The Great Animorphs Re-read: Megamorphs #1 “The Andalite’s Gift”

1153858 Megamorphs #1: “The Andalite’s Gift”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, January 1997

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: We never should have done it. But we needed a break. You know, some time off from the superhero stuff. A chance to act like normal kids. Well — as normal as four kids who can morph, a hawk, and an alien can be. Everything should have been cool.
Now Rachel is missing. And there’s this…this thing that’s after us. But it’s not up to me to tell the whole story. Tobias, Cassie, Marco, and Ax were there, too. Even Rachel has some info to add. So go ahead and check this out. And remember not to tell anyone what we’re about to tell you. It could mean the difference between life and death. Or worse…

Narrator: Everyone!

Plot: Visser Three has a new pet and it hunts by sensing the energy given off when someone morphs. This, obviously, spells trouble for the Animorphs who must race to find a way to take out this strange creature all while their major advantage, their morphing ability, is also now their greatest weakness. As far as the story goes, that’s about it. Rachel ends up with amnesia, just to throw another wrench in the gears. There is a lot of action in this book, racing away from the Veleek, morphing different animals to see how the Veleek reacts, getting captured on Yeerk ships, and some more ocean action towards the end when they find a way to kill the beast.

This is the first “Megamorphs” book in the series. I think there ends up being around 4 or so of them? The book is longer than the typical books in the series and features chapters from the perspectives of all the Animorphs. While I enjoyed this book, I do remember liking the later “Megamorphs” books better as I feel like Applegate does a better job of coming up with things for them all to be doing in those. As you’ll see in the character portions, the action isn’t very evenly divided and certain characters (mostly Jake and Tobias) don’t end up with much to do and other Animorphs (Rachel) end up with storylines that, in the end, don’t have any tie-in/impact on the primary story arc. The stakes just never seem very high, and so far, this has been my least favorite book in the series. However, fun was still to be had in parts, so onwards!

Our Fearless Leader: Strangely enough, other than Tobias, Jake has the least to do in this book. Rachel has amnesia. Cassie saves the day. Marco and Ax are abducted. And Jake…becomes a tiger? Towards the end there is some commentary that Jake is the type of person who will become president some day due to his ability to make the necessary tough decisions, even when those decisions involve sending people he cares about (Cassie) into danger.

Xena, Warriar Princess: Even with amnesia, somehow Rachel ends up caught in the most gruesome fight scenes in this book, as detailed in the “body horror” section below. But it must speak to a deep truth about her character, some type of nature vs. nurture aspect, where she will go full throttle whenever challenged even if she isn’t quite sure why she can change into animals, what aliens are doing roaming the earth, and what not. She just knows that she can become a grizzly. And if you mess with her, that’s what she will do! The whole amnesia thing was a bit strange, though, really. There was no actual impact on the story due to this, so it mostly just felt like an added story line that went nowhere. But…oh well, I still love Rachel and enjoyed watching her confront the horror of their whole situation for the first time again.

A Hawk’s Life: Poor Tobias. Not only does he get way fewer chapters than the rest of them (I believe he even had less than Ax!), but he literally sleeps through the major action scene in the middle of the book. I have to think that it was around this point that Applegate started playing around with options for getting Tobias back in the game. Turns out that as emotionally traumatic as it was turning one of her characters into a hawk, there isn’t a lot of plot action that can come from it and figuring out what to do with Tobias in the mean time during all of these books had to start getting frustrating.

Peace, Love, and Animals: There’s an adorable scene towards the end where Cassie meets up with Rachel who is still struggling with her memory. So to kill two birds with one stone, Cassie goes on a ride on Elephant!Rachel and gives her a quick run through of their history. The mental image of Cassie riding along on Elephant!Rachel is just precious. Besties forever! Their friendship is one of my favorite parts of the book, and probably my favorite part of Cassie’s character since she is the one I struggle with most in the series.

But, after a moment of weakness in the middle of the book that leaves Cassie questioning herself, she is the crux to the whole story. Her unique talent at morphing allows her to speed through the many morphs necessary to pull off their “drop through the air while morphing from a cockroach on Tobias’s back to human to a whale in order to crush the Veleek into the ocean where it’s particle body will break to pieces” crazy pants plan.

The Comic Relief: Marco’s truly terrible driving makes a second and even more extended appearance (last time was in book #2, I believe). Without even knowing its him, Rachel hears the car coming and thinks to herself “that’s a very bad driver.”

BAM! BAM! BAM!
“Do you hate trash cans?” Jake asked. “Is that your problem? Do you just HATE TRASH
CANS?!!”
“I can’t drive with you screaming in my ear,” I [Marco] said.
“You can’t drive at all!” Jake said.

Turns out that when Marco volunteers for this little jaunt, his driving experience came from video games. Later the scene devolves into Marco continuing to drive, only this time he has Tiger!Jake in the back of the truck. Honestly, the Marco/Jake snark through all of this was probably the most fun part of the entire book.

Other than the silly mouse plot at the beginning (see the “bad plans” section), Marco’s major action comes from being captured by the Veleek and ending up on a Yeerk space ship alongside Ax. They escape by jumping out an open hatch, essentially. Come to think of it, a disproportionate amount of time in this book is spent with various Animorphs plummeting through the air desperately trying to morph.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Ax now has a 60/30 chance, it seems, of somehow ending up captured and on board a Yeerk space ship. Not counting “The Capture” where Jake is Controlled and which doesn’t involve really any major Yeerk battles, Ax has ended up on a space ship in 2 of the last 3 books. And, more importantly, gotten off alive, which is quite the feat! Sure, this time the space shift was still in the atmosphere which is the only reason his and Marco’s plan to just “jump out” worked, but still! I also have to suspect that Ax is going to continue to play a pretty strong role in continuing the charade that the Animorphs are all Andalite warriors. In this book, Visser Three mentions that some of the Yeerks had begun to become suspicious that humans may be involved, but here Ax is! But, Visser Three has also already met Ax and noted that he is a youth, something you don’t typically see in Andalite fighting forces. You’d think he’d start to be curious that the only Andalite he’s meeting is the same young kid. Hm…we’ll see I guess!

