Book Description: When Greta Helsing, doctor to the undead, is unexpectedly called to Paris to present at a medical conference, she expects nothing more exciting than professional discourse on zombie reconstructive surgery and skin disease in bogeymen — and hopefully at least one uneventful night at the Opera.
Unfortunately for Greta, Paris happens to be infested with a coven of vampires — and not the civilized kind. If she hopes to survive, Greta must navigate the darkest corners of the City of Lights, the maze of ancient catacombs and mine-tunnels underneath the streets, where there is more to find than simply dead men’s bones.
Review: I loved the brilliantly odd “Strange Practice” and blazed through it in a single summer day last year. So there was no question that I would get my hands on its sequel, “Dreadful Company” as soon as possible. And the quirkiness, strong characters, and unique world-building came through for me again!
Though a doctor to the undead, Greta Helsing’s responsibilities are very similar to those you’d find for any medical professional, up to and including attending conferences and presenting on obscure topics of medical interest. While at such a conference in Paris, however, things go astray when Greta starts noticing strange (but adorable!) little monsters popping up at her hotel room. Where did they come from? Why are they here? What starts out as innocent questions quickly leads Greta down a path that leads to a nasty group of vampires who read a few too many Anne Rice novels for anyone’s tastes. But even this may be just the beginning of a much more serious threat looming over the entire city.
One of the biggest strengths of the first book was its world building and the clever manipulation of classic monsters into new, often very suave, beings. And here that strength is just as evident. In a new city, we are introduced to several new creatures ranging from the adorable well monsters and hair monsters that lurk in Greta’s hotel room to the bigger power players such as a werewolf who has been the guardian of the city for centuries and two undying ghost experts who are just in town to handle a local haunting. They are all expertly crafted and incorporate interesting twists on the traditional lore associated with these types of supernatural creatures.
Of course, the vampire coven itself is one big mockery of many of the tropes found in vampire fiction. You’ve got leather, you’ve got glitter, you’ve got bones used to decorate gothic, blood orgies. And while they serve as menacing villains on their own, half of the fun is enjoying Greta and her friends scathing judgement of the silliness of this group.
Of course, among the new faces, we also have the familiar ones of our favorite vampires, Rutheven and Varney who must come to Paris when they discover that Greta may be in over her head (but is she really, guys? It’s Greta! Girl can get it done!). In the first book, there were several fun asides having to do with the classic vampire fiction which was derived from these two real vampires’ lives. Here, we have even more classic monster tales making an appearance, even if the monsters themselves remain in the shadows. Probably one of the most fun pieces of this story, for me, was watching how these classic tales were worked into the story on hand, and I was particularly thrilled when one in particular became a much larger focus than I had originally thought!
Greta, of course, is her usual excellent self as the heroine of the tale. While this book incorporated even more characters, which meant even more page time that needed to be shared between their stories that twisted in and out of Greta’s own, I still found myself preferring her story specifically. Not only is she a fun character to follow, but it was great seeing her in action in this story, winning over her foes with her competence and sympathy. She may not be up to fighting any battles with supernatural beings, but here she proves why she doesn’t have to.
The story was slower in the beginning, so it did take a bit for me to become fully invested in events. As I said, Greta is sharing the stage not only with the familiar characters from the first book, but with an entirely new cast of characters, friends and foes alike. And while all of their various plot lines tie together neatly in the end, in the beginning it was a bit tough reading some of the slower storylines while wanting to anxiously get back to the action with Greta. It all pays off in the end, however.
For fans of the first book, I definitely recommend continuing with this series! In many ways, it’s even stronger than the first.
Rating 8: A solid second showing proves that the clever concept and compelling characters weren’t a one-off!
“Dreadful Company” is a newer book so isn’t on any relevant lists, but it should be on “Magic Punk.”
Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, January 200
Where Did I Get this Book: own it!
Book Description:While Jake is away at an out-of-town wedding, Tobias discovers the place where Visser Three feeds. There is a unanimous decision to acquire cheetah morphs and run him down. But which Animorph will lead the mission in Jake’s absence?
Plot: Ugh, I don’t want to. I don’t want to! This is probably the first time I’ve been truly uninspired to write up one of these recaps. The closest other instance was probably…also a Rachel book back with the split personality thing. And given her characterization in this book, I guess it’s hardly surprising that I’d find this one to be torture. It’s as if the ghost writer only read the megalomaniac!Rachel chapters from that one book and then went straight into writing this one. It’s truly, truly awful. So, with those bright thoughts, here we go!
Jake is out of town and the Animorphs have discovered the location of Visser Three’s new feeding ground. Knowing that he regularly changes this location, they decide they need to strike now and strike fast. They also decide to go with a new morph, the fastest mammal on the earth, the cheetah. Conveniently, the Gardens just got a pair. They acquire the morph (don’t ask how! details like this don’t matter!) and head off to the meadow. There, with no plan whatsoever, they morph cheetahs and take off after the Visser. Of course, things don’t go as they planned and the HUGELY OBVIOUS downside of their morphs, the very limited endurance of the cheetah, quickly becomes a problem as they fail to capture the Visser and begin getting taken down by some new super speedy creature. When it finally stops, they discover a new species that looks vaguely similar to Andalites and which has fallen to the control of the Yeerks. This particular one is infested by a Yeerk who identifies himself as Councilor Thirteen, an up-and-comer who is on Earth to monitor Visser Three’s progress with the Andalite bandits and who aspires to a position on the Council itself.
After the Animorphs manage to drag themselves away, they gather back in the barn to discuss what to do with this new information. They all decide that this opportunity is too good to resist (is it?? is it really??) and that they should do something to further discredit Visser Three. But without Jake as a leader, the group worries that they will not be able to effectively make decisions as they go along. They need to elect someone temporarily. Rachel is super gung-ho for the job. For reasons. Mostly having to do with mentally calling herself an unconquerable hero and other bizarre ego-maniacal terms. Marco puts up a brief resistance, but it never goes to a vote as he figures Cassie and Tobias would both vote Rachel and Ax, as always, has taken himself out of the equation.
Rachel comes up with the “brilliant” plan (one of many the group has in this book!) that the best way to discredit Visser Three is to out-right attack and terrorize known Controllers in their places of work, causing general mayhem and destruction and convincing the Inspector that there are more Andalite bandits than they had suspected. They move forward with this plan, starting with a TV studio that they completely trash while terrifying a group of tourists who happen to be stopping by, one of whom is an elderly man who collapses from the shock. They locate the Controller, Rachel delivers their “threat,” and they all bounce. The team continues this tactic all around town, destroying businesses and “threatening” the one Controller who works there. Rachel revels in all of the action and is generally riding high throughout it all (I mean, like, actually “high.” She seriously read as if she was one on some type if stimulant or in the middle of a manic episode).
