Baby/Pregnancy Books: Part I

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

16158576Book: “Expecting Better: Why the Conventional Pregnancy Wisdom is Wrong – and What You Really Need to Know” by Emily Oster

Publishing Info: Penguin Press, August 2013

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: Pregnancy—unquestionably one of the most pro­found, meaningful experiences of adulthood—can reduce otherwise intelligent women to, well, babies. We’re told to avoid cold cuts, sushi, alcohol, and coffee, but aren’t told why these are forbidden. Rules for prenatal testing are hard and fast—and unexplained. Are these recommendations even correct? Are all of them right for every mom-to-be? In Expecting Better, award-winning economist Emily Oster proves that pregnancy rules are often misguided and sometimes flat-out wrong.

A mom-to-be herself, Oster debunks the myths of pregnancy using her particular mode of critical thinking: economics, the study of how we get what we want. Oster knows that the value of anything—a home, an amniocentesis—is in the eyes of the informed beholder, and like any compli­cated endeavor, pregnancy is not a one-size-fits-all affair. And yet medicine often treats it as such. Are doctors working from bad data? Are well-meaning friends and family perpetuating false myths and raising unfounded concerns? Oster’s answer is yes, and often.

Pregnant women face an endless stream of decisions, from the casual (Can I eat this?) to the frightening (Is it worth risking a miscarriage to test for genetic defects?). Expecting Better presents the hard facts and real-world advice you’ll never get at the doctor’s office or in the existing literature. Oster’s revelatory work identifies everything from the real effects of caffeine and tobacco to the surprising dangers of gardening.

Any expectant mother knows that the health of her baby is paramount, but she will be less anxious and better able to enjoy a healthy pregnancy if she is informed . . . and can have the occasional glass of wine. 

Mini-Review:  As a librarian, I feel like I have a lot in common with the author and her emphasis on research-based decision making. Working in an academic library, none the less, I spend a solid chunk of my time teaching students why it is important to find research to back up their own thoughts and opinions and how to distill that information into choices that are reflected in their work. This book has an incredible wealth of information from someone who has spent the time to really analyze what studies are really saying about pregnancy and decision-making, all presented through the lens that each expectant mother will need to ultimately make whatever decision feels right and most comfortable to her. For me personally, it really helped re-focus my attention on aspects of pregnant life that do require new approaches but also took a lot of fear out of the millions of warnings out there that make pregnant women feel like everything and anything is crazy dangerous for them and their growing baby. It’s all too easy to live the full 9 months feeling like every little thing could be the WORST THING EVER and you’re a BAD MOM if you do such and such thing. This book really helped me give myself a break from much of this. For others looking to know what the science is behind the general recommendations that “everyone knows to be true,” this is a great book to really dig deep. And yes, justify a glass of wine now and then!

16144855Book: “A Good Birth: Finding the Positive and Profound in Your Childbirth Experience” by Anne Lyerly

Publishing Info: Avery, August 2013

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: Most doctors are trained to think of a “good” birth only in terms of its medical success. But Dr. Anne Lyerly knows firsthand that there are many other important elements that often get overlooked. Her three-year study of a diverse group of over one hundred expectant moms asked what matters most to women during childbirth. The results, presented to the public for the first time in A Good Birth, show what really matters goes beyond the clinical outcome or even the usual questions of hospital versus birthing center, and reveal universal needs of women, like the importance of feeling connected, safe, and respected.

Bringing a new perspective to childbirth, the book’s wisdom is drawn from in-depth interviews with women with a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences, and whose birth stories range from quick and simple to complicated and frightening. Describing what went well, what didn’t, and what they’d do differently next time, these mothers give voice to the complete experience of childbirth, helping both women and their healthcare providers develop strategies to address the emotional needs of the mother, going beyond the standard birth plans and conversations. Transcending the “medical” versus “natural” childbirth debate, A Good Birth paves the entryway to motherhood, turning our attention to the deeper and more important question of what truly makes for the best birth possible.

Mini-Review: Yes, yes, again with the studies. But this was one big study conducted by a doctor on women’s experiences with labor, specifically. The author was recognizing that while medical professionals focused, rightly for the most part, only on the outcome of labor to establish whether a birth was “good,” many women, asked later would mention a variety of things that contributed to their feelings on their labor experience. The book is broken up into section that deal with these larger areas (like communication, safety, control, etc) and got into the different, smaller details that influenced how women felt about these larger topics and their birth. The really great thing about this book, I thought, was the way it always circled back to the idea that every woman is going to need different things to feel like she had a “good” birth, and that in a society that is largely fixated on the “right way” to have a baby, we are often losing focus on the fact that the whole idea of a “right way” is a fool’s errand to begin with. One that is often used to shame women about their choices, rather than support the variety of ways that work for the many, many different women (and births!) out there. After having my baby, this book seems even more valuable, as I can still find myself having the tendency to feel guilty about some of the aspects of my labor. But this read is a good reminder that there is no need for that.

 

The Great Animorphs Re-Read #48: “The Return”

363356Animorphs #48: “The Return”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, December 2000

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: David, the “sixth Animorph,” is back. When the Animorphs and Ax decided to give another human being the power to morph, it was one of their biggest mistakes. David tried to destroy all of them–and almost succeeded. Rachel and the others thought they’d seen the last of him.

They were wrong.

Rachel knows what a threat David is. He’s cunning and dangerous. Worst of all, he knows their secrets. Now he’s captured Rachel as part of his plan to take over everything. David wants power. Money. But more than anything, he wants revenge.

Narrator: Rachel

Plot: Again, for 90% of this book I was banging my head against a wall at the sheer waste of the very last Rachel book we’re going to get. There’s a strong argument to be made that, other than Jake, Rachel has the most interesting over-arching story line throughout the series. And then, in the last book before we lose her for good, we get this. Dream sequences within dream sequences. A return to the crazy Rachel who wants to fight Jake for leadership. A bizarre Crayak appearance that comes with the worst “morph” (and cover art) ever. And then, at the very end, some truly good stuff about Rachel’s role on the team and how the others view (and use) her. But we’ll save that for just a few throwaway pages at the very end, just to really rub it in your face that there was in fact good stuff to be had here. But we had to get those dream sequences in, you know?! Priorities.

It was trash. Then it was even worse trash. Then it…made some super strong points?? Then it ended on a cliffhanger…

Rachel and the other Animorphs are on a school field trip to the White House when the Yeerks attack, leading with a shot that takes out Tobias. Enraged and assuming that the Yeerks are now going on the open offensive, so they might as well too, Rachel and the others go into their battle morphs. Grizzly!Rachel begins taking out Hork Bajir, but takes a lot of hits while she’s at it. Gorilla!Marco pulls her back and tiger!Jake orders her to stand down; that she’s taken too much damage and is out of control. This enrages Rachel and she decides that she’s done taking orders from Jake and it’s time for them to fight it out for leadership of the group. They fight, but Rachel continues to take too much damage, slowly bleeding out in front of the White House, only to wake up, drenched in sweat in her bed.

Later, Rachel is visiting Ax and Marco in Ax’s scoop in the woods after failing to find Cassie in her barn. Rachel is concerned about the repeated nightmares she’s been having of fighting Jake, one-on-one. On the Internet, the discover a first hand account of the attack on the battle carrier. Rachel expresses her excitement that the war will finally be out in the open. Marco and Ax are both concerned about this level of enthusiasm from Rachel, and she begins to feel ashamed herself. Marco goes on to explain that if the war does come out into the open, the Animorphs are finished.

