Serena’s Review: “Beastly Bones”

24001095Book: “Beastly Bones” by William Ritter

Publishing Info: Algonquin Young Readers, September 2015

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

Book Description: In 1892, New Fiddleham, New England, things are never quite what they seem, especially when Abigail Rook and her eccentric employer, R. F. Jackaby, are called upon to investigate the supernatural. First, members of a particularly vicious species of shape-shifters disguise themselves as a litter of kittens. A day later, their owner is found murdered, with a single mysterious puncture wound to her neck. Then, in nearby Gad’s Valley, dinosaur bones from a recent dig go missing, and an unidentifiable beast attacks animals and people, leaving their mangled bodies behind. Policeman Charlie Cane, exiled from New Fiddleham to the valley, calls on Abigail for help, and soon Abigail and Jackaby are on the hunt for a thief, a monster, and a murderer.

Review: While I didn’t fall in love with “Jackaby,” the first novel in this series, I was still intrigued enough by the things it had done right (an interesting protagonist, less known supernatural beings, and strong writing) to wish to continue on with the series. Granted, it took a while to get around to this, but I’m glad I finally did! This book brought the same strengths as the last and improved on some of my complaints and concerns as well.

Not long after the events of the first novel, Abigail is still feeling unsure about her role as an apprentice to the paranormal detective Jackaby. She has an established place in the household and has made good friends with the local ghost, Jenny, but she still feels like a failure in many regards, simply not having the necessary wealth of expertise to prove herself a useful assistant to Jackaby. So, when a case pops up in the nearby Gad’s Valley concerning a prehistoric dig, Abigail is excited to join up seeing this as an opportunity to put to use her knowledge of and passion for archeology and prove that she does have something to contribute to the team. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Charlie, the handsome  policeman/shape-shifter also happens to now live in this area.

As I said, this book doubles down on the strengths it had shown in the first. Many new and fantastic creatures are introduced in this book, some that have a basis in known mythology, but also several others that seem completely new. The shape-shifter kittens, for example, seem to be a unique creation of Ritter’s and one that he fully makes use of. This, too, is something that I very much appreciate about the fantasy elements in this series. Ritter doesn’t simply play lip service to the genre. Even with new creatures like these shape-shifters, Ritter takes the time to develop and extensive history for the beings and to tie them into known history (here we have ties to Darwin and Queen Victoria!) in new and interesting ways. It is clear that while Jackaby has a wealth of knowledge in the paranormal, he is by no means the only person in the world who understands that we walk the earth alongside fantastic beasts.

Another thing I enjoyed from the first book was the supporting characters. We don’t spend as much time at Jackaby’s home in this one as we did in the first, so Jenny’s page time is similarly limited. However, it is clear that Ritter is setting her, and the mystery of her death, up as a focal point for future stories. But in this book we get a whole new set of fun characters. Including a trapper who will hunt anything and who also has a fascination with the supernatural, two dueling archeologists whose snippy interactions were some of the most amusing in the entire book, and the unstoppable Nellie, an independent lady reporter who marches onto the page with her own plan and with no apologies.

The book also improved on the last in a few ways. First, one of my struggles from the first book was with Jackaby himself who I felt came across as a bit “aggressively wacky” and thus not believable as an actual person. Ritter combats this perception in a few ways. For one, Jackaby simply has a bit less page time than he did in the first and I think this was a wise choice. As a character, Jackaby is best served in brief, yet potent, doses. This method still highlights his strengths and interesting quirks, while not distracting from the story itself. Secondly, I enjoyed the more humorous take on Jackaby’s and Abilgail’s relationship,  most notably his horror at being drawn into discussions about her romantic entanglements with Charlie.

While the first book did not shy away from the darker aspects of this paranormal world, I felt like the stakes were raised in this book. In the first book, Jenny was introduced as a rather one-dimensional ghost friend for Abigail. Here we begin to see beneath the surface to what must be the true horror of being stuck in the world after death without the ability to move on. Also, the central mystery is not resolved without serious consequences. I was surprised by some of the risks that Ritter took towards the end of the novel.

Lastly, the story sets the stage for an over-arching plot which I think is an excellent decision. It would be all too easy for these books to start to feel a bit procedural with a new paranormal case that is begun and wrapped up in each book. The potential for a “big bad” whose presence can be traced throughout the series is intriguing.

As a sequel, “Beastly Bones” did everything I asked of it: reinforced the series’ strengths and improved upon its weaknesses. I’m more invested in checking out the third than I was this second book, which is always a step in the right direction!