And here they would have Hork-Bajir shock troops. A very different proposition from scaring off civilians and roughing up human-Controllers. I wasn’t sure exactly what we’d do once we got there. But I knew I’d figure out something. I was Rachel! Hero warrior and interim king!
(Seriously, this is just one of the many quotes I highlighted where Rachel reads as truly insane. This could have easily fit in the mean!Rachel chapters in the starfish book without any adjustment needed. And here, we’re supposed to buy that this is just normal Rachel…)
As they go, the remaining members of the team begin to feel more and more unsure about this plan, especially worrying about the elderly gentleman who collapsed at the TV studio. But Rachel disregards their concerns, and they save the biggest priority hit for last: the community center that The Sharing built and where Tobias was captured and tortured several books ago. Rachel has another brilliant idea for this attack specifically: they should all forego their comfortable, secure battle morphs and instead all morph their relatively under-used polar bear morphs. More power, more better! (Sure, Rachel never actually said that, but seriously, it wouldn’t be out of place with the rest of the nonsense she was spewing in this book.) The group pushes to investigate before barging in, but Rachel will have none of it.
The group powers in in their polar bear morphs. Unsurprisingly, the community center is much more equipped than the other human-operated places they had hit before. Not only is Visser Three himself there, but there are a bunch of Hork Bajir and the terrifyingly fast Councilor Thirteen himself. Visser Three inexplicably morphs some disgusting alien creature and then just as inexplicably demorphs said creature. The polar bear morphs quickly begin to fade, not able to cope with the extra heat in the building. They struggle to retreat, with Rachel staying behind to cover their backs. They finally make it out, but realize that Cassie is not with them, she’s been captured by the Yeerks. Around this time, they also overhear some local news that the older man at the TV studio died of a heart attack, and while he had suffered from this ailment for a long time and could have went “at any time,” the group, and specifically Rachel, still feel responsible.
Back in safety, the group gathers together and begins to fall apart. Marco is enraged. Tobias is silently judgemental. And Rachel breaks down crying, feeling like an utter failure (cuz duh, girl, you were). Marco is particularly harsh on her, accusing her of using her tears to garner sympathy and saying that she fought him for leadership and look where it go them. Defeated, she gives up, saying she will no longer be the leader, and that she alone will go into the Yeerk pool to somehow save Cassie. Marco follows her and says that while his analytical skills could have been used back at the community center, right now the group needed her, the reckless one who would suggest a crazy enough plot that might actually work in a situation as dire as this one. Rachel has another plan.
In their human form (!!!), the group climbs a fence at an airbase and steals a jet. With Ax at the wheel, they take off, barely making it when Ax decides to swerve a bit to miss a deer that just happened to stray into their path. Once in the air, the truly crazy part of the plan comes into action. The team has decided that the best path into the Yeerk pool is simply straight down through the roof of a building that the Yeerks have constructed directly above the pool. One by one, members of the Animorphs bail as birds (why were Tobias and Marco even on this part of the mission if they just had to get on and off??) until only Rachel is left to direct the plane in its crash. She hits the building, but is only partially morphed to bald eagle as the plane crashes through. Somehow, she completes her morph and escapes the plane just as the wreckage crashes into the Yeerk pool.
Mayhem ensues as the Yeerks rush to lock up all of the host bodies. In the midst of it all, eagle!Rachel spots polarbear!Cassie being held captive and brazenly attacks the Hork Bajir holding her. Together, they manage to break free, but before they can escape, Visser Three and the Inspector show up. Instead of quickly taking the two of them out, Visser Three poses a challenge to the Inspector, daring him to take out these two Andalite bandits right now, proving that he can do what Visser Three cannot. The Inspector attacks, and his speed quickly gives him the advantage over the two. As they fight, Tobias and harrier!Ax carrying cobra!Marco swoop down from the hole in the ceiling. Visser Three continues to taunt the Inspector, telling him that now is his opportunity to take out not two, but an entire group of Andalite warriors, that he will gladly give all credit to the Inspector and immediately resign as Visser if he pulls it off. Harrier!Ax drops cobra!Marco and begins demorphing to his Andalite form. From there, he engages the Inspector one-on-one. As they fight (Ax only barely managing to hold off the Inspector), cobra!Marco slithers up and strikes. As birds, one carrying Marco, the group flies away. Visser Three gloats over the dying Inspector and allows the group to leave.
On her own, Rachel visits the grandson of the man who died at the TV studio. She claims to have been in the studio when he died, and apologizes to the kid. He’s confused, but she quickly leaves. She runs into Jake on the way out and he explains that he talked to Cassie and Marco who filled him in. He reassures her that as long as the number of Animorphs alive is the same, she did OK. He also says the rest of the group said she did alright (what??). Rachel asks how Jake deals with it, being leader. She briefly glimpses his own terror at the task, but he quickly puts up his mask and claims that he just doesn’t think about it. Rachel tells him to never leave again.
Xena, Warrior Princess: Oh, god, it’s so terrible. For all my whining about the lack of character development for Jake in the last book…I take it back! I TAKE IT BACK!! That was sooo much better than the complete abuse that has been done to Rachel’s character in this book. I was truly serious when I said that this book reads as if the author had read zero, ZERO, of Rachel’s previous books other than the mean!Rachel chapters from the starfish book. It’d be laughable if it wasn’t so infuriating. She repeatedly refers to herself as the hero and the king, seemingly in all seriousness. Her behavior is off-the-wall crazy and she is power-hungry from the get-go. Gone is any of the careful consideration that was put into developing Rachel’s fears of what she is becoming. Oh no, instead she is sure that she is the absolute baddest most awesome hero ever. Again, she is seemingly sane and serious when she is thinking these things.
Her fight for leadership is also completely bizarre. Throughout the series we’ve seen some good interactions between Rachel and Jake specifically, and in none of them did it seem that Rachel coveted his role as leader. So it’s absolutely asinine to see her fighting so strongly for the role here. Further, her “plans” are absolutely ridiculous, to the point that it’s crazy to believe that any of the others would follow her on them. While Rachel is brave and reckless, this has most often manifested itself as based on her own fears of appearing cowardly or not upholding her role on the team. She knows that she is seen as the brave one, thus she has to be the brave one, and often we see the enormous burden that this puts on her. But nope! Here that recklessness and bravery just manifest as literal insanity and, frankly, stupidity.
She gets mildly better towards the end with the action down in the Yeerk pool, making decisions from the viewpoint that if someone was going to die or be left behind, it would be her. But even there, amidst even the better moments, she still refers to herself as the king. Ugh.
The scenes where she apologizes to the grandson and talks with Jake are also so truncated that they provide next to nothing. We don’t see any reflection, especially with the brief two paragraphs that we get with the grandson, and even her conversation with Jake never gets past the surface level. There is absolutely no pay off or explanation for the complete butchery that has happened to her character up to this point.