Eagle!Rachel flies back towards home with Tobias. On the way, they get into another discussion about Rachel’s enthusiasm about the war, with Tobias pointing out that she was beginning to disturb everyone with her attitude. Rachel once again starts down the “Jake is threatened by me” mentality that we are all so familiar with and loved back in the “Rachel is the leader” book.  As she ponders this, she almost hits an electrical wire before, again, waking from her dream.

Awake, Rachel is disturbed by her dreams and reflects on the David incident, one of the most extreme examples of her past ruthlessness, but also an example of when the hard thing had to be done and the fact that while the plan ad been Cassie’s, Rachel was the one who had to actually follow through with it.

At school, she sees Jake in the halls and feels that his nod of greeting is more cold than usual. She worries that she is still in another dream, feeling disturbed and as if something is wrong with the world. In class, she begins to see red flashes and thinks she hears rats in the wall, crying out for help. She skips the rest of school and sends a note to Cassie to meet her at Cassie’s barn. When she arrives, she sees Cassie run out, pursued by a mass of rats that being attacking her as she tries to morph. The rats come after Rachel too and she tries to escape them by jumping in a pond. But once there, she is grabbed by something beneath and almost drowns.

She wakes up in some type of dungeon/sewer location, trapped within a hard, plastic cube. Two thugs show up and one pulls out rat!David. David tells her of the horrors of living on the rock island, but explains that, because he’s so smart, he was able to recruit a few of the “smarter” rats as lieutenants and then sneak off the island on a boat brought in by a group of naturalists. Once on the mainland, he was able to recruit another 200 or so rats to his “cause” and, being able to get into small places, like banks, gather the funds to pay off thugs like the two in the sewer with them.

The two get into a conversation where David tries to manipulate Rachel into taking all of the blame for what happened to him and gas-lighting her into thinking he was an innocent victim. For his revenge, he wants to force Rachel to morph rat and become stuck, like him. The red light returns and reveals another corner of the room where Cassie is being held prisoner in  similar cube. David says he’ll let her suffocate in the cube if Rachel doesn’t morph. To buy time, Rachel does as he asks, hoping to still find an out. As she tries to think of a way out of the situation, David continues to prod at her about her role on the team. He also reveals that he has a solution to the Yeerk problem: wipe out the humans on Earth with a plague, then the Yeerks have no reason to be here anymore. As David talks, his voice starts to sound strange. He continues to manipulate her, almost hypnotizing her into agreeing that without Jake, Rachel could be in charge and wouldn’t that just be better?

The red glow returns and reveals itself to be an eye. Rachel snaps out of it and realizes that David can’t have an army of rats, they aren’t smart enough for that. And thus nothing that has happened can be real, like her and Cassie being attacked by rats. In the cube, “Cassie” turns into the Drode, and Rachel realizes that the red haze/eye is Crayak. She also realizes that Crayak’s hatred of Jake has been behind her strange dreams, setting Rachel up to hurt him. David, it turns out, is also only working for Crayak.

Crayak tells Rachel that she needs to free herself from herself and magically pops her out of her cage and into a giant, warrior version of herself with claws for fingernails. She is able to transform to and from this form at will, and begins to revel in the power it offers. She tries to attack the Drode, but everything is an illusion. Crayak transforms her back into a rat, now trapped in her cube with David. She gets in a fight with David, but he has more experience as a rat. Just when she is beginning to lose, Crayak pops her back out and into human form. She transforms back into Super-Rachel. He tempts her with thoughts of the power she could have in this form, able to take out the Yeerk force all on her own. Then pops her back into the cage with David, a rat again. The contrast starts to drive Rachel crazy.

Back in Super-Rachel form, Crayak lays out what he wants: she can retain this form and power if she kills Jake. Rachel refuses, telling herself that she is one of the good guys. To push Rachel further, Crayak somehow snaps Visser One/Three into the room. Crayak tells Visser One that he is now involved in a fight to the death with Rachel. If Visser One wins, he gets Earth; if he loses, he and the Yeerks must retreat.

They fight. Rachel is able to instantly morph to any of her forms, including Super-Rachel. When Visser One morphs some type of sentient goo that Rachel can’t fight, she discovers that she can create morphs, essentially, turning into a killer plant of her own imagination. Even after Visser One beheads her, Rachel is able to quickly reform herself. Rachel prepares to kill Visser One. But as Crayak urges her onward, she begins to reflect on Super-Rachel and how the world and the other Animorphs would see her: not as a someone to be honored and respected, but someone to be feared and hated. She releases Visser One, repeating that she is one of the good guys.

Back in the cube, back as a rat, Rachel begins to despair, not sure what is real and what is not. Crayak and the Drode disappear, leaving rat!Rachel with minutes before she is trapped as a rat and with Cassie, back trapped in her airless cube. She remembers the two thugs, and quickly calls out to them, highlighting the crappy situation of working for a talking rat like David. She promises that if they let her out, she will find the money David had promised them and they’ll be free of him. They let her out and she morphs grizzly and scares them off while David scampers away. As they run off, Rachel realizes that eventually they’ll talk and a Controller will realize that there’s a rat out there who knows all about the “Andalite bandits.”  She releases Cassie and tells her to go on ahead, that she still has something to do, to return David to the island. Cassie tries to stop her, and Rachel gets angry, saying that Cassie knows what needs to be done, and can she do it herself? When Cassie hesitates and says she doesn’t know, the matter is settled.

She catches up with David, who is sitting staring at the sun; he doesn’t run when she approaches. He tells her he’d rather die than go back to the island. When she tells him that she can’t kill him, that she’s one of the good guys, he replies that she should do the “good thing” and put him out of his misery. Horrified, Rachel tries to tell him to just run away and promise never to tell anyone about them. David laughs a manic laugh and calls her a fool. Despite herself, she feels sorry for him and sorry for herself that they are in this situation. Rachel sets him down and cries, half hoping that he’ll just run away and spare her the decision. But he doesn’t. He repeats that if she is one of the good guys, she’ll do the right thing and kill him. But Rachel doesn’t know what the right thing to do is, so she sits there, a teenage girl in an alley staring at a white rat.

Xena, Warrior Princess:  As far as Rachel’s character goes, I feel like we only really get into it towards the last third of this book. There’s a horrible return to the power-hungry Rachel who has some type of grudge against Jake for the first half to two-thirds and I don’t really want to even bother going into my feelings on that yet again (instead I’ll do it in the Jake section next!)

Instead, I wish the story had focused on the David stuff the entire time as there is plenty of character stuff to mine there. Not only do Rachel’s actions in the David trilogy play a big role in her relationship with Jake, but we also see how Rachel’s view of Cassie has been affected by that group of books as well.

I really liked effect had by the repeated mantra of “I’m one of the good guys” and then the heart-braking pay off for that phrase in the end when David asks her to kill him, saying that that would be the “good” thing to do. Crayak mentions that good and evil are only simple to the small-minded (deep burn to Cassie!) and it’s another great payoff that we see that thought in action with Rachel’s decisions at the end of this book. What is the good ting to do?

I also really liked her reflections on her role in the team, once she settles upon the symbiotic nature of the relationship.

I  looked  at  Cassie’s  face.  It  was  a  sweet  face.  It  was  wise,  too.  But  still…I  don’t know…oddly innocent somehow.

