Serena’s Review: “Stormcaster”

33816845Book: “Stormcaster” by Cinda Williams Chima

Publishing Info: HarperTeen, April 2018

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

Book Description: The empress in the east—the unspeakably cruel ruler whose power grew in Flamecaster and Shadowcaster—tightens her grip in this chilling third installment in the series.

Vagabond seafarer Evan Strangward can move the ocean and the wind, but his magical abilities seem paltry in comparison to Empress Celestine’s. As Celestine’s bloodsworn armies grow, Evan travels to the Fells to warn the queendom of her imminent invasion. If he can’t convince the Gray Wolf queen to take a stand, he knows that the Seven Realms will fall. Among the dead will be the one person Evan can’t stand to lose.

Meanwhile, the queen’s formidable daughter, Princess Alyssa ana’Raisa, is already a prisoner aboard the empress’s ship. Lyss may be the last remaining hope of bringing down the empress from within her own tightly controlled territory.

Previously Reviewed: “Flamecaster” and “Shadowcaster”

Review: This book came out last spring, and yet I’m reviewing it almost six months later. Part of this is due to the way my library holds list played out, and the other part of it almost seems reflective about my attitude towards this series. I just don’t know what to expect anymore, and so, I delay. I loved the original series that was prequel to this one, but that love hasn’t translated well, at least not consistently or evenly. I wasn’t a huge fan of “Flamecaster,” and while “Shadowcaster” was an improvement, it still didn’t reach the highs of the originals. What makes these feelings all the more clear in hindsight is the fact that when I started this book, it took me forrrreeevveerr to remember the details of the story or who some of these characters even were. Not a good sign. And, while I did like this one more than the fist book in the series, I’m also starting to accept the fact that, as a whole, this series might just not be my jam.

Per the usual with the books in this series now, the story opens in the past, then catches up to events that were occurring to other characters during the present of the period that made up the first book and much of the second, and then finally catches up to the last portion of the second book and moves forward. Confusing? A bit. The timeline jumping didn’t help with my general disconnectedness from the larger narrative. Our newest member to the ever-growing cast of characters is the titular stormcaster, Evan Strangward, a character we met briefly in the first book as a pirate who delivered the dragon, Cas, that Jenna has paired up with. (Another example of my confusion and lack of memory of this series: I absolutely did not remember this at all until it was literally pointed out on the page much later in the book. I thought this was a completely new character for most of it. So…yeah, that says a lot, I think). Evan has his own motives and connections to the villainous Empress across the sea, and teams up with other familiar characters. Meanwhile, we check in briefly with our other main characters, including Jenna/Cas, Lyss, Adrian, Lila, Hal, etc etc.

Look, I’ll just say it: there are too many characters for this series to handle well. At this point, Jenna, our main character from the first book and a girl with a literal dragon best friend, has only gotten about 3-4 chapters in the last two books. Adrian, the son of Raisa, was almost gone completely from the second book, but gets a bit more here. Hal and Lila have their own roles to play, and Lyss finally shows up about halfway through the book, but it’s all just too little too late. For one, there are simply too many characters to feel equally invested in them all. This will inevitably lead readers to forming preferences and then facing disappointment in one book or another when those characters have to be pushed to the side to fit in all of the other characters that have been introduced. For two, trying to juggle this large cast while sticking with a reasonable page length leads to corners being cut as far as character development goes. Most particularly, the romance suffers.

This series insists on pairings all of its characters up, and so far I’ve only really been able to buy into one of these relationships, the between Lyss/Hal. And objectively, this is likely due to my preference for Lyss as a character rather than any particular strength of this relationship on its own. Adrian and Jenna suffered from an extreme case of instalove, and we saw another version of that here in the relationship formed between Evan and Destin. One of the biggest strengths of the first series was the slow-burn/development of its main romantic pairing that took place over four entire books. Because this series has so many characters and adds more in each book, every single romantic pairing suffers, if not in the beginning (like the cases of instalove), then as the story progresses (like Lyss and Hal who in this book spend the entire time on opposite sides of the world.)

The story itself also suffers for this large cast. The action often feels reduced and stunted because the book must jump around so often to cover what is happening to everyone in their own little corners. And then in this book in particular, the “big confrontation” that comes towards the end felt a bit subdued and predictable. There were a few exciting moments in it, but ultimately, in an epic fantasy series, it felt more like a small action scene that should have happened in the middle of some book, rather than the grand finale of the third in the series.

There were a few things that still intrigued me here. I still very much enjoy Lyss as a character and was very pleased when she finally turned up. It was good to hear (and see!) more from the Empress and what her motivations/plans are. There are also a few neat scenes where various characters meet up with each other for the first time, and that was particularly enjoyable.

However, ultimately this series is starting to fall prey to what I call “Game of Thrones” syndrome where the concept has started to kill what might have been good originally. Namely, too many characters and POV switches don’t always help a series and can often prove to be detrimental, especially as they continue to build and eventually start overwhelming the story itself. An author is so busy catching up with a million different people and POVs that the story itself begins to feel lost. At this point, I will still finish off this series, but I feel pretty confident that unless there’s a major turn-around in the last book, this won’t be going down as as much of a favorite as its predecessor series.

Rating 6: Stumbles under the weight of its own increasing cast size.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Stormcaster” isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists for some reason, but it is on “2018 – Sequels.”

Find “Stormcaster” at your library using WorldCat.

 

A Revisit To Fear Street: “All Night Party”

842654Book: “All Night Party” (Fear Street #43) by R.L. Stine

Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, 1997

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

Book Description: It’s Cindy’s birthday, and her friends are throwing her a surprise party on Fire Island. It’s a private party — no parents, no cops…in fact, no one around for miles. 

Except there’s a madman loose on the island. A murderer who quietly crashes the party. And he wants to dance with the birthday girl…

Had I Read This Before: No.

The Plot: New girl Gretchen is driving her minivan with her newly acquired friends Patrick, Gil, Hannah, and Jackson. Gretchen moved to Shadyside about few months back, but this group of friends really welcomed her into the fold. Now they’re driving to their friend Cindy’s house, who is having a birthday that week. Since her parents have left town on a business trip, this group of friends has decided to kidnap her for the night and take her to Fear Island for an all night party. Gretchen is a little distracted because she’s been getting weird hang up calls, and she wonders if it’s been Jackson, the one person in the group she doesn’t know too well, and who therein gives her ‘the creeps’. They arrive at Cindy’s house, find the spare key, and let themselves in (with Gretchen catching Jackson staring at her). They barge into Cindy’s room, and she protests as they tie a blindfold around her eyes, but she should thank her lucky stars that they didn’t gag her with a giant jawbreaker lest that become a problem later. But there is a problem, because Patrick pulls out a gun and presses it into Cindy’s side. When Gretchen and Hannah start yelling at him, he tells them that it isn’t loaded or anything, he thought it would make the kidnapping look ‘more realistic’. After he puts the gun away, they tell Cindy they’re taking her to an all night birthday party, and she seems to forget about the gun that was until a few seconds ago jammed in her side. We’re in for a doozy here, folks.