At one point we get this line from Marco, and honestly, he can’t be more right:
“Are you on medication?” Marco put his hands to his head. “No, I really want to know. Seriously. ‘Cause I think your dosage needs to be adjusted.”
Our Fearless Leader: Jake is gone for most of this book. When he does return, the conversation with Rachel is probably one of the stronger (??) parts of the book, but as I said above, even that was a big let-down. The Animorphs had just destroyed tons of businesses filled with regular people going about their lives and then topped it off by crashing a plane into a building. There is no way that A.) the others would have ever said that anything about this was “OK” and B.) that Jake wouldn’t flip out. I don’t care if he is trying to comfort Rachel about them all being alive in the end; this thing was such a complete shit show that if you actually stop and think about the repercussions, it has to be one of the biggest disasters the Animorphs have caused so far (other than the David incident, and arguably worse than that, considering the effects on innocents left by this). There’s no way Jake would just be patting her on the back about it all.
A Hawk’s Life: Most of Tobias’s role in this book is silently judging Rachel. Seriously, he uses the silent treatment on her repeatedly throughout the story and it was honestly one of the few times I actually felt bad for what Rachel was going through. In the past, we’ve seen the good influence that Tobias has had on Rachel and their ability to lean on each other to get through the tougher aspects of both of their ongoing struggles in the series. Here, it is acknowledged that Tobias and Rachel are together, but we see none of that support or care from him. Instead, like I said, there’s just a lot of silence and emotional abandonment. Sure, this version of Rachel also isn’t the one that we’ve seen before either, so I guess it makes sense that their relationship wouldn’t translate. But Tobias is kind of just a jerk here, too.
Peace, Love, and Animals: Cassie, on the other hand, is her usual supportive self of Rachel. While she again gets captured and ends up in the Yeerk pool (this is a bit of a trend with her, and I think it might say something about the character that she’s the easiest to leave out of big chunks of the story when the author is looking to have a character captured), she quickly teams up with eagle!Rachel and seemingly the two could have made their escape on their own had Visser Three and the Inspector not conveniently shown up. She also had one of the more fun lines from the book right after eagle!Rachel shows up in the Yeerk Pool:
<Surprised to see me?> I asked.
<Sky falling in, flames everywhere, Yeerks running for cover? Who else would it be but you?>
The Comic Relief: March is harsh. Truly mean at times. Yeah, this version of Rachel completely deserves it, but it’s still tough to read. In a long, LONG, list of questions that arose from this book, why Marco wasn’t immediately considered the leader is one of the first ones that popped up in my mind. For one, we’ve seen him successfully lead the group at least twice before. This alone would make him the obvious candidate. Beyond that, the entire group has, at one time or another in their own narrated books, pointed to Marco as the most strategic of the group. Plus, the idea that Cassie and Tobias would automatically vote for Rachel is beyond stupid. We’ve hardly ever seen any previous votes be affected by relationships like this, so to think that that would have been the case here is pretty silly. Marco does have a nice speech to Rachel towards the end about needing her reckless bravery to pull off a rescue of Cassie, but given that that plan itself was so truly terrible, one has to partly blame Marco as well for not being his usual brainy self and helping out here.
E.T./Ax Phone Home: I don’t know if it’s just because I’m grumpy at this book, but I’m also starting to feel like the whole “Ax removes himself from the decision making process” trope is getting super old. By this point in the series, Ax has been on Earth for close to two years or something. The period of time when he was not around is so brief that it hardly bares mentioning. Regardless of how he himself feels about his role in the group, I have to imagine the others would push back against this type of behavior. They’re all in this together, and that includes Ax. That is especially true of these challenging, voting situations. None of the rest have the privilege of just taking themselves out of the process, and it’s increasingly strange that it’s considered normal for Ax to do this.
Beyond that, there’s a very brief discussion about the resemblance of the Inspector’s host body to the anatomy of Andalites. There might have been something interesting to this, but nope! It’s completely dropped, and I honestly have no idea why the author even bothered to include it at all.
Best (?) Body Horror Moment: Visser Three’s morph in the community center is described as being really disgusting, just a stinky blob essentially. Again, among the many questionable things in this book is this morphing sequence all together. The morph itself really seems to be nothing more than folds of stinking fat. Sure, he’s pretty inpenetrable when polarbear!Rachel attacks, but he’s also not very mobile and we’ve seen a bunch of more successful morphs in the past that would have worked much better here. The stink of the alien does prove hard for the polar bear morphs to handle, but given the level of ignorance we’ve seen from Visser Three in the past as far as Earth creatures go, there’s zero chance he would have known that this would be the effect on these morphs. And then, like I said in the recap, after he throws Rachel at the wall one time, he just as strangely chooses to demorph.
Couples Watch!: Other than Cassie being referred to as Jake’s girlfriend, there’s really not much. Tobias and Rachel’s relationship is terrible here, mostly due to the poor characterization of Rachel herself. The Tobias we know would never even WANT to be in a relationship with this headcase, so it’s not surprising that the author struggled to write any believable moments between these two.
If Only Visser Three had Mustache to Twirl: Probably the best part of the book is the Yeerk politics, especially the moments we get in the Yeerk Pool as Visser Three gleefully watches the Inspector fail to kill/capture the Andalite bandits. Not only is his dialogue pretty funny, but it’s a gratifying look into how much respect Visser Three has unwillingly built for the Animorphs. The Inspector’s host body seems pretty unbeatable with his speed, but even against only two of the Animorphs, Visser Three is supremely confident that he will fail. It’s also always fun to see the Yeerks shoot themselves in the foot with their own politics. The Animorphs would have been done for way back in book #5 if the Yeerks’ power struggles weren’t out of control. And here, the Animorphs escape multiple times because Visser Three and the Inspector are more caught up in show-boating than anything else.
Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Again, I cry over the remains of what used to be the incredible character work put into Rachel.
What a Terrible Plan, Guys!: There are so many! I mean, the entire book is made up of terrible plans! Let me list a few of them:
1.) Attacking business where a maximum of ONE known Controller works. Up to this point, the Animorphs have always operated very carefully in areas filled with regular people. But nope! That doesn’t matter now! Here, they destroy tons of businesses and terrorize countless people, all to deliver a very meaningless “threat” to one Controller at each location.
2.) Using the same morphs in all of these attacks. Seemingly the whole point of this was to have a show of force to impress the Inspector with what Visser Three is up against. They seem to think that this will make the Yeerks think that there are more Andalite bandits than previously assumed. But…how?? It’s common knowledge now that the Andalite bandits always attack in a group of six and all in the same morphs each time. And here, the same six, in the same morphs, attack place after place in sequential order, never at the same time as a larger group would do. Clearly it’s just the same group over and over again. It’s beyond stupid.
