A Revisit to Fear Street: “The Burning”

176253Book: “The Burning” (Fear Street Saga #3) by R.L. Stine

Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, 1993

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

Book Description: The end…and the beginning

Simon Fear thought changing his name would stop the evil. He was wrong—dead wrong.

After generations of unspeakable horror, it is up to Daniel and Nora, brought together by their fateful love, to unite the feuding families. But is their forbidden love strong enough to withstand such awesome evil?

Poor Nora—desperate to tell the truth and bury the family curse…before it buries her.

Had I Read This Before: No.

The Plot: In the Village of Shadyside in 1900, Nora Goode is writing away at the history of the Goode and Fier (Now Fear) Feud. It’s implied that she is on a time crunch, but is determined to finish it in spite of the fading candlelight. So we jump to 1845 New Orleans, and our old friend Simon Fear is standing outside of a sprawling mansion, looking in at a party and planning on crashing it. He’s certain that he’s charming and handsome enough that if the daughter of the house, Angelica Pierce, knew him she’s absolutely have invited him. He goes to the front door and tells the servant that he is there for the party. When asked for his invitation, Simon does a slight of hand where he drops his hat, and when the servant goes to grab it he snags it up and gloms on to another guest. Somehow this works and he’s inside with the high society of New Orleans. He tries to impress the ladies but no one wants to talk to him or even acknowledge him. But then he notices the beautiful Angelica Pierce, and SHE is the one that he wants to bag. But before he can approach her, two servants (okay, look, given the time period and place I have a hard time believing that they are ‘servants’…) tell him he has to leave. Meanwhile, Angelica is gossiping and having a grand old time with her cousin Liza. They bad mouth other girls and note the fashions of the night, but then Angelica notices a mysterious man staring at her (clearly it’s Simon). Liza thinks he looks sad, and Angelica says that his staring is ‘scaring’ her. When the servants approach him and escort him out, Angelica changes her tune and says that he was actually interesting looking. Bad boys, am I right? Liza scolds Angelica, as she already has two men courting her as it is, James and Hamilton. She dances on and off with them the rest of the night, but isn’t sure which one she wants to marry. After the party ends she goes for a walk around the property to try and figure out which man she loves more, when suddenly Simon Fear takes her by surprise. She demands to know who he is, and when she says that he was uninvited to her party and NOW he’s sneaking around her property. And he tells her that he wants to marry her. When she asks him if he’s drunk or merely insane, he insists that he is GOING to marry her. When she says she’s going to call for help, he runs away yelling over his shoulder that he’s going to marry her, mark his words!

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Red flags, girl!!! (source)

Simon walks through the streets of New Orleans (and it also happens to be Mardi Gras), thinking that he totally crushed tonight’s courting ritual. He eventually finds himself at the docks, and is confronted by a robber, who puts a knife to his throat and demands his money. Simon is willing to give his cash, but then the robber notices the silver pendant. Simon has ‘resisted’ it’s powers up until now, in SPITE of the fact he promised himself that he didn’t have any use for ‘goodness’ anymore. The robber says he wants that too, and Simon pretends that he’s going to give it to him, but instead hits him in the face with it. The robber comes at him with a knife, but then his face starts to heat up and blister. The man shrieks for help, and then his face pretty much melts off of his skull. Simon realizes that black magic can get him what he wants; if he kills Angelica’s suitors, she will be his!

Angelica is at the opera with Liza and James. They are in one of the exclusive opera boxes, and as Liza makes snide remarks about other womens’ fashion choices, James says that perhaps someday he and Angelica can have an opera box of their own, and Angelica wonders if that means he plans to propose. She thinks about how Simon Fear came back to her house after his creepy stalking tendencies. She had agreed to see him, and the visit had gone a bit better as they’d talked about the weather and Mardi Gras. Liza had told her that since he was a Yankee Angelica’s father would never approve, and Angelica probably saw that as a challenge. So even though she’s at the opera with James, she has Simon on the mind. And by PURE coincidence, Liza points out that Simon is right below them, staring up at their box as thought this is perfectly acceptable social etiquette. James asks her who she’s looking at, and Angelica says that it’s just some boy. Then James suddenly stands up, climbs up on the balcony ledge of the box, and jumps to his death! As Angelica and Liza scream, Simon tucks his amulet away and rushes up to the box to comfort Angelica, who is wondering why he jumped. Liza says that there’s no way that James jumped, but Angelica is comforted by Simon, who says that if she needs anything he will be there for her.

After James’s funeral, Angelica’s father makes lemonade from lemons and says that Hamilton will make a great husband. Angelica, however, confides to Liza that she has been spending a lot of time with Simon, and Liza is scandalized not because Simon has been inserting himself in her life, but because he isn’t wealthy. But wait, he IS wealthy! The Fears are a wealthy Massachusetts family, that’s been established. Regardless, Liza doesn’t trust him, and tries to make the case for Hamilton. Hamilton arrives to take Angelica out, and Simon stands outside watching everything, telling himself that Hamilton will be out of the way soon enough.

A month later Angelica, Liza, and Hamilton have gone to the pier to watch the paddlewheel boats and to see their Aunt Lavinia depart for Memphis. After they say their goodbyes, Angelica insists they go further out on the roped off part of the pier to get a better look of the boat leaving. Liza is skeptical, but they go out anyway. Liza then notices someone else in the crowd. Simon Fear! Angelica sees him futzing with a silver amulet around his neck. As the boat starts to pull away, Angelica realizes that Hamilton has disappeared… He’s fallen into the water! And then he gets sucked into one of the paddles!!! He is repeatedly crunched and crushed in the paddles (lol oh my God that’s so twisted), and Liza is in hysterics and constantly asking ‘did he fall?!’ SURE SEEMS LIKE IT, GIRL. Simon is suddenly there to comfort Angelica.

Two months later Angelica’s mourning period for Hamilton has ended, and her father wants her to take some time abroad. He also comments on the fact that Simon has been around quite a bit, but doesn’t say anything else, just excuses himself with a sour expression on his face. Angelica goes and prepares two silver goblets for a visitor, and lo and behold, who should arrive, but Simon. Before he can say anything, she tells him that she wants to marry him. He says that he’s so happy that she does, and she pours celebratory beverages into the goblets. But before he can toast, he tells her that he HAS to confess something. He loves her so much, that he killed James and Hamilton to get them out of the way! I feel like that’s a bold move. But then…. Angelica starts laughing. She laughs and laughs and calls him a fool, letting him know that HE didn’t do SHIT! SHE’S the one who killed James and Hamilton with the black magic she’s been practicing since she was a little girl!!!! She did that so she could marry Simon, and that they can combine their powers!!

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Wait…. WHAT?!?! (source)

She says that the only obstacle now is her father. He says they should go tell him now, and when they go upstairs Angelica is shocked to find her father sprawled on the floor, dead. Simon says that the doctor will think that it was his heart, but he was the one who did it. Angelica is thrilled, as now they are going to get all of his money! They go back to the sitting room, and toast their glasses…. which are, of course, filled with blood.

We jump to 1865 to the town of Shadyside. Simon and Angelica have moved there, built their huge mansion, and had five kids of their own: Julia, Hannah, Robert, Brandon, and Joseph. Julia is the oldest and Simon is sad that she’s a bit of a wet blanket. She’s only happy when she’s at her pottery wheel. Hannah, however, is an effervescent delight! Simon is trying to plan the seating chart for their upcoming party, and wants to put Hannah next to a potential donor for the library Simon wants to build (how bad can he be?!). Julia is hurt that Simon is writing her off, and even though Hannah tries to change his mind he won’t hear it. As Julia throws her fit, the housekeeper Mrs. MacKenzie walks in to introduce the new maid, Lucy. Mrs. MacKenzie tells Lucy to be careful around Julia’s pottery, and Simon leaves the room, hoping to escape Julia’s shrill whining. Gee, a whiny, insecure, spoiled and boring debutante who thinks she’s the perpetual victim? Where have I heard this before?

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I’m just saying…. (source)

Simon stumbles upon Angelica, who looks dead but has just been in a trance to consult the spirits. She says that she also consulted her tarot cards, and they say the dinner party shouldn’t happen, so she cannot act as hostess and he’ll have to ask one of their daughters, but suggests Hannah over Julia. Simon leaves the room to go find his daughters, and then hears a crash. He runs into the parlor and finds Julia howling over one of her ceramic bowls, which has been shattered, as Lucy dropped it. Hannah tells Lucy it’s not her fault, and Mrs. MacKenzie says that she warned the girl. Simon tells Hannah she’s going to act as hostess that night, and when Hannah points out that Julia is the oldest and should probably do it he tells her not to argue and storms from the room. Julia laments that Simon doesn’t trust her, and Hannah feels awful. In the kitchen Ms. MacKenzie scolds Lucy, and then reminds her to sign the servant’s list. Lucy tells her that her last name is “Goode”. To this I say HOW?! Franklin said he was the last one!! Ms. MacKenzie tells her to keep that name to herself.