Rating 8: It’s always fun to see a series grow in strength from a shaky start, and this book bumps the series up as an all-around fantasy recommendation for me.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Beastly Bones” is included on these Goodreads lists: “YA & Middle Grade Historical Mysteries” and “YA Historical Fiction of 2015.”

Find “Beastly Bones” at your library using Worldcat!

Previously Reviewed: “Jackaby”

Serena’s Review: “The Paper Magician”

20727654Book: “The Paper Magician” by Charlie N. Holmberg

Publishing Info: 47North, September 2014

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: Ceony Twill arrives at the cottage of Magician Emery Thane with a broken heart. Having graduated at the top of her class from the Tagis Praff School for the Magically Inclined, Ceony is assigned an apprenticeship in paper magic despite her dreams of bespelling metal. And once she’s bonded to paper, that will be her only magic… forever.

Yet the spells Ceony learns under the strange yet kind Thane turn out to be more marvelous than she could have ever imagined — animating paper creatures, bringing stories to life via ghostly images, even reading fortunes. But as she discovers these wonders, Ceony also learns of the extraordinary dangers of forbidden magic.

An Excisioner — a practitioner of dark, flesh magic — invades the cottage and rips Thane’s heart from his chest. To save her teacher’s life, Ceony must face the evil magician and embark on an unbelievable adventure that will take her into the chambers of Thane’s still-beating heart—and reveal the very soul of the man.

Review: I was very excited when this book showed up for me at the library. The description sounded like something that hit all of my book preferences, and, even better, it’s the first in a completed trilogy! There’s nothing like finding a good series that you can read all at once. Nowadays, I feel like I’m constantly stuck in a waiting game for the next book to be published in the million and one series that I am following all at once! So the ability to truly binge read something from start to finish is an opportunity that I very much value. However, while I did like portions of this book and will ultimately most likely continue the series, I’m also not invested enough to binge it either, which is too bad.

The set up, as mentioned above, is exactly what I like: a spunky heroine set in past period in time where magic is an established element of society. I also always enjoy the apprenticeship angle that is often found in these stories. And while I was recently relieved to find a lack of romance in “Jackaby,” I was warned ahead of time with this one that that was where we would be going, so I had already bought in to this formula. All this in its favor, the book was still very hit and miss for me.

A definite hit was the magic system that the author has created where magicians must “bond” with a type of material. Ceony has dreamed of bonding to metal, a powerful element that would allow her to create and manipulate powerful machines and weapons. But instead she gets assigned to paper, an element that has long been scorned and neglected, resulting in a deficit of this type of magician. I loved the description of this magic system. There was the more expected paper magic (like origami birds that come to life), but also some very creative takes on what one can accomplish with this type of material. At one point Ceony creates a perfect paper fan that is capable of producing massive forces of wind. There’s also a really interesting idea that has to do with bringing to life images read off paper, like scenes from a book brought to shadowy life. And while some of these things seem frivolous (we are likely to judge them similarly to Ceony herself), the author does a great job throughout the latter half of the story really pushing the boundaries of our expectations. There’s an especially interesting twist on the “story reading” magic towards the end that is probably the biggest hook for me to continue the series all together.

Ceony herself is a perfectly fine protagonist. We don’t get a lot from her, really. Through a few flashbacks, we see a bit of what has gone before in her life, but there are as many questions left unanswered as those that are resolved. In particular, there are several references to her fear of water that never get fully explored. And while I’m all for leaving clues for future stories, these felt a bit to roughly placed and stood out in an awkward way.

This is even more noticeable by the strange shift the book takes about halfway through to become a story completely comprised of flashback scenes. The method the author uses to get us to this place is interesting, but I’m not sure this flashback portion is ever quite earned. We’ve barely met Ceony and have had only a few scenes with her mentor, Thane. So, not only do we lose out on any growth in their relationships (all of these scenes take place in a type of alternative dimension where Thane is largely only present as re-incarnations of his past self), but we’re stuck reading half a book’s worth of a deep dive into a character we barely care about. Perhaps if this had happened in a second book in a series it would have played better. But in a book that’s only 220 pages long, we’re not given enough to begin with to sustain this type of ploy.

To end on a good note, I did enjoy the fact that Ceony was left to operate on her own throughout much of this book with only the company of her paper dog, Fennel. Let’s be honest, the dog was probably my favorite character and the only one that ever truly elicited an actual emotion from me!

tumblr_o4a4kmxoos1uqe55wo10_250
Even the Punisher breaks if you threaten the dog! (source)

I will probably continue the series, just based on the strength and uniqueness of the magic system. But I do have some questions as far as the actual quality of the writing (at points it felt very bland and stilted) as well as some of the story arc decisions (like the choice to sink the last half of the story into a flashback sequence for a character who has literally only had about 15 pages of time prior to this).

