A Revisit to Fear Street: “The Best Friend 2”

176601Book: “Best Friend 2” (Fear Street #50) by R.L. Stine

Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, 1997

Where Did I Get This Book: ILL from the library!

Book Description: Becka is relieved. She’s finally ready to forget all the horrible things her “best friend” Honey did to her real friends. She can even forget the way she was blamed for it all. So why does she keep seeing Honey everywhere she goes? At first she thinks it’s her imagination. But then the threats begin. Honey is back. And this time she won’t stop–until Becka is dead.

Dear Reader: A few years ago, I wrote a book called The Best Friend. And hundreds of you wrote to tell me how unhappy you were with the ending. You thought Honey Perkins should pay for her crimes.

But I needed your help. I wasn’t sure exactly what should happen to Honey. So we held a contest to let you decide. I got thousands of great ideas. It was hard to choose, but I finally picked my favorite. A girl named Sara Bikman from Grafton, Wisconsin, sent in the winning entry. Thanks, Sara!

So here is the book you’ve all been waiting for. Honey is back–and she’s after Becka Norwood. But this time, Honey will get what she deserves. Won’t she?

Had I Read This Before: No

The Plot: Okay gang, I have been both anticipating and dreading getting to “Best Friend 2”. As I mentioned in “Best Friend 1”, the reception to that ending was so bad that R.L. Stine pitched a bit of a fit and pretty much said ‘okay, children, if you think that you can do better, I challenge YOU to write a sequel!’ So a contest for “Best Friend 2” was held, and the winner’s story was turned into an honest to God “Fear Street” book. I imagine that Stine took the plot and made it his own, but who knows, maybe this is the complete product of an unsatisfied fan. Whatever it may be, on we go.

Becka is trying to move on from the traumatic events of “The Best Friend”. She has moved to Waynesbridge, the lame unofficial sister city of Shadyside which seems to cultivate a lot of the “Fear Street” Bad Boys. This is her first day at her new school and she’s nervous and thinking about all the terrible things that happened with Honey Perkins, the girl who stalked her and tried to kill her friends Trish and Lilah, and killed her boyfriend Bill. Becka has to meet with Mrs. Englund the guidance counselor to check in, and we get the run down of everything that happened in Book 1 (Lilah’s bike accident, Trish’s fall down the steps, Bill’s stabbing). After Becka leaves the office she thinks that she sees Bill, and she calls out to him, but it’s not Bill. His name is Steve, and he helps her find her way to her first class. In this class she meets a girl named Glynis, and they seem to hit it off and Becka thinks that Glynis not only has cool nails (chocolate brown! How unique!), but that she could be a real best friend, unlike Honey. Unfortunately, she doesn’t realize that she’s written Bill’s name over and over again in her book.

After class Glynis meets up with Becka at her locker and introduces her to a boy named Frankie. Becka is instantly smitten because not only does he have rebellious long hair, he plays guitar! He tells Becka that her nails are so short she could be a good guitar player, an then he invites her to go with him and Glynis to get some pizza. Becka is convinced that this polite gesture of inclusivity translates to him having the hots for her. They walk to Pizzaz Pizza (you are NO Pete’s Pizza!), and all sit down together. Becka is feeling relaxed and okay, but then who should walk in, but Eric, her ex boyfriend (the guy she was with before Bill). Was Eric mentioned in “The Best Friend”? I honestly don’t remember. She runs to him and says hello, but he seems not so happy to see her. He reminds her that she dumped him, but she swears that she has changed, and asks if he wants to go join her, Glynis, and Frankie? When he balks she says that they can go driving around instead, and says goodbye to her new friends who were kind enough to invite her out after school, and instead goes with a guy who doesn’t seem to want to even be near her. They walk to his car, and Becka suddenly kisses Eric, even though she’s thinking about Frankie. Eric says that she’s change, and they kiss again and make an arrangement to see each other again. When Becka gets home she thinks about how excited she is for this new life, and then decides that she’s going to get herself some of that chocolate nail polish that Glynis has. In fact, if she changed her hair a bit, she would look a lot like Glynis….

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Oh, okay. I know what we’re doing here and I don’t know what to think. (source)

The next day Becka buys the nail polish and after she applies it she fantasizes about Frankie calling her and confessing his feelings for her. At first she think that the conversation actually happened, but when she realizes that no, it didn’t, she starts to worry that she’s acting crazy, just like Honey was. We get another recap of the bad things that Honey did, and Becka tries to get ahold of herself… But the realizes that she used the nail polish to write Bill’s name all over her face.

Some time passes and Becka checks in with Mrs. Englund. She says that she’s feeling really good, and Mrs. Englund compliments her on her new hairstyle. After school Becka goes to Glynis’s house and they hang out while Becka tries on some of her clothes. Glynis suggests that they should go shopping together, and tells her that she usually drives to Shadyside’s Mall on Division Street. Glynis’s mom comments on how alike the two of them look, and Glynis laughs, which makes Becka feel insulted, because after all they’re BEST FRIENDS RIGHT?! When Glynis goes to help her mother with a task, Becka does the very friendly and rational thing of taking Glynis’s clothes and putting them in her own bag because best friends always borrow each other’s clothes.

The next day Becka accompanies Glynis and Frankie to the Division Street Mall, and when Frankie comments that she’s wearing Glynis’s outfit Glynis starts to look a bit concerned. Becka says she wants to wear them on her date with Eric, and asks if there is a problem. Glynis, probably terrified that this girl will boil a rabbit if she protests, says no, and just to give them back after her date. They get to the Mall and Becka is suddenly nervous about being back in Shadyside. What if people from her past see her? And just as she’s worrying about that she runs into Eric in one of the stores! He tells her that he works there. They have some okay small talk, and when Glynis and Frankie join them it seems to be going okay. Glynis and Frankie tell Becka they’ll meet her at the food court, and when they leave Eric is suddenly on edge. He asks Becka why they called her ‘Becka’. Because, as if you haven’t guessed it yet, BECKA IS ACTUALLY HONEY!

Side note and pause: I don’t know who this Sara Bikman, the winner of the writing contest is, but if this is a plot point she came up with on her own, I have to give her some serious snaps. Even though I saw it coming from a mile away, I’m not certain I could say the same had I read it in 1997 when I was still within the target demographic.

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(source)

Honey says that she IS Becka now, and starts to freak out and throw a fit. To make matters worse, she sees the ACTUAL Becka, and in a last ditch effort to try and keep her new name and new life, grabs a string of glass beads from a display in the shop and, for no clear reason, proceeds to STRANGLE ERIC TO DEATH WITH THEM. She tells Becka that SHE’S the one who did it, first she killed Bill and now she’s added Honey’s new life to the ol’ notches on the kill belt, and then makes a break for it with people chasing her.

