Book Club Review: “Deathless”

8694389We 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 “B-Sides,” where we pick different books from previous authors that we read in the club.

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: “Deathless” by Catherynne M. Valente

Publishing Info: Tor Books, March 2011

Where Did We Get This Book: Kate from the library, Serena owns it.

A-Side Book: “The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making”

Book Description: Koschei the Deathless is to Russian folklore what devils or wicked witches are to European culture: a menacing, evil figure; the villain of countless stories which have been passed on through story and text for generations. But Koschei has never before been seen through the eyes of Catherynne Valente, whose modernized and transformed take on the legend brings the action to modern times, spanning many of the great developments of Russian history in the twentieth century.

Deathless, however, is no dry, historical tome: it lights up like fire as the young Marya Morevna transforms from a clever child of the revolution, to Koschei’s beautiful bride, to his eventual undoing. Along the way there are Stalinist house elves, magical quests, secrecy and bureaucracy, and games of lust and power. All told, Deathless is a collision of magical history and actual history, of revolution and mythology, of love and death, which will bring Russian myth back to life in a stunning new incarnation.

Serena’s Thoughts

This was my bookclub book choice. After reading and loving the entire “Fairyland” series, I was eager to see what Valente had to offered with a new fantasy setting and topic. How would her lyrical writing style and witty twists of nonsense translate to the seemingly much more dark and serious tone of a Russian fairytale?

As a young girl growing up, Marya sees more than most. She sees the bird-forms that her sisters’ husbands wore before changing into men and asking for their hands. She’s visited the small beings who run her house via committee. She knows there is magic in the world, and she is ready and waiting for her turn. But what she gets is Koschei, a dark being who has served as the nightmare in Russina folklore. However, Marya is no wilting flower herself, and over the years proves to be the challenging equal of even a being so great as Koschei.

This is the story of Marya, but it is also the story of Russia. And with that dual focus and the time period during which this is set, there is a darkness that permeates the story. There are some incredibly rough scenes that draw from historical events and Valente doesn’t back down from the tragedy of it all. It was quite the change from the up-beat and fuzzy tone of her other books, but not a change for the worse. I don’t have a strong foundation in Russian history, so there were various points where I had to put the book down out of curiosity about the real-life events that were being referred to. However, the book and fairytale aspects are also strong enough on their own that this type of extra research was by no means necessary.

I very much enjoyed Marya herself and the way she moved through her own fairytale. I also wasn’t familiar with the original folktale, so I read up on that as I went along, too. The story was slow to start, but once it gets into the truly fantastical elements and onto Marya’s own adventures and quests, I was able to zip along.

I did struggle a bit more with Valente’s flowery way of writing in this story. While she still had several very beautiful lines and highly quoatable sections, there were also portions that felt like they just dragged on just for the sake of lyrical lines. But those lines were actually adding anything to the story. It felt like an editor could have been used to really pair these sections down. This would have not only helped the pacing, which, like I said, could be slow at times, especially in the beginning. But it also would have left the remaining beautiful bits as stronger for being more rare.

Kate’s Thoughts

I was the person in book club who didn’t really care for “The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making”, but when I heard the plot of “Deathless” I was game to give Valente another try. I don’t know much about Russian folklore outside of Baba Yaga, and my knowledge of Russian history is admittedly limited, but I thought that this could be a fun break from the usual fairy tale retellings that usually have a huge focus on Western European stories. And these aspects were the things that I liked best about this book.

I had never heard of the Marya and Koschei story, but found myself completely taken in by their admittedly problematic relationship. Yes, he kidnapped her as a child and there was certainly a fair amount of manipulation to begin with (very “V for Vendetta”, as we agreed in book club). But ultimately, like in “V for Vendetta”, Marya became more than Koschei, became an incredibly tough and strong protagonist who takes back her agency, and has a new kind of connection to Koschei. Sure, in real life this isn’t a good thing, but HEY GUESS WHAT I DON’T EVEN CARE!! I was one hundred percent invested in them and was rooting for them, even when Ivan showed up (as he does in the original story), because Ivan can’t POSSIBLY get Marya like Koschei does. I went back and looked up the original Marya and Koschei the Deathless fairy tale, and I liked how Valente subverted it to fit along with important, and sometimes dark as night, moments in Russian history.

But ultimately, I still have a very hard time with Valente’s writing style. While I liked the plot, I found myself slogging through this book because of how detailed and flowery her writing is, and also found myself having to skip back and re-read sections just to figure out what was going on. I don’t like having to do that repeatedly in a book, and I was doing that a fair amount in “Deathless”. I think that her writing style and the way that she likes to make her fantasy worlds (another thing I am not keen on) are just not conducive to how I like my stories.

I’m glad that we read “Deathless” if only because we stretched our reading muscles a bit and covered unknown folk tales from a not as familiar culture and history.

Serena’s Rating 7: I enjoyed this book, especially the darker fairytale aspects and the tie-ins to Russian history, however I felt that Valente’s writing style too often distracted from the story itself or needlessly dragged out sections of the plot.

Kate’s Rating 6: I’m still not really into fantasy and think that Valente’s style is a bit too flowery for me, but I liked the Russian fairy tale aspect, and I was deeply invested in the messed up romance between Marya and Koshchei.

Book Club Questions:

  1. This is a fairytale re-telling. How does it compare to other fairytales you’ve read? Were you familiar with the original fairytale this was based on? Or Russian fairytales in general?
  2. The story blends fairytales with historical fiction. How did this work for you? Were there parts you particularly intriguing or you felt could have been expanded upon more?
  3. There was also some subtle or not too subtle commentaries on politics and the Communist regime, like the committees of house imps and references to Party slogans. How did these work for you?
  4. Mixed with the topics of war and fear, the story explores love and marriage. Marya and Koschei have a tumultuous (to say the least) relationship. What did you think of the arc of their story? How did you feel about the character Ivan and his role in the story?
  5. Valente has a very unique writing style. Did this add or detract from the story in your opinion?

Reader’s Advisory:

“Deathless” is included on the Goodreads lists “Dark, Lyrical Fairytales”, and “Russian Motifs in Fantasy”.

Find “Deathless” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review & Giveaway: “Spinning Silk”

39810065Book: “Spinning Silk” by T. Cook

Publishing Info: Amazon Publishing, May 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: provided for review

Book Description: A weaver’s genius ignites the jealousy of her peers, the possessiveness of her mill’s proprietress and the hopes of an unborn nation.

Furi knows she was born to create, but the fabric of her life otherwise weaves mysteries. These things are more than they appear:

Shin, the gardener, with his unlikely power over life and death;
A mysterious illness with a selective death route;
Kitsuke artist Madame Sato, who would fashion Furi into a reincarnation of her own dead daughter;
The princess of a puppet emperor, who has strange loyalties to a humble gardener; and
The vaporous rumor of a war with no apparent aggressor.

“Spinning Silk” is inspired by Japanese folklore including the love story of Orihime and Hikoboshi as well as a radical reimagining of the terrible tsuchigumo (spider spirits) and jorogumo demons.

Review: I was sent an excerpt of this book several months ago, and while reviewing it the strength of the author’s writing and the intriguing plot nabbed my attention. After receiving my copy, I blew through this story quickly. While it’s not without faults, “Spinning Silk” was a unique story, almost a fairytale-retelling but inspired by Japanese folklore instead of the Western-based fairytales that are all too common.

Furi is an orphan who has been raised as a slave. However, she has an incredible talent for weaving, a talent so great that it draws the eyes of some very important people. Her path soon crosses with several other unique characters, most importantly, perhaps, a gardener who has power of his own. Her journey is one filled with death and darkness, a mysterious illness that strikes in an unknowable way. But Furi persists through it all, discovering her own strengths within.

We all know how I feel about fairytale-retellings. That said, is is more and more difficulty to find truly intriguing stories. The basic fairytales have been told over and over in almost every way. So I’m always incredibly excited when I see a story like this that is not only drawing from folktales that I am not familiar with, but that is set in a place and culture that is A.) not my own and B.) one that is rarely called upon as a setting and foundation for a story such as this. All cultures have stories at their heart, and yet we’re only familiar with a very few.

