The Great Animorphs Re-Read #49: “The Diversion”

125339Animorphs #49: “The Diversion”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, January 2001

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: The Yeerks are finally starting to realize that the “Andalite bandits” are probably not aliens at all. They’re finally starting to realize that maybe they’ve been dealing with humans all along. And no one–especially the newly appointed Visser One–is happy with this knowledge. Not happy at all.

When Tobias, the other Animorphs, and Ax realize that the Yeerks are about to find them, it’s by accident. But that doesn’t make the discovery any less serious. Because in war, one side wins. And one side loses…

Narrator: Tobias

Plot: The last Tobias book! Sadness! And, per the usual for his books, there’s a healthy dose of tragedy here as well. Though, in a shocking turn of events, by the end, a good thing has actually happened to him!

Tobias is experience his typical woes: the challenges of the hawk life with regards to getting food. While things aren’t as desperate as they have been in the past, he’s still happy to see Rachel show up with McDonalds. He eats part of it as a hawk, the only way the calories will sustain him, but morphs human to enjoy the rest as a boy who can appreciate taste. After that, they head off to Cassie’s barn for a group meeting.

There, Cassie informs them that her parents came back with odd news from The Gardens, that people had been there requesting blood samples from very specific animals, like wolves, grizzly bears, tigers, gorillas, etc. They were particularly upset when they discovered the zoo didn’t have a red tailed hawk in residence. The Animorphs are quick to put this together: the Yeerks are on to the fact that the “Andalite bandits” might be more than they seem and are collecting blood samples to try and match any humans with morphing abilities. They all try to recollect if they’ve had blood drawn recently, and Rachel is the only one with a concern that back when they all had the Andalite flu, her mom took her to the hospital and they may have drawn blood then.

They agree that the chance is too great, and Marco and Ax are set with the task of locating the blood bank where all of the samples are being stored and tested. By the next day they’ve already discovered the facility and the Animorphs are quick to take off to investigate. Once there, they come up across the typical problem now of Biofilters at all of the entrances. They decide to use their Hork Bajir morphs and tie blue armbands around their arms to pose as the elite Hork Bajir fighters they’ve recently come up across. Using this “authority,” they are able to weasel their way into the facility and get to the computer system. Ax demorphs and investigates and finds that the Yeerks already have a partial match and it’s Tobias’s lost mother who, it turns out, has been living only a few blocks away from the neglectful uncle whom Tobias stayed with when he was a boy.

Controllers break into the room, including a Granny-like Controller who seems to be in charge. She sees the flashing light on the computer and realizes that the system had found a match. A fight breaks out and the Animorphs flee the facility, but Marco is critically injured in the fight, forcing him to demorph and confirm the fact that there are humans with morphing abilities.

They manage to get away but know that now that Marco has been spotted, the game is up for them all, the Controllers will quickly put together who the other members could be. At the barn, the reality really begins to set in with what it will mean to tell their families and hide them away with the free Hork Bajir. Jake tells them all to take the night to think about it and they’ll begin the next day.

In the mean time, Tobias goes to scout out his mother. He discovers that she is blind and scarred, but she’s also kind to her guide dog and doesn’t show any outward signs of being a Controller. Having been fooled by a tactic like this in the past, Tobias is still wary. He’s also hurt and confused by why she would give him up only to live so close by.

They start with Cassie’s family whom Cassie says are scientist and will respect the truth. Tobias flies in and begins thought-speaking to Cassie’s mother while Cassie begins telling her what is going on. When Ax appears, Cassie’s mom tries to hide Cassie behind her in case Ax is dangerous. Cassie’s dad arrives and they explain to him too. The Chee agree to watch over the remaining animals at the barn clinic, and Cassie and her family pack up and head out.

Rachel’s family is next. Rachel morphs grizzly and speaks to her mom, who naturally freaks out. Ax walks in with one of Rachel’s little sisters on his back. Rachel’s mom grabs a spice rack and lunges at grizzly!Rachel. Like with Cassie’s mom, Tobias is struck with the bravery of mothers protecting their children. Rachel wrangles her family out, and the remaining Animorphs take off for Jake’s house.

They arrive to discover that Tom went with Jake’s parents to do chores. As the time ticks by, Marco and Tobias become increasingly concerned and Jake finally begins to admit that it is strange for Tom, a high ranking Yeerk, to go on a random chore run that morning. When they spot Jake’s family returning, but they are followed by two black SUVs. Through the window, Tobias can see Jake’s mom’s face twisted with anger and in her hand, a Dracon beam. They retreat.

Later, Tobias takes off to spy on Loren once again and sees that she is under Yeerk surveillance. While he’s there, Marco and Ax show up saying that the guide dog is Tobias’s way in. They follow Loren into a grocery store and, while posing as “rowdy youth”, they steal Loren’s guide dog and have Tobias acquire it. Tobais then returns in in place of the dog and makes his way back to Loren’s house with her. After she goes to sleep, Tobias searches the house but finds no evidence that Loren is a Controller. He does find a letter from an insurance company that mentions the fact that Loren lost her memories in the accident that scarred and blinded her.

The next morning, in his human form, Tobias confronts his mother. He learns that she knew she had a son, but had no memory of him. Worse, her memory was so badly damanged that she had had to re-learn how to do basic functions like brush her teeth. This all being the case, she had chosen to give him up as a baby to relatives, hoping that he would have a better life that way. As Tobias begins to explain the danger that she is in, it becomes clear that Loren has very vague memories of aliens, specifically Elfangor. Using these glimpses of shared knowledge, Tobias convinces her to stay in her house for three days and then meet him in a nearby park.