We now move on to Part 2, and the perspective has shifted to the Real Becka, home in Shadyside and totally shaken up by this turn of events. She, Lilah, and Trish are attending Eric’s funeral, and talking about how Honey pulled off the great con of pretending to be Becka (she forged some transcripts and a letter from Becka’s parents). Evidently Honey escaped from her hospital that past summer and her father had no idea where she was, and she’s gone missing again. Becka thinks that she sees Honey, but it’s just someone else with the same hair color. As Trish and Lilah walk Becka home from the funeral they tell her that they’re worried about her. She’s been seeing Honey everywhere ever since Bill was stabbed, and to that I say uh YEAH, IT WAS A TRAUMATIC EVENT IN HER LIFE. And then, shock and awe, BILL shows up! Apparently he didn’t die from his stab wound, though he now only has one lung. Becka feels so guilty about what happened to him that she can’t even look at him anymore (but weird side note again: Trish ‘pecked’ Bill on the cheek when he came up to them. It seems like something a couple may do, but it doesn’t appear that they ARE a couple? Are they just really friendly and affectionate?). Bill wants to talk with Becka but she says she can’t, and he says that he knows she’s seeing some chump named Larry now (my words, not his), but he just wants to talk some things out. Becka refuses, and Bill leaves dejected. Trish and Lilah ask her why she doesn’t want to be with him anymore, and Becka says that her memories are just too awful, and frankly, I get it. Trish tries to lay on the guilt by saying that Bill was by her side while she was in the hospital with her broken neck, and Becka apologizes that she wasn’t there for her as much as Bill was. They all hug. Becka gets home and her mom asks her if she’s feeling stressed, as her doctor, one Doctor Perlman, says that she should avoid that, but Becka claims that she’s fine. Her phone rings, but when she picks up, there’s no one on the line, and Becka wonders if it’s Honey. Why isn’t she in any kind of protective custody right now? CAN THE POLICE AT LEAST SEND A SQUAD CAR TO HER HOUSE?! I don’t think this is unreasonable given that Honey just killed someone and has an obsession with Becka.

At work the next afternoon Becka is visited by her new boyfriend Larry, whom she describes as looking like Bugs Bunny. Not exactly high praise in the looks department, but you know, Bugs glamours up REAL nice.

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I guess what I’m trying to say is one could do worse. (source)

Larry keeps pestering her but she tells him that he has to order something or get out. He obeys and leaves. When her shift is done she goes to her car, and hears footsteps. She worries that it’s Honey again, but no, it’s just Bill. He begs her to speak to him, and she once again says no, and he says that he tried calling her yesterday bot lost her nerve. She feels stupid for blaming Honey, but she’s not out of the woods yet because he won’t take her ‘no’ for an answer and tells her that he still cares about her. He grabs her, and she tells him to let go. And who should come to the rescue? Larry! Larry asks if there are any problems here, and Bill insists no before skulking away. Becka tells Larry she’s okay, but then when she looks at her car things go from bad to worse. Someone has slashed up the seats and left a gutted dead rat on the passenger side. Becka just starts screaming ‘HONEY!’ over and over, even as Larry drives her home. Paging Dr. Perlberg…

After taking some of her sedatives Becka has calmed down, and she tries to watch the news, but they keep talking about Eric’s death and how Honey is still at large. She turns it off and wonders if Honey is hiding out next door. She considers going outside to do some investigating, when her phone rings. She answers it, and it’s Trish, telling her that she just saw Bill and he was SUPER messed up. That isn’t Becka’s fault, I’d argue, but Trish seems to think it is. She tells Becka that Bill pulled off his shirt and showed off his scar, and told Trish that Becka’s cruelty hurt more than the knife, and to that I say HA!! Manipulation, much? Becka rightfully says that isn’t fair, and asks Trisha whose side she is on anyway, not as rightfully. Trish says that Becka is being unfair, and Becka hangs up on her, thinking that she’s a traitor. The phone rings again, and Becka answers, immediately apologizing to Trish, but, big shock, it isn’t Trish. It’s a raspy voice saying “YOU KILLED BILL”.

Becka proceeds to go outside to sneak around Mr. Perkins’s house to see if she can see Honey. She looks in the window but just sees Mr. Perkins, asleep in front of the TV. She is startled by someone coming up behind her, but it’s just Lilah. Becka screams, but then wonders if she was too loud, expecting to see Mr. Perkins now staring out at them but he’s not. Becka asks Lilah what she’s doing there, and Lilah says she came to show her something, but before she can clarify Mr. Perkins HAS shown up at the window and starts yelling at them, saying that somehow all of this is Becka’s fault and asks where Honey is. Becka says she doesn’t know, and Mr. Perkins says he’ll call the cops on her if he catchers her prowling around his property. He closes the window and Becka and Lilah scamper away. They go up to Becka’s room, and Lilah says that she has to show her something. She pulls a newspaper clipping from her pocket, and shows it to her. It’s about a family annihilator named Kevin Paulson who murdered his wife Deidre and his son Harold, while Harold’s twin Hannah hid in the closet. Kevin then shot himself to death. Lilah reminds Becka that Harold and Hannah were in their grade, and that after the murder suicide Hannah went to live with an Uncle. Becka remembers how weird the twins were, and how badly Hannah wanted to be their friend. So much so that she followed them around and was a general nuisance. One day Becka was so sick of Hannah she tricked her. She asked Hannah if she wanted to join the Cool Club, and Hannah said yes. Becka told her the way to join was to get down on all fours and bark like a dog during a school assembly. So Hannah did so, crawling up on stage and barking like a dog. The school laughed and laughed. And then when she went to Becka’s house in triumph, Becka informed her that THERE WAS NO COOL CLUB. Hannah as crushed, and Becka never saw her again. Becka realizes that Hannah IS Honey. And THAT is why Honey hates her so much.

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That…. seems like a PISS POOR excuse for any of this. (source)

The phone rings and it’s the same voice. This time it tells Becka that it’s her best friend and that they’re coming to see her with something sharp. Fine. Whatever. BUT MAY I JUST SAY that there was absolutely NO reason to give this kind of backstory to Honey WHATSOEVER. Bitch, you are not Carrie White! This isn’t a legitimate moment that would lead to some kind of mental break! And also, which is it? Is Honey psychotic, or hell bent on psychopathic revenge?! It can’t realistically be both!

Becka meets with Dr. Perlberg asking for more sedatives. He lackadaisically gives them to her, and also encourages her to call the police. Becka says she will, and leaves her appointment with her prescription. She is then attacked by Honey in the parking lot! Honey keeps screaming that she’s Becka and slams Becka’s head on the ground over and over until Becka passes out. She comes to, and realizes that Honey must have thought she was dead.

She is later telling Trish about all of this. She went to the ER and called the police, but all the cops will do is up the regular patrol on her block (SERIOUSLY?). That Sunday Becka goes to a movie with Larry, but is on edge the whole time. After mistaking someone bumping into her as an attack, Larry offers to take her out for coffee and Becka says that it may help her calm down (coffee is, as we know, totally known for being a calming beverage). She says that Honey keeps calling her every night with her disguised voice. They get to the diner, and Becka once again freaks out when she thinks she sees Honey, but it’s just a waitress. Becka has a full on melt down and Larry takes her home. He asks her if she wants him to come in, but she declines. Unfortunately when she gets to her room, someone has smeared red stuff all over her things and has written on the wall THIS IS U.

The next evening Becka is hanging out with Trish and Lilah. The police are worthless, I guess, and for some reason Becka is still staying at her house. Lilah offers up her home, but Becka declines. The friends leave, and Becka tries to concentrate on homework while she waits for her Dad to come home. But of course, the phone rings, and when Becka answers it it’s the caller saying that they are coming tonight, so Becka should wait for her best friend. Becka is terrified and decides to make a break for it, but there’s someone on the other side of the door. But it’s just Bill. She says that Honey is coming to kill her, and he says that they can go hide in his uncle’s cabin in Fear Woods. The phone rings again, and this time it’s Lilah, Becka says she can’t talk, she’s going to Bill’s uncle’s cabin, and hangs up, and the two make a break for it.