I know very little about Japanese culture and folklore. I was not familiar at all with the story that serves as the basis for this book. But what made it so excellent was that this didn’t matter! While I can’t speak to the authenticity of these things (again, given my lack of prior knowledge of the subject), I will say that coming from a fairly ignorant standpoint, I felt that the world that Cook drew and the tale itself felt truly authentic. She avoided several of the pitfalls common to stories set in places/cultures that are not one’s own. Notably, her use of Japanese language. The book does has a helpful list of terms in the back for those of us who are not familiar, but the story itself is blessedly free of any in-text explanation for terms and words. Because, of course, why Furi explain words that are common to her?

I also liked the way the story wove together the fantastical elements and the historical parts. While I do wish there there had been a bit more lead up to the fantasy aspects (they come into play much more strongly towards the end), the historical portions of the story were spot on. I felt immediately immersed in this setting and became quickly invested in Furi’s story. The writing is excellent (again, this was one of the things that immediately drew me to the book), and while the story does unfold slowly, I felt that it was worth the payoff in the end.

However, this book definitely falls into the “dark” category, as far as fantasy fiction goes. The tone is often somber and bad things happen to good people. I like dark fantasies as a whole, so I was mostly fine with this. I did struggle a bit with the end, but I understood the point the author was making and, while a valid one, it simply isn’t my preferred reading experience. But that should in no way take away from the reading experience of others. This is just a very subjective preference of mine.

I also very much like Furi herself. The story is told from her perspective, but even being in her mind, all is not revealed. Not only do readers need to piece together the motivations and histories of other characters, but Furi herself doesn’t come out and tell you everything about herself. This also contributed to the slow-moving factor of the book, but I didn’t mind it. Instead, I felt like I was slowly learning who Furi truly was and this increased knowledge built alongside the stakes of the story as a whole.

Overall, I very much enjoyed this book. And I don’t think enough people have read it! To help with that, I’m offering a giveaway of my copy of “Spinning Silk.” The giveaway is open to US entrants only and runs  until August 16.

Click here to enter!

Rating 7: An exciting new fantasy fairytale set in a culture that is often not seen in these types of stories. A bit on the darker side, but worth the slower reading experience in the end.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Spinning Silk” isn’t on many Goodreads lists, but it should be on “Re-tellings of Little Known Fairy Tales.”

Find “Spinning Silk” on Amazon!

Kate’s Review: “Force of Nature”

34275222Book: “Force of Nature” by Jane Harper

Publishing Info: Flatiron Books, February 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Five women go on a hike. Only four return. Jane Harper, the New York Times bestselling author of The Dry, asks: How well do you really know the people you work with?

When five colleagues are forced to go on a corporate retreat in the wilderness, they reluctantly pick up their backpacks and start walking down the muddy path.

But one of the women doesn’t come out of the woods. And each of her companions tells a slightly different story about what happened.

Federal Police Agent Aaron Falk has a keen interest in the whereabouts of the missing hiker. In an investigation that takes him deep into isolated forest, Falk discovers secrets lurking in the mountains, and a tangled web of personal and professional friendship, suspicion, and betrayal among the hikers. But did that lead to murder?

Review: Remember when I read “The Dry”,, and while I wasn’t fully into it I was excited about the potential of Jane Harper’s character Aaron Falk and where we could go with him? Shortly after that review was posted, I got my hands on “Force of Nature”, the second book in the Aaron Falk Series. My ambivalence towards “The Dry” meant that “Force of Nature” sat on my really too high book pile for far too long, and that by the time I got to it I only had a couple of days to read it before it was due. But almost immediately after I started it, my interest was piqued by the reference to an off page character whom I knew right away was based on Ivan Milat, the Backpacker Killer. That little tidbit, combined with a mystery about a group of women who go into the mountains on a team building hike that leads to wilderness survival and the disappearance of one of them?

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Okay, I’m intrigued. (source)

The mystery of “Force of Nature” is what happened to Alice, a cold and ambitious corporate worker, while she and four others went on a hike. Alice has connections to Falk and his partner Carmen, as she was giving them information of a nature that we are not necessarily privy to when our story begins. We switch off between two perspectives: the first is of Aaron and Carmen as they get tied into the investigation after Bree, Beth, Jill, and Lauren leave the woods without Alice. The second is what exactly did happen in the woods between the five women, and  how the tensions that were already present between them could have erupted into something more than arguments and spats. Like most thrillers, we get to see the two narratives give us different insights, and we get to see the statements given to Falk unravel and transform into different realities as we go back into the disastrous hike itself. I knew that the four remaining women were going to be unreliable to Falk, but it was fun seeing it all unfold. I liked how it all slowly came together, and while I figured out a majority of the solution pretty early on, I still really enjoyed traipsing along the way as Falk and Carmen sleuthed. For me, the most fun of this story were in two things: the survival story of the five women (and how they quickly descended into paranoia and belligerence), and the hints and clues to Ivan Milat (known as Martin Kovac in this book) and the horrific serial murders he committed. For those who don’t know, Milat found backpackers and campers in the Belangelo State forest in New South Wales, Australia, and killed them in awful, violent ways. He’d then leave their bodies off trail in the forest. He’s officially responsible for seven murders, but in reality it was probably many more. The possibility that these characters might not only have the elements and each other to fear, but ALSO a crazed murderer, is really my kind of cup of tea, and it gave this book the oomph that REALLY made it a fun read.

But Harper has also given us a bit more to chew on with the characters this time. I don’t know if it’s because this time it’s not as personal for Falk, or because it isn’t seen mostly through his eyes, but I found myself more taken in by this group than I was by those in “The Dry”. I loved his partner Carmen, with whom he has some undefinable heat that neither of them are willing or able to explore, because she is very sensible and a good foil for Falk. She has his back, but also can read people in her own right. And plus, I like the heat that they share, even if nothing very well may come of it. And I also liked seeing the awfulness of Alice, and how the other women in her group have had problems with her in one way or another. Harper does a very good job of creating a ruthless person who very well may have a target on her back, while still giving her enough humanity (mostly through her daughter) that she doesn’t feel like a caricature who doesn’t deserve to be found in one piece. And if the Aaron Falk stories are going to be like this, where Falk is there as a grounding force of good, but with most of the focus on a different cast of characters for each book, I would be totally here for that. It clicked so well this time that I will almost be more frustrated if we go back to the structure of “The Dry”, because I felt like the groove I wanted from that book was more present here.

“Force of Nature” was a thrilling and solid mystery, and now that I have finally fully climbed aboard the Aaron Falk train I am very excited to see where it goes next. Fans of survival thrillers with a side of catty drama should absolutely pick this one up, and you may not even need to start with “The Dry” to fully enjoy this one.

Rating 8: A strong second helping of a new series, “Force of Nature” brings some focus off of Aaron Falk and centers it on complex and interesting characters.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Force of Nature” is included on the Goodreads lists “Best Survival Stories”, and “The Aussie List”.

Find “Force of Nature” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously Reviewed: “The Dry”.

Serena’s Review: “These Rebel Waves”

294220911Book: “These Rebel Waves” by Sara Raasch

Publishing Info: Balzer + Bray, August 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss!

Book Description: Adeluna is a soldier. Five years ago, she helped the magic-rich island of Grace Loray overthrow its oppressor, Argrid, a country ruled by religion. But adjusting to postwar life has not been easy. When an Argridian delegate vanishes during peace talks with Grace Loray’s new Council, Argrid demands brutal justice—but Lu suspects something more dangerous is at work.

Devereux is a pirate. As one of the outlaws called stream raiders who run rampant on Grace Loray, he pirates the island’s magic plants and sells them on the black market. But after Argrid accuses raiders of the diplomat’s abduction, Vex becomes a target. An expert navigator, he agrees to help Lu find the Argridian—but the truth they uncover could be deadlier than any war.