After the days have past and Loren hasn’t left the house, proving that she isn’t a Controller, they put the plan in action. When Loren gets to the park, she enters a tunnel and the Animorphs are able to switch out her dog for dog!Tobias once again without alerting the Controllers who are following her. Back in her house, with very little time as the Yeerks close in, Tobias has her keep her hand on his face while he demorphs. He then has her use the blue box to get morphing abilities, acquire his hawk form, and begin to morph herself. She manages to complete the morph right when things get crazy. The other Animorphs arrives as back up, but granny!Controller his back and in a helicopter.

Tobias and hawk!Loren take the sky and give the helicopter quite a chase. Tobias lures the helicopter away with his mad flying skills, but is almost hit by a Dracon beam shot, only saved by Loren flinging herself in front of him and taking a hard hit herself. The helicopter goes down and Loren demorphs to heal her injuries. Her blindness also heals in the process.

Back in the valley, all of the families are beginning to settle in. The Hork Bajir love Cassie’s parents and Rachel’s lawyer mother is helping them draft their own Constitution. Tobias is getting to know his mother, and while he’s sad that she still has no memory of him, he is comforted by the thought that when it came down to it, like Rachel and Cassie’s mothers, his own mother had tried to save her son as well.

A Hawk’s Life:  Most of Tobias’s books have to do with his struggle for identity between his life as a boy and his life as a hawk. But there is only brief point in the beginning where he again confronts the challenges of eating as a hawk, amusingly noting that Marco would have no problem living in his girlfriend’s room being hand fed, Tobias can’t let himself do that, even though Rachel has offered. Other than that, his main theme of reflection is on parenthood, specifically the relationship between mother and child.

Up to this book, there has been very little mention of Loren and really, until it shows up as a plot point, I realize I didn’t really notice how strange it was that it got so little attention, especially after Tobias learns about his real father. You’d think once that information had gotten out, Tobias would at the very least have been more curious about his mother’s whereabouts, even if he is still hurt and angry about being abandoned as a child. Regardless of that, his reflections throughout this book are very good, highlighting both his sense of abandonment, his distrust about new-found family, and his sense of hope even in the face of so much disappointment.

Loren, for her part, is great to see again, even if she doesn’t remember any of her adventures from “The Andalite Chronicles.” Her accident (did the Ellimist cause this??) and the resulting amnesia is a decent enough excuse for her abandonment of her child, if a bit soap-opera-like, a fact that Tobias himself points out in a good bit of self-awareness on the author’s part. But even without her memories, we can still see the essence of her original characterization. She is brave, throwing herself into danger to protect others. She is quick to accept the bizarre and adapt to insane circumstances with amazing agility. And she’s just generally a decent person.

Our Fearless Leader: Jake has a rough go of it in this book. He questions his choices with regards to timing with both the first and second mission, feeling that he went in too quickly with the blood bank and waited too long to retrieve their families. The loss of his parents, on top of still not being able to rescue Tom (his primary goal for being in this fight from book one) has to be a crushing blow. And as I discuss later, Jake’s perhaps more in need of family support and getting this win than the others. At the end of the book, Tobias reflects on the fact that he and Jake have essentially switched positions since the beginning of this entire affair: Jake has now lost his family and Tobias has gained one of his own.

Xena, Warrior Princess:  Rachel serves as a diversion at several points in this story, using her elephant morph to good effect (I always like when she breaks out this OG morph). Her choice to break the news to her mother by walking into the kitchen as a grizzly bear…not so sure about this. I get her concern that her mom being a lawyer means that a different approach is needed than with Cassie’s parents. But I have a hard time thinking of any personality type that is more receptive to news like this while staring down a grizzly in their house. And then her mom pretty much gets wrestled into the car and drove off before she gets a chance to really process things. Does make me wish we could have seen the scene when they all arrive at the Hork Bajir valley.

Peace, Love, and Animals: Cassie really doesn’t have a lot in this book, but her interactions with her parents really does highlight the great relationship she has with them. I think we really spend the most time with Cassie’s parents throughout the series, with Jake’s family coming in second. Whenever the books dealt with Jake’s family, Tom rightly came to the forefront. But Cassie’s parents have shown up not only in her books but in others, due to the meeting location so often being the barn. It’s also no surprise that they would settle in well at the Hork Bajir valley and quickly become favorites of the local residents.

The Comic Relief: Marco helps Ax with tracking down the blood bank and assists in the various family rescue missions. As his family has already been taken care of, he doesn’t have too much in this book. While it’s both him and Ax that show up when Tobias returns to spy on his mother some more, I think it’s pretty safe to assume that Marco was the one to figure out what was going on. Not only is he clever like that, but he has a good amount of experience under his belt with absent mothers and what the sudden return of one can do to a person’s mindset.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Other than helping Marco with the blood bank search, Ax mostly serves as the final nail in the coffin of the other family members’ innocence about the state of the world. While both groups are exposed to morphing and thought speak, it’s Ax’s arrival that seems to really cement things in their minds.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: Hands down this goes to Tobias’s introduction of the morphing technology to his mother which he does by giving her no warning or explanation of what’s going to happen, only instructing her to put her hand on his face as he morphs. We know how disgusting this process can be, and one can only imagine how horrifying it would be to only feel with your hands, having no idea what to even expect. To be fair, Tobias didn’t have the time to really spell out what was going to happen at this point in things. Lucky for him that Loren has the brave, accepting of the strange, temperament that I mentioned earlier.