Rating 6: Very much a “fine” novel. I’m more invested in Fennel, however, than either Ceony or Thane.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Paper Magician” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Dueling Magicians”and “Female Apprentices Romance.”

Find “The Paper Magician” at your library using Worldcat!

The Great Animorphs Re-Read: #3 “The Encounter”

125333Animorphs #3: “The Encounter”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, August 1996

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: When Tobias, Jake, Rachel, Marco, and Cassie were given the ability to morph, they were also given one very important warning: Never stay in a morph for more than two hours. It seemed a small price to pay, since the kids know that humans everywhere are being forced to let slimy, spineless creatures creep into their brains. And the only way the kids can fight back is not to be human.

But Tobias stayed in his morph too long. And now he’s a hawk — with a boy’s mind — forever. Tobias knows they can’t give up. That they all made a promise. So now it’s four kids and a hawk against a force that’s determined to destroy them. Or die trying…

Narrator: Tobias

Plot: In which the Animorphs discover that even Yeerks need basic resources like water and they have decided that the best way to get it is to fly massive tanker ships through the mountains and drain remote lakes using straws. So, a totally normal premises to start out with! What’s even better is that Tobias discovers this while flying along and seeing a flock of geese ram straight into an invisible wall (the ship has a cloaking device ala Klingons) and comments that while geese are terrible creatures (I agree), even they don’t deserve this terrible fate. I mean, Cassie should be on board right there! Save the geese! Save the geese! This plot takes up much of the book with the Animorphs all acquiring two new morphs wolves (fun!) and trout (not fun!) to try and sabotage the Yeerk tanker ship. But much of the story is also focused on the actual hell that is Tobias’s life now as a hawk. It’s pretty much one long existential crisis for our main character. Let’s be honest, the “Adult Ugly Crying” section below is only one of many, many options.

A Hawk’s Life: Tobias is another of my favorite characters and honestly this probably had much to do with the facts that A.) he pairs up with Rachel, my absolute favorite and B.) I had a middle grade crush on him from this book cover. That hair style was so in back in the 90s guys! Anyways! We had small hints in Rachel’s book about how Tobias is adapting (or not adapting) to his life as a hawk. And here we really see it. The reality of what his life is actually going to be is starting to settle in. It was particularly interesting learning about how he is dealing with the hawk’s personality. In the other books, we’ve seen the Animorphs struggle with the animal minds of their morphs, but it was easy to forget that this would be a constant thing for Tobias. He’s not just a boy in a hawk’s body. The hawk’s instincts are still right there with him every day. But these struggles aside, there were a lot of good moments that highlight how Tobias has always been the most courageous and dedicated to fight against the Yeerks of the whole group. He had a more deep connection with Elfangor in the first book (something that I think comes up again later), and while he does find renewed vigor in his reason to fight, it’s also never been up for debate for him. His struggle is more focused on this new existence that has been forced upon him.

Our Fearless Leader: Jake once again highlights how he’s a great guy, but maybe not the most “with it” as far as being perceptive goes. There’s this really sad scene where we see that Jake has set up a drawer with blankets in his attic for Tobias to sleep in and leaves out canned food for him. But he doesn’t ever think about how these things might not work for a bird vs. a boy. There’s also some fun bits when Jake morphs a wolf and as the alpha of the pack gets rather distracted with..ahem..marking his territory. It left open a rather interesting (?) idea about morphing different gendered animals than their human counterparts.

Xena, Warriar Princess: In parallel to Jake, we have Rachel who is much more closely tuned in to Tobias’s struggles. She’s also paired up with him in the mini adventure in the beginning of the book which is basically her stomping across a used car lot as an elephant while Tobias rescues the live hawk that’s been caged and used as a mascot. It’s such a ridiculous image all together, and I loved everything about.

Peace, Love, and Animals: Cassie doesn’t have a whole lot in this. As usual, she’s the Animorphs “in” for some of their new morphs, like the wolf. And she has a fun moment later on when they’re trying to catch a fish to acquire. Jake’s all “This is great! It’ll take like 2 minutes!” And Cassie’s just side-eyeing him: “…have you ever fished before??”