Benat is a heretic. The crown prince of Argrid, he harbors a secret obsession with Grace Loray’s forbidden magic. When Ben’s father, the king, gives him the shocking task of reversing Argrid’s fear of magic, Ben has to decide if one prince can change a devout country—or if he’s building his own pyre.

As conspiracies arise, Lu, Vex, and Ben will have to decide who they really are . . . and what they are willing to become for peace.

Review: After devouring “Song of the Current” and “Whisper on the Tide,” I felt a deep hankering for more fantasy/pirate good times. And, luckily for me, the topic seems to be a popular one right now in the YA fantasy world, as not only this book, but another “Seafire” (to be reviewed soon) were up and available on Edelweiss. I didn’t hesitate to request it. However, while the story was enjoyable enough, I think the unabashed joy and adventure that came from the “Song of the Current” series kind of left me feeling a bit cold about this more serious, political story.

The story is told from three perspectives: Adeluna, a young woman who grew up as the solider daughter of two revolutionary parents, fighting for the freedom of her island nation. She now finds herself transitioning into a role of politics, but is finding her fighting instincts harder to dismiss than she had thought. Deverux is the pirate of this story and is seemingly only for himself and his crew, collecting and selling the island’s magical plants. But all too soon, he finds himself caught up in intrigues that are way above his pay level. Benat is on the other side of things, quite literally growing up in another country and the one that fought on the other side of Adeluna’s revolution. The son of the king, Benat struggles to reconcile his own interest in magic with the teachings of his faith that draw any connection to magic as heresy.

Even in that brief description, you can see that this book is biting off a pretty big plot to chew upon. Not only do each of these three characters have very different histories, but they each represent a complicated group of individuals who are all operating against each other (openly and not so openly) in a nation-level tug of war over the future of the island and its valuable plant magic. I did like the complicated weave that the author put together here. None can say that she dumbed this story down for younger readers. However, I don’t necessarily think that she fully committed to the complexities of her world either, or, at the very least, explained them fully enough. I never really understood the religion that drove Benat’s nation, and as a major player in the series, this was a constant annoyance.

Further, the story was much more political than I had expected. This is one of those hard criticisms to diagnose. Is it really a fault with the story that readers went in expecting something else? Or is this simply a failure of marketing? Either way, I started this book hoping for more rollicking adventures on the high sea. What I got instead was a lot more political shenanigans. And I’m not against political stories as a whole, but I also don’t feel that this book pulled that aspect of the story off very well.

For example, we are told that Adeluna’s parents were both brilliant revolutionaries, able to successfully lead a group of guerilla soldiers against a much stronger nation and ultimately win freedom for their island. They came up with and planned intricate strikes. But in the very first few chapters, we see a political council meeting where both of Adeluna’s parents are apparently perplexed by the political maneuverings of a few of the other council members. But Adeluna, of course, sees right through this. And yes, I know this is a YA novel and that Adeluna needs to be the one to drive her portions of the story. But weird moments like this just make me roll my eyes. There are ways to make your teenage protagonist drive your story and come up with unique insights without directly undercutting the adults that you just spent some much time building up. I would recommend “The Tethered Mage” and “The Defiant Heir” as excellent examples of how to have powerful parental figures while not damaging the competence and leading force of your younger main character. This is only one example, but it was present throughout the book and I started having a hard time taking it seriously.

As for the main three characters, I did like them for the most part. The romance was completely predictable, however, and again, I didn’t feel like this book was really introducing anything new with either of these characters. I did appreciate the fact that it presented a gay main character and gave him a decent story. There have been some complaints that his wasn’t the main romance of the story, but I feel like, again, this was a disconnect between the way this book was marketed and what it turned out to be ultimately. I think a lot of readers were expecting “gay pirates” and that’s not this. I didn’t know much about this aspect of the story, so I didn’t have those expectations going in. So, from my perspective, it was still a good example of including diversity in your main cast. But, in the end, I still didn’t feel overly invested in any one of the three of these characters. They all felt familiar, but in a “been there, read that” type of way.

Ultimately, I didn’t love “These Rebel Waves.” There’s nothing objectively “bad” about the book, but it also wasn’t introducing anything truly new. Even the magic system, which on face value should have been points in the “new” column, turned out fairly bland. We never got any real look into how this work or any details: plants were just magic. Ok. I also feel like this book struggles against reader expectations. The story was much slower-moving and politically focused than I had expected. But even had I know this going in, I don’t think this is the strongest example of that type of story either. In the end, there have just been better books telling very similar stories.

Rating 6: Nothing terrible or anything, but pretty forgettable in my opinion.

Reader’s Advisory:

“These Rebel Waves” is newer, so it isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists, but it is on “2018 Queer SFF Releases.”

Find “These Rebel Waves” at your library using WorldCat.

 

A Revisit to Fear Street: “Secret Admirer”

308672Book: “Secret Admirer” (Fear Street #36) by R.L. Stine

Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, 1996

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Selena is on top of the world. Her acting career at Shadyside High is blossoming—everyone admires her. So when she starts receiving bouquets of dead flowers from a person called “The Sun,” she treats them as a joke.

But Selena soon realizes that this is no laughing matter. Her understudy is injured in a suspicious accident. Then a speeding car nearly kills her. Selena knows “The Sun” is responsible.

And that her number-one fan has become her number-one nightmare.

Had I Read This Before: No (I think we’re getting to the point where I aged up from “Fear Street” and dove head first into adult books).

The Plot: Another “Fear Street” book, another ominous prologue. This time it’s a bad and threatening poem directed at our protagonist, Selena, signed by “The Sun”. Then we jump into our story, where we find out that Selena is the star of the Shadyside drama department, and has just finished up the last night of the most recent play. Everyone loves Selena! She and her theater friends gather back stage, and they all congratulate her on a job well done. Alison, the second best, says she’ll NEVER be as good as Selena, and Jake, one of her best friends from her childhood, calls her ‘Moon’ (as Selena means ‘moon’), but says he’s not feeling up to going to the cast party. Mr. Riordan, the drama club director, says that the next show they are going to do is “Romeo and Juliet”, and Selena is thrilled because she would LOVE to do Shakespeare. She is then approached by her ex boyfriend Danny, who wants to congratulate her as well, though she’s not so keen on talking to him. Luckily for her her bestie Katy, a stagehand, comes up and pulls her away. She says that Selena will almost assuredly be Juliet, and Selena plays coy and says that there’s no guarantee she’ll get it. But she’s pretty and think and has been the lead multiple times before this, so…. yeah, she’ll probably get it. Mr. Riordan says that “Romeo and Juliet” will be an especially important production because theater scouts from colleges are going to be in the audience, including Northwestern, the school that Selena would love to go to. When Selena goes for her backpack, she finds a wrapped bouquet, but when she opens it it’s a bunch of dead roses, and a threatening note with a sticker of a Sun on it (hilariously, Stine decrees that these dead flowers ‘smell of decay’, and I wonder if he knows that’s not really how flowers work). Katy thinks that is’s scary but Selena brushes it off as a dumb joke, probably pulled by Jake, who has pulled jokes since they were kids. Katy says that Jake has been acting weird lately, but Selena hasn’t noticed.