Once they’re in the minivan Cindy asks if she can take the blindfold off but the others say no. She whines a bit, and Hannah seems annoyed. Gretchen hasn’t quite mapped out the complicated landscape that is Hannah and Cindy’s friendship, as they seem to be more like bitter enemies than friends, but hey, sometimes that’s how high school is. What makes matters more complex is that Gil is Hannah’s boyfriend, but up until recently he’d been going out with Cindy until Cindy dumped his ass. Hannah, there are so many issues with this. Gretchen asks Patrick why he brought the gun, and he is hesitant to tell them lest is ruin their fun night’, but after prodding he tells them his motivation. His father is a police officer living in Waynesbridge, and while he was visiting Patrick that day he told him that a convicted killer escaped from prison and had been spotted in the Fear Street Woods. His Dad gave him the gun for protection in case they run into the killer on Fear Island. Gretchen is more concerned about the fact he ruined the surprise than the potential killer on the loose. Cindy asks what this guy did, and Patrick tells them that he murdered three teenage girls. They all argue about whether they should change their plans, but Cindy says that the guy probably wants to get out of dodge so why would he go to Fear Island. Most of the others agree, though Hannah and Gretchen are reticent, for pretty okay reasons, but they arrive at the dock and all jump in a boat to row out to the island. Cindy complains about being cold since she left her coat in the car, and Gil gives her his and says that he could ‘warm her up’ in other ways, and poor Hannah is angry about this, of course. Patrick then jokes that he sees a shark because I guess he thinks they’re on Lake Zambezi or some shit. Cindy asks if Gretchen’s boyfriend Marco is coming, and Gretchen gets tense. Marco is your typical bad boy with long hair and a motorcycle, but Gretchen has realized that bad boys generally don’t give a shit about the ladies who want to save them and thinks she may need to break up with him. Suffice to say, she didn’t invite him to the party.

They land on the island and Gretchen runs ahead to light the candles on the cake. Jackson offers to walk with her and she is SO CREEPED OUT by the offer (after all it’s not like there’s the potential for a crazy person who kills women to be on the island or anything) she says no. She walks into the cabin, but the lights won’t turn on. She starts into the cabin to try and find a candle, but then someone grabs her in the darkness! She screams, convinced the killer has her, but no, it’s something that in some ways is worse: it’s Marco. She yells at him for scaring her since there’s a killer on the loose, but given that Patrick’s Dad told him to keep it quiet Marco couldn’t have known that. And I guess it was Gretchen’s Mom who narced on her and told him where she was, and he thought it would be fun to surprise her so he hid his boat and waited at the cabin. The others arrive and Cindy is so excited to see Marco. Gretchen sets up candles all around the room and they get the cake all lit, ready to celebrate her birthday. Cindy says that she’ll remember it as long as she lives, and it’s heavily implied that that may not be as long as she thinks….

Gretchen still is creeped out by Jackson who isn’t saying much but is watching the others. She thinks he’s studying them, and he says he’s going to build a fire for the hotdogs. Gretchen and Hannah go into the kitchen to prepare the dinner, and Hannah asks her why Marco is there. Gretchen tells her about her narc Mom, and they agree that hopefully Gretchen can just avoid him. They bring the food out and start roasting. Cindy and Gil continue to flirt, and when Hannah tries to exert her authority as girlfriend Cindy reminds her that she and Gil dated for SIX months while Hannah has only been with him for one. Hannah rushes to the kitchen, and Gretchen follows her. She asks Hannah if she’s upset that Gil is flirting with Cindy (as she would have every RIGHT to!), but Hannah says that Cindy is an even bigger dick than that. Apparently Hannah tried to win a scholarship that would have made it possible for her to go to college, but when Cindy heard that Hannah wanted it SHE applied, and SHE won. The kicker is that Cindy’s family already has more than enough money to send her to college, and Cindy didn’t need the scholarship. Hannah says that sometimes she wishes that Cindy was dead, and when Gretchen says that she doesn’t mean that, Hannah replies with ‘don’t I?’

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Like most overshadowed besties, Hannah is feeling the swells of rebellion within her. (source)

They go back into the main room just in time for Cindy to open her gifts and be a totally ungrateful bitch about all of them, making snarky commentary about all of them. The earrings from Gretchen are ‘great’, but the perfume from Hannah ‘makes her break out’. The rock concert tickets from Gil and Jackson are met with neutrality (ROCK CONCERT TICKETS ARE NOT CHEAP, GIRL), and she doesn’t care that Patrick didn’t wrap his gift so he will give it to her later. Marco’s box of slasher movies (LOL) is met with derision. They put on the music and Gretchen tries to get out of dancing with Marco but he won’t take no for an answer. As they dance she watches Gil and Hannah dance, and sees Cindy glaring at them. She dumped Gil because he and his friends stole a car and Cindy’s parents were livid, so Cindy broke it off. Now it seems she’s having second thoughts. Gretchen notices Jackson looking at her, and she gets freaked out again. She says that she’s going to gather fire wood, and Hannah and Gil say that they will join her on their way to look at the stars at the dock (though Gil and Cindy continue to openly flirt). After they part ways, Gretchen gathers some wood and starts to return, but under the kitchen window she hears arguing. It’s definitely Cindy, and Gretchen is convinced that the male voice is Jackson. She then hears a slap, and wonders if she should go intervene, but remembers that Patrick and Marco are inside and they can do so. She decides to take more time alone in the woods, and is scared by Marco again. She is pissed, because he now knows about the prisoner, but he tells her to lighten up. She then dumps his ass, and he takes out his switchblade and starts stabbing a tree with it. He then walks back towards the cabin, and she for whatever reason tries to talk to him, but he isn’t interested.

They get back to the cabin and find it basically empty. Marco suggests that everyone else went for a walk and sits and sulks by the fire place. Gretchen goes to set up the dessert, but when she enters the kitchen she finds CINDY DEAD ON THE FLOOR, STABBED TO DEATH AND SPRAWLED IN FLOUR. She pukes, and then runs into the main room, where Marco holds her as she screams. Patrick comes upstairs asking what happened, and then Gretchen notices the blood on his shirt! She asks him how he got it, and he says he cut his palm trying to open an upstairs window, and shows her his bandaged hand. Marco goes to investigate, and Patrick stays with Gretchen in the main room. He says that it must be the escaped prisoner. Gil and Hannah come back, and Gretchen tells them what happened. Gretchen says that they have to call the police, but Patrick says that they can’t. When Gretchen asks why he hugs her and says that there are no phones on Fear Island. Gretchen says they can row back to shore, but a rain storm has started and Patrick says that the killer is outside and it’s not safe. He reminds them that they have the gun, as he did bring bullets. Then Jackson comes back with more firewood, and when they tell him what happened he doesn’t react in the histrionic way everyone else has, so Gretchen is IMMEDIATELY suspicious. Patrick says that they have to wait until tomorrow, and when they don’t come back their parents will wonder where they are and send the police after them. This is stupid as hell, but the others agree. They search the house to make sure the killer isn’t inside, and decide to wait it out.