The Comic Relief: Marco ends up saving the day for Tobias in this book. There’s some good comedic build up about Rachel being involved in a gymnastics show at the mall and Marco sneaking in to watch her (she’s adamantly against this plan, obviously). But what seems like a jokey side note, turns into a serious moment. Margo does sneak in, and it’s a good thing, too, since he’s able to break a glass ceiling with a baseball to save Tobias who is blindly careening towards it in the midst of a panic attack.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: The fish morph. There’s a very graphic section where Tobias discusses how even Cassie, the expert morpher of the group, can’t make that look good. At one point there’s much detail about eyes sliding around to the sides of the head…

Couples Watch!: There are a couple of different ones in this book! First, we have the moment where Tobias is starting to forget himself and Rachel just happens to have a picture of him in her dresser to whip out at a moment’s notice. Then Tobias immediately seeks her out at the mall in the midst of his emotional/mental breakdown. And finally, when they’re all trapped in the ship as fish, Rachel and Tobias have a lovely little moment in the midst of the tragic reality that Rachel is surely about to die. Romantic angst everywhere!

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: He doesn’t do a whole lot in this book. But he definitely seems to be catching on to the whole “any animal could be an Andalite” train of thought. A perspective that does not bring good things to the local fauna of the little mountain lake. A few deer and birds are laser beam sizzled in the writing of this book.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Yeah, so that part I referenced in the Marco section. Tobias has a moment of weakness to the hawk’s instincts and eats a mouse then freaks out about it and flies into a mall because that’s where Rachel is and all he can think of is getting to her. And, like all bird instincts would tell him, once trapped inside he makes a b-line for open air even if it’s through a glass ceiling. It’s never out right stated that Tobias might have been ok with hitting the glass and putting an end to it, but the implication is definitely there and it’s just terrible and so, so sad.  There’s also the bit towards the end when Rachel, trapped on the ship with the others, blatantly asks Tobias to take down the ship with them in it since they’d rather die than be tortured. So..yeah..this is a middle grade series.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: So…their plan to disable the ship. Morph fish on land, flop around not being able to breathe while Tobias ferries them to the lake, swim up the straw to the ship, and then some how take the ship out. But…aren’t they in the ship when it gets taken out? And, as we see here, not having done any recon of the ship might present some problems. Like getting stuck in a tank that didn’t need to incorporate a teen-sized access panel when it was designed. 

Favorite Quote:

The obligatory Marco quote:

“Don’t say the word ‘cage’ around Tobias. He’ll do some guerrilla-commando-Ninja-SWAT-team-hawk-from-hell attack on the Center. And he’ll talk Rachel into stomping your house flat.” – Marco

And the more sweet quote from Rachel, the one person who serves as Tobias’s primary connection to humanity throughout this all.

“What counts is what is in your head and in your heart. A person isn’t his body. A person isn’t what’s on the outside.” – Rachel

Scorecard: Yeerks 1, Animorphs 1

The Animorphs get a point! Though their plan had some major flaws and they mostly got out of it due to sheer luck and bravery on Tobias’s part, they did in fact manage to disable the ship. Though, as they discuss later, it is likely that the Yeerks simply got another ship and found a different lake. But ah well, small wins!

Rating: Very good! The angst is strong in this one, but I loved every minute of it.

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

Serena’s Review: “Jackaby”

20312462Book: “Jackaby” by William Ritter

Publishing Info: Algonquin Young Readers, September 2014

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: Newly arrived in New Fiddleham, New England, 1892, and in need of a job, Abigail Rook meets R. F. Jackaby, an investigator of the unexplained with a keen eye for the extraordinary–including the ability to see supernatural beings. Abigail has a gift for noticing ordinary but important details, which makes her perfect for the position of Jackaby’s assistant. On her first day, Abigail finds herself in the midst of a thrilling case: A serial killer is on the loose. The police are convinced it’s an ordinary villain, but Jackaby is certain it’s a nonhuman creature, whose existence the police–with the exception of a handsome young detective named Charlie Cane–deny.

Review: This was actually a book club book that I read a few years ago, but I wanted to review it here on the blog since I’m currently reading the sequel and I’m a librarian, so I’m naturally a completionist! Gotta have em all!

When this book showed up on our bookclub list, I was very excited. It was marketed as “Doctor Who” meets Sherlock Holmes, and while I’m not a complete nut for “Doctor Who” all told, I do love its wacky take on fantasy and science fiction. So combining that with “Sherlock Holmes” (my love of which has been well documented), seemed like it should be something that would be right up my alley! Ultimately, while I did like it, it was a bit more on the “meh” end of things than I would have liked.

Abigail Rook, fresh off the boat with dashed dreams of being an archaeologist like her father in hand, falls into a strange apprenticeship with an even stranger man: Jackaby, a paranormal investigator. Story aside (I’ll get to that a bit later on), this book lives and dies on these two main characters and right here is where we get into the general feeling of indifference.