They get to the cabin, Becka feeling a new affection for Bill as he is now her knight in shining armor, and he says he’ll go get firewood. While he’s gone, the phone rings, and Becka answers. It’s Lilah again, and she says that Becka didn’t give her a chance to tell her the good news! Honey’s been caught! She was captured two days ago, and it’s just coming out now because she hadn’t given the cops her name. They must have caught her right after she attacked Becka. But Becka realizes something very bad: if Honey was caught two days ago, who called her that night, and who wrecked her room? Then, Bill walks into the cabin with a strange look on his face, and he tells Becka to hang up the phone. Becka, realizing the danger, tries to dial 911, but Bill lunges at her. He rips the phone out of the wall. She asks him why he’s doing this, and he says that she should know why. She says he’s been calling her and he snuck into her room, and he says it wasn’t him… And then TRISH walks into the cabin. She’s been doing this because they’re supposed to be best friends, and Becka never came to visit her at the hospital when she broke her neck because Becka is SELF CENTERED AND SELFISH. Trish says that Becka dumped her and Bill, and real best friends don’t do that to each other. She then reveals a knife she’s been hiding behind her back, and Bill looks totally caught off guard because THAT wasn’t part of the plan! But Trish raises the knife and lunges for Becka. But stupid, creepy Bill throws himself between them, and Trish stabs him in the chest!! That’s two for two, Bill!!! Trish says that Becka stabbed him again (?????), and she lunges for Becka. They struggle, but Becka manages to get the upper hand. Becka manages to cut Trish’s throat (but it’s made VERY clear that it hasn’t been done fatally), and as police sirens start to wail Trish retreats to a corner and cowers while Becka cradles Bill and says that she promises to be a good friend to him as he takes her hand. The End.

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(source)

Body Count: 1, but maybe 2? I’m not sure about Bill’s survival this time around.

Romance Rating: 4? Becka seems to have a legitimate affection for Larry, but everyone else who has any kind of romantic feeling expresses their affection in unhealthy ways.

Bonkers Rating: 5, just because the first big twist was pretty good, even if I figured it out pretty fast. And then there was the big bonkers reveal about Honey’s origins, but that was so out there I was more frustrated than anything else.

Fear Street Relevance: 7. Becka still lives on Fear Street, and the final fight takes place in Fear Woods.

Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:

“‘Oh!’ I cried out as a sharp blade poked into my back.

‘No!’ Then the pain shot through by body, and I began to scream.”

… And it was some woman’s umbrella bumping into her.

That’s So Dated! Moments: The big one was that we once again used an actress as a visual description for a character, and this time around it was Claire Danes, fresh off her turn in “Romeo+Juliet”! A reference was also made to a volcano movie, and that could have either been “Dante’s Peak” OR “Volcano”!! And speaking of dated….

Best Quote:

“So I work as a waitress three evenings a week and every other Saturday at a place on Canyon Drive called The Hackers Cafe. It’s actually just a coffeehouse. But Mr. Arnold, the owner, put computers at the counter so that customers could surf the internet and send emails while they drink their coffee and eat their muffins and pastries.”

This description of an Internet Cafe is so perfectly of this time that I was chuckling like an idiot as I read it.

Conclusion: “Best Friend 2” wasn’t the shit show that I was anticipating, and even though the ending felt like things we’d seen before, at least it felt more satisfying than the end of the first book. Up next is “Trapped”, which also happens to be the final book in the original “Fear Street” Series! We will have a couple books left with a final special trilogy arc, but we’re nearing the end of our time with this classic series.

Rah Rah for RA!: Urban Fantasy and Other) Books

Occasionally we here at Library Ladies get an email asking for some Reader’s Advisory. Sometimes it’s a general ‘what should I read next?’, and sometimes it’s a specific genre or theme that the reader is asking for. We do our best to match the reader to some books that they may like based on the question they give us. 

Hello,

I recently read a Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness and enjoyed that very much. I like urban fantasy that features a protagonist who may have supernatural abilities, but either struggles to use them or is challenged to solve problems without them. Madeline Miller’s Circe was another recent favorite. She was a character who had potion-making abilities, but she had to learn through trial and error over centuries exactly which amount of which herb produced which effect. She also could not rely exclusively on magic to solve every challenge she faced.  On the flip side, I like urban fantasy that features ordinary people who outsmart/outmanoeuvre the villain who may have supernatural abilities, i.e. a werewolf ( like Stephen King’s Silver Bullet) or a vampire ( think Van Helsing Vs. Dracula).  I will also add that I don’t like zombies because I like my monsters/villains to have a personality. Looking for adult fiction, btw.

I hope that is enough information. Let me know if it isn’t…

Best,

T.L.

Hi, T.L!

It sounds like you have a large swath of interests within the genre, and that’s great! Going by what you’ve laid out in the email, we’ve come up with a few options that may appeal to you.

9317452Book: “The Peter Grant Series” by Ben Aaronovitch

When talking about characters who have to adjust to newly found powers, Aaronovitch’s “Peter Grant” books may be a good fit. Grant is an officer in London’s MPS, and after having a run in with a ghost he is transferred to a division of the Force that deals with all things supernatural. He himself doesn’t start out with powers, but becomes an apprentice wizard once he joins this team. The series follows Grant as he deals with a number of mysteries and conflicts, from warring River Gods to serial killers to magical attacks, Grant has to adjust to a world he didn’t know existed. The best part is that this is a series, so if you like the first book (“Rivers of London” or “Midnight Riot” if you’re in the U.S.) you will have a few more to sink your teeth into!

31147267Book: “The Changeling” by Victor LaValle

Victor LaValle is an author who has consistently come out with stories that deconstruct well explored tropes and injects them with themes of social justice and long unnoticed voices. “The Changeling” is a modern day fairy tale/dark fantasy that is set in New York City, and it involves a humble book seller named Apollo and his wife Emma and their new baby. But when the wife starts to think that their child isn’t really their child, and something truly awful happens because of this belief, Apollo has to go on a journey to find Emma, and perhaps find their child as well. Along the way he meets magical figures, haunted places, and has to contend with a world he knew nothing about. With elements of Changeling folk lore and inspirations from the book “Outside Over There” (and in some ways the movie “Labyrinth”, in turn), “The Changeling” is a mysterious and dreamy book that brings fairy tales to a modern time and place.

11250317Book: “The Song of Achilles” by Madeline Miller

We put this out there because of your enjoyment of Miller’s newest book “Circe”. Miller does a similar treatment with this book, this time exploring the myth of Achilles and his lover Patrocles, and the tragedy that awaits them during the Trojan War. Miller once again uses her immersive and engrossing writing style to put her own spin on a long known epic, and gives the characters more complexity and depth than the original source material does. Both Achilles and Patrocles are given quite a bit of plot to work with, and their relationship is slowly developed and gets the reader fully invested, even though the foregone conclusion of what’s going to happen to them is always lingering. It also explores Achilles’s strengths and weaknesses as a being that has God-like abilities, except for his one fatal flaw. It’s a story that may need to be read with tissues at the ready, but it’s also one of great beauty and power.

35297405

Book: “School for Psychics” by K.C. Archer

What happens when you take a plucky con artist with some psychic powers, and put her in a school that nurtures people with these powers? You get “School for Psychics”, a fantasy story with a New Adult twist. Teddy has always used her innate abilities to read people to grift them out of money, but after she’s had one too many run in with the law she finds herself recruited by the U.S. Government for a top secret program. This program takes psychics of all types, from empaths to pyrokinetics to soothsayers, and hopes to train them to serve the United States at the highest levels of government. As Teddy slowly learns to harness her powers, she moves closer to accepting a very dangerous assignment that could cost her everything. This is a fun and fast paced thriller with people trying to hone their talents, and figure out where they belong in the world.

What books do you recommend for people looking for stories with supernatural, or non-supernatural, main characters? Let us know in the comments!

 

The Great Animorphs Re-Read #48: “The Return”

363356Animorphs #48: “The Return”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, December 2000

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: David, the “sixth Animorph,” is back. When the Animorphs and Ax decided to give another human being the power to morph, it was one of their biggest mistakes. David tried to destroy all of them–and almost succeeded. Rachel and the others thought they’d seen the last of him.

They were wrong.

Rachel knows what a threat David is. He’s cunning and dangerous. Worst of all, he knows their secrets. Now he’s captured Rachel as part of his plan to take over everything. David wants power. Money. But more than anything, he wants revenge.