Couples Watch!: My lasting regret will always be the fact that for some strange reason, other than a few exceptions, we only really get good insights into Rachel and Tobias’s relationship in his books, and he has fewer books overall than she does in the first place. His books and the scenes therein are excellent, don’t get me wrong. But I also feel like there were a lot of missed opportunities in Rachel books to deal with how she feels about dating a bird and, more importantly, a boy who is choosing to remain a bird. But no, instead we had to hear about “King Rachel” and how she was “like, the most powerful ever!” This book has a nice scene in the beginning with Rachel showing up with food for them both, and it’s just the sort of casual, every day scene that works really well as a glimpse into what the Animorphs’ lives are like when they’re not out on missions. This being the last Rachel or Tobias book though before the end though…oof. Hurry, distract oneself!

“You know, Tobias,” she said, “we have very weird dates.”

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: Visser One isn’t in this book. Instead, we have the rather comical granny!Controller to contend with. It’s definitely the kind of choice that is made for the bizarre mental images of a granny tearing around on a helicopter shooting laser beams. But funny

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Tobias’s musings on motherhood and what a unique relationship it is is quite touching throughout this book. He reflects on how incredible it is that Cassie’s mom throws herself in front of a “mutated deer”/Ax to save Cassie and that Rachel’s mom lunges at a fully grown grizzly with a spice rack in an attempt to protect her daughters. Tobias’s loss of family has always been tragic, even more so since we discovered his origin story in ‘The Andalite Chronicles.” But this one really hits home on this fact with the sad state that is his relationship with his mother. She has no memory of him, has been living only blocks away, and even now, safe in the Hork Bajir valley, there’s no regaining that time. But it also ends on an incredibly hopeful note with Loren’s own instinctual moment of putting herself in harms way to protect Tobias and how meaningful this is for Tobias who has never had a family member who cared about him, let alone was willing to risk their own life for his.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: Jake beats himself up quite a bit about the plans in this book. Most notably the speed at which they went in on the blood bank, perhaps not scouting it out well enough, and then the slow response to getting their families out, giving it a night for them all to think about it before moving into action. But really, I don’t think either of those decisions were bad in the moment. They both seem pretty standard for the way Jake has approached decision making in the past, and it’s only hindsight that makes him feel otherwise.

I will say that perhaps Jake’s family should have come first in the order of rescue. Tom being a known Controller makes his family that much more of a quick target and a higher risk all around. At the very least, they should have come second after Cassie’s family (who went first only because they were at the barn already when they all made the final decision.)

Favorite Quote: Two rather longish ones, but there were some pretty funny sequences in this book, stuck in-between the soul-crushing sadness of the entire situation, of course.

“But unless you count the Victoria’s Secret Web page, there are no babes in my life anymore,” Marco said.

<There were no babes in your old life,> I said.

“Oh. Very nice, Tobias. Go for the jugular. You’ve got Rachel tending to your every need. Me, I’ve got Ax-man.” He jerked his thumb toward Ax, who was gazing lovingly at a magazine ad for the new original M&M’s. “I’ll trade you right now, straight across.”

And the entire scene as performed by Ax when trying to get the dog from Loren was pretty good.

“Ah.” Ax nodded. “She does not understand how menacing we are.”

He tapped her on the shoulder. “You do not know me,” he said, “but I am a juvenile delinquent. I do not trust authority figures, I probably will not graduate from high school, and statistics say my present rowdiness and vandalism will likely lead to more serious crimes. I am a dangerous fellow, and I am causing mayhem in this store.”

He reached behind her and pulled three jars of baby food from the top shelf. Shoved them behind a box of macaroni. Shuffled the Cheez Whiz in front of the Marshmallow Fluff. Tossed a bag of lady’s shavers onto a bag of hamburger buns. “There. I have now shamelessly destroyed the symmetry of this shelf, undoing hours of labor by underpaid store employees. If you could see me, you would be frightened.”

“If she could see you, she’d have you committed,” Marco muttered

Scorecard: Yeerks 14, Animorphs 16

While the Animorphs did manage to save most of their families, the loss of Jake’s parents is a pretty big blow. All of them are important members of the team, but you have to think that having the leader who is facing some huge decisions is going to suffer more in going into the endgame with a messed up mindset over the failure to not only save Tom but lose his parents as well. Outside of that, the loss of their human identities is a big hit. Not only do now none of them have the normalcy of their regular lives to help balance out and provide a distraction from the war effort, but a lot of their safety came from the fact that the Yeerks weren’t on the lookout for humans.

Rating: I really liked this book. It’s awesome to see Loren again, but man, that entire family has to win the tragedy card. You have Elfangor, tricked away from his pregnant wife and then dying after meeting his son for five minutes. Tobias who grows up neglected, is bullied, and pretty much chooses to trap himself as a bird, since that’s the better option and then ends up in this terrible war. And now Loren, already having her mind tampered with by the Ellimist, gets in a crash, loses her sight and her memories of her infant son, forcing her to give him up for adoption, and even when they’re re-united, her memories can never be regained.

I think I’ve probably mentioned this before, but in hindsight, I think the Tobias books are the best overall when you look at one single character’s contributions and quality. His always delved into important topics, not only for him as a character, but in the grander scheme of things (suicide, torture, PTSD, loss of family and found families, etc.) He’s also an excellent narrator and I’ve always appreciated the appropriate balance of action, humor, and even romance that is often found in his books.

