Serena’s Review & Giveaway: “The Waking Land”

32671619Book: “The Waking Land” by Callie Bates

Publishing Info: Del Rey Books, June 2017

Where Did I Get this Book: ARC giveaway from Goodreads & ARC NetGalley e-book

Book Description: Lady Elanna Valtai is fiercely devoted to the King who raised her like a daughter. But when he dies under mysterious circumstances, Elanna is accused of his murder and must flee for her life.

Returning to the homeland of magical legends she has forsaken, Elanna is forced to reckon with her despised, estranged father, branded a traitor long ago. Feeling a strange, deep connection to the natural world, she also must face the truth about the forces she has always denied or disdained as superstition powers that suddenly stir within her.

But an all-too-human threat is drawing near, determined to exact vengeance. Now Elanna has no choice but to lead a rebellion against the kingdom to which she once gave her allegiance. Trapped between divided loyalties, she must summon the courage to confront a destiny that could tear her apart.

Review: First off, thank you to the publisher and Goodreads for providing me this book through a give away! I also read a portion of it through an e-book ARC provided by NetGalley. You know, cuz I need to be able to read the book at ANY GIVEN MOMENT and thus need copies available in every format.

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Anywho! On to the review! Beyond the beautiful cover (yes, I do judge a book by its cover when it suits me, thank you very much), I was instantly intrigued after reading the story synopsis. It sounded like an appealing mix of political intrigue, manners and etiquette, and, of course, magic. And while it was all of those things, there were a few stumbling blocks along the way.

First off, the political intrigue. It became very clear early in the book that the author was drawing inspiration from the Jacobite rebellion between Scotland and England to create the history and heart of the conflict in her story. There are two countries occupying an island nation, one has been overthrown in recent history, but still hopes to put their own choice leader on the thrown and regain independence for their portion of the country. Obviously, there’s much more to it than this, but at its core, it’s fairly straightforward. I was very pleased with this portion of the story. It was interesting finding similar threads to real history sprinkled within this fantasy novel, especially when those threads diverged from the path with which we are familiar.

Bates clearly had a lot of world building she was trying to pack in this novel. Beyond these tie-ins to the Jacobite rebellion, there’s a complicated history that goes back centuries before it, involving not only these two nations, but another powerful nation who had conquered the entire region at one point and then retreated again.  Detailed histories likes this make a story interesting, but they also present a challenge to authors. All too often books end up with large info-dumps presenting all of these details, which no one loves. But here, we saw the opposite side of the coin. I was a good 150 pages into this story and was still trying to work out the timeline of who conquered who when and why. At a certain point, it was so frustrating that I simply gave up trying to understand. I hesitate to recommend more info dumping, but in circumstances like this, it’s probably the better option than sprinkling in details throughout a long-ish book where much of the plot revolves around the political implications of this history and readers end up just confused.

I did love the magical set up that was brought into the story. Sure there was the cool magic that Elanna was able to create, but the more interesting part was, again, the detailed framework and history behind her power. Not only are her powers needed for the rebellion, but the symbol that she represents as a corner of the tri-part governing force that traditionally ruled the land is highly motivating to the people.

I had mixed feelings with regards to Elanna herself. Her history (the stolen child of a failed rebel leader being held to keep the other side in check) is one that sets her up to have many conflicting feelings and views of those around her. Things like family, friendship, and even national loyalty are all tied together in knots. She feels abandoned by one family, guilty for developing attachments to her captors, questions everyone’s motives around her, questions her own loyalties. Much of this was very interesting and created a rich character arc for her to travel. Unfortunately, all too often she would perform complete 180s on a dime with very little explanation for why she changed her mind. She hates her father! She’ll join her father in this rebellion! Also, while the stress and frustration that would arise from her situation is understandable, at times she read as very unlikable and immature. I never could quite decide how I felt about her. Ultimately, I think I was more invested in the story that she was living than in her as a character on her own.

So there are my thoughts! To be summed up, I was very conflicted with this book. It had true moments of brilliance with a unique and complicated history, both political and magical, and the main character also had flashes of greatness. But I was also all too often confused by the same history and frustrated with Elanna herself. I would still likely recommend this book to readers who enjoy historical “fantasy of manners” type books based on its strengths. Want to judge for yourself? Enter our giveaway to receive an ARC of this book!

Enter to win an ARC of ‘The Waking Land!”

Rating 6: Had so many things going on (complicated history, complicated characters) that it didn’t quite manage to fully flesh it all out.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Waking Land” is new and isn’t included on any relevant Goodreads lists, but it should be on “Fantasy of Manners” and “Best Books Containing Elemental Powers.”

Find “The Waking Land” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Thick as Thieves”

8306741Book: “Thick as Thieves” by Megan Whalen Turner

Publishing Info: Greenwillow Books, May 2017

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: Deep within the palace of the Mede emperor, in an alcove off the main room of his master’s apartments,. Kamet minds his master’s business and his own. Carefully keeping the accounts, and his own counsel, Kamet has accumulated a few possessions, a little money stored in the household’s cashbox, and a significant amount of personal power. As a slave, his fate is tied to his master’s. If Nahuseresh’s fortunes improve, so will Kamet’s, and Nahuseresh has been working diligently to promote his fortunes since the debacle in Attolia.

A soldier in the shadows offers escape, but Kamet won’t sacrifice his ambition for a meager and unreliable freedom; not until a whispered warning of poison and murder destroys all of his carefully laid plans. When Kamet flees for his life, he leaves behind everything—his past, his identity, his meticulously crafted defenses—and finds himself woefully unprepared for the journey that lies ahead.

Pursued across rivers, wastelands, salt plains, snowcapped mountains, and storm-tossed seas, Kamet is dead set on regaining control of his future and protecting himself at any cost. Friendships—new and long-forgotten—beckon, lethal enemies circle, secrets accumulate, and the fragile hopes of the little kingdoms of Attolia, Eddis, and Sounis hang in the balance.

Review: As I made abundantly clear in my gushing ALA posts, I’ve very much been looking forward to “Thick as Thieves,” the fifth installment in the “Queen’s Thief” series and was beyond thrilled when I got to meet Megan Whalen Turner several times and snag a signed copy of the book. It immediately jumped to the top of my reading list, and I am happy to report that it was worth the wait for its release!