At dinner that night Hannah is being the perfect hostess, and she also encourages Julia in her confidence. As they are all seated for dinner, Lucy starts to serve the soup course. But, oops, she spills soup all over Julia’s shoulder and dress! She shrieks and knocks her chair away, and Simon tells her to excuse herself and go clean up. I, however, am more shocked that Lucy wasn’t fired on the spot!! As someone who worked as a guide in a historic home that had a family like this one living in it during this time period, I am all too aware of how this would have been a fireable offense. Hannah asks Julia if she wants help, but Julia refuses and runs off. She sees Lucy, and wonders if Lucy was smiling about the mess…

Late that evening Hannah and Julia meet in a secret room that ‘only they know about’, which makes NO sense as Simon built and designed the damned place! Surely he’d know about this room! Anyway, Julia asks Hannah if she saw Lucy’s smile, and Hannah says no, and says that Lucy couldn’t have meant it. Julia is convinced between the broken pot and the soup Lucy is out to get her. She asks if Simon said anything to Hannah, but Hannah says no, he seemed upset about the disturbance but overall happy. Julia continues to sulk. They part ways, and when Hannah is going back to her room she sees Lucy leaving it. She’s suspicious at first, but then sees that Lucy just laid out her bed clothes. But when she crawls into bed, she finds a snake in the linens!!

Her brothers are blamed for the snake, and the next day Hannah is getting ready for dinner. Lucy had helped her with her hair earlier. As Hannah puts her shoes on, she suddenly screams in pain. She pulls her feet out of the shoes, and finds that glass has cut up her heel. She screams for help and Mrs. MacKenzie rushes in and helps her bandage her foot. Julia eventually enters as well, and Hannah tells her that maybe Julia was right about Lucy and that they have to tell Simon. Julia says that they have no proof, and PLEASE. Do you really think that the Victorian Elite needed PROOF to fire their servants?! Hannah says that she will hold off, but thinks that Julia is being too timid. She says she’ll join for dinner soon, and Julia leaves. As Hannah goes back to getting ready, Lucy comes into the room saying that she heard about the shoe and asks if there’s anything she can do to help. Hannah says that she’s done quite enough, but then feels guilty because Lucy looks hurt. So she backs off, and goes back to giving her orders, which I guess denotes that she is actually okay with her because CLASSISM!

Three days later the Fear siblings are going for a picnic with their little dog Fluff. They walk past and open grave and we are told that the gardener passed away, and he’s going to be buried there. FORESHADOWING? They all go into the woods, and the boys go off to follow a deer while Hannah and Julia start to lay out the spread. Hannah feeds Fluff some pie… And then he starts to cough, vomit, and then dies! Julia says that the pies must be poisoned!! And Lucy has to be the one who made the pies! Hannah tells Julia to gather their brothers, and she’ll go ahead to tell Simon. When she gets to the house she runs into Lucy, and accuses her of poisoning the pies and killing Fluff. Lucy denies it, and Mrs. MacKenzie hears their fight and asks what is going on. Hannah says that Lucy poisoned the pies that she made, and Mrs. MacKenzie says that she was there and Lucy didn’t even prepare the pies so much as poison them. Because it was JULIA who made the pies!!! Hannah is horrified, and then rushes out of the house to confront Julia. She finds Julia by the open grave, and tells her she knows about the pies. Julia doesn’t deny it, and says that she hates Hannah and wants her to die because she’s pretty, charming, and Simon’s favorite. Ugh, such an Edith thing to do. She then attacks Hannah. Hannah tries to run, but Julia tackles her onto the pine coffin for the poor dead servant and starts to strangle her. Hannah nearly passes out, but then Julia, thinking she killed her, lets her go, and climbs off of the coffin. Hannah catches her breath, and then rolls off the coffin as well. Julia, shocked she’s still alive, comes to finish the job, but Hannah grabs the nearby shovel and smacks her with it, killing her. In a panic she stuff’s Julia’s body in the coffin as well, and then rushes to the woods. She watches the coffin bearers lay the coffin into the ground, and then goes back to the house.

Simon is looking for Julia, and thinks that perhaps she’s wandered off in the woods. So he goes outside that evening and goes looking for her, and hears a distant noise of someone shrieking. He realizes with horror that it’s Julia, and that it’s coming from teh ground in the fresh grave! He grabs a shovel and unburies her, but it’s too late. She has died by being buried alive. Woof. He runs away howling with grief, and then runs into the house. He stumbles upon the servant log, and sees the name “Lucy Goode”. He’s convinced that Lucy did this, and grabs his amulet and a sword from his collection of antiques. Angelica, hearing the ruckus, runs down the steps, telling him to stop, but he doesn’t, and he sees Lucy and plunges the sword in her chest….. Except, it wasn’t Lucy. It was Hannah. Hannah falls dead in his arms, Angelica screams her head off, and Simon says he wanted to kill Lucy, not Hannah! Mrs. MacKenzie tells him that Lucy resigned that afternoon. Simon and Angelica cry and scream over the deaths of their daughters.

Time jump to Shadyside Village in 1900. Daniel Fear, grandson of Simon and Angelica and son of their youngest Joseph, has come to visit the grandparents he has never met. After Julia and Hannah died, Joseph never forgave his parents and left as soon as he could. Daniel calls a cabbie to take him to Fear Mansion, and the cabbie tells him about his family’s unfortunate history as Joseph never talked about it. Daniel has only come because he was invited to Simon’s seventy fifth birthday. The Cabbie drops him off at the end of the drive, and Daniel asks if he can be taken up to the door, but the cabbie is like ‘fuck no’, and drives the carriage away. Daniel walks through the overgrown lawn, and up to the ramshackle house. He knocks on the door, and an old woman answers, telling him to go away. But he says he’s Daniel Fear and was invited. The woman introduces herself was Mrs. MacKenzie, and says she’s the only servant who stayed. She leads him to the parlor, and Daniel sees his grandmother Angelica, who has pretty much gone completely mad. She tells him to put more logs on the fire, and then screams at him to leave. He runs into Simon, who is now wheelchair bound and laughing about his wife’s grief stricken madness. Daniel says that his father sends his love, and then Angelica asks ‘what is love?’, and Simon says that Joseph has no love for them so cut the bullshit. He says that Joseph should have stayed because Fears have to stick together, casually mentions that the other boys are dead, and gives Daniel the silver amulet while Angelica keeps screaming about more logs on the fire. Daniel puts the amulet on, and sees a vision of fire and a girl burning and screaming in pain. Daniel realizes that the necklace has weird powers. Mrs. MacKenzie leads him to his room, and how Daniel didn’t high tail out of there after this is beyond me.

Daniel goes into town the next day to check it out, and finding himself thirsty goes to the general store. And there he sees a beautiful girl behind the counter and falls in love instantly. She offers him some cider, and he accepts, and asks her what there is to do in Shadyside. She says that the only interesting thing is Fear Mansion, and he decides to pretend he doesn’t know anything about it. She tells him that it’s said to be cursed and people avoid it (so why she said it was an interesting thing to check out is a little beyond me). He says that perhaps she’d like to show him around town, and introduces himself as Daniel. She says that her name is Nora Goode, and HERE. WE. GO.

Daniel and Nora spend their afternoons walking in the woods together. She says that his grandparents must wonder where he’s going each day, but he says that his grandparents don’t give a rip about him. Nora is lonely too, as her mother died in childbirth (This can’t be Lucy though, because she wouldn’t have been married as a servant as that wasn’t done, so is she Lucy’s niece?), and she dreams of running away someday for better things. Daniel wants to tell her he’s a Fear, but is afraid she’ll think less of him because his family is cursed. But they kiss and they’re both quite smitten. Daniel is determined to debunk this curse business before he reveals his identity. They part ways at the edge of town, and Nora is on cloud nine. But when she gets home to the store she sees her father waiting for her and looking grumpy. He asks her where she’s been, and even though she tries to be coy he says that he knows she’s been sneaking around with Daniel and that he’s a FEAR! Nora is shocked, and wonders why he never told her his true identity. But she tries to convince her father that Daniel is wonderful. Her father tells her about Julia and Hannah and how their bodies were found of the woods, skinned (wait what?! Did this happen after the fact?!), and that Angelica is a known witch, and that she is forbidden from seeing Daniel. She says that he can’t stop her from seeing him, so he locks her in her room, like any reasonable parent would do, right?