Narrator: Rachel

Plot: Again, for 90% of this book I was banging my head against a wall at the sheer waste of the very last Rachel book we’re going to get. There’s a strong argument to be made that, other than Jake, Rachel has the most interesting over-arching story line throughout the series. And then, in the last book before we lose her for good, we get this. Dream sequences within dream sequences. A return to the crazy Rachel who wants to fight Jake for leadership. A bizarre Crayak appearance that comes with the worst “morph” (and cover art) ever. And then, at the very end, some truly good stuff about Rachel’s role on the team and how the others view (and use) her. But we’ll save that for just a few throwaway pages at the very end, just to really rub it in your face that there was in fact good stuff to be had here. But we had to get those dream sequences in, you know?! Priorities.

It was trash. Then it was even worse trash. Then it…made some super strong points?? Then it ended on a cliffhanger…

Rachel and the other Animorphs are on a school field trip to the White House when the Yeerks attack, leading with a shot that takes out Tobias. Enraged and assuming that the Yeerks are now going on the open offensive, so they might as well too, Rachel and the others go into their battle morphs. Grizzly!Rachel begins taking out Hork Bajir, but takes a lot of hits while she’s at it. Gorilla!Marco pulls her back and tiger!Jake orders her to stand down; that she’s taken too much damage and is out of control. This enrages Rachel and she decides that she’s done taking orders from Jake and it’s time for them to fight it out for leadership of the group. They fight, but Rachel continues to take too much damage, slowly bleeding out in front of the White House, only to wake up, drenched in sweat in her bed.

Later, Rachel is visiting Ax and Marco in Ax’s scoop in the woods after failing to find Cassie in her barn. Rachel is concerned about the repeated nightmares she’s been having of fighting Jake, one-on-one. On the Internet, the discover a first hand account of the attack on the battle carrier. Rachel expresses her excitement that the war will finally be out in the open. Marco and Ax are both concerned about this level of enthusiasm from Rachel, and she begins to feel ashamed herself. Marco goes on to explain that if the war does come out into the open, the Animorphs are finished.

Eagle!Rachel flies back towards home with Tobias. On the way, they get into another discussion about Rachel’s enthusiasm about the war, with Tobias pointing out that she was beginning to disturb everyone with her attitude. Rachel once again starts down the “Jake is threatened by me” mentality that we are all so familiar with and loved back in the “Rachel is the leader” book.  As she ponders this, she almost hits an electrical wire before, again, waking from her dream.

Awake, Rachel is disturbed by her dreams and reflects on the David incident, one of the most extreme examples of her past ruthlessness, but also an example of when the hard thing had to be done and the fact that while the plan ad been Cassie’s, Rachel was the one who had to actually follow through with it.

At school, she sees Jake in the halls and feels that his nod of greeting is more cold than usual. She worries that she is still in another dream, feeling disturbed and as if something is wrong with the world. In class, she begins to see red flashes and thinks she hears rats in the wall, crying out for help. She skips the rest of school and sends a note to Cassie to meet her at Cassie’s barn. When she arrives, she sees Cassie run out, pursued by a mass of rats that being attacking her as she tries to morph. The rats come after Rachel too and she tries to escape them by jumping in a pond. But once there, she is grabbed by something beneath and almost drowns.

She wakes up in some type of dungeon/sewer location, trapped within a hard, plastic cube. Two thugs show up and one pulls out rat!David. David tells her of the horrors of living on the rock island, but explains that, because he’s so smart, he was able to recruit a few of the “smarter” rats as lieutenants and then sneak off the island on a boat brought in by a group of naturalists. Once on the mainland, he was able to recruit another 200 or so rats to his “cause” and, being able to get into small places, like banks, gather the funds to pay off thugs like the two in the sewer with them.

The two get into a conversation where David tries to manipulate Rachel into taking all of the blame for what happened to him and gas-lighting her into thinking he was an innocent victim. For his revenge, he wants to force Rachel to morph rat and become stuck, like him. The red light returns and reveals another corner of the room where Cassie is being held prisoner in  similar cube. David says he’ll let her suffocate in the cube if Rachel doesn’t morph. To buy time, Rachel does as he asks, hoping to still find an out. As she tries to think of a way out of the situation, David continues to prod at her about her role on the team. He also reveals that he has a solution to the Yeerk problem: wipe out the humans on Earth with a plague, then the Yeerks have no reason to be here anymore. As David talks, his voice starts to sound strange. He continues to manipulate her, almost hypnotizing her into agreeing that without Jake, Rachel could be in charge and wouldn’t that just be better?

The red glow returns and reveals itself to be an eye. Rachel snaps out of it and realizes that David can’t have an army of rats, they aren’t smart enough for that. And thus nothing that has happened can be real, like her and Cassie being attacked by rats. In the cube, “Cassie” turns into the Drode, and Rachel realizes that the red haze/eye is Crayak. She also realizes that Crayak’s hatred of Jake has been behind her strange dreams, setting Rachel up to hurt him. David, it turns out, is also only working for Crayak.

Crayak tells Rachel that she needs to free herself from herself and magically pops her out of her cage and into a giant, warrior version of herself with claws for fingernails. She is able to transform to and from this form at will, and begins to revel in the power it offers. She tries to attack the Drode, but everything is an illusion. Crayak transforms her back into a rat, now trapped in her cube with David. She gets in a fight with David, but he has more experience as a rat. Just when she is beginning to lose, Crayak pops her back out and into human form. She transforms back into Super-Rachel. He tempts her with thoughts of the power she could have in this form, able to take out the Yeerk force all on her own. Then pops her back into the cage with David, a rat again. The contrast starts to drive Rachel crazy.

Back in Super-Rachel form, Crayak lays out what he wants: she can retain this form and power if she kills Jake. Rachel refuses, telling herself that she is one of the good guys. To push Rachel further, Crayak somehow snaps Visser One/Three into the room. Crayak tells Visser One that he is now involved in a fight to the death with Rachel. If Visser One wins, he gets Earth; if he loses, he and the Yeerks must retreat.

They fight. Rachel is able to instantly morph to any of her forms, including Super-Rachel. When Visser One morphs some type of sentient goo that Rachel can’t fight, she discovers that she can create morphs, essentially, turning into a killer plant of her own imagination. Even after Visser One beheads her, Rachel is able to quickly reform herself. Rachel prepares to kill Visser One. But as Crayak urges her onward, she begins to reflect on Super-Rachel and how the world and the other Animorphs would see her: not as a someone to be honored and respected, but someone to be feared and hated. She releases Visser One, repeating that she is one of the good guys.

Back in the cube, back as a rat, Rachel begins to despair, not sure what is real and what is not. Crayak and the Drode disappear, leaving rat!Rachel with minutes before she is trapped as a rat and with Cassie, back trapped in her airless cube. She remembers the two thugs, and quickly calls out to them, highlighting the crappy situation of working for a talking rat like David. She promises that if they let her out, she will find the money David had promised them and they’ll be free of him. They let her out and she morphs grizzly and scares them off while David scampers away. As they run off, Rachel realizes that eventually they’ll talk and a Controller will realize that there’s a rat out there who knows all about the “Andalite bandits.”  She releases Cassie and tells her to go on ahead, that she still has something to do, to return David to the island. Cassie tries to stop her, and Rachel gets angry, saying that Cassie knows what needs to be done, and can she do it herself? When Cassie hesitates and says she doesn’t know, the matter is settled.

