bad, because a lot of adults want to read good fantasy fiction (again, look at the recent epic fantasy TV show that just concluded. Clearly, there is an adult interest in these types of stories). And books like this read as if they could just as easily, and perhaps more appropriately, be marketed as adult fantasy. Teenagers can pick up an adult fantasy novel just as easily as an adult can pick up a YA fantasy title. So maybe we can try giving each their due based on the story itself, and not marketing tactics. A girl can dream.

Having the characters and world set up in the first book, overall I felt as if I could sink more fully into this read and enjoy it. I still had some struggles, but some of that can be laid at the feet of the timing of my read more than any real flaw on the book’s part. Fans of the first book are sure to love this one, and those who may have had middling feelings might want to check it out as well, as I do think everything was strengthened, if not perfected, in this sequel.

Rating  7: An overall improvement on the first book!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Kingsbane” is a newer title, so it isn’t on many Goodreads lists, but it is on: “Books Marketed as Young adult that might be New Adult, Adult Fiction.”

Find “Furyborn” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Persephone”

36323550Book: “Persephone” by Allison Shaw

Publishing Info: Hiveworks, 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: I own an eBook.

Book Description: In his ancient hymns, Homer tells us of the unyielding Lord of the Dead who kidnapped the innocent daughter of Demeter. He tells us quite a bit, in fact, for someone who wasn’t there.

Persephone is no tragic victim, but a kind young woman held in place by her overbearing mother. A failed scheme by Apollo leads her to a chance encounter with the humorless Hades, who is struck by love’s arrow. Now he must wrestle with his aching heart before he loses control entirely.

…Not that the infatuated Persephone has any complaints regarding Hades’ plight. 

As desire blooms between the secluded goddess of the harvest and the ruler of the underworld, the world changes both above and below.

Allison Shaw, creator of comics Far to the North and Tigress Queen, drew on her passion for mythology and ear for modern dialogue to create an updated myth for a mature audience. She wished to offer to her readers a feminist and sensual take on the story, which has grown more and more popular over the years, thanks to its themes of change, rebirth and growth.

Review: Ever since I was a kid I’ve been completely taken with the Persephone and Hades myth. I’m not sure if it’s because Hades is the original Depressive Demon Nightmare Boy, or that I’ve always loved the idea of a Queen of the Dead, but their romance and (part time) joint rule of the Underworld is one of my favorite pieces of mythology. As such, I’m always looking for adaptations of it. Sadly, I haven’t really found many to my liking outside of a few children’s stories (side note, if you have recommendations, send them my way!), and it saddens me that the myth is a bit underappreciated. But that’s why I wanted to spotlight “Persephone” by Allison Shaw, because the moment I started reading I knew that I was going to really enjoy what was done to the characters that I love so much.

The story that Shaw makes takes influence from the original Greek mythologies and updates them a bit to be, shall we say, less problematic than the source material. While it’s important to remember the historical and cultural context at the heart of these stories, the idea of a guy kidnapping a woman and making her his bride doesn’t sit well anymore (even if it’s all a metaphor for growing up and leaving home for a new family AND the changing of the seasons). So Shaw makes Persephone not only the main character, but Hades conflicted about his attraction to her (thanks in part to an errant arrow from Eros) as he doesn’t think that she would be happy with him in the Underworld. Persephone, too, approaches their romance in a different way, as her infatuation slowly grows and is VERY real by the time she and Hades disappear while a domineering Demeter panics. Side note: even as a kid I thought it was strange that Demeter was SO overprotective/controlling of her grown daughter, and found it creepy that she’d stop things from growing in a blackmail effort to get her kid back; I’m glad that authors of newer adaptations are willing to point out that this, too, takes away Persephone’s agency and has it’s own toxicity about it. Their characterizations are also quite strong, and you get a sense of their motivations and personalities pretty easily. She is bubbly and optimistic and kind, and he is sarcastic and dour and a bit lonely, and the differences round each other out well. The romance is very cute as it builds, and yes, it’s also pretty damn sexy. There is a reason this book is described as ‘mature’. It transforms original moments of potential violation in the original story and turns them into moments of very intentional consent, with very, shall we say, steamy results.

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I may have made this face a few times during the more titillating moments… (source)

Now I’m not one who reads that much romance fiction, but I know good smut when I see it, and for the most part “Persephone” has good smut. There’s one moment that seems a bit tacked on as an afterthought, but who am I to complain about love scenes within a love story, especially if they’re between one of my favorite fictional couples of all time?

There are also VERY fun references to other Greek myths and characters, from a lecherous and obnoxious Apollo being a creep to a determined Artemis taking Persephone under her wing, to a snarky Eros who is dealing with his own conflicted feelings about Psyche, and oh can we please, PLEASE get an adaptation of that one next?! IT’S MY SECOND FAVORITE GREEK MYTH!! Persephone and Hades have interactions with all of these characters and act in ways that seem totally true to how their characters would act. I do wish that the story had been longer so that we could have had even more exploration of all of these characters, but I think that it’s better to be left wanting more than to feel like a story is slogging along at a snail’s pace.

And finally, I really loved the art work and the character designs. From Persephone’s voluptuous frame to the fact that Hades has his own speech bubble type, I thought that artwork was unique and fit the tone of the story.

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Source: Hiveworks

I greatly enjoyed what Allison Shaw did with the Hades and Persephone myth. “Persephone” was a sweet and satisfying adaptation of a myth that I have always held dear to my heart.

Rating 8: A sweet and sexy retelling of the Persephone and Hades myth, with a focus on agency, attraction, and choosing one’s own path in life no matter how it may diverge from original expectations.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Persephone” isn’t included on any Goodreads lists, but I think it should be on “Hades and Persephone”.

You can find “Persephone” at Hivemill in both print and eBook form. It isn’t available on WorldCat, but keep an eye out should this change in the future.