Daniel is exploring his grandfather’s personal library, and sees a lot of books on black magic and sorcery. He thinks that his family must have a scientific interest in these books even though he knows the weird rumors of a curse and the fact his family is blatantly batshit.

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Fine dude, whatever you say. (source)

He wanders to the kitchen in search of a snack, but instead of the delicious ginger cookies Mrs. MacKenzie made he finds a hidden room (omg it must be the room Julia and Hannah used to hang out in!). Inside he finds the family bible, that has the names of all the Fiers/Fears and also talks about the terrible deaths that so many of them experienced. Suddenly a cold hand grabs him, and it’s Mrs. MacKenzie. She tells him that if he wants family history, she can tell him everything. So she gives him the whole run down of everything that has happened thus far, though honestly it’s pretty skewed to favor the Fiers/Fears even thought THEY STARTED THIS WHOLE THING. She tells him that the other family is named Goode, and he is horrified because he loves Nora so much and she isn’t evil like her family is! Mrs. MacKenzie mentions that perhaps the two of them will be the ones to break the curse by marrying each other. And this seems like a great idea to Daniel!

The next day he goes to meet her for their walks, but sees that the store has been boarded up. He thinks that perhaps she left, but then he hears her crying out for help from her window. He climbs up the side of the store and onto the balcony, and breaks the window open. She tells him that her father is going to move them away, and he confesses that he’s a Fear. She says she knows but doesn’t care. He suggests that they run off and get married, and she accepts, and he gives her the amulet as a stand in for a ring. She quickly sees a flash of a vision of fire, but it passes quick and he says they’ll go to the justice of the peace and get married right now and tell his grandparents at his grandfather’s seventy fifth birthday party that night.

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(source)

Daniel takes his new bride to Fear Mansion, and Nora is uncomfortable, perhaps because she’s deep in enemy territory. Daniel introduces Nora to Mrs. MacKenzie, who seems to approve, and he takes Nora towards the ballroom where he expects a large party…. Except it’s just his grandparents, him, and Nora. He wishes Simon a happy birthday, and Simon is happy that SOMEONE came to his party. Look man, you have no friends and family, what did you expect? Angelica, however, says that they should mingle with the huge amount of guests that are attending, and hoo boy, that’s awkward and very sad.  Even sadder, though, is the giant cake that is wheeled in with seventy five burning candles. Daniel decides that now is as good a time as any to tell his grandfather the good news! So he introduces Nora and says that he’s married a Goode!

It goes as well as to be expected.

Simon starts to scream ‘noooooo!’, stumbles from his chair, and knocks the cake over. Which sets the damn ballroom on fire. Nora has somehow lost Daniel at this point (HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE?), and the fire spreads and we get cameos of basically every person who has died in these books (but I have a note: The referred to Abigail Fier as Abigail Goode and I don’t know if that was Stine or the eBook transcribers. Either way, FAIL!!!!). Nora flees the house, but is the only one to make it out. So yeah, the curse is broken. But only because the Fear line ended in that ballroom. Bummer.

So we wrap up with Nora writing her story. But she has been committed to an insane asylum. So when she looks at her lovely and completely pages, some nurses enter the room. Nora says she has to show the doctor her story, but one of the nurses promptly burns the pages, saying it’s for her own good. The nurses escort Nora to talk to the doctor, and tell her that they have news that should cheer her. The Fear Mansion may have burned, but there is now a new road that is passing by it, where they are going to build homes. They ask Nora if she wants to know what they’re going to call it, and when she bites, she’s informed that it will be called “Fear Street”. THE END.

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We have come to the end of our Revisit to Fear Street. (source)

Body Count: 10! And that’s not including a couple Fears who died off page. And I’m not sure if the housekeeper died in the fire, so I’m potentially being conservative in my counting.

Romance Rating: 8. Daniel and Nora are the perfect star crossed lovers, and honestly I kind of loved how evil Simon and Angelica were together.

Bonkers Rating: You know what? I’m feeling generous. It gets a 10! From Simon Fear’s flamboyant attitude and deadly courting rituals to his witch wife to people being buried alive and burned to a crisp, this book went into the bonkers stratosphere!

Fear Street Relevance: 10 again! It’s great to finally see just how Fear Manor burnt to the ground, and how Fear Street came to be in the unassuming town of Shadyside.

Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger: 

“Simon stared down at her. She was sprawled on the floor on her back, her black hair in disarray around her head, her green eyes staring blankly at the ceiling, her mouth open. Angelica. Nor breathing. Lifeless.

‘Angelica!’ Simon cried. ‘Oh, Angelica!'”

… But she isn’t dead. SHE WAS BEING SUPER EXTRA AND CONFERRING WITH THE SPIRITS IN THE MOST DRAMATIC WAY POSSIBLE!! I LOVE THIS BITCH!!!

That’s So Dated! Moments: As a historical fiction novel, just like the two before it, that sadly doesn’t apply here.

Best Quote:

“‘Delicious,’ Simon declared. ‘So bitter and sweet at the same time.’ He smiled at her knowingly. ‘It isn’t wine – is it?’

‘No’ Angelica replied, returning his grin. ‘It isn’t wine. It is blood.’

Simon snickered and stared into the goblet. ‘You are full of surprises tonight, Angelica.'”

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ARE YOU SERIOUS?!?! I LOVE THIS!! WHAT A POWER COUPLE!! (source)

Conclusion: “The Burning” had some seriously stellar moments, but it felt like it wrapped up too quickly and had a number of continuity issues (HOW DID THE GOODE LINE GO ON IF FRANKLIN THOUGHT HE WAS THE LAST GOODE?!). I liked having the history of Fear Street laid out, however, and therefore as a whole it was part of a pretty good trilogy.

And that is the end of my “A Revisit to Fear Street” series on our blog!! It was a serious trip and a true joy to go back and re-read (or in a number of cases read for the first time) these books from my childhood. Thank you to everyone who read this endeavor, and I hope that you guys enjoyed reading the recaps as much as I enjoyed creating them. And a very special thank you to R.L. Stine for being such a formative part of my childhood, and for creating a twisted and entertaining series of books for young horror fans!!!

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On The Lakeshore: Books To Read By The Lake

20190629_152630So a couple weekends ago we took a trip up to Duluth, Minnesota, a lakeshore city on the banks of Lake Superior. Summer on the North Shore is a lovely getaway, and we did some shopping, looked at the lake, visited a museum about the boats on the lake, and, big surprise, took a look at the local book selections that the town had to offer. So we thought that it would be fun to make a list of books that have to do with lakes. And if you ever have the chance to go to Duluth or the North Shore of Minnesota, we can’t recommend it enough.

175828Book: “Iron Lake” by William Kent Krueger

Publishing Info: Pocket Star, May 1999

Heck, let’s just start this list off with a book that takes place in Northern Minnesota! This is the first book in the Cork O’Connor series, stories that follow a small town sheriff who lives in the North Woods. When a local judge is found murdered in a particularly violent way, it happens to coincide with a boy who goes missing. When Cork investigates, he stumbles upon a conspiracy and a secret that his small town of Iron Lake appears to be desperate to keep under wraps. On top of that, there are still issues between him and his ex wife that are starting to bubble over. “Iron Lake” is the start to a long running and suspenseful series, and the setting is almost a character on its own!

105742._sy475_Book: “The Loch” by Steve Alten

Publishing Info: Tsunami Books, April 2006

A bit of a tonal shift here, but yes, we are going into fantasy horror territory with “The Loch”. Steve Alten wrote the notorious “Meg” series, which pits researchers against a megalodon that swims out of the Mariana Trench, and this time he tackles The Loch Ness Monster. When disgraced marine biologist Zachary Wallace gets word that his father is on trial for murder back in Scotland, he returns home to support him in spite of their estranged relationship. His father claims that he is innocent, and that it was the Loch Ness Monster that killed the victim. When the British tabloids eat this claim up, Zachary has to consider the fact that not only is it true, but that perhaps he too has a history with a similar monster… Campy, over the top, and fun, “The Loch” leans in to the story of Nessie, and brings in larger themes like courtroom drama and familial strife.

35463752Book: “Lake Silence” by Anne Bishop

Publishing Info: Ace, March 2018

Set in the same world as Bishop’s “Others” series (all of which Serena has read), comes a new entry feature a new cast of characters at its heart. In this fantasy world, powerful magical beings rule much of the land and all of the water, with humans only their tolerated guests. Trying to escape her mess of a life, Vicki finds herself in one of the towns that is completely run by the Others. But instead of peace and quiet, she finds herself caught up in a murder mystery where she is the prime suspect. Now she and her new friends must work to uncover the real killer, one whom she suspects must not be human themselves.