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: Two come to mind immediately, both for poor Rachel. The first comes right after she’s woken up from hitting the tree as an eagle (thus the amnesia) and discovers that she is halfway through morph. Now the descriptions are as nasty as ever about what midpoints in morphs are like (random patches of skin here, feathers there, talons sticking out of legs), but what makes it worse is that Rachel, at this point, has no memory! So the horror of waking up to find your body in that condition with no context for it?? The second moment comes after she’s been attacked by the Veleek in her bear morph and has had both of her paws…ahem…removed (what is it with her bear morph losing paws?!). And there’s a particularly gross part later on where she describes human fingers emerging from the gory stumps of her arms as she returns to human form. Yeah…

Couples Watch!: There are a few little references here and there to our favorite two couples. Rachel mentions that she takes care of things for Tobias that he can’t manage himself (like bringing him books to read!), and doing just that is what leads her into the amnesia trouble. She also remembers Cassie and Tobias first when she begins having flashes of memory. Cassie also mentions that Jake can read her facial expressions better than anyone else later in the book. And also resents the fact that she is suspicious that he sent her to look for Rachel around town (when they all realize she’s missing) not only because she’s Rachel’s best friend, but because he wanted to keep her out of danger.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: At one point in this story, Chapman meets up with a few other Controllers and one of them literally compares Visser Three’s melodramatics to the antics found in bad spy novels. I’ve been saying it all along!

Also, Visser Three’s ongoing love affair with Tiger!Jake shows up again in this book. I mean, the guy has, outloud!, waxed poetic about the tiger morph, and cats in general (Rachel’s house cat being the other instance), four times that I can remember at this point! And we’re only 8 books in! I think it’s safe to say that he has an obsession.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: This one actually avoided most of the tragedy. There’s a point towards the end where Cassie tells Tobias that they will need to tell her parents what happened to her if her plummeting towards the ocean as a whale plan doesn’t work out, but only when it’s safe. So that kind of struck home about the reality of what would happen if one of their missions ended badly. They couldn’t even tell the parents why their child died because it would put the family at risk. Sads.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: Well, Marco’s idiotic mouse plan in the beginning has to be mentioned. Essentially, he’s not invited to a girl’s pool party and instead of handling this gracefully, Marco decides to crash the party in mouse form to “see if anyone’s talking about him” since “she obviously has a crush on him.” It’s completely in character, and yet you just have to feel bad for poor Ax who gets dragged along with really no clue about any of this. Pool parties. Crushes. Teenage gossip. Immature practical jokes. At one point, Ax puts the whole thing down to Marco suffering from an affliction called “sense of humor.” And that he’s seen this strange affliction cause Marco to do bizarre things in the past, as well, so this must just be yet another instance.

Favorite Quote:

I think this exchange proves why I always hone in on how similar Rachel and Marco really are to how they approach the war. Essentially the same way, but Marco can resist quipping.

“Rachel isn’t here to cast her vote. So, on her behalf, I’ll say what she would say: What we need to do is find a way to kick this Veleek’s butt.”
Cassie smiled. “And what would the real Marco say to that?”
“He’d probably make some stupid but very funny remark,” I admitted. “Then he would start thinking about how to do just that: Kick this big windbag’s dusty butt.”

Scorecard: Yeerks 1, Animorphs 4

While the Animorphs do manage to kill Visser Three’s killer alien creature, their real success is simply: came out alive. So no points for anyone!

Rating: This was a fun first attempt at a book told from the perspectives of all the characters. But it’s also clear that Applegate was struggling a bit with the format and trying to find action for them all. If I remember correctly, the next two “Megamorph” books do a better job 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: “Silence Fallen”

30687916Book: “Silence Fallen” by Patricia Briggs

Publishing Info: Ace Books, March 2017

Where Did I Get this Book: e-galley from NetGalley

Book Description: Attacked and abducted in her home territory, Mercy finds herself in the clutches of the most powerful vampire in the world, taken as a weapon to use against alpha werewolf Adam and the ruler of the Tri-Cities vampires. In coyote form, Mercy escapes only to find herself without money, without clothing, and alone in the heart of Europe…

Unable to contact Adam and the rest of the pack, Mercy has allies to find and enemies to fight, and she needs to figure out which is which. Ancient powers stir, and Mercy must be her agile best to avoid causing a war between vampires and werewolves, and between werewolves and werewolves. And in the heart of the ancient city of Prague, old ghosts rise…

Review: The tenth book in the Mercy Thompson series sees our intrepid heroine off on her own, kidnapped to another country. While the series is beginning to show its age, I still very much enjoy these characters, and choosing to set the story in a new location added a new dimension to a familiar story.