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

Serena’s Review: “The Living God”

40006251Book: “The Living God” by Kaytalin Platt

Publishing Info: Inkshares, May 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley

Book Description: The Living God is foretold to bring about the destruction of the world in order to rebuild it into a paradise. Some worship and welcome His coming, other’s fear Him and would do anything to stop it. “The Living God” follows the internal struggle of two mages, Saran and Keleir, as they confront their fears and attempt to find meaning in the hand that life has dealt them. Saran seeks to overthrow her crazed father and salvage what is left of her country before it falls into complete ruin. Keleir is cursed with a Rauke’s soul, an ancient creature who is only able to survive by merging with an unborn child upon entering our world. Saran and Keleir are touched by fate, gifted with the ability to sense each other, and destined for a future that neither care to know. When Saran’s magic is stolen, she must confront a life without the ability to manipulate time, struggle to see the rebellion finished, and keep Keleir from becoming The Living God.

Review: Other than the gorgeous cover, I really didn’t know much about this book when I placed a request for it on NetGalley. There seemed to be a lot of interesting magical tidbits peppered throughout the book description, so that was a point in its favor. But, unfortunately, none of those little tidbits added up to a book I enjoyed.

Saran is a Time Mage, and as the name suggests, she has the ability to manipulate time. She is also a princess and the daughter of a tyrannical king whose violence is taken out on his family and his country. Saran is joined in her fight for her country by her love, Keleir, a Fire Mage who has his own internal demons, quite literally. Together, they work to overthrow Saran’s father in a rebellion, made only more difficult when Saran loses her time manipulation abilities.

This was…a weird read. Not having a whole lot of expectations going in, it seems weird to now write that it surprised me, but somehow that’s still the case. Most of those surprises weren’t of the good variety, but I’ll start with a few things I did enjoy.

As characters go, I did like Saran and Keleir, though he could veer a little too far into overprotective at times. But, overall, they were both interesting and  complex characters, each dealing with their own traumas: Saran, with the challenging tightrope she walks trying to pull off a rebellion under her vicious father’s nose, and Keleir working to contain a demon that lives within him and had, in the past, forced him to do terrible things before Saran saved him. I also really liked their romance (though some of descriptions of intimacy were awkward at best). It’s not that often that you come across a fantasy novel with an established couple at its heart, so I thought that read as a breath of fresh air.

But other than the basic outlines of those main characters and the novelty of the established romance, I struggled with this book. For one thing, it’s very slow. I’m often ok with slow books, too, so I feel like there was something in particular about this book that made this stand out to me. I think it comes down to two things. One, for a story about a time mage and a fire mage, after the initial first chapter of action, there’s a lot of planning and talking about plans and truly very little action. If action was never going to be at the heart of this story, fine. I can get behind a political fantasy. But this doesn’t feel like that, instead spending an inordinate amount of time talking about plans of action instead of carrying them out.

Two (and I think this is the real issue), there were a lot of references to past events that read as really important, eventful, and potentially more worth reading about than what we got in this book. It was really strange, to the point that in the second or third chapter of this book, I actually set it down and went on Goodreads because I was convinced that this must be the second book in a series, and I should check out the first one first, since man, it looks like some cool stuff happened there! But no. There was no first book and these awesome and important past events are just dropped in casually. I don’t know how to describe it or think of a time I’ve come across something similar. If anything, I think the author has a huge missed opportunity on her hands here as it seems that she missed out on writing a really cool book in lieu of writing a fairly bland one with references to said awesome, but nonexistent, book.

And then there was the sudden introduction of other worlds, including our own. This just hit me out of nowhere and not in a good way. Maybe it’s worth blaming the cover art, but I felt completely blindsided by this twist and it ultimately threw me out of a story that I was already either bored by or confused with.

I was really disappointed not to like this book more. Like I said, I can get behind slower fantasy fiction. Indeed, half the time I read fantasy, especially YA fantasy, I feel like the stories could benefit by being slowed down, giving more attention to fleshing out characters and worlds. But here it didn’t work out, mostly I think because there were so many references to really cool past events that we never got to actually see. And then the established romance was also a pro, but not enough to counterbalance these other issues. If you like slower-moving fantasy novels, you may like this. Especially if you go in prepared, unlike me, about the fact that this will read as if there should have been a prequel and yes, there are alternate worlds involved.

Rating 5: Why oh why didn’t we get a first book before this first book in this series?!

Reader’s Advisory: 

“The Living God” is a newer title, so it isn’t on many Goodreads lists. But it is on “Indie Science Fiction, Fantasy, Paranormal.”

“The Living God” isn’t yet listed on WorldCat, but check our your local library to find a copy!

 

Serena’s Review: “Wicked Saints”

36118682Book: “Wicked Saints” by Emily A. Duncan

Publishing Info: Wednesday Books, April 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley

Book Description: A girl who can speak to gods must save her people without destroying herself.

A prince in danger must decide who to trust.

A boy with a monstrous secret waits in the wings. 

Together, they must assassinate the king and stop the war.

In a centuries-long war where beauty and brutality meet, their three paths entwine in a shadowy world of spilled blood and mysterious saints, where a forbidden romance threatens to tip the scales between dark and light.

Review: This was book-cover love through and through. Sure, the description sounds good enough, but there were also some warning signs there (love triangle??) that would typically make me a bit wary. But I love the simplicity of this cover and the way the colorization is used. Alas, by the end of the book, the cover was still probably my favorite part.

Nadya can speak to the gods, an entire pantheon of them. But for most of her life, she has been hiding and training in a remote monastery, a secret weapon that hasn’t been used yet in a growing political war. One day, that war arrives on her doorstep, quite literally, and everything changes. Now caught up in events moving in ways she barely understands, Nadya finds herself working a boy she’s not sure she can trust but who might also be the key to it all.