Abigail herself is a likable character. Her personality, drive, and ability to make her way, even as ineptly as she does here, did feel a bit out of character for the time period. Yes, we’re on the cusp of the turn of the century, but there would still be some harsh realities facing her as a young woman alone in a new country. There’s nothing egregious going on as far as anachronisms or anything, but Abigail did feel a bit out of place for the time. That aside, I did enjoy her as a protagonist. She serves as our eyes into this new world, and her confusion is our confusion. As the story progresses, it becomes clear what role she will play as the Watson to Jackaby’s Holmes. Jackaby is nothing if not dense when it comes to social clues, and here is where Abigail fits in this puzzle. It’s not a super creative take, but it works for the story and she plays her part well.

I especially enjoyed the way Ritter approaches the small amount of romance in this story. Even that sentence is misleading as any romance that is seen here is strictly in the foreshadowing category. But what is most relieving is the fact that it is clear that this romantic angle will decidedly NOT focus on Abigail/Jackaby. I had definite concerns that this was going to be the romantic couple of the series, or *shudders* one corner of a love triangle. But, thankfully, we are introduced to a new character outside of the primary duo who seems to be set up to play this role going forward.

Jackaby himself was…ok? Honestly, I think some of my problems with the book had to do with him as a character. He was a bit too “preciously wacky,” if that makes sense? He’s obviously a creation based on  both Holmes and the Doctor, but the portrayal definitely falls more closely to the latter. It’s simply not unique enough. Jackaby could practically BE the Doctor, and it starts to feel derivative rather quickly.

To end on a good note, the world-building and the paranormal elements that were included were interesting and more unique. The villain character and several of the other beings were not the ones we’re used to seeing in this type of story, and I enjoyed diving into some of the history of these creatures. The supporting cast is also interesting, including the previously mentioned love interest who turns out to be more than he seems, as well as Jackaby’s current roommates, a ghost woman with unfinished business, and Jackaby’s previous apprentice who now lives an unfortunate, if still scholarly, life as a duck.

There were definitely strengths of the book, but it’s always going to be a struggle if the title character doesn’t live up to expectations. That said, if you enjoy “Doctor Who” and Sherlock Holmes this still might be a fun book to check out. Stay tuned for my upcoming review of the sequel “Beastly Bones.”

Rating 6: If I could, I’d give it a solid 6.5. Better than average, but rather underwhelming.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Jackaby” is included on these Goodreads lists: “YA & Middle Grade Sherlock Holmes” and “Victorian Spiritualism Fiction.”

Find “Jackaby” at your library using Worldcat!

 

Serena’s Review: “The FitzOsbornes in Exile”

7389741Book: “The FitzOsbornes in Exile” by Michelle Cooper

Publishing Info: Random House Australia, April 2010

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

Book Description: Forced to leave their island kingdom, Sophie FitzOsborne and her eccentric family take shelter in England. Sophie’s dreams of making her debut in shimmering ballgowns are finally coming true, but how can she enjoy her new life when they have all lost so much?

Aunt Charlotte is ruthless in her quest to see Sophie and Veronica married off by the end of the Season, Toby is as charming and lazy as ever, Henry is driving her governess to the brink of madness, and the battle of wills between Simon and Veronica continues. Can Sophie keep her family together, when everything seems to be falling apart?

An enticing glimpse into high society, the cut and thrust of politics as nations scramble to avert world war, and the hidden depths of a family in exile, struggling to find their place in the world.

Review: Kate and I read the first book in this young adult trilogy, “A Brief History of Montemaray,” for bookclub and as I was more enamored by it than she was, I decided to continue with the trilogy. Especially since the ending of the last book left a large, lingering question mark over the future of the FitzOsborne family and their small, island kingdom.

Driven away from their remote home, this book refocuses the story on more typical, historical fare: debutantes, dinner parties, and their poor Aunt Charlotte’s ever-long struggle to marry off her young charges. But, sprinkled within these more frivolous aspects, was a running commentary on the dramatic, and often tragic, historical happenings of the time.

While the first book took place over a few short months, was limited by its location, and was told from the perspective of a much younger character, this story expands itself in every way. The book takes place over the course of 2-3 years, leaving us with an 18-year-old Sophie by the end of it. Throughout the time, we see her mature as a narrator, and, even more interestingly, watch the slow shifts that went on throughout the world during this tumultuous time period.