As is now the pattern with these stories, our protagonist has once again changed in this story. This time around we follow Kamet, a slave to the Mede ambassador. We technically met this character several books ago when the Mede ambassador was visiting Attolia and attempting to bully the queen into an alliance. It was quite a lot of fun watching him be sent home in shame, Kamet in tow. Here, we meet up again with Kamet in the years that have followed. From his perspective, while the embarrassment of what happened to his master was unfortunate, Attolia is still a backwaters country with a fool of a king and in all respects he would like to simply wash his hands of his time there. Besides, good things are coming his way. Slave or not, he sees a future of power and influence ahead as the right hand man to the to-be Mede emperor.

These beginning scenes documenting Kamet’s life as a slave serve as an important insight into his head. As a reader, we are trained to look at his situation and pity him. He’s a slave, no amount of power and influence should be worth it. Kamet is both a reliable and unreliable narrator in this way. His perspective is not completely false; he does have power and influence in his position, much more so than other slaves, and, importantly, more so even than other free men. Not only does he choose to remain a slave when he is initially presented with the opportunity to flee, but throughout the story we see that he has become very arrogant from this position. He thinks quite a lot of himself and the role he has played, often looking down on the other slaves as well as entire countries like Attolia.

But on the other hand, Kamet is unreliable. He’s clearly suffering from some version of Stockholm syndrome, more worried about the embarrassment of being seen to have been beaten after an error in judgement than enraged that he was beaten at all. He blames himself for causing the situation that forced his “good” master’s hand.

After he is forced to flee Mede after the death of his master, it was great reading about the slow transition Kamet undergoes. The Attolian guard is a steady, consistent presence of another way to live. He doesn’t speak much at all, and when he does, Kamet must constantly re-evaluate his views of Attolia, the Attolian soldier, and himself.

The story is essentially a travelogue following these two characters’ flight through Mede attempting to gain passage by ship back to Attolia. For a book that has many action sequences (fleeing from slavers, hiding from guards, etc), it also felt like a steady character study of these two characters, but particularly Kamet himself. I’ve always loved Whalen Turner’s ability to make the reader fall in love with each new character she presents. Even more challenging, she often starts with characters we aren’t pre-disposed to love. Kamet is the same; his arrogance and seemingly wilful ignorance can make him frustrating in the beginning. But there’s great chemistry between him and the Attolian and it was a lovely story reading about Kamet essentially rediscovering who he is now that the one thing he has defined himself as, a powerful slave, has been taken away from him.

Other than great characters, we can always expect great twists from this author, and this book is no different. I was actually able to predict a few of the story turns, but there were others that took me completely by surprise. Never fear, Gen does make an appearance towards the end and is just as clever, confusing, and appealing as ever. Throughout the series, the scope of his schemes has had to constantly expand, from tricking a few people in the first book, to maneuvering entire countries and empires in later books. The thrill remains as we watch him triumph, oh so casually, over these other power houses who have all dismissed him as so much foolishness.

Coming as no surprise now, I completely recommend this story. It is fairly necessary to have read the other books in the series before reading this one, I would say. But hey, if you haven’t already, all the more exciting for you since they are all so great!

Rating 10: Worth any wait.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Thick as Thieves” is a new book and isn’t on m any relevant Goodreads lists (other than ones titled things like “Books that need to come out sooner!!!”), but it should be on “Books with Unreliable Narrators.”

Find “Thick as Thieves” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously Reviewed: “The Thief” and “The Queen of Attolia” and “The King of Attolia” and “A Conspiracy of Kings”

The Great Animorphs Re-Read: “The Andalite Chronicles”

Andalite_chronicles_front_cover_hi_resAnimorphs 12.5: “The Andalite Chronicles” by K.A. Applegate

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, January 1998

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: His name is Elfangor-Sirinial-Shamtul.

An Andalite war-prince. The one who gave five young humans the ability to morph into any animal they touch. They are still out there, fighting an evil so powerful there isn’t a moment that goes by when they can actually feel safe. Their story continues.

But this is how it all began…

Narrator: Elfangor

Plot: This book is twice as long as a usual Animorph book, so strap in for a long post folks!

Similarly to how we first met his little brother Ax, we find Elfangor aboard an Andalite Dome ship, an aristh eager to prove himself. When the Dome ship comes across a Skrit Na raider ship, Elfangor and his fellow aristh, Arbron are tasked to board it, as they are small enough to navigate the cramped quarters. Aboard, they discover two human kids, a girl named Lauren and a boy who goes by his last name…Chapman. After rescuing the humans, Elfangor and Arbron are re-assigned to travel with disgraced War Prince Alloran, who long ago fought in the Hork Bajir wars, and return the two humans to Earth. On the way, Elfangor bounds with Loren, noting many of the quirky facts about humans such as their “artificial hooves” (sneakers), their amazing arm strength (the ability to lift their whole body off the ground), and the fact that they don’t eat through their feet, but with their mouths!

I spoke like I would to a child. Obviously, this species was primitive. They didn’t even have tails.

He is less a fan of Chapman who is just a jerk in every way and takes the time to drop this little nugget early in their relationships:

At least that’s my motto: Grab what you can.”

Charming. On the way, Arbron uses science to somehow discover that another Skrit Na radar ship had escaped and was carrying a mythical and powerful machine, the Time Matrix. Desperate to recover it before it can be sold to the Yeerks, they change course for the Taxxon home world, a favorite buyer for the Skrit Na.

Upon arrival, Elfangor, Arbron, and Alloron morph Taxxon to scout out the planet and locate the Time Matrix, leaving Loren and Chapman aboard the cloaked ship. Their plans fall apart, however, when they are separated by the chaos of a Taxxon feeding frenzy (the Taxxon morphs has very strong instincts of constant, almost debilitating, hunger). It is after escaping this mess that Taxxon!Elfangor is captured by a Sub-Visser Seven Hork Bajir Controller who immediately lays forth his plan to force Elfangor to demorph so he can be the first Yeerk with an Andalite body. When he refuses, he is pushed out of the ship and only escapes by morphing an Andalite home world bird. Flying around, he sees their original ship land and Chapman emerge saying he wants to “strike a deal” with the Yeerks. He happens to know of a world with a bunch of sentient beings who could be great Controllers.