But Gretchen thinks that she sees something outside, and HAS to investigate. She goes outside, and then Jackson is next to her, scolding her for going out on her own when there is a potential killer in the woods. They go back inside, and Gretchen thinks about the fight he had with Cindy that she overheard. After the others come back into the room, Marco says that he has questions for Patrick, because he didn’t see any blood on the window sill. Patrick says he cleaned it all up. Gretchen starts to fall into a paranoid spiral, thinking of all the motives those around her could have had for killing Cindy. After all, Hannah lost the scholarship and Gil was still interested in Cindy, and then there’s Jackson, who is just CREEPY. She decides to focus on him, and brings up the argument she heard. Jackson that he didn’t argue with Cindy, and Gretchen is adamant that she heard him. He says it wasn’t him, and is she calling him a liar? Patrick says that he was outside so it couldn’t have been him, and everyone else has alibis. Hannah keeps crying and Gil tells her to shut up because she and Cindy were fighting so how is she so sad? Hannah says that Cindy never cared about him and was only flirting with him to get back at Hannah, and GIL says that he doesn’t even like her and he liked Cindy, he was going to dump her, and he hopes the killer gets her next.

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Me as I read this book. (source)

They all eventually agree that sticking together is the best plan. Jackson wants to check the body one more time, and they all trudge into the kitchen. Gretchen then notices a baseball can in Cindy’s hand, and Cindy wasn’t wearing a cap before. It may belong to the killer! Patrick owns up to it belonging to him, and they all think that he must be the killer. He says he has no idea how Cindy got his hat, as he put it on the hook in the front room. Gretchen notices that Cindy is also wearing a jacket that isn’t hers, so maybe she grabbed it and the hat to step outside in the rain. But Marco says that there’s no reason for her to have it after unless she was trying to give a clue to who the killer is, so it has to be Patrick because of that AND the blood on his shirt. He reminds them that he has a gun, so why would he stab her with a bread knife? They ask him how he knew what she was stabbed with, and he says he saw the knife missing! They back off, saying that they’re sorry and all on edge. But then they notice a boot print in the flour on the floor. Whose boot has flour on it? Gretchen goes to check his boots. And indeed, there is flour on the sole. And guess whose does? PATRICK’S! He still claims that he didn’t do it, but the others tie him to a chair a la “The Thing”. The decide to go through his stuff, and as Gretchen is going through his backpack she finds a note! It’s from Cindy, and it says that she can’t keep their secret anymore and is going to tell her parents. Was Patrick seeing Cindy secretly? They then find a bloody break knife in his sleeping bag!!! They confront him with the evidence, but he says that there wasn’t anything going on between him and Cindy so the note has to be fake. And on top of that, WHY would he leave all this damning evidence around? He begs Gretchen to untie him because if he was the killer he wouldn’t be so careless. The others aren’t convinced, but he’s making sense to Gretchen. She lets him look at the note, and he points out that the i in her name in the note isn’t dotted with hearts, which was Cindy’s trademark (GAG ME). The compare the note to some history notes in Cindy’s bag, and while the writing looks very close, it isn’t the same. The y’s are wrong too. So someone must be framing him. They show that to Patrick, and they untie him. Also, Hannah has disappeared. Gil freaks out, worried that the killer is going to get her, and they find a note from her that says she’s too scared to stay and is bolting.

As they’re getting ready to go find Hannah, Gretchen wonders if maybe Hannah is the killer and left because she felt guilty. Then she sees Jackson staring at her. She starts to freak out, and he says that she ‘must suspect…’, but before he can finish she runs out hte door and into the night. She realizes that he’s following her, and she trips and falls down a hill (goddamn it this is so stupid). Jackson is soon on top of her, but it’s because he also fell and not because he’s attacking her. He asks why she ran and she tells him she was scared of him because he’s always staring at her, and he admits that he does that because he’s had a crush on her ever since she moved there. He was about to tell her in the cabin when she bolted. He’d planned on telling her that night because he heard her talking to Hannah and Cindy about how she wanted to dump Marco. So when Marco ended up there he got upset, and then, you know, CINDY DIED. Gretchen lets him know that she did dump Marco, but they should probably focus on not dying before they do anything about that. They start back for the cabin, and then hear Hannah screaming. Gretchen grabs a rock to use as a weapon, but when they run back inside the cabin they find the others pulling another “The Thing” kinda deal and are trying to tie Hannah up! Gil says that while they were at the dock she left him to go get a sweater, and that could have been plenty of time to kill Cindy and plant all that evidence to frame Patrick! But Hannah says that when she got back to the dock with her sweater, GIL was gone, so HE could have done it! And the accusation wheel in the sky keeps on turning. Gretchen goes to her purse to get some chapstick, but then finds a note. She reads it, and then turns to Patrick, asking him why he killed Cindy. He says that they settled this, but she holds up the note. It’s one he left her saying he’d bring stuff for the party, and it’s the same handwriting as the note they found earlier. He framed himself. And he says that maybe he did, and pulls the gun on them!

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You should have locked him in a shed like poor Wilford Brimley. (source)

So apparently Cindy found out something about his past, and she also pretended to like him but went out with Gil instead. She’d also continuously tease him and remind him about whatever he’d done. He’d planned to kill her once they made plans for the party. He almost changed his mind and tried to kiss her in the kitchen, but she laughed at him and told him that she’d never kiss him. When he tried to stop her from leaving, she slapped him. So it was PATRICK that Gretchen heard. He then stabbed her. And now he’s going to have to kill ALL OF THEM!! But before he can shoot, two deus ex machinas police officers enter the cabin! Patrick turns the gun on them but Gretchen knocks him down. The police wrestle the gun out of his hands. When asked if they are there because of the killer in the woods, the police say that they haven’t heard of such a thing. Yes, Patrick made it up. The cops are actually there because Patrick stole his Dad’s gun and he reported it. And apparently the big secret was that Patrick set a fire in Waynesbridge and he thought that Cindy knew about it. But Hannah says that Cindy didn’t know jack about Patrick, she teased him because she liked him. So the book ends with the remaining friends all together, contemplating the existentialism of life. “Party’s Over”, says Gretchen. The End.