3.) They break onto an airbase IN THEIR HUMAN FORMS and steal a plane and then crash said plane into the Yeerk pool. Why?? Why are they human when they do this? Nice, identifiable-by-camera, humans. Not only would the Yeerks be able to easily trace this whole incident back to them using the tons of cameras that would be all over an airbases, but human law enforcement itself would be able to identify them and sure as heck send them to prison for this disaster.
4.) Ax swerves the plane for a freaking deer. That’s right people! Cassie’s life, and the entire future of their resistance and the planet, are on the line, but Ax can’t run over a deer. For one, I’m pretty sure most airbases have systems in place to prevent wildlife from casually ambling onto an airstrip. But beyond this, Ax of all people would be the last one to swerve for a deer. He’s probably one of the least emotionally-driven of them all and has even less connection to Earth animals than the others. It’s just ridiculous all around and a blatant attempt to build two seconds of increased suspense that is completely unnecessary given the already action-packed scenario.
5.) THEY CRASH A PLANE INTO A BUILDING IN THE MIDDLE OF A CITY. Ok, sure, this book was written before 9/11, but even the least imaginative person out there would see the huge issues with this plan. There is no way that this wouldn’t kill innocents. But hey, that doesn’t matter. At least they missed the deer.
Like I said, Visser Three gloating over the Inspector was probably the best part of this entire mess:
<Inspector!> he cried. <Look! The Andalite bandits are getting away! You must go after them!>
<I … I cannot… move …> the inspector responded weakly, haltingly.
<Yes, and very, very soon you will not be able to breathe,> Visser Three said matter-of-factly. <I will be sure to pass along your farewells to the Council.>
Scorecard: Yeerks 9, Animorphs 15
I’m giving another point to the Yeerks out of sheer fury at the stupidity of this book. The Animorphs sure do a good job for them, destroying human businesses and killing innocent people (the old man for sure, and the others who had to have died from that plane stunt).
Rating: I would give this book negative points if I could. It’s so awful it’s almost beyond words. Rachel’s characterization makes absolutely zero sense; it honestly feels like the ghost writer didn’t read any of the previous books for her. Their actions throughout the story are shockingly bad and stupid. And the book just glazes right over important scenes as if it’s no big deal.(How the heck did they acquire those cheetah morphs, for one thing? But nah, let’s not include that.) I really hated this book. Not much more to say.
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!
Where Did I Get this Book: audiobook from the library!
Book Description: Since time immemorial, humans have worshipped the gods they call Fhrey, truly a race apart: invincible in battle, masters of magic, and seemingly immortal. But when a god falls to a human blade, the balance of power between humans and those they thought were gods changes forever.
Now only a few stand between humankind and annihilation: Raithe, reluctant to embrace his destiny as the God Killer; Suri, a young seer burdened by signs of impending doom; and Persephone, who must overcome personal tragedy to lead her people. The Age of Myth is over. The time of rebellion has begun.
Review: I’m not sure how I’ve missed Michael J. Sullivan for so long. My only excuse is that sometimes I get too mired in YA fantasy specifically (because, c’mon, keeping up with that stuff is a full time job and I’m failing at even that!!). But on a whim I saw that this was available through my audiobook service at the library and decided to check it out. And boy, am I glad I did! It’s like discovering an entirely new shelf (yes, SHELF!!) of good books.
It all began in an instant, when, in a moment of panic and anger, Raithe killed the unkillable, a Fhrey whom he and his people had worshiped as gods for as long as history could be remembered. The domino effects of this decision now lead the human world into a bold new era, one that Raithe himself is reluctant to enter. But others have no choice, like a chieftain’s wife, Persephone, who finds this fight brought to her own door. And a young seer named Suri who only wants to live in the woods with her wise wolf, Mina. Others, too, both in the land of the humans and the land of the Fhrey, begin to feel the ripples of this shocking change to the world order, and suddenly so many find their lives heading in frighteningly new directions.
Wow, I was just blown away by this book. I don’t even know where to begin my gushing! The characters? The story? The world? The amazing audio book narrator? THE FACT THAT THE ENTIRE SERIES IS ALREADY WRITTEN AND SCHEDULED TO RELEASE REGULARLY?
The characters. There are a lot of them. As I’ve mentioned (again and again and, annoyingly, again), I typically prefer stories where we follow one, maybe two, main characters through a story. I often find my level of investment greatly fluctuating between characters when the cast of POVs is much larger, leading me to feel varying levels of interest and tending to skim sections as books go along. Not so, here. While we are originally introduced to Raithe and then Persephone, and while they do likely have the majority of the chapters, the book also introduces several other key characters such as Suri and even a few members of the Fhrey. These last couple of characters, the Fhrey, were the ones I was most concerned about. Were they all going to be enemies? How would their stories actually tie in with the events going on out in the human world? But I shouldn’t have been concerned. While one of these perspectives is essentially that of the villain, both provide important context clues into the cultural dynamics of both peoples and play major roles in the story, especially towards the end.
I particularly enjoyed Persephone’s story, however. Not only was she an interesting character in her own right, she was a rare exception to the type of female perspective we’re used to seeing in fantasy fiction. She’s not a young twenty something who is set up as the perfect romantic interest for the hero or who has unique magical powers. Instead, she’s in her upper 30s, about ten years older than Raithe himself, a wife and a mother. But while these roles are important to her, they do not define her or limit her storyline. Instead, in many ways, Persephone is the driving force of this rodeo and proves to be one of the more competent players in the game. I also super dig the fact that there looks to be the beginnings of some type of romance being set up between her and Raithe and the fact that this is a gender swap as far as the age gap goes.
The story itself is action packed. It’s the very beginning of a 6-7 book series, so we know that this book will mostly be setting the stage for a larger conflict. It also has a lot of world-building and character-introducing to do. So with all of that, it’s truly impressive how many cool action scenes are set throughout the book. We have politics, we have betrayals, we have sword fights, we have magical battles. It’s all there and it’s all great. What’s even better, these action sequences aren’t limited to some grand stand off at the end of the book (though there is that as well, actually multiple even there!). The story is peppered with these little skirmishes, and the book never feels like it is being mired down too much under its own weight of world creation.
The world itself is also very interesting. When I started this book, as I said, I had never read anything by this author. I was also unaware that this is essentially an ancient history prequel to the author’s other large series. (This is now its own problem since I feel like I can’t read those until I finish this one as there might be some spoilers there as to how this all plays out…but this series isn’t even all released yet so that’s even more delay in getting to those!!) But as the groundwork is being laid out in this book, I never felt like this lack of prior knowledge was a hindrance. Some of this is due to the fact that many aspects of this story are familiar to fantasy readers. We essentially have the classic trio of beings: humans, elves, and dwarfs. The magic system itself, while so far only briefly discussed, is also fairly simple and approachable. This familiarity makes it easy to quickly feel connected with the world presented and allows the story devote more time to its characters and plot. While some readers may find these similarities as almost too familiar, not providing enough unique elements to make the series stand out on its own, I, for one, wasn’t bothered by it. If the story is strong, you have solid characters, and it’s clear the author is enjoying the world they built, I say there’s nothing wrong with sticking with the tried and true classic aspects of fantasy fiction.