Re-morphing Taxxon, he stumbles upon Arbron, still in Taxxon morph as well. Together they locate the Skrit Na ship that holds the Time Matrix and bluff their way on claiming they are there for repairs and are able to steal it. While flying away, Elfangor discovers that Arbron is stuck in Taxxon morph. Arbron attempts to force Elfangor to kill him with a Dracon beam, but when Elfangor resists, the Dracon cuts a hole into the ship resulting in a crash landing. Elfangor awakes alone. He steals a Mustang (the car was also scavenged from Earth by the Skrit Na), and races back to the space port. On the way, he is captured by a hive of Taxxons where he finds Arbron. Turns out there are some Taxxons still resisting the Yeerks. They plan an attack, lead by Arbron who has an Andalite’s knowledge of the Yeerks.

The attack itself quickly falls into madness due to the Taxxons’ hunger issues. It is all Elfangor can do to hold off Arbron from attacking the two humans when they find them. They are almost overwhelmed by Hork Bajir Controllers when Hork Bajir!Alloran shows up to save the day be taking Sub Visser Seven captive as leverage to get back on their own ship and leave. Arbron, however, refuses to come, saying that he has no life with Andalites anymore, and returns to the Taxxons.

In space, Alloran forces the Sub Visser Seven to jump to his death from the ship and then orders Elfangor to destroy a cargo ship full of Yeerks in their transport pool. Elfangor refuses, saying it is dishonorable to kill helpless Yeerks. During their disagreement, Chapman attacks a distracted Alloran and knocks him out. Elfangor lands back at the wrecked Skrit Na ship to retrieve the Time Matrix. It is only after he off the ship that he questions Chapman’s behavior and realizes that both he and Loren have been made into Controllers. He races back, but it’s too late and the unconscious Alloran has been taken over. Sub Visser Seven reveals that the Hork Bajir Controller had only been posing as him. Elfangor is able to stun Sub Visser Seven, leaving him behind, and flying away from the Taxxon world.

Loren’s Yeerk chooses to depart Loren rather than starve to death on the promise that Elfangor will freeze it and expel it into space, which he does. Elfangor and Co. fly aimlessly around Zero Space for a few days, as he knows that the Yeerks likely placed a tracker on their ship and that once they come out of Zero Space they’ll quickly be found. He navigates them to the location of the original Dome ship, hoping that the added forces will be enough to combat the Yeerks.

When they come out of Zero Space, they discover that the Dome ship is under attack by strange asteroid creatures that essentially eat space ships and can’t really help when Sub Visser Seven (now Visser Thirty Two, having gotten a promotion for Controlling an Andalite) arrives in a Blade ship. Elfangor is able to trick them into getting close enough for him to shoot the belly of the ship with his shredders, but they still get boarded. However, weakened, it tears free, leaving Elfangor, Loren, Chapman, and now Visser Thirty Two trapped in an airless ship. Between the three of them (Chapman loses consciousness cuz he’s a weakling), they are able to activate the Time Matrix and escape.

However, because there were three of them trying to control their destination, they end up on a strange plane of existence that is a patchwork of their three home worlds. Elfangor and Loren are able to find each other and figure out how to find the Time Matrix. They meet up with Visser Thirty Two a few times and closely escape. After finding the Time Matrix (to get close to it, they discover that time speeds up and they each age several years very quickly, Loren ends up around 18), Elfangor tells Loren to take control and bring them to Earth. He’s had enough of this fight, having lost Arbron, allowed Alloran to be taken by a Yeerk, and, in his mind, failed in every way.

The two travel to Earth where Loren has made sure (using timey-whimey magic) that everyone accepts the fact that she is now 18. They bury the Time Matrix, deciding it is too dangerous a weapon for any one species to control. Three years pass. Elfangor creates a human morph for himself by combining DNA and traps himself in that morph, taking on the name Al Fangor. He marries Loren and goes into computer science in college. All is as well as it can be until our friend the Ellimist shows up one day.

He says that Elfangor is not where he should be and through various forms of manipulation convinces Elfangor that he must return to the way things are supposed to be, leaving Earth and Loren (whose memories will be wiped) behind. It is only after he agrees that he learns that Loren was pregnant with their son. The Ellimist shows him that his son will be very important in the future, one day meeting up with Elfangor’s own younger brother and four others.

Elfangor returns to the Andalite war and after saving a Dome ship from the now Visser Three instead of Thirty Two, he is hailed a hero and thus starts what will be a long and honored career as an Andalite Prince. The story ends with him landing on Earth, injured and hoping to find the Time Matrix again (the beautiful forest where it was buried has now become an abandoned construction site). He briefly meets his son, and gives him and the other kids the morphing power. He then dies at the hands of Visser Three, leaving a recording of his tale (this book) that is sent out into space.

Elfangor: Elfangor is such a great character. There are clear similarities to Ax with his earnestness and desire to become a great hero of his people. However, he also is more quick to trust the humans he encounters and bond with them. It’s notable that, unlike Ax who in his book was confused by why people thought Rachel was beautiful, Elfangor is immediately taken by Loren and her golden hair. He also more quickly catches on to human humor and adopts it himself.

The stakes get incredibly high for Elfangor through this story. He loses his close friend to Taxxon morph and then is indirectly responsible for the fact that Alloran gets taken over by to-be Visser Three. By the end of the story, it is very understandable why he chooses to retreat to Earth.

The entire book gives us so much great background information for a character who was only ever introduced so briefly back in book one. Even then, I felt like he made a huge impact as a character, beyond the obvious reasons he was necessary for the plot. But this just adds so much more to him. We see the history behind his choices. Why he came to Earth when he was injured in the first place. Why that construction site. Why he chose to break the Andalite law and give human kids the ability to morph (throughout this story he marvels at Loren’s strength and bravery as “just a human kid.”) Why he lingers longest with Tobias. And why his fight with Visser Three felt personal.

Loren: Loren is so great. She’s essentially the character you would get if you mixed Rachel and Marco. She’s brave, but also clever. There were many scenes where she saves the day, either by tricking those around her, or physically taking on beings much larger and stronger than she was. When the Dome ship is being attacked by the living asteroids, she is the one to figure out that they are attracted to energy patterns. She’s Elfangor’s equal in every way, and their relationship at the end is completely believable.

Arbron: Arbron’s story is clearly the saddest. While in Taxxon morph, Elfangor very bluntly discusses the horribleness of the all-consuming hunger that plagues the Taxxons. He even begins to understand why they might choose to become willing Controllers if it would result in more feeding of that hunger. In the end of the book, the Ellimist informs Elfangor that Arbron still lives back on the Taxxon home world in the free Taxxon hive. This is either good news, or incredibly tragic as well.

