A Revisit to Fear Street: “The Betrayal”

182597Book: “The Betrayal” (The Fear Street Saga #1) by R.L. Stine

Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, 1993

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: The Secret is Out!

Why do so many horrifying things happen on Fear Street? Nora knows.

She knows how the terror began. She knows about the young girl who burned at the stake–and the bloody feud between two families that caused the unspeakable horror that has lasted 300 years!

She knows, and she wants to tell.

Are you sure you want to hear it?

Had I Read This Before: No

The Plot: I thought that the best and most appropriate way to end my “Fear Street” re-read would be to read the trilogy that gives an origin story to Fear Street itself. So we’re going back in time!

We start in the Village of Shadyside in 1900. A girl named Nora Goode is watching Fear Mansion as it burns to the ground, hoping that her beau Daniel Fear will come out. But it looks like everyone is trapped inside. As the other neighbors speculate that the fire will burn forever and that the family is cursed, Nora holds the necklace that Daniel gave her in her hands. In a fit of desperation she runs to the window to look inside, and inside she sees a lot of distorted faces in agony, including that of a young girl tied to a stake. The window explodes outwards thanks to the heat, but Nora still stares inside.

Now we’re going even further back to the Wickham Colony of Massachusetts in 1692! We’re now following a teenage Puritan named Susannah Goode, who lives with her mother Martha, her father William, and baby brother George. Martha dotes on the baby and already sees Susannah as a nuisance it seems, and I’m getting shades of the dysfunctional family in “The Witch” here because CLEARLY teenage girls are sinful or some shit. That said, Susannah has been thinking a lot about a certain special boy in town.

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I mean for her sake it better be this. HE MAY BE YOUR ONLY HOPE IN THIS SOCIETY, SUSANNAH!! (source)

Susannah says she needs to got get firewood and her mother says that walking outside alone is dangerous these days because the local Magistrate, Benjamin Fier, has been targeting young women as witches for doing ANYTHING suspicious, like living their lives. The most recent ‘witch’ is Abigail Hopping, whom Benjamin claims was singing songs of The Evil One (honestly same). Susannah can’t believe that her friend is a witch, but promises to be careful. She goes to gather firewood and passes Benjamin Fier as he’s going to no doubt interrogate Abigail because she was probably not wearing her cap right or something. But Susannah knows that Benjamin is not only a ‘fair and righteous man’ (GAG), but he is also the richest man in town along with his brother Matthew. And obviously they are so successful and prosperous because they are SO RIGHTEOUS. Benjamin Fier also has a history of conducting other witch trials and executions across Massachusetts, and insists that the witches have to burn as opposed to hanging, probably because it sounds more brutal. Also, Susannah has a thing for Benjamin’s son Edward, who is almost assuredly NOTHING like this tyrannical father or anything like that, right?

Susannah decides to take a quick detour into the woods, even though she’s been told that the witches in town like to go there to worship The Evil One. I mean, it’s not like random girls are being persecuted as witches for any old thing, right? No problem! Suddenly someone grabs her, but instead of The Evil One it’s Edward! He scolds her for even thinking that he could be The Evil One because the village is full of witches no according to his father. Susannah says she’s so upset about her friend Faith, who had just recently been burned as a witch, and Edward assures her that his father no doubt has AMPLE proof of her evil ways! She says that they have to stop meeting in secret, because it could get her in trouble, and he brushes that off in the way that only a certain kind of privilege can bring. She jokes that what if The Evil One is watching them and he straight up scolds her for joking about that, and he sure seems like a fun date to bring to parties. They hear the townsfolk getting ready to burn Abigail, and when she expresses sadness about it he says that if she’s a witch she deserves to burn. She asks when he’ll tell his father about them, and he says when the time is right he will, and hey buddy, that’s all well and good for you because YOU won’t be accused of being a witch just for looking at a person of the opposite sex in a way that isn’t deemed ‘righteous’! She is excited that she’s going to be married to Edward Fier, and I think it sounds like a raw deal for her.

Over dinner that night the Goodes wonder aloud how it is that even though they grow in the same soil the Fiers always have bigger and more plentiful vegetables than they do. Martha also casually wonders just where it is that this new family came from, because they know it wasn’t England. William then confronts Susannah about the fact he’s seen her meeting with Edward in secret. He tells her that’s super dangerous, but Susannah insists that they’re in love and doing nothing wrong, and that he’s going to marry her. But William has to break the news to her that Benjamin Fier told him just that morning that Edward was engaged to be married to a girl from Portsmouth! Heartbroken, Susannah goes to bed and cries her eyes out. Cut your losses, Susannah. YOU CAN STILL GO TO THE WOODS AND JOIN THE WITCHES! LIVE YOU BEST LIFE!

Meanwhile, across town, Edward is talking with his asshole of a father Benjamin, saying that he refuses to marry Anne Ward. Benjamin tells him that Anne Ward is a good match for the families (I assume it has to do with wealth and land ownership), but Edward tells him that he’s not in love with Anne. No fucking duh, you moron, this kind of thing isn’t about love, and Benjamin tells him as much when he reminds his weenie son that when he and Matthew first came to America they had to eat rats to survive, and doesn’t want that for his kid. By marrying Anne he will get access to a tea importing fortune and become even MORE wealthy, in spite of the fact that Benjamin is already town Magistrate and Matthew is the most successful farmer. Edward confesses that he loves Susannah, and Benjamin says that she’s poor as fuck so THAT’S not going to do. Edward says he intends to marry for love, not money, and Benjamin tells him he’s not marrying Susannah and that’s that.

Some time later Martha and Susannah are preparing dinner, Susannah still sulking about Edward’s engagement, when Benjamin and a couple of Puritan thugs bust into their home. He tells the thugs to watch the women as he looks for proof, and he reaches into a pot and pulls out a vial with a chicken’s foot, a charm, and perhaps blood. He says that this proves that they are witches! Susannah says that they’ve never seen that before, and Benjamin says they’re lying and they’re going to be taken to the jail. Martha and Susannah are horrified, but manage to pass baby George off to a neighbor named Mary Halsey as they’re hauled away. And honestly, this seems pretty accurate given that it’s said that sometimes accusations of witchcraft were done for political gains during this time period. Hell, during ANY time period!

Mom and daughter are standing together in a prisoner’s box in the town hall, and will be tried and convicted and burned before the week is done. Susannah says that the people in town KNOW they aren’t bad, but Martha is far more pragmatic and knows that they’ll see what they’re told to see. When a bat flies into the room, Matthew Fier accuses the women of conjuring it. William stands up and demands that his family be released as Matthew KNOWS that they aren’t witches, and Benjamin says that they don’t put innocent women on trial. They try to goad the ladies to confess, but they both refuse, and Susannah STILL thinks that Edward will come and save her. John Halsey, who has been watching baby George with Mary, says that they need to let William speak but he’s ignored and William is removed from the courtroom, but not before getting roughed up a bit. Benjamin shows off a bag of items he has deemed associated with witch craft, and Susannah and Martha still say it isn’t theirs. When they refuse to confess, he finds them guilty and sentences them to death by burning the next night.

As Susannah and Martha lie in their cell, Edward suddenly appears at the cell window. Susannah asks if he’s come to save them, but LOL NO WAY, he’s come to yell at her about being a witch!

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We aren’t surprised, but we’re still filled with hate for this guy. (source)

He asks how she could betray him, and OH BOY IS THAT A JOKE. He says that she tried to lead him astray with The Evil One, and when she says she’s innocent he says that there’s no WAY because he told his father his feelings about her and would his FATHER HURT HIM SO BY FALSELY ACCUSING HER? NO WAY! He tells her off and ditches her, leaving her heartbroken.