They go back to Selena’s house, and Selena is already excited for the spring play. Katy laments the fact that she’s ‘too big’ to be in theater, as she’s about twenty pounds overweight, and Selena suggests that she could play Juliet’s nurse! Oh my God. Katy asks Selena if she ever thought she would be so popular, as Selena also used to be overweight, but then got thin because she loved theater SO MUCH and she knew she couldn’t get lead roles if she was fat. Jesus Christ this isn’t really body positive, is it? Selena also notes that she got the lead in a play sophomore year because the original lead actress had to leave the school (and later we find out this is a shout out to “The Prom Queen” when Simone went crazy and killed all those people). There’s a tapping at the window and then a crash. The girls rush to see what the commotion was, but don’t see anything… until they leave the house to go to the party. A metal ladder is on the ground beneath Selena’s window. Katy thinks that someone is stalking Selena, but Selena thinks her mother was probably working on something outside and didn’t put it away. Except there’s a sun sticker on the bottom rung…

As they are driving to the party Katy is practically begging Selena to take this seriously. Selena says she isn’t famous so why would someone stalk HER, but Katy rightfully points out that she doesn’t have to be Rebecca Schaeffer to have a predator target you. Selena thinks that it’s probably just Danny wanting to get back together. Just then a car starts following them and drives up super close to them. Katy starts to panic, but Selena keeps her cool and tells her to just drive to Mr. Riordan’s house, whoever this person is wouldn’t dare follow them into a crowded home. Yes and no, maybe a police station is better. When they park at Mr. Riordan’s, the person following them does too, and it turns out it’s Danny, who was ‘just playing a joke’. Well ha fucking ha, Danny. Mr. Riordan calls everyone around, and introduces them to Eddy, a handsome (as noticed by Selena) second year drama student from Waynesbridge Junior College, who is going to assist with the spring play. Selena feels like she’s seen him before, and goes to introduce herself. Eddy says that he’s seen her in a number of plays and that he thinks she’s a natural. He also says that he thinks it’s great that she can balance her grades and her acting, and when Selena asks HOW EXACTLY he knows this he claims it’s part of the job of being an intern, knowing everything about your actors. He then gets called away, and Selena is more flattered than freaked. She then goes to talk to Jake, who seems bummed as hell. When she asks him why he freaks out at her, and she asks him if he left her the dead flowers. He denies it, and says that it sounds like more than just a joke and that she should tell Mr. Riordan, or maybe the police. Selena does go over to talk to Mr. Riordan, but before she can Danny stumbles out of no where, covered in blood, and collapses in front of Selena! But, turns out, he’s pulling another prank, as it’s fake blood. No one is amused. When Selena goes out to get some air, Eddy is there. He says that he can’t believe she used to date Danny, and when she asks how he knew about THAT, he says he must have just overheard it, and then excuses himself.

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(source)

Alison comes out to inform Selena that she, too, is trying out for Juliet, but Selena says that’s fine. Katy says that she can take Selena home if she’s ready to go, and Selena is, but before they can go Danny says that HE will take Selena home. Selena says she’s not interested, and then JAKE comes out and starts to knock Danny away, saying that if ANYONE is going to take Selena home HE will. He and Danny fight, and Mr. Riordan, you have OFFICIALLY lost control of this cast party. Selena breaks it up, and when Jake tries to apologize she won’t hear it. He then says he wants to see Danny dead. Then, to make matters worse, as Selena is trying to fall asleep that night her phone rings. When she answers it’s a weird voice saying that they are watching her before hanging up.

At school the next week, Danny tries to apologize to Selena, and she confronts him about the dead flowers, the note, and the phone call. He denies it all. Then we must jump ahead by a few WEEKS because we’re already at Spring play auditions! I did theater in high school, there was usually a month or two AT LEAST between productions. Regardless, Selena, Katy, and Jake are sitting around waiting for their turns to audition. Jake asks Selena if she still thinks it’s Danny, and she says maybe, and he says that she should tell Mr. Riordan. Selena says she doesn’t want to, because if she does he may not cast her in the play out of fear for her safety. My guy reaction was to say ‘OH COME ON’, but then I realized that she’s probably right, and instead of going after the stalker, it would be seen as easier to limit the victim. Fucking patriarchy. Regardless, Jake admits that he understands wanting something that he can’t have. Selena and Alison go to practice for their auditions, and Alison claims the usual area that Selena takes, which is by the wardrobes, so Selena goes somewhere else…. And then a horrible crash is heard! Everyone rushes to the wardrobe area, and Alison has been crunched by a heavy wardrobe cabinet that fell on her! Luckily she’s alive, and paramedics are called. Jake points out that usually that spot is where Selena practices, and when Selena inspects the cabinet there is a sun sticker on it.

A little time later Selena is practicing her Juliet lines at home (given that Alison is still hospitalized) when Danny calls her, asking if she wants to go grab a bite to eat. Selena goes off on him, telling him she doesn’t want to go out with him and that he needs to stop harassing her and/or trying to crush her with a wardrobe. Danny continues to deny his involvement, and Selena hangs up. The phone rings again, and this time it’s Eddy, who is calling to tell her that Alison will be back the next week and not to worry. They start talking, and he mentions that he is so impressed with how confident she has become, given that she used to be so introverted and used to wear baggy clothing. Selena asks how he knew that, and he claims that he must have seen an old yearbook, and then asks her out to a movie. She says yes, and he tells her that they shouldn’t talk about it since it’s probably totally unethical for this boy who is assisting with drama club to be dating the girl who is part of the club. She promises she won’t tell ANYONE, and I gotta say, this is some kinda power dynamic that’s not ethical AT ALL. After hanging up it starts to rain, so Selena decides to make sure all the windows in the house are closed. When she gets to the window by the front door, she sees a bundle on the porch. When she opens the door, she finds a dead, mutilated rat, and a note from The Sun telling her quit the play or else. She calls Katy and tells her about the dead rat, and Katy says that it must be someone in drama club…. And asks if maybe Selena should quit the play for her safety. Selena refuses, saying she needs the scouts to see her if she wants a scholarship. Katy asks her to at least tell Mr. Riordan, and Selena says that she will. Katy then reminds her about the sleepover they’re having that Friday, but OOPS, that’s the day that Selena made a date with Eddy, so she tells Katy she can’t make it after all and tells her about the date with Eddy, EVEN THOUGH she promised not to tell anyone. Katy is skeptical of this, given the ethical implications, but Selena is insistent that it’s all fine. She hangs up, and then tries to sleep. But she can’t stop thinking about her stalker. Her Mom comes home from her night shift (Dad died a few years ago so her Mom has a busy work schedule), and Selena considers telling her about the stalker, but doesn’t want to worry her, so doesn’t.

The next day the official cast list is posted, and Jake is upset that Danny got the part of Romeo over him. When Selena can’t even muster a fake ‘yeah fuck that guy’ for Jake and opts to say that Danny was good, Jake gets mad and says that Danny won’t get everything he wants THIS time. Katy tells Selena that Jake’s parents are splitting up and that’s why he’s been so moody lately. Selena had NO idea that her best friend’s parents were having problems, I guess. Katy asks Selena if she’s going to tell Mr. Riordan about the stalker, and Selena says that she will, soon. She and Danny talk and he asks if they can just try and get along since they’re starring opposite each other, and she agrees. As Mr. Riordan blocks a scene with Selena and Jake (who is Juliet’s father), suddenly a set of lights fall from the ceiling! Katy knocks Selena out of the way, undoubtedly saving her from grievous injury/death. Katy hurts her arm, and Selena feels awful since the lights were obviously sabotaged by her stalker.

After the movie that Friday, Selena and Eddy decide to get some burgers at a place called Sam’s. Eddy continues to praise Selena about how good she is, and is convinced that she will get the scholarship, but offers to give her private acting feedback if she wants it. Selena is wary, and wonders to herself why she is so SUSPICIOUS of him, and gee, Selena, perhaps it’s the fact that he is oddly interested in YOU and is in his twenties and you are still a teenager? When he asks why she’s so reluctant, she tells him about her stalker, and tells him that Mr. Riordan didn’t take it seriously, so the police probably won’t either. To that I say fuck you, Mr. Riordan. When Eddy goes to pay for the check, Selena sees Danny in the doorway! She goes to chew him out for following her, but then realizes that he’s there on a date with a girl named Susie. Embarrassed by her reaction, Selena meets Eddy outside (who is relieved that Danny didn’t see them there, UGH). Selena is now certain Danny isn’t her stalker since he has a new lady friend. As she and Eddy are walking back to the car in the parking ramp of the building (down a narrow tunnel), Eddy admits that he went to Shadyside High, and that he had a crush on her when he was a senior and she was a sophomore. So THAT is why he knows her. Selena finally feels safe with him (I wouldn’t go THAT far, Selena), but as they are going down the tunnel suddenly a squeal of tires gets their attention. A car comes ZOOMING down the tunnel with no headlights, and Eddy pushes Selena! IN FRONT OF THE CAR? No, past it so that the car doesn’t hit her. The car speeds off, and Eddy says that they were walking down the wrong side of the ramp so that must be why this happened. Selena isn’t so sure…. And wonders WHY they were walking on the wrong side….