Alloran: Elfangor’s conflict with Alloran on the ship when it comes to killing the helpless Yeerks comes to an even greater head when he learns that the reason that Alloran is a disgraced War Prince is that he was the one who released a quantum virus back during the Hork Bajiir wars. Basically, he was using chemical weapons. This further dis-illusions Elfangor to the Andalite race, contributing to his decision to flee the war and hide the Time Matrix even from his own people.

This also, obviously, adds even more depth to Visser Three. We met Alloran himself very briefly back in Ax’s book when he was free for a few minutes and asked Ax to kill him. At the time we didn’t know more than what he told us: that he was still fighting against Visser Three and wanted Ax to tell that to his family.

Chapman: Chapman is the worst. I mean, I could pretty much leave it at that. At every single point in this book, he says and does terrible things. And not just in little, average bullying ways. He literally attempts to bargain away the ENTIRE HUMAN RACE to the Yeerks on the Taxxon home world. And even after he’s been made a Controller then left when Visser Three takes over Alloran, he STILL is on the side of the Yeerks.

Loren and Elfangor run into Chapman back on Earth during the three years, and they find out that his memory has somehow been wiped of the entire experience. We later learn from the Ellimist that Chapman is also important to the future.

Visser Three: From the very first moment we meet him, we all recognize our favorite villain. He’s obsessed with getting an Andalite body, a big fan of announcing his plans, and, turns out, very into collecting alien species even before he had the ability to morph.

By this point in the series, we’re all pretty familiar with his penchant for morphing some strange alien creature and telling the Animorphs all about its super cool abilities. On the strange patchwork world that he helps create using the Time Matrix, he has two alien “pets” whom he introduces in a similar manner before siccing them on Loren and Elfangor. So, the power to morph couldn’t have gone to a better Yeerk! He was already in the business of collecting animals!

A Hawk’s Life: Tobias is Elfangor’s son! Am super excited to see how this is revealed to him.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: There’s a fun call back to Ax’s obsession with the power of taste and cigarette butts. When Elfangor’s taking the Mustang for a cruise, he finds a picture of humans enjoying the scenery while putting “slim white cylinders” in their mouths. He thus equates those with human happiness and has to be informed by a laughing Loren that no, cigarettes are bad for you and that picture had only been an ad for them.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: The Taxxons, man, they’re terrible. The cannibalism of their own and the fact that they have pretty much zero self control over that is made very clear in the most gruesome ways.

Couples Watch!: As a whole, this is the most romantic story of them all! We actually get an entire romantic arc with Loren and Elfangor meeting, falling in love, and getting married. I remember this as one of my favorite Animorphs books as a kid, and I think part of that has to do with this aspect of it. As much fun as it is to watch the Tobias/Rachel and Cassie/Jake ongoing drama, at a certain point I just wanted them to get together! And here I had that!

“I Get That Reference!”: There were a few references in this book that went completely over my head the first time around! It made re-reading this book super fun this time, discovering them finally. First of all, the Skrit Na creatures are essentially two species. The Skrit are these cockroach-like mindless drones, but the Na are described as short creatures that walk on two legs, but have huge heads and huge eyes. It’s mentioned that the Skirt Na are obsessive about collecting other species and performing strange medical experiments on them. So, there you go! The little alien creature that we generally use, and all the stories of being abducted and experimented on, it’s implied that that came form “real” experiences with the Na! Somehow I didn’t pay enough attention to that description as a kid, and missed that whole tie-in.

Secondly, when Elfangor is on Earth as a human, he references having two computer science friends named “Bill” and “Steve” and how he had to use simple words like “window” and basic icons, like fruit, to describe complex topics to them. As a kid, I completely missed this, so it was super fun seeing it now as an adult!

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: So many things! Arbron’s whole situation. I mean, he’s a kid, and now he’s stuck as a Taxxon, by all accounts the worst thing to be in the universe, forever. In one swoop, he loses everything. Tobias’s situation seems ideal next to this. Alloran, who goes on to be trapped as Visser Three for years and years. And, of course, Elfangor’s choice to leave Loren and his unborn son behind, especially when he meets Tobias later and very briefly hears about his sad life, and how Loren was essentially broken mentally and left Tobias in the care of his neglectful aunt and uncle. Ugh, so sad.

Favorite Quote:

One of the many bad ass moments from Loren, pretty much summing up how we all feel about Chapman:

“You know, Chapman, you are really making the human race look bad,” she said. “You are seriously embarrassing me.” “Who’s side are you on?” Chapman grated. “Not yours,” Loren said.d. She fired the shredder and Chapman jerked and went limp.

Scorecard: Yeerks 3, Animorphs 6

No change!

Rating: All the high ratings! As I said, this was one of my favorites as a kid, and I love it all the more re-reading it as an adult. There’s so much packed into this story, and the characters are all so fully developed for the still-limited page count. And as my massive plot section shows, there was tons going on in this book. It’s an excellent backstory for a character who was only briefly around, but it adds so much to the story going forward.

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

Serena’s Review: “Strange Practice”

32452160Book: “Strange Practice” by Vivian Shaw

Publishing Info: Orbit, July 2017

Where Did I Get this Book: ARC from the publisher

Book Description: Greta Helsing inherited the family’s highly specialized, and highly peculiar, medical practice. In her consulting rooms, Dr. Helsing treats the undead for a host of ills – vocal strain in banshees, arthritis in barrow-wights, and entropy in mummies. Although barely making ends meet, this is just the quiet, supernatural-adjacent life Greta’s been groomed for since childhood.

Until a sect of murderous monks emerges, killing human and undead Londoners alike. As terror takes hold of the city, Greta must use her unusual skills to stop the cult if she hopes to save her practice, and her life.

Review: First off, thanks to Orbit for providing me with an ARC of this book in exchange for a review! I read the description for it, and was pretty much like “Yep, gotta read that!” As a lover of urban fantasy, it’s been a distressing few years recently. Many of my favorite series (“Mercy Thompson” and “Kate Daniels”) are beginning to show their age and are likely (perhaps hopefully) going to wrap up soon. Beyond these, many of my other forays into the genre have yielded middling returns. Either these books stray too closely to tropes already well-established in staple series in the genre to trigger any sense of originality and interest, or…they’re just kind of bland? Not so with “Strange Practice!” Shaw has expertly introduced a new leading lady with a unique perspective on her urban fantasy world and lifestyle, and I was digging it the entire way.