Mercy Thompson remains my one of two favorite urban fantasy heroines (right up there with Kate Daniels), and, as the series has progressed, she has been the primary draw for my returning to the series. As I mentioned earlier, this is the 10th book, and with a long-running series like this, its not surprising that story arcs can begin to feel familiar and the cast of characters begins to be unmanageably large. Briggs uses a clever trick to side-step both of these issues by setting this book in Europe after Mercy is kidnapped by a powerful Italian vampire. Suddenly we’re in a new location and the cast of characters involved is greatly reduced to only Mercy herself and Adam and the select few others he brings along on his “rescue” mission (the term “rescue” always requires quotes when it comes to Mercy as she is typically as capable of getting herself out of trouble as she is at getting herself into it, though she gets a pass on that last part in this one as her kidnapping was clearly not of her own volition). We’ve had a few other books where we’ve swapped viewpoints between Mercy and Adam, and here that format is utilized once again.

Mercy’s storyline is fairly straight forward. Escape her kidnappers, travel across Europe, somehow land in even more hot water, and learn more about her shapeshifter heritage and how her unique powers to see and talk with ghosts could mean even more than she had previously known. The first bit is pretty par for the course. At this point there really isn’t much tension that can be built around Mercy’s original dilemma. We’ve seen her kidnapped or in the clutches of a much more powerful being one too many times to be really intimidated by this setting, and, smartly, Briggs moves past this fairly quickly.

One of the remaining mysteries in this series is Mercy’s background as a child of Coyote, a powerful Native American spirit, and what gifts this has bestowed upon her. My favorite parts of this story revolved around the added depth that was given to this topic and the introduction of a much more vast and expansive history for Coyote’s influence and work in the greater world. Briggs also introduced a new creature with the Golem of Prague, a powerful being whose mysteries Mercy must unlock to save herself and the city.

Adam’s storyline was much more…political. While I enjoyed seeing a few of my favorite characters back (Stephan has been absent quite a lot in the last several books), it was also disappointing to find that much of his story arc ultimately served very little purpose. The larger dynamics that take place within the vampire seethes worldwide was interesting, but Briggs sets up the Italian vampire lord as one of the most powerful supernatural beings in the world and then…it all kind of comes to nothing? There were a few exciting moments, but much of this arc was taken up with carefully worded negotiations and power plays, but very little action. And in the end, the reader is kind of left wondering what was the point of it all?

There was also a neat twist towards the end that I didn’t see coming. However, it also threw a few things into question. Adam’s perspective makes up half of the story, and we know that he would be informed of this particular secret, but when we’re reading his earlier sections, it reads as if he is unaware of this. I know that this is to keep the reader in the dark, but it doesn’t ring true that Adam would think/act this way knowing the truth that we later find out. When it was revealed, I found it to be very jarring and had to go back and re-read several section to both now further appreciate what was going on and to confirm that yes, it was weird that this was written this way in the first place given Adam’s knowledge of it the whole time. This seems like a small quibble for what was actually a very neat reveal. But I wish there had been a way to neaten it up so that that same fun reveal wasn’t undercut by what had come before.

Ultimately, I very much enjoyed Mercy’s story line, but I was left underwhelmed by Adam’s. I still loved reading chapters from his perspective, but the arc he was given wasn’t strong. For an Alpha werewolf, he was given very little actual action, and the end results of his storyline didn’t feel worth the time it was given throughout the book. In the end, I’m not quite sure why it was even necessary to split this book into two parts. The ending would have needed to be changed, but it feels like very little tweaking would have been necessary to focus this story in on the more interesting arc and do away with the overly extended political maneuvering all together. Especially given that, by the end, things simply felt re-set and I was still left questioning the point of it all.

Rating 6: The original strengths of these books (its main characters) are still going strong, but the series is beginning to fray at the edges.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Silence Fallen” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Bad Bitches of Urban Fantasy “ and “Native American Paranormal.”

Find “Silence Fallen” at your library using WorldCat!

Previous reviewed: “Mercy Thompson series review” and “Fire Touched”

Serena’s Review: “The Beast is an Animal”

29522966Book: “The Beast is an Animal” by Peternelle van Arsdale

Publishing Info: Margaret K. McElderry Books, February 2017

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: A girl with a secret talent must save her village from the encroaching darkness in this haunting and deeply satisfying tale.

Alys was seven when the soul eaters came to her village.

These soul eaters, twin sisters who were abandoned by their father and slowly morphed into something not quite human, devour human souls. Alys, and all the other children, were spared—and they were sent to live in a neighboring village. There the devout people created a strict world where good and evil are as fundamental as the nursery rhymes children sing. Fear of the soul eaters—and of the Beast they believe guides them—rule village life. But the Beast is not what they think it is. And neither is Alys.

Inside, Alys feels connected to the soul eaters, and maybe even to the Beast itself. As she grows from a child to a teenager, she longs for the freedom of the forest. And she has a gift she can tell no one, for fear they will call her a witch. When disaster strikes, Alys finds herself on a journey to heal herself and her world. A journey that will take her through the darkest parts of the forest, where danger threatens her from the outside—and from within her own heart and soul.

Review: I am going to start this review by talking about the cover, because it is rare that I see a cover that so perfectly sets up the atmosphere of the book. Dark, yet beautiful. Indistinct, yet you feel drawn in, almost against your will. The tall dark trees, shadows, and bright red flowers all spark instinctive warning symbols in your head and that looming shape in the middle….is it a person? A creature? Or simply a strangely shaped tree stump? Whoever came up with this art design in the publishing house should be awarded major points for exactly matching book art to its source. Like this cover, “The Beast is an Animal” was beautiful, and terrifying, and I couldn’t look away.