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This was abysmal. (source)

Guys… Okay, this is just… The sheer laziness and rubber stamp plotting of this book was just flabbergasting to me. And then, THEN, to not have any kind of twist or supernatural element, to just have it be Patrick…. I can’t. I did not like this. So let’s just get this break down over with.

Body Count: 1.

Romance Rating: 3, only because Jackson and Gretchen seem to be on track for an okay relationship assuming the shared trauma of the party doesn’t ruin it.

Bonkers Rating: 2. Nothing bonkers here, just the stupidity of everyone involved. There wasn’t a supernatural element OR a huge twist!

Fear Street Relevance: 7 given that the action takes place on Fear Island and there was talk of the not real killer hiding in Fear Woods.

Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:

“Cindy ripped off the red bow and lifted the lid of the box. She peeked inside- and her mouth dropped open in disgust.

‘Ohhhh. Gross!’ she moaned.”

…. And it was just a bunch of slasher movies, and listen Cindy, if YOU don’t want them, I will take them!

That’s So Dated! Moments: Sadly, this was one of those “Fear Street” books that was so bland and sparse that there really were no details outside the plot at hand. Maybe the fact that the slasher movies were video tapes?

Best Quote: This is going to sound super harsh, but nothing about this book was good, so it goes without saying that there weren’t any ‘best’ quotes.

Conclusion: “All Night Party” was haphazard and lazy, definitely up there with the worst of the worst “Fear Street” novels. Skip it. Up next, in honor of the season, is the Fear Street Super Chiller “Silent Night”!

Highlights: December 2018

The holiday season is officially upon us! And here in Minnesota, this is the one bright side of the onslaught of cold weather and dark evenings. But between decorating, holiday parties, and an excessive amount of baked goods, we still, of course, found time to look ahead to books we want to get our hands on this month! Here are our picks for December.

Serena’s Picks

23510085Book: “Fire and Heist” by Sarah Beth Durst

Publication Date: December 4, 2018

Why I’m Interested: Other than the fact that Durst is one of the author’s whose new books I always keep an eye out for, the title alone should probably say enough. A fantasy novel featuring a heist story? After my ravings about “Six of Crows,” my love for these types of stories should come as no surprise. Here, we have a protagonist, Sky, whose entire family has a long history of stealing treasure. So much so, that one’s first heist is essentially a coming-of-age moment. And for the fantasy element, Sky is a wyvern, a human capable of turning into a dragon. So, yeah. That all sounds pretty cool and I’ll be reading it ASAP.

40130093Book: “Once Upon a River” by Diane Setterfield

Publication Date: December 4, 2018

Why I’m Interested: I think this book is technically categorized as literary fiction. But with its folklore-ish description of an inn where stories abound and where a stranger appears with a seemingly drowned girl who miraculously comes back to life hours later, it sounds like one of those genre-crossing stories that might be just up my alley. I haven’t read Setterfield’s popular “The Thirteenth Tale,” but I know people rave about it. So this book looks like just as good of an entry point to her work as any. Not to mention, that cover is absolutely to die for.

36373555Book: “Splendor and Spark” by Mary Taranta

Publication Date: December 4, 2018

Why I’m Interested: For one thing, another beautiful cover! For two, this is another of those weird examples where I’m highlighting the second book in a series when I have yet to post a review for the first. Alas, these things happen. But hopefully my review for the first will be coming shortly, and in the mean time, I’m still super excited for this sequel. At its heart, it’s a fantasy story featuring the complicated emotions between two sisters. There’s romance, magic, and intrigue. Plus a very hateable villain. I also love the fact that its a duology, so this book should conclude the story. Not everything has to be a trilogy people!

Kate’s Picks

38926467Book: “Clueless: One Last Summer” by Amber Benson and Sarah Kuhn

Publication Date: December 4, 2018

Why I’m Interested: I’m sure you all remember that “Clueless” is one of my favorite movies, and that I was pretty satisfied with the first graphic novel that was based upon it. Given that it focused the stories on Cher, Dionne, and Tai, and didn’t make their main focus romantic, I thought that it was a fun, girl power romp. So when I found out that Amber Benson and Sarah Kuhn wrote another collection, this one taking place during the summer before college, I really wanted to get my hands on it. I hope that they can keep the fun kitsch up, and that it’s another worthy follow up that showcases my personal hero and idol Cher Horowitz.

38491738Book: “Deadfall” by Stephen Wallenfels

Publication Date: December 10, 2018

Why I’m Interested: When two brothers, hiding secrets and on the run, come upon a car accident, they are hoping to help in any way they can. And then a noise starts coming from the trunk. What they find inside sends them into a situation more dangerous than they could have ever imagined. You had me at noise in the trunk. I love thrillers, especially thrillers that involve survival horror AND do-gooders trying to help only to find out that no good deed goes unpunished. It seems like it’s going to be the kind of book that I’m going to really enjoy reading on a snowy winter night.

38355282Book: “Watching You” by Lisa Jewell

Publication Date: December 26, 2018

Why I’m Interested: Lisa Jewell has kind of flown under my radar when it comes to thriller novels. I’ve seen her books at the library and on my Goodreads feed, but I haven’t as of yet picked one up by her. But “Watching You” is probably going to be the one to change that, as it sounds creepy and dark. My favorite things! A well loved head master name Tom Fitzwilliam is living in a high end neighborhood, and his new neighbor Joey has found herself very attracted to him. But one of his students, Jenna, is convinced that Mr. Fitzwilliam has secrets that he’s hiding, dangerous secrets, and that he may be a predator. It sounds like it has multiple unreliable narrators AND a weird stalker who will set my teeth on edge, which I LOVE.

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

The Great Animorphs Re-read #41: “The Familiar”

363352Animorphs #41: “The Familiar”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, May 2000

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: Jake wakes up one morning to find he is suddenly twenty-five years old, the Yeerks rule the world, all the other Animorphs are either dead or Yeerk-infested, and he alone is left to fight.

Narrator: Jake

Plot: Well…that was…a thing? Another book I had completely blocked from my memory, and another book where I completely understand why. It’s not that I hated the characterization (like a few of the dreaded Rachel books that I had also partially blocked), but, instead…

Similarly to Megamorphs 4, the story opens with a brutal fight scene. In many ways, it’s even worse than the one we saw there. Rachel goes into a beserk rage, not able to recognize her own injuries and the futility of the situation. Marco, trying to help Rachel, tells Jake to leave them behind. Which Jake does. Afterwards, when they make it all out, Cassie has a complete melt-down, questioning why they are even doing what they are doing any more. And, instead of comforting her like he typically would, Jake just walks away.

From there, the book spirals into an unexplained and unexplainable dream sequence/dystopian future/something? For the first time, I honestly don’t know how to sum up what happens because the story literally jumps from one nightmare sequence to another, with Jake often passing out in-between, and almost zero connection between one moment of horror and another. Throughout, implausibilities and inconsistencies are littered, making readers feel like some reveal is coming, and then the story just ends. So, instead of my typical beat-by-beat plot discussion, we’re resorting to bullet points, cuz frankly I don’t know how else to handle this BS.