Greta Helsing is a doctor for the strange and unusual, the monstrous and the arcane. It is a family practice after her family decided to turn away from the hunting business and re-focus in on the helping side of things. Right here we have such a unique take on urban fantasy that I was immediately completely sold on. Not only is Greta a great character on her own, but her perspective as a doctor presented readers with an entirely new lens through which to view the supernatural world. How do mummies get by with their rotting bodies? What about sunburns for vampires? Do any of these creatures suffer from mental illnesses? Cuz living forever could have some major psychological implications. Not only was there a plethora of creativity in this area, but Greta remained true to this focus throughout the story, even when the evil monks showed up and the action really got started.

A big frustration of mine with urban fantasy is when the heroes or heroines sillyly jump beyond their own abilities, somehow thinking (and for plot convenience, accurately thinking) that they can play on the same field as magical beings who have million times the magical power as they. Suddenly the author is forced to create loop hole after loop hole to keep their protagonist up and moving instead of simply being hand-swiped away in the first minute. With this in mind, it was refreshing that Greta’s entire perspective on her situation was always rooted firmly in her position as a doctor. Even more so, in that she realizes the unique service she provides to her clients and understands the importance of staying safe, not only for her own sake, but for those who would suffer without access to medical care. As I said, refreshing, and when she does end up in the action (cuz of course, she must), she plays a believable, yet important, role. See?! It is possible to keep your heroine grounded while also staying true to the action of your story!!

Beyond Greta, I was surprised to discover that we had several other point of view characters as well. I always wish there was some way for these book descriptions to hint at this possibility, as it always feels like a bit of a side-swipe to be set up as if the book is from one protagonist’s point of view, and then end up with a handful of others. But alas. With this story, it is of no matter since I thoroughly enjoyed the perspectives these other creatures brought. We had a vampire and a vampyre (the distinction having to do with the type of blood they require), a demon, and even a few chapters from the viewpoint of the nefarious schemers. There was quite a lot of unique world-building and monster “history” that was brought in with all of these characters, and the many other supernatural beings who made appearances.

I particularly liked the tone of the story. Dark, witty, and full of literary allusions that were great fun to spot. There as a nice balance struck between the horror aspects and the vampire-friendship-fluff. On one page there would be murder and mayhem, and on the next, a vampire shopping spree! And never once does the story get swept away by its own concept. It would have been all too easy for the humor of the story to have veered into the silly, but Shaw walks the perfect line. Lastly, the setting of London for this story gave it an extra dash of depth, as, like the city itself, the timeless aspects of these creatures that are steeped in history and meaning must now adapt to exist alongside the speed and change of the modern world.

If you enjoy urban fantasy, and are hankering for a new series to follow, I can’t recommend enough that you check out “Strange Practice!”

Rating 9: An excellent new entry into what was beginning to feel like a tired genre.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Strange Practice” is on these Goodreads lists: “Best Monster Books” and “Urban Fantasy – London”

Find “Strange Practice” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Serena’s Review: “Flame in the Mist”

23308087Book: “Flame in the Mist” by Renee Andieh

Publishing Info: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, May 2016

Where Did I Get this Book: e-ARC from NetGalley!

Book Description: The only daughter of a prominent samurai, Mariko has always known she’d been raised for one purpose and one purpose only: to marry. Never mind her cunning, which rivals that of her twin brother, Kenshin, or her skills as an accomplished alchemist. Since Mariko was not born a boy, her fate was sealed the moment she drew her first breath.

So, at just seventeen years old, Mariko is sent to the imperial palace to meet her betrothed, a man she did not choose, for the very first time. But the journey is cut short when Mariko’s convoy is viciously attacked by the Black Clan, a dangerous group of bandits who’ve been hired to kill Mariko before she reaches the palace.

The lone survivor, Mariko narrowly escapes to the woods, where she plots her revenge. Dressed as a peasant boy, she sets out to infiltrate the Black Clan and hunt down those responsible for the target on her back. Once she’s within their ranks, though, Mariko finds for the first time she’s appreciated for her intellect and abilities. She even finds herself falling in love—a love that will force her to question everything she’s ever known about her family, her purpose, and her deepest desires.

Review: Right off the bat, there were several things going for this book when I first saw that it was coming out. First and foremost, I had very much liked Abdieh’s previous YA fantasy duology, a re-telling of “One Thousand and One Nights, “The Wrath and the Dawn” and “The Rose and the Dagger.” Together they made up a unique re-telling of one of the few remaining fairytales that hasn’t been beaten into the ground (this coming from an avid fan of fairytale re-tellings), and the style of writing appealed to me with its lyrical quality. “Flame in the Mist” had the same elements. To its detriment.

I want to applaud the author, however, for sticking to her guns in choosing lesser known stories and focusing her world-building and characters on non-European/western settings and cultures. Here we have what is essentially a “Mulan” re-telling set in a proto-Asian setting. I don’t have a wealth of knowledge of Chinese/Japanese/etc cultures, so I can’t speak to those aspects of the book (similar to my lack of knowledge of the “realism” of the Middle Eastern setting used in her previous duology). However, both that series and this are set in fantasy worlds, for all their similarities, so outside of blatant issues (which there were none that I could tell), there was a lot of free reign to build a completely new world order/culture with this story. This was one aspect of the story that I really enjoyed. It was refreshing to read a fantasy story that takes place in an eastern setting. This left not only the fantasy elements to learn and to explore, but also the immersive quality of being quite outside my own culture, while still having threads to tie back to what little I do already know of the regions of the world that this story draws from. Full marks for world building.

Unfortunately, that leads me to the rest of the story, all of which I had more issues with. First off, I feel that, as a reader, I would have been better served having this book not presented to me as a “Mulan” re-telling. For better or worse, my knowledge of that story is pretty well tied up with the Disney version. I know the story is based on a traditional Chinese fairytale of a young woman who dresses and fights as a man, but I haven’t read it and couldn’t even speak to the accuracy of Mulan. So…Disney’s all I’ve got with this one. And as far as this book goes I got far too little of this:

giphy1

And far too much of this:

giphy

One of the things that made Disney!Mulan’s story appealing were the noble and, most importantly in this case, understandable reasons for why she does what she does. Her hand is quite literally forced, for love of her father and nothing more. Sure, she feels out of place in her own skin and that she is letting her family down, but she never contemplates abandoning home until the situation with her father being called to war comes to play. Not so with Mariko.