Across town William is probably trying not to have a nervous breakdown, and Matthew Fier knocks on his door. Matthew says that he can help change his brother’s mind, but it’s going to cost William money to do so. 100 pounds, to be exact. William says that he only has 80 pounds to his name, and Matthew says that that won’t be enough, but is more than willing to accept a fancy belt buckle and whatever else William has instead. William gives Matthew the money and the finery and Matthew says he’ll take care of everything. William notices a fancy amulet around Matthew’s neck, and it has the phrase ‘Dominatio per malum’ engraved on it. William asks him what it means, and Matthew doesn’t give an answer. When William asks him about the bird claw design and says it’s sometimes called a demon’s claw, Matthew freezes, and then says that HE knows nothing about that and neither should William. He then rides off.

The next night William is elated that his wife and daughter are going to be freed, but, in a big fucking surprise, he gets to the town commons and Martha and Susannah are STILL being led off to be burned! William confronts the officers and tells them that he paid the Fiers to let them go, where are they so they can confirm it? And haven’t you heard? THE FIER FAMILY DISAPPEARED INTO THE NIGHT! No one knows where they are, and they didn’t give any word about stopping the execution. So Susannah and Martha are burnt at the stake anyway. William, absolutely devastated, returns to his home. He thinks about how not only did they die for things they didn’t do, but how he was totally bamboozled by their accusers. Mary brings George back and tells William that the baby needs his father, and William says that she has to hold onto him a little longer because he has something to do first. And THIS is where things get interesting. William enters a secret room in the house, one that Susannah and Martha never knew about, and PULLS OUT HIS OWN MAGICAL ITEMS!! William Goode IS a practicing Warlock (though I’m still pretty sure that those Fier assholes planted the witchcraft evidence because it sounds like William hid all his shit in this room, so fuck them)!!! And now he’s seeking his revenge!!!

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FUCK ‘EM UP, WILLIAM!!! (source)

Quick stop back to 1900, as we find out that Nora Goode is writing out her family history, trying to trace her lineage and the curse that is upon the Fear Family that as of now they have so richly deserved. She doesn’t remember how she got from the lawn of the burning mansion to safety, but knows that there was a reason for it.

Jumping back to 1710, we meet up with the Fier family once more. They’ve moved to Western Pennsylvania, and have made quite the lives for themselves. Edward didn’t end up marrying Anne Ward, but he did marry some woman named Rebecca and now they have a bratty son named Ezra. Matthew and his wife Constance now have a teenage daughter named Mary. They all seem very pleased with themselves, in spite of the fact Benjamin has been muttering that he feels like the family is cursed, mostly because the new shingles on the roof came off in a storm. Edward says he’ll take a look after supper, and assures Mary that the only curse the family has is his ‘crotchety old father’. I would argue psychopathic zealous father, but hey, potato, potahto. Meanwhile, someone is standing outside, hiding behind a tree. It’s William Goode, and after twenty years of searching he’s finally found the assholes who ruined his life. He watches Edward as he climbs up onto the roof, with Mary holding the ladder for him. She asks him to be careful and he brushes her off, so it’s no big shock when he manages to plummet off the roof. Mary screams, and everyone rushes out of the house (and Constance accidentally cut her wrist when she heard Mary scream, so she’s bleeding like a stuck pig). Edward is alive but his arm is broken. Benjamin keeps muttering about a curse.

After breakfast the next day Mary is returning from the henhouse (and thinking about the chaos from the night before), when she’s approached by a handsome young man on the road. He says that he’s looking for the owner of the estate, and she says that it’s her father Matthew Fier. She says she’ll take him to see him and he carries the egg basket like a true gentleman. She tells him that the farm has been growing steadily since before she was born, and Matthew lumbers out like some oafish bear on quaaludes. The man says his name is Jeremy Thorne and he’s looking for work, and while Matthew first tells him they don’t need help Edward comes out and is like ‘hello, my arm is broken?’. Once Jeremy tells them all that his father is ill and he’s the only one who can bring in income, Matthew decides to hire him. Mary is excited because he’s a hottie.

That afternoon Mary finds Jeremy by the well and they do some light flirting, and just as he’s about to kiss her Rebecca comes running out asking Mary if she’s seen Matthew or Edward, as something terrible has happened! Mary follows her back to the house and Benjamin in collapsed on the floor, staring up at the ceiling as if in a trance. He snaps out of it as Edward arrives, and while he’s not dead his left leg is suddenly paralyzed for no discernible reason. I’d say it’s karma, but we know it’s far more intentional.

Three days later, Mary has snuck off to meet Jeremy in a field where he’s clearing brush, and it seems that they’re already head over heels for each other as they’re already talking about how they can’t live without each other. Mary says that her uncle would never approve of this, but given that his entire left side is paralyzed at this point he has bigger worries to think about, I’d say. They kiss, and Mary is head over heels. Later that night she and Edward are walking through the woods on the property, and he is saying that not only is his father ill, but now Rebecca is acting sullen and distant, and maybe it’s because you leave her to care for your shitty child as if you didn’t have some hand in his creation. As they’re walking, however, they see that some of the trees are on fire! But when they get closer, it’s not trees that are on fire, it looks like a girl! A girl is ablaze and Edward starts to scream that it’s Susannah Goode! As the vision fades, Edward continues to scream.

Two days later Mary is telling Jeremy about what she saw, and he says it was probably a trick of the light, but she insists that it was something far more sinister. She says she’s going to bring sweet rolls to Rebecca to lift her spirits, and Jeremy asks her if she’s told her father about them yet. She says no, because when she told him about the girl in the fire he reacted very poorly, in that he grabbed the silver amulet around his mouth and got very quiet. She says she needs to get to Rebecca and Edward’s before the incoming storm starts, and then asks Jeremy if HE’S told HIS father about HER? He says no. So they’re both dragging their feet. When Mary gets to her cousin’s house, it starts to rain. She hopes that the sweet rolls will raise the spirits of her cousin, as his father’s paralysis got worse in the night and now Benjamin can only move his head and his right arm. As she searches through the house for her family, she stumbles upon something really upsetting: Rebecca has hung herself from the rafters! Mary screams, pukes, and then runs outside into the rain like a lunatic. She calls frantically for Edward, but then runs into what she thinks is a scarecrow. Except, it’s not. IT’S BENJAMIN, PROPPED UP LIKE A SCARECROW AND DEAD AS A DOORNAIL!

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Now THIS is vengeance!!! (source)

A couple days later the funerals have happened. Edward is practically catatonic and Ezra is now in the care of Constance because, once again, why would a father parent his own child when a woman can do it? Mary saw her father late at night chanting ‘Dominatio per malum’, but doesn’t know what it means, because not only do girls not get educated, they certainly aren’t educated in Latin. Mary sees Jeremy at the edge of the group, and follows him to the toolshed. He tells her that he knows who killed her uncle and Edward’s wife: it’s his father! His father isn’t a sick old man, his name is William Goode, and he is evil, but only because evil has been done to him! He’s been obsessed with the Fier family ever since Martha and Susannah were murdered, so much so that Jeremy’s older brother George returned to Massachusetts to escape his anger. Jeremy tells her about Benjamin murdering Susannah and Martha, Edward doing nothing to stop it, and Matthew stealing the money. He says that his father will keep seeking revenge unless they stop him, and he says that can do this if they get married. That way the families will unite in goodness. Mary accepts, and they embrace, but unfortunately Edward had followed her like a creep and now that he’s seen everything he fully intends on narcing on them because even STILL he believes his father was right in burning Susannah and her mother. PRICK! Though, he thinks about the vision he saw in the woods, and starts to have doubts. So he goes to confront Matthew (making sure to shove his son away when the little boy wants to see him, like the model father he is), who of course denies it all. But when Mary arrives Matthew relents, and then confesses everything to both of them, though he says it was all in Edward’s best interests. Why that had to involve stealing all of William’s money remains to be seen. Mary says she wants to marry Jeremy Goode, and Matthew says NO WAY, he’ll never marry her off to the son of a murderer. Edward and Mary remind him that he is ALSO a murderer, but they were poor WOMEN so who gives a shit, right? They fight and Mary says that she loves Jeremy and intends to marry him, and then Matthew suddenly relents, and says that after the mourning period has passed they will invite Jeremy AND William to dinner, and the feud will end. Mary is ecstatic.