As I referenced above, one of the unique aspects of Sullivan’s style of writing is that he completes an entire series before beginning to release them. This is so, so refreshing in epic fantasy fiction. I don’t even need to name names or point fingers, we all know the examples. All too often, beginning a new fantasy series feels a bit like rolling the dice. Will this series have massive breaks between books? How many total years am I looking at until I get some resolution? Will the author even FINISH this series? Here, those questions are answered, and I’m so thankful for it. There are a few other authors out there, like Brandon Sanderson, who you can count on to release their books quickly and efficiently, even if they write them one by one. But it’s a whole new level of reassurance to know that a series is already finished when you start. Not only will books come out on a regular schedule, but there’s some satisfaction in knowing the author has already thought through all the various plot points, and that he will not write himself into any corners.
Lastly, this book was read by Tim Gerard Reynolds, who, as always, was absolutely brilliant. He primarily reads for fantasy fiction, and I believe he’s narrated all of Sullivan’s prior books. I look forward to continuing on with this series through the audiobooks.
Whew! A long review for this one, but well worth it given how much I had to praise! If you, like me, have somehow been living under a rock as far as Sullivan’s writing goes, I definitely encourage you to check it out. While I’m loving this series, you may want to avoid the trap I now find myself in and start with his other series that have already been published. Who knows, I may break down and skip to one of those early anyways!
Rating 9: Near perfect! Why bother saying more here when I’ve already raved on forever above?
Publishing Info: Margaret McElderry Books, September 2018
Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss
Book Description: Long ago, a village made a bargain with the devil: to ensure their prosperity, when the Slaughter Moon rises, the village must sacrifice a young man into the depths of the Devil’s Forest.
Only this year, the Slaughter Moon has risen early.
Bound by duty, secrets, and the love they share for one another, Mairwen, a spirited witch; Rhun, the expected saint; and Arthur, a restless outcast, will each have a role to play as the devil demands a body to fill the bargain. But the devil these friends find is not the one they expect, and the lies they uncover will turn their town—and their hearts—inside out.
Review: I requested this book a whim based on the book description and, frankly, the beautiful cover art. I mean, c’mon, that’s one attractive book cover! But the description also appealed to me, seeming to follow some standard fairytale modes of storytelling as well as focusing on the love and friendship between three characters. While I did feel there were a few stumbling blocks and surprises along the way, I think “Strange Grace” will be a sure fire hit for many audiences.
A small village has existed in a state of semi-paradise for many, many years. No one is ever injured or killed. But this idealic life is bough with a steep price. Every seven years, the town folk must sacrifice a boy to the dark woods to buy themselves another period of safety. But this year is different, falling only a few years after the last sacrifice, a new boy is already being demanded. Three friends find themselves searching for an answer to what seems like an impossible choice, and they and their town will never be the same again.
The strongest aspect of this book for me was the writing and the tone. While I don’t typically read straight up horror novels, I like dark fantasies. A few that come to mind as similar to this are “The Beast is an Animal” and the “Raven Cycle” series. Each delve into magical elements, but instead of fairies and unicorns, there’s a lot more dark shadows and tree branches shaped like fingers scraping at our heroes’ backs. So, too, here. ‘”Strange Magic” fully embraces its own dark themes and doesn’t pull back from exploring some fairly graphic body horror. While I enjoyed most of the creepiness here, there were bits that were a stretch for me, so go in with that warning.
So, too, this story also aligns similarly to those previously mentioned fantasy novels in writing style. The writing is lyrical, whimsical, and edged with unexpected sharp points at times. For those looking for straight forward writing this might be a bit off-putting, but if you are a fan of the writing found in books like the “Raven Cycle,” this is very well might appeal to you. I for one found it lovely and was immediately caught up in the weave of the story.
What did hold me up, however, was the pacing. While the writing was beautiful, it didn’t do quite enough to distract me from the fact that the first 40-50% of the story was very slow-moving. What’s worse, that slowly built arc was never fully resolved. The story moved as if a climax of sorts was coming, but instead the author chose to use some odd time jumps that leap-frogged right over some of the parts of the story that I had been most looking forward to experiencing. It was an odd choice that made the story feel choppy and unresolved.
The other stumbling block was the characterization of our main trio. There is a lot of diversity to be found in this group of individuals, and if you’re looking for a fantasy story that features non-binary leads, than this is a great book to find that. But other than representation alone, I never felt fully invested in any of the three characters. I understood their individual motivations and histories, but as the story unfolded, I could never quite latch on to how they were processing their own experiences. There was a lot of “telling” and not much “showing” as far the relationships between them all went. One relationship is already established when the book begins, and not much is done to expand that much further, even though events occur that would at the very least warrant a re-evaluation of how each members is experience said relationship. Instead, we are simply told that characters feel a certain way and don’t see much internal dialogue about how they are processing these changes. Another relationship between another two is established with only a few brief conversations, but based on that, we are meant to understand that they, too, have deep feelings. In the end, as far as characters go, I was simply left wanting more.
Overall, I like much of the writing and fantasy/horror aspects of the book, but I struggled more with the pacing/structure and the characters themselves. However, if you like dark fantasies and are looking for a diverse cast of characters, “Strange Magic” is definitely worth a look!
Rating 7: Beautiful writing and truly creepy dark fantasy was a bit hindered by a clunky plot and characters who never felt like they quite connected with reader or with what was happening around them.
Book Description: After her family is killed by corrupt warlord Aric Athair and his bloodthirsty army of Bullets, Caledonia Styx is left to chart her own course on the dangerous and deadly seas. She captains her ship, the Mors Navis, with a crew of girls and women just like her, whose lives have been turned upside down by Aric and his men. The crew has one misson: stay alive, and take down Aric’s armed and armored fleet.
But when Caledonia’s best friend and second-in-command just barely survives an attack thanks to help from a Bullet looking to defect, Caledonia finds herself questioning whether or not to let him join their crew. Is this boy the key to taking down Aric Athair once and for all…or will he threaten everything the women of the Mors Navis have worked for?
Review: There’s no doubt about it, this summer has been the summer of the pirates as far as my reading list as gone. It’s as if all of the authors and publisher all got together and decided that now, now was the time, just long enough for memories of the more recent “Pirates of the Caribbean” to fade away and soon enough that there is still nostalgia lingering from the very beginning. My feelings on the last several pirate-themed books have been very hit and miss, and the last was quite the miss indeed. But where “These Rebel Waves” failed, “Seafire” was there to redeem this budding genre!