  • Jake wakes up in a future where the Yeerks have taken over. He’s 25 years old and everyone around him thinks he’s a Controller.
  • On his way to “work,” he escapes to the ground level of New York City which is largely deserted but for roaming, almost-feral Taxxons and a new alien species called the Orffs which operate as police. He finds himself in the sewers and runs into what is essentially a homeless camp of disabled humans, Andalites, Gedds and others.
  • Back on the ground level, a building is blown up and topples. He runs into an adult Cassie who is working with her Yeerk to resist the Yeerk Empire. She claims that Jake betrayed the Animorphs by being careless which lead to them all being Controlled and Rachel dying. She enlists him to spy on a big project the Yeerks are setting in motion to turn the moon into a giant Kandrona ray.
  • At his work, Jake has a flash where everyone around him becomes zombi-fied versions of Controllers he’s killed in battle. Rat!David also shows up, scurrying around.
  • His Controlled!Dad shows up, and Jake morphs tiger. Everyone is shocked that a human can morph. He gets knocked out.
  • He wakes up to be confronted by Controlled!Marco. Cassie said Marco became Visser Two, but in their conversation, Marco says he’s Visser Three and then smiles mysteriously when Jake points out the inconsistency. Marco reveals that he has captured Cassie before he releases Jake, saying they’ll track his movements now that they know he’s connected to the Yeerk Resistance.
  • At the cafeteria (?), Jake runs into a crippled Rachel; she has lost both legs, an arm, an eye, and her vocal chords have been damaged. Jake wonders why Cassie said she was dead.
  • He gets chased by Orffs again and somehow falls through a trapdoor in the street and finds himself in a Resistance shelter where freed humans and Andalites are raising children. They say the floor doesn’t open for just anyone and that Cassie must want him to learn something. He talks to a few of the children, before making his way back to the surface through a tree.
  • On the surface, he runs into an adult Andalite that he at first thinks is Elfangor. He soon discovers it is Tobias in his Ax morph. Jake is confused because before this he had spotted an elderly red-tailed hawk flying in and out of areas and had assumed that was Tobias. They discuss the ethics of war, particularly terrorism’s role in guerrilla warfare. Tobias sends Jake to prevent the moon/Kandrona mission, dismissing Jake’s concerns about rescuing Cassie, saying one life is a sacrifice worth making in the bigger scheme of things.
  • At the Chrysler building, Jake ends up in a situation where he has to choose between saving Cassie or aborting the moon mission. He makes his choice, but we don’t know what it is.
  • He wakes up in his room to a voice, specifically mentioned to NOT be the Ellimist or Crayak, that says that he made an interesting choice and the humans will require more study. Shaken, Jake calls Cassie on the phone and asks if she is alright, saying he should have asked her the night before after the battle.

Our Fearless Leader: The plot is hot garbage, but the writer does stick true to characterization throughout. And in light of past complaints where the opposite has been true, I will give this book the smallest of props for that. Really, a large part of the problem arises with the placement of this story in the series. We had JUST come off a book that opened with a horrific battle, then focused on Jake’s feelings of hopelessness and failure, and then delved into some type of alternate reality that helped keep him on the right course. So, because of that, unfortunately, much of this felt familiar.

It was interesting that much of the internal struggle for Jake here had to do with the changes he saw in Cassie, her hardening towards warfare, and the Yeerk Resistance fighters’ use of terrorism as a combat tactic. The latter, in particular, is the type of topic we’ve perhaps briefly discussed in Cassie books, but it is given new life here what with the actual terrorism tactics being used (blowing up buildings that contain civilians) as opposed to the guerrilla warfare style of the Animorphs. That being said, some of Jake’s outrage is a bit hard to handle since the Animorphs do verge on these tactics themselves. I can think of many incidents, but the elephant/rhino beach invasion on the summit back in the David trilogy would definitely meet the definition of terrorism. However, it’s still interesting watching a character like Jake, rather than Cassie for once, grapple with these things.

Xena, Warrior Princess:  Probably the second-most recurring struggle for Jake throughout this book is his growing discomfort with his own use of Rachel. In the opening battle, he chooses to leave her and Marco behind, partly knowing that Rachel will hold Yeerks off in her battle rage. And in the alternate reality, he at first thinks that his own carelessness gets her killed and then sees that he got her maimed. Obviously, much of this is on Rachel’s character itself: she would go down fighting rather than be infested, more so than any of the others. But Jake repeatedly thinks about how he “uses” Rachel and how he has finally/will someday break her by treating her like a weapon and not a person. Dun dun DUNNN.

A Hawk’s Life: So for half the book we think Tobias is some type of spectral, old hawk that flies in and out of scenes. And then we find him as a grown-up version of Ax. Of all of them, this route for Tobias makes the most sense. We’ve seen his leadership capabilities in the past, and his choice to get himself stuck in an Andalite body over his own human one also makes sense. As an Andalite, he has natural weapons and can better participate in the ongoing fight, and we know that this has been a driving force behind his choice to remain as a hawk. He’s also the one to get into the nuts and bolts of the terrorism conversation with Jake, and, again, it is easy to imagine a Tobias who would become hardened to the point that we see here.

Peace, Love, and Animals: Cassie has the second-biggest role in this story and the most marked change of them all (can’t really count Marco since we don’t actually get to see real Marco for more than a second). Her hardened attitude seems to scare Jake more than almost anything he’s sees in this version of the future. I have mixed feelings on this. I like how it really solidifies how important Cassie’s pacifism is to Jake’s ability to balance the choices he makes in the real timeline. He depends on her to have this outlook and to pull him back from terrible things. And it’s definitely believable that Cassie would manage to talk her Yeerk around to joining up in the Resistance and establishing a partnership of sorts. So for the first half of the book, I was completely on board. But when we’re introduced to the underground safe haven where the children are being raised…that kind of messes with things. That’s the kind of hopeful, peaceful situation that would both draw Cassie into working there instead of on the streets, but also provides the type of ongoing hope that we know is important to her to keep her general outlook. With its existence, it was harder to believe in this super hardened version of Cassie.