Honestly, there wasn’t much I loved about this book. That’s not to say I hated a lot of it either, but more like, I felt like I had read much of it before and read it better. Russian-based fantasy stories have been the rage for a few years it seems, and as such, there have been a million and one entries into the sub-genre with a wide range of quality, as far as I’m concerned. There have definitely been worse ones than this, but when I just finished up the last book in the “Winternight” trilogy, it’s hard to look at this one and not be a bit disappointed.

Aside from that trilogy, the more direct comparison for this book would be Bardugo’s “Grisha” trilogy. I’m pretty sure there have been quite a few comparisons already floated around between the two and I can definitely see it.

The biggest similarity comes with the romance and the enemies-to-lovers trope that is at the heart of both (sort of). On its own, I think this is one of the harder love arcs to right and I would say its this aspect specifically that sunk Bardugo’s series for me as I could never buy this part of the story. So, here, too, I struggled. I could never understand the “whys” behind any emotion our two romantic interests had for each other. Why did they really hate each other in the first place? Patriotic prejudices can only go so far as an explanation. And then, worse, why do they fall for each other? The motivation behind either emotion wasn’t fully fleshed out in any way, and when you’re dealing with some of the strongest emotions out there, love and hate, you need a pretty darn good reason to have your character feel them, and even more so, change from one to another. Throughout the story, the male love interest lied repeatedly to Nadya, and yet somehow, we’re meant to buy her continued interest in him. By about halfway through the book, I started to give up on getting the strong character I wanted from Nadya and was resigned to the fact that she was mostly a love interest in her own story.

I also struggled with the magic system. Again, as it was incorporated in the story, it felt very similar to other Russian-based fantasies I’ve read, but here it only skimmed the surface. The end of the story in particular seemed to really highlight this struggle as aspects of the magic system seemed to come out of nowhere or operate in ways that didn’t really make sense all of a sudden.

On top of that all, I was just bored throughout most of this. Other than the frenetic last few chapters of the story, I just felt like I was following the predictable footsteps of a well-worn path. There wasn’t anything new here, and in a subgenre that has so many offerings, I’d say if you’re looking for Slavic fantasy, you can find better. Just this year there was the final book in the “Winternight” trilogy, “The Winter of the Witch” by Katherine Arden and “Spinning Silver” by Naomi Novik. And if you want a better “enemies to lovers” story, you can check out “Sherwood” by Meagan Spooner.

Rating 6: Nothing terribly bad, but also not really holding its own in a pretty packed subgenre of YA fantasy.

Reader’s Advisory: 

“Wicked Saints” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Villain as Romantic Love Interests” and “Creepy, Dark YA and MG Books.”

Find “Wicked Saints” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Serena’s Review: “The Sword and the Dagger”

39863306Book: “The Sword and the Dagger” by Robert Cochran

Publishing Info: Tor Teen, April 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley

Book Description: During the time of the Crusades, an unlikely trio—a Christian princess, her affianced prince, and a Muslim assassin—embarks on a quest to the court of the most fearsome warrior the world has ever known, Genghis Khan.

A rousing tale of adventure and romance about three young people who must grapple with fundamental issues of loyalty, friendship, faith, honor, and courage against the backdrop of conflicts that still resonate today.

Review:  I placed a request for this book based on the strength of its plot description and the beautiful cover. Even though there was a massive red flag telegraphed to me with the love triangle set up, I thought “Sure, why the heck not? Who doesn’t like a good ole fun trip into the time of the Crusades?” Alas, right off the bat I struggled to get into this book, and by the last page I was more confused by the editing (or lack thereof?) of this book than anything else.

The story follows our three intrepid adventureres: Princess Elaine, her betrothed Conrad, and Rashid, an assassin sent to kill Elaine. All three are made up of a complicated mixture of the best and worst aspects of their respective belief systems, be those religious or cultural, as well as a myriad of other aspects that go to prove that no person can be defined so simply. While journeying together through various trials and tribulations, they all must learn that their fellow travelling companions are just as complex as they themselves.

As I said, I didn’t love this book. But before I get into its challenges for me, I want to highlight some aspects of the book that I did enjoy. Firstly, I liked the historical setting and the way that was tied into the book. I also really liked a lot of the broader concepts about prejudice and tolerance that our three main characters explored throughout the story. There were the obvious debates about religious disagreements came to by the Christian Conrad and the Muslim Rashid, but the story also explored gender roles with the limitations placed on Elaine as a woman growing up in a time where very little was expected, or permitted, of women. Overall, there was a nice combination of action and adventure mixed in with these larger debates in a way that allowed the book to explore some pretty big topics without coming across as overly preaching. The fast pace of the story also helped in this regard.

So those are my pros. But mixed within some of those same things that I enjoyed were also the parts of this book that I struggled with. As I said, I liked the historical setting of this book and the fast paced nature of the adventure made for a snappy read. But mixed together, it also left the book feeling oddly light and surface-level as far as its world. Our main characters jump from place to place and action piece to action piece so quickly that I never really felt like I had time to really sit back and examine the intricacies of the setting in which these events were taking place. For a book that covers of settings and ground, I never felt like I was really given any time to appreciate that fact. The plot was too busy getting from point A to point B to allow for this.