So after a week passes Jeremy arrives and Mary is convinced that Matthew is going to give him her hand in marriage. But when Matthew enters the room, instead of shaking his hand, he yanks off his amulet and chucks it at Jeremy’s head… which in turn EXPLODES with graphic detail of brains and blood and everything. And up comes the head of someone else. WILLIAM GOODE! There never was a Jeremy, it had been William the whole time trying to steal Matthew’s only child away from him! But Matthew, who is ALSO a warlock, was too clever, and a wizard fight ensues, as Mary keeps calling out for Jeremy, Constance looks on in horror, and Edward just kinda stands there. Eventually Matthew yells out ‘Dominatio per malum, power through evil!’, and the spell turns William into dust. Matthew starts laughing, and once he starts he literally cannot stop. As Constance begs him to stop, Edward grabs Mary and Ezra and runs out of the house.

Another time jump, this time to 1725 in the Pennsylvania wilderness. Now Ezra is an adult, and reflecting upon what has happened since they ran away. Edward tried to raise him and Mary up on his own, but he eventually died of exhaustion and Mary, who was driven crazy by what happened that night, killed herself. Ezra blames the Goode family for everything that happened, and unfortunately he wasn’t privy to how his grandfather and father and great uncle were complete assholes. Hoping to get any info he can, he goes back to Matthew and Constance’s farm, not sure of what he’ll find. The place is basically abandoned. He does eventually find the skeletons of Matthew and Constance, and a diary left by Matthew talking about how he walled them in for safety and bashed Constance over the head when she tried to escape. The last pages are about how the Goodes and their treachery did this. Very convenient that he made NO mention of two innocent women who were burnt at the stake, hm? Ezra swears that he’ll get his revenge.

We end this book back in the Village of Shadyside in 1900 as Nora continues to write out her family history. She thinks about how the story is long and awful, but she is compelled to tell it. To Be Continued…

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Not bad! (source)

Body Count: 5 (nine if you include the off page deaths of Matthew, Constance, Edward, and Mary)! Some weren’t the most historically accurate of deaths, but whatever. If Stine wants to burn his witches, who’s to stop him?

Romance Rating: 2. I feel like Norah and Daniel are going to be something significant, but we haven’t seen them interact yet. But Edward was a piece of shit to Susannah and Jeremy was a big ol’ lie.

Bonkers Rating: 7! I was legitimately caught off guard by the William Goode reveal, Jeremy’s head exploding is pretty hard to deny as being bonkers.

Fear Street Relevance: It’s gonna get 10s across the board! This is the history of the Fear family, guys!

Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger: 

“‘Edward Fier is engaged to be married,’ her father said. “Edward is to marry a young woman of Portsmouth. His father told me this morning.'”

… Cliffhanger maybe, but Edward sounds like a true dink so Susannah should have cut her losses and went to join a REAL coven to free herself from the idiot men in her life.

That’s So Dated! Moments: Given that these are historical fiction novels that doesn’t really apply here.

Best Quote:

“Innocence died today, But my hatred will live for generations. The Fiers shall not escape me. Wherever they flee, I will be there. My family’s screams shall become the Fiers’ tortured screams. The fire that burned today shall not be quenched – until revenge is mine, and the Fiers burn forever in the fire of my curse!”

Gotta say, this fired me up and made me solidly #TeamGoode.

Conclusion: “The Betrayal” was a dark and solid start to the three part origins of the Fear Family and Fear Street! It will be interesting to see how this Hatfields and McCoys-esque feud will escalate, as I have to imagine it’s just going to get worse. Up next is “The Secret”!

Beach Reads: Summer 2019

Back for 2019, here is a list of some more favorite beach reads! “Beach read” is a very fast and loose term for books people read over the beautiful summer months when we really should be outside “doing things” but are instead reading…maybe outside. Some people see these months as an opportunity to slog through long classics (we’re looking at you “Moby Dick”) before the busy-ness of of the fall starts up, but for the sake of this list, we’re limiting our choices to stand alone, mostly feel good books (though there’s some obvious leeway here for Kate’s horror tastes!) that could be easily brought along on vacations. So, still a very loose definition, but hey, we had to start somewhere! We will select one title for each of the genres we most read.

Serena’s Picks

68427Fantasy Title: “Elantris” by Brandon Sanderson

As well as right lengthy fantasy epics, Brandon Sanderson also has a few excellent standalone works. This is one of his earlier writings, and the book that really solidified him as a favorite author for me. Off the back of the “Mistborn” trilogy, I wasn’t sure whether Sanderson was the real deal, or whether that series had been lightening in a bottle. But “Elantris” is marvelous all on its own. It proves that you can still include detailed world-building, complicated magical systems, and fully fleshed out characters all in one, stand alone fantasy series. It tells the tale of the magical city of “Elantris,” once a wonder of the world, now a ruin, haunted by those infected by an incurable disease that comes on suddenly and dooms its carriers to a short life of exile. Princess Sarene and Prince Raoden are both fun characters to follow, but the slowly-revealed mystery behind the doom of Elantris is the real draw of this story.

15743440Science Fiction Title: “The Best of All Possible Worlds” by Karen Lord

Honestly, I had forgotten all about this title until I was researching options for this list. But once I rediscovered it on my Goodreads “read” shelf, I immediately remember how much I enjoyed it and now want to nab a copy to re-read. The story is a bizarre mix of an anthropologic travelogue and the answer to the oft-asked fanficttion question “What would a romance really look like between a Vulcan and a human?” Of course, they aren’t actual Vulcans in this book, but with the same cerebral, cool demeanor, they are as close as you can get. Pair one of them with a fiery, human scientist and have them travel around discovery the answers to mysteries and slowly falling in love, and you’ve got a story!

28588390Mystery Title: “A Study in Scarlet Women” by Sherry Thomas

It’s pretty hard to find stand-alone mysteries. But like many mystery series, the individual books in the “Lady Sherlock” series can be read on their own, as well. As the series name implies, this is another re-telling of Sherlock Holmes where the titular character is recast as a woman. But what stands out about this version of the story is how little changed the character is other than her gender. Charlotte Holmes has all of the original character’s brilliance, but also many of his same flaws, like a lack of concern for social decorum and a tendency to put her case before others. But she also has unique aspects as well that take readers who know the original character well by surprise. Supporting characters are also a delightful mix of familiar and new traits and the mystery is complicated and intriguing.

399395Historical Fiction Title: “Enemy Women” by Paulette Jiles

I read this book a few years ago, and it’s really stuck with me ever since. Looking through my reading lists, I find that I typically read about a very narrow period of time and place, Regency and Victorian England. Many historical mysteries or fantasy historical fiction will be set in these times. But this book explored a completely unfamiliar time period and place for me: the South during the Civil War. It tells the story of Adair Colley, a young woman from a family that has tried to protect itself in Missouri by keeping a neutral stance. When this falls through and Adair finds herself in a prison for enemy women, she must call on her own strength to make it back home. The writing in this book is truly unique, and while it took a bit to get used to, the lyrical prose eventually won me completely over. This well-researched historical fiction title is definitely worth checking out.