The Comic Relief: Marco is barely in this. We get half a word from the real him about halfway through the book, and that’s about it. His fate is obviously one of the most horrible, as, miraculously, the other Animorphs are all mostly still fighting somehow. We know that the fate of the Controlled being depends on the Yeerk they end up with (as we saw with poor Tobias in the last Megamorphs books), but you also get the sense here that Controlled!Marco has risen so high in the ranks due to it being Marco and him being the smartest of the group. As I said, that doesn’t actually track, but oh well. In any state of being, Marco will be supremely, sometimes horribly, effective. It’s also worth noting that in the opening scene, Marco is the one to both stay behind to try and help Rachel out, but also the one to yell at Jake to leave them. More points to the special relationship between Rachel and Marco (also, practically speaking, his gorilla morph is the only one that can really “help” a grizzly), but also a nice scene highlighting Marco’s “clear, bright line” approach to the war. He sees the same situation that Jake does and he agrees with his unspoken assessment that he and Rachel are best left behind for the good of the group.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Is Ax even in this book? Not only is he the only one we don’t see in the future (according to Cassie he is off in space after helping take down the Andalite home world), but I don’t remember anything special from him in the initial battle either. I’m sure there was some passing references, but obviously nothing memorable.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: The zombi-fied remains of Jake’s past kills were pretty bad. It’s one of the annoying, random scenes that just inserts itself into the middle of the story for no reason, but if I try and ignore that (it’s very, VERY hard to ignore all of these random plot scenes and issues), the scene itself is brutal. It’s essentially a personification of all the horror that Jake has dealt out. Not only are there Controllers sporting obvious wounds from a tiger, but rat!David even makes a brief appearance, ready and able to remind Jake that actual killing may not have been the worst thing he’s done so far.

Couples Watch!: Jake’s relationship with Cassie is pretty much the driving force of the last half of the book. He’s obviously horrified by her hardened state and his own supposed role in the entire situation, but things really get started after Cassie gets captured and he has to choose between trying to save her or stopping the moon mission. What makes this harder for him is that everyone he talks to has a clear answer: moon mission first. Tobias, even Cassie herself, all say that one person’s life isn’t worth the results of this mission going forward. We don’t know what Jake chooses at the end, though I think it’s pretty strongly leaning towards him saving Cassie. That would also be the more interesting choice, considering the events of the last book.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: No Visser Three in this book. Though I will take this opportunity to rant about one of the many weird inconsistencies in this book: the fact that the Animorphs were all taken as Controllers (or most of them) and yet, other than Marco, they were given to nobody Yeerks and then somehow everyone forgot that they could morph. It’s so bizarre and unlikely that it just pissed me off whenever I was reminded of the fact. And, of course, the set up for the book, revealed at the end, that it’s all some mysterious experiment, gets the author off the hook for having to justify any of this nonsense.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: The scene where Marco is given a brief second of freedom from his Yeerk and is clearly so unused to it that he barely remembers how to talk on his own. Like I said earlier, his and Ax’s fates are by far the worst. We can’t really count Jake in any of this, and the rest all managed to keep fighting in one way or anther. Even Rachel’s horrible disfigurement seems better, and we all know that she’d choose that over being Controlled any day.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: I don’t even know, the plan of this entire book and whomever came up with it?

Favorite Quote: For all of its stupidity, when the book actually slows down enough to give Jake real moments to interact with those around him, we got some good stuff, like his conversation with Tobias. And this brief interlude with a kid living in the underground safe haven:

I  wondered  how I  should  answer,  how I  could explain  to  him,  without  destroying  his  spirit.

“War doesn’t  always  let you  save the  people  you know,” I said.  “You might end up being assigned to  a  mission  that  saves  people  far  away  from here.   People  you  don’t   know.   Other  people’s friends.”

He shook his head.”I’ll  save my friends first.  Then  I’ll  save other people’s  friends.”

And then there was this:

I’d  decided a while  back to give  up analyzing what  was  happening  to  me  and  why.  I’d  figured that  sanity  depended  on  accepting  the  reality  I saw,  this  dream  or  nightmare or vision.  But that didn’t mean there weren’t times when all I wanted were answers — definite, concrete answers.

This almost felt like a slap in the face, because not only was Jake forced to have this approach, but it felt like this is where the author was pretty much telling readers to not expect anything else from this entire book. Just take what you have and be happy. We’re not going to explain anything, so give up hope waiting for that and deal with it. I’m sorry, but no. There have been plenty of other nonsense story lines in this series, and I’ve went along with them all because at least there we were given even the smallest tendrils of an explanation. As implausible as those explanations were, at least the author made an effort to rationalize it all and give it meaning. Here, there was none of that. The fact that it wasn’t even the Ellimist or Crayak in the end, but some other cosmic force that is never mentioned again was just insult on top of injury.

Scorecard: Yeerks 11, Animorphs 15

I’m giving a point to the Yeerks again out of anger with this book. And for the fact that during the majority of this book they had, indeed, won.

Rating: Man, I really didn’t like this book. The characters were strong and I did like some of the larger issues they tackled (the fact that this was set in NY city, had a tower come down, discussed terrorism repeatedly, and was published about 6 months before 9/11….yikes). But as I briefly got into in the section above, I can’t forgive the sheer laziness of the story as a whole. There wasn’t even an attempt to explain why or how any of this was happening. Beyond that, we were given small moments, like Marco’s slip-up calling himself Visser Three rather than Two, that IMPLY something bigger is happening that Jake and readers should be figuring out, or at the very least, waiting for the reveal for. But nope! Nothing means anything! And then, the stupid voice at the end. Frankly, I would have been more on board had Jake just woken up and realized the whole thing was a dream. But to add in another all-powerful cosmic entity, and just drop it in like it’s nothing, explain nothing, and have nothing ever come from it again? No. That’s just crapping all over your readership because you wanted to do something wacky and didn’t care enough to come up with a way for it to work.

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

Kate’s Review: “Limetown”

30363835Book: “Limetown” by Cote Smith, Zack Akers, and Skip Bronkie

Publishing Info: Simon & Schuster, November 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: I was given an eARC by the publisher via NetGalley.

Book Description: From the creators of the #1 podcast Limetown, an explosive prequel about a teenager who learns of a mysterious research facility where over three hundred people have disappeared—including her uncle—with clues that become the key to discovering the secrets of this strange town.

On a seemingly ordinary day, seventeen-year-old Lia Haddock hears news that will change her life forever: three hundred men, women, and children living at a research facility in Limetown, Tennessee, have disappeared without a trace. Among the missing is Emile Haddock, Lia’s uncle. 

What happened to the people of Limetown? It’s all anyone can talk about. Except Lia’s parents, who refuse to discuss what might have happened there. They refuse, even, to discuss anything to do with Emile.

As a student journalist, Lia begins an investigation that will take her far from her home, discovering clues about Emile’s past that lead to a shocking secret—one with unimaginable implications not only for the people of Limetown, but for Lia and her family. The only problem is…she’s not the only one looking for answers. 

Zack Akers and Skip Bronkie are first-rate storytellers, in every medium. Critics called their podcast Limetown “creepy and otherworldly” (The New York Times) and “endlessly fun” (Vox), and their novel goes back to where it all began. Working with Cote Smith, a PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize Finalist, they’ve crafted an exhilarating mystery that asks big questions about what we owe to our families and what we owe to ourselves, about loss, discovery, and growth. Threaded throughout is Emile’s story—told in these pages for the first time ever.