I’d been protecting her. Them. Jake.  Cassie.  Tobias.  Even  Marco  and  Ax.  Helping  to  protect  their  innocence. Letting them see themselves as the good guys. It was a symbiotic relationship. Or co-dependent, whatever. They needed me to be the bad guy.

And I needed them to be the good guys. See, if they were good guys, and I was on their team, then that automatically made me a good guy, too. Even if I was different.

For all of the book’s flaws, I’m really glad that this part came out of this story. It’s essentially the conclusion and thesis to Rachel as a character throughout the entire series. It’s just excellent all around. If only it had come in a book that didn’t have a god awful cover of Rachel morphing some mutated version of herself. *sigh*

Our Fearless Leader: It’s unfortunate to see a return to the “Rachel is jealous of Jake’s leadership role” take again in  a Rachel book. While the later explanation by Crayak that his goal in recruiting Rachel is to take out Jake, it still seems to play off the idea that Rachel, on her own, still covets the leadership role and harbors some type of violent inclinations towards Jake. It was hard to swallow this the first time and having it reappear doesn’t really improve things. Since that book, again, we’ve seen no evidence that Rachel covets the leadership role, that the other Animorphs would ever accept her as the next in line for leadership, or that any of this type of tension lies at the heart of Rachel and Jake’s relationship. Given where the book ends up in the last third, with Rachel’s realization/acceptance of the role she plays in the team, especially when connected to David, there were a lot more interesting routes that could have been taken with her relationship with Jake given his and Rachel’s interactions back during the David trilogy. And when you know where the series is headed with Jake’s use of Rachel…I just feel like there were a lot better options to explore there than some weird jealously/leadership angle that has never made sense.

A Hawk’s Life: Tobias isn’t even in this book in reality, only in a dream sequence.

Peace, Love, and Animals:  You have to wonder whether Rachel and Cassie talk more about this after the fact. And, as I’ll get to in the “crazy plans” section, like David, I’m not sure why real Cassie had to be involved in any of this either. But it’s good that she was, because, again, the end of the book had some good stuff between her and Rachel as Rachel is understand truly where she stands. Rachel thinks repeatedly about the fact that Cassie was the one who came up with the plan to trap David (ironic, since earlier in this book, David mentions that he would have picked Cassie as a companion because she was nice to him, but he didn’t want to torture her with being a rat, so he chose Rachel. If only he had know who the ultimate mastermind of his fate had been!) but how Rachel was the one who had to suffer actually executing it. There’s also this great interaction at the very end when Rachel is having to go after David once again to return him to the island:

“I don’t think you can do it a second time,” Cassie said quietly.

I felt all the old anger bubbling up. Why was she arguing? She knew what had to be done. Why was she pretending not to understand what had to be done? So  she  could  sleep  at  night?  So  she  could  say  “I  tried  to  stop  her,  so  it’s  not  my fault?” so she could say “I didn’t know.”

I looked her in the eye. <I’m not sure I can, either. So will you do it?>

Cassie’s face creased. Her mouth opened and closed. Her eyes flickered.“I don’t know,” she whispered finally.

<I didn’t think so.>

It really highlights how even Rachel’s best friend is willing to let Rachel suffer the brunt of these kinds of things. And Rachel’s right, it’s worse because Cassie and the others often do things like this, use Rachel to do the dirty work and then judge her for it. The symbiotic relationship Rachel references feels a bit uneven at that point. It’s one thing for Rachel to do the dirty work to be one of the good guys, and the others to let her, so that she’s the bad guy. But then taking the extra time/breath to judge her for it, that’s tipping the balance towards the others being in the wrong ultimately. Rachel’s essentially paying a double price at that point.

The Comic Relief: Marco, too, isn’t in this, other than the dream sequence. Though his contributions in the dream conversation hold pretty true to the Marco we know. He’s also the example Rachel uses in her discussion with Tobias about why one bad behavior in the group (Marco’s whining) is tolerated but her gung-ho-ness is not. I’m not sure about this comparison, but, again, it’s a dream sequence so probably not worth over-analyzing it.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Ax is only in this in the dream sequence, and even there he doesn’t contribute much.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: I mean, the most horrifying part of this book is the cover. Full stop. Super!Rachel is such a stupid idea. She ends up having unlimited morphing abilities as it is in the fight with Visser One, able to morph instantly and create imaginary morphs. There’s no reason to have some steroid version of herself included too. It’s just stupid and a truly unfortunate choice to include as the cover. If readers weren’t already jumping ship off this series at this point, I’m pretty sure showing up at the bookstore and seeing this cover might have been the death knell for a good number of people.

Couples Watch!: Man, I can’t emphasize enough just how disappointing this book is on this front, considering it’s the last Rachel book we have in the series. The past few Rachel books have been disappointing in this arena for the most part too, and it’s really unfortunate as it felt like at one point about halfway through the series this relationship was going somewhere interesting with the whole “Rachel is frustrated with Tobias’s choice to remain a hawk” thing. But then that whole plot point was just dropped all together pretty much. And the only interactions we get in this book are during a dream sequence that Crayak creates and in which Tobias is again mostly a jerk towards Rachel. What made them an interesting pair was their ability to understand the choices the other made, choices that were often hard for the main group to understand. Rachel can appreciate Tobias’s commitment to the war, and Tobias has his own ruthless streak to match Rachel’s (again, remember that he is ultimately the decider behind the destruction of an entire alien race back in Megamorphs #2). So yeah, it’s a bummer that we’re left out in the cold here. There’s some good David stuff in this book, but I can’t help but be disappointed that in Rachel’s last book we get more on her relationship with psycho David than with Tobias.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: There are essentially three villains in this book: Visser One, Crayak, and David. Visser One only shows up for the brief battle royale and you have to imagine how confusing this whole thing is to him. He tries to get arrogant/snippy with Crayak initially but quickly seems to realize he’s outmatched. And then he lucks out that Rachel has a crisis of conscience at the very end or he would have been a goner.

As for Crayak, he’s again kind of just a nebulous, Sauron-like bad guy with a fixation on Jake. Frankly, other than the “Ellimist” book, the Drode has been the more interesting villain from this group and I think the story might have read better with him and his snark taking point, rather than the pretty cheesy “master villain” vibe that Crayak had going for him.

David is by far the most interesting villain in this story. I’ll get into why it’s weird that he’s here at all a bit later, but regardless of whether it makes sense, I’m glad they included him since the best parts of the book were at the end when Rachel was having to deal with him. He’s pretty interesting throughout this story. We see the full scope of crazy!David, from his extreme egomania, to his the cowardice at the heart of him, to his deranged sense of being wronged and the extremes that he will go to to fight back, to the part that is still a human boy who is living through hell. I’m not convinced that David ever had to come back, but since he did, I would have rather had the entire book deal with him and the fallout from the events back in the David trilogy. Crayak and Visser One just seem kind of ridiculous in comparison to some of the pretty heavy stuff that comes to play with the David sections of the story.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: The end of the book definitely got to me. Not only does Rachel begin to feel bad for David, but the reader does too. There are just some really powerful lines and images dropped in there. Like when Rachel first comes across David again after chasing him down and she describes him as standing up on this back legs, facing the sun and delicately waving his paws around to appreciate his freedom and the world. And his pleas that Rachel kill him, that ultimately that is what a “good” person would do, all things considered. And the line, of a girl crying in an alley, staring at a white rat. It really hits home how terrible this situation is and that, regardless of all of this, Rachel is still a teenage girl faced with terrible choices. And choices that her friends have left her to make on her own.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: Crayak’s plan to try and turn Rachel on Jake seems overly complex. I’m not sure why David had to be involved at all really? The threat to trap her as a rat with references to her past ruthlessness with David would probably have been just as effective without him. Or, as we see throughout this book, Crayak is perfectly able to create illusions, so the real David was never necessary to the actual plan. And then why David had to have a plan of his own with two actual human thugs to carry it out? What benefit did this have for Crayak other than introducing points of failure to his plan which then…did fail because of them! If those thugs hadn’t been there, and David hadn’t been there, Rachel and Cassie would be done for. I guess maybe this would have been against the “rules” in Crayak and the Ellimist’s game. But the rules are pretty hard to really understand as it is, so I’m not sure that’s a good enough reason for the overly complex nature of this all.