For all intents and purposes, Mariko is quite acceptable as a daughter. Sure she’s frustrated and angered by the fact that she is being traded away in marriage, but alas, such is the life she was born to lead. In the short introduction we are given to her character before the action sets in, we are given every reason to think that Mariko is above all a practical and dutiful daughter. These are traits she prides herself in. But then her caravan is attacked, her guards and maid killed, and she finds herself wandering around in the woods alone. And this is where I first knew there were going to be issues for me with this book. Mariko rightly worries that her situation is going to be problematic for her family to explain; when/if she returns home, her virtue could be called into question due to this, and through this, her family’s honor. What is to be done? Obviously, running away, disguising herself as a boy, and tracking down those who attacked her so that she can save her virtue. Somehow.

I’m a fantasy reader, I’m more than happy to turn my brain off and go on many an adventure where implausible things happen. But only so far as the world allows. This type of blatant, plot-serving faulty logic drives me bonkers. How in the world could dressing up as a boy and hanging out with a bunch of (male!) thieves improve her chances of retaining her family’s honor and her own virtue? Nothing about it makes sense. And unfortunately, this type of backwards thinking continues for Mariko throughout the story. She sometimes even made the right decision, but made it for such the wrong reason that I couldn’t even give her credit for it.

Beyond this, I’ve found that in this, the third book I’ve read by this author, the writing is starting to get on my nerves. What came off as lyrical and appropriate in the previous duology, read as strained and forced here. Perhaps the focus on storytelling that was at the center of the other two books simply lent itself better to this type of writing, and now, removed from that topic, it simply felt awkward. It’s hard to even describe, really, as sentence-by-sentence there’s nothing wrong with the writing. But as I kept reading, it just kind of built up as an annoyance, and enough of one that I repeatedly found myself putting the book down.

“The Flame in the Mist” was not for me. I could never get behind Mariko as a main character with her blatantly contradictory thought process and decision making, and the more dramatic and lyrical writing style seemed to rub uncomfortably with this more action-oriented tale. For those looking for a good woman/warrior story, pull out the classic “Alanna” series instead. Or, hey, check out the “Bloodbond” series that I recently finished up and loved.

Rating 4: My expectations were too high for this wanna-be-Mulan story.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Flame in the Mist” is included on these Goodreads lists: “SF & F Atlas – Asia” and “Fairytales for Wild Girls.”

Find “Flame in the Mist” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Serena’s Review: “Julia Vanishes”

22400015Book: “Julia Vanishes” by Catherine Egan

Publishing Info: Doubleday Canada, June 2016

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

Book Description: Julia has the unusual ability to be . . . unseen. Not invisible, exactly. Just beyond most people’s senses.

It’s a dangerous trait in a city that has banned all forms of magic and drowns witches in public Cleansings. But it’s a useful trait for a thief and a spy. And Julia has learned–crime pays.

Her latest job is paying very well indeed. Julia is posing as a housemaid in the grand house of Mrs. Och, where an odd assortment of characters live and work: A disgraced professor who sends her to fetch parcels containing bullets, spiders, and poison. An aristocratic houseguest who is locked in the basement each night. And a mysterious young woman who is clearly in hiding–though from what or whom?

Worse, Julia suspects that there’s a connection between these people and the killer leaving a trail of bodies across the frozen city.

The more she learns, the more she wants to be done with this unnatural job. To go back to the safety of her friends and fellow thieves. But Julia is entangled in a struggle between forces more powerful than she’d ever imagined. Escape will come at a terrible price.

Review: This book is a strange combination of a million and one elements that shouldn’t work together, but somehow, do! We’ve got an “Ocean’s Eleven” style thieves guild, essentially, operating in a world that is similar to our own, but at an undefined period of time (there are carriages, but also “electric” carriages, people use swords, but there are also muskets, at one point they use an elevator in a building, but they also sail their boats…), There is an inquisition-style hunt going on for witches, but there are also other magical beings that are thought only to exist in folklore. And in the middle of the story we’re presented with an entire new level of world-building with the introduction of a new set of beings with a god-like relation to history and current events.

Throughout this all, what holds things together is Julia, her narrative style and individual character arc. Julia, and her brother Dek (the spelling of character names/places is always confusing when you listen to an audiobook and never see the name spelled out! Ah, the challenges of book reviews!), are the orphaned children of a father who drank and then abandoned what remained of his family when their mother is convicted and executed as a witch. They are taken in by Esme, a woman who runs a successful thieves underground system, and grow up working jobs for this new family. Which all leads to the current circumstance that places Julia, requested by the client for her unique ability to go “unseen” by others when she chooses, as a spy in the household of Mrs. Och and thus caught up in complicated mystery that surrounds the young woman and her toddler son who are taking refuge there.

Julia’s growth through the story was one of its strongest appeals. Not only does she not understand her own abilities, especially when she discovers there is more to them then simply becoming invisible for a bit, but her own world views, and her understanding of her place in it, are consistently challenged. I particularly enjoyed the parallel that is drawn between Julia and another character, Pia, and the example they each set for the consequences that come from making the choices we do in life. Julia, at first, has a very pragmatic approach to her life and her work. She does the job, she gets paid. And this is a comfortable arrangement, allowing her to morally set herself back from her own actions. But when this approach comes to a head in the middle of the book, Julia must question her own definition of “living.”

While Julia’s is obviously the main arc of the story, I also appreciated the other views into poverty and the choices that are available to those struggling to get by that are presented by the other characters. Her brother, Dek, is a talented inventor, but due to their status as orphans and thieves, and his own deformities from a childhood illness, he worries about every being financially compensated if he came forward in an attempt to sell his goods. Another character, Wyn, hopes to be an artist, but struggles to get his foot in the door with an apprenticeship or a place in an art program. Again and again, we see these characters have doors shut in their faces and can understand the comfort that comes from the stability found in their role in this thieves guild, even if the work itself is morally questionable.

As for the story itself and the world-building, I was very surprised when about halfway through the book the plot suddenly expanded massively to include world-changing characters and events. Before it had been a rather simple murder mystery with a strange monster and a mysterious woman with a past. Suddenly these were all small pieces in a much larger moving plot machine. While I liked these expanded elements, they did seem to come out of the blue, forcing the entire story to shift completely, resolving some of the initial elements suddenly in the middle of the story while introducing new ones at the same time. It almost felt like two completely different books. I think this was simply a matter of pacing and of a few info-dumpy passages that were overwhelming. Ultimately, things did become clear, but there was a bit in the middle where I was honestly confused about who was after who and why.