The next day Selena gets a flower delivery! She thinks that it must be from Eddy, as it’s a pretty bouquet and not a bunch of dead ones. As she’s practically rubbing her face with the flowers and the greens, her mother comes in and points out WAIT THOSE LEAVES AS POISON IVY!!!! And Selena is VERY allergic. She’s still dealing with the rash a week later, and wonders how the stalker knew that she was so allergic. As she is sitting in the library with Katy and Jake, her friends say that they think she should quit the play, but Selena refuses. So Jake says he’ll do some snooping and try to figure out who is doing this to her. Later at rehearsal Selena sees Jake snooping around Danny, and Selena thinks that he’s too biased to investigate properly, so she goes to the theater lockers. She goes to Danny’s locker and opens it up… AND FINDS A SHEET OF STICKERS!! She double checks the locker numbers, but realizes to her horror that she didn’t open Danny’s locker… she opened JAKE’S LOCKER!!!!

That afternoon Selena and Katy are talking on the phone, and Selena tells Katy that she found the stickers in Jake’s locker! Katy doesn’t want to believe it, but says that Selena needs to talk to Mr. Riordan. Selena doesn’t want to get Jake in trouble because she feels so bad since he’s having such a hard time, but Katy says that if he needs mental help SElena needs to tell people anyway! Then there’s a call waiting click, and Selena answers, and it’s Jake! He says that he needs to talk to her, and asks that she meet him at the school ASAP. She tells him that she found the stickers in his locker, and he says he can explain it but it has to be in person, so PLEASE meet him at the school. She agrees, then goes back to Katy and tells her what’s up, and asks Katy if she can drive her. Katy says sure and they hang up, but then Katy calls right back and her Mom took the car so she can’t take her after all. So Selena goes by herself by taking the bus. When she gets to the school she goes to the auditorium, but doesn’t see Jake anywhere… until she finds him crumpled in a heap at the bottom of the ladder to the catwalk, DEAD!!!

Selena gets home after talking to the police and she tells Katy what happened, the theory being that he must have been hiding in the catwalk and then fell to his death after slipping. Both are very upset, but Selena is convinced that her stalker is dead, and wonders why Jake was doing it. After staying home for a few days and rehearsals being postponed, they start up again and everyone is bummed. Selena has decided to drop out of they play because she’s so upset, but Mr. Riordan is in SUCH a hurry he says that she can tell him whatever it is she needs to tell him the next day, and rushes off.

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In that moment I kind of really loved Mr. Riordan. (source)

Katy tells Selena that she thinks that she’s doing the right thing, and Danny asks what they are talking about. Selena tells him that she’s quitting the play because it’s ‘what Jake would have wanted’. And Danny finally, FINALLY, tells Selena what a self centered little jerk she is. And it may be harsh, but I am with Danny on this one. As far as Selena knows, her stalker is dead, so it’s not a matter of her safety that’s in question here, it’s her feeling sad about Jake and not wanting to do the play because of that. WE’VE ALL HAD DISAPPOINTMENT, SELENA. After Danny’s smackdown, Selena realizes that he’s right, and that the show must go on. So despite Katy’s skepticism, Selena says that she’s still in. That night, Selena isn’t able to sleep, so she goes down to the kitchen for a glass of water….. AND SEES A NOTE ON THE FRIDGE WITH A SUN STICKER! It basically says that Jake wasn’t the stalker and had to die because he knew too much, and that the stalker will be in the audience at the dress rehearsal.

Okay, now you could totally quit, Selena. But does she? NOPE! Unfortunately Mr. Riordan invited the entire football team and then some tot he dress rehearsal, so Selena won’t be able to notice any lone stalker in the audience. Eddy has to go to class that afternoon but wishes her luck, and Selena knows that the show must go on. The dress rehearsal goes well, and Selena is riding such a high she almost forgets her backpack in her locker, but retrieves it at the last moment, shoving all the locker contents inside in a rush. That night after dinner she opens her backpack, and finds another letter from the stalker! This one says that THEY KILLED SOMEONE THAT NIGHT!!! Selena panics a moment, but then remembers that, oh wait, NO ONE DIED AT REHEARSAL. She deduces that the stalker must not have meant for her to find it until the next day…. which meant that the stalker was going to kill someone TONIGHT!!! And Selena is convinced that Katy is going to be the next victim! She tries to call Katy, but there’s no answer at her house. She knows she has to go to the school. Before she can, though, the phone rings, and it’s Eddy, asking her out for later that night, but she says that there’s something that she has to take care of first. When he asks if she needs help, she says that only SHE can do it, and hangs up.

Selena gets to the school, and tries to find Katy in the auditorium. It seems like no one is there, but then she hears the soft voice of someone calling for help… and it’s coming from the catwalk. Selena, who is desperately afraid of heights, steels herself and climbs up to the catwalk, calling for Katy. But she doesn’t find Katy, she finds Danny in the prop room up top…. and he’s been beaten up and tied up. In his daze he tells her that she called him, telling him to come to  the school. She starts to look for something to cut his ropes, but hears a noise. Katy suddenly pops up, and Selena says that they have to untie Danny and go. Katy asks why they should untie Danny, as since he’s tied up he can’t cause any more trouble. Selena explains that he isn’t the stalker, that she thought the stalker was going to hurt Katy but it was Danny instead, and they need to help him. But Katy, instead, HITS HIM IN THE HEAD WITH HER FLASHLIGHT. She then tells Selena that she wants to talk about their friendship, and how she misses the time that it was just the two of them. And then she shows Selena the sticker sheet. YUP, YOU GUESSED IT, Katy is the Sun. Katy says that she knew Selena would assume it was a boy in love with her because she’s so vain and selfish now that she’s so thin and popular and obsessed with drama. Katy didn’t even WANT to join drama club, but wouldn’t see Selena anymore if she hadn’t joined!!! Katy was mad that she was losing her friend to drama and college, and that was why she stalked her, to try and scare her to drop out of the play and not get the scholarship. Jake found the stickers in Katy’s locker and was going to tell Selena, so Katy killed him by pushing him off the cat walk. Katy then attacks Selena, who runs out of the prop room and onto the catwalk. They scuffle and Selena ends up dangling from the catwalk, with Katy about to hit her with the flashlight, but then Eddy shows up at the top of the ladder, and so Katy’s attentions turn to him. But HE TOO ends up stumbling and then dangling from the catwalk as well! Katy starts to smash his fingers with her flashlight, and Selena pulls herself up and knocks her away. They wrestle a bit more (gawd they wrestle forever) and Eddy FINALLY gets Katy subdued. He drags her to the prop room and somehow keeps her subdued WHILE untying Danny (two sets of arms?), and ties Katy up. Selena asks how he knew that she was here, and he tells her that he had a hunch she’d come here. They kiss, and he asks if she’s acting. She tells him no, she’s not, she’s happy the show is over (no it isn’t, opening night is the next night). And he says, as he pulls her close, “Hey don’t say that, this may only be Act One!”. The End.

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Not the time for romance, guys. (source)

Body Count: 2, one for Jake, one for the rat.

Romance Rating: 3ish? Eddy was really just there to be a red herring, but hey, at least he wasn’t completely toxic (outside of the ethical issues of being the assistant director guy).

Bonkers Rating: 4. A fight on the catwalk is always going to be stellar, but everything else was kinda pedestrian.

Fear Street Relevance: 3. Selena lives on Fear Street and the woods cast a lot of long shadows in her room. But otherwise, all the action elsewhere.

Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:

“Selena didn’t even see the bank of the spotlights fall. But she heard the crash. Felt the stage rock. Heard the shatter of glass. The crunch of metal. Heard the high screams of horror all around. And knew that she was dead.”

…. But she isn’t dead, of course. In the words of Trixie Mattel….