At its core, this is a book about fear and about the horrors that a simple emotion can inflict on an individual, a family, and an entire community. Neighbors, always on the look out for witches to blame for poor weather, poor crops, posed almost a greater danger than the dark, looming forest around which many small communities exist. It is into this world that Angelina and Benedicta are born, twin sisters whose looks, down to unique birthmarks, exactly mirror the other. After a poor farming season, they, and their mother, are blamed and banished to live in the woods, and a husband/father who should have been their protector slinks away to begin his life again with a new, fresh-faced woman. Their mother doesn’t flourish. Angelina and Benedicta do, slowly being eaten away with bitterness and anger at the fear that lead to their banishment. And thus, two monsters are born.

After all of this set up, we meet Alys, our main character who throughout the book also struggles with the fear of “otherness” that floats around her. After her whole town is destroyed by the souleaters, excepting all of the children under 15, she and her fellow orphans go to live in a new town. While they do take the children in, this new community is even more stifled, building walls around their small town and forcing the children to guard it every night, all night.

We watch this story unfold over three periods of Alys’s life. First, when she is 7 and her town falls to the souleaters. Second, when she is 12 and begins to suspect that she has more in common with the souleaters and the mysterious Beast that haunts the woods. And finally, at age 15 when she must confront both the truth about herself, and the darkness that is growing in the heart of the woods.

What I loved about this book was how it plays with the topic of fear and bad/good. Are Angelina/Benedicta evil? Or were the “normal folk” who banished them? Where does the Beast fall on this spectrum? What about the community that takes in the children? While the supernatural elements were scary in their own right, it was the oppressive fear of the people themselves that made the book truly creepy. Alys, and the medicine woman who adopts her in the new town, are constantly on the look out for any hint that they are beginning to fall under suspicion for being different. The devices and tortures used against these supposed “witches” were more terrifying than the supernatural souleaters if only because we know from history that these things existed.

As I said in the beginning, what makes this story truly compelling is the atmospheric tone of the writing. It feels like a new fairytale, containing not only the darker elements that are typical to original fairytales, but also reads with a lyrical flow, combining beautiful imagery with poignant insights into the deep tragedy at the heart of the story.

Alys is a strong protagonist around which to center this story. However, Mother, the woman who adopts Alys in the new community, was the breakout character for me. She doesn’t have a lot of page time, but she provides a window into a world, and life, that Alys is trying to avoid. Mother is a midwife whose skills are depended on, but who must also constantly hide what she is doing and how she is doing it for fear that she would be labeled a witch. Her own personal tragedies, as well, must be similarly hidden. When Alys first meets her, she dislikes her, noting that she is cold and unemotional. But as the story goes on, we see that this is a coping mechanism and self-preservation tactic from a woman who has devoted herself to aiding a community of people who would as soon see her burned at the slightest sign of strangeness.

Like I said, the supernatural elements were very creepy (much more than I expected and in some ways this might have been a more “Kate book” than mine), but the descriptions of life in these walled up and fearful communities was almost unbearable to read. I was just so angry at these people! And it is this aspect that really marks this book as a success. The reader falls into the same trap as Angelina/Benedicta, and even Alys, thus making these characters all the more sympathetic, for all of their evil deeds. Fear leads to anger. And anger leads to…

I can’t say enough good things about this book! If you enjoy original fairytales and can handle a healthy dose of creepiness, this book is definitely worth checking out!

Rating 9: A beautiful, standalone dark fantasy novel. I absolutely loved it!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Beast is an Animal” is newer and thus not many relevant Goodreads lists, but it should be on “Popular Dark Fairy Tales”  and “Twin Thrillers.”

Find “The Beast is an Animal” at your library using Worldcat!

The Great Animorphs Re-Read: #7 “The Stranger”

51s1mxgi0qlAnimorphs #7: “The Stranger”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, January 1997

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: Rachel and the other Animorphs have finally found the new entrance to the Yeerk pool. They’ve even figured out a way to sneak in. The infamous roach morph. But they didn’t count on roaches being a Taxxon delicacy. This time escape doesn’t look so good.

And then everything stops. Everything. The feasting Taxxon, the human-Controllers, the Hork-Bajir. Time. Now Rachel, Cassie, Marco, Jake, Tobias, and Ax are in for their wildest trip ever. They’re going to get the chance to decide whether they want to stay on Earth and fight the Yeerks. Or go to another planet. And the guy giving them the choice says he can save them. Now all they have to do is make the choice…

Narrator: Rachel

Plot: So much happens in this book! We have major family drama in Rachel’s personal life, with her father moving to a new city/state and asking Rachel to come live with him. We have a the re-discovery of a Yeerk pool entrance and a rather disastrous trip down. We meet an all-powerful alien creature called an Ellimist who offers to whisk the Animorphs, their families, and a few select humans away to a new planet to re-start the human race, claiming the war on Earth is lost. We have time travel. We have new morphs. We have major wins and major loses. And again, this is a tiny, tiny book!

As highlighted above, the main drama for this book comes with the arrival of the Ellimist and his offer to save the Animorphs. After deciding against his offer the first go around, the Animorphs all sink into a very dark place, but Rachel especially, questioning their motivation to continue fighting a war that they are being told is unwinnable. In an attempt to convince them for a second time, the Ellimist jumps them all forward in time to a version of their city that is now completely overrun by Yeerks. The school is laid to waste with skeletons of teachers left at their desks. The mall is a hive for Taxxons. And Rachel meetings a chilling older version of herself who now a Controller herself and palling it around with Visser Three.