Review: Thank you to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster for sending me an eARC of this book!

As the resident podcast junkie on this blog, it may be a bit surprising that until recently I hadn’t set aside time to listen to “Limetown”. For those unfamiliar, “Limetown” is a fictional thriller/supernatural podcast that is written in a “Serial”-esque format, following journalist Lia Haddock as she investigates the mysterious disappearance of an entire town population. Given that it’s totally up my alley, I don’t really know why I didn’t put it in the constant rotation of podcasts I listen to. But when I was given an invitation to read “Limetown”, the prequel novel, by Simon & Schuster via NetGalley, I decided that it was time to listen. I devoured the podcast in a couple days time, totally taken in by the mystery and the creepiness as Lia gets closer and closer to the solution, and the conspiracy, involving the town, the research it was doing, and the connection it had to her missing uncle Emile. And once I was done with that, I felt that it was time to finally read the prequel novel, hoping that it would expand upon the universe and give us some insight into the brand new Season 2.

I didn’t quite get that from “Limetown”, and I’m starting to wonder if the ever expanding media connections to podcasts is really necessary.

I’ll start with the good first, as I am wont to do. Given that the podcast “Limetown” is laid out in an investigative format, all we are seeing is what Lia Haddock, the host of the show, would have access to. Given that that narrative structure is only going to give us so much, I did like that we got to see a LOT more about Limetown within the novel. A lot of this comes from the storyline concerning Emile, Lia’s uncle who disappeared when the town population did. While the podcast does let us in on the true purpose of Limetown (spoilers: it’s a place that was being used as a research facility for psychic abilities in humans), getting to see Emile make his journey from outsider teenager to Limetown resident definitely shed some insight that we didn’t get to see otherwise. I liked Emile’s perspective and his somewhat tragic story, a person with abilities and feels on the outside of those around him. His connection to his brother Jacob (Lia’s father) is expanded upon, as is his relationship to Lia’s mother Alison. I definitely enjoyed his parts of the story. I had bigger problems with Lia’s parts. I like Lia as a character both in book and on the podcast, but within this prequel I feel like they retconned quite a bit about her character because of things she finds out in the book as opposed to what we THINK she knows in the podcast. There are certain moments and revelations within the narrative of the book that I would have THOUGHT that she would have addressed in the podcast just based on her character and her drive to find the truth, but as it is, in spite of the fact the book is definitely BEFORE the podcast, it seems that these truths either a) aren’t what they seem and the podcast is more unreliable than we thought, or b) don’t match up because of an unplanned prequel book. I’m inclined to believe the latter.

This isn’t a BAD book, and I think that fans of the podcast would definitely find things within it to like. But, much like “Welcome to Night Vale”, I’m not certain that it would stand on it’s own two feet to non-fans to intrigue them enough to bring them into the fold. Does it have to? No. But I do think that if the show wants to perhaps reach out to non-fans to build their fandom, their non-podcast media should be able to stand alone.

It’s not an unfamiliar story for a podcast to get expansions via other means of consumable content. “Welcome to Night Vale” has two books now. “Dirty John” is getting a TV adaptation with Connie Britton and Eric Bana. Julia Roberts is starring in an Amazon Prime Adaptation of “Homecoming”. And hell, even “Limetown” is getting a Facebook Watch adaptation starring Jessica Biel along with this book. It will be interesting to see how these various adaptations fare. But if they aren’t bringing in many reasons to expand, it may end up feeling a bit pointless. “Limetown” the book was fine, but I don’t see it as being essential reading.

Rating 6: While I enjoyed learning some new things about the mysterious Emile, “Limetown” didn’t feel like it expanded much on the universe at hand, and it didn’t feel like it could bring an unfamiliar person in.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Limetown” is included on the Goodreads lists “Books Based on Podcasts”, and “Podcast Books”.

Find “Limetown” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Empire of Sand”

39714124Book: “Empire of Sand” by Tasha Suri

Publishing Info: Orbit, November 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: ARC from the publisher!

Book Description: The Amrithi are outcasts; nomads descended of desert spirits, they are coveted and persecuted throughout the Empire for the power in their blood. Mehr is the illegitimate daughter of an imperial governor and an exiled Amrithi mother she can barely remember, but whose face and magic she has inherited.

When Mehr’s power comes to the attention of the Emperor’s most feared mystics, she must use every ounce of will, subtlety, and power she possesses to resist their cruel agenda.

Should she fail, the gods themselves may awaken seeking vengeance…

Review: A big thanks to Orbit for sending me an ARC of this book! I’ve been on a bit of a roll lately with fantasy stories set in desert climates, so reading the description for this one, I was quick to place a request. Unfortunately for me, while not a bad book, this one didn’t quite do it for me. My streak had to end sometime, I guess, and it was unfortunate that it had to be with this book.

Mehr has grown up straddling two worlds. In one, she is the noble daughter of an imperial governor, raised in luxury and comfort and largely protected from any tumult going on in Empire at large. In the other world, she is the bastard daughter of a mother whose people have become outcasts in their own land and who are becoming increasingly persecuted by the Emperor. Of course, these two worlds will inevitably clash, Mehr must find a way to fight for not only her own future but that of her people.

While I already noted that this book wasn’t a win for me, there were a few things that played in its favor that I want to highlight. Firstly, the setting. I still love a good desert-based fantasy novel, and this one perfectly captures the wild nature of its location and plays with usual cast of fantasy characters often found there, such as daevas. I also enjoyed the descriptions of Mehr’s Amrithi culture and the intricate dances they perform as part of their power.

And lastly, Mehr herself is a strong enough character. She’s not one that will likely stand out in my memory, but she also didn’t commit any of the cardinal sins that get my hackles up with main characters. She’s practical and level-headed (though she does make a few confusing decisions early in the book, but no one’s perfect, I guess). She also has a lovely relationship with her much younger sister. Sadly, this character and a few others that we meet early in the book pretty much disappear from the story, which is too bad.

Ultimately, I think my biggest problems with this book had to do with pacing and the odd balance that was trying to be struck between YA fantasy fiction and adult fantasy. There are elements of each in the book, and yet they never mesh together well, and what may appeal to one set feels like exactly the points of note that would ring false with others. The pacing is quite slow and the world-building, history, and politics are quite detailed. These are elements that one is more often able to find in adult fantasy. However, on the other hand, character moments and the overall story arc largely follow a pretty familiar beat-by-beat YA story. Put together, I was never able to fully engage with the book. The detail that was given to the world and history combined with the very familiar order of events left many of the “reveals” feeling predictable and lacking the excitement and thrill that one would want. Even with a few more surprises, I think the pacing itself would still have been lacking. It was just slow. There was a lot of discussion and preparation and very little action for a book that is following the now very established “weapon floating on cover” book design.

