Serena’s Review: “Age of War”

18052169Book: “Age of War” by Michael J. Sullivan

Publishing Info: Del Rey, July 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: audiobook from the library

Book Description: The alliance of humans and renegade Fhrey is fragile—and about to be tested as never before. Persephone keeps the human clans from turning on one another through her iron will and a compassionate heart. The arrogant Fhrey are barely held in check by their leader, Nyphron, who seeks to advance his own nefarious agenda through a loveless marriage that will result in the betrayal of the person Persephone loves most: Raithe, the God Killer.

As the Fhrey overlords marshal their army and sorcerers to crush the rebellion, old loyalties will be challenged while fresh conspiracies will threaten to undo all that Persephone has accomplished. In the darkest hour, when hope is all but lost, new heroes will rise . . . but at what terrible cost?

Previously reviewed: “Age of Myth” & “Age of Swords”

Review: I’ve been loving this series ever since I discovered it. I read most every type of fantasy there is (urban, YA, contemporary, etc.), but I always have a soft spot for epic fantasy, especially well-constructed series that feature a well-rounded ensemble cast. With every book I read in this series, my appreciation for what Sullivan is crafting grows.

The war between humans and Fhrey is coming to a head. The battle lines are drawn and each side is shoring up their resources. While Persephone and her people hold a great fortress and have numbers on their side, the powers of the Fhrey are still unimaginable, especially against the only two magic users that humans have. Even if this battle is won, Persephone knows that wars last years and peace is always preferable to conquest. In this light, she struggles with the decision to marry a Fhrey, connecting their two peoples forever, knowing that she will give up her chance at love with Raithe. Suri, Brin, Roan, Gifford and so many others all have their own paths to walk and important roles to play if the humans are to survive this all.

If I’m picking, I often prefer stories that feature one, strong protagonist at the heart of it all. I enjoy getting to know the motivations, strengths, and weaknesses of an individual and follow their story through all of its outward action and inward character development. It’s not that I don’t like an ensemble cast; I just think it’s terribly hard to pull off and more often than not, one or more characters are short-shifted, thus weakening the story as a whole. Better to play it safe and stick to the one, well-drawn character. With all of that in mind, it’s a true pleasure when I find an author who knows how to properly develop and maintain an ensemble cast through a series of books. Sullivan is a master at this, so far.

His true strength seems to be understanding whose story needs to rise to the top in each book. Early in the series, we focused largely on Raithe and Persephone, but here, as the events grow greater and new challenges unfold, we see other characters come into their own and are thus given more page time. And, since even the first books still put in the work to develop these characters, when the story switches over to emphasizing their roles more, it is an easy adjustment. I don’t mourn the loss of time with Raithe and Persephone because I’ve become invested in Brin and Gifford already as well. And as certain characters’ stories begin to wane into the background, we’re slowly given a few new characters here and there.

I typically try to read and review books in a sort of vacuum from the other media forms I’m consuming. But given the raging debate and upheaval after the last season of GOT, it was almost impossible to read such a similar book without making comparisons. I won’t go into an entire rant about my feelings on GOT, but there are a few points of similarity between these two epic fantasies that can’t help but be connected.

The first one has to do, again, with the creation and use of an ensemble cast. “Game of Thrones,” be it book or tv series, is by no means the first of its kind to feature a large cast of characters. Almost all epic fantasy series do. In light of the character arcs we saw in “Game of Thrones,” Sullivan’s own powers of character building were only highlighted all the more. His characters, too, face complicated moral decisions. But when they reach decision points, whether we agree with their actions or not, we understand why they do what they do. The chapters and time that are given to each character reveal necessary information, either for the plot of the book or for the development of the character. Things are introduced for a reason and readers can feel confident that, while they may not be able to piece it all together now, we are working towards something.

And that works to my second point of comparison and it has to do surprising the audience and subverting expectations. It’s been clear from the very start that GOT has prided itself on surprising audiences and subverting typical story beats. And there’s a reason for that: it’s pretty entertaining! But what they seemed to lose along the way was the fact that audiences can still be surprised while making believable, slowly built arcs for stories.

Joffrey was a monster, so while we were surprised that he killed Ned and our expectations that the hero of the story would prevail were subverted, after the fact, it all made sense. Events leading up to it were built in along the way and were easy to trace for even the most casual consumer. But while GOT seems to have lost this process with the last few seasons, and most especially the last half of the last season, Sullivan has managed to do the same thing, without sacrificing the credibility of his story. There are legitimate surprises in this book and expectations of certain characters’ arcs are definitely subverted. This story gets dark and similar to GOT, not everyone is safe. But, like early seasons of the show/book, after the fact, everything that happens feels earned. Satisfying endings don’t require that they be happy, they require consistency and thoughtful construction. Sullivan has both, and it’s on display in this book especially.

There have been a lot of lists floating around since the end of GOT about what fantasy series to read next. I haven’t seen Sullivan’s “The Legends of the First Empire” on any of them, and it’s a real shame. At its most basic level, we know that the author has already finished the series so not only do we know that an end is coming, we know that the author built the entire series with clearly established plot lines for all of his characters in mind. And, given the darker nature of this book as compared to the first two, it’s definitely earning its stripes as an epic fantasy series.