After being returned to their own time, however, the group begins to question what they have seen. Future Visser Three’s strange reaction to Ax (being surprised that he was there), and the seemingly endless power of the Ellimist himself, leads the group to wonder at the elaborate methods being used to convince them and the inevitability of this so-called future. They come to the conclusion that the Ellimist is playing his own game within the structure of the rules imposed on him  by his kind. He has said that he’s not allowed to interfere, only to save the group. But through his interactions with the Animorphs he has saved them once (freezing time the first time he meets them when they are about to become Taxxon chow and allowing them an opportunity to spot an exit) and then showing them key intel  by transporting them to the “future” (they spot one skyscraper from the old city skyline that has  been left untouched). They are able to deduce that this skyscraper is where the Yeerks are storing the Kandrona, the food source that is transmitted to the Yeerk pool and sustains the Yeerks when they swim in it every three days. Back in their own time, the Animorphs are then able to use this knowledge to infiltrate and destroy it, marking a major win for the group.

Xena, Warriar Princess: Applegate sure doesn’t cut Rachel any breaks in this book. In a nice (terrible, for Rachel, at least!) little parallel story, Rachel’s dad asks her to decide whether she wants to move to another city and live with him. With this decisions comes many pros: a renewed dedication to gymnastics, a sport her father wants to help her pursue, a closer relationship with her father, and, of course, the chance to live a “normal” life far away from the constant fear of war and the stress she feels from the role she has taken on in the group as the de facto “courageous” one. I really liked how much thought and page time was given to this story line. In a tiny book that is jam packed with tons of action and high stakes, it is impressive that we get a very fleshed out take on the hardships of this decision as well and the stress it puts on Rachel. She loves her dad. But she also loves her mom and sisters who she would be leaving behind. She feels obligated to stay in the war against the Yeerks and has begun to resent being taken for granted by the group to make the tough calls. But she also loves her friends and can’t abandon them. It’s no wonder that she has several different break downs in this book.

Here we se even more how boxed in Rachel feels by the others’ impression of her. They take her courage and willingness to fight for granted, never considering the emotional toll it is taking on her. When the Ellimist first asks them to vote, they don’t even ask her, they just assume she’ll say “no.” And then she realizes that she would, but not just because that what she feels is right, but because they all respect her and look up to her and she doesn’t want to let them down. This constant tension between being strong for the others while repressing her true feelings (she can be hurt and scared as much as the rest of them, and her fear for her family and the temptation of the Ellimist’s offer is just as strong as well) leads to spiral in the middle of the book. Not only does she snap in front of her friends, yelling at them that she’s not invincible and fearless, but she’s the first to begin using morphing as a coping tactic, hiding in the simple-mindedness of her eagle form to escape. She also seeks out a stronger  battle morph, a grizzly, on her own. Several bad decisions here. First, the Animorphs have to touch an animal to acquire its DNA, so going it alone to get face to face with a grizzly with no back up is really dumb. And then, she never practices the morph, which we have all learned in mistake numero uno and thus has some control issues when she first uses it in the midst of battle. Her bear morph is really the only thing that gets them all through, its brute strength being the tipping point in their favor against tons of Hork-Bajir, so none of them can get too mad at her, but there are still “stern talks” from Jake about these poor decisions.

Our Fearless Leader: Dear Jake is a hold out both times against the Ellimist’s offer to save themselves and his family. It’s another testament to his role as the rock of the group, not one to be easily swayed against the mission or abandon the war they are fighting. He’s also the most upfront against Cassie who sides

A Hawk’s Life: Tobias yet again proves that he is the most dedicated to the fight against the Yeerks. He not only never considers the Ellimist’s offer to give up the fight, but is savvy enough to realize that he is being used against his friends. (The Ellimist returns him to his human form during these interactions and promises to allow him to remain that way if they accept his offer). He calls the Ellimist out on attempting to leverage their love of him to manipulate them into accepting so as to spare him a return to life as a hawk. Have I mentioned that I love Tobias?? It’s also fun seeing him pair up with Marco in the beginning of the book to discover an entrance to the Yeerk pool. It makes sense that he would do something like this having tons of time on his…er…wings, and Marco/Tobias is a team up that we don’t often see, so it was a fun twist.

Peace, Love, and Animals: Man, I really do try with Cassie, and there are times (like in the last book specifically) where I really love her character. But she immediately signs on to what the Ellimist is offering, and while I can see this being a true reaction for her character (approaching it as a human would view saving a few animals of an endangered species), I still have trouble respecting much of her thinking in many of the books, and this one in particular. Her lens often feels so narrowly focused that she isn’t as sympathetic as the others to me. Yeah, yeah, she loves animals and peace…but this is a really cowardly decision (not necessarily the choice as a whole, since we see the shades of grey as the rest of the Animorphs continue to struggle with the idea, but the fact that she rationalizes it so quickly). The fact that she so easily goes for it, even with characters like Ax who, presumably, knows more about this new creature than she does, is strongly warning against it, just sticks in my craw and continues to highlight what drives me nuts about her as a character. I mean, she’s the ONLY ONE who signs up immediately…that says something, I think.

The Comic Relief: As I’ve said so many times, Marco is the brains of the operation, proving it yet again by setting up the plan to track down an entrance to the Yeerk pool, along with Tobias. Other than that, Marco is the one to change his mind on the second go-around. And, again highlighting the pressure that is put on Rachel by them all, the first reason he gives for it is Rachel’s ongoing breakdwon. If the strong one is spiraling, what are the rest of them to do? It goes a long way to highlighting how highly Marco views and relies on Rachel’s courage in this battle. It’s not just “Xena” jokes, he truly does gauge their effectiveness based on her mindset, and seeing her lose it, shakes his own dedication to the fight.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Ax’s increased knowledge of the greater galaxy as a hole is again highlighted as a unique asset to the the Animorphs. Yet, I appreciate the fact that the Andalites, through Ax, are presented as a real and flawed society. They have their own biases and false histories, as evidenced with Ax’s interactions with the Ellimist. While he is correct to warn the Animorphs that there is more to the Ellimist than he presents, his clear fear and anger towards him is a bit extreme, as we see later in the book. Further, we haven’t had an Ax book yet, and there continues to be hints here and there that Ax still doesn’t view himself as really being part of this team. He takes himself out of the vote for whether to accept the Ellimist’s offer, for example, claiming it is not up to him to decide (though Rachel rightly mentally lists him as a “no” based, again, on his unsubtly expressed opinions of the Ellimist).