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(source)

That’s So Dated! Moments: Not as many as I would have thought! Though I got an edition that was clearly updated. Outside of a reference to a tape player in Eddy’s car, it was fairly neutral in terms of dating itself.

Best Quote:

“Actually, she thought that if Eddy had suggested going to a place that served baked worms, she’d probably agree to it!”

… Oh.

Conclusion: “Secret Admirer” had the potential to be over the top ridiculous, but it just kind of limped home. Up next is “The Perfect Date”. 

Highlights: August 2018

Summer is starting to wind down, but we are going to cling to it until it’s forcibly removed from our cold dead hands. It’s been a busy season this year, but we always have time (and make the time) for reading. So here are some of the titles that we are looking forward to that are coming out this month!

Serena’s Picks

294220911Book: “These Rebel Waves” by Sara Raasch

Publication Date: August 7, 2018

Why I’m Interested: I’ve really enjoyed the sea-based fantasy adventures I’ve read recently, so I was excited when I saw several more coming down the line! This one features three main characters: a solider, a pirate, and a prince. All coming from very different backgrounds, they all must discover who they truly are and what is important to them in a fight to control the plant-based magic that is forbidden in their world. I’m not usually a huge fan of duel narratives, let a lone three, but I’m intrigued by what sounds like a pretty unique magic system that is focused on water plants.

37822534Book: “Seafire” by Natalie C. Parker

Publication Date: August 28, 2018

Why I’m Interested: See? I told you that these pirate-based fantasy stories were hitting some type of peak! What makes this one stand out is the fact that it’s about a pirate ship with a captain and crew made up entirely of women. You know how I love stories with female friendship and sisterhood! I mean, look at that tagline! “Sisterhood is survival.” I’m definitely all over this one. It also seems that this sisterhood of pirates is out for revenge against an all-male raider group, so that could be interesting as well. I’m a bit nervous that it might slip into some weird gender stereotypes what with the segregated ships and all, but I’m still definitely curious to see where this could go!

Magic_Triumphs.inddBook: “Magic Triumphs” by Ilona Andrews

Publication Date: August 28, 2018

Why I’m Interested: Gah, I was all geared up and ready to go last spring when this was originally set to be published in March or April. And then one day, I casually check on it and what do I see?? Not until August now! But, finally, August has arrived and I’m so excited to read this book! This is the final book in the Kate Daniels series and my expectations are through the roof. I only really follow two urban fantasy series right now, this and the “Mercy Thompson” series (and we all know my feelings on where that has been head cough“Burn Bright”cough). So that leaves a lot on the shoulders of this book to not only stick its own landing, but prove that yes, some urban fantasy series can not implode under their own nonsense. Plus, the showdown that’s been building over the last few books has been intense. I’m so excited, I’m so excited, I’m so excited.

Kate’s Picks

29749098Book: “Catwoman: Soulstealer” by Sarah J Maas

Publication Date: August 7, 2018

Why I’m Interested: UHHHHH, CATWOMAN, QUITE OBVIOUSLY. I’ve also quite enjoyed the “DC Icons” series as of now, which helps. I am always eager to find new Catwoman material, and so I was pretty happy that she was getting her own time to shine in this series, causing trouble for Luke Fox as he’s holding down the fort for Batman. My ONE qualm is that the author is Sarah J Maas, whose works I haven’t been impressed with in the past (we read “Throne of Glass” for book club and boy was I not a fan of it), but my hope is that Selina Kyle is an interesting enough character that Maas will be able to do her justice. And of COURSE Selina is. Bonus: Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn are in this as well, so my dreams of a bad girl power trio might be met!

36426163

Book: “Toil and Trouble” by Tess Sharpe (Ed.)

Publication Date: August 29, 2018

Why I’m Interested: I am, of course, a huge fan of stories about witches and witchcraft. It doesn’t even have to be a scary story about witches for me to get my kicks; I just love books and stories about witchy women living their lives. “Toil and Trouble” is a short story collection from a number of different authors that all involve witchcraft and witches. Some are scary, some are romantic, all sound like they are going to be teeming with spells and magic. There are a couple of authors in this book that I’ve enjoyed in the past (Brandy Colbert, Zoraida Córdova), and perhaps I’ll find other authors that I will add to my list of favorites.

35403058Book: “City of Ghosts” by Victoria Schwab

Publication Date: August 29, 2018

Why I’m Interested: I have been meaning to read something by Victoria Schwab for a bit now, though it hasn’t been my priority because so much of her work is based in strictly fantasy settings. But her upcoming novel, while still in fantasy for the most part, involves GHOSTS AND GHOST HUNTERS! So you know that I’m interested. When Cassidy Blake, the daughter of ghost hunters, goes to Scotland to see a haunted castle, her actual ability to see ghosts comes into play. Apparently, her power plays a very specific purpose to the ghost world. This is a kid’s story, but I do enjoy middle grade novels when they fit my tastes, and this sounds like it’s REALLY going to fit my tastes. So here I come, Victoria Schwab! And I’m more than ready!

What books are you looking forward to this month? Let us know in the comments!

The Great Animorphs Re-Read #35: “The Proposal”

363393Animorphs #35: “The Proposal”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, November 1999

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: The Yeerks are stepping up their invasion tactics. And Marco has problems of his own. His dad is starting to date. But Marco knows his mother might still be alive.

Narrator: Marco

Plot: I mean, look at that cover? You know it’s going to be bad when that’s the cover. I didn’t have a whole lot of memories from this book, other than the fact that Marco’s dad wants to get married to a woman who owns the featured “evil poodle.” I had successfully blocked out the rest of the story. Or, more likely, merged it with Rachel’s crocodile-allergy story from which this book LIFTED ITS ENTIRE PLOT LINE! But I will vent about that in my small review section at the end. In the mean time…

Marco and Dean are right: those small dogs are evil!

Marco and his dad’s night of video game playing is interrupted by a phone call from Marco’s math teacher, a woman whom is dad is now dating. To drown out the mushy gushing the two are exchanging via the phone, Marco begins channel surfing. He gets caught up on a self-help talk show where an uber chill man named Tennant is famous for giving his calm, collected advice to callers to the show. Marco recognizes the self-help guru as fairly famous and sits back to watch, only to be bolted out of his seat when he hears Tennant suggest to one caller that the best place to help her loneliness is the perfectly lovely organization called “The Sharing.”

Marco immediately calls Jake and arranges to meet with the group at Cassie’s barn. He begins to morph his usual osprey, but halfway through, things go terribly wrong: he ends up as a half osprey/half lobster monstrosity. Marco manages to morph out, but is too shaken to morph again and instead rides his bike to the barn. There, the others rib him for taking so long, but he quickly distracts them with news of Tennant. Surveillance is called for.

Over the next three days, the team takes turns watching Tennant and establish that he has a very fixed routine involving jogging, working from home while cuddling his pet birds, and airing his show in the evenings. Another pair had already caught him sneaking in through a known Yeerk pool entrance, so his status as a Controller is confirmed. While Marco and Cassie are on watch, Cassie asks how Marco is doing, having caught on to his being shaken recently. He ends up venting about his dad’s dating life and the struggles of knowing that his mom could still be alive.

The next day, they decide to take their scouting to a new level and infiltrate his house. Tennant’s pet birds roam free throughout the house, so Marco and Rachel sneak in to acquire and morph two of them. The others wait to provide back-up should anything go around. Parakeet!Marco and Rachel head into Tennant’s office. There, they see him writing an email to a CEO of the television company that runs his current show. It appears that he is going to be offered an award in the next week followed by a promotion to prime time where he will have an even larger audience to promote The Sharing to.

He gets a phone call from Visser Three, and while he talks to him, discussing plans, Marco feels himself beginning to lose control of his morph. He begins squawking and poops on Tennant’s desk. After Tennant gets off the phone, he explodes into a manic rage, screaming about how he hates all of these animals and he’ll be happy when he’s free to kill them all. He grabs parakeet!Marco and begins crushing him in his hands. He’s only stopped by his host body that begins to fight back. He lets Marco go, but then decides to play the little game his host plays with his pets: getting the birds to say their own names. Of course, Marco doesn’t know the name of the parakeet he morphed.