Favorite Quote:

This is a long quote, but it sums up a lot of good stuff from this book and Rachel’s realizations about where she fits in the team. The biggest frustration for me, the reader, a Rachel fan, is the fact that Rachel has realized things like this a few times, but the other members of the group never seem to realize the same thing: that they need Rachel to do these things and that they are foisting a burden on her and the least they could do is keep quiet instead of shaming her further.

I looked into Cassie’s eyes. Did she want to know? Did she really want to know? No. she didn’t. That’s why I’d been so angry. Not just at Jake. At all of them. Because they had kept their hands clean. They had pretended they didn’t know I’d done something extreme like threaten to kill David. And his parents.And when David had confronted them with the truth, they’d made their disapproval known.  Separated  themselves  from  me.  Made  it  clear  I  was  deranged  and  out  of control and so, so unlike them.

And  then,  Cassie had  come  up  with the  plan to  trap  David  in  morph. But  only  I’d had the nerve to endure the two gut-wrenching hours of David’s misery.Why  hadn’t  I  fought  back?  Defended  myself  against  accusations,  insinuations  of craziness? Okay, I’d confronted Jake. But had anything really changed between us since then? Did  he  generally  approve  of  my  actions?  No.  Only  of  their  results.  He  needed  my results.

Scorecard: Yeerks 13, Animorphs 16

No change! Nothing really happens in this book and there aren’t any long-standing changes to the overall war effort on either side.

Rating: So, as evidenced by the gif at the beginning and my thoughts throughout, I had a very mixed response to this book. I think the inclusion of Crayak was questionable (and his plan was idiotic), and that the dream sequences were a waste of precious page space in Rachel’s last book. But I also think that the last third of the book dealing with David and Rachel’s realizations about her role on the team and how the others have treated her is crucial character development for her before the final chapter in the series. Other than the obvious end of the series, I think this book highlights why Rachel is one of the more tragic characters in the series. Tobias obviously has the roughest go of it, but I think Rachel might even beat out Jake. Jake at least gets some of the respect that comes with being a leader and the hard choices that come with that. We see in every other Animorphs book how much the others respect and recognize the burden Jake takes on in this role. Rachel, on the other hand, plays an equally important role, and the others use her for it knowingly, but she also gets only derision and shame for doing these hard things.

I also have mixed feelings on the end. I’m not sure if I like or dislike the fact that it doesn’t resolve Rachel’s choice about David. In some ways, it feels like the same type of cop-out that the Animorphs themselves take: leave it up to Rachel. But here, the author just side-steps the whole terrible choice by leaving it unanswered. So yes, on one hand you have the interesting situation where each reader can decide for themselves what Rachel did (or they would do in her place). But it also seems to avoid answering the main question of the entire book and Rachel’s arc throughout the series: what is the “good” thing to do vs. the necessary? And the fact that there really isn’t an answer to that question doesn’t mean that people/characters don’t still have to ultimately decide. Rachel can’t sit in the alley forever.

I do think the last lines of the book is one of the more beautiful endings of any book in the series, however. So I’m torn on whether I’d want to lose that in exchange for some more resolution.

I caught a glimpse of myself in a broken shard of mirror.  And saw what anyone looking down the alleyway from the sidewalk would have seen.

A young girl sitting knees-up in the sun, staring at a white rat.

It would be hard to believe the entire fat of the planet depended on that girl.

A girl who wanted to do the right thing.

But who had no idea at all what that was…

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

Serena’s Review: “Throne of Jade”

14069Book: “Throne of Jade” by Naomi Novik

Publishing Info: Del Rey Books, April 2006

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

Book Description: When Britain intercepted a French ship and its precious cargo–an unhatched dragon’s egg–Capt. Will Laurence of HMS Reliant unexpectedly became master and commander of the noble dragon he named Temeraire. As new recruits in Britain’s Aerial Corps, man and dragon soon proved their mettle in daring combat against Bonaparte’s invading forces.

Now China has discovered that its rare gift, intended for Napoleon, has fallen into British hands–and an angry Chinese delegation vows to reclaim the remarkable beast. But Laurence refuses to cooperate. Facing the gallows for his defiance, Laurence has no choice but to accompany Temeraire back to the Far East–a long voyage fraught with peril, intrigue, and the untold terrors of the deep. Yet once the pair reaches the court of the Chinese emperor, even more shocking discoveries and darker dangers await.

Previously Reviewed: “His Majesty’s Dragon”

Review: After discovering the absolute joy that was “Hi Majesty’s Dragon,” it was all I could do to wedge in “The Loneliest Girl in the Universe” before going straight to the next on in this series. Already, this series feels like a comfort read, where I know what I’m going to get, to a good extent, and I’m there for it. I can just relax back and enjoy.

At the end of the last book, Temeraire and Laurence discovered that, while they always knew Temeraire was special, he was even more unique than they had thought: a rare Celestial dragon of the sort to only partner with Chinese royalty. His egg had been meant as a gift for Napoleon, but now that they have realized the error, a delegation has been sent to express their insistence that Temeraire be parted from Laurence and returned to China. Refusing to be parted, both dragon and captain must now set off on the long sea voyage across the world. And once arriving at their destination, both are shocked to realize that perhaps there is more to dragon-human relations than they had presumed.

In some ways, I was just as surprised by this book as I had been by the first. In the first, I had expected a lot more military action and was surprised to find such an intense focus on characterization, especially the building relationship between Laurence and Temeraire. But then in the end, we got that great battle scene where Temeraire’s “super power” essentially came to light and I thought “Ok, now we’re going to move into the military action series I had been expecting!” And then I started this book and found…a long sea voyage with political espionage as the main action of the story.

But, as I said, my expectations not being met just turned into yet another delightful surprise once again! I loved the sea voyage. There were a lot of little episodic moments sprinkled throughout that had to deal with Great Britain’s relationship to the slave trade, the relationships between the various military arms (navy vs aerial), cultural distinctions that don’t translate well between countries, and even sea monsters! And many of these domains were made all the more interesting being seen and discussed through the very different eyes of Laurence and Temeraire. Laurence must confront his own assumptions and prejudices, and Temeraire must work through his understanding of humanity, especially as it deals with dragons.

Like Laurence and Temeraire, the reader so far has only been presented with Great Britain’s approach to dragons. While in the previous book Laurence had already challenged a lot of the obvious negatives that popped up, throughout this book, we learn more and more about the true limitations of the Western approach. It was fascinating to explore the cultural differences in how dragons exist in each of these societies.