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: Well, first off, the fact that they were all almost eaten by Taxxons while in roach morph. But secondly, the violence! So much gross violence. Rachel gets a hand taken off in the final battle and the description it…detailed. Again, this is crazy that it was written for a middle grade audience!

Couples Watch!: While she struggles with the decision presented to her by her father, Rachel’s reaction to is fly off into the night to be with Tobias. While she doesn’t tell him everything right away, it is sweet that she clearly relies on him for emotional support. Also, when the Ellimist first appears

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: Visser Three only shows up in the flash forward bit of the story, but he’s as campy as ever when he does, parading around with future!Rachel.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Rachel’s breakdown to the group was really sad and hard to read. Even as a reader, we come to expect certain things from her and it is easy to forget that she’s not oblivious to the pressure that these impressions of her assert. So it’s a shock to hear her yell at her friends with a healthy dose of brutal honesty thrown in about how she’s always scared, too. Always.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: They actually have some fairly good plans in this one, even going so far as to think out the bizarreness of their clothes being found left on the floor of the mall’s changing rooms (the entrance to the Yeerk pool and where they all morph to roaches). Sure, they are vastly outnumbered in their attack on the Kandrona tower, but there is really nothing to be done about that and all’s well that ends well, I guess, even with lost hands/paws in the mix.

Favorite Quote:

Ax is having trouble adjusting to the small things of life on Earth…like “human minutes”…

“You know, Ax, they’re your minutes now, too. I mean, we are all here together on good old Earth where we only have one type of minute.” – Marco

Scorecard: Yeerks 1, Animorphs 4

A major win for the Animorphs in this one, taking out the Kandrona and likely dooming hundreds of Yeerks to starvation.

Rating:

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: “The Bloodforged”

24611461Book: “The Bloodforged” by Erin Lindsey

Publishing Info: Ace, September 2015

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

Book Description: As war between Alden and Oridia intensifies, King Erik must defend his kingdom from treachery and enemies on all sides—but the greatest danger lurks closer to home…

When the war began, Lady Alix Black played a minor role, scouting at the edge of the king’s retinue in relative anonymity. Though she’s once again facing an attacking Oridian force determined to destroy all she holds dear, she is now bodyguard to the king and wife to the prince.

Still, she is unprepared for what the revival of the war will mean. Erik is willing to take drastic measures to defend his domain, even if it means sending Prince Liam into a deadly web of intrigue and traveling into the perilous wild lands of Harram himself.

Only the biggest threat to the kingdom might be one that neither Alix nor Erik could have imagined, or prepared for…

Review: This book needs one subtitle, and one subtitle only: “The Bloodforged: A Lesson in Going from Bad to Worse.” Not in quality, mind you. But the plot…phew! War and politics aren’t fun for anyone it seems!

The story picks up six months after the great battle that ended the previous book, and Alix’s kingdom is still very much at war. And not just any war, a war they are well on their way to losing. As Rig reports back from the front line (being now the General of the King’s armies), they only have a few months left unless they can secure aid from their neighboring countries. And thus Lindsey neatly separates all of our favorite main character off onto dangerous diplomatic missions where we spend a good amount of time wondering who has it worse.

First off, there is a major change in style for this book from the first. While it starts off from Alix’s perspective, it is quickly established that we will be following three other characters, primarily. Liam, who is sent to discover what is delaying the launch of a promised fleet of ships from the neighboring republic. Erik, who along with Alix, begins a treacherous trek through the mountains, home of the fierce mountain tribes, to reach their other neighbors who are also dilly dallying about committing to help. And Rig, back off to the front lines and tasked with holding the enemies at bay while reinforcements are begged for by the others. Alex, really, gets much less page time than the three others, and while at first I was frustrated by this change, I soon found myself equally invested in the tales of these three men.

Even more so than the first book, this second story in the series pushes even further away from any “fantasy” trappings. This book is largely about war tactics and political tactics. Again, it is hard to figure out which would  be more painful to have to deal with. Poor Liam, new to his role as crown prince, is completely out of his league trying to navigate the political maneuvering of a republic whose players are all focused more on re-election than in helping him uncover the mystery of the sabotaged fleet, all while fighting off attempts on his life. And poor Rig. Fighting a losing battle on the kingom’s borders, not knowing when or if help will arrive. Even worse, he discovers that there is at traitor in his midst. And then Erik and Alix, their perils are perhaps the most straightforward, but just as dangerous. Cold, hunger, snow, and wild tribesman who don’t turn a friendly eye on trespassers all present hindrances on their attempts to reach their allies across the mountains. All of these three stories were intriguing and I would have a hard time picking one as a favorite. This is a huge win for a second book in a series where our main character is pushed to the side in favor of splitting the narrative between three other characters who had largely been only secondary in the first book.