Caledonia and her best friend trusted a Bullet once. And from that trust game death and destruction upon both of their families. Since then, the two women have gone on to gather together a crew of other women and a ship of their own. Together, they fight back against the Bullet’s reign of terror, and Caledonia is still looking for revenge on the boy who betrayed her. But when a Bullet ends up on their ship after saving Caledonia’s first mate, Cal is given a chance to trust again. Should she take it for the chance at new and potentially live-changing information?
So first off, thank god! A pirate story that actually has pirates and takes place on the sea! “Seafire” is just what it claims to be, as far as its action and world-building go. There are ships, a sea battles, and pirates, and all of the best type of action that one looks for in action adventure stories like these. It’s all fairly standard, but in this case, that’s a compliment.
What makes this book stand out from the rest is the cast of characters made up of the found family crew of women. The story delves into great themes such as loyalty, friendship, and of course, the love a family, be it your born family or chosen. It also explicitly deals with the challenges that family present to each other and the ways that they can let each other down, and that this applies to both born and chosen families. Each come with their own struggles, and navigating these relationships can be perilous.
Beyond these broader topics, I genuinely cared about a pretty large group of characters introduced in this book. I typically find myself only invested in the 1-2 main characters in most books, but here I found myself rooting and worrying for a much larger group. There is also good representation in this group with a solid f/f relationship between two secondary characters. But all of this investment also came with a price, since the book doesn’t shy away from the tragedies that can befall characters who regularly engage in sea battles.
As for the main characters, I mostly liked our main character, Cal. The fact that I only “mostly” liked her is also probably a point in the book’s favor, highlighting the attention given to creating a flawed, real teenage girl. Cal is by no means perfect. She is brave and determined, but all too often she makes choices based on her own personal need for revenge. She is slow to give up prejudices, but is also completely devoted to the group of women she has taken under her wing. Towards the end, I did begin to struggle more and more with her character and some of her decision-making, but I was on board enough with the rest of the story to not let myself get too bogged down in that.
There is a minor subplot of romance in the story, but I was fine with this part not taking up more time. The true relationships in this book are those built on sisterhood and friendship. As for the pacing, the book does have a slower start, but picked up quite a lot towards the end, so some patience is required when getting going. But, other than that, “Seafire” was a solid book full of badass women doing badass pirate-y things!
Rating 7: Delivers on its concept with an exciting pirate story full of strong women. The main character was at times not the most likable and it started slow, but was worth it in the end!
Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, December 1999
Where Did I Get this Book: own it!
Book Description:Morphing into killer whales, the Animorphs discover a whole new world where humans with gills exist in the deep waters below.
Plot: Ah, yes, the Atlantis book. It’s at this point in the series where I very distinctly remember switching to this attitude:
Jake gets the always dreaded late night phone call to meet in Cassie’s barn. There he finds her and several of the Hork Bajir from the free valley along with another Hork Bajir that is clearly dying despite all of Cassie’s best efforts. The Jara Hamee and Toby report that this is one of 50 Hork Bajir that were experimented on by the Yeerks in a search to create a being that could thrive underwater in order to again pursue the Pemalite ship. The experiments went horribly wrong and all of the Hork Bajir died, including, shortly following, the one in the barn. When these experiments failed, the Yeerks turned to creating a new specialized ship called the Sea Blade and they will be launching it soon.
The Animorphs jump into action and conduct their usual airborne stakeout of the Yeerk pool. When they see a large, cloaked ship emerge, they know this is it and pursue it to the ocean where they all morph orca whales (because of course The Gardens recently got an orca). They follow the ship down and eventually decide they have to attack it and destroy it and the only real way is brute force. They start going after it only to be quickly spotted and shot at by the ship’s powerful laser weapons. The group takes a lot of damage with various members, including Jake, needing to demorph and remorph several times. Finally, their only option is to all ram the ship at once. The massive blow works, crippling the ship, and it starts to sink. The group follow it to make sure it’s really destroyed, but instead see it come to rest outside of a large, underwater cave where a bizarre set of beings emerge and pull the ship inside.
Jake decides they need to follow the ship, still set on the original mission to make sure the Sea Blade is completely destroyed. They all morph hammerhead shark and head into the cave. At the back of the cave, they pass through some type of force field masquerading as a dead end. Behind this field, they come out in a bizarre ship graveyard. The space is massive and is filled with various ships from throughout the centuries, old sailing ships to more recent Russian subs. But what is really horrifying is when the examine the ships more closely, they see stuffed, dead humans displayed as if they were mannequins in a museum. They continue through the massive cave and through another entrance. Past this door they discover Atlantis.
<We come here chasing Yeerks and we end up with this?> Cassie wondered. <Is this good luck or bad luck?>
<It’s our luck,> Rachel said dryly.
The city has clearly been constructed over centuries, with the bottom layer made up of older materials and the upper with more recent steel and such. The Animorphs decide to morph birds to get a better look. They find the Sea Blade and see the Hork Bajir on board being lead away be a group of underwater beings. The Atlantians look like humans, but with larger eyes and gills in their necks. They’re armed with a variety of weapons, from bow and arrows to handguns. As they continue their search, they begin to hear what sounds like the captured Hork Bajir screaming in pain. They decide that it might be best to leave.
When they land to demorph, however, they are captured, all but Tobias who remained in the air. In their human (and Andalite form), they are brought into the city and presented to a woman who is their queen. She identifies herself as Queen Soca and that her people are called the Nartec. She invites them to tour her city and join her for a banquet, though it is clear that these are orders and not invitations.
At the banquet, the group hears the history of the Nartec people. Long ago, their city began sinking below the water. Eventually the walls they built bent inwards and formed a cave which protected them as the city fully submerged. Below water, they found glowing rocks to provide light and their people quickly adapted to their new life. Ax theorizes in private thought-speak that the rocks that are currently lighting the area are radioactive and that it is this that helped mutate the people into beings who could survive underwater. Queen Soca then goes into her plan to use the Sea Blade to attack the world above. She then dismisses them to continue their “tour.”
The group now knows that they cannot simply flee. While the Sea Blade alone could only do limited damage, there is a good chance that the Nartec people also have access to a plethora of missiles (potentially even nukes) that have sunk over the years. They also discuss why Queen Soca would be wanting to attack the surface people now of all times. Ax again theorizes that the Nartecs are perhaps going extinct due to a lack of biogentic diversity. He suspects they are very inbred and have had to breed with past ship wrekc victims to keep their people alive.
They also suspect that Visser Three is lurking around somewhere, which prevents them from immediately morphing and trying to escape. As the tour continues, they eventually end up at the Nartec hospital. Jake is suspicious about this and tries to refuse to go in. The group is surrounded, however, and soon sedated using tranquilizers. He and the others wake up face down on operating tables. They are informed that their DNA will be harvested to help the genetic cause and then they will be mummified and added to their collection. Under heavy sedation, the team struggles to move until suddenly another Nartec enters and begins taking out his fellows. Nartec!Tobias rescues the group and they all morph their battle morphs and head towards the Sea Blade.