Rating 9: Frankly, it was a relief to have this on hand as proof that ensemble casts and subverted expectations in fantasy fiction CAN be done well.

“Age of War” isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists, but it should be “Popular Ensemble Cast Books.”

Find “Age of War” at your library using WorldCat!

 

 

Kate’s Review: “Stay Sexy and Don’t Get Murdered”

41068144Book: “Stay Sexy and Don’t Get Murdered: The Definitive How-To Guide” by Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark

Publishing Info: Forge Books, May 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: I own an Audible Audiobook/ was given a partial ARC by a friend.

Book Description: The highly anticipated first book by Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark, the voices behind the #1 hit podcast My Favorite Murder!

Sharing never-before-heard stories ranging from their struggles with depression, eating disorders, and addiction, Karen and Georgia irreverently recount their biggest mistakes and deepest fears, reflecting on the formative life events that shaped them into two of the most followed voices in the nation.

In Stay Sexy & Don’t Get Murdered, Karen and Georgia focus on the importance of self-advocating and valuing personal safety over being ‘nice’ or ‘helpful.’ They delve into their own pasts, true crime stories, and beyond to discuss meaningful cultural and societal issues with fierce empathy and unapologetic frankness.

Review: I’m a Murderino and have been a Murderino for about two years now. For those who may not be familiar, a ‘Murderino’ is the name for fans “My Favorite Murder”, a true crime comedy podcast hosted by Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark. I know I’ve spoken about it on this blog before, as I highlighted this book for the month of May, put the podcast in a “Not Just Books” post, and have referenced it on and off, here and there. I first discovered “My Favorite Murder” when I was going through a bit of a hard emotional time. I was feeling stagnant and unappreciated at one of my jobs, I was having anxiety about the future and big decisions that I knew needed to be made sooner rather than later, and one of my aunts (whom I had been close to) was dying of cancer, which sent a number of other family members into a turmoil. My friend Amanda recommended MFM to me, and I started it on the plane ride out to visit my ailing aunt/start preparing her house for hospice/getting other affairs in order. MFM became my comfort during that trip, as Kilgariff and Hardstark were able to talk about dark (yet eternally fascinating) topics with wit, empathy, and humor. I’ve been hooked ever since. And when I found out that Kilgariff and Hardstark were writing a book, I was PUMPED. I was very lucky to be given a partial ARC (thanks to my friend Carol! THANKS CAROL!), and read the first half of this book a couple months before it came out. But I knew that when the book came out in full, I had to get it on audiobook, as Kilgariff, Hardstark, and Paul Giamatti (it’s a long story) were the narrators. So I did a dual read/listen. And it mostly lived up to all I wanted it to be.

I will say, first and foremost, that if you are going into “Stay Sexy and Don’t Get Murdered” thinking that it’s going to be focused on true crime, you are mistaken. Whlie Kilgariff and Hardstark DO make references to various cases within it’s pages, and do share their own experiences that may have been close calls, this is definitely more essays/memoir about who they both are as people, and the various life experiences that shaped them into the true crime junkies that they are today. So if you are a fan of the podcast but consider yourself a ‘skipper’ (aka you skip the first third of the show where they are bantering and conversing to get to the cases), this book may not be what you’re looking for. But while this isn’t a book about true crime at its heart, what it does have to offer is a personal and relateable set of essays/memoirs that show the lives of two women who have come a long way and gone through a lot of hardship in their lives. Both women has struggled with their mental health, eating disorders, drug addiction, and various personal losses as time has gone on, and they are both very reflective on these things that they have had to endure and overcome as time has gone on. Both Kilgariff and Hardstark talk about their experiences with candor and grace, and while they definitely can find some humor in these things they never feel like they’re making light of these experiences, nor do they make them self-exploitative. While they touch on these issues here and there on the show, in this book their vulnerability is on full display, and I found it to be very relatable in a lot of ways. Given that both women have talked about putting up defenses, seeing them put it all out there was very admirable.

The book is also very funny at times. Both Kilgariff and Hardstark have fun senses of humor, but Kilgariff especially has a wry tone and a knack for making me laugh hysterically. She has always been my favorite of the two, and it’s no surprise that it was one of her sections, about a childhood memory involving her and her older sister in their latchkey kid days, that had me laughing so hard I was crying. Both women have a very conversational tone in the writing that works both in audiobook form AND in print form, and none of the humor felt out of place or forced. And the bonus with the audiobook is that you get to hear their voices, and their intonations of how they wanted their words and stories to sound. In some ways I felt that this was better than the print book, but honestly, you can’t go wrong with either of them.