Kate’s Picks

28111713Horror Title: “The Long Walk” by Richard Bachman

It isn’t that much of a secret now, but Richard Bachman is the pseudonym for Stephen King when he wanted to write darker(!), less horror oriented works. Eventually he was outed as one and the same, but not before he wrote one of his great masterpieces, “The Long Walk”. Which is still VERY much a horror novel in spite of the pen name. In the near future in a dystopic United States, every year teenage boys can sign up for a walking and endurance test called The Walk. The last person standing at the end is promised fame and fortune, and security in an economically unstable world. You get three times to break the rules. After the third, well… there can only be one standing at the end. This is one of my all time favorite Stephen King stories, as the suspense is relentless, the consequences devastating, and the pacing completely addicting. Think “The Hunger Games” but even darker and with less hope. King/Bachman also continues to capture the spirit of youth, friendship, and adolescent angst, even in the hellscape that is The Walk. You won’t be able to put it down, even if it makes you feel sick by the end.

23492630Thriller Title: “You” by Caroline Kepnes

I reviewed “You” way back around the time this blog was first created, and as time has gone on it has become one of my favorite novels thanks to rumination and multiple re-reads. And given that the Netflix show exploded in popularity, I feel the need to promote it again as the perfect read to take to the beach, pool, park, or wherever during the summer months. Joe is a quiet bookseller in New York City, and his life is changed the day that Guinevere Beck walks into his shop. Joe immediately becomes obsessed with her, and starts to plot ways to insert himself into her life. Through any means necessary. Both a creepy stalker tale and an exploration of dark humor in regards to Millennial ennui (as a Millennial I can say this!), “You” is hard to read and yet hard to put down. Joe Goldberg is a narrator you love to hate, but then the same can be said for Beck and just about everyone in this story. If you liked the show on Netflix, you definitely need to read the book!

24727094Graphic Novel Title: “Honor Girl: A Memoir” by Maggie Thrash

While this takes place at a summer camp, that isn’t the only reason that I put it on the list of Beach Reads! I remember devouring “Honor Girl” when I first read it. When Maggie Thrash was a teenager she attended an all girls summer camp in the Appalachian mountains. Thrash was living a fairly typical life, enjoying pop music, feeling awkward at times, and growing up in Atlanta. But during the summer that she was fifteen Thrash realized that she had a deep attraction to one of the counselors named Erin, and thus began a summer of exploration of identity, sexuality, and what love is and can be, even if those around you don’t understand. “Honor Girl” is a relatable and at times bittersweet story about first love, fitting in, and the heartbreak that can come with both. Plus, so many references to The Backstreet Boys!!

16213Non-Fiction Title: “The Hot Zone: The Terrifying True Story of the Origins of the Ebola Virus” by Richard Preston

So I don’t put this on the list to scare you guys, even if it IS a pretty scary novel. I put “The Hot Zone” on the list because even though it is a non-fiction book, it reads like a thriller novel that will not let you go until you have read every last page. While Ebola is usually associated with far off countries in Africa, in 1989 a research lab in Virginia has to contend with the possibility that it has shown up in their research monkeys. Suddenly it becomes a race against time and potentially nature as military personnel and scientists alike try to get a hand on what is going on, and if they do, indeed, have a potential outbreak of a ‘hot’ case of Ebola on American soil. Along with the deeply upsetting scenario playing out in the lab, this book also looks at the history and the viruology of Ebola and other hemorrhagic viruses, which gives a context that is not only fascinating but all the more scary. True, it may make you incredibly paranoid about the preparedness our government and scientists have when faced with a deadly outbreak, but it will also keep you interested.

What books are you going to take to the beach, pool, or wherever this summer? Let us know in the comments!

The Great Animorphs Re-Read #51: “The Absolute”

363390Animorphs #51: “The Absolute”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, March 2001

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: The Yeerks have taken over units of the National Guard with plans to infest all of its officers and soldiers. The plan seems to be to step things up—use the Guard to prepare for an all-out war on Earth. The Animorphs couldn’t be less prepared. They’re living with the free Hork-Bajir colony, Jake is depressed, and worst of all, the morphing cube is in the hands of the enemy.

Marco and the others know they need to take serious action to stop the Yeerk infiltration of the Guard. They decide to approach the governor—but they don’t know if she’s a controller or not. If she is, they’re walking right into enemy hands. If she’s not, the Animorphs are finally going public with their secret. And no one knows which situation is worse… 

Narrator: Marco

Plot:  This book was pretty much a mess from start to finish for me. I didn’t remember much of this book, and it’s pretty clear why. Sure, on paper, big things happen, but the story itself is pretty lackluster, all the more so for feeling like a waste of one of the few remaining books we have left.

My feelings throughout the book. But mostly about the decision to leave out half of the characters.

Marco and Tobias are on a reconnaissance mission to scout out a train bringing in large numbers of the National Guard. Given there is no holiday coming up, the Animorphs are suspicious that the Yeerks may be planning a mass infestation of the units, now that the war is coming out to the public more and more. It turns out that yes, the train is under surveillance by the Yeerks, now able to morph and watching it in the form of several birds of prey lead by no other than their own red tailed hawk. Tobias and Marco have to put their bird skills to use to try to escape, and even then, they only make it out by stealing a tank that Marco has to drive. Yet again, Marco’s driving abilities leave something to be desired, and Chapman’s house is the latest victim to his inability to steer or brake.

Back in the Hork Bajir valley, they decide they need to take a big step to prevent this: inform someone high up of what’s going on. Jake splits the team into two groups. The first, made up of Marco, Tobias, and Ax (the “finesse” group) is to find the governor and convince them of what’s going on and try to prevent the National Guard from all coming to town. The remaining Animorphs and James and his group will try to create a diversion to also delay the troop movements. During the conversation, Jake makes it clear that he doesn’t want Cassie out of his sight because he no longer trusts her, though the others don’t understand what has happened between the two of them.

Marco, Tobias, and Ax make their way to the Gardens to get some long distance flyers. The manage to acquire ducks, but end up being spotted and chased by Controllers as well. They  make their way to the capitol but realize they don’t know where the governor lives or what his name is. They get the address for the mansion, eventually, and once there, morph cockroach and go on a wild ride clinging to the limo that they see a pair of shoes they assume is the governor enter. They end up at a fundraising event and follow the governor and a woman in heels into the bathroom. Once there, they demorph and begin the rundown on the situation (they then also realize that not only did they not know where the governor lived or what their name was, the governor was in fact the woman in heels, not a man at all). As they’re attempting to convince her, it becomes clear that her husband is a Controller and they have to make a wild escape with a brave bodyguard named Collins helping to hold the Yeerks at bay.

Many high-jinks ensue involving Tobias driving a limo, them having to jump off a bridge and on to a yacht, and said yacht getting blown apart and sinking beneath them with Marco having to rescue the governor who had been attempting to steer it to ground to save the people on it. They end up retreating back to the governor’s mansion and finish explaining the entire situation. Collins, the brave body guard, meets them there. They ask whether the governor knows anyone high up in the National Guard who has been gone for at least three days and she mentions a high rank member of the service and his unit of several hundred soldiers who have been out of the country for the past two weeks.

Later, back in the valley, they all gather to watch TV and see the fight that Jake and the others were in on TV. It hadn’t been going well until a unit of the National Guard showed up as support (the governor’s troops). The governor then gets on air herself and explains what is going on: aliens have invaded and the world is in a war for its survival.

The Comic Relief: This might be in the running for one of the books where the main character has the least interesting things happening to them. Really, there’s practically no emotional arc or character development in this book. It’s a real shame as now that his mom is back in his life, I feel like there could have been some really good stuff there. We’ve barely seen them together, and it’s always only been briefly in other character’s books. It’s too bad because it seems like there would be a lot there with them having been on opposite sides of this war for so long.