Without going into a political rant, I was particularly fascinated by the slow, steady evolution of these events. As a reader, we know how these things turn out and have the perspective of time to influence our opinions. Through this book, we see how small concessions and small moments of willfully turning a blind eye to the plight of those we (as a country or as a smaller group) deem disconnected from us can lead to very negative events. There was also a particularly fascinating bit where Sophie and Simon discuss the appeal of these types of populists leaders, how their message can be so easily tuned to  the wishes and prejudices of each specific audience group, and how broad promises and the creations of “others” to blame can have massive appeal when people are desperate.

Beyond the political and historical aspects of the story, I enjoyed watching these characters change and grow throughout the story. The first book gives us such a brief glimpse into their lives, that, while I loved many of them, it was also easy for each to fall into stereotypes (even if I loved some of those stereotypes like bookworm!Veronica). But here, we see how Toby’s struggles with school more broadly reflect his confusion with his place in his family and the world. How Veronica’s political and historical interests stand up against the onslaught of British high society. How Sophie learns to see the strengths in her own, more quiet, personality.

I also loved the introduction of a few new characters. Aunt Charlotte was brilliant. Similar to the Dowager Countess from Downton Abbey, she is a character that is written in a way that while she spouts some rather unfeeling, aristocratic nonsense, she does it in such a comical way that the reader ends up loving her for it.

dowager-gif-1
(source)

There is also the introduction of Julia’s brother, Rupert, who seems to be set up as a potential love interest for Sophie. And, as he spends large portions of the book carrying around an injured doormouse in his pocket and feeding the squirrels, he seems quite suitably sweet for our lovely main character.

I very much enjoyed “The FitzOsbornes in Exile.” In fact, I would say that it was even better than the first, benefiting from a more extended timeline, a closer connection to historical happenings, and more mature characters.

Rating 9: An excellent, young adult historical fiction piece. Definitely recommended for fans of the WWII era who are interested in the quieter side and effects of the build up to the war.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The FitzOsbornes in Exile” can be found on the following Goodreads lists: “World War II England” and “YA Debutantes.”

Find “The FitzOsbornes in Exile” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously Reviewed: “A Brief History of Montmaray”

Serena’s Review: “Magic Binds”

17333174Book: “Magic Binds” by Illona Andrews

Publishing Info: Ace, September 2016

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: Kate and the former Beast Lord Curran Lennart are finally making their relationship official. But there are some steep obstacles standing in the way of their walk to the altar…

Kate’s father, Roland, has kidnapped the demigod Saiman and is slowly bleeding him dry in his never-ending bid for power. A Witch Oracle has predicted that if Kate marries the man she loves, Atlanta will burn and she will lose him forever. And the only person Kate can ask for help is long dead.

The odds are impossible. The future is grim. But Kate Daniels has never been one to play by the rules…

Review: From all accounts, the Kate Daniels series is set to be a ten book run. And this, the 9th, definitely feels like it is the setup for a grand finale, hitting all the right notes by growing the conflict with Roland, raising the psychological stakes for our heroine, and setting up a clear end game for the story as a whole.

The last few books were a bit middling, if I’m honest. As I said in my last review of this series, with Roland on the scene any other “big bad” feels superficial and like a place-holder whose only purpose is to delay the big eventual show-down between Kate and her father. In this book, we’ve arrived at that show-down. Or, at least, to the initial skirmishes that lead up to it.

For a series that started out fairly firmly rooted in the urban fantasy/romance genre, I feel like the story has really come into its own as a family drama. And what a dysfunctional, all-powerful, ego-maniacal family it is! While Curran still plays his role, his and Kate’s relationship has felt steady and well-defined for some time now. And I really appreciate that after the one stumble with relationship shenanigans a few books ago, Andrews hasn’t felt the need to fiddle with this aspect much. Instead, the focus has shifted to Kate’s growing understanding and relationship (?) with her remaining family, in whatever form they may now be.

Kate’s aunt, the “City Eater,” who was killed off a few books ago makes a refreshing re-appearance. That character was brilliant the first time around, both as a legitimately threatening enemy for Kate, but almost more importantly as another bridge into Kate’s family history. Here, this secondary role is even more strongly focused in upon. Kate is feeling the repercussions of her claim on Atlanta, an action that has triggered a well of power and family ambition. Not only do we get Kate’s aunt back with all of her amazing snark, but we even get to meet whatever remains of Kate’s grandma, a powerful being whom Roland has trapped to serve as an energy source to power his massive prison. There’s a lot of focus on the extensive history of Kate’s family with some beautiful looks back to what their world had been like. These flashes, combined with some quiet moments between Roland and Kate, served to much better flesh out Roland’s character and motivations.