Another change is the shift in romance. Obviously, our newlyweds, Alix and Liam, are almost immediately separated which marks a rather distinct end to any expectations that this book was going to have much happy romantic fluff in it. Instead, the book shifts to focusing on those left on the outside of this relationship, most notably Erik who had given up his attachment to Alix in favor of supporting her and maintaining a relationship with his newly discovered brother. Turns out feelings don’t just disappear. Further, Liam is blissfully unaware of the admiration (crush) that one of his fellow soldiers has for him. I appreciated that both of these mini arcs were handled respectfully and honestly. Liam’s naivety was endearing and hilarious at times. And I just felt sorry for Erik much of the time as it was always clear that Alix’s heart was forever Liam’s.

One flaw of the book was the lack of resolution to a few key points. Liam’s admirer is never really confronted, and the story line just fades away completely in the end without it ever being addressed. More frustrating, the spy in Rig’s camp is not outed in this book as well. More so with this second point than the first, some of these dropped plotlines may be simply being left for the final book in the trilogy.

As I said, the magical aspects of this book were largely pushed to the background. However, it does come roaring back in the end of the book, though this does result in a big of a cliffhanger. So , be warned of that. This book does need to be read after the first one, and does end in such a way that would be unsatisfying if you’re not on board for a third book. And, like I said at the beginning, things go from bad to worse in many ways, so readers are left on tenterhooks for the fate of the realm and our favorite characters by the end. I have no idea how Lindsey is going to resolve all of these factors, but I’m excited to find out!

Rating 8: A solid sequel that surprised me in many ways!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Bloodforged” is included on this Goodreads list (probably not that helpful) “Redheads”  and should be on this list (probably more helpful) “Political Fantasy.”

Find “The Bloodforged” at your library using Worldcat!

Previously Reviewed: “The Bloodbound”

Serena’s Review: “The Burning World”

16148435Book: “The Burning World” by Isaac Marion

Publication Info: February 2017, Atria/Emily Bestler Books

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: R is recovering from death.

He’s learning how to breathe, how to speak, how to be human, one clumsy step at a time. He doesn’t remember his old life and he doesn’t want to. He’s building a new one with Julie.

But his old life remembers him. The plague has another host far more dangerous than the Dead. It’s coming to return the world to the good old days of stability and control and the strong eating the weak, and stopping it will require a frightening journey into the surreal wastelands of America—and the shadowy basement of R’s mind.

Review: This book came into the publishing world like a new Beyonce album: no word, and then suddenly it appears! I highlighted this book as one that I was looking forward to reading, but also with a bit of trepidation. “Warm Bodies” was such a beautiful, funny little book that opened and closed so neatly that the thought of a sequel had honestly never even crossed my mind. So, while I was excited to re-visit this world, especially in the aftermath of Julie and R’s discovery of re-animating (?) zombies back to humans, I was a bit concerned that it was going to succumb to sequel-itis and bring nothing new to the table while negatively impacting the brilliance of the original. And while there were a few rough patches, particularly in the beginning, I am pleased to report that Marion’s expansion to his world and series is well fleshed (ha!) out!.

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You can’t stop this laugh train! (source)

“The Burning World” picks up a few months after the events of “Warm Bodies,” and things aren’t going as smoothly as Julie and R had hoped re: reintroducing the zombies into society. I mean, in the movie version of the first book, the zombies and humans are literally playing baseball together and sharing umbrellas in the end. This book quickly does away with any of these happy fantasies. Turns out people aren’t quite as easy to convince that beings that used to kill and eat their brains are really just uber repressed people who need to reconnect with their feelings if only they’d give them all a chance! Even R himself, the protege of this whole zombie-transformation-movement is struggling with the reality of this transition. When he was cured, mobility, language, and most especially, memory didn’t suddenly just reappear. They’ve all had to be tediously re-learned, and when the story begins, it is clear that he’s hit a bit of a wall.

When I made my admittedly very bad pun about fleshing out the world, that is probably the most notable aspect of this book. Marion takes his rather simplistic little zombie world and really goes crazy with it. Half the appeal of “Warm Bodies” was the complete lack of importance that was given to the history of the world. Something went wrong, zombies appeared, and this is the hell everyone is now living in. No explanation necessary. Doing away with this charm was a risky move, but a challenge that Marion proves to be up to meeting. Not only do we get details into R’s own history, but through his patchy and slowly returning memories (present in flashbacks interspersed throughout the story) we see how broken the world really was. If anything, the world of “Warm  Bodies” was a step in the right direction from what had come before! Fractions and zealots fought for power, religion and business warred to control the minds of the people, and zombies were almost an after thought to the craziness.

One particularly, albeit smaller, detail that was brought to the table was the reality of what transforming from a zombie that can’t be killed by anything less than a shot to the head into a person entails. Nora’s story comes to the forefront as a nurse attempting to treat these re-emerging injuries. If you’re shot as a zombie, you don’t heal. Becoming human again doesn’t magically do away with life-ending injuries. This brought a level of seriousness to the procedure that I hadn’t expected, and one that is tied into a major plot line for Julie later in the book.

Most of the plot involves an airplane roadtrip across America. Julie’s home is invaded by a shadowy group with whom R is having strange kindlings of memories, forcing them to go on the run. Mixed in with the expanded world (which cities fell, which cities burned, which came up with their own rule of law), our heroes are faced with the constant question of what future they are running towards: one in which they fight or one in which they flee. I loved how these questions are never approached with an obvious answer. The characters on either side make valid arguments, and though as a reader I knew what the ultimate decision would be, I appreciated the fact that other survival techniques were not poo-pooed away.