I did have a couple of criticisms with the book, and though they may not be limited to this book specifically I do want to address them. The biggest one is that both Hardstark and Kilgariff fall into a familiar ‘self help’ trap of not thinking about how accessible their advice is for their readers. This comes out the most in their advice on how to tackle mental health, as both of them are huge proponents of therapy being a be all end all and something that everyone should do. As someone who has benefited from therapy greatly, I also believe that therapy is wonderful for those who have access to it. But the sad truth is that the ability to seek out therapists/therapy, and mental health care in general, is not something that everyone can do, be it because of financial reasons or other inhibitors. It’s very easy to say ‘everyone should go to therapy!’ when you have the financial means to do so, but sadly, that isn’t the case for many people, so to make it seem like it can be achieved by anyone is rather tone deaf, or at the very least reeks of privilege. Now this certainly isn’t something that is unique to Kilgariff and Hardstark, as MANY ‘self help’ books trot out solutions that fall into this trap. But given that the sometimes blindness to certain privileges is a common critique of this show and both authors, I was a little disappointed to see this advice, especially since in so many other ways they were quick to check other kinds of privilege blind spots that they have had in the past. And I do kind of wish that they’d done a little more with the true crime angle. What we did have was interesting and they certainly don’t HAVE to rehash cases we’ve heard time and time again, especially since they admittedly don’t do deep dive research. But a reference here and there felt more tacked on than anything else.

All of that said, I really did enjoy “Stay Sexy and Don’t Get Murdered”. Kilgariff and Hardstark are still a couple of my favorite podcasters out there, and I’m glad that they have come so far and have been able to overcome so much while still staying true to themselves. And remember everyone: Stay out of the forest, buy your own shit, and most importantly 

tenor
G’bye! (source)

Rating 8: A fun and enlightening memoir from two of my favorite true crime podcasters, “Stay Sexy and Don’t Get Murdered: The Definitive How-To Guide” is sure to delight MFM fans!

Reader’s Advisory: “Stay Sexy and Don’t Get Murdered: The Definitive How-to Guide” is included on the Goodreads lists “Murderino Reading List!”, and “Books of Podcasts”.

Find “Stay Sexy and Don’t Get Murdered: The Definitive How-To Guide” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Dark Shores”

41438037Book: “Dark Shores” by Danielle L. Jensen

Publishing Details: Tor Teen, May 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley

Book Description: In a world divided by meddlesome gods and treacherous oceans, only the Maarin possess the knowledge to cross the Endless Seas. But they have one mandate: East must never meet West.

A PIRATE WITH A WILL OF IRON

Teriana is the second mate of the Quincense and heir to the Maarin Triumvirate. Her people are born of the seas and the keepers of its secrets, but when her closest friend is forced into an unwanted betrothal, Teriana breaks her people’s mandate so her friend might escape—a choice with devastating consequences. 

A SOLDIER WITH A SECRET

Marcus is the commander of the Thirty-Seventh, the notorious legion that has led the Celendor Empire to conquer the entire East. The legion is his family, but even they don’t know the truth he’s been hiding since childhood. It’s a secret he’ll do anything to protect, no matter how much it costs him – and the world. 

A DANGEROUS QUEST

When an Empire senator discovers the existence of the Dark Shores, he captures Teriana’s crew and threatens to reveal Marcus’s secret unless they sail in pursuit of conquest, forcing the two into an unlikely—and unwilling—alliance. They unite for the sake of their families, but both must decide how far they are willing to go, and how much they are willing to sacrifice.

Review: I never got around to reading “Stolen Songbird,” but it’s been on my TBR list for quite some time and I know that a lot of people really enjoyed it. So when I saw a new title by this author available on NetGalley I thought, “Here’s my chance!” Unfortunately, this wasn’t a complete hit with me, however.

Two worlds divided by a vast ocean and with only one people who know of the existence of both. Teriana comes from this people and a family of peaceful traders. Marcus comes the opposite side of things, known for his keen tactics and manipulations that have seen him slowly but steadily gaining territory for his Empire. The two could not be more different, but each are thrown when secrets, betrayals, and political maneuverings begin fraying the edges of their lives. Now, these two unlikely comrades, must come together to chart a new path for themselves and their peoples.

I struggled with this book from the very start, but I don’t want to start my review with a list of complaints. As I read on, I did find some things that stood out as strengths, so I’ll highlight those first. One, while not as complex as I might have wished, I did enjoy the world building at the heart of this story. The clear inspirations from Ancient Rome were interesting not only for the cultural aspects, but also for how Marcus’s story of conquest plays out. I also enjoyed the general pacing of the book. It was a quick read and I flew through it pretty quickly. There were a few moments here and there where this pacing seemed to stumble, but overall it was a fast read and for those looking for a quick, easy read, this book will hit those marks.

But, like I said, I had struggles. These started right away with the introduction of Teriana whom I immediately had troubled connecting with. She reads as very immature, to the point that it was almost hard to believe that she was meant to be the age she is presented as. It’s hard to come back from first impressions like this, so while Teriana had some good moments throughout the story, I was never able to get over some of this. I didn’t have as many direct problems with Marcus, but he also didn’t connect for me. Not that there was anything standing out with the character as much as with Teriana’s, but…nothing really stood out with the character at all, either.

This book also suffered from a false expectations. There story is promoted as being about pirates and adventures on the high seas. Alas, no. This is much more of a political fantasy at its heart. Which would be fine on its own, since some of my favorite fantasy novels are political at their heart. But when I pick up a book being told its about one thing and then find out that that thing isn’t in it at all, we have problems. I really hate marketing ploys like this. There are readers for the book as it actually is, target them. Stop trying to misrepresent your book to his some type of fad. Do they actually think that readers who were tricked into picking up a book on the promise of one thing (pirates, in this case) are not going to notice when that thing isn’t even really there? You’re just going to end up with disappointed readers and miss out on the ones who would have truly enjoyed the book and praised it for what it actually is.