On board the ship, Ax struggles to get through the security protocols. As he works, the Nartecs assemble outside and begin attacking the ship. They fire canons at it and blow a whole in the back end. They also begin squeezing their way through the door. The Animorphs try to hold them back, but start to become overrun through sheer numbers. Luckily (?), Visser Three shows up in a morph that has super-hot skin and can incinerate things. He starts taking out the Nartec’s himself and proposes they strike a deal: they work together and get out of this hellhole. Jake publicly agrees, but privately instructs gorilla!Marco to go to the back of the ship and try to hold the hull hole shut. Marco won’t be able to hold it against the full force of the ocean, but it should work for a bit, and Jake suspects that Visser Three doesn’t know the ship is damaged.
Visser Three gives them access to the ship’s controls, and Ax takes over as pilot with Rachel on weapons. They blow their way through to the next cavern with the museum of ships. There Jake tells Marco to let the hull go and the ship quickly begins filling with water. The Animorphs all escape and re-morph to sharks. They spot Visser Three escaping as well. They make their way out of the last cavern and return to shore. They are horrified by what the Nartec people, especially by their desecration of the dead, but, of course, the fight with the Yeerks comes first.
Our Fearless Leader: For the narrator of the book, Jake goes through very little personal growth or exploration in this book. It’s primarily focused on the action of the story. And look, when you’re going to try to sell a “Atlantis is real!!!” storyline, I get not wanting to cram in a lot more. But it’s always disappointing, too, when we miss out on these character building moments. And typically, Jake, Marco and Rachel often have the best in this area, so missing it from him is even worse.
What we do get is a lot of evidence of how far Jake has grown as a leader. In the beginning of the mission, he evaluates the group and where they are at with the new plan. He notes that with most missions, at least half of the group is having some issue or another (here, Cassie seems to be in it for the wrong reasons, Marco is rather indifferent, and Tobias is also potentially more emotionally invested than is good, while Ax and Rachel are behaving normally). It’s a good example of him quickly identifying where each member of the group is at, and also an interesting reminder of the group dynamics. Thinking back on it, this seems pretty right: it usually is about 50% of the group who has some particular struggle with any given mission with the other 50% behaving mostly normally. Ax and Tobias probably fall in the normal group more often than the others, but the stats are generally the same.
Then, throughout the story, we get the usual Jake stuff with his concerns that he is risking his friends’ lives for nothing or made the wrong choice. However, we never see any outward expression of this. He doesn’t have any freeze up or spirals of anxiety like we’ve seen in the past. Instead, at the very end of the book we get this:
My own mistakes would keep me awake at night for a while to come. But I’d been in charge for a while, now. I’d gotten past thinking I would always be right. It’s a war, I reminded myself. You did what you could, Jake. You tried to do what’s right. You tried not to make it any worse than it had to be. And you got everyone home alive.
This is a very mature outlook on things, and the first time we’ve really seen this settling of Jake’s thoughts regarding his role as leader.
Xena, Warrior Princess: Other than her usual gung-ho-ness, Rachel doesn’t have too many moments that stand out in this book, other than a scene at the very end. When they’re on the Sea Blade fighting off the masses of Nartecs, there’s a pretty badass image of Rachel standing in the doorway alone, using one Nartec as a body shield and taking out tons of others with a single paw. It’s a pretty neat image of the absolute warrior that she is.
A Hawk’s Life: Tobias to the rescue! It’s often confusing why he stays in hawk morph some of the times he does (another example comes at the end of this book when they’re all fighting on the Sea Blade. I HAVE to think that another morph would have been better against the Nartecs than staying in his hawk form). But arc of this story goes to show why it’s also a good thing for him to remain as a bird. As such, he doesn’t get caught with the others and is able to acquire a Nartec morph and rescue them in the end. From his experience as a Nartec, he’s also able to report that the Nartecs are misrepresenting their own strength and that the Nartec giving them a tour is one of the few stronger ones that is able to walk on land for long periods of time. Most of the Nartecs, like the one he morphed, are only strong in water and don’t do well on land for long.
Peace, Love, and Animals: Cassie has a very strong reaction to losing the Hork Bajir in the beginning of the story. She even has to be strong enough to advocate for letting the Hork Bajir die rather than prolong his suffering with extra measures, which is Jake’s knee-jerk reaction when he sees him start to fade. But she then takes these feelings to a very blood-thristy and un-Cassie-like level which leads to Jake placing her on his “problem” list. This reaction seems in line with Cassie, both with the stronger aspects of her personality and weaker ones. She is incredibly empathetic and, especially being the one who is tasked with healing others, it is not surprising that the death would hit her hard. But she then quickly succumbs to a revenge attitude which is another example of her moral weakness (in that her much vaunted “morality” often falls away at convenient (for her) moments.) Marco even calls her out on this poor attitude:
“What they did to the Hork-Bajir was evil,” she said.”Over the line. Way over the line. We need to teach them a lesson.”
Marco said what I was thinking. “Hey, we don’t teach lessons. And we don’t do revenge. Besides, everything the Yeerks do is over the line. We stop them. That’s what we do.”
The Comic Relief: Marco is fairly reluctant throughout this entire mission. In some ways, it seems that this falls in line with his general and ongoing frustration with the Chee’s inability to manage some of their problems, like the ship. After the events of “Visser,” it is clear that Marco has an eye on the bigger picture and partially sees this mission as not worth their time. But he doesn’t push Jake too far and agrees when it comes down to it that he will follow Jake’s lead. We don’t get to see him holding the ship together in his gorilla morph, but we have to imagine that that was one of his cooler feats of strength.
E.T./Ax Phone Home: Ax is the one to put together most of the pieces that make up the mystery of the Nartec people. He figures out how they could have adapted so quickly to life under water (the radiation) and is also able to figure out what is now suddenly driving their desperation to attack the surface world (their slow extinction). The Nartec queen also calls him the other Animorphs “pet” at one point, which he doesn’t take well.
Best (?) Body Horror Moment: Stuffed, mummified people is pretty horrifying. But what really sets it off is that when the group finally makes it back to the Sea Blade, it is already set up with the stuffed bodies of the Hork Bajir. They had just been alive and the team had heard their screams, and now here they are, stuffed and mimed to be performing functions on the ship. It’s pretty bad.
Couples Watch!: Jake gives Cassie a hug after the Hork Bajir dies in the barn and calls her his girlfriend at another point in the story. Rachel and Tobias also comment on their worry about each other when they are reunited after Tobias rescues them from the Nartec hospital.