I also liked the added wrinkle this added to Laurence and Temeraire’s relationship. Temeraire is rightly curious about the country of his origin. And, like I said, he had already been asking questions regarding the limitations and prejudices put upon dragon-kind back in Great Britain, so he is all the more fascinated and intrigued by the freedoms and independence offered in Chinese society. From Laurence’s side of things, however, he also sees a great country in China, but one that has also treated poorly with his beloved Great Britain, and specifically himself and Temeraire. From the comfort and surety of the relationship that was built up in the first book, this one offers challenge upon challenge to both Temeraire and Laurence. Who needs tons of action when you’re on the edge of your seat with worry about how your precious dragon/captain pair are going to make it through this all??

Given the nature of the story and the need to keep some of the mysteries held close until the end of the book, this did read a bit slower than the first. I was fine with it, however, as, like I said, I’m mostly here for the relationship between Temeraire and Laurence. But if you go into this one expecting an uptick in the military action, you’ll probably be disappointed. However, I do feel like there were a healthy number of action scenes that were perfectly sprinkled throughout the story, so I feel like this is only the most nit-picky of nit-picks. If you enjoyed the fist book in this series, I’m sure you’ll love this one too!

Rating 8: An excellent sequel, all the better for once again offering a surprise in the overall direction the series is taking.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Throne of Jade” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Non-Western Speculative Fiction” and “Historical Military Adventure.”

Find “Throne of Jade” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “The Loneliest Girl in the Universe”

36039614Book: “The Loneliest Girl in the Universe” by Lauren James

Publishing Info: HarperTeen, July 2018

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

Book Description: The daughter of two astronauts, Romy Silvers is no stranger to life in space. But she never knew how isolating the universe could be until her parents’ tragic deaths left her alone on the Infinity, a spaceship speeding away from Earth.

Romy tries to make the best of her lonely situation, but with only brief messages from her therapist on Earth to keep her company, she can’t help but feel like something is missing. It seems like a dream come true when NASA alerts her that another ship, the Eternity, will be joining the Infinity.

Romy begins exchanging messages with J, the captain of the Eternity, and their friendship breathes new life into her world. But as the Eternity gets closer, Romy learns there’s more to J’s mission than she could have imagined. And suddenly, there are worse things than being alone….

Review: I had heard great things about this book both from the general online book community, as well as from some of my friends in person. And the fact that when I went to request it from the library list I found myself at the back of a very long waiting list also spoke to the general popularity of this title. So, patiently, I waited. A few weeks ago, my name finally came around and I immediately checked out the audiobook and dove in. Sadly, this entire story ends with the fact that I once again fell victim to a combination of over-hyped books and, probably, my own science fiction snobbery, resulting in me not loving this book.

For the past several years, teenage Romy has lived alone on her spaceshift. Born aboard to the two astronauts originally selected for this first mission to a far off planet, Romy has known nothing but life in space. Her only connections to humanity have been through media and communications with a NASA councelor who has helped her manage her anxiety. With years still ahead of her before she reaches her destination, Romy’s life is one of boredom and loneliness. That is until she hears that another, faster ship is coming. Aboard is J, her first contact with humanity. But their close friendship, developed through messaging back and forth, quickly begins to highlight questions about Romy’s own time on her ship and J’s ultimate mission.

I really, really wanted to love this book. It’s been a while since I’ve read a really good science fiction story, and the premise of this one sounds fantastic. Seriously, full marks to whomever wrote the book description and designed the cover art: this book has serious “hook” value. But then I started reading it and pretty much had immediate problems.

First things first, as I said above, some of this comes down purely to my own science fiction snobbery. I think that perhaps general YA fiction fans would have a lot fewer issues with this book than I did, especially if science fiction isn’t a go-to genre for them. But if I’m going to read a science fiction/space novel, I want that: science fiction. The story starts out with a bang, and after a short action scene, we’re immediately into a character introspection from Romy herself and her thoughts on anxiety. As a discussion on mental health, sure this is good. But there simply wasn’t enough about the science/space angle of things for me. We barely hear anything about the ship itself, or how it was set up to complete its mission, or what specific skills Romy has developed having lived her entire life on this ship. Instead, again, in that very first scene, we see Romy barely avoiding a disaster and then setting out to “read the manual” on the ship so she knows better what to do next time. What? You’re telling me this girl has lived her entire life on this ship, the last several years all alone, and she’s somehow not a complete expert on everything going on here? This starts to get into my character problems, but to summarize this section, this book simply didn’t have enough of the details about life in space and the ship itself to meet my higher expectations for science fiction. There were also a few things that legitimately don’t make any sense for space travel which left me questioning how much research the author really put into this (Romy uses scissors to open food…pretty sure they have tear-off packets of food rather than packing scissors into space for stuff like this).

Now, the characters. As I alluded to in the previous bit, I had some immediate issues with Romy right from the get go. For one thing, I had very mixed feelings about the discussions about Romy’s anxiety and mental health. I get that these are important topics, and it’s great representation to have them included. However, sometimes it starts to feel like these aspects of a character/story are added simply to check some nebulous box, and this works to the detriment of the story. I wanted a science fiction action/thriller story, and instead was getting a lot of character details that were both too much and yet also never quite enough to carry my interest. Beyond that, I found Romy to be very hard to find believable as a character who has grown up in such a unique environment.

We have the weird lack of knowledge of her own ship, yes. But on top of that, she reads just like your average, every day teenage girl. And I just couldn’t get on board with that type of characterization for a protagonist whose entire existence would be shaped by events so out of the ordinary. She hasn’t had human contact in years, and before that, only ever her parents. She’s lived her entire life on a very small ship. And yet she reads like “Jane Doe Teenager” in almost every way. Not only did this not make her interesting, but it actively rubbed wrong against what we know about her life experience. It felt like such a missed opportunity, really.

As for the story itself, I also had a few problems. Romy writes fanfiction as a pastime. Sure, this makes sense for the character. But that doesn’t mean I want to read pages of said fanfiction. It honestly felt like the author was essentially trying to recreate Rainbow Rowell’s “Fangirl” but in space! And that didn’t work for me. Especially when I couldn’t help but mourn the page time devoted to this aspect of the story in place of more science fiction details.

I will say that the twists of the story were interesting. But interesting in the way that they read as exciting, but if you stop and think about them very hard, they also start to fall apart pretty quickly. J’s backstory, motivation, and actions never made much real sense to me, and some of the twists required huge portions of the book to read as strange before the answers are revealed. I spent a good portion of the book questioning the basic premise of the entire mission in a way that was ultimately more distracting than beneficial when the reveal finally put together the pieces in the end.

So, sadly, in the end this book wasn’t for me. I think general YA fiction fans would quite enjoy it (indeed, obviously they  have!). But if you like science fiction in particular, I think there are a lot of elements of this story that will read as more frustrating than intriguing. I also feel like the character work was lacking throughout. It’s no fault of the book’s, but when you have similar titles like “The Martian” hanging around out there, that succeeded so well based on the great scientific aspects and, more importantly, incredible main character at its heart, this book feels even more flat than it would in a vacuum.

Rating 5: Some science fiction snobbery on my part, and I think a legitimately weak main character left this book not quite hitting the mark for me.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Loneliest Girl in the Universe” isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists for some reason, but it is on “YA Space Operas.”