The story does resolve itself for the most part in this book, however the door is clearly left open for sequels. Now that the cards are shown, per se, about the grander conflict going on in the series, I have hopes that any future books would be more settled in their own skin with what story they are wanting to tell. I was also given just enough of Julia’s abilities and origins to keep me coming back for the second book to find more answers alongside her. “Julia Defiant” will be up shortly, I suspect!

Rating 7: A great main character and interesting new world. But it felt like two books mashed together at times, with one focused on a simple monster story and the other setting up larger-than-life characters and plots.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Julia Vanishes” isn’t on any relevant Goodreads lists, but it should be on “Fantasy Books about Thieves.”

Find “Julia Vanishes” at your library using WorldCat!

 

The Great Animorphs Re-Read #12: “The Reaction”

815401Animorphs #12: “The Reaction” by K.A. Applegate

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, November 1997

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: Rachel’s got some pretty strange stuff happening. She can’t control her morphing. One minute, she’s doing homework. The next, she’s morphing a full-grown crocodile, and — without returning to human form — she becomes an elephant. That’s when the floor gives way and Rachel finds herself looking up at what used to be the kitchen ceiling.

What’s going on? No one’s sure, but Rachel and the other Animorphs have to figure it out — quickly. Because if someone sees Rachel’s out-of-control morphing, the other Animorphs and Ax are in some serious trouble…

Narrator: Rachel

Plot: The story starts out in typical Rachel-fashion: jumping into a crocodile pit at the zoo! To be fair, she does it to save a small boy who has fallen in, and this is exactly what she tells Jake when he rants at her later at Cassie’s farm about “exposing them all” when the “friendly crocodile” gave the kid a ride out and drew notice. And in a book full of Rachel making really rash decisions, this one is pretty understandable! Pretty sure they all would have done it, but Rachel has a history of rashness (morphing elephant at both a used car lot and at the zoo, to make animal rights points), so the hammer always seems to come down on her a bit more for this type of stuff.

All of it seems to be mostly put to bed, until Rachel gets home and suddenly, unwillingly, starts morphing elephant in her own room. This, unsurprisingly, brings down the house and she is only just able to get control of herself and morph back before her sisters and mom show up. Between this and the crocodile escapade (people thought she also fell in), she gets quite a lot of local news attention. Rachel, being Rachel, decides that this is just some strange one-off and keeps the whole weird morphing to herself.

The main plot of the story gets tied in when the Animorphs discover that the Yeerks are quite interested in a certain teenage boy actor, one Jeremy Jason McCole. So, I haven’t talked much about the dated aspects of the book, because for the most part they’re just random mentions of VCRs and such, but this is a big one. Teenage super stars are no thing specific to any decade. I mean, we have Beiber and the Jonas Brothers and all that, now-ish. But this one’s pretty hilarious for anyone who grew up in the 90s, as it is a clear and direct reference to Jonathan Taylor Thomas. I mean, you’ve got the name with the rhyming ring to it, and past that, they even discuss the show he is on which has to do with family and, you guessed it, construction. This is such a direct and obvious call out that I couldn’t help but laugh out loud every time I read about it. Which was a lot, since it was the main focus of the story. So, sure, this will read fine to new readers picking up the books today, but without the 90s memories of “Home Improvement” and the JTT madness, much of the humor of this will be lost. But I got it all! And love it.

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Jeremy Jason, for all intents and purposes.

Anyways, Cassie and Rachel are the only ones who truly understand how bad it would be if Jeremy Jason was to be made a Controller and started promoting The Sharing. After they very strictly made this point to poor, clueless Jake and Marco (while throwing in the fact that boy, wouldn’t it be fun to scout out this situation anyways!), the team decide to morph seagulls, fly out to Jeremy’s yacht (cuz of course he has a yacht), and see what’s what. Turns out that Visser Three himself is there wooing Jeremy Jason to become a willing Controller. Much of the love for Jeremy Jason is thus instantly evaporated for poor Rachel and Cassie.

With perfect timing, Rachel’s morphing issue strikes again and she falls from the air, somehow morphing directly from seagull to other animals (luckily, conveniently, so that the Controllers don’t find out they’re all human). After escaping from another of Visser Three’s freaky morphs (some type of javelin-throwing sea creature that Rachel is able to “pop” by biting it in her croc morph), Rachel’s little problem is outed. Ax, of course, knows a bit about it and it turns out that Rachel is allergic to crocodiles, and will continue to have this morphing issue until she somehow mysteriously “expels” the DNA.

Now knowing that the Jeremy Jason thing is a serious problem, Rachel decides to take advantage of her moment of stardom as “disaster girl” and get on the same local TV program that will be featuring Jeremy Jason. They will then…somehow stop him from promoting The Sharing?? To do this, however, she lies to her friends and says that the whole allergy thing was taken care of, DNA expelled, she’s ready to go.

So, of course, while they’re all at the TV studio, Rachel’s croc problem goes live and she begins growing a crocodile out of her back (apparently what Ax meant by “expel DNA” was grow a full, live crocodile out of oneself that will detach and then just…be there). This leads to much mania and confusion (Marco morphs a llama, Cassie morphs Rachel, a wild croc is loose), and they are only saved from complete discovery by the fact that there also happened to be a zoologist scheduled for the show and the wild animals running everywhere are thought to be his. Through this all, the Yeerk (bizarrely) decides to bail out of Jeremy Jason, and Rachel steps on it accidentally. Jeremy Jason than flees to Asia after deciding that this whole Controller thing wasn’t quite what it was cracked up to be. The end!

Xena, Warriar Princess: Rachel’s strengths and weaknesses are fully shown in this book. Like a wounded animal, she doesn’t like to let others see when she’s hurting or confused, which leads to much of the craziness from her not asking for help with her morphing issue right away. Later, when she also lies about having expelled the DNA, we see another example of her hiding things from the others. This time, however, we can also see that this is tied up with the fact that she understands her role in the group. She’s the brave one, the one who often helps push the others into action, and to do what they hesitate to do. She, partly rightly I think, worries that without her, the others would struggle with this, and many, missions.

She’s also incredibly brave. When Visser Three is coming after them in the ocean, she plays dead and attacks him when he gets close, giving the others time to flee. She often puts herself in these roles where her own survival is called into question to save her friends.