As I said, there’s nothing objectively “wrong” with this book, perhaps other than its slow nature. But even that may appeal to some readers. For me, the other elements in the story were all just…fine. And “fine” characters, “fine” romance, and “fine” magical elements just weren’t enough to boost this one up my interest scale. But fantasy readers looking for a slower-moving story that plays to its strengths with its desert setting may still want to check this one out!

Rating 6: Just kind of meh, for me, unfortunately.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Empire of Sand” is a newer title, so it isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists, but it is on “Diverse Books by Diverse Authors.”

Find “Empire of Sand” at your library using Worldcat!

Kate’s Review: “Harley & Ivy Meet Betty & Veronica”

38369243Book: “Harley & Ivy Meet Betty & Veronica” by Paul Dini, Marc Andreyko, and Laura Braga (Ill.)

Publishing Info: DC Comics, September 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: The bad girls of Gotham meet the good girls of Riverdale!

Hiram Lodge (Veronica’s father) wants to invest in the future by building a university with free tuition for Riverdale’s residents. His site is a protected swamp on the outskirts of town, and once news of the plan reaches Gotham City, a certain eco-warrior (a.k.a. Poison Ivy) is determined to prevent the dream from becoming reality.

However, once Poison Ivy and her bestie Harley Quinn arrive, they get mixed up in the sort of hijinks that can only happen in Riverdale. At a superhero-themed costume party, the night’s entertainment–Zatanna– manages to place the personas of the Gotham City Sirens into the bodies of the town’s notorious frenemies: Betty Cooper and Veronica Lodge. While Ivy (in Ronnie’s body) seeks to derail Lodge’s agenda from within, more than a few nefarious forces–from Jason and Cheryl Blossom to the Clown Prince of Crime himself–have their own foul plans.

This groundbreaking miniseries teams up two of fandom’s best-known duos, bringing the ladies of Gotham and Riverdale together for the first time! This madcap mayhem comes courtesy of Paul Dini (Harley Quinn) and Marc Andreyko (Wonder Woman ’77), with art by Laura Braga (DC Comics: Bombshells)! Collects Harley & Ivy Meet Betty & Veronica #1-6.

Review: I’ve been a long time fan of “Batman”, as you all are well aware. I also have a very special place in my heart for “Archie” comics, and not just the horror comics that have been so genius as of late. When I was a little girl I loved old school Archie adventures, and really liked following stories involving Betty and Veronica. When I saw that Paul Dini, a writer for “Batman: The Animated Series” AND one of the creators of Harley Quinn, had written a new Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy story with Marc Andreyko, I was already pretty on board. But when I saw that it was a crossover with Archie Comics, and it was ALSO going to star Betty Cooper and Veronica Lodge?

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Two of my fandoms hi fiving each other in glee! (source)

Far be it from me to disparage goofy crossovers. As a former fan fiction author I have indulged in a number of crossover stories, some of which make absolutely no sense whatsoever, and I think that amusing and fun is one of the most important elements to do it successfully. But what makes the idea of Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy meeting up with Betty and Veronica so excellent is that they are all the epitome of gal pals, in positive and negative ways. While Harley and Ivy are definitely supportive and caring friends to each other, they are morally ambiguous if we are being generous (and if we aren’t they’re straight up criminals). And while Betty and Veronica are pretty normal and functional people, they are best known for their portrayal of being frenemies all because of a boy (who is a total DUD, I might add). So to give these two sets of friends a little wiggle room to explore the depths of where their personalities can go, and therein critique their base portrayals they are pigeonholed into, is kind of genius.

Deriving a plot that is part buddy crime comedy and part “Freaky Friday”, “Harley & Ivy Meet Betty & Veronica” is really just a comedy of errors and some fun fan service for people like me. I don’t know what a Venn Diagram of people who love Harley and Ivy vs people who love Betty and Veronica would look like, but I know that as someone in the overlap I found this to be an entertaining romp. Once the full body switch happened and we got to see Betty and Veronica dealing with the hot mess that is Gotham, and Harley and Ivy letting loose at Riverdale High, I just sat back and enjoyed the ride for what it is. I liked seeing Betty and Veronica completely aghast at Gotham and the ridiculous crime it harbors, just as I liked seeing Ivy and Harley have to contend with Cheryl and Jason Blossom, a whole different kind of enemy than they are used to. There is also something incredibly satisfying about seeing Ivy and Harley have NO interest in Archie WHAT. SO. EVER. The banter and situational comedy the two sets of gal pals get into while in the body swap is entertaining to be certain, and they bring a new zest to some of the tried and true tropes of both fandoms. There are also other fun little shout outs and meet ups for members of the “Batman” and “Archie” fan bases: Sabrina Spellman getting to hang out with Zatanna was a delight, and the idea of Smithers and Alfred Pennyworth being old friends was super sweet.

The art is fun and a nice mix of both worlds. Laura Braga of “Bombshells” art fame is at the helm this time, and she has a style that kind of suits both universes. It’s chic and stylistic, but it also lends itself to superhero situations, or perhaps supervillain situations is a better description.

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(source)

But I think that one of the weaker things about this collection was that it really does read like fan fiction. That isn’t to say that this is inherently a bad thing; like I said, I used to write that stuff and still dabble even if I don’t publish it anymore, and I do like a fun nutty crossover. What I mean by that is that sometimes I felt like plot points happened less because of the plot at hand, and more because Dini and Andreyko thought ‘wouldn’t it be cool if…?’. And that tended to make for a weaker story. I’m thinking mostly about this whole strange subplot with Reggie dressing up as Joker for a party, losing his memory, and then believing that he WAS Joker. I didn’t really understand what this did outside of ‘look, it’s like The Joker is here but he isn’t actually, isn’t that FUNNY?!’ As far as I’m concerned, Joker is a little played out these days, Mark Hamill excluded. Plus, why is it that we feel like whenever there is a Harley Quinn story Joker should show up in some capacity? I am willing to give Dini a little slack here since he is Harley’s creator, but honestly, it’s not necessary and I’m starting to get sick of it. ESPECIALLY since Harley and Ivy are pretty solidly a couple in the DC verse now, and that wasn’t very clear in this, now that I think about it, which ruffles my feathers a bit. Again, Dini can get a LITTLE leeway since he’s the creator, but COME ON.

So while “Harley & Ivy Meet Betty & Veronica” was definitely a bit of fluff and fun, I had hoped that it would be more than that. It gave me joy in the moment, but I wish that it had a little more substance.

Rating 6: A cute and fun mash up of two of my favorites, but it definitely could have gone further than it did.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Harley & Ivy Meet Betty & Veronica” isn’t on many Goodreads lists but I think it would fit in on “Crossover Fiction”.

Find “Harley & Ivy Meet Betty & Veronica” at your library using WorldCat!