She catches up with David, who is sitting staring at the sun; he doesn’t run when she approaches. He tells her he’d rather die than go back to the island. When she tells him that she can’t kill him, that she’s one of the good guys, he replies that she should do the “good thing” and put him out of his misery. Horrified, Rachel tries to tell him to just run away and promise never to tell anyone about them. David laughs a manic laugh and calls her a fool. Despite herself, she feels sorry for him and sorry for herself that they are in this situation. Rachel sets him down and cries, half hoping that he’ll just run away and spare her the decision. But he doesn’t. He repeats that if she is one of the good guys, she’ll do the right thing and kill him. But Rachel doesn’t know what the right thing to do is, so she sits there, a teenage girl in an alley staring at a white rat.

Xena, Warrior Princess:  As far as Rachel’s character goes, I feel like we only really get into it towards the last third of this book. There’s a horrible return to the power-hungry Rachel who has some type of grudge against Jake for the first half to two-thirds and I don’t really want to even bother going into my feelings on that yet again (instead I’ll do it in the Jake section next!)

Instead, I wish the story had focused on the David stuff the entire time as there is plenty of character stuff to mine there. Not only do Rachel’s actions in the David trilogy play a big role in her relationship with Jake, but we also see how Rachel’s view of Cassie has been affected by that group of books as well.

I really liked effect had by the repeated mantra of “I’m one of the good guys” and then the heart-braking pay off for that phrase in the end when David asks her to kill him, saying that that would be the “good” thing to do. Crayak mentions that good and evil are only simple to the small-minded (deep burn to Cassie!) and it’s another great payoff that we see that thought in action with Rachel’s decisions at the end of this book. What is the good ting to do?

I also really liked her reflections on her role in the team, once she settles upon the symbiotic nature of the relationship.

I  looked  at  Cassie’s  face.  It  was  a  sweet  face.  It  was  wise,  too.  But  still…I  don’t know…oddly innocent somehow.

I’d been protecting her. Them. Jake.  Cassie.  Tobias.  Even  Marco  and  Ax.  Helping  to  protect  their  innocence. Letting them see themselves as the good guys. It was a symbiotic relationship. Or co-dependent, whatever. They needed me to be the bad guy.

And I needed them to be the good guys. See, if they were good guys, and I was on their team, then that automatically made me a good guy, too. Even if I was different.

For all of the book’s flaws, I’m really glad that this part came out of this story. It’s essentially the conclusion and thesis to Rachel as a character throughout the entire series. It’s just excellent all around. If only it had come in a book that didn’t have a god awful cover of Rachel morphing some mutated version of herself. *sigh*

Our Fearless Leader: It’s unfortunate to see a return to the “Rachel is jealous of Jake’s leadership role” take again in  a Rachel book. While the later explanation by Crayak that his goal in recruiting Rachel is to take out Jake, it still seems to play off the idea that Rachel, on her own, still covets the leadership role and harbors some type of violent inclinations towards Jake. It was hard to swallow this the first time and having it reappear doesn’t really improve things. Since that book, again, we’ve seen no evidence that Rachel covets the leadership role, that the other Animorphs would ever accept her as the next in line for leadership, or that any of this type of tension lies at the heart of Rachel and Jake’s relationship. Given where the book ends up in the last third, with Rachel’s realization/acceptance of the role she plays in the team, especially when connected to David, there were a lot more interesting routes that could have been taken with her relationship with Jake given his and Rachel’s interactions back during the David trilogy. And when you know where the series is headed with Jake’s use of Rachel…I just feel like there were a lot better options to explore there than some weird jealously/leadership angle that has never made sense.

A Hawk’s Life: Tobias isn’t even in this book in reality, only in a dream sequence.

Peace, Love, and Animals:  You have to wonder whether Rachel and Cassie talk more about this after the fact. And, as I’ll get to in the “crazy plans” section, like David, I’m not sure why real Cassie had to be involved in any of this either. But it’s good that she was, because, again, the end of the book had some good stuff between her and Rachel as Rachel is understand truly where she stands. Rachel thinks repeatedly about the fact that Cassie was the one who came up with the plan to trap David (ironic, since earlier in this book, David mentions that he would have picked Cassie as a companion because she was nice to him, but he didn’t want to torture her with being a rat, so he chose Rachel. If only he had know who the ultimate mastermind of his fate had been!) but how Rachel was the one who had to suffer actually executing it. There’s also this great interaction at the very end when Rachel is having to go after David once again to return him to the island:

“I don’t think you can do it a second time,” Cassie said quietly.

I felt all the old anger bubbling up. Why was she arguing? She knew what had to be done. Why was she pretending not to understand what had to be done? So  she  could  sleep  at  night?  So  she  could  say  “I  tried  to  stop  her,  so  it’s  not  my fault?” so she could say “I didn’t know.”

I looked her in the eye. <I’m not sure I can, either. So will you do it?>

Cassie’s face creased. Her mouth opened and closed. Her eyes flickered.“I don’t know,” she whispered finally.

<I didn’t think so.>

It really highlights how even Rachel’s best friend is willing to let Rachel suffer the brunt of these kinds of things. And Rachel’s right, it’s worse because Cassie and the others often do things like this, use Rachel to do the dirty work and then judge her for it. The symbiotic relationship Rachel references feels a bit uneven at that point. It’s one thing for Rachel to do the dirty work to be one of the good guys, and the others to let her, so that she’s the bad guy. But then taking the extra time/breath to judge her for it, that’s tipping the balance towards the others being in the wrong ultimately. Rachel’s essentially paying a double price at that point.

The Comic Relief: Marco, too, isn’t in this, other than the dream sequence. Though his contributions in the dream conversation hold pretty true to the Marco we know. He’s also the example Rachel uses in her discussion with Tobias about why one bad behavior in the group (Marco’s whining) is tolerated but her gung-ho-ness is not. I’m not sure about this comparison, but, again, it’s a dream sequence so probably not worth over-analyzing it.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Ax is only in this in the dream sequence, and even there he doesn’t contribute much.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: I mean, the most horrifying part of this book is the cover. Full stop. Super!Rachel is such a stupid idea. She ends up having unlimited morphing abilities as it is in the fight with Visser One, able to morph instantly and create imaginary morphs. There’s no reason to have some steroid version of herself included too. It’s just stupid and a truly unfortunate choice to include as the cover. If readers weren’t already jumping ship off this series at this point, I’m pretty sure showing up at the bookstore and seeing this cover might have been the death knell for a good number of people.

Couples Watch!: Man, I can’t emphasize enough just how disappointing this book is on this front, considering it’s the last Rachel book we have in the series. The past few Rachel books have been disappointing in this arena for the most part too, and it’s really unfortunate as it felt like at one point about halfway through the series this relationship was going somewhere interesting with the whole “Rachel is frustrated with Tobias’s choice to remain a hawk” thing. But then that whole plot point was just dropped all together pretty much. And the only interactions we get in this book are during a dream sequence that Crayak creates and in which Tobias is again mostly a jerk towards Rachel. What made them an interesting pair was their ability to understand the choices the other made, choices that were often hard for the main group to understand. Rachel can appreciate Tobias’s commitment to the war, and Tobias has his own ruthless streak to match Rachel’s (again, remember that he is ultimately the decider behind the destruction of an entire alien race back in Megamorphs #2). So yeah, it’s a bummer that we’re left out in the cold here. There’s some good David stuff in this book, but I can’t help but be disappointed that in Rachel’s last book we get more on her relationship with psycho David than with Tobias.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: There are essentially three villains in this book: Visser One, Crayak, and David. Visser One only shows up for the brief battle royale and you have to imagine how confusing this whole thing is to him. He tries to get arrogant/snippy with Crayak initially but quickly seems to realize he’s outmatched. And then he lucks out that Rachel has a crisis of conscience at the very end or he would have been a goner.

As for Crayak, he’s again kind of just a nebulous, Sauron-like bad guy with a fixation on Jake. Frankly, other than the “Ellimist” book, the Drode has been the more interesting villain from this group and I think the story might have read better with him and his snark taking point, rather than the pretty cheesy “master villain” vibe that Crayak had going for him.