We also see very little of Marco the practical, ruthless strategist. Big things are finally happening in this war and with those events come some big moral situations and Marco’s perspective on these types of choices has always been unique. But again, we don’t get any of that. We get a few good comedic lines and a return of Marco driving poorly, but this late in the series, I would have really appreciated more for him.

Our Fearless Leader: Frankly, I think we saw the wrong two characters highlighted in this third to last book. We’ve seen very little from Jake ever since his sinking into depression, and there’s ton to be mined there. Even more so from the perspective of his best friend, Marco. Early in the book, Marco notes how badly Jake is doing and Marco’s own guilt about being happy about his own family situation in comparison. But then Jake’s gone for the rest of the book. We don’t see him facing his ongoing challenges as a leader. We don’t have any moments between Jake and Marco as best friends whose roles have been swapped. It’s all really unfortunate.

Xena, Warrior Princess: Again, another character who I’m super frustrated to not see more of. As I’ve said in the past, other than Jake, Rachel has one of the most interesting arcs over the entire series. And then, of course, knowing her end…it just seems incredibly wasteful to not get to see more of her here. She has a few good lines, but then is off page for most of the book. The governor is compared favorably to Rachel several times with her ability to stay cool under heavy fire and say “Let’s do it!” to crazy plans. But there’s no replacing the real Rachel, especially this close to us losing her for good.

A Hawk’s Life: Tobias puts his flying knowledge to good use early in the book and then gets to actually drive a vehicle in the end, something usually Marco does. Marco did get to drive a tank in this one, though. I will say, however, the descriptions of Tobias’s driving sound much more “Bourne-esque” than Marco’s. Yes there is still a lot of damage, but he’s also in a high speed chase and weaving around to avoid gun/Dracon beam fire. It comes off a bit more badass than, say, taking out garbage cans in a pickup. Tobias and Marco both assume the governor is a man, and take some flack from Ax for not knowing anything about her, even her name. Tobias has an excuse having been out of society for quite a while now, but Marco has a rather poor showing, all things considered.

There’s also a strange bit where Tobias jumps off a bridge in his Hork Bajir morph and somehow manages to morph hawk before hitting the water. The timing mechanics of morphing seem to be yet another casualty to the rushed feel and lack of thought that went into this story.

Peace, Love, and Animals: And our third character who we lose out on. After the major events of the last book, it’s really a shame to not see more of Cassie and how she’s working within the group. Especially her relationship with Jake. We see that it is strained, even from the small moments we get, but we don’t see how else Cassie is dealing with the fallout of her choice. In this mission, it would have been interesting to have Cassie there when they’re dealing with the Controllers in morph. It’s also clear that no one knows how exactly the blue box fell into the Yeerks hands. Probably a good choice by Jake on that one. I can’t see the others taking it very well, maybe especially Marco, who has been known to be practical to the point of ruthlessness in the past.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: For being on the main mission of this book, Ax had very little of note. Again, he served as “proof” of the alien invasion story by showing up in his real form to greet the governor. He also had a few funny lines, at one point whipping out a line of sarcasm that Marco notes is a new level of humor for Ax, though it comes at an inopportune time.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: Not a lot really. When they’re acquiring the ducks, Marco, rightly, questions why they never thought of getting an endurance flyer like this before (really, this is a major strike against Cassie and her animal knowledge that it never came up before. Not only can ducks go long distances, but they can fly together without it being strange), Marco brings up the unfortunate fly!Jake swat incident for years ago. He mentions that if they had thought of duck morphs then, that could have been avoided. That really was one of the more gruesome animal injuries any of them sustained. There are also some passing comments about the extreme levels of bodily injuries a cockroach can sustain. But other than that, not a lot other than the typical morph explanations.

Couples Watch!: Zilch. Though the governor does seem to take it rather easily that her husband has been infested by an alien, mind-controlling parasite…so that’s odd.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: Visser One makes a brief, pointless appearance towards the end of the book. In all honestly, I just finished reading it and I can’t remember anything notable about him being there and am pretty sure I forgot that he was one of the human “Controllers” running around during all of the action. The one notable thing about the villains that stood out in this book was the way the morphing has changed things. At one point, Marco notes that this constant paranoia must be how Visser One has been existing for the past several years, suspecting every animals is an enemy in morph. I thought it was clever how the book highlights that while the ability to morph is huge, the Animorphs still have a slight advantage in being more familiar with their morphs’ abilities, as seen in the bird chase in the beginning of the book. I also thought it was notable that the red tail hawk seemed to be leading the charge for the bird!Yeerks. Golden eagles are much bigger, stronger birds, but you have to wonder if the Yeerks assumed that red tailed hawks had some mystical advantage since one of the “Andalite bandits” had been using it as a battle morph this entire time. So the honor of getting that morph went to the head Yeerk in that situation.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Not much of anything. This book is almost entirely taken up by action pieces and chases. So maybe that’s the most sad thing: we’re getting so close to the end of the series and huge things have been happening for all of the characters. And yet, when all of these great characters moments could be happening, instead we’re reading back-to-back generic chase scenes. It feels like a huge waste and missed opportunity. The saddest bit of it all is that we have an entire book that is missing half of the team. The strongest part of the entire series has been reading about this team of very different characters working together to save the world. Why you would lose one of your few remaining opportunities to play to this strength and instead only focus on  only three of them (and arguably the less important three) is beyond me.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: Whenever the plan to “reveal all” to people comes up, it’s always landed in this area. And really, this one isn’t any different. Yes, the stakes are higher now and their secret out there anyways, so if there’s a time to do it, this is probably it. But the whole thing hinges on the governor just happening to be a super chill lady who just accepts this bizarre story out of nowhere. Even more so, high ranking members of the National Guard are willing to just go with it too when the governor calls on them. It’s all a bit unbelievable. The crazy levels people will go to to not have their comfortable world-view challenged has always been the problem with this plan, and it feels like it works out here more because it had to for the sake of the story than for any actual reason. The only way the world “finding out” really works is if it’s all revealed to a large number of people and recorded, or something. These one-on-ones are just hard to buy and the fact that members of a military branch would believe it enough to fight their own, based on zero evidence, is also highly questionable.

On a smaller scale, the beginning little antics that somehow ends with Marco running a tank over Chapman’s house…It’s never quite clear how the tank goes from “middle of nowhere on a train line” to “Chapman’s house.” It seems like that would be quite a distance, and any benefit of speed would be lost once you ended up in an urban neighborhood and off highways. What’s worse, they’re being followed by Controllers the whole time, and it’s not like a tank is very inconspicuous. The story conveniently skates over how Marco and the others managed to escape the whole situation after the destruction of Chapman’s house. We have to assume they go fly or something. But overall, it still reads like one of those throw-away action scenes that is supposed to be fun to read but doesn’t hold up to much thought.

Favorite Quote: 

Before gorilla!Marco jumps off a bridge with the governor, one of several Rachel comparisons.

<You scared of heights, Governor?> I said.

“As opposed to what? Bullets? Laser beams that vaporize solid concrete? A bridge that might collapse under me at any moment?” She shook her head. Took a deep breath. “Let’s do it.”

“Let’s do it?” A vision flashed into my head, the governor when she was a kid. She looked like . . . Rachel?

And a good line about Tobias’s driving:

<Just keep your eyes on the road,> I said. <And I don’t ever want to hear another word of criticism about my driving.>

Scorecard: Yeerks 15, Animorphs 18

We’ll give this one to the Animorphs. Getting a high-ranking official to believe them and mobilize human troops against the Yeerks is huge. And as it seems like the secrecy game was going to be shot anyways by Visser One’s insistence on speeding up efforts, the fact that the Animorphs have been able to keep up as well as they have is pretty big.