I also have to mention that the romance was not to my taste. I enjoy a good enemies-to-lovers romance as much as the next person, but it really is starting to get old. It feels like this is almost the only type of romance one finds anymore in YA fiction. And what’s worse, it always feels rushed. This is the first book in a series. Why do the main characters need to fall in love in this book? Isn’t it more believable that it would take longer than this to move from pretty opposite extremes, enemies to lovers? Plus, drawing it out builds anticipation. It’s a win/win. Trust that readers can appreciate some delayed gratification.

So, yes, this book wasn’t for me. I can’t say whether or not going in with my expectations properly targeted towards a political fantasy and away from pirates would have made all the difference, but it would have helped. Ultimately, however, poor characterization for Teriana and a tepid romance killed it for me.

Rating 6: Fails to bring anything new to the table, though it is a quick read if you’re looking for a beach book.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Dark Shores” is a newer title, so it isn’t on any relevant Goodreads lists, but it should be on “Political Themed YA Fiction.”

Find “Dark Shores” at your library using WorldCat!

A Revisit the Fear Street: “The Dead Lifeguard”

176563Book: “The Dead Lifeguard” (A Fear Street Super Chiller) by R.L. Stine

Publishing Info: Pocket Books, 1993

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

Book Description: In too deep…

The lifeguards at North Beach Country Club know they’re lucky. While other kids are flipping burgers, they’re sunning themselves by day and partying by night. So what if some people say the place is cursed, haunted. This is the life!

And then, one by one, the lifeguards start to die horrible deaths. Someone—or something—evil is stalking them. They all know how to save other people’s lives…but who will save theirs?

Had I Read This Before: Yes.

The Plot: We start with one of R.L. Stine’s patented Killer Talking To Potentially Imaginary/Dead Friend Intro®, with someone named “Mouse” talking to someone named Terry (with the ‘don’t talk just listen’ bit to make us think that maybe Terry CAN talk, but we all know better, right?). Mouse informs Terry that not only have they passed the lifeguard test, but they can’t stop thinking about that last summer, and how Terry is dead because of the lifeguards. So now it’s revenge time as Mouse is heading to North Beach Swim club to kill the lifeguards, as it’s their fault Terry is dead. Auspicious start!

We now move onto Lindsay Beck arriving at North Beach Country Club. She’s excited for the summer, so excited that she forgot to pack her sunblock! She’s a lifeguard again this summer, as she was the previous summer, and she wonders if anyone else has come back. As a rain storm starts up she rushes to the gate of the pool area, and she can see at least one of her fellow lifeguards inside the guest house. She tries to open the gate but it’s locked, and she remembers that she has an ID card that she can swipe to give access. But it too doesn’t work. She decides to start calling towards the guest house in hopes someone will hear her, but then she looks in the pool and sees a girl drowning in the pool. She screams.

Note: This book is split into multiple POVs per chapter, and while I tried to tackle them independently it just became too convoluted. So just know that sometimes narrators change and their reliability does too.

Danny is the head lifeguard and he’s having a meeting with his team. There’s Cassie, who has white blonde hair and a ‘sexy whispery’ voice and I’m just picturing Joey Lauren Adams (have I just dated myself?). Cassie is afraid of the thunder from the storm that’s just started. Then there’s Runty Arnie, who makes bad jokes; Deirdre, whose main feature is being ‘hot’ (I get that this is Danny’s POV but sheesh, that’s all the girl gets huh?); May-Ann, who is quiet and shy; and Pug, who sounds like a stereotype of a lifeguard with curly blonde hair and a meat head attitude. They suddenly hear screaming from outside. Danny and Arnie go running outside to see what Lindsay wants, and she tells them about the girl who is floating in the pool. But when they look they don’t see anything. Danny and Arnie lead her inside and she meets the other lifeguards. She tells them that she SWEARS she saw someone, there really was no one there. They ask her what she’s doing there and she says she’s a lifeguard like them. When Danny looks on his roster, he doesn’t see her name. She insists that she does TOO belong there, and shows him her ID card. Danny asks if this is the one that was just sent to her, and she says yes, but he points out that it’s two years old. While everyone else is looking at Lindsay like she’s a nut, May-Ann offers to let her get changed into dry clothes in her room. Lindsay asks everyone if everyone is new, and they confirm that they are, so no one will remember her from the year before. Pug says he was a guest the year before but doesn’t remember her, and they figure that Pete the athletic director will be able to clear it all up when he arrives. May-Ann lets Lindsay get changed and visits with her pet mouse Munchy (why you brought your pet to your summer job is kind of beyond me, but I get missing one’s pets), and then Lindsay asks May-Ann how all these things could be going so wrong, the ID card, the list, the girl she thought she saw. May-Ann says they will get it all sorted out. They go back into the main room, and after Arnie kills the conversation with another bad joke, May-Ann tells Lindsay that she knows who she saw in the pool: it was one of the resident ghosts. When pressed, she tells them that every summer a person dies. The summer before a fourteen year old boy drowned, and two summers ago one of the lifeguards drowned. May-Ann says that these ghosts haunt the club now, and while most of the people don’t believe her they all get a little freaked when the door to the room opens and no one is there. But then someone is there, another lifeguard who says he’s Spencer Brown and his ride was late. Lindsay is convinced that she recognizes him, and when she says hi he kind of balks, but then says he recognizes her too. Then Pete arrives and FINALLY, and adult presence. He asks Danny if he’s assigned rooms to everyone yet, and Danny says he has. But he also says that Lindsay is here and she isn’t on the list. Pete doesn’t remember her either, and asks her when they talked. She doesn’t remember. Pete thinks it’s weird that he doesn’t remember her either, but he says that since she’s passed her tests she can be alternate lifeguard, and Danny says she can bunk with May-Ann. While Deirdre and Cassie fight about assignments (but they’re really fighting about Pug because Deirdre likes him for some reason but be likes Cassie), Lindsay is relieved she can stay, but realizes she doesn’t remember ANYTHING about Spencer.