Tennant quickly realizes that he is an Andalite in morph and hits him with a book, breaking his small bird body. The other Animorphs barge in in battle morphs and Tennant calls for Hork Bajir back-ups who seemingly appear out from….somewhere? Marco manages to de-morph, but when he tries to morph his gorilla battle morph, he again splices two morphs together, this time a fish and the gorilla. Barely making it back to human, he manages to shut the office door in Tennant’s face while he and the other Animorphs make a break for it out of the window.

Back in the barn, the others are furious with Marco for not revealing his morphing problem. Ax suggests that he may be struggling due to some type of stress factor in his life. Jake immediately benches Marco until he gets things under control. Marco heads home, frustrated. But he doesn’t find any relief there, since his dad’s girlfriend is visiting, and what’s worse, she has her evil toy poodle with her. The dog starts barking and biting at Marco, and he ends up acquiring it to get it to settle down, before hiding out in his room.

Marco’s ban doesn’t last long, however, since their new mission is coming up and the team needs him. They decide that the best course of action is to expose Tennant as the wacko he is. Even by Yeerk standards, it is clear that the Yeerk in Tennant is barely clinging to sanity, and if he was to explode like he did at his home, but in a public place, his future as a TV personality would be ruined. To do this, they decide to crash the awards ceremony later that week.

The team sneaks into the banquet halls as cockroaches and make their way to the kitchen. Their plan is to crawl onto Tennant’s salad plate with spider!Marco directing them to the right plate. Once in the kitchen, Marco demorphs in a bathroom and tries to morph the spider. Instead, he ends up as a mixture of spider and poodle. A bunch of kitchen workers spot him and chase him. The others ask what is going on, but Marco puts them off, saying everything is fine. Using thought-speak, he is finally able to scare off the kitchen workers. He then demorphs, grabs a kitchen uniform, and tries to pass himself off as a busboy. He gets the rest of the Animorphs onto one of the plate and tells the cook to set it aside specifically for Tennant. He then gets caught up in other kitchen chores by a tyrannical chef. Once he gets a chance to breath, he sees that all of the plates have been mixed up again and are heading out. Instead of being placed in front of Tennant, the plate ends up in front of of Zac Hanson (cuz of course a teen pop group is also at this B-level TV event). Much screaming ensues, but Tennant is unmoved. The Animorphs manage to scurry away.

They come up with Plan B. Ax morphs his human morph and the others morph flea. Jake instructs Ax and Marco to deliver the fleas to Tennant, but Marco gets trapped outside, leaving Ax to do this. Predictably, whenever Ax is near food, things to not go well. Marco gets inside just in time to see Ax licking the plates clean from Tennant’s table. However, he does manage to transfer the fleas to Tennant. Marco convinces the outraged people that he and Ax are just really big fans and they escape to the back of the room to watch Tennant’s speech. The Animorph!fleas make their way beneath Tennant’s wig (which they discovered when parakeet!Rachel accidentally nabbed it while trying to dive bomb Tennant the other day) and begin biting. Tennant twitches and squirms but manages to get through his speech without blowing up. Defeated, the team returns home.

The next day, Marco’s week gets even worse when his dad tells him that he is thinking of marrying the teacher girlfriend. He wants to make sure it’s ok with Marco. Marco simply bolts. Later, Cassie shows up at his house asking if he wants to talk. She says that there’s really no one outside of the group who can listen, but she’s willing to do it. And she knows that he had another failed morph while in the kitchen; she could tell from the sound of his voice. Marco vents that his stress isn’t special, they all have burdens they’re carrying, some of them (like Tobias) have much worse going on than him. Cassie shares a story about her anger when she sees hurt animals that have been harmed by cruel people. She says that her dad said to focus on what is: the hurt animal and how to help it. So in this case, is his dad happy now?

Running out of time, the team comes up with another plan. Poodle!Marco begins stalking Tennant. Whenever he is out in public, and unable to respond, the terror that is the poodle shows up and begins biting him, but Tennat’s animal-loving persona can’t respond. All week this goes on, with Marco succeeding in controlling his morphs the entire time.

Finally, the night of the first prime time airing of the show arrives. The team stake out the studio in various morphs, ready for Marco to make the grand scene once the program begins airing. But as he begins to morph poodle, his ailment strikes again and he ends up as a mix of a poodle and a polar bear. He loses control of the morph and goes after Tennant, only barely able stop from killing him. Cassie wants him to talk about his feelings to help him stable himself. Jake tells her that he loves her and cares for her, but shut it. The two bicker a bit, but Jake shuts her down saying now is not the time for her approach, and Marco just needs to suck it up and deal with his crap. Jake finally breaks through by bringing up Marco’s own philosophy (that he, in turn got from his mom), that you can either laugh or cry at the struggles of the world. Marco gets it together and finishes his morph to poodle. Seeing that “the Andalite” is now fully helpless as a small dog, Tennant grabs poodle!Marco and begins strangling him. Just then the cameras go on. Everyone is horrified and Tennant immediately releases Marco and tries to say it was a mistake. The Animorphs all bail

The clip goes viral and soon enough Tennant’s future as a TV star is over. The book ends at the very slap-dash wedding between his Dad and the teacher who get married two weeks later. Marco is still struggling with it all, but has come to accept it. But never that dog.

One evening the phone rings. The answering machine picks it up, and it’s Marco’s mother, asking for him. Dun dun dun.

The Comic Relief: The unfortunate bit of this whole thing is that after the very real, very serious events of the book before it, this one just seems…beneath him. Like, I get that this book is trying to fill a niche of dealing with a real-life issues that reader kids may be dealing with, a widowed parent re-marrying. But in the world of these books, Marco’s character specifically has had to deal with so many traumatizing things with his parents, that the fact that he would break down to the point of failing his morphing over this particular issue is just hard to believe. Let’s go through it. In the first few books, he’s dealing with the death of a parent. On top of that, he’s had to parent himself as his dad has completely lost it and hasn’t been parenting him at all. This has been going on for who knows how long. Then he finds out his mother is alive, but the leader of the Yeerk invasion. Then he thinks she dies, several books later. Then he rediscovers her, but has to plan her death himself. And now, again, he’s unsure whether she’s alive. So yes, I understand the quandary he is in with his father re-marrying, and I would have been completely on board for that being a through-line in the story that he is dealing with. But to make it the crux of the story by having it impact his morphing…nah, not buying it. That’s not the Marco we’ve come to know through all of these books. Cold, calculating, brutal Marco isn’t going to break down over just this. Even Marco thinks it’s out of character:

I was going insane. Hard to believe that after all the craziness I’d been through since this war started, a simple, everyday, domestic problem would be the thing to push me over the edge.

And then, on top of that, Marco’s usual bits, even in books that aren’t his, weren’t up to snuff. The author of this book pretty much recycled Marco jokes from the past (the back-and-forth between Marco and Ax about Ax’s use of “your minutes” could almost have been directly lifted from another book. Not only wasn’t it funny, but it’s boring to read the same joke over and over, especially without any new twist), and also re-used Marco’s philosophy from book 5. Didn’t expand on it. Didn’t bring anything new to the table, pretty much AGAIN lifted it directly from there and plopped it down here to serve the exact same purpose. It was incredibly frustrating, especially since Marco books are some of my favorites.

Our Fearless Leader: Jake tries to bench Marco when he realizes that he’s struggling with his morphing. But, unlike Rachel and her crocodile experience, Marco’s breakdowns are further apart. He goes several days and many morphs without any issue, so it’s easy to understand why Jake would let him back on missions. Not only is Marco’s gorilla morph one of their best battle morphs, but we know that Jake recognizes Marco’s smarts as the best planner of the group. So benching him is a big loss. In the end, when Marco’s struggling once again, Jake comes down on him hard. He tells Marco to get it together, no excuses. Fix it. That’s an order. Cassie tries to argue that Marco just needs to talk about it. But Jake shuts her down firmly. They’re in the middle of a mission and Marco just needs to deal with his crap. Period. Jake also must have talked with Marco about Marco’s life approach, since he knows Marco’s whole bit about looking at life with a sense of humor. We, as readers, know this because Marco shared it with us in an internal narrative back in book 5. But we never hear him tell it to Jake. Instead, it’s a nice reference to how close these two are and that they must have talked about stuff like this at some point.