The fast paced nature of the story was also fun, but it also felt like it undercut some of the more somber moments in the story and restricted some of the character development. While overall I did like the three main characters, I also never really felt overly attached to any one of them. They often felt like the standard, expected characters for a story like this. So, too, the story they were travelling through also felt pretty expected. There weren’t any big surprises, and the few twists that there were, were exactly the ones you’d come to expect. I don’t need huge surprises around any corner, but at a certain point a sense of newness does help.

But my biggest problem came down to the writing itself and one very specific thing: the POVs would change without any indication or warning. Even in the middle of paragraphs! Even to characters who weren’t one of the main three. In the very first chapter, we’re introduced to Elaine, but then random sentences come through from the perspective of those around her commenting on Elaine herself. There’s no explanation for why we’re suddenly in this new character’s mind and then just as suddenly, we’re back to Elaine. It was incredibly distracting and quickly started to drive me crazy as we went on. I’m not sure what was going on there, but this specific aspect is where I think a good editor was needed. This is the kind of writing tic/flaw that a good editor will flag and help an author work through during the revision process. For some reason that didn’t happen and what could have been a better story suffered for it.

Ultimately, this writing issue was really the nail in the coffin of my enjoyment of this book. There are some good bones here, but for me, I couldn’t get past the distraction of this. That, plus the light descriptions of setting and sometimes too-fast nature of the story, ended up outweighing the parts of the story that I did enjoy. This could be good for fans of historical fiction, especially those interested in this time period. But we warned that if you’re sensitive to writing quirks, this one might be a struggle.

Rating 5: It had some good things to say about prejudices and tolerance, but the weird POV issue was too much for me.

Reader’s Advisory: 

“The Sword and the Dagger” is a newer title so it isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists, but it is on “2019 YA Historical Fiction.”

Find “The Sword and the Dagger” at your library using WorldCat!

 

 

 

Serena’s Review: “The Shadowglass”

38504533Book: “The Shadowglass” by Rin Chupeco

Publishing Info: Sourcebooks Fire, March 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+

Book Description: Tea is a bone witch with the dark magic needed to raise the dead. She has used this magic to breathe life into those she has loved and lost…and those who would join her army against the deceitful royals. But Tea’s quest to conjure a shadowglass—to achieve immortality for the one person she loves most in the world—threatens to consume her heart.

Tea’s black heartsglass only grows darker with each new betrayal. And when she is left with new blood on her hands, Tea must answer to a power greater than the elder asha or even her conscience…

Previously Reviewed: “The Bone Witch” and “The Heart Forger”

Review: Given the timing of when I started reading this series, I was able to get through the first two books quite close together. Which meant I had a long wait ahead of me getting to this one. And, since the storytelling presented in this book is broken into two portions, there were quite a number of cliffhangers and unresolved plotlines left dangling after the second book. All the more nerve wracking as I waited for this, the final book in the trilogy. And, well, I’m not sure that the extra time between reads worked in this book’s favor. Or perhaps I was already on a downward trajectory overall. Either way, unfortunately, I felt like this was a frustrating end to the series.

Things are finally starting to come ahead for both Teas, past and present. The past version of our main character is beginning to feel the walls close around her as one disaster after another seems to strike. Surrounded by a small band of loyal followers, she finds herself on the run from not only the elder Asha but entire nations. Driven by the knowledge that secrets about shadowglass and bone witches are being kept from her and the world, Tea goes on a path of discovery that will lead ultimately to her banishment and the death of many of her loved ones. Present Tea, on the other hand, has come fully into her own, surrounded by her powerful beasts and on a rampage throughout nations. Her plans are not fully clear, but it’s clear that those who stand in her way are not coming out of things on the winning side. Is Tea’s mission one of justice or is it simply the darkness inside of her fully taking control?

I’ve always found these books a bit confusing. The world-building is incredibly unique, and that’s a huge pro for the series. But there is something about its execution that doesn’t read clearly. The writing style, perhaps, leaves something wanting in the clarity department, and the choice to alternate between two story lines, each with its own complications and mysteries, doesn’t help matters. There are aspects of past Tea’s life that are referenced way back in book one, but aren’t answered until this, book three. That’s simply too long for me to have kept track of everything involved in the timeline, especially when all references made in the “present” timeline are obscured through the strange way that present-Tea is made to speak.

This has annoyed me from the start: Tea’s sudden tendency to rattle of pert little phrases of wisdom and mystery. It’s not a natural way to talk and reads in stark contrast to the past Tea who reads and speaks more like a typical person. The mode of present-Tea’s speech added extra layers of confusion to all of the references she made to events from the past. This being the case, as I was reading this book, I constantly felt like I was missing things. And then when I referenced back to the first book, I would fine that present-Tea has entirely misrepresented the situation, usually, again, with some type of unnecessarily cryptic remark. This made for an incredibly frustrating reading experience. I was lucky that I still had copies of the first two books on hand, but even so, I found this need to refer back very annoying.

I also had had some concerns from the very start about how well these two storylines would merge, and I was right to worry. Again, Tea’s sudden transformation from the past version of the character to the cryptic, almost all-powerful Tea of the present didn’t read as natural. Had the chapters been laid out in order, the jump would have been sudden and strange, and the fact that it was broken up over three books didn’t do enough to obfuscate the matter.

I was also unsatisfied with the reveals themselves. Like I said, there were about a million and one referenced mysteries that had been dropped throughout the first two books that needed resolutions here. But as these resolutions appeared, I found them increasingly annoying. Several of the referenced events don’t really make much sense and require characters to be willfully blind to some pretty basic facts to pull off. Tea’s own regrets and feelings of guilt also don’t make sense, now seeing some of these events play out. Everything just felt a bit off.