Cut to Mouse talking to Terry (aka talking into an off the hook phone as a busy signal no doubts shrills). Mouse asks Terry if they should kill their roommate first. After all, everything Mouse is doing is for Terry.

giphy
(source)

Over dinner Danny is jealous that Pug is getting all the attention from the ladies, Cassie is insisting upon building a fire even though it’s the dead of summer, and Lindsay is obsessing. She asks Spencer if he was the lifeguard when the kid drowned that past summer, but he says he wasn’t even on the property at that time and it sounds like he’s really worried about liability or something. She asks him if he has seen the ghosts, and he seems confused, but May-Ann insists they’re real. May-Ann is pretty much me as a tween and I really love her for that. Cassie screams and says she sees a ghost, but she’s just joking, which pisses May-Ann off and she storms out of the dining room. Danny asks his team to lay off May-Ann but no one seems to want to listen except Lindsay, who says it was her fault for asking Spencer about it. Soon Pug and Spencer are taking out the tried and true dick measuring contest by arm wrestling, and as Pug is pressing against Spencer’s arm there’s a huge CRACK sound. Spencer looks like he’s about to lose it, but SURPRISE, it was just Cassie breaking a piece of kindling! What a character! Everyone laughs as Spencer tries to stop his heart from beating through his ribcage, and he says that he would have won had Cassie not scared him. Pug then stuffs Arnie in a wastebasket and that’s the end of the night. When Lindsay goes back to her and May-Ann’s room to see if she’s okay, May-Ann isn’t there. Then a lame cliffhanger moment happens (more on that later) that establishes that May-Ann REALLY likes mice…. I smell seafood. Red herring, specifically.

Mouse POV again. Mouse is now telling Terry that everyone laughed at them tonight and that just won’t do. Revenge, Terry, killing, blah blah blah.

On Lindsay’s life guard shift the next day she’s lamenting her sunburn and noticing that Cassie and Pug have officially hooked up. Lindsay notices May-Ann getting all primped and asks her if she’s going out, but May-Ann doesn’t answer. Later that night, Lindsay is awakened from sleep by a voice outside the door of someone calling for help. May-Ann heres it too and they go to investigate, worried that someone is hurt or in danger. But NAH, it’s just Cassie and Pug again, playing a pretty dumb and reckless trick on them. Cassie gives May-Ann crap for thinking that she was a ghost, and hey Cassie, maybe she thought that you were someone in actual need of help? May-Ann tells her that she’ll be sorry, and rushes to her room crying.

At breakfast the next day Cassie has told everyone about her dumb prank and they tease Lindsay as she eats. She leaves for her shift before she can see what they do to May-Ann, and so much for roommate solidarity! While on her shift she notices all the ladies in the pool fawning over Pug and Cassie looking mad about it. After Artie relieves Lindsay she runs into Spencer, who is doing a great impression of a privileged rich woman who gave him a tip of twenty five cents and told him to put it towards his college fund, and if THAT doesn’t still sting I don’t know WHAT does. She tries to figure out how she knows him, as she still can’t remember, but he runs off before she can prod him. Later, she wakes up in the middle of the night, and sees May-Ann is missing. It’s so hot in the room she decides to go for a midnight swim in the pool. But when she goes outside, she sees the floating girl again! She doesn’t hesitate and jumps in, hoping to save her. But when she pulls her up, the girl’s face is HER FACE! It whispers ‘I’m Lindsay’, and then starts to decompose until it’s just a skull. Then Lindsay wakes up. Yep, it was just a dream. But May-Ann is still not in bed AND now there is another voice calling Lindsay’s name. Lindsay wonders if it’s May-Ann, and decides to follow it. She eventually winds up in the dining hall, and someone has built a HUGE fire in the fireplace. And…. in the fireplace… IS CASSIE! FACE FIRST! Lindsay pulls her out but yeah, it’s far too late, the girl’s face has been burned off. So now we know that Cassie was sultry, mean spirited, and decidedly NOT the Dragon.

giphy-1
And for anyone interested, yes, I STILL Stan the hell out of Dany and almost all Targaryens and I’m NOT SORRY! (source)

The police arrive and start questioning everyone. Officer Malone asks Lindsay why she was in the dining room in the middle of the night, and Lindsay says she heard a voice, and Malone seems to be suspicious. Eventually the cops tell everyone they can go back to bed. May-Ann reiterates that someone dies every summer, and Danny thinks that she is smiling a little too much.