Rating: This was an unfortunate book all around, I think. I mean, on its own, it’s fine. But given how late we are in the series, it felt pretty wasted. We get tons of action scenes, but at this point, those are fairly low on my priority list, especially when they just feel like generic chase scenes and take up about 80% of the book. Maybe these were more fun to read when I was a kid, but as I’ve re-read this series, these types of escapades are always the parts that I found myself skimming. So to come up on one of the last books and have it so devoted to only that…*sigh* And, again, big changes are happening, this time with the reveal of the war to the general public. But there is very little emotional build up and absolutely zero follow-up action as the book immediately ends after the TV announcement from the governor. Like several of the last books, I feel like they’re all ending right before we get to the good stuff of the Animorphs having to actually unpack these huge changes in a war that has largely stayed the same as they’ve fought it for the last several years. You can’t help but feel that either the author(s) just didn’t care about this part of the story, figuring kids will be distracted by tons of action scenes. Or that the ghost writers weren’t challenged with taking on bigger character moments like these. Whatever the reason, I’ve found myself more often mourning the things that are left off the page than appreciating what’s actually there. Well, one more book before we’re there! We’ll see how Ax fairs in all of this.

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

Kate’s Review: “The Hunting Party”

40535684Book: “The Hunting Party” by Lucy Foley

Publishing Info: William Morrow, February 2019

Where Did I Get This Book: The publisher sent me an ARC.

Book Description: For fans of Ruth Ware and Tana French, a shivery, atmospheric, page-turning novel of psychological suspense in the tradition of Agatha Christie, in which a group of old college friends are snowed in at a hunting lodge . . . and murder and mayhem ensue.

All of them are friends. One of them is a killer.

During the languid days of the Christmas break, a group of thirtysomething friends from Oxford meet to welcome in the New Year together, a tradition they began as students ten years ago. For this vacation, they’ve chosen an idyllic and isolated estate in the Scottish Highlands—the perfect place to get away and unwind by themselves. They arrive on December 30th, just before a historic blizzard seals the lodge off from the outside world.

Two days later, on New Year’s Day, one of them is dead.

The trip began innocently enough: admiring the stunning if foreboding scenery, champagne in front of a crackling fire, and reminiscences about the past. But after a decade, the weight of secret resentments has grown too heavy for the group’s tenuous nostalgia to bear. Amid the boisterous revelry of New Year’s Eve, the cord holding them together snaps. Now one of them is dead . . . and another of them did it. Keep your friends close, the old adage goes. But just how close is too close?

Review: Thank you to William Morrow for sending me an ARC of this novel!

Though we’re pretty much now fully into summer here in Minnesota, to me one of the best seasons for a tangled mystery to take place is the wintertime. There’s something about the snow and cold that really gets a plot going. So while it took me a little while to get to “The Hunting Party” by Lucy Foley, I felt like I saved it for the exact right time. I don’t like the weather that comes with summer, so a story set during colder months was exactly what I needed.

I think that the comparison to both Ruth Ware and Agatha Christie is spot on. The setting itself, in a remote lodge area in the Scottish Wilderness, is the perfect backdrop for a story like this; it’s isolated, it’s haunting, and the vast wilderness feels like a cage when it comes down to it. Throw in a harsh snowy winter and you get an even harder place to escape should you need to. The characters, too, feel like people out of a Christie or Ware novel, as they are a group of friends who have known each other for years, but conflicts, secrets, and resentments are starting to boil over. We get a few different perspective chapters, some told in the past (the days leading up to the death) and some in the present (the discovery of the body and beyond). In the present we have Heather and Doug. Heather is the manager of the lodge, who has been trying to forget a tragedy from her recent past, and Doug is the gamekeeper, and he seems like he could be mysterious or dangerous. In the past we hear from Miranda, the effervescent queen bee of the group, Katie, her dutiful and passive best friend, and Emma, the woman who joined the group late and is trying to put together the best retreat she can. It becomes clear as time goes on that all of these characters are hiding something, and Foley slowly and effectively teases the answers out of them while also giving the reader satisfying and interesting characterizations. I was especially taken with Miranda’s POV chapters, as while she is definitely a bit spoiled and has a true mean streak, we also get to see into her mind and how her own insecurities and personal tragedies have made her into the person she is now. It would be easy to make her simply a cruel bitch, but more often than not I found myself sympathizing with her. One might think that juggling all of these perspectives would be tricky, but Foley does a great job of it, seamlessly keeping all the balls in the air and revealing what she wanted about them only when she was ready.

The mystery too was well done and kept me going. We know from the get go that one of the guests has been found dead on the property, but we don’t know who it is. By slowly peeling back the story in both present and past orders, it carefully becomes clear who is dead, but the motivation to kill could be coming from any character, and many hints are misdirection. There were a number of times where I was probably falling right into the trap Foley set with my guesses, and while I did ultimately guess the correct answer before it was revealed, it wasn’t too far from the big reveal moment. It was also still fun seeing all the puzzle pieces slowly fit into place, especially since there were a number of other secrets to be revealed along the way. I was also legitimately surprised by a couple of these secrets, which is always fun!

“The Hunting Party” may take place in a cold climate and could be a good fireplace read, but I think that it’s also going to be a great beach read for the summer traveler.

Rating 8: A suspenseful and well plotted mystery with compelling characters and many twists, “The Hunting Party” is a fun thriller just in time for summer!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Hunting Party” is included on the Goodreads lists “Books Set in Scotland”, and “Psychological Suspense for 2019 (January-June)”.

Find “The Hunting Party” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Sorcery of Thorns”

42201395Book: “Sorcery of Thorns” by Margaret Rogerson

Publication Info: Margaret K. McElderry Books, June 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+

Book Description: All sorcerers are evil. Elisabeth has known that as long as she has known anything. Raised as a foundling in one of Austermeer’s Great Libraries, Elisabeth has grown up among the tools of sorcery—magical grimoires that whisper on shelves and rattle beneath iron chains. If provoked, they transform into grotesque monsters of ink and leather. She hopes to become a warden, charged with protecting the kingdom from their power.

Then an act of sabotage releases the library’s most dangerous grimoire. Elisabeth’s desperate intervention implicates her in the crime, and she is torn from her home to face justice in the capital. With no one to turn to but her sworn enemy, the sorcerer Nathaniel Thorn, and his mysterious demonic servant, she finds herself entangled in a centuries-old conspiracy. Not only could the Great Libraries go up in flames, but the world along with them.

As her alliance with Nathaniel grows stronger, Elisabeth starts to question everything she’s been taught—about sorcerers, about the libraries she loves, even about herself. For Elisabeth has a power she has never guessed, and a future she could never have imagined.

Review: “An Enchantment of Ravens” was a book with a pretty cover that I just happened to nab at ALA. And then it quickly turned into one of my favorite original fairytale fantasies in quite a while. So I was thrilled when I saw a new story coming out by this author (and with another gorgeous cover to boot!). And I was not disappointed; I may have liked this one even more than the other!

Elisabeth is a child of the library, an orphan who has been raised with in its walls, surrounded by the magical, and sometime dangerous, grimoires that also call it home. She has been raised to protect the realm from the threat that is posed by sorcerers and the magic that rest in these books. But when a grimoire goes bad, becoming a monstrous beast, Elisabeth gets caught up in a conspiracy that is much larger than she ever could have suspected. And to get through it she has to rely on the help of a sorcerer himself, the mysterious Nathaniel Thorn and his demon companion, Simon.