Find “The Loneliest Girl in the Universe” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “The Unbound Empire”

40618519Book: “The Unbound Empire” by Melissa Caruso

Publishing Info: Orbit, April 2019

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

Book Description: While winter snows keep the Witch Lord Ruven’s invading armies at bay, Lady Amalia Cornaro and the fire warlock Zaira attempt to change the fate of mages in the Raverran Empire forever, earning the enmity of those in power who will do anything to keep all magic under tight imperial control. But in the season of the Serene City’s great masquerade, Ruven executes a devastating surprise strike at the heart of the Empire – and at everything Amalia holds most dear.

To stand a chance of defeating Ruven, Amalia and Zaira must face their worst nightmares, expose their deepest secrets, and unleash Zaira’s most devastating fire.

Previously Reviewed: “The Tethered Mage” and “The Defiant Heir”

Review: I have loved this series from the get-go, so it was with very mixed emotions that I picked up and started this book. On one hand, I was dying to know how everything would be wrapped up in one, admittedly long, book. And on the other hand, I didn’t want it to end and had some concerns about whether it would stick the landing. The last book really does make or break a series, and while so far the books have only gotten better and better…you just never know. Luckily, this was a solid landing, and now I’ll just have to wait to see what the author has up her sleeve for a next book/series!

Amalia is coming into her own, heading up her first political action with the introduction of a new law that would grant the magic-wielding Falcons unprecedented freedoms. On top of this all, she is still balancing her complicated feelings for Captain Marcello and the witch-lord Kathe, whom she has been courting for months now. Add to that the mad witch-lord Ruven who is making increasing threats to the Empire and may finally push things to the point where Amalia and Zaira will have to confront the harsh reality of using Zaira’s balefire in combat. But nothing is too great a challenge for a Cornaro. Or is it?

What makes this series special has been the sheer number of points of interest and enjoyment that have pulled me in throughout story. Not only have I enjoyed Amalia as a main character, but I’ve loved her relationship with Zaira. The balance between political and military action has always been on point. The romance has gone in unexpected directions, somehow avoiding gaping pitfalls that many series fall into. And throughout it all, the story tackles larger questions regarding duty, loyalty, and the balance between freedom and safety. This book continued to deliver in all of these areas.

To start with characters (because we all know how much I love character-driven stories), Amalia and Zaira have traversed quite a journey throughout this trilogy and we see the dividends of this slowly built relationship pay off big time in this book. On their own, they are each excellent characters. Amalia’s sense of duty and her clear-eyed vision of her role in the world and the privileges, sacrifices, and burdens that come with it has never been more clear. She is so blessedly free of angst regarding this all. She sees the true dangers of her role (the hardening of one’s heart that comes with making life and death decisions), but doesn’t get caught up in any self-pity or dramatic indecision of the kind that we see all too often from YA protagonists. Zaira, too, is still her prickly self. However, she’s also come to value the relationships she’s built with those around her, and with these connections, she sees her own role in the Empire in a different light. She is still terrified of her balefire and its seeming control over her, but now, with people she loves in danger, she’s willing to risk herself in a way that would never have been true of the self-focused Zaira from the first book.

And together, Amalia and Zaira have come so far. They don’t where BFF bracelets or anything, but the respect and genuine love and friendship between them feels earned and true after the struggles of the first two books. And it’s only through that slow-growth that the almost impossible choices they must face in this book can be believable.

Ruven is also an excellent villain. Not only is he fun to hate, but he is actually given a bit more depth to make him, well, not relatable, but a bit more understandable. And his abilities are legitimately challenging to the point that a way through the threat he presents is never quite clear until the very end, and even then readers are left on the edge of their seat.

And then, of course, we have the romance. In the second book, the author somehow managed to introduce a love triangle that I didn’t hate. I honestly didn’t think this was possible. Much of it comes down to, again, Amalia and her dramatic-free, pragmatic approach to her life and the requirements that come with it. It is believable that she would have feelings for both Kathe and Marcello, and that these feelings could exist at the same time and still be wholly separate from each other. I was incredibly nervous to see how this would ultimately play out, and I was so pleased to find that the resolution presented felt natural and satisfactory. I guess this goes to show that even the most hated tropes don’t always hold true!

This is a long book, however, and it is this length that forces me to drop it down from a perfect 10. There’s a bunch of story here, and it’s not that I was bored at any point. However, especially in the beginning with the ins and outs of Amalia’s political actions to get her Falcon bill approved, there were a few points where I feel like a bit of editing could have been done to streamline the story. When there are all of these greater factors swirling around, this beginning portion almost felt like it was from a different book at times. But not a bad book, even then! Just a different one.

Other than that small, very tiny quibble, I absolutely loved this book and this series as a whole! I so hope that it gets all the attention that it so rightly deserves, and if you haven’t read any of these books yet, just you wait! You have an excellent ride ahead of you!

Rating 9: Perfectly sticks the landing in what turned into one of my favorite trilogies to read in a long time!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Unbound Empire” is a new book so isn’t on many Goodreads lists, but it is on “Best Political Fantasy.”

Find “The Unbound Empire” at your library using WorldCat!

 

The Great Animorphs Re-Read #47: “The Resistance”

363349Animorphs #47: “The Resistance”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, November 2000

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: The Animorphs and Ax have to make the most important decision they’ve ever had to make: Do they continue to fight the Yeerks in secret, or is it time to let everyone know there is a resistance? That the Animorphs exist. And that Earth does stand a small chance against the invasion.

Jake knows that either choice is a major one. Not one that some kid should be responsible for. But he’s getting tired of the pressure. So, even though he realizes the other Animorphs need him to be strong, he doesn’t feel that way. In fact, he feels just the opposite. And Jake knows if he starts to lose it the Animorphs are done…

Narrator: Jake

Plot: Why. Why would we waste one of the Jake’s last precious books on this steaming pile? It’s only half a Jake book at best, and even that half is so, so not awesome. I think I could have resigned myself to this kind of nonsense if we were still in the doldrums that was much of the books in the 30-range, but here?? Now?! No.

This is the perfect image of rage and sadness at the same time. My feelings for this book so well expressed.

Look, I’m too mad to even detail the Civil War plot. Let’s be honest, I skim read all of these sections. Not only did I not care one bit, but the parallels that were being drawn were so on the nose that it was just uncomfortable at times. And also unnecessary. The series as a whole has always done an excellent job of presenting complicated wartime decisions without the need to prop those conversations up against some historical event. So, here is the plot description for the half of the book that was, you know, actually an Animorphs book.

Jake returns home, exhausted from yet another mission. On top of that, after Marco’s exposure and their exploits on the military ship, the team is in the middle of a serious debate about how/when/or if they should make their war public. Everyone is grumpy, and Jake doesn’t know what is the right choice. His mom greets him with a chores list to clear out the basement. Trudging down, he begins going through boxes and discovers a journal from a past relative who served in the Union during the Civil War. [Here enters the alternating storyline that I will actively try to forget even happened.]

Cassie calls and through code informs Jake that he’s needed at the free Hork Bajir valley. Once he and the others arrive, they are told that the worst has happened: a couple of Hork Bajir warriors have been captured and will have been infested by now, exposing the location of the valley to the Yeerks. Jake and the Animorphs immediately insist that the Hork Bajir must flee the valley, but Toby insists that they want to stay and fight, even in the face of what has to be insurmountable odds. Once it becomes clear that they will not be moved from this position, the Animorphs get down to trying to plan their defense.