Mouse again. Mouse tells Terry that they killed one of the lifeguards and that they’ll let Terry know when they kill again. Yawn.

A couple days later Lindsay is trying not to think about the horribly mutilated body she found or the fact that the cops seemed suspicious of her. She then realizes that she hasn’t talked to her parents at all since she arrived, which is odd because USUALLY they’re all about communication. So she goes to her room and calls her number…. But the number is out of service. She tries again and again, but still no connection. She even tries calling information, but there is no one in Shadyside listed under her parents names. Thinking something is terribly wrong, she decides to drive down to Shadyside that day and see if they’re okay. Danny gives her permission to go, and she’s off. By the time she makes it to her home on Fear Street she’s in a panic. But she sees a woman through the screen door and bounds up the steps, relieved to see her Mom… but it isn’t her Mom, it’s a random woman. Lindsay says her family lives her, and the woman says there has to be a mistake. When Lindsay drops her name, the woman suddenly looks like she could pass out. She then informs Lindsay that Lindsay Beck is DEAD.

Understandably distraught, Lindsay returns to the country club and feels the need to find clues as to what the FUCK is going on. She sneaks into Pete’s office and finds her file. But when she opens it, she does see her status as ‘deceased’. There is also a newspaper clipping that details Lindsay Beck as drowning at the Country Club pool two years ago. LINDSAY IS THE DEAD LIFEGUARD.

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It’s a little early for this kind of reveal, and also I don’t think ghosts can get sunburns. (source)

Mouse again. Mouse hasn’t been talking to Terry for awhile because they’ve been so busy with their lifeguard duties. But don’t worry, they are still working on killing them all, they just have their tan to think about as well.

Two days after Lindsay’s trip to Shadyside she’s stewing and refusing to believe she’s dead. While Pug and Artie continue to display preenings of toxic masculinity by rough housing and sniping at each other, May-Ann tries to bring up the ghost talk again. Then Pug turns his unchanneled and unhealthy anger her way, and starts yelling at her (and if you think he’s still traumatized about Cassie, I can assure you he’s not; he’s already flirting with other girls). As everyone starts yelling at each other Arnie suggests that he and Lindsay go get some air. Lindsay agrees, but before long Arnie is shoving her up against a tree and trying to kiss her, and HOLY SEXUAL ASSAULT. Spencer then comes up the path and pulls Arnie off of her, and Arnie rushes off. Lindsay thanks him and they get to talking. She tries again to ask him if he can tell her anything about their friendship, and he evades the questions. He tells her that she left so suddenly that they didn’t have time to get to know each other, and then won’t tell her what that means.

The next day Lindsay is on duty, and we have a particularly cringey moment where Arnie comes up and tells her that he’s sorry about the night before, but that he’s not a bad guy, he just made a mistake. To make it even worse, Lindsay concedes that she may have ‘overreacted’, and I could have thrown my smartphone in disgust when I read this. Arnie then asks her if she wants to go on a date, and she turns him down. And he keeps pushing because GUYS, HE IS A PREDATOR. She doesn’t have to answer as he’s called away, and then Lindsay notices a woman staring at her. The woman says she recognizes her and asks her how she’s doing, but looks shocked to see her. Lindsay wants to yell at her that she is, in fact, alive, but the woman rushes off.

Dinner that night is tense, and while trying to take a walk to settle her mind Lindsay sees Pug and May-Ann arguing by the weight room, with May-Ann telling him to keep his big mouth shut. Is he about to reveal that he knows she’s a killer, or is it perhaps that he’s just a creepazoid asshole who has been picking on her ever since they arrived? Regardless of what it’s about, Lindsay can’t catch all the details, and Deirdre comes up behind her and bitches about how Pug is now hitting on May-Ann. Lindsay doesn’t think they’re romantically involved, as May-Ann has better taste than that I’m sure (projecting? Maybe). But then she sees them walk off together with his arm around her shoulders. Lindsay goes back to her room and tries her parents once more, but still nothing. She doesn’t think she’s dead, but also doesn’t know WHAT is going on. She falls asleep, but wakes up in the middle of the night again, and AGAIN May-Ann isn’t in the room. But that voices outside the door is back, and it tells Lindsay to follow. So, like a dummy, she does, and it eventually takes her to the weight room. And LO AND BEHOLD, there is Pug, and his windpipe has been crushed by a barbell! And then Lindsay turns around and sees Pete in the doorway!

The police come again, and Pete says that he found Lindsay standing over Pug’s body. Lindsay notices a spider crawling into Pug’s nose (YUCK). They all go to the common room for questioning, and Officer Malone really starts to press Lindsay about the voice she heard, and Lindsay shouts at her that she must think that Lindsay killed Pug! Always a good strategy, going apeshit on the police. Officer Malone says Lindsay needs to calm down, and when another officer asks her why she looks so familiar Lindsay wants to yell that she’s a ghost of a girl who died a couple years ago. Which also wouldn’t be sound, strategy wise. Lindsay then overhears May-Ann saying that she believes Lindsay, but also saw Lindsay looking at her and Pug right before Pug died with a strange look on her face.