39678996._sy475_Book: “Cursed” by Thomas Wheeler and illustrated by Frank Miller

Publishing Info: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, October 2019

Given the publishing date is still in the future, neither of us have read this book. But it definitely sounds intriguing (and good enough that Netflix is already producing a series to come out next spring.) The story is marketed as a retelling of the story of King Arthur but from the perspective of Nimue, the Lady of the Lake, who has been tasked with bringing together a famous sword and a would-be-king. The novel also features illustrations by Frank Miller, so that’s one more mark in its favor.

39973246Book: “The Woman in the Lake” by Nicola Cornick

Publishing Info: Graydon House, February 2019

Serena very much enjoyed Cornick’s “The Phantom Tree,” and this story seems to be dipping into the same formula: part historical novel, part time-travel fantasy story. In 1765, a beautiful golden dress, tossed away to help erase the traumatic events of one night, re-appears on the body of a young woman floating in a lake. Two-hundred and fifty years in the future, another woman becomes enamored by a beautiful dress with a mysterious past. As the two stories slowly unwind, each woman’s past and future become more and more clear, connected in unexpected ways.

13590708Book: “The Lighthouse Road” by Peter Geye

Publishing Info: Unbridled Books, October 2012

For our final selection we’re going back to Northern Minnesota, and picking a historical fiction family epic. In the 1890s an immigrant woman finds herself alone in a new country when she settles outside of Duluth, Minnesota, and then in the 1920s her now adult son finds love with an emotionally closed off woman. As mother and son learn about home and identity in two different times, the past continues to haunt the both of them. “The Lighthouse Road” is an emotional and bittersweet read about how we are shaped by our circumstances and questions if we can break away from our expectations we have for ourselves.

Do you guys have any recommended reads about lakes? Let us know in the comments!! 

The Great Animorphs Re-Read #52: “The Sacrifice”

125338Animorphs #51: “The Absolute”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, April 2001

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: The Yeerks have abandoned all secrecy. They are loading people onto underground trains that run directly to the Yeerk pool where they perform mass infestations. The vast army of Controllers is growing rapidly and will soon be unstoppable. Ax and the Animorphs can think of only one solution‹to use one of the trains to blow up the Yeerk pool. But the cost will be measured in hundreds, perhaps thousands of innocent human lives. 

Narrator: Ax

Plot: This really start to heat up in this one, and unlike the previous book, we get a lot more of the emotional fall-out of Cassie’s decision. There’s a good balance of character work with some significant (and important!) action. Unfortunately, for all of that good work, we also have a huge retread and out-of-character thinking for our main character, Ax.

Really? We’re doing the “Ax questions his loyalties” thing again?

The Yeerks have taken the war more and more public. Now they’ve started rounding up people by the hundreds and herding them onto subway trains that the Animorphs can only assume run directly to the Yeerk pool. Ax, Rachel, and James see the horrors for themselves when out on a scouting mission: people dragged out of their cars and herded down to the station. In a rash plan (lead of course by Rachel), the three head off into the subway system to try and save people. Instead, they end up on a wild ride, chased by falcon!Yeerks. Most of the Yeerks are taken out, inexperienced as they are in their animal morphs. Ax catches up with one that pleads with him to let him go, that he only has a few minutes left before he is trapped in his falcon form, which he sees as a vast improvement on his original Yeerk form as a slug. Ax lets him go.

Back in the camp, the team discusses what they’ve seen. They know that something must be done, and slowly come to the realization that only an extreme action can be the next step: bombing the Yeerk pool. Cassie is opposed, but Jake snaps at her that given the morphing abilities of the Yeerks now, they’re left with fewer options. Ax and the team are surprised by this. They decide that a nuclear weapon would be too hard to get and do too much damage, but that there might be some large bombs at a nearby National Guard station. But it would also take them all, original Animrophs, parents, and auxiliary Animorphs, to get in and find the bombs before they are detected.

Later that night, Ax sneaks away into the forest and makes contact with the Andalites. It is clear that this isn’t the first time, and they ask for a report. Ax dutifully gives details of the situation, noting that the human resistance seems to be fraying under the increased pressure of the more open war. He does hold back the information about the Yeerks now having morphing abilities, however. For their part, the Andalite leaders inform him that the plan of action is to quarantine Earth and try to hold the Yeerks there. Ax knows this terminology for what it is: they have decided to surrender the humans to the Yeerks, and, to enforce the quarantine, they will eventually take out the planet and wipe out humans and Yeerks alike.

The next day as they continue to put their plan in place, Cassie informs them that she won’t be participating. This leads to another fight between her and Jake and during it she confesses to having let Tom escape with the blue box. Everyone is horrified, especially Ax who immediately labels her a traitor. Cassie cries and apologizes for her actions, saying that she doesn’t know what made her do it, and she’s sorry to see where it has taken them all. Jake forgives her, hugs her, and informs the team that they now have to work in the reality they have, that there’s no point wishing for what was. Ax, however, is not really listening, too angry at Cassie to hear.

They continue to plan and decide to give a 5 minute warning before the bomb explodes to allow as many people to escape the Yeerk pool as possible. Cassie agrees to this, and Jake reflects that their new motto will be to defeat the Yeerks, but not to become them. Ax, however, is more focused on the fact that while before he had thought Rachel’s reckless pursuit of battle was the most dangerous, maybe the opposite extreme is the more deadly: Cassie’s kindness, so like Seerow’s.

Later he makes time to speak to Cassie about why she did what she did.  He calls her out for betraying her friends, humanity, and even Elfangor who entrusted them with the awesome power. While she says that in the moment she didn’t know why she make the decision she did, now, later, she’s begun to think that the morphing ability could provide a wedge in the Yeerk forces. That those who are less interested in war may see the morphing ability as a legitimate alternative. Ax mentions the falcon!Yeerk he ran into earlier and Cassie sees this as proof that there may be Yeerks out there who just want a way out. Ax isn’t sure, but thinks he won’t ever feel the same about Cassie or (bizarrely) humans in general.

Even later that night, Tobias approaches Ax and asks him what he’s going to do, having followed him the other night and seeing him communicate with the other Andalites. Ax admits that he doesn’t know and the two of them continue the discussion about how morphing now changes the situation with the Yeerks.

They finally put the plan in action. Ax leads adults from the group through the woods where they run into a National Guard station and the parents pretend to have been lost in the woods. Cassie’s dad fakes heart problems, and they’re all loaded up on trucks and headed towards the base. Several Animorphs and auxiliary Animorphs hitch a ride in various morphs and the Hork Bajir follow in the trees. Once at the base, they all split into groups and begin searching the many, many buildings for the bombs. They manage to locate them eventually and load as many as they can on a few trucks. On the way out, however, they’re stopped by a head operative of the National Guard. With no other choice, they reveal themselves and explain that what the Governor said on TV a while ago is true: aliens are really invading Earth. Ax plays his usual role, demonstrating that he is, in fact, an alien. Luckily the head guy is not a Controller, though they do have to capture a few Controllers in the mix of witnesses. He also happens to know Rachel’s mother, and this connection further helps them convince him to let them pass.

They make their way with the bombs to a subway station and prepare for a confrontation. Many of the Yeerks morph as well, including several to wolf form. Just as things are beginning to look bleak, the National Guard guys show up and help them win the fight. All of the wolf!Yeerks are dead and Ax has a brief moment of panic thinking that Cassie died, too, since how could anyone tell the difference in the midst of the fighting. She’s ok, however, and he realizes that he doesn’t hate her.

When it comes to the next stage, a smaller group is needed. It is agreed that Jake is too valuable to send on such a risky venture (the timing of the bomb going off while also giving enough of a warning to get people out will be pretty tight.) In his stead, Jake insists that Cassie go, that he trusts her to make the right decision. Marco and Ax will go along with. Ax notes that it feels like the team is beginning to come together again.

The bombs are loaded on to a cleared out subway train and the three get on. As the train barrels towards the Yeerk pool, they all morph cockroach to survive the impact. The train crashes into the Yeerk pool, killing many Yeerks in the process. Cassie, Marco, and Ax demorph and Cassie climbs on top of the train yelling a warning to everyone around. Marco and Ax work to free humans from the cages and Ax is amazed to see human Controllers help with this effort as well.