<I’m glad you’re okay, Tobias,> Rachel said. <I hate it when you don’t get taken prisoner with us.>
<Yeah, well, I was worried about you, too.>
If Only Visser Three had Mustache to Twirl: There was a noticeable difference in the way Visser Three’s dialogue was written in this one. He was much more savvy and well-spoken than his usual, corny, rage-induced mania. It’s always a bit strange when readers can notice changes in characterization like this that come down to different authors writing differently. Though his plan to find the Pemalite ship to prove a big point to the Council of Thirteen about his worth seems right in line. It’s also always interesting when we see the Animorphs have to work alongside the Yeerks, and this was a fun example of them taking advantage of the private vs. public thought speak modes to outwardly agree to Visser Three’s plan while also plotting against him.
Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: The beginning where the Hork Bajir dies is definitely cry worthy. The story doesn’t pull back on the anguish of the Hork Bajir and the sadness of Jara Hamee as he watches his friend die.
What a Terrible Plan, Guys!: It’s not really a plan, but they sure are determined to make sure the Sea Blade is good and destroyed. It seemed like there were a lot of opportunities where some good old fashioned sneaking would have worked better than what they were up to. Jake’s plan at the end to trick Visser Three about the damaged ship was probably the best plan in the whole book.
Favorite Quote: A good burn by Visser Three:
<One can always count on two things from Andalites: That they will adopt a sanctimonious moral posture. And that when it serves their purpose, they will quickly abandon that posture.>
And for some reason, we’re doubling down again on the weirdness of whales morphs and their “special knowledge.” It’s just as stupid this time as it was the first time. This just doesn’t seem right. Again, getting into the fact that the “orca” here is just the remnants of instinct. Its body is Jake’s body made up of his cells changed to orca cells. There IS NO ORCA. Ugh, I hate it when the story goes down this kind of nonsensical “but are we any better than the Yeerks??” hand-wank path. Luckily, it’s never touched on again, which just makes it all the more unnecessary to include at all.
I had encountered intelligence in a morph before. But there was something new here. New for me, at least. The orca was aware. Of me. Of something, someone directing its behavior. It knew, in some incomplete, simplistic way, that it was being controlled.
Scorecard: Yeerks 8, Animorphs 15
A point for the Animorphs! While it wasn’t the biggest mission ever, destroying the Sea Blade was their prime objective and they completed that, thus at least further delaying the Yeerks’ attempt to recover the Pemalite ship.
Rating: There was no where else to really put this bit, but there was a really strange portion of the book that briefly discussed the Nartecs using captured sailors as “breeding stock.” Cassie even goes so far as to say that that may end up being their fate as well. And then Rachel makes a joke about Marco finally getting a girlfriend. It was….very strange, seeing that in a middle grade/young adult book. I mean, if you actually think about what they’re saying there, that’s serious stuff and really seriously horrifying stuff. I get that the book was using the genetic issues as a motive for the Nartec wanting to attack the surface, but to get into the details of breeding stock and to even bring it up with relation to the Animorphs themselves (who are CHILDREN) is pretty messed up. It’s tough, because one of the things I like best about this series is that it takes a serious look at war and its effects on soldiers. But this was a story about freaking Atlantis for pete’s sake. I think if we’re that far down the nonsense path, we can maybe leave out the speculation about the rape of young kids in this go around.
Other than that, this book was enjoyable enough. I had to make sure not to let my mind turn on at any point, but the action itself was fun. I do wish there had been a bit more development for Jake’s character as I always feel like it’s a missed opportunity in Jake/Rachel/Marco books if they don’t add some good character angle.
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!
Book: “Lies You Never Told Me” by Jennifer Donaldson
Publishing Info: Razorbill, May 2018
Where Did I Get this Book: BookishFirst
Book Description: Gabe and Elyse have never met. But they both have something to hide.
Quiet, shy Elyse can’t believe it when she’s cast as the lead in her Portland high school’s production of Romeo and Juliet. Her best friend, Brynn, is usually the star, and Elyse isn’t sure she’s up to the task. But when someone at rehearsals starts to catch her eye–someone she knows she absolutely shouldn’t be with–she can’t help but be pulled into the spotlight.
Austin native Gabe is contemplating the unthinkable–breaking up with Sasha, his headstrong, popular girlfriend. She’s not going to let him slip through her fingers, though, and when rumors start to circulate around school, he knows she has the power to change his life forever.
Gabe and Elyse both make the mistake of falling for the wrong person, and falling hard. Told in parallel narratives, this twisty, shocking story shows how one bad choice can lead to a spiral of unforeseen consequences that not everyone will survive.
Review: Whaaaat? A thriller review by Serena and not Kate?! That’s right, people! Buckle up and get ready for a good look at what it’s like for a fantasy reader to read a YA thriller! Spoiler alert: probably not that different, though much more naive as far as predicting twists. I’m sure Kate would have figured this one out, but oh well!
The story is told in dueling, first-person narratives. In one, we follow the story of Gabe, a teenage boy who, after being involved in a car accident and rescued by a mysterious girl, finds himself struggling to escape the clutches of his mean-girl girlfriend, Sasha, to pursue this new savior girl. The other narrative follows Elyse who on a whim auditions for a role in “Romeo and Juliet” and quickly finds herself entangled in a complicated web revolving around a person she knows she should avoid.
Both stories were engaging, however I did find myself more pulled into Elyse’s plot. Her struggles and circumstances were a bit more relatable to the average reader, while Gabe’s story could verge a bit into the unbelievable, particularly where his ex-girlfriend Sasha was involved. It was a bit hard to believe that she had so little oversight in her life that she could pull off some of the very unbalanced stunts she did.
The story is told in first-person, which I thought worked fairly well for the story. At times it did make the writing feel a bit too simple, and I found myself wanting a little more depth in the descriptions of scenes. This is a typical limitation of this writing tense, however, so it wasn’t overly distracting, just not my preferred type. And I do think that keeping it in first-person allowed readers to more fully identify with the mental and emotional struggles that Elyse and Gabe go through.
I also very much liked the diversity of the cast. Gabe is Mexican American and his sister has Down Syndrome. I especially loved the relationship between Gabe and his sister, and it was great to see a relationship like that portrayed on the page. The story also tackled several other topics such as poverty, addiction, and, of course, abusive romantic relationships.
As I’ve said, I haven’t read too many thrillers. So, while I know that there will some twist coming, I wasn’t able to spot this one. Maybe fans more familiar with the genre would have had an easier time of it, but I was genuinely surprised. Specifically, I was left wondering throughout most of the book how Elyse’s and Gabe’s storylines were tied together, and it was exciting to finally find out in the end. However, as surprising as it was, it also had an affect on how I viewed the rest of the story in the end, and I’m not sure it was a change for the better.
Ultimately, I very much enjoyed “Lies You Never Told Me” even though it falls outside of my usual genre preferences. I’m sure it will be a hit for regular thriller fans as well!
Rating 7: While thrillers are probably never going to be my favorite, I found this book a compulsive read and a fun reminder of what this genre has to offer!