MOUSE AGAIN. Bragging about Pug, saying they have the next target in mind, etc etc etc.

A few nights later Lindsay can’t take it anymore. While the police think that someone broke onto the property and killed Cassie and Pug, Lindsay feels like everyone thinks that she did it. She asks Danny to borrow his car keys and just decides to drive. Unfortunately, Arnie hid in the back seat, and when she confronts him about this unacceptably creepy behavior he said that he wanted to cheer her up. He tells her that he doesn’t think that she’s a killer, but then starts to put his hands on her again. She pulls over, gets out, goes around the car, opens his door, and DEMANDS that he get the FUCK out or else she’s going to flag down a car and call the police on his entitled, disgusting ass.

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HELL YEAH, LINDSAY! (source)

Lindsay gets back to the club and everyone is poolside. Danny is happy that she’s back okay, and she tells him that she left Arnie on the side of the road. They tell Lindsay to get in her swim suit and join them, and she agrees. They’re all having fun, until May-Ann pushes Deirdre into the pool. Deirdre is fine, but Lindsay starts to scream. When they all rush to her side, she says that she’s NOT Lindsay!! Her name is Marissa and she KILLED Lindsay! Well, kind of. She and Lindsay were lifeguards at the pool two years prior, and were thick as thieves. But one day they got in a petty argument by the pool and it turned physical. Marissa shoved Lindsay a little too hard, and Lindsay fell in the pool in just the right way that she hit her head on the concrete, cracking her skull open. Marissa was so traumatized she assumed Lindsay’s personality, unable to believe she was dead. She went to a mental hospital for a few months, but was discharged and everything was okay. But then she ran away and began thinking she was Lindsay again, which is how she came back here. Spencer asks her why she killed Cassie and Pug, and Marissa says that she didn’t, or at least doesn’t remember doing it. Spencer suggests that she blocked it out. But then Marissa remembers something. When they met up each other this summer, he did in fact say that SHE was Lindsay. He says that he didn’t realize that her name wasn’t Lindsay as he didn’t really know her and got confused since that summer was such a blur. Without questioning any of this Marissa decides she needs to call her parents. So she goes to Pete’s office. But when she gets there the phone is ringing. She answers, and the woman on the line says that she needs to explain why her son Spencer hasn’t shown up for his lifeguard job. Marissa is shocked but listens. Spencer was MURDERED!!!

Marissa goes to confront ‘Spencer’, and he says that the real Spencer HAD to die, because he HAD to be a lifeguard to avenge Terry. Folks, Spencer is Mouse. And now Marissa remembers. Mouse and Terry were kitchen staff, and Marissa and the other lifeguards would look down on them because they weren’t lifeguards. They made Mouse and Terry do dives and laps and hold their breath, but then told them that they couldn’t actually certify them. and Terry was SO distraught about this that instead of actually looking into how to get certified, he KILLED himself. Now Mouse is going to kill Marissa because 1) she was mean to them, and 2) she knows too much about Spencer and his involvement in Cassie and Pug’s deaths. Spencer also admits that he was the one who lured Marissa out both nights that Cassie and Pug were killed, as he realized she didn’t remember who she was and that he could make her the perfect patsy. He then drags her to the pool and starts to hold her head under the water. She pretends that she’s lost all her breath, but then pulls him in as well. They struggle, but then it’s my girl May-Ann to the rescue! She jumps in and helps subdue Mouse! Then the others all show up and help hold Mouse down while they call authorities. Marissa explains everything, and May-Ann explains that the reason she wasn’t in the room those nights was that she and Pete were sneaking around (HE’S TWENTY, SHE’S A MINOR, INAPPROPRIATE!). That was what she and Pug were arguing about. Lindsay says that she needs to go call her parents to tell them that she’s okay. The End.

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Hopefully the rest of their summer looks more like this. (source)

Body Count: 2! From a face in a fireplace to a graphic description of a spider crawling into a dead guy’s nasal cavity, these were pretty nutty deaths to be had!

Romance Rating: 1. There wasn’t really any romance in this one outside of Pug hopping from girl to girl.

Bonkers Rating: 7. The forgotten identity was a fun twist that was executed pretty well!

Fear Street Relevance: 2. Lindsay/Marissa mentions living on Fear Street, but all the action is in a beach town forty miles away.

Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:

“I started toward the phone, but stopped when I saw Mary-Ann’s dresser top. ‘Ohh!’ I let out a low cry as my eyes tried to focus in the dim light.

The dresser was crawling with mice!”

…. But it’s just mouse figurines that Mary-Ann has collected over the years in the most heavy handed misdirection ever.

That’s So Dated! Moments: Sadly this book didn’t have many moments that stand out as dated. Sure, one could say that an Internet search could have been beneficial, but that could be said for most of the “Fear Street” books.

Best Quote:

“Cassie and Deirdre both came on to Pug all through dinner. I admit it, I was turning as green as the steamed spinach that no one touched. I’m the big cheese, after all, the main guy. Those girls were supposed to come after MY bod!”

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Me trying to discern if I love or hate this quote with all my heart. (source)

Conclusion: “The Dead Lifeguard” actually held up from my youth and felt like a fun way to start the summer! I remember liking it as a kid and I was entertained as an adult. Up next we start our final “Fear Street” Trilogy, with “The Betrayal”. 