Authors and librarians have a symbiotic relationship. Many authors grow up going to libraries which is where they develop their love for reading. They go on to write, and it makes sense that they would often write about they love, and thus we end up with a good number of books about libraries. Librarians, for their part, love nothing more than reading books about libraries and librarians (we’re a self-interested lot, it seems) and will rush out to get our hands on any title that focuses on our beloved profession. The cynical side of me could say that authors might suspect this love on librarians’ parts and figure their books have a better chance of being purchased and stocked en masse in libraries if they focus on this topic. But I choose to think that mostly it’s the former: an act of real love for reading and libraries as the source of so much of it.

This book takes this all one step further, making its librarians not only purveyors of knowledge, but literal warriors who protect both the books within the library walls as well as the people throughout the realm should those books’ worse nature take over. It’s an interesting concept, and beyond just being a blast of fantasy action adventure, there are some parallels that can be drawn for the wonder and danger of books. There is an argument presented at one point that questions whether protecting the grimoires is worth it, if they have potential to become so deadly. But the librarians’ answer is always this: the knowledge they hold is unique and precious, even if it can be dangerous in the wrong hands, and thus must be protected.

As for the characters, Elisabeth is a fantastic leading lady. She’s brave, not a little reckless, but so full of heart that you can’t help but fall in love with her immediately. Her story is one of self-discovery as well as reconciling what she has been taught growing up with the reality in which she suddenly finds herself, once outside the Great Library’s walls. Her connection with the Great Libraries and the grimoires is a mystery that plays out deliciously.

As her supports, Thorn and Simon are excellent as well. Written with the trademark wit that I now associate with this author, the dialogue between Elisabeth and these two is quick and snappy. Simon, especially, was developed as a nuanced and mysterious character. And as the romantic interest, Thorn checks all of the boxes for me. He is powerful in his own right, but never outshines Elisabeth, and both come to realize that only together will they be able to defeat the evil that is rising around them. While the romance is not the focus of the story as much as it was in “Enchantment of Ravens,” I think I enjoyed this balance even better, with it playing a more minor role to the Elisabeth, Thorn, and Simon’s mission to save the world more at the heart.

The story itself was pure fun. It romps along from exciting action piece, to witting repartee, to touching emotional moments. All caught up in a unique fantasy world that feels lush and colorful. Potentially killer books or no, this is a world I’d like to visit. I mean, hey, I’m pretty sure all of us librarians would be happy to adopt the word “warrior” before our title.  Readers looking for an original fairytale adventure are sure to enjoy this!

Rating 10: Just excellent, checking every box for me: a superb heroine, a swoon-worth romance, and an adventure story that pulls you along from start to finish. Featuring libraries, none the less!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Sorcery of Thorns” isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists, but it is on “Magical Books, Libraries and Bookstores.”

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

 

Kate’s Review: “Searching for Sylvie Lee”

41716679Book: “Searching for Sylvie Lee” by Jean Kwok

Publishing Info: William Morrow, June 2019

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an ARC from the publisher.

Book Description: A poignant and suspenseful drama that untangles the complicated ties binding three women—two sisters and their mother—in one Chinese immigrant family and explores what happens when the eldest daughter disappears, and a series of family secrets emerge, from the New York Times bestselling author of Girl in Translation

It begins with a mystery. Sylvie, the beautiful, brilliant, successful older daughter of the Lee family, flies to the Netherlands for one final visit with her dying grandmother—and then vanishes.

Amy, the sheltered baby of the Lee family, is too young to remember a time when her parents were newly immigrated and too poor to keep Sylvie. Seven years older, Sylvie was raised by a distant relative in a faraway, foreign place, and didn’t rejoin her family in America until age nine. Timid and shy, Amy has always looked up to her sister, the fierce and fearless protector who showered her with unconditional love.

But what happened to Sylvie? Amy and her parents are distraught and desperate for answers. Sylvie has always looked out for them. Now, it’s Amy’s turn to help. Terrified yet determined, Amy retraces her sister’s movements, flying to the last place Sylvie was seen. But instead of simple answers, she discovers something much more valuable: the truth. Sylvie, the golden girl, kept painful secrets . . . secrets that will reveal more about Amy’s complicated family—and herself—than she ever could have imagined.

A deeply moving story of family, secrets, identity, and longing, Searching for Sylvie Lee is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive portrait of an immigrant family. It is a profound exploration of the many ways culture and language can divide us and the impossibility of ever truly knowing someone—especially those we love. 

Review: Thank you to William Morrow for sending me an ARC of this novel!

While I can’t deny that I love me a good sudsy, melodramatic thriller, there is also something to be said for thriller/mysteries that have layers of pathos, introspection, and character exploration. A literary thriller can not only keep me entertained, it can also get me to thinking about deeper issues that I may not otherwise associate with the genre. Because of this, I was pleased to see that William Morrow had sent me an ARC of “Searching for Sylvie Lee” by Jean Kwok.

“Searching for Sylvie Lee” is absolutely a mystery. A Chinese-Dutch/American woman named Sylvie vanishes while visiting her dying grandmother in the Netherlands, and her younger sister Amy takes it upon herself to try and retrace her sister’s steps. She discovers many things about her sister that she never knew, along with things about her family that she never new either. The story is told through three perspectives. The first is Amy, who is searching for her sister. The second is Ma, Amy and Sylvie’s mother who is dealing with fear and grief in regards to her missing daughter. And the third is Sylvie, as we see her journey to The Netherlands and the things that were going on in her life before and during her trip, and up to her disappearance. The three perspectives come together in a way that tells a broader picture, and shows how and why Sylvie would vanish in the way that she did. Kwok did a masterful job of balancing all three perspectives, and made sure that they all added something to the final story in meaningful ways.

I also enjoyed the setting of this book. While there are a number of parts in New York City, it’s the setting of The Netherlands that made this book feel more unique to me. I admittedly have not much cultural knowledge about this country (though I do hope to visit and learn someday), but seeing Amy and Sylvie and their distant relatives living day to day lives and situations was something that was unexpected for me. So too did I enjoy Kwok’s examinations of race within this cultural context, as Sylvie and the Tan family are perhaps not always targeted, per se, but always noticed for their appearances, and not necessarily in positive ways. The little cuts of microaggressions within the narrative were effective and upsetting, and Kwok never felt a need to explain, just to show, which to me was all the more powerful. All three women focused on have their experiences of being Othered, but have experiences beyond that that are also damaging, be it because of their gender, the cultural expectations, or their expectations they have for each other.

And that is why the true heart of this book is that of the three women themselves. Seeing their different perspectives also added a layer to the narrative that elevated this book from simple mystery to familial tragedy. Ma is an immigrant who has been in a tumultuous marriage, and has watched her two daughters grow up and away from her. She had to make hard decisions to support her family, and those decisions have haunted her as her children have pulled away. Amy has always felt like the disappointment child, as Sylvie has been a vivacious, beautiful, and successful presence in her life, and has self esteem and confidence issues. But in turn Sylvie has had to come to terms with being raised away from her immediate family for so long, only to be ripped from the life she knew and thrown back in with them, and had to contend with the emotional trauma of it. She doesn’t feel like she fits in anywhere, as she feels Dutch in America but is seen as the Other in Holland because of her race. It’s Sylvie’s story that packs the most emotional punch, as she appears to be caught between the different expectations of those around her, and the life that she has versus the life that she wants. All of these women have held secrets from each other, and when they come out bit by bit the fallout and damage is almost too much to bear. This is a mystery, but it’s also an examination of identity, be it familial or cultural, and that makes it all the more emotional.

“Searching for Sylvie Lee” is a heart-rendering novel that I really enjoyed. The writing is superb, the themes are intense, and the mystery is well plotted out.

Rating 8: A story about family, secrets, identity, and sisterhood, “Searching for Sylvie Lee” is both a mystery and an examination of the conflicts we face alone, and the things we hide from our families.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Searching for Sylvie Lee” is included on the Goodreads lists “Immigrant Experience Literature”, and “Anticipated Literary Reads For Readers of Color 2019”.