Xena, Warrior Princess: Rachel tries to give Marco a lecture about hiding his morphing issues from the group. He rightly calls her out on the hypocrisy of this given her crocodile-lying incident. She agrees that someone else should take over lecturing Marco from this point. She’s also paired up with Marco on the parakeet mission, of course furthering my secondary Marco/Rachel focus. She also dive bombs Tennant while morphed as a parakeet, proving that the morph itself has very little affect on Rachel’s general plan of action. She will attack with whatever she has available.

A Hawk’s Life: Poor Tobias gets very, very little to do in this book. I mean, even adding up his lines of dialogue, it’s pretty sad. If anything, he mostly serves as a point to fuel Marco’s self-disgust. In the very beginning, after Marco’s first failed morph, he comes down hard on Tobias and ends up feeling guilty about it. And later, when he’s talking to Cassie, he says all of the other Animorphs have stressers and aren’t freaking out. He particularly emphasizes Tobias’s situation. Other than that, Tobias mostly just serves as the eyes in the air and joins in on the group activities, like being a flea biting Tennant’s head.

Peace, Love, and Animals: Cassie has quite a lot in this book, mostly utilizing her super power as the group counselor. She is quick to understand why Marco is stressed and suggest that he needs someone to talk to. Right away, on the first scouting trip, she manages to get Marco to open up and vent his frustrations. She’s also the only one to pick up on the fact that he had another morph melt-down while in the kitchen at the banquet. And she then takes it upon herself to come to his house and offer supporting, knowing that he doesn’t have anyone else to talk to about all of this. She shares some nice philosophies and ways of thinking about the situation with his dad that do seem to help, though Jake’s method, in the end, is the one to break through.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: You’d think they’d learn about Ax and food! I mean, yes, I get the fact that Ax has the only human form that doesn’t put them all at risk, but man, he’s got to win the award for having the least control over any given morph. Any other animal, any other morph, sure they all might struggle here and there, but they usually get the hang of it, especially with morphs they’ve used more often. But man, Ax has zero self-control in that morph. Is it worth the risk having him go in? I mean, I’m finding it hard to believe that had Marco even been there when Ax was clearing tables that it would have made any difference.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: It’s a hard toss between all of the gross morph combinations that Marco experiences and the fleas biting Tennant’s head. I mean, I think I’ve got to go with the second. Sure, they’ve “accidentally” bitten other people as fleas, but the whole goal of this mission was to crawl under some skeevy Controller’s wig and bite away. Even Cassie calls it out:

<This is the grossest thing we have ever done,> Cassie complained.

Couples Watch!: In the very beginning, Rachel is angry at Marco for calling the meeting in the barn because he interrupted her and Tobias watching “Felicity.” Awwww, cute dates! Jake does tell Cassie he loves her….just before he tells her to shut up. So….romantic? They also have a nice little spat after this about how to handle Marco’s ongoing morphing issues. This is one of those small moments that kind of highlights why this relationship was always doomed. They really don’t have that much in common in the way they look at the world and how they make decisions. It’s clear why Jake is attracted to and relies on Cassie, she provides much-needed emotional support and insight into others. And Cassie…thinks Jake’s good looking? But when you get down to it, they have very different philosophies, so while I can see why they end up together throughout the series, you can also see the tension between them, more so than Tobias and Rachel who have some more obvious similarities and mutual supports.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: Visser Three is taking an extended absence! This is how many books in a row now that he hasn’t made an in-person appearance? The phone call doesn’t even include any dialogue from him, though we hear a bit of Tennant’s side of things and apparently part of the discussion is Visser Three ranting about how he looks forward to the day when the Yeerks can wipe out any unnecessary life forms on Earth. Obviously not the cats, though. Visser Three loves cats.

As for Tennant himself, we see yet another crazed Yeerk. It’s kind of hard to believe that this many crazed Yeerks ended up in positions of power. I mean, you have Tobias’s experiences several books ago and now this. You’d think with all the Yeerks available, they’d be able to assign more stable Yeerks to these crucial roles. Maybe it’s supposed to be yet another reflection on Visser Three’s own questionable psyche. That maybe, somehow, he gravitates towards Yeerks who are a bit unbalanced, just like himself. Chapman’s Yeerk, for example, seems perfectly steady and unlikely to have been caught up in the nonsense the Animorphs were pulling here. Especially because with all of the poodle-attacking lead-up, trying to catch him on TV was a pretty predictable move by the “Andalite bandits.”

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Really, nothing. Marco books usually have some good stuff with reflections on his situation with his mother, but there really isn’t much here. From the very sophisticated, cold Marco that we saw only a few books ago, in a lot of ways this doesn’t even feel like the same character. It’s hard to believe that this situation is what would cause the breakdown in stress, and I could just never really buy it. From the big tragedies presented in the past of a son setting up his mother to die, it’s hard to feel much about the struggles of his Dad marrying a lady with a poodle.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: Again, Ax with the food. And along those lines, the whole business at the banquet. With everything that went wrong in the kitchen, it’s hard to understand what exactly their plan had been to ensure that Tennant ended up with the correct plate. It doesn’t seem surprising that this would fail. And then when they morph fleas…there’s literally a line that says “somehow we managed to morph fleas.” Really? “Somehow we managed…” It’s the most cop-out explanation of all cop-out explanations. They would have all had to go through human morphs and Ax had to go through Andalite to get to his human. And there is ZERO explanation for how they manage this in a crowded room. It’s incredibly stupid.

Favorite Quote:

<I am confused,> Ax said. <Are you saying that your father is considering taking this woman as a new mate?>

“You could put it that way,” Cassie said.

“But I’d rather you didn’t,” I added. “He’s just -”

<Ah. Perhaps your father is Young and Restless. Those who are Young and Restless frequently change mates.>

And I couldn’t have put my feelings for this book any better myself:

<Someday when this is all over people will ask us about the war against the Yeerks,> Tobias said. <Let’s leave this part out>

Scorecard: Yeerks 8, Animorphs 14

No score! Sure, the Animorphs technically succeed. But I’m mad at having to read a repeated book essentially, so this is what happens, I take it out on my score sheet.

Rating: I really disliked this book. Not because it’s the dumbest one out there (pretty hard to top the horse!Controllers/Andalite toilet book or the split Rachels), but because I’ve already read this freaking book!!! Whomever was the ghost writer for this thing has to be, up to this point, the laziest of the bunch (just looked it up, this guy also wrote the polar bear!Marco book which I also didn’t love, so maybe I shouldn’t be surprised). Others have come up with some pretty wacky and questionable bits, but at least those were original. This book is essentially the exact same book as Rachel’s crocodile story. Not only do you have the same morphing problem (though at least Rachel’s allergy made more sense, as Marco’s issue, here, just comes out of nowhere conveniently for plot purposes and then disappears again, also, conveniently for plot purposes), but the Yeerk plot was the same: some famous guy getting on TV and telling people to join The Sharing and the Animorphs breaking it up by crazy shenanigans on a TV studio! I mean, c’mon, at least mix and match your plot points!! Re-use one or the other, but both together just highlights the lack of creative thought in this book. On top of the two major plot points being directly lifted, you have the re-use of jokes (the “minutes” thing) and repetition of Marco’s major philosophy, with nothing added. By the end of the book, I was just mad. The stupidity of other books is frustrating enough, but again, at least those were original. A bit thumbs down for this one. All the more upsetting coming off the rare good Cassie book, only to have the usually good Marco book turn out to be a hot mess. The only good thing about this book, really, is the last paragraph or two that sets up “Visser.”

Note: I’m not going to rate these books since I can’t be objective at all! But I’ll give a one sentence conclusion and you can take from that what you will!