 

Highlights: June 2019

We’ve had a bit of a chilly start to this summer, but even so we are looking forward to warm weather, outdoor activities, and the grilling of delicious foods. Summer is here! And along with a new season, we have some new book titles that we’re looking forward to!

Serena’s Picks

42201395Book: “Sorcery of Thorns” by Margaret Rogerson

Publication Date: June 4, 2019

Why I’m Interested: I really enjoyed “An Enchantment of Ravens.” For me, it had the perfect balance of a solid fairytale, a sweet romance, and some really humorous dialogue between its main characters. So I’m really excited to see another book by this author! And what’s more, it’s about warrior librarians! Obviously that’s going to peak my interest. I also have to point out that whomever they have hired for the cover art for both of these books is firing on all cylinders. I love both of these covers so much, and even without previous knowledge of the author, this cover would have been enough to get me to pick it up at a library or a bookstore.

40696990Book: “Fray” by Rowenna Miller

Publication Date: June 4, 2019

Why I’m Interested: There’s going to be a theme here, because this is another book that follows one I really enjoyed previously. “Torn” was an interesting political fantasy novel, delving into some pretty complex issues dealing with income inequality and political systems within a fantasy realm. The story was rather long and could be slow at points, but it also dealt with some complicated economic and class-based topics in the midst of it all. I enjoyed the main character and am willing to be more sold on the romance at its heart. I also am curious to see how the complicated brother/sister relationship will play out.

40042001Book: “Shadow & Flame” by Mindee Arnett

Publication Date: June 4, 2019

Why I’m Interested: Yes, yes, another sequel! No debut authors/series this month for me. I very much enjoyed “Onyx & Ivory” and wasn’t quite sure when it ended whether or not there was going to be a sequel, even though it definitely seemed to be setting up for one. So I was thrilled when I saw that this was scheduled for release this June. I’m excited to see where the author takes things from here, now that the views on magic are beginning to change and a villain is now at larger (rather than the general, societal conflict that took up much of the first book’s plot). I also enjoyed the romance quite a lot in the first book. It’s always nice to see new versions of romance other than the enemies-to-lovers one we see so often. And this series features the second bloom romance, a rarity indeed.

Kate’s Picks

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

Publication Date: June 4, 2019

Why I’m Interested: I admittedly haven’t read anything by Jean Kwok, but I’ve been wanting to pick up “Girl in Translation” for years. So when “Searching for Sylvie Lee” ended up in the blog mail, I was pretty damn excited to pick it up (and made a serious mental note to finally read “Girl in Translation”, dammit). Part immigrant family story, part mystery, the oldest daughter of a Chinese immigrant family, Sylvie, disappears after going to visit a relative in the Netherlands. Her younger sister, Amy, is desperate to track down her last known location, and goes on a mission to find out where Sylvie has gone. But on her journey she uncovers family secrets, lies, and the push and pull of identity. It sounds heavy, but I’m very excited to read it.

42190273Book: “The Last House Guest” by Megan Miranda

Publication Date: June 18, 2019

Why I’m Interested: While I will own up to the fact that I didn’t really care for “All the Missing Girls”, I did enjoy Megan Miranda’s YA novel “Fragments of the Lost”. So given that I feel like I need to pull a best two out of three scenario, I have put Miranda’s newest book “The Last House Guest” on my to read list! Sadie and Avery have a close friendship in spite of their townie and rich vacationer relationship that is seen so often in a New England coastal town. But when Sadie is found dead and it’s ruled a suicide, Avery is devastated. It doesn’t help that the townspeople, including Sadie’s detective brother, blame her. But Avery thinks that things aren’t as clear cut as they seem, and decides that not only is she going to clear her name, she’s going to find out what happened to her friend. I’m intrigued by the girl friendships and the small town mystery!

40201006Book: “I’ll Never Tell” by Catherine McKenzie

Publication Date: June 1, 2019

Why I’m Interested: You take a summer camp, a group of siblings with shady motives, and a dead girl, and you mix it all up to make a literary cocktail that I absolutely need to read. So I was absolutely interested when I heard about “I’ll Never Tell” by Catherine McKenzie. Twenty years ago, camper Amanda Holmes washed up on the shores of Camp Macaw in a rowboat, dead with a head wound. Though it was clear it was murder, there wasn’t enough evidence to charge anyone with a crime. Now, the camp’s owners have died, and their now adult children are hoping to sort out the inheritance and walk away, even though they have different ideas of what to do with the camp. And when the will is read, the siblings realize that unloading the camp, in any way it may be, won’t be so easy, because Amanda’s death is still unsolved, and it has to be wrapped up. But the siblings may have secrets of their own, and may have reason to leave it unsolved. I will take duplicitous family relationships AND summer camp shenanigans any day of the week, so I’m VERY excited to read this book!

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

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

363403Animorphs #50: “The Ultimate”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, February 2001

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

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

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

Narrator: Cassie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Favorite Quote: 

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

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

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

______

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

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

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

Scorecard: Yeerks 15, Animorphs 17

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

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

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

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

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

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

Publishing Info: Self Published, June 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reader’s Advisory:

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

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