As they explore around the valley, they come across a beaver dam and pond. From there, Jake gets an idea: if they build up the dam even further, they can use the pooled water as a timed released to flood out the invading Yeerk forces. The team also discovers a group of campers in the area. The team split up to get to work with several of them morphing beavers and starting to build up the dam. Tobias and Jake head out to try and get the campers to move out.

They decide to approach the campers in their human form with some lame stories about incoming weather. Not surprisingly, the campers don’t believe them. They then decide to just forget it all and morph in front of them. Luckily for them, the campers turn out to be huge Stark Trek nerds and are immediately down with the idea of believing a wild story about invading aliens. Some of them take off, but a small group (a father and his two teenage kids) decide they want to fight alongside the Animorphs and head back to the Hork Bajir valley. There, they join in an assembly line where the Hork Bajir are building spears to fight against the Yeerks.

Finally, the attack comes. They manage to hold back the first line of Hork Bajir, but shortly follows Visser One (Three) himself, in the morph he used in the first book when he chased the Animorphs out of the Yeerk pool, along with a group of Taxxons. Jake frantically signals for the dam to be released as free Hork Bajir fall all around the fighting Animorphs. Tiger!Jake ends up in a one-on-one fight with Visser One, but luckily the flood of water hits right when things start looking bad for him. He manages to swim his way out, and Visser One and the remaining Taxxons retreat.

Knowing that the Yeerks will likely try again, Toby prepares the remaining Hork Bajir to flee into the woods where they will remain until the end of the war. Marco’s parents will accompany them. As for the campers, the dad died in the attack and the two teenage children are shell-shocked. Jake and the Animorphs head home, with Jake reflecting that all they can ever do is what they think is best in the moment.

Our Fearless Leader: The beginning of this book is really great for highlighting just how exhausted Jake has become at this point. He mentions the fact that the group is barely making it through school and are all running on empty. To then get home and be presented with a list of chores…you can see how it would almost be enough to break him. Especially on top of the looming debate about going public.

There are some good moments between him and Tom. Tom even slips up a few times, making comments under his breath that would be suspicious if Jake wasn’t already in the know. It goes to show that the war is beginning to take a toll on the Yeerks as well; everyone’s guard is beginning to fall as things start to come to a head.

As for the rest of the book, we see a few good leadership moments from Jake, especially with his idea about the beaver dam. But we also see a lot of moments where things and people are definitely out of his control. He reflects on the choices that Ax made in the last book and has to come up against Toby and the Hork Bajir when they refuse to follow his direction to flee the valley.

Xena, Warrior Princess: Rachel is, of course, pro to the idea of the team going more public. She also uses her grizzly morph to help get the dam built more quickly when the beavers have a hard time moving some of the bigger logs. Not much else, other than that.

A Hawk’s Life: Tobias is with Jake when they confront the campers, so I equally blame him for the sheer stupidity of this move. I will detail my feelings on this whole “plan” later, but essentially I think it was a pretty terrible choice on both of their parts. I also wish we had gotten more from Tobias with the debate with Toby and the other Hork Bajir about the future of their life in the valley. He’s the closest to this group, so it always feels like a missed opportunity when he’s not more at the center of any discussion or interaction with them.

Peace, Love, and Animals: Cassie is the one to wade into the beaver pond and captures a beaver for them to acquire. Not sure how believable her method is, but if anyone was going to do it, it would be her.

The Comic Relief: Marco, as usual, is the only reasonable one in the group when it comes to the nonsense that is the idea that the Hork Bajir want to stay and fight and the fact that Tobias and Jake revealed themselves to the campers. The entire time, he repeatedly points out that they have no chance of winning and fighting simply for pride or something is just a way to die more quickly.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: I have to say, one of the bigger disappointments of this book is the way that we get very little follow-up on the monumental decisions that Ax made in the last book. Jake pretty much says that they’ve both kind of silently agreed to just not talk about it. Jake admits that he is secretly glad that Ax took the decision out of his hands, but he’s also still mad that Ax would disobey him so directly. For his part, we see that Ax won’t meet Jake’s eyes and clearly still has strong feelings about the entire experience. And that’s about all we get. There is zero reference to the fact that Tobias, Rachel, and Marco all agreed with Ax’s plan and helped him execute it as well, which has to be almost as notable to Jake.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: Not really a lot. The beaver morph was pretty straightforward, as far as morphing mechanics go. The fight between tiger!Jake and Visser One is pretty  brutal, however. Poor tiger!Jake, always with the neck injuries!

Couples Watch!: Really nothing at all. There were a few nice references to how well Marco’s parents are doing with their life in the valley, but Jake and Cassie don’t have much and neither do Rachel and Tobias.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: It’s a cool call-back to have Visser One come after them in the same morph he used in book #1. I think this may be one of the first times we’ve ever seen him re-use a morph? I’ve always thought it was strange that he didn’t have preferred battle morphs in the past, but if he was going to have one, this one seems like a solid choice. The only reason it didn’t work way back in the first book was due to its size and the small tunnels in the Yeerk Pool. Out in the open, it seems like a powerful choice. He gets in his usual corny lines, so it’s nice to know that the promotion has done nothing to improve (?) his campy villain mode.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: The whole decision with the campers, especially when you look at the end result which is two teenagers who are now orphans. There was absolutely zero reason this had to go down the way it did. It’s one thing to reveal themselves to military personal on the ship, individuals who have signed on and trained for battle. It’s completely another to involve unprepared civilians. Not only  have we seen the Animorphs deal with scenarios exactly like this in the past super easily (just send in grizzly!Rachel and the problem is solved), but they only make the barest attempts to convince the campers to leave before just jumping to “let’s reveal all of our secrets to a group of complete strangers!”

Then, to make matters worse, it becomes immediately clear that the campers are in no way tracking with the seriousness of the issue, making tons of references to Star Trek and such (these were fun for laughs, but should have been seriously worrying for Jake and Tobias). So what do Jake and Tobias do? Agree that sure, it’s fine if some of them want to join in the fight. And sure, it’s fine if the others want to head out, now knowing all of their secrets. Jake and Tobias even make some passing reference to the fact that no one will believe them because they’re Trekkies. Do you know who will believe them? The Yeerks, that’s who!! They’ve known this for literally years now, which is why it’s always been so important to not reveal their human forms. It’s just insane that they now hand-wave it away or “forget” this part of it.

And then what happens? The dad and teenagers get there and then the dad realizes that wait, yes, this is real and death is on the line. But, oops, it’s too late, and now the Animorphs have civilians who all they can do to protect is to tell them to hide. Which they do, and the dad still ends up dead. There’s no reference to what happens to the kids past this point. But there is zero excuse for any of this nonsense. Jake and the others essentially just exposed their whole operation for no reason and got two kids’ dad killed for nothing. It has to go down as one of the worst things they’ve done in the entire series.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: The whole idea that the Hork Bajir wanted to stay and fight. This falls largely on Toby’s shoulders, but also on the rest of the Animorphs for giving in as easily as they do. I get that they couldn’t force the issue, but Toby really has no excuse. There were a lot of pretty lines about freedom and defending one’s home, but all of this is completely pointless in the situation they were in here. Freedom is meaningless if you’re dead. Not to mention, in the middle of battle preparations Toby is also preparing her people for the necessary retreat at the end of it. What the hell?! It’s bad enough to be naive enough to think they could win the battle, but the fact that they know and acknowledge the fact that they’ll need to retreat at the end of it anyways? Then you are literally just throwing your life away for pride or some nonsense. And asking others to do it too by involving the Animorphs. It’s pure stupidity for nothing. They still suffer huge losses, and somehow we’re supposed to believe that this counts as a “win” because now they’ve “protected their home” or some such nonsense? You’re still retreating to life in exile in the woods!! Nothing changed from this other than the fact that you lost a lot of your people for nothing and had the same end result.