The other notable feature of this book was the direct tie between her reaction to her croc allergy and her ability to keep control of her emotions, specifically anger. I know that this is a recurring theme in the Rachel books: her anger is what makes her powerful and brave, but it can also really hurt her. Some of the later books get quite silly with this, I think, almost jumping the shark with her character. But this was a good look at this issue as it begins to play a bigger role in Rachel’s character and arc throughout the series.

Our Fearless Leader: Poor, poor Jake. After the last book which focused on the tough realities of being a leader, here we have this one where the poor guy has to deal with crazies like Rachel who just go ahead and don’t tell the whole group relevant information that then leads to even worse scenarios, that he then has to make a call on, mid-mission. All cuz of Rachel’s bad decision making.

<No, it’s much better to find out this way, Rachel. You know – when you
could get us all killed,> Jake said.

Other than this, it was funny reading about Jake and Marco’s endless discomfort with the girls’ infatuation with Jeremy Jason McCole. When they first decide to scout out the yacht more closely, this is Jake’s original plan:

<Marco and I will go in close, land on the boat like any ordinary
seagulls, see what we overhear,> Jake went on. <Rachel and Cassie, you
can be backup. Stay ->
<Yeah, right,> I jeered. <You and Marco go. Me and Cassie stay away.
Yeah, that’s really going to happen. Come on, Cassie, we’re going in.>

A Hawk’s Life: Was Tobias even in this book?? Thank god his book is coming up next and SPOILER this problem gets mostly solved. But not too solved, gotta keep a hold on the massive corner of the teenage tragedy market that is Tobias’s life.

Peace, Love, and Animals: Why Cassie?! Why are you such a fun character in Rachel books, but then become the most stick-ish of sticks in the mud during your own books?? It drives me nuts. Cassie was actually a blast in this book, and her friendship with Rachel is definitely me favorite platonic relationship (others being Marco/Jake and Tobias/Ax). They had a lot of good moments just being girls about Jeremy Jason, and it was fun to read. Cassie was also quick to always correct any mistaken identification of the crocodile as an alligator, too, thus fulfilling her “animal facts” quota for the book.

A fun example of their thoughts on the boys’ reaction to Jeremy Jason:

<It’s so sad to hear so much jealousy, don’t you agree, Cassie?>
<It is sad, Rachel. Terribly sad.>
<This is the worst mission we’ve ever been on,> Marco said.

The Comic Relief: Marco gets some good comedic moments in this one (what’s new), when he decides to abandon Jake with the whole “morph a bug” plan while scouting out the TV studio and just morph a convenient llama that was wandering around from the zoologist’s program. I mean, any excuse not to go bug, ammiright? Lots of quips about llama fur and llama spit and llama behavior ensued and it was great. Most impressive, however, was when things went south with the now-detached croc, Marco, in llama morph, did a mad rush at it. For all of his comedy moments, Marco is one of the bravest members of the group and my love for him only grows! He also has a fun moment in the end of the book with Rachel and some more “Xena” nods.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Ax, too, plays a significant role in handling the loose croc situation and essentially takes it out of play all on his own. Rachel makes some pretty clear comments about how she’s been impressed by Ax in the past, but this moment really highlighted the strength and speed of Andalites, raising him to a new level in her eyes.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: Hands down, the “expelling” of the crocodile DNA. I mean, there were pages and pages of descriptions of the very slow process that was the crocodile growing its way out of Rachel’s back and finally dropping off, fully formed. I mean, just think about that whole experience. Or, better yet, don’t.

Couples Watch!: Man, for a book told from the perspective of one of the four characters involved in a couple-ish situation, there was very little to go on here! Maybe a few private asides from Tobias, but we got zero, ZERO, bedroom visits by hawk!Tobias, something that I remember clearly associating with this couple and as happening fairly often in their books. But nope! Nothing! Very disappointing. But the next book is his, so hopefully we’ll see an improvement there. For this book, I just had to fall back on my secondary Marco/Rachel fixation.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: It was strange having Visser Three sucking up to Jeremy Jason McCole, essentially. Didn’t really seem like his usual style of “do first, ask never.” I guess the idea was to highlight how much easier it is on the Yeerks, especially the one controlling someone, if the host is willing? But still, there are more than enough examples of forced-Controllers and in a situation like this where this one, very specific person is needed, it seems like Visser Three wouldn’t have given a hoot what the potential host wanted. But at least he had a relevant morph for chasing the Animorphs again! The javelin-shooting beast (Ax wasn’t paying attention in school to know all about it. Typical.) was a pretty good adversary, all told. Except for that “burst balloon” action there at the end.

The fact that they Yeerks then just let Jeremy Jason run off to Asia to hide also seems highly unlikely. I guess they figured that he wasn’t likely to say anything about it without sounding like a crazy person. But why not just re-capture him and go on with the original plan of using him as a spokesperson for The Sharing?

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: This didn’t have a whole lot in the “feels” department. It was a pretty wacky story, bookended by an even wackier morphing allergy. Even the side plot with Rachel’s family seemed fine. It’s clear that she still has a good relationship with her father, and the brief moments with her sisters, especially her fear that they may have been hurt when the house collapses, were nice. All in all, just a kind of fun adventure!

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: I mean, I’m pretty sure Rachel just straight up admits that they have no plan whatsoever when it comes to trying to mess up the Jeremy Jason TV spot. Beyond the lack of plan there, Rachel herself knows there is even less of a plan since she was the only one who know that the crocodile allergy hadn’t exactly been taken care of. All of the luck, all of the time!

Favorite Quote:

Rachel sums up her own character:

But the thing about fear is you can’t be afraid of it. I know that sounds confusing. I guess what I mean is, be afraid if you have to, right? Fear is like this vicious little worm that lives inside you and eats you alive. You have to fight it. You have to know it’s there. You have to accept that you’ll never get rid of it, but fight it just the same. Brave isn’t about not being afraid. It’s about being scared to death and still not giving in.

Scorecard: Yeerks 3, Animorphs 5

No points awarded! I guess the Animorphs technically pulled off their plan of stopping Jeremy Jason from being taken. But really, if I was going to award points for their success in that, it would be 1 point for the crocodile.

Rating: Pretty good! Lacking in much sustenance, but a fun read none the less. I can excuse wackiness when it leads to a fun story. But when wackiness is combined with dramatic nonsense *cough”The Secret”cough*…

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!