This feeling of being offkilter was all the worse because the bones (pardon the pun) of the story are still good. Like I said, the worldbuilding is incredibly unique, and I’m always going to applaud an author for creating a complicated world, magic system, and arc for her story. But the slight “offness” of everything, be it the writing itself  or the way the storyline actually unfurled, became increasingly hard to read as the series progressed.

Like I said, maybe the fact that I was able to read the first two books more closely together played in their favor. I definitely had to spent a lot more time reminding myself of a lot of details of this world, character, and story as I got into this book which made it hard to simply sink in and enjoy it. I also feel like the time away left me freed up to think more critically about the story and character arc itself, as well as be a bit more put off by the writing style.

This was a disappointing return to the series. Though, I will say that now that the series is complete, readers might have more luck and enjoyment if they are able to read all three books back to back. That mode of reading could play highly in the series’ favor, reducing the confusion of a returning reader and retaining the interest of readers across books. If you do like dark fantasies, I still recommend checking this series out, but definitely plan on reading them all at once. As for returning readers, your experience may be different than mine, but I was left disappointed by this conclusion, not because of the ending itself, but by basic mechanics of the storytelling that seemed to stand out in a more negative light in this book than they had in the first two.

Rating 6: For me, a disappointing end. The writing felt more strained and the storylines didn’t feel like they ultimately linked up together naturally.

Reader’s Advisory: 

“The Shadowglass” is on these Goodreads lists: “Asian Fantasy & Science Fiction” and “Speculative Fiction by Women of Color.”

Find “The Shadowglass” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World”

40698027Book: “A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World” by C. A. Fletcher

Publishing Info: Orbit, April 2019

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

Book Description: My name’s Griz. My childhood wasn’t like yours. I’ve never had friends, and in my whole life I’ve not met enough people to play a game of football.

My parents told me how crowded the world used to be, but we were never lonely on our remote island. We had each other, and our dogs.

Then the thief came.

There may be no law left except what you make of it. But if you steal my dog, you can at least expect me to come after you.

Because if we aren’t loyal to the things we love, what’s the point?

Review: Let me tell you, a raging debate took place in my mind when deciding whether or not to place a request to read this book. On one side we have the fact that the book description sounds right up my alley, and I’m almost always looking for a good post-apocalyptic story, especially one that seems to be trying to do something new and avoiding the over-saturated realm of dystopian fiction. On the other hand, the book description references a dog being stolen….and I would NOT be ok if something happened to the dog. And let’s be real, this is a tragic world we’re entering, chances are good something would happen to the dog! But in the end, I let my better angels persuade me that fear of pet-related tragedy wasn’t a good enough reason not to read what otherwise sounded like an awesome book. And I’m so glad I did!

Generations have passed since the end of the world as we know it. But while everything is different, much is still the same, like the love of Griz’s small family and the special connection between Griz and his dogs. In a world gone quiet, made up of brief sailing trips to scavenger for more supplies, the dogs provide crucial support not only in their rabbit-catching abilities but in the happy-go-lucky, loving relationship that has always marked the special bond between dogs and humanity. So when Griz wakes to find one dog has been stolen away, he knows what he must do. What follows is a harrowing tale of endurance in the face of impossible odds, small beauties to be found in emptiness and tragedy, and the special place family, be that human or dog, holds in what could otherwise be a bleak existence.

There was so much to love about this book that it’s hard to know where to start. I think one thing that really stood out to me was the world itself. From the very first page, the emptiness and quiet of this new world was apparent. What also stood out was the fact that our narrator, Griz, has come on the scene several generations after the event that struck down the world we know. That being the case, Griz is piecing together the remnants of a foreign world and society, to varying levels of success. The reader is often left guessing as to what exactly Griz is referencing or describing, since he doesn’t always know the purpose behind the things or places he discovers. There was also a character who spoke a different language and the way this was handled was especially clever. The determined and curious reader will have a lot of fun unpacking these bits.

Griz is also a very effective narrator. The story is written in first person told from a Griz who is relating his story from some period in the future. That being the case, there are often references to the fact that some choice or another will have some impact down the line that past-Griz wouldn’t have known about but that present (and narrating) Griz now reflects upon through different eyes. As for the character, Griz was a lovely combination of being innocently naive while also supremely capable in the face of numerous challenges. There is a sense of sadness woven throughout the story, but Griz’s reflections throughout are poignant and often hopeful in the face of some very sad things. I often found myself wanting to highlight various quotes throughout and will definitely be going back to note a few to reference later.

The story is also both what I expected and much more. There is a lot happening throughout, but it also read at a slow, measured pace, giving ample time to focus on, again, the beautiful, quiet reflections of Griz. I really enjoyed how well-balanced the story felt. There is real danger to this world, and we get a few really great action scenes to highlight this fact (but not necessarily the danger you would expect, which, again worked in favor of keeping the story feeling new and original). But there was also time spent highlighting the strangeness of human interactions and relationships in a world where very few humans even exist.

I won’t spoil anything, but there’s definitely an interesting twist towards the end. I ended up guessing it, but I still think it was done very well. In fact, it’s the kind of follow through on a surprise that I wish we had seen in another book I reviewed recently. If you read this one, you’ll know what other book I’m talking about! I also won’t give away what happens with the dog. I will say that there were tears on and off throughout the book, but I still left it feeling incredibly satisfied and immediately passed it off to my friends and family. If you enjoy post-apocalyptic stories, this is definitely one worth checking out!

Rating 10: I loved this book, heart-wrenching and heart-warming at the same time.