Find “Searching for Sylvie Lee” at your library using WorldCat!

Bookclub Review: “Northanger Abbey”

50398We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing bookclub running for the last several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is ‘Books On Our To Read Shelf’, where we pick books that we’ve been meaning to read but haven’t gotten to.

For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for book club. We’ll also post the next book coming up in book club. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own book club!

Book: “Northanger Abbey” by Jane Austen

Publishing Info: John Murray, 1818

Where Did We Get This Book: eAudiobook from the library,

Book Description: Jane Austen’s first novel—published posthumously in 1818—tells the story of Catherine Morland and her dangerously sweet nature, innocence, and sometime self-delusion. Though Austen’s fallible heroine is repeatedly drawn into scrapes while vacationing at Bath and during her subsequent visit to Northanger Abbey, Catherine eventually triumphs, blossoming into a discerning woman who learns truths about love, life, and the heady power of literature. The satirical novel pokes fun at the gothic novel while earnestly emphasizing caution to the female sex.

Kate’s Thoughts

Unlike Serena, I am not as well versed in Jane Austen stories. I’ve read “Emma” and “Sense and Sensibility”, and I’ve read “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”, which admittedly probably doesn’t count. So when book club picked “Northanger Abbey”, I was both a bit excited but also a little apprehensive. I’m always looking to expand my ‘classics’ experience, as that’s admittedly a huge gap in my reading, but one of my biggest hangups with Austen is her writing style. But I got the audiobook from the library, and jumped in.

While I did have problems with the writing, overall I enjoyed “Northanger Abbey”! Given that I quite like Gothic novels (“Jane Eyre”, anyone?), it was kind of fun seeing a gentle satire/ribbing of the genre with Catherine Morland’s imagination running away with her. Given that Gothic novels are incredibly melodramatic it was quite amusing seeing Catherine look for the melodrama in her life, even when there really wasn’t much to be had, at least not in the ways she expected. Catherine herself is a pretty enjoyable protagonist, as she is sometimes flighty and naive, but always has a good heart in place and ultimately is good to other people. I can’t say that I was super invested in her relationship with Henry Tilney, but I did like their witty banter. I was far more invested in Catherine’s friendship with his sister Eleanor, and her frenemy relationship with the vapid and self centered Isabella (side note: Isabella and her dumbshit brother John are fun to hate as villains, and because of that I GREATLY enjoyed them and their nasty scheming). Catherine’s maneuvering through romantic and platonic relationships composed the true heart of this story, and I was definitely rooting for her.

I was also really tickled to see so much of this story took place in Bath, if only because I really enjoyed Bath when I went there. It was also neat to see that some of the tourist-y things to be done in Bath today, like visiting the pump room, were part of the tourist appeal back when this book was written! It’s funny to see how things can endure over time, whether it be a tourist attraction or the appeal of a novel.

But like I mentioned above, I did have a hard time with the writing style. I usually try to read ‘classics’ by listening to them on audiobook, as for some reason listening to the writing is easier for me to process that way. With “Northanger Abbey” this mostly worked, but I still found my mind wandering as I listened. Given that I’ve had success with this when reading other ‘classics’, I do think that had the plot been more to my liking, I may not have had as large of a problem keeping interested. This, however, is probably more a comment on my own personal hangups than the book itself.

“Northanger Abbey” hasn’t necessarily made me want to run out and read all the rest that Jane Austen has to offer, but as I slowly chip away at her work I can see why she has endured.

Serena’s Thoughts

I’ve read all of Jane Auten’s works, most of them twice. “Northnager Abbey,” however, is one of the few I’ve only read the one time, so I was also super excited when this was selected as a bookclub pick. Most of Austen’s other titles serve as comfort reads of some sort or another, depending on the mood I’m in and the type of romantic hero I’m craving. But for some reason I haven’t had this one in my rotation, though I do re-watch the BBC movie of it fairly regularly.

In many ways, this book is very different from Austen’s other works. It is one of her earliest writings (though it was published later, after her death), and you can see the building blocks in development with this work. Her villains are a bit more obviously “villain-y”: the Colonel with his strict meal times, Isabella with her contradictions and manipulations. The comedic characters play almost only for that, like Mrs. Allen’s obsession with clothes. And Tilney & Eleanore are simply good people all around. They all play their parts perfectly, but when compared to Austen’s other characters of the same type, one can see that these first attempts are a bit more bland and one-note. In “Pride and Prejudice,” for example, Mrs. Bennett is both a comedic character but also one that is pitiable for the situation she finds herself in, one that she is completely unable to handle (a questionable future and five daughters whose options are limited).  So, too, Mr. Darcy is both a romantic hero but also flawed man.

Catherine, as the heroine, is given the most fully fleshed out character. One of the lasting appeals of Austen’s work, I believe, is the way she captured the core of people, traits that carry on throughout the ages, regardless of many cultural or societal changes. Catherine, for instance, reads as a very believable seventeen year old girl. She’s a good person, but is prone to flights of dramatics, wishing to make her life more like the ones she reads about, seeing intrigue and mystery where there is none. She is also easily attracted to those she perceives as having more confidence than herself, like Isabella. And while never lead completely astray from the solid foundation of principles that make up her person, we see her fall under the sway of a “popular girl” who is going about life in a very different way than Catherine even understands.

As Kate mentioned, the most unique aspect of this book is the fact that it is a straight satire of the popular Gothic novels of the time. Every character choice and plot point holds in direct contrast to the dramatic events taking place in those books. Tilney is simply a good person (a very good person, given how gently he handles Catherine after she lets her imagination take her a bit too far at one point), with not flights of brooding or penchant to unnecessary dueling. Northanger Abbey itself is simply a home, most notable for being cozy and done up to the latest styles. Catherine’s family are all alive, most notably her mother, a character that even in Austen’s time was often killed off early in the story (Disney and many other YA stories still lean heavily on this trope). There are also several lines where Austen directly references other books and statements from authors that, for the curious reader, are fun rabbit holes to go down on one’s own time.

I very much enjoyed re-reading this book. The piercing take-downs of the tropes often found in Gothic fiction are on point, the story itself is sweet, and Tilney and Catherine are heroes you can’t help but root for. While the story and character portrayals are a bit more simplistic than what we see in Austen’s later work, you can clearly see the foundation that is being built in this first work.

Kate’s Rating 7: I liked the protagonist and the fun satire of Gothic novels, but the writing of the time period has never been my cup of tea.

Serena’s Rating 8: The most straight-forward of Austen’s books, this is a fun read though not as fully engaging as her other novels.

Book Club Questions

  1. This book pokes fun at common themes found in Gothic novels. Have you read any Gothic novels yourself and which of these satirical jabs did you appreciate the most?
  2. This is Austen’s first novel. If you have read her other stories, in what ways do you see her writing and characterization change between this story and her others?
  3. There is a careful balance struck between poking fun at Gothic novels but also defending novel-reading as a whole. How well do you think this balance was portrayed and what do you think Austen was ultimately trying to say?
  4. The romance between Henry and Catherine is very different from the ones in Gothic novels and even Austen’s own other works, especially with the admission later in the book that Henry’s initial interest was largely struck purely based on Catherine’s own obvious admiration. What do you think of the romance between these two? How does Henry compare to Austen’s other heroes?
  5. There is a large cast of characters who fall within the “villains” and “fools” categories. Which of them stood out to you and were they believable characters in and of themselves? Why or why not?

Reader’s Advisory

“Northanger Abbey” is included on the Goodreads lists “Best Books For Girls Who Belong to Another Era”, and “Fictional Crushes”.

Find “Northanger Abbey” at your library using WorldCat!