Roland himself was great as always. Here we really begin to see the pay-off of taking this long (several books worth of time) to fully flesh out a villain. Roland is so many things all at once: loving father, murdering sociopath, sympathetic hero, misguided maniac. The reader both despises him, but also understands him. With Kate herself struggling with the “Dark Side,” for lack of a better word, it is easy to see Roland’s own fall from hero to villain. His relationship with Kate is so tragic, and yet Andrews saves the book from melancholy with trademark wit. At one point Roland is both threatening to end Kate while also being offended on her behalf about the “shameful lack of feasting” that is planned for her wedding. It’s lovely.

There are few short mini-adventures in this story, and those were the weaker points for me. They were fun enough and we run into a few interesting new creatures (a spunky pegasus is a high point), but given the added depth that we were seeing in the other parts of the book, these adventures also felt a bit too simplistic.

My only other quibble was with the very end of the story, and it was an event that had been literally prophesied from the very beginning of the book, if not the book before even. And really, this quibble is only a personal choice as *spoiler warning* not typically being a fan of pregnancy storylines in fantasy is purely on me.

All in all, I very much enjoyed this book. It actually might be one of my favorites in the series. The stakes are higher, the personal conflict is greater, the backstory is richer, and the characters have all come into their own.

Rating 8: A great penultimate story!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Magic Binds” is included in these Goodreads lists: “Vamp’s, Were’s, Sorcerer’s/Witches & Elves “  and “Girl with a Sword and an Animal Friend.”

Find “Magic Binds” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously Reviewed: “Kate Daniels Series” and  “Magic Shifts”

 

The Great Animorphs Re-Read:#2 “The Visitor”

324505Animorphs #2: “The Visitor”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, June 1996

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: Morphing is certainly more fun than Sega — you can soar as an eagle and walk as a cat. But being an ANIMORPH is by no means just fun and games. Rachel knew better than anyone. One of her best friends, Melissa, is acting very strange. And it looks like Melissa’s dad, who is also the school’s Assistant Principal, may be connected to evil aliens. Rachel can’t tell Melissa what the ANIMORPHS have learned, but Melissa doesn’t seem interested in talking to Rachel these days anyway. Could Melissa be one of “them?” With the help of Jake, Cassie, Tobias and Marco, Rachel plans to enter her friend’s house as a cat, intent on unlocking the secrets from within. If only Rachel could keep her mind off mice…

Narrator: Rachel

Plot: Fun, not-plot-related note, this was the first Animorphs book I read, because I was given it for a Christmas present by a relative who simply saw a cover with a cat and thought “Hey, Serena likes cats…” And thus, an addiction was started! 

The plot! The Animorphs aren’t quite sure what they’re supposed to be doing in this whole “battle the Yeerks” thing after their disastrous attempt at infiltrating the Yeerk pool in the last book. So, like all good decisions, they decide to simply follow around the one Controller (other than Tom) they know about: their vice principal Mr. Chapman. (This is such middle school greatness! Cuz of course a Yeerk big bad would be a school vice principal!) And they’re in is Rachel’s friend Melissa, Chapman’s daughter. This being Rachel’s story, she is the one to morph Melissa’s cat Fluffer McKitty (actual cat’s name!) and infiltrate her friend’s home. What she finds is a boatload of teen sadness and a secret basement set-up where Chapman and Visser Three discuss their evil plans to take over the world. Visser Three, however, is of the paranoid type, and after noticing the suspicious house cat lurking down there once,  is not about to take any chances a second time. Thus opening the final act of the story in which Rachel is carted off in a kitty carrier and barely escapes with her life!

Xena, Warriar Princess: Rachel is probably my favorite character (though Tobias and Marco give her a run for her money). In the other books, she’s portrayed as a rather simple example of the “heroically brave” one. So, it’s always interesting reading her books and getting to see beneath this front that she puts up for her friends. I had completely forgotten about her friendship with Melissa (and I’m pretty sure there’s not much more of it going forward), but it was a lovely glimpse into how seriously and deeply Rachel understands the word “friendship.” There are also plenty of examples that highlight Rachel’s tendency to charge headfirst into things and to believe that she needs to shoulder things alone. After getting spotted by Visser Three the first time she goes in as a cat, she is careful not to mention the incident to her friends, since she knows they will insist she not repeat the tactic going forward. And, given what happens…probably not the best idea, Rachel! But her bravery isn’t simply foolish headstrongness, she’s actually just that willing to make the sacrifices that are needed. Towards the end, when she thinks all is lost, she insists the others flee and that she’ll go down fighting alone. And it’s clear that this isn’t just lip service. She is truly just that willing to die for her friends.