David is by far the most interesting villain in this story. I’ll get into why it’s weird that he’s here at all a bit later, but regardless of whether it makes sense, I’m glad they included him since the best parts of the book were at the end when Rachel was having to deal with him. He’s pretty interesting throughout this story. We see the full scope of crazy!David, from his extreme egomania, to his the cowardice at the heart of him, to his deranged sense of being wronged and the extremes that he will go to to fight back, to the part that is still a human boy who is living through hell. I’m not convinced that David ever had to come back, but since he did, I would have rather had the entire book deal with him and the fallout from the events back in the David trilogy. Crayak and Visser One just seem kind of ridiculous in comparison to some of the pretty heavy stuff that comes to play with the David sections of the story.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: The end of the book definitely got to me. Not only does Rachel begin to feel bad for David, but the reader does too. There are just some really powerful lines and images dropped in there. Like when Rachel first comes across David again after chasing him down and she describes him as standing up on this back legs, facing the sun and delicately waving his paws around to appreciate his freedom and the world. And his pleas that Rachel kill him, that ultimately that is what a “good” person would do, all things considered. And the line, of a girl crying in an alley, staring at a white rat. It really hits home how terrible this situation is and that, regardless of all of this, Rachel is still a teenage girl faced with terrible choices. And choices that her friends have left her to make on her own.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: Crayak’s plan to try and turn Rachel on Jake seems overly complex. I’m not sure why David had to be involved at all really? The threat to trap her as a rat with references to her past ruthlessness with David would probably have been just as effective without him. Or, as we see throughout this book, Crayak is perfectly able to create illusions, so the real David was never necessary to the actual plan. And then why David had to have a plan of his own with two actual human thugs to carry it out? What benefit did this have for Crayak other than introducing points of failure to his plan which then…did fail because of them! If those thugs hadn’t been there, and David hadn’t been there, Rachel and Cassie would be done for. I guess maybe this would have been against the “rules” in Crayak and the Ellimist’s game. But the rules are pretty hard to really understand as it is, so I’m not sure that’s a good enough reason for the overly complex nature of this all.

Favorite Quote:

This is a long quote, but it sums up a lot of good stuff from this book and Rachel’s realizations about where she fits in the team. The biggest frustration for me, the reader, a Rachel fan, is the fact that Rachel has realized things like this a few times, but the other members of the group never seem to realize the same thing: that they need Rachel to do these things and that they are foisting a burden on her and the least they could do is keep quiet instead of shaming her further.

I looked into Cassie’s eyes. Did she want to know? Did she really want to know? No. she didn’t. That’s why I’d been so angry. Not just at Jake. At all of them. Because they had kept their hands clean. They had pretended they didn’t know I’d done something extreme like threaten to kill David. And his parents.And when David had confronted them with the truth, they’d made their disapproval known.  Separated  themselves  from  me.  Made  it  clear  I  was  deranged  and  out  of control and so, so unlike them.

And  then,  Cassie had  come  up  with the  plan to  trap  David  in  morph. But  only  I’d had the nerve to endure the two gut-wrenching hours of David’s misery.Why  hadn’t  I  fought  back?  Defended  myself  against  accusations,  insinuations  of craziness? Okay, I’d confronted Jake. But had anything really changed between us since then? Did  he  generally  approve  of  my  actions?  No.  Only  of  their  results.  He  needed  my results.

Scorecard: Yeerks 13, Animorphs 16

No change! Nothing really happens in this book and there aren’t any long-standing changes to the overall war effort on either side.

Rating: So, as evidenced by the gif at the beginning and my thoughts throughout, I had a very mixed response to this book. I think the inclusion of Crayak was questionable (and his plan was idiotic), and that the dream sequences were a waste of precious page space in Rachel’s last book. But I also think that the last third of the book dealing with David and Rachel’s realizations about her role on the team and how the others have treated her is crucial character development for her before the final chapter in the series. Other than the obvious end of the series, I think this book highlights why Rachel is one of the more tragic characters in the series. Tobias obviously has the roughest go of it, but I think Rachel might even beat out Jake. Jake at least gets some of the respect that comes with being a leader and the hard choices that come with that. We see in every other Animorphs book how much the others respect and recognize the burden Jake takes on in this role. Rachel, on the other hand, plays an equally important role, and the others use her for it knowingly, but she also gets only derision and shame for doing these hard things.

I also have mixed feelings on the end. I’m not sure if I like or dislike the fact that it doesn’t resolve Rachel’s choice about David. In some ways, it feels like the same type of cop-out that the Animorphs themselves take: leave it up to Rachel. But here, the author just side-steps the whole terrible choice by leaving it unanswered. So yes, on one hand you have the interesting situation where each reader can decide for themselves what Rachel did (or they would do in her place). But it also seems to avoid answering the main question of the entire book and Rachel’s arc throughout the series: what is the “good” thing to do vs. the necessary? And the fact that there really isn’t an answer to that question doesn’t mean that people/characters don’t still have to ultimately decide. Rachel can’t sit in the alley forever.

I do think the last lines of the book is one of the more beautiful endings of any book in the series, however. So I’m torn on whether I’d want to lose that in exchange for some more resolution.

I caught a glimpse of myself in a broken shard of mirror.  And saw what anyone looking down the alleyway from the sidewalk would have seen.

A young girl sitting knees-up in the sun, staring at a white rat.

It would be hard to believe the entire fat of the planet depended on that girl.

A girl who wanted to do the right thing.

But who had no idea at all what that was…

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

Kate’s Review: “Come Again”

36710841Book: “Come Again” by Nate Powell

Publishing Info: Top Shelf Productions, July 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: The first and only comic book artist ever to win a National Book Award returns with a haunting tale of intimacy, guilt, and collective amnesia.

As the sun sets on the 1970s, the spirit of the Love Generation still lingers among the aging hippies of one “intentional community” high in the Ozarks. But what’s missing?

Under impossibly close scrutiny, two families wrestle with long-repressed secrets… while deep within those Arkansas hills, something monstrous stirs, ready to feast on village whispers.

Nate Powell, artist of the National Book Award-winning March trilogy returns with a new creator-owned graphic novel.

Review: I have read a couple of graphic novels that Nate Powell did the artwork on, and given that one of those was the stupendous “March” Trilogy I hold him in high regard. I first heard about his new graphic novel, “Come Again”, at work, when a coworker had requested it and couldn’t remember why. When she told me what it was about and who wrote it, I requested it myself. Not only was I interested in a supernatural story that takes place on a commune in the fading days of communes, I was also curious to see what Nate Powell would do as a writer as well as an illustrator.

“Come Again” has a number of themes that it addresses, and some of these themes work better than others. I will start with the aspects that I liked, because I liked them a lot. Our main character, Haluska, has lived in an Ozark based ‘intentional community’ (or as some laymen may call it, a commune) with her close friends and son Jake for the greater part of the 1970s. The idealistic 1960s are long over, though when Hal, her ex Gus, and their friends Adrian and Whitney first started living there it was 1971, and the world seemed filled with possibility. Now we are at the end of the decade, and though the community remains it has shrunk considerably, and Hal has been carrying on an affair with Adrian that is based in an underground cave they found in the forest. Their affair doesn’t seem to have much joy or passion to it, though neither seem willing to give it up, even though they have to take it literally underground. Haluska certainly feels guilt, but not enough to end it, and her attachment to a comfortable relationship that may not be what it used to be resonates within the greater storyline. The ideals of the Love movement, and the commune itself, are fading away, and with that change comes uncertainty and the impulse to cling harder to something that may not be there anymore. There was a moment that I found to be quite powerful, when Hal and Adrian go into town to sell goods at a farmer’s market. Their somewhat strained relationship with the ‘traditional’ town has been buoyed by the give and take system they have with each other. But on this specific day, a local band has been booked to perform. They happen to be a punk band, and their angry song of rebellion angers the townsfolk, but connects with Hal in ways she may not totally understand in that moment. Knowing that the 80s are coming, and the cynical and predatory social changes that are in store, it feels like a greater reflection of what’s to come, though Hal may not know it. These aspects of this book, of isolation, and guilt, and the secrets we keep from even the ones we love most, worked supremely well for me.