Visser One morphs some huge octapus-like beast in the Yeerk pool but quickly realizes that with a bomb ticking it’s in his best interests to just get out of there. By the time Cassie, Ax, and Marco head out, the Yeerk pool is mostly empty, except for the pool itself that is still full of Yeerks.

The next day, the Animorphs all come to survey the damage. Almost the entire downtown area has been collapsed in on itself and the devastation is extreme. They know they’ve inflicted a massive strike against the Yeerks, but none of them can feel happy about it. Ax thinks about the human Controllers who stayed behind to help others and realizes that Cassie is right; Aftran wasn’t the only Yeerk who wanted a different life.  They see Visser One’s Blade ship flying in and are resigned to the fact that, yet again, he escaped. But they console themselves that he will have a lot of explaining to do to the Council about this disaster. Ax ends the story with a very familiar couple of paragraphs about how he’s chosen to throw his lot in with the humans.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: So this was a really strange and frustrating book for Ax. There were some really good moments in there, but most of it was a direct re-tread of emotional conflicts that he had already solved before, therefore making many of his decisions and thoughts read as very out of character for the Ax we have now.

The good stuff mostly came with his reflections on Rachel’s warmongering and Cassie’s decision with the blue box. With Rachel, as I’ll note later, there was a good discussion about what it means to lose one’s childhood. Ax reflects on this for himself, that by Andalite standards, he’d still be a soldier in training and a young kid. But now, he’s a battle-weary soldier in the body of a young kid. This conflict is not only hard on Ax (and the others), but a challenge for those around them. Part of Rachel’s mother’s struggle seems to be accepting that her daughter has been operating as an adult for some time and can’t just slip back into being her kid and listening to her parent as a point of authority in a war situation that frankly Rachel knows way more about than her mother. Ax, too, has this same conflict when he interacts with the adult Andalites. They see him as a kid who is in need of direction by the adults in the room and that he should just follow orders as dictated to him (though some of this also seems to be a cultural aspects of the Andalites).

Ax’s thoughts on Cassie are also good. His rage at her decision are almost cathartic for those of us readers who were also incredibly frustrated with her thought process. But Ax and Cassie also have the most useful conversation in really digging into what that decision means, and, after the fact, Cassie’s own reflections on it. It’s pretty excellent stuff.

But other than that, man, it’s hard to like Ax in this book. We never really get at what motivated Ax to contact the Andalites in the first place and end up in this situation. For one thing, it directly contradicts his own vows to follow his Prince, Jake. He’s clearly been doing this in secret for quite a while.

What’s more, he’s somehow fallen completely back into the “I’m an Andalite soldier. I must follow Andalite commanders before anything.” Which, like I said, is a conflict we’ve already seen before and resolved. It’s not only boring but it makes the book read as if it’s completely detached from any character growth Ax has gone through in the series as a whole. Did the author even read Ax’s other books?? It sure as heck doesn’t read like they did. (Yes, yes she did. She even wrote one, ugh.) The Ax we see here is almost identical to the one in the very beginning when he had zero understanding of humans and no knowledge of the wrongs the Andalites routinely commit against other species. Now, after years of fighting with humans, and having seen the Andalites behave pretty poorly in the past, Ax has grown into a different character. For him to suddenly regress reads as really terrible writing and makes Ax into a pretty unlikeable character, if we’re meant to believe that he simply changed his mind again and needed to learn this lesson for like the 4th time. You could literally copy and past his last couple of pages and stick them in the end of at least three other Ax books that came before. Yada yada, humans are broken but they’re also great. I’ll side with them. Blah blah blah.

Our Fearless Leader: We definitely see Jake coming back to himself in this book. In many ways, the blow up with Cassie where he finally reveals what she did with the blue box seems to serve as a turning point. Once she admits to the folly of it and apologizes, he’s the first one to forgive her. And from there on out, he’s pretty much back to his old ways,leadership-wise. Even going so far as to reprimand Ax for calling him Prince once again. He also seems to finally realize just how important he is to the war effort, as he is successfully talked out of going on the last mission as it would be detrimental to lose him.

Xena, Warrior Princess: This is one of the better books for examples of Rachel’s war issues coming out in realistic ways. In the very beginning, she’s the one to lead the charge into the subway system with Ax, even though there is obviously nothing to be gained from this action. And then she takes off after the Yeerk that Ax released. As it seems that Ax was speaking to the Yeerk privately, Rachel could see it as the Yeerk escaping rather than Ax letting it go. But either way, chasing down fleeing enemies is another step in Rachel’s hard path. Ax makes a few snide comments about how Andalite warriors who grow to love war too much are “put out to pasture” essentially. Though, as I’ll discuss later, nothing we’ve seen from the Andalite as a whole (disregarding the ones we’ve had in book like Ax and Elfangor) really proves that they have the same sense of morality about warfare as Ax is thinking. It’s a bit rich to rag on Rachel’s ruthlessness when you know your own people are planning to just sacrifice an entire species as just another chess move in their war with the Yeerks.

A Hawk’s Life: Tobias doesn’t have a lot in this book other than his confrontation with Ax about Ax’s communications with the Andalite leaders. Tobias has always been one of the more cool-headed members of the group, handling big revelations with a much more reserved manner than the others. So it makes sense that he handles this conversation as he does, not coming down on Ax too hard for doing this all behind their backs. The conversation is pretty short, however, and I do think that it leaves something to be desired. For one thing, it isn’t acknowledging that this is like the millionth time that Ax has seemingly wavered back and forth between Andalites and humans, even though he’s repeatedly in the past come out vocally for the side of the Animorphs. For all of his talk about Cassie’s traitorous ways…

Peace, Love, and Animals: This is a really good book for Cassie and gets at a lot of what was missing from her own book with the nonsensical decision to just end it where it does and then go an entire book more without addressing it further. We finally get the reveal to the entire group about what happened, and Cassie’s apologies and explanations read as much more believable and sympathetic (if still wrong-headed). She apologizes repeatedly and even takes ownership for the way that decision is impacting the huge things they’re doing now. She pretty much admits that she put them in the position to having to go to this level, so she’s on board to help, even if it’s the kind of action that she’s largely against.

In her discussion with Ax we also get her thoughts into the effect that morphing could have on the Yeerks. Even in this conversation, however, she admits that this was an after-thought, so we can’t give her credit for this line of reasoning when she made the initial action; she said then and repeats now that she didn’t have a reason for doing what she did other than it feeling right. But, as we see in this book, the domino effect on the Yeerks is happening and her quick understanding that that may occur is definitely spot on.

The Comic Relief: Marco’s kind of been a different character since the return of his mother. It seems like in many ways this is an intentional shift, with other characters noting that he is much happier now. And it makes sense that his attitude would change somewhat with the driving factor behind his choice to fight being resolved with the saving of this mom. But from a reading perspective, it’s a pretty big loss. Marco’s last book was a huge let-down, feeling as if he had lost much of his spunk. And here, we also see a very different character on the page. Most notably in his reaction to Cassie’s giving away the blue box. Rachel reacts with the anger we’d expect, but in the past, she was always joined by Marco who has almost zero tolerance for poor strategic decision making in the service of “feelings.” His perspective was an important aspect of the careful balance maintained by all members of the team, and losing a large part of what made Marco Marco is pretty unfortunate.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: Not a lot that I can really think of. The falcon!Yeerk who is desperate to get trapped in a falcon’s body does highlight just how miserable the natural state of being a Yeerk is. Beyond anything else, Yeerks who do this are essentially forfeiting huge chunks of their lives. Visser Three has been around and kicking for quite some time and doesn’t seem to be classified as an elderly Yeerk. But a falcon has a pretty short life span, around 13 years average and maxing out at about 20. Given this level of sacrifice to escape existing as a slug, it’s really a shame that the idea of using morphing to bypass the hosting thing wasn’t thought of sooner.

Couples Watch!: Again, really nothing. Tobias holds Rachel back when she’s getting mad at Cassie about the blue box. And Jake forgives Cassie for the blue box fiasco, but even that is fairly straightforward and devoid of much romance. Ax sees Cassie and Jake’s strained relationship as yet another sign that the group is falling apart. So, too, when they make-up, it’s almost the first steps towards the team coming together again.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: Visser One makes a token appearance at the end of this book, showing off a new morph before ultimately (and predictably) choosing to save himself and get the heck out of there rather than fight.