One last note, in this book we get Rachel’s reason to continue this fight. And, no surprise given her characterizations that I discussed above, it’s because the Yeerks have hurt her friends, namely Melissa whose parents are both Controllers and have withdrawn from her completely:

Next time Marco asked why we were fighting the Yeerks, I knew I would have a whole new answer. Because they destroy the love of parents for their daughter. Because they made Melissa Chapman cry in her bed with no one to comfort her but a cat.

*sobs*

Our Fearless Leader: Jake’s main event in this book is spending waaaaay too much time as a flea riding around on kitty!Rachel. Turns out that Tobias (couples watch!) doesn’t quite believe Rachel when she claims nothing happened after her first trip in the house, and so the others come up with the brilliant plan of Jake going in with her. As a flea. He’s got a few funny lines towards the end, and it’s kind of relief to realize that Jake has a sense of humor, as all too often if feels like he’s just stoic-leader-“we must be responsible!!”-Jake.

A Hawk’s Life: Poor Tobias. (Obviously). But his time in this book is spent on some of the less sexy tasks. Like chasing an angry tom cat (original Fluffer’s not too keen on these random teens chasing him around the yard every night), catching shrews for Rachel to morph, then having to rescue kitty!Rachel at the very end. A feat that I’m not sure a red tailed hawk could even pull off, given the size and weight of your average tom cat.

Peace, Love, and Animals: Cassie doesn’t have a whole lot going on in this book. In the beginning there’s another example of the fact that she’s much better at morphing than the others. While de-morphing from birds, the others all look disgusting, while Cassie manages to save her wings for last and go for the “angel-like” look. She, along with Tobias, also notices that Rachel is acting strange after her first trip into the house.

The Comic Relief: Marco, too, doesn’t do a lot in this book. Though his quippy lines are still great! He does get to drive around a few bulldozers in the final confrontation at the end, which I think is our first example of Marco’s terrible driving. I do believe it comes up again later…with some disastrous results!

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: I’m sure if we had gotten an actual scene of Jake morphing the flea, that would have been the hands down winner. And really, morphing  a cat seems like one of the better options. The shrew…not so much. So, not really disgusting, but shrews in general seem like a morph to avoid given the extreme panicky state of their little rodent minds. Well…there you go…”little rodent minds” is disgusting enough!

Couples Watch!: Given that this is a Rachel book, we get a lot of Rachel/Tobias action. They’re pretty adorable, and by far my favorite couple (sorry Jake/Cassie, there’s just no competing with the “one of us is a hawk!” angst/tragedy!) We get a very pointed moment where Tobias privately thought speaks Rachel to be careful when she’s infiltrating the house. Not to mention his insight into her character to realize something’s up, and the dramatic rescue at the end!

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: I’m pretty sure that Visser Three wants to have his own cat. He spends a good amount of time admiring Rachel’s cat morph in this book, even going so far as to say that it’s a shame that the cat species is too small to be a good Yeerk host. Combined with the tiger-love from the last book…yeah, the Visser’s a cat person.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Oh man, these books! In this one, we get the heart breaking scene of Melissa crying on her bed alone, cuddling kitty!Rachel because she doesn’t understand why her parents suddenly stopped loving her. And then later, when kitty!Rachel is being carted away in a cat carrier by Mr. Chapman, Melissa starts crying and asking why her cat is being taken away and when she finally gets an answer she’s like “But…didn’t you hear me before? I was crying!” and he’s like “Oh..were you?” It’s so awful. Another insight into how truly horrible the Yeerk invasion in when you think of these types of ramifications. It’s not just the hosts who are being hurt.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: So, to catch Fluffer so that Rachel can acquire him, they decide that the absolute best plan is for Rachel to first morph a shrew and then run around as bait to lure Fluffer down from the tree. Yes. This plan is as dumb as it sounds.

Favorite Quote:

I have a feeling that many of these will be Marco quotes, but who cares! Here we have Marco’s insights on fashion. Background info: the Animorphs all have to morph in skintight clothing so as not to de-morph and be naked.

“Not Fantastic Four. I’m thinking more an X-Men kind of thing. It’s not about being identical, it’s just about having some style. Right now, if anyone saw us, they wouldn’t think ‘Oh, cool, superheroes,’ they’d think ‘Man, those people do not know how to dress.’”

Scorecard: Yeerks 1, Animorphs 0

The scorecard goes unchanged in this one. Not much really happens as far as a win/lose scenario.

Rating: A slower book than the first, but a deeper look into the truly awful, and often more unseen, side effects of the Yeerk invasion.

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