It was the dark fantasy and supernatural elements that fell a bit flat. There is something living in the cave that Hal and Adrian use, a disembodied voice that sinks into the various pages. After Hal’s son Justin and Adrian’s son Shane find the cave, Shane is lost within the depths, depths that may not be there all the time. This, of course, helps feed into Hal’s guilt about her affair with his father, but then it becomes clear that something supernatural is going on that only Hal can see. While I usually really like strange supernatural elements (and am enough of a ghoul that missing people is a theme that I like), I didn’t feel that this part of the book was as strong as it could have been. We don’t know what it is that is living in this cave, we don’t know why the spell it casts manifests in the way that it does, and as we see the consequences of the disappearance and spell start to unfold, we don’t really get answers as to why or how it’s happening. I understand that ambiguity is a key component of a story like this, and I can appreciate it to a point, but in this story I was left more confused than anything else. It ultimately leads to a sacrifice that Hal has to make, and though I understood the resonance of the sacrifice it also felt a bit like a cop out when it came to her having to own up to some of her past mistakes (and the mistakes that others have made as well). I think if the story had leaned in more to the magical or supernatural system I would have liked that part more, but it could have easily functioned as a historical fiction meditation on self, secrets, and guilt.

But Nate Powell’s style is still very unique and stands out in my mind. I liked seeing how he used shades, shadows, and a semi-realistic stylization to tell this story. I especially liked how the disembodied voice of the monster/whatever was written, in ways that made it seem like it was literally floating on the wind.

comeagain_01
(source)

“Come Again” was a book that didn’t quite give me what I want from the premise and author. It certainly had strong moments, but overall it didn’t have to ghostly oomph I expected.

Rating 6: While I enjoyed the broader themes of isolation, secrets, and guilt, the supernatural elements left much to be desired.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Come Again” isn’t on many Goodreads lists, but it is included on “NPR’s Best Books of 2018”.

Find “Come Again” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Throne of Jade”

14069Book: “Throne of Jade” by Naomi Novik

Publishing Info: Del Rey Books, April 2006

Where Did I Get this Book: audiobook from the library!

Book Description: When Britain intercepted a French ship and its precious cargo–an unhatched dragon’s egg–Capt. Will Laurence of HMS Reliant unexpectedly became master and commander of the noble dragon he named Temeraire. As new recruits in Britain’s Aerial Corps, man and dragon soon proved their mettle in daring combat against Bonaparte’s invading forces.

Now China has discovered that its rare gift, intended for Napoleon, has fallen into British hands–and an angry Chinese delegation vows to reclaim the remarkable beast. But Laurence refuses to cooperate. Facing the gallows for his defiance, Laurence has no choice but to accompany Temeraire back to the Far East–a long voyage fraught with peril, intrigue, and the untold terrors of the deep. Yet once the pair reaches the court of the Chinese emperor, even more shocking discoveries and darker dangers await.

Previously Reviewed: “His Majesty’s Dragon”

Review: After discovering the absolute joy that was “Hi Majesty’s Dragon,” it was all I could do to wedge in “The Loneliest Girl in the Universe” before going straight to the next on in this series. Already, this series feels like a comfort read, where I know what I’m going to get, to a good extent, and I’m there for it. I can just relax back and enjoy.

At the end of the last book, Temeraire and Laurence discovered that, while they always knew Temeraire was special, he was even more unique than they had thought: a rare Celestial dragon of the sort to only partner with Chinese royalty. His egg had been meant as a gift for Napoleon, but now that they have realized the error, a delegation has been sent to express their insistence that Temeraire be parted from Laurence and returned to China. Refusing to be parted, both dragon and captain must now set off on the long sea voyage across the world. And once arriving at their destination, both are shocked to realize that perhaps there is more to dragon-human relations than they had presumed.

In some ways, I was just as surprised by this book as I had been by the first. In the first, I had expected a lot more military action and was surprised to find such an intense focus on characterization, especially the building relationship between Laurence and Temeraire. But then in the end, we got that great battle scene where Temeraire’s “super power” essentially came to light and I thought “Ok, now we’re going to move into the military action series I had been expecting!” And then I started this book and found…a long sea voyage with political espionage as the main action of the story.

But, as I said, my expectations not being met just turned into yet another delightful surprise once again! I loved the sea voyage. There were a lot of little episodic moments sprinkled throughout that had to deal with Great Britain’s relationship to the slave trade, the relationships between the various military arms (navy vs aerial), cultural distinctions that don’t translate well between countries, and even sea monsters! And many of these domains were made all the more interesting being seen and discussed through the very different eyes of Laurence and Temeraire. Laurence must confront his own assumptions and prejudices, and Temeraire must work through his understanding of humanity, especially as it deals with dragons.

Like Laurence and Temeraire, the reader so far has only been presented with Great Britain’s approach to dragons. While in the previous book Laurence had already challenged a lot of the obvious negatives that popped up, throughout this book, we learn more and more about the true limitations of the Western approach. It was fascinating to explore the cultural differences in how dragons exist in each of these societies.

I also liked the added wrinkle this added to Laurence and Temeraire’s relationship. Temeraire is rightly curious about the country of his origin. And, like I said, he had already been asking questions regarding the limitations and prejudices put upon dragon-kind back in Great Britain, so he is all the more fascinated and intrigued by the freedoms and independence offered in Chinese society. From Laurence’s side of things, however, he also sees a great country in China, but one that has also treated poorly with his beloved Great Britain, and specifically himself and Temeraire. From the comfort and surety of the relationship that was built up in the first book, this one offers challenge upon challenge to both Temeraire and Laurence. Who needs tons of action when you’re on the edge of your seat with worry about how your precious dragon/captain pair are going to make it through this all??

Given the nature of the story and the need to keep some of the mysteries held close until the end of the book, this did read a bit slower than the first. I was fine with it, however, as, like I said, I’m mostly here for the relationship between Temeraire and Laurence. But if you go into this one expecting an uptick in the military action, you’ll probably be disappointed. However, I do feel like there were a healthy number of action scenes that were perfectly sprinkled throughout the story, so I feel like this is only the most nit-picky of nit-picks. If you enjoyed the fist book in this series, I’m sure you’ll love this one too!

Rating 8: An excellent sequel, all the better for once again offering a surprise in the overall direction the series is taking.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Throne of Jade” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Non-Western Speculative Fiction” and “Historical Military Adventure.”

Find “Throne of Jade” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “She Was The Quiet One”

36476218Book: “She Was The Quiet One” by Michele Campbell

Publishing Info: St Martin’s Press, July 2018

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

Book Description: From the author of It’s Always the Husband comes a riveting new suspense audiobook about privilege, power, and what happens when we let ambition take control. 

For Rose Enright, enrolling in a prestigious New England boarding school is the opportunity of a lifetime. But for Rose’s vulnerable twin sister Bel, Odell Academy is a place of temptation and danger. When Bel falls in with a crowd of wild rich kids who pressure her into hazing Rose, the sisters’ relationship is shattered. Rose turns to her dorm mother, Sarah Donovan, for advice. But Bel turns to Sarah’s husband Heath, a charismatic and ambitious teacher. Is Heath trying to help Bel or take advantage of her? In a world of privilege, seduction, and manipulation, only one sister will live to tell the truth.