But, again, I think we have to admit that by and large the Andalites are pretty villainous. I mean, at this point both the humans and the Hork Bajir could agree that being “saved” by the Andalites is just as disastrous as being attacked by the enemy Yeerks. Probably worse, really, since the Andalites are so completely focused on conquering the Yeerks that they actually hinder the efforts of other species to defend themselves. They took out the Hork Bajir with disease, and here, we have Andalite commanders telling Ax to actively prevent the humans from fighting back so that the planet can be “quarantined.” At best, they’re no better than humans (who have their own pretty unfortunate history of warfare tactics), but they sure as hell aren’t any better. This kind of behavior makes it pretty hard to sympathize or connect with Ax in this book.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: There were some pretty depressing scenes in this book. From the very start, the descriptions of the humans being herded into the subway system had definite concentration camp vibes. Ax describes seeing adults and children wearing pjs, clearing having been rounded up from bed and herded down. And then in the end, the Animorphs give the warning to get out of the Yeerk pool, but this warning also causes a panic and Ax notes that people were getting trampled to death in the crush to get out. It’s pretty tragic sounding.

A smaller, character moment is one between Rachel and her mother. Rachel’s mom helps convince the National Guard commander to go along with Jake’s orders. And in that moment Rachel realizes that her mom can be helpful to the cause (before this, in the last several books, she’s been an active hindrance.) Rachel breaks down crying and hugs her mom. Ax notes that perhaps the emotional crux of the situation is that Rachel, like him, is realizing that she lost her entire childhood, something she can’t get back, like her old child/parent relationship with her mom. It’s a really great moment to humanize Rachel and not have her just feel cartoonish, something that’s been happening more and more in these later books.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: Most of the plans in this book are pretty good and are operating at an entirely new level. Jake doesn’t just need to plan the actions of a small, closely knit group; now he has to coordinate several groups all made up of different types of people with different abilities and roles to play. He’s got the Hork Bajir, with their commander Toby. The parents. And the auxiliary Animorpsh, with their commander James. It’s a lot of moving pieces to have in play and a lot of different personalities to wrangle.

Really, the worst plan is the one that Rachel and Ax have at the beginning because there is no plan, essentially. Ax notes from the very beginning that going into the subway has no point, but he goes along with it anyways. Rachel is clearly leading the charge, but Ax and James participate for longer than they should have, perhaps.

Favorite Quote: 

A really great explanation by Cassie. This thinking clearly applies to not only humans and Yeerks, but as we’ve seen, Andalites, too, who have had leaders come up with terrible plans that others follow.

“Humans have had some pretty evil leaders, too. Thousands, sometimes millions of people have followed those leaders, sometimes willingly, sometimes not. Sometimes because they were just too afraid to say no. What if some other species decided to wipe out the human race based on the existence of a few powerful people? What if that species decided all humans were cruel, based on the actions of a handful of sociopaths?”

And this pretty much sums up my attitude on Cassie’s blue box decision:

“You think I’m a traitor, don’t you?” she asked.

I nodded. <Yes.>

“But did I do the wrong thing?”

<I do not know.>

Scorecard: Yeerks 15, Animorphs 19

A clear win for the Animorphs. They’ve been talking about destroying the Yeerk pool almost from day one, so it’s pretty cool to see it happen. That said, I really like how “uncool” they make the whole thing. It’s clear that this is a disaster all around, a terrible situation that is barely worth celebrating. In the last chapter, many of them note that while this was clearly their biggest victory, it’s also the one they feel worst about.

Rating: This was another strange book where there was a lot of good stuff, but the main character’s story was pretty lacking. I really liked that we got more into the stuff with Cassie and the blue box. A lot of small character moments were devoted to this and we got to hear a lot of varying perspectives on her decision. I also really liked getting to hear more from Cassie herself, and what she had to say, while not making up for the decision itself, is really well handled and thought out. There were also great character reflections for Jake and Rachel. And even Tobias gets a good conversation with Ax. I definitely prefer Animorph books like this that balance out all of the crazy action with these smaller moments.

The action itself was also very good. We see more of how morphing on its own is still a learned thing for the Yeerks, as they struggle to get their falcon morphs under control. The introduction of the idea that some Yeerks may see morphing as an alternative is well handled. And, of course, the big fight in the end that finishes with the destruction of the Yeerk pool is great. The Yeerk pool has served as a tangible symbol of the enemy that is the Yeerks from book one, so it’s neat to see it come full circle with the Animorphs finally destroying it. And, like I said before, it’s nice that a huge disaster like this isn’t simply heralded as “awesome.” It’s a terrible choice to be forced into and very sobering, and all of the characters see it as such and reflect on that in the end.

But, for Ax himself, this was a really frustrating book. It doesn’t make any sense, character-wise and instead wastes his last book on a story that we’ve heard many times before. Ax is a great character and we got almost none of his great humor or his funny reflections on the foibles of humanity. His decision to contact the Andalites in the first place is never made clear, and his struggles with which side to choose come out of nowhere and don’t seem based in any natural character conflict. It’s really disappointing that this is the last book for him.

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

Kate’s Review: “Layover”

3083348Book: “Layover” by David Bell

Publishing Info: Berkley Books, July 2019

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from the publisher through NetGalley

Book Description: In this high concept psychological suspense novel from the USA Today bestselling author of Somebody’s Daughter, a chance meeting with a woman in an airport sends a man on a pulse-pounding quest for the truth…

Joshua Fields takes the same flights every week for work. His life is a series of departures and arrivals, hotels and airports. During yet another layover, Joshua meets Morgan, a beautiful stranger with whom he feels an immediate connection. When it’s time for their flights, Morgan gets up to leave, leans over and passionately kisses Joshua, lamenting that they’ll never see each other again.

As Morgan slips away, Joshua is left feeling confused by what just happened between them. That’s when he looks up and is shocked to see Morgan’s face flashing on a nearby TV screen. He’s even more shocked when he learns the reason why–Morgan is a missing person.

What follows is a whirlwind, fast-paced journey filled with lies, deceit, and secrets to discover the truth about why Morgan is on the run. But when he finally thinks every mystery is solved, another rears its head, and Joshua’s worst enemy may be his own assumptions about those around him…

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

I used to really hate flying, and while it’s still not exactly my favorite activity I’ve found ways to make it less stressful. Namely, make sure I got to the airport with lots of time to spare, and once through security plop down with my travel companion and order food and drink until it’s time for boarding. It’s not something I do terribly often, certainly not enough to feel like I’m an expert, but I know people who do travel a fair amount for work who deal with the stress of flights and layovers on a weekly basis. So going into “Layover” by David Bell reminded me of my friends who do this kind of thing quite a bit. I hadn’t ready any Bell before this book, though lord knows he’s been on my ‘meaning to read’ list for a long while. This just finally gave me reason to actually do it. 

The set up for “Layover” is absolutely compelling. Joshua, one of our protagonists (I’ll get to the next in a bit) is travelling for work. He works for his father’s company, and while he is terrified of flying he makes due by popping xanax and having a drink before boarding. You get the sense that he’s not totally happy with his life in spite of the fact he’s making a good living (and had a perfectly nice and loving girlfriend until recently). So while there is definitely precedent for him to perhaps make the plunge and follow the random beautiful stranger he meets while on a layover, it’s still a big risk that could have consequences that he never dreamed of. On top of that, you have another path you follow, that of a detective named Kimberly who is trying to solve the disappearance of a missing, and important man. Combine these two narratives and it’s fun to try and figure out how these two plot lines will converge, because you know they will. I thought that when they did ultimately come together that it was done in a way that was believable and well set up. I especially liked Kimberly’s investigation of the case, and how she has to balance her work life and her personal life (even if it’s a story we’ve seen before). 

I had a much harder time with Joshua’s plot line, and how he was characterized. It wasn’t so much his ennui with his life (though honestly, when you’re in your twenties and have a well paying job AND a perfectly lovely and supportive significant other you aren’t going to get much pity from me, bored or not), but it was the incredibly stupid and irresponsible decisions that he made, with little to no justification for doing so. It’s one thing to throw caution to the wind and drop your business responsibilities to follow a girl you just met onto a flight (as uncool as it may be). It’s quite another to continuously keep dropping everything and knowingly putting yourself in danger for a girl who continuously screws you over or gets you hurt. That I start to lose patience with. I didn’t feel like Joshua’s character was well established enough for him to just keep doing these stupid and reckless things, and I didn’t think that his connection with Morgan was strong enough or interesting enough for me to have ANY sort of investment in what happened to the two of them and their supposed ‘relationship’. Because of all of this, whenever it was his perspective chapters I would find myself becoming frustrated and hoping that we’d get back to Kimberly as soon as possible. Perhaps had Bell done more background work for Joshua, or made Morgan more than just a mysterious potential femme fatale, I would have bought into it more. As it was, this entire aspect really weakened the story for me.