So, I really did love much of the book. The expanded world, the added characters, R’s complicated history. However, there were a few setbacks. In the beginning especially, I felt as if the writing was a bit stilted and trying too hard as far as philosophical musings go. “Warm Bodies” hit just the right balance in this regard, and I felt like “The Burning World” suffered from the weight of expectations. Once the story really gets going, there’s enough of a structure to hang these existential musings upon, but in the beginning it just felt tedious and a bit forced.

Secondly, there was a strange “We” character that would show up between chapters. Even by the end of the book, I’m not sure what I was supposed to be getting from these chapters. And it’s not like there were only a few! There were pages of this stuff, and much of the same tedious philosophical ramblings would be crammed into this section with no character or story to really focus on. About midways through we meeting a zombie boy who becomes something of a character in these bits, but the whole thing still feels very strange and disconnected from the story. Presumably it’s building towards some sort of reveal in the final third book in this series, but in this one it felt like a distraction and an unwarranted break in the main plotline’s action.

And on that note, there is a bit of a cliffhanger at the end of this book. Nothing intolerable, in my opinion, but it does end in a manner that requires a follow up read to really reach any type of resolution to both the story and character arcs. But, luckily, this was a strong enough sequel that I’m all in for the next and last book!

Rating 8: A solid, surprise follow up to a story that, previously to this, I had been happy enough seeing as complete!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Burning World” is newly released and thus not on many Goodreads lists, but it is on  “Zombies!” and should be on “Apocalypses and Dystopias.”

Find “The Burning World” at your library using Worldcat!

Serena’s Review: “Ghostly Echoes”

28110857Book: “Ghostly Echoes” by William Ritter

Publishing Info: Algonquin Young Readers, August 2016

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

Book Description: Jenny Cavanaugh, the ghostly lady of 926 Augur Lane, has enlisted the investigative services of her fellow residents to solve a decade-old murder—her own. Abigail Rook and her eccentric employer, Detective R. F. Jackaby, dive into the cold case, starting with a search for Jenny’s fiancé, who went missing the night she died. But when a new, gruesome murder closely mirrors the events of ten years prior, Abigail and Jackaby realize that Jenny’s case isn’t so cold after all, and her killer may be far more dangerous than they suspected.

Fantasy and folklore mix with mad science as Abigail’s race to unravel the mystery leads her across the cold cobblestones of nineteenth-century New England, down to the mythical underworld, and deep into her colleagues’ grim histories to battle the most deadly foe she has ever faced.

Review: Trekking right along with my read through of the Jackaby series, “Ghostly Echoes” starts off basically right where “Beastly Bones” leaves off. Jenny, the local friendly ghost whose murder has went unsolved for a decade, has finally decided to take things into her own hands. Literally. She actually learns how to pick up things. But this is an important step, and one that coincides with the return of murders that seem to match the M.O. of her own assailant many years ago.

This book represents an interesting turning point in the series so far. Up to this point, the books have been largely stand-alone novels. Sure, a few things will be referenced here and there, but very few plot lines carry through directly from one book to the other. However, in the last book, Ritter laid the groundwork for a “big bad” to best all “big bads.” And one who had been operating in the background all along. Here, we find this is very true, with the plot lines from not only its direct prequel, “Beastly Bones,” but also from the first book in the series, “Jackaby,” being tied together to a larger mystery.

However, this book was very hit and miss for me, tonally. Ritter was essentially wanting to have his cake and eat it too with this one. The larger plot line and mystery were intriguing. Both Jenny’s burgeoning abilities to operate in the real world, the murders that seem so similar to her own, and the clues that begin to point to a strange organization that is operating with its own nefarious agenda were interesting. There was a lot to get through just with this main story line.

But Ritter had also to pay off the set-up he had built with the previous two books where readers expect to find wit, strange beasts, and madcap adventures. All of these bits, while good, seemed to fit in strangely with the more serious tone of this book. I found myself getting pulled one way and the other when the book would veer back and forth between the main story and the smaller interactions that, while important to the overall plot, felt more light and oddly out of line with the rest of the story.

As I mentioned in my last review of the series, the story is at its best when the character of Jackaby is used sparingly. He did have more page time in this story than the last, but this book also did a lot of work building up his past and making him into a more three dimensional character with deeper inner struggles than the simple “wacky Doctor-like” character he has been presented as for the last two books. I was happy to see him becoming more of a character than a plot point.

Towards the end, Ritter did seem to find his footing a bit better, sending Abigail off on an adventure of her own. However, Abigail probably was the least served character by this change of pace to the series. As I mentioned above, Jackaby’s past and character are fleshed out more fully. Jenny becomes an actual character in her own right beyond simply being a friendly ghost and friend to Abigail. But Abby herself? Largely it just feels like she was there to narrate the story to us. And while she does get her own action, it is only that: action. There didn’t feel like there was a lot of character development for her in this book, which I sadly missed. Also Charlie! He was barely there!

So, in conclusion, this book was a bit of a mixed bag. I very much liked the added depth that was given to the greater story line that now pulls through all the books in the series. And Jackaby himself is a more intriguing character now that it has been revealed that he is more than just a quirky, gimmick. But my favorite character, and the main character of the series, was left dangling a bit. And tonally, the book was a bit all over the place, teetering between a more serious larger plot line, and the expected wackiness established in the first two books.

The next and final book comes out this summer, however, and I am still excited to see how Ritter wraps up this all up!

Rating 7: Some imbalanced highs and lows make for a mixed bag read, but still a strong series overall!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Ghostly Echoes” is included on these Goodreads lists: “YA & Middle Grade Historical Mysteries”and should be on this list “YA Mythology Challenge.”

Find “Ghostly Echoes” at your library using Worldcat!

Previously Reviewed: “Jackaby” and “Beastly Bones”