I will say that the beaver/dam issue was rather clever. I’m not sure about the mechanics of how this would work (how fast would water really build up?), but it’s a cool idea nonetheless.

Favorite Quote:

A good comical line from Marco. The same could be said about the cover. Here we are, getting close to the end, and we have…a beaver morph.

<You know, this mission is seriously important. I’m thinking the morph should be a little more, I don’t know, glamorous. I mean, going beaver to save an entire colony of aliens is like putting James Bond behind the wheel of a minivan. With a bumper sticker that says, “World’s Greatest Mom.” No offense.>

Marco, again, calling it like it is. Jake’s rebuttal is completely weak, too. Marco legitimately did have to do what he did. Jake absolutely did not. If they had to reveal themselves to every person who’s been in the way on one of these missions, they would have shown themselves to people in almost every book.

<Exactly the problem!> Marco said angrily.<Jake, who decided it was okay to make public appearances?>

“Well, you, actually,” I said. “And that’s not an accusation. It’s a fact. When you told your dad about us. You did what you had to do and so did I.”

<That was different with my dad,> he said forcefully. <Maybe even with those sailors and marines on the aircraft carrier. I don’t know. But come on, Jake. You don’t even know these campers. Who they work for, who they’re related to, where they’re from.>

Scorecard: Yeerks 13, Animorphs 16

A point for the  Yeerks! Not only did the Animorphs/Hork Bajir make terrible decisions throughout this all, but the Yeerks successfully flushed out the Hork Bajir and took one of the Animorphs’ main bases of operation off the table.

Rating: This book was infuriating. I only covered the half that had to do with the Animorphs and as you can see from my multiple rants above, even that part was incredibly angering. And that’s not counting the fact that a full half of the book was wasted on a Civil War plot line that was completely unnecessary. Look, I get that in long-running book series or show, you reach a point where this type of experimentation with storytelling comes to play simply due to ideas running dry. But we were at that point books and books ago. Now, things are actually ramping up! The series is clearly building towards an ultimate conflict. This is absolutely NOT the time to waste an entire half of an already short book on stupidity like this. And really, it’s not like the Civil War story added anything to this. I skim read it, but I could have literally read zero of it and missed nothing. Like I said above, any parallels that were drawn were so on the nose as to seem comical. And Jake’s not even reading this story or anything where he could be making these connections himself as his own story plays out. It’s just two completely seperate stories running next to each other. I’m not here for the Civil War; I’m here for Animorphs, and there’s so little of it left that it’s almost insulting to read a book like this where half the page count is essentially just thrown out on a pointless side story.

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

Serena’s Review: “Through the White Wood”

39735900Book: “Through the White Wood” by Jessica Leake

Publishing Info: HarperTeen, April 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+

Book Description: Katya’s power to freeze anything she touches has made her an outcast in her isolated village. And when she loses control of her ability, accidentally killing several villagers, she is banished to the palace of the terrifying Prince Sasha in Kiev.

At the castle, though, she is surprised to find that Sasha is just like her—with his own strange talent, the ability to summon fire. Instead of punishment, Sasha offers Katya friendship, and the chance to embrace her power rather than fear it.

But outside the walls of Kiev, Sasha’s enemies have organized their own army of people who can control the very earth. Bent on taking over the entire world, they won’t stop until they’ve destroyed everything.

Katya and Sasha are desperate to stop the encroaching army, and together their powers are a fearsome weapon. But as their enemies draw nearer, leaving destruction in their wake, will fire and frost be enough to save the world? Or will they lose everything they hold dear?

Review: I’ve had some good luck recently with Russian-based fairytale/fantasy novels. Plus, I’m always on the look out for a good standalone as I have way too many series I’m currently invested in. It’s a problem. All of that plus a pretty cover, and I was quick to place a request to read an early coy of this. Ultimately, however, it didn’t live up to all of the expectations I had placed on it.

Katya’s life has been one of fear and isolation, except by the elderly couple who has raised her. One night, her worst fears are realized when she releases her incredible power over ice with horribly destructive results. But her banishment turns out nothing like she had imagined. Instead of punishment, she finds more of her kind, people with incredible powers over elements. Even the Prince of Kiev whose own power over fire seems to perfectly balance her own. Now, not only has she found a place of acceptance, but she finds herself drawn into a greater conflict where her rare abilities may be the turning point that saves her entire nation.

As a pro for this book, the greatest thing that stood out to be was the commitment to the darkness at the heart of Katya’s story and the true danger of her powers. This isn’t just Elsa from “Frozen.” People die when Katya loses control. The original incident that results in her banishment is rightly horrifying, and while yes, she is definitely provoked into it, we see how terrible the results are, not only for the villagers but for Katya herself, as at this point in time, she only has limited control of how her abilities manifest. Then, further into the story, when we begin to hear about the larger threats against the country itself, these incidents aren’t left as purely stories of terrible things happening elsewhere to other people. Again, we see the results of these attacks, and it has a direct impact on Katya and her story. I really appreciated that the author made not only the dangers of Katya’s powers, but the villains themselves, feel more real by raising the stakes in this way.

But other than that, this book simply felt too standard to spark my real interest. Even trying to type out that summary above was a struggle because it just sounds so similar to so, so many stories that are just like it. Ice powers, fire powers, what have you. A book about a teenage girl who has some incredible power, is misunderstood, and then turns out to be the “chosen one” essentially to save a nation? Been there, seen that. Add in a love story with, of course, the prince, and you have pretty much checked off every requirement for the base model of YA fantasy novels.

Katya herself could be incredibly frustrating at times, especially early in the story. Yes, her initial confusion about what is going on and what her role is in everything makes sense. But as the story continues, she bizarrely flips back and forth between being trusting of and then suddenly antagonistic against those around her. And there is never any clear instigating factor behind the switch. It never read as a natural reaction to events happening around her, and instead felt like authorial intervention to add drama.

I also hated the romance. It was a terrible case of instalove where I couldn’t see any true chemistry built between the characters and it happened incredibly fast, especially on Sasha’s side. While Katya is going through her little song and dance of “I like him! I don’t trust him! But he’s great! But no, I must be opposed to him!” Sasha was pretty fully invested in Katya from the start. But…why? Again, no reason is actually presented in the book. We’re simply told that this is how it is.

There was nothing truly bad about this book. But there was also nothing that made it stand out to me. The story felt incredibly familiar. The characters seemed to be just going through the motions that we expect from YA fantasy. And the entire read felt slow and plodding, except for a few instances of action thrown in here and there. I can’t even say the idea behind the book was exceptional, as, like I said, it felt very familiar to many other fantasy YA stories featuring powered young women. If you really love those stories, this is more of the same, and you’ll probably like it. But if you’re looking for a new take on things, this isn’t it.

Rating 6: Pretty much exactly what you’d expect after reading the book description. No surprises here, and that was a bad thing.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Through the White Wood” isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists, but it is on “2019 Must Read Fantasy.”

Find “Through the White Wood” at your library using WorldCat!