“Layover” was a pretty well done mystery, but I had hoped for a bit more. I’m not writing David Bell off completely, but I’m back in the same place I was where I intend to go back and read him while not making myself do so any time soon.

Rating 6: Although I really enjoyed one of the perspectives and the mystery itself was well crafted, I had a very hard time with the second perspective, and found it hard to get invested in that part of the story.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Layover” isn’t included on many relevant Goodreads lists, but it would fit right in on “The Terminal”.

Find “Layover” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Heartwood Box”

41541611Book: “Heartwood Box” by Ann Aguirre

Publishing Info: Tor Teen, July 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley!

Book Description: In this tiny, terrifying town, the lost are never found. When Araceli Flores Harper is sent to live with her great-aunt Ottilie in her ramshackle Victorian home, the plan is simple. She’ll buckle down and get ready for college. Life won’t be exciting, but she’ll cope, right?

Wrong. From the start, things are very, very wrong. Her great-aunt still leaves food for the husband who went missing twenty years ago, and local businesses are plastered with MISSING posters. There are unexplained lights in the woods and a mysterious lab just beyond the city limits that the locals don’t talk about. Ever. When she starts receiving mysterious letters that seem to be coming from the past, she suspects someone of pranking her or trying to drive her out of her mind. To solve these riddles and bring the lost home again, Araceli must delve into a truly diabolical conspiracy, but some secrets fight to stay buried…

Review: This was an impulse request mostly because I was in the mood for something creepy and the title/cover art combo seemed to fit those criteria pretty well. The description of a teenager discovering the mysteries of a strange, small town just cemented by interest. But while the book does deliver on what it sets out to do, it didn’t quite match up with what I was looking for.

Araceli doesn’t know what to expect when she shows up at the small town where her great-aunt lives. But a town full of missing people and mysterious happenings in the woods surrounding it is not what she had in mind for her visit. Soon enough these mysteries end up knocking on her own door and curiosity and bewilderment quickly turn into fear and a fight for not only her future, but those who have been lost before her.

This is a tough book to evaluate, mostly due to the fact that it’s just not the type of book I read often. And for the reason that I typically don’t enjoy them as much as others. I’m not sure where the line is between “contemporary fantasy” and “urban fantasy,” but there definitely is one and it’s enough to make me greatly prefer the latter to the former. In this book’s case, there were a few aspects of the former that didn’t quite fit with what I was looking for.

First, our main character, Araceli. Most of the fantasy fiction that I read that features young protagonists is set in a world or time period where a young age doesn’t mean the same thing it does here. Teenagers often find themselves in very adult situations and it is perfectly normal that they be there. And, in fact, they have often been raised to expect to operate in an adult fashion by this age. This makes many YA fantasy novels essentially read as adult fantasy novels (I won’t start up again on the marketing mechanisms behind these choices).

So in part I’m simply not used to reading teenagers that, well, act like teenagers. It’s not really the fault of the book that Araceli is a believable teen and thus often makes poor decisions. But I won’t concede some of the dialogue. Teenage characters don’t have to sound immature in their speaking, and there were often bits of both her actual voiced comments as well as the commentary in her head that read as even more juvenile than necessary for belivablilty.

My other main struggle came down to genre confusion. Simply put, there are too many genres and genre conventions vying for page time in this book. I had a hard time settling in to any one type of story. Some genre blending is to be expected, but this one had a bit too much on its hands with fantasy, thriller, horror, and mystery all packed in. I think it was more a fault of blending than anything. It felt a bit too obvious when the story switched from one genre focus to another, reading as bumpy and jarring rather than a smooth, unnoticeable transition.

The mystery of the story is good, though the comparison to “Stranger Things” is a bit too on the nose. I mean, creepy woods. Dudes in bio-hazard outfits. People disappearing. We get it. But still, I was intrigued enough about discovering what exactly was going on that I was able to get through my general frustration with the main character and some bumpy writing.

Essentially, if you’re a fan of contemporary YA fiction and enjoy a fantasy/horror aspect to your tale, you might really like “Heartwood Box.” Most of my complaints for this one are purely my own preference, so take that with what you will. I do think the writing lacks a bit to be desired overall, but that’s not a deal breaker if this kind of story is your thing.

Rating 6: Not for me. “Realistic” teenagers apparently annoy me too much.

Reader’s Advisory: 

“Heartwood Box” is  a new title and isn’t on many Goodreads lists. But it should be on “YA Fantasy Set in the Real World.”

Find “Heartwood Box” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Wilder Girls”

42505366Book: “Wilder Girls” by Rory Power

Publishing Info: Delacorte Press, July 2019

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

Book Description: It’s been eighteen months since the Raxter School for Girls was put under quarantine. Since the Tox hit and pulled Hetty’s life out from under her.

It started slow. First the teachers died one by one. Then it began to infect the students, turning their bodies strange and foreign. Now, cut off from the rest of the world and left to fend for themselves on their island home, the girls don’t dare wander outside the school’s fence, where the Tox has made the woods wild and dangerous. They wait for the cure they were promised as the Tox seeps into everything.

But when Byatt goes missing, Hetty will do anything to find her, even if it means breaking quarantine and braving the horrors that lie beyond the fence. And when she does, Hetty learns that there’s more to their story, to their life at Raxter, than she could have ever thought true.

Review: Thanks to NetGalley for sending me an eARC of this novel!

Oh boy, look what we have here. Another boarding school book! And on top of a boarding school book, we got some plague horror, some vague cosmic horror, and some queer representation thrown in for good measure. Suffice to say, when I read about “Wilder Girls”, I was interested enough to request an eARC from NetGalley.

What makes “Wilder Girls” by Rory Powers a bit different from other plague horror that I’ve seen lately is that we don’t know WHAT the Tox is. The students at Raxter School for Girls just know that they have been stricken with this disease, which causes body disfigurement, severe aggression, and in many cases (such as that of most of the faculty members and huge portion of the student body) death. They are cut off from the outside world immediately, and those who do have the tenuous connection to the outside world that sends supplies their way aren’t saying much. In many plague horror stories we will ultimately get at least some information as to what happened, be it a government made virus run amok a la “The Stand” or a supermutated flu a la “Station Eleven”. But in “Wilder Girls” it is largely unknown, and that fear of the unknown (both in origin of The Tox and what it has done to the woods outside the school) is what takes this towards Cosmic Horror territory, and makes it feel a bit more unique than similar tales that I’ve read. And, hooray but also YIKES, along with cosmic horror comes body horror, and “Wilder Girls” has that AND THEN SOME. From descriptions of mutated wildlife to body mutilation to other moments of supreme yuck, Powers knows how to up the gross factor in ways that would make David Cronenberg proud.

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Kinda like this in some ways. Also, this movie is devastating. (source)

Plus, when you combine plague and the unknown you have a volatile situation in terms of how the social structures have changed, and Raxter School for Girls has DEFINITELY degraded as they try to wait for their rescue, even as supplies dwindle more and more and desperation starts to cloud the judgments and actions of those who are supposed to be friends. Powers doesn’t shy away from some really brutal moments that are set off by these moments of desperation, be it those in power abusing those below, or those who are friendly towards each other suddenly attacking each other verbally AND physically. There are connections to the outside world, sure, but it becomes clearer and clearer that the outside world, in whatever state it may be in, is forgetting about these girls, and it may be intentional.

I also really enjoyed the slow growing and complicated relationship between Hetty, our main protagonist, and Reese, a sometimes friend but mostly roommate to Hetty and their friend Byatt. Byatt is the main connector between the three girls, as both Hetty and Reese have their affections for her. But when Byatt disappears, the two girls left, who have had rocky at best interactions as of late, have to learn to trust each other, and also deal with how they may actually feel for each other. The romance isn’t really at the forefront of this story, and it doesn’t end up defining either character, but it is always a bit below the surface, and I found it realistic that these two girls in a horrifying situation would have a lot of complex feelings towards each other. Especially when they had been vying for the attention of the bright and friendly Byatt.

But for me, and for reasons I can’t really figure out, the broader plot of “Wilder Girls” really didn’t interest me as much as I had hoped it would. While the parts about The Tox and the dwindling hope of rescue were absolutely right up my alley, for the life of me I couldn’t bring myself to care about Byatt’s disappearance. Sure, I usually like the conspiratorial themes that this book was filled with (why did Byatt disappear? Who knows more than they’re telling?), but I think that I was more interested in The Tox itself. Since we jumped in AFTER the Tox has already ravaged this school and it’s inhabitants, and since the school has adjusted, albeit poorly as it turns out, I wish we had a little more information about the build up and fall out of that initial infection. To me that seemed like a better story than that of a missing friend. That said, I can understand why the emphasis on that might be more interesting to other people. As it was, I wasn’t into it. On top of that, we got a clunker of an ending that felt like it was trying too hard to tread between ‘we definitely could end this story here if we needed to’, and ‘promises of more secrets and perhaps a sequel is the only thing to be done’. It felt too obvious as to what it was trying to do.