In an audiobook full of twists, turns, and dark secrets, Michele Campbell once again proves her skill at crafting intricately spun and completely compelling plots.

Review: Michele Campbell was an author who came out of nowhere for me. I saw the book title “It’s Always the Husband” on my twitter feed, and such a bold statement (that, sadly, feels all to true sometimes) as a book title absolutely caught my eye. I requested it on audiobook, and when I was finished with it I was, for the most part, happy with it, and therefore chomping at the bit for whatever story Campbell would come out with next. So when I saw “She Was The Quiet One” pop up on my Goodreads feed, I had to request the audiobook post haste! Not only was it a new book by a promising thriller author, it also took place at a BOARDING SCHOOL! A BOARDING SCHOOL FILLED WITH SCANDAL AND AWFUL PEOPLE!

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Love those rotten rich high school kids! (source)

I had to wait since I opted for an eAudiobook, but when “She Was The Quiet One” finally came in, I started it, expecting to have the same interest as I did to the previous novel. That is, a nice listen while driving from Point A to Point B, or while at the gym. What I didn’t anticipate was not turning my phone off when I was done with those fleeting moments, and continuing to listen while in the walls of my home. That kind of devotion is usually reserved for podcasts, but the likes of “My Favorite Murder” and “Last Podcast on the Left” took backseat to an audiobook. Yes, “She Was The Quiet One” was that addictive.

The structure of this novel is told from a few different perspectives. The first two are of Rose and Bel Enright, the twin sisters whose mother’s death has sent them to live with an estranged grandmother, and then be shipped off to an elite boarding school. These fraternal twins are not only different in appearance, but also personality, as Rose is driven and ambitious and Bel is sullen and rebellious. We know from the jump that one of them is dead, and it’s through their flashbacks that we start to get the story of what happened. The next perspective is that of Sarah, a math teacher at the exclusive boarding school Odell Academy, and the wife of Heath, an English teacher there. They are also the heads of the Moreland dorm, the building where Rose and Bel are housed, and the ‘problem’ dorm because of the most spoiled students living there. The final perspective is that of police interviews in the wake of the death of one of the twins. As these four perspectives come through the pieces of the expansive mystery fall into place at a compelling pace, and they each revealed themselves precisely when needed. More often than not I can see various twists and turns coming from a mile away, but in “She Was The Quiet One” I felt as though I was kept guessing, for the most part. Sure, here or there I was able to guess, but not to the point where I was bored. On the contrary, even if I did guess right I loved the journey of getting to the solution so I didn’t feel short changed.

All of the perspective characters had their distinct voices and personalities, and while none of the perspective characters were ‘likable’ per se, I did find all of them to be realistic, and had empathy for all of them and was invested in their various outcomes. And Campbell did a good job of capturing the various hardships that both Rose and Bel faced, and while they were on completely different ends of the conflict at hand, I understood both of their perspectives and sympathized for both of them. Even when I wanted to shake them. Sarah, too, was a character that I had complete sympathy for, even when she sometimes drove me mad with her decisions and her inability to see stark truths in front of her face. While the twins had a more compelling story, hers was also an important one to the ultimate narrative. The supporting characters felt more two dimensional to me. From the wretched popular girls Bel was hanging out with to the ambiguous (for awhile) Heath, none of them showed much depth beyond the plot points that they needed to fill. What Heath had going for him was that we got to see multiple perceptions of him depending on who the perspective was from, but in the end he has a very specific characterization that falls into familiar tropes of the thriller genre of this ilk.

January LaVoy was the audiobook narrator for “She Was The Quiet One”, and I thought that she did a superb job with the cast of characters and the tone. She had very distinct voices for each person, and her emotions really came through during the highest moments of tension.

And I also need to mention a content warning: there is a scene in this book that depicts a rape. It isn’t very long and it isn’t terribly graphic, but it was uncomfortable and hard to listen to.

“She Was The Quiet One” is another addictive and compelling thriller mystery from an author that thriller fans really ought to be familiar with. If you haven’t picked up Michele Campbell yet, this is the book to read.

Rating 8: An addictive and immersive thriller that hit all of my reading guilty pleasures, “She Was The Quiet One” was a book that I almost couldn’t put down.

Reader’s Advisory:

“She Was The Quiet One” is included on the Goodreads lists “Twin Thrillers”, and “The Best of Prep”.

Find “She Was The Quiet One” at your library using WorldCat!

Say NO! to Snow: Books To Bring Back Spring Feelings

Well we know that we live in Minnesota, but honestly, it’s hard not to be discouraged when a giant snowstorm comes through your state and dumps a lot of slushy, cold, and somehow brown snow on your head in the middle of April. Because of this frustrating turn of events, here are some book titles that will hopefully remind the winter doldrums that Spring is supposed to be here.

2998Book: “The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Publishing Info: William Heinemann, 1911

Because what says Spring more than a garden filled with flowers? That isn’t to say that the garden in this novel started out that way, at least when first introduced. But when headstrong orphan Mary Lennox arrives on her uncle’s estate and finds him to be isolated and her wheelchair bound cousin tucked away, she soon discovers a long forgotten garden that becomes a symbol of imagination and hope. This classic has endured in the century since it was first published, and has become a well loved tale of family, love, and not giving up on the kindness of those around you. The regrowth and rebirth of the garden is the perfect image to say goodbye to winter.

16143347Book: “We Were Liars” by E. Lockhart

Publishing Info: Delacourte Press, 2014

Though this technically takes place in summer, any warm weather is looking good at this point. If you like the sound of a summer beach home right now, and are looking for a YA thriller with a lot of twists and turns, “We Were Liars” could be a good escape from the lingering cold. Cadence Eastman is a wealthy and privileged teenage girl whose family has gone to their summer estate on an island every year. But during her fifteenth summer something happened to Cadence that she can’t remember. As she tries to adjust to being back on the island and fall back into routines with her friend group called The Liars, including cousins Mirren and Johnny, and family friend Gat. But it seems like everyone may be hiding something from her. And Cadence wants to find out the truth of what happened, and hopes that she and her fellow “Liars” can help her remember.

11504610Book: “Hades: Lord of the Dead” (Olympians #4) by George O’Connor

Publishing Info: First Second, 2012

It may be called “Hades: Lord of the Dead”, but this children’s graphic novel is really about Persephone and her journey to the Underworld to be Hades wife. This is an adaptation of the tale of Persephone, who was taken to the Underworld to become Hades wife, and her absence left her (domineering) mother Demeter so distraught she brought eternal winter. The deal made between Persephone and her mother eventually led to the explanation for the change of the seasons, as when Persephone returns to her mother’s side, Spring arrive. While some people don’t like the Persephone and Hades romance, at it’s heart it’s a story about change, transition, and growing up, and O’Connor does a good job of giving Persephone, the goddess of Spring and also the Queen of the Underworld, some agency in her story.

27333Book: “Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson

Publishing Info: Houghton Mifflin, 1962

A bit of a downer to put on this list, but still far too relevant to ignore, “Silent Spring” is the legendary environmentalist book that opened people’s eyes about the consequences of pollution. Rachel Carson wrote this book as a warning to America about what chemicals in our environment can do, and because of it many reforms were passed to help ease the damage that corporate interests were doing to the world around us. It also helped lead the charge in developing the EPA. One of the things that people associate with spring is the sound of the bird songs that happen after our avian friends have returned from a long winter away, and the title alone gives a chilling idea as to what it would mean if the birds, thanks to DDT and other pollutants, were no longer around to listen to. Given that there are more concerns about environmental issues being raised and the consequences of pollution on our world, “Silent Spring” is still an important read.

What books get you in the mood for Spring? Let us know in the comments!