Reader’s Advisory: 

“A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World” isn’t featured on any relevant Goodreads lists yet, but it should be on “Best Post-Apocalyptic Fiction.

Find “A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World” at your library using WorldCat!

Baby/Pregnancy Books: Part II

So, surprise! I had a baby last month! And in honor of my little one, and to acknowledge that alongside all the great fiction books I’ve read and reviewed over the last 10 months the fact that I’ve also been obsessively researching baby information, I’ve decided to dedicate my two posts for this week to four of my favorite pregnancy/baby-related reads. It really shouldn’t come as a surprise that, as a librarian, reading was/is my go-to coping method when the first-time mom anxiety hit(s) and there are a lot of resources out there. Some were ok, some seemed like a textbook for scare tactics (I’m looking at you “What to Expect” series), but these four were pretty solid for me specifically. Now, of course, pregnancy and parenting is all very individualized to how people approach life and children, so massive warning that these fit what I was looking for and in no way reflect some type of be-all, end-all to the the vast, VAST expanse of resources and approaches on these topics. So, that out of the way, here are the second two I’m highlighting.

25923717Book: “The Science of Mom: A Research-Based Guide to Your Baby’s First Year” by Alice Callahan

Publishing Info:Johns Hopkins University Press, August 2015

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: It seems like every time a new mother turns on her computer, radio, or television, she is greeted with news of yet another scientific study about infancy. Ignoring good information isn’t the right course, but just how does one tell the difference between solid studies, preliminary results, and snake oil?

In this friendly guide through the science of infancy, Science of Mom blogger and PhD scientist Alice Callahan explains how non-scientist mothers can learn the difference between hype and evidence. Readers of Alice’s blog have come to trust her balanced approach, which explains the science that lies behind headlines. The Science of Mom is a fascinating, eye-opening, and extremely informative exploration of the topics that generate discussion and debate in the media and among parents. From breastfeeding to vaccines to sleep, Alice’s advice will help you make smart choices so that you can relax and enjoy your baby.

Mini-Review: So while my first two recommendations on Wednesday had to do with birth and labor, these two books have to do with early infancy and the millions of questions that come with it! I read both of these books when I was pregnant, so at the time, while I knew the information would be useful, I was also coming from a purely theoretical viewpoint. Now, after the fact, I find both of these even more useful. Again, surprising no one, this book focuses on analyzing the research behind the many, MANY recommendations that come with early infancy. And with recommendations comes debate, especially as, if you ask any woman, especially those from different generations, these recommendations are constantly changing. How do you know which to follow and which may be just the most recent “fad?” Well, truthfully, we’re all just guessing. But this book does a good job of really looking at the research behind the current recommendations and letting new parents get at least a better understanding of what the debates are and some basis for coming to their own conclusions. I’ve referenced it a few times now when trying to make decisions about my baby.

39784002Book: “On Becoming Baby Wise: Giving Your Infant the Gift of Nighttime Sleep” by Robert Bucknam & Gary Ezzo

Publishing Info: Hawksflight & Associates, Inc, September 2006

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: The infant management concepts presented in this book have found favor with over two million parents and twice as many contented babies. On Becoming Babywise brings hope to the tired and bewildered parents looking for an alternative to sleepless nights and fussy babies. The Babywise Parent Directed Feeding concept has enough structure to bring security and order to your baby’s world, yet enough flexibility to give mom freedom to respond to any need at any time. It teaches parents how to lovingly guide their baby’s day rather than be guided or enslaved to the infant’s unknown needs. 

The information contained within On Becoming Babywise is loaded with success. Comprehensive breast-feeding follow-up surveys spanning three countries, of mothers using the PDF method verify that as a result of the PDF concepts, 88% breast-feed, compared to the national average of only 54% (from the National Center for Health Statistics). Of these breast-feeding mothers, 80% of them breast-feed exclusively without a formula complement. And while 70% of our mothers are still breast-feeding after six months, the national average encourage to follow demand feeding without any guidelines is only 20%. The mean average time of breast-feeding for PDF moms is 33 1/2 weeks, well above the national average. Over 50% of PDF mothers extend their breast-feeding toward and well into the first year. Added to these statistics is another critical factor. The average breast-fed PDF baby sleeps continuously through night seven to eight hours between weeks seven and nine. Healthy sleep in infants is analogous to healthy growth and development. Find out for yourself why a world of parents and pediatricians utilize the concepts found in On Becoming Babywise.

Mini-Review: For a book about sleeping, there sure is a lot of talk about breastfeeding in that book description. I am definitely of the mindset that”fed is best” so take this recommendation for what it is and not any grand statement in favor of exclusive breastfeeding or any other “stance.” No, what appealed to me about this book (beyond the obvious of course! I mean, who doesn’t want their baby sleeping through the night as soon as possible?!) was the nice balance it seemed to strike between hyper scheduling feeding/sleeping and some type of more “baby led” or attachment parenting style. Using the tips from this book, the baby is less on a schedule than on a routine or rotation of activities. I’ve found this so, so helpful! Not only do I feel like nighttime feeds have become more manageable more quickly, but as a panicky new mother, I felt like I had a better guess as to what was actually going on when my baby cried than I would have had otherwise. I really can’t recommend this book enough, regardless of how you feed your baby. With its emphasis on full feeds (rather than “snacking” where the baby eats in short bits and then wakes up 30 minutes later and its a constant, exhausting cycle), I fully believe this booked helped me not lose my sanity in the early days. It took some early commitment, what with keeping baby awake to eat and letting baby fuss a bit in bed, but I do think it set us all off on the right track.