“Wilder Girls” was a bit of a disappointment to me, but that doesn’t mean it will be disappointing to all fans of plague and cosmic horror. If you want more focus on The Tox, it may not give you what you need, but if you are fine dealing with the fallout alone, it could be a good fit.

Rating 6: While it had a good premise and some interesting female characters, I didn’t find myself as invested in “Wilder Girls” as I had hoped I would be.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Wilder Girls” is included on the Goodreads lists “Sapphic Boarding School Books”, and “YA Cosmic Horror”.

Find “Wilder Girls” at your library using WorldCat!

Bookclub Review: “Incognegro: A Graphic Mystery”

35798022We 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: “Incognegro: A Graphic Mystery” by Mat Johnson, Warren Pleece (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Berger Books, February 2008

Where Did We Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: In the early 20th Century, when lynchings were commonplace throughout the American South, a few courageous reporters from the North risked their lives to expose these atrocities. They were African-American men who, due to their light skin color, could “pass” among the white folks. They called this dangerous assignment going “incognegro.”

Zane Pinchback, a reporter for the New York-based New Holland Herald, is sent to investigate the arrest of his own brother, charged with the brutal murder of a white woman in Mississippi. With a lynch mob already swarming, Zane must stay “incognegro” long enough to uncover the truth behind the murder in order to save his brother — and himself. Suspenseful, unsettling and relevant, Incognegro is a tense graphic novel of shifting identities, forbidden passions, and secrets that run far deeper than skin color.

Kate’s Thoughts

Two years ago when Serena and I were at the annual conference for ALA, we went to a panel that talked about graphic novels and how they convey stories. One of the panelists highlighted “Incognegro” by Mat Johnson and Warren Pleece, a story based on true accounts of a black news reporter who could pass for white, and would go undercover to expose racial violence in the deep South. I knew that I wanted to read it eventually, but filed it away and didn’t think about it. So when book club decided that our theme should be selections from the TBR pile, I decided that we were going to read “Incognegro”. I knew that it was going to be a very raw and emotional read, but also had a feeling it was going to be as interesting as I thought it would be.

“Incognegro” doesn’t hold back from the get go, as the first pages depict a violent lynching in graphic detail. While it is horrific and set me immediately on edge, Johnson clearly had every intention of making the reader feel abject horror at what was on the page. The injustice and violence perpetrated against black people during the Jim Crow years is something that we learn in school, but it can still get a bit lost as to just how awful it was. This book exposes all of it, and while it’s absolutely hard to read and take in, it never feels like it’s exploitative. It also shows that it was what we would potentially see as ‘regular people’ who participated in lynchings, not caricatures of racists that we may think of thanks to TV and movies. While a Klansman is the main named antagonist, it’s also ‘regular’ people who go to watch the lynchings and even get souvenirs to commemorate the murders and tortures they witness. It makes it so that the reader can’t see this as merely something only mustache twirling villains did, and that it could be anyone who held such toxic and violent ideals, including the people you’d see walking down the street or at a picnic. Johnson also has a note at the end of the ten year anniversary addition, in which he talks about how the rise of far right and white supremacist hate groups in the last few years makes this story feel all too relevant still.

Not only were the themes strong, so were the characters. It is clear that the work that Zane (who is based on a man named Walter Francis White), is doing is necessary and incredibly dangerous, and we see him as he is starting to feel his dedication run thin, not because he doesn’t believe in it anymore, but because of the various tolls it is taking. He has managed to make his job both personal, as he is a black man who would be targeted if he wasn’t able to pass, and yet impersonal, because he’s escaped the South for Harlem and is the famous ‘incognegro’ who is doing important and applauded work. But it becomes wholly personal when it’s his own brother Alonzo that could be the next target, after Alonzo is accused of murdering a white woman. I liked seeing his experience and weariness, especially when contrasted with that of the younger and less experienced Carl, someone who is probably going to be his replacement. The way that they react to the conditions that they see on Zane’s supposed last assignment show their different approaches and feelings regarding what their mission is supposed to be, and I liked that Johnson doesn’t really show either of them as being right or wrong in their ethos, but also naive in their own ways. You care for both of them, and that makes it all the more upsetting when the violence they’re meant to evade can’t be avoided.

I am so glad that I finally picked up “Incognegro”, and I urge people to read it, as challenging and upsetting as it may be. It’s a story that is still incredibly relevant, and has a lot to say about the society we are still living in.

Serena’s Thoughts

As Kate mentioned, I was at the same panel that discussed this book and was very intrigued by it. Unlike her, I was not organized enough to put it on my Goodreads TBR list and so had completely forgotten about it. Thank goodness, one of us had it together there!

I agree with every Kate has said, so I won’t repeat her on those same topics. In brief, I thought the characterization was excellent for most of the characters (there is one exception with a woman character who reads a bit caricature-ish at times, but this is a super minor point). And, while incredibly hard to read about, I too appreciated the eyes-wide-open approach to such a tough subject. There is no hand-holding or soft-selling the horrors of this point in history. And like Kate mentioned, it’s made clear that it wasn’t only “villains” the way we would like to think of them. It could be anyone. And more so, there’s a good commentary about mob mentality throughout the book. That even people who on their own might not be moved to such violence can be easily caught up in a swell of anger and hatred and then subside back into their ordinary lives, as if nothing had happened. This is the kind of anger that I think we are seeing more of today at protests and rallies. This book is a good reminder of just how far that behavior can go if not held in firm check by those reporting honestly on the issues and the unequivocal recrimination by society and leaders of society of those participating in ways that lead towards this type of hatred.

I also really enjoyed the artwork in this book. It is done in variations of black and white with some hints of browns. It does a nice job of keeping the reader focused on what is being said by the story itself, rather than being distracted by the very thing the book is discussing: the color of individuals. The art was used in a really strong way, both slapping readers in the face with some pretty tough images, but also playing well to a few comedic moments as well as portraying the action of the story and emotion of the characters quite effectively.

The last thing I want to discuss is the mystery itself. While yes, much of the book is a discussion of the themes we’ve discussed above, there’s also a compelling murder mystery at its heart. I felt that by having this plotline, the authors were able to prevent the reader from feeling too overwhelmed by the dark nature of the story. I also really liked how it pulled in the idea that Black individuals were not the only ones who were disenfranchised at this time and who might find the idea of going “incognito” as a white man appealing in order to pursue the life they want but that is denied them in their natural state.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. “Enjoyed” seems like a strange word, given the context, but I think that it is still appropriate. I did find the mystery fun at times, and the darker aspects of the book were important reminders of a period of history that often gets briefly touched upon and then quickly moved past.

Kate’s Rating 9: A raw, emotional, and suspenseful look at a dark time in our history, and a story that shows the importance of speaking up for the truth no matter what the risk may be.

Serena’s Rating 9: Excellent. A tough read, but one that speaks to a subject many would rather avoid, and one that is always relevant when we see ourselves beginning to be ruled by fear and hatred of an “other.”

Book Club Questions

  1. Were you familiar with the role that people like Walter Francis White played in exposing the facts about lynching in the South during this time period?
  2. Both Zane and Carl have different approaches to gathering intel when trying to infiltrate racist circles, and different approaches with how to approach conflict. Let’s say that Carl hadn’t been found out due to someone with outsider knowledge. Whose strategy do you think is more effective or appropriate when lives are at stake: Zanes more covert one, or Carl’s more direct one?
  3. This book has two stories about people passing for identities that they were not: Zane passing for a different race, and deputy Francis passing as a man. We know the consequences for Zane were he found out, but what do you think the risks and rewards would have been for Deputy Francis?
  4. Many people today see the concept of race as a societal construct. What are some ways that this concept is hinted at in this story?
  5. What do you make of Alonzo and Michaela’s relationship?
  6. Mat Johnson has said that he wanted to re-release “Incognegro” in the aftermath of the Charlottesville far right/ White Supremacist rally and the racial terrorism it inspired. In what other ways do you think “Incognegro” is relevant to social issues of today?

Reader’s Advisory

“Incognegro: A Graphic Mystery” is included on the Goodreads lists “History Through Graphic Novels”, and “#BlackLivesMatter Reading List”.

Find “Incognegro: A Graphic Mystery” at your library using WorldCat!

Next Book Club Book: “Kindred” by Octavia Butler