Book Club Review: “Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library”

16054808We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing bookclub running for the several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is a “Book Challenge!” theme. This book comes from a “Pick a Maud Hart Lovelace award winner” challenge.

For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for bookclub. We’ll also post the next book coming up in bookclub. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own bookclub! 

Book: “Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library” by Chris Grabenstein

Publishing Info: Random House Books for Young Readers, January 2013

Where Did We Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Kyle Keeley is the class clown, popular with most kids, (if not the teachers), and an ardent fan of all games: board games, word games, and particularly video games. His hero, Luigi Lemoncello, the most notorious and creative gamemaker in the world, just so happens to be the genius behind the building of the new town library.

Lucky Kyle wins a coveted spot to be one of the first 12 kids in the library for an overnight of fun, food, and lots and lots of games. But when morning comes, the doors remain locked. Kyle and the other winners must solve every clue and every secret puzzle to find the hidden escape route. And the stakes are very high.

In this cross between “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and “A Night in the Museum,” Agatha Award winner Chris Grabenstein uses rib-tickling humor to create the perfect tale for his quirky characters. Old fans and new readers will become enthralled with the crafty twists and turns of this ultimate library experience.

Kate’s Thoughts

I am a pretty big fan of both “The Westing Game” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, so when our book club compatriot Katie picked “Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library”, I was pretty interested. The comparisons were made pretty starkly between this book and those classics, so I went in with highish, if not tentative, hopes. BIG SHOES TO FILL, MR. LEMONCELLO!

Overall, I did basically like this book, though most of that is probably because I’m a librarian and this book reads like a Valentine to the profession. While the characters themselves are fairly stock and two dimensional (Kyle is the imperfect but charming protagonist, Mr. Lemoncello is basically Willy Wonka, Charles is the priggish and snooty nemesis, etc), the little literary touches are great. There are multiple books referenced in this story, many more than I would have expected for the target audience of this book (middle grade and elementary school age), but I liked that Grabenstein was referencing Fyodor Dostoyevsky along with Arthur Conan Doyle. This book is filled with many puzzles and riddles as well, seeing as Mr. Lemoncello is an expert game maker, whose newest game is figuring out how to escape from the new library in town. But not only are the clues distributed in puzzles and riddles, to even get to the puzzles and riddles the characters have to utilize the library and its resources! What did I say about a Valentine to my profession???? From teaching about the Dewey Decimal system to the different functions of the public library, this is a pretty good introduction about how kids, inside and outside the story alike, can use the library to get the information they’re looking for.

This was a quick read that I was able to get through in an afternoon. I definitely see how kids would find it a fun read, but I do kind of wonder how well it would crossover to adults if they aren’t library-oriented. And while it’s true that there doesn’t have to be crossover from kid’s books to adult books, I always think it’s nice when a story can be appealing to all ages. I think that sometimes it did feel less like an homage to “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and “The Westing Game,” and teetered towards just kind of copying it and its themes. However, I did like that in this book teamwork and friendship definitely play more prevalent themes than they do in the previous books. I like that asking for help and partnership wasn’t derided or dismissed.

Overall I found this to be a fun and quick read, and I enjoyed it.

Serena’s Thoughts

I’ve had a bit of a hard time knowing how to start this review or really work out what I think about this book. On one had, there’s no denying the appeal as a librarian to a book that is essentially a massive love letter to the profession. And for middle graders, the puzzles, games, and adventures are sure to please. But…I was still a bit “so so” on the book overall, and I think maybe it’s a case of what Kate said, this book not being written for adults and perhaps not crossing over as well as others of its kind. But maybe it’s also a bit of “author’s agenda is showing?”

If I wanted a guide to the wonders of the library in novel format, I wouldn’t look any further than this book. As an introduction to the library and to all the different ways a library can be a marvelous place for learning, for fun, and for so many others things, this book is spot on. But it’s almost too spot on. If that was the book’s goal, essentially to just be something that public libraries hand out to get kids interested in the library, than sure. But the novel portion of it seemed to be lacking, in my opinion.

Most of the children characters felt too much like stock characters with very little development or character growth. And the plot/adventures were a bit too close to set up of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” And in the midst of all the library love, the narrative sometimes seemed to take a nose dive into the twee.

So, this all sounds pretty negative, and I don’t really mean it that way. For a middle grade reader, I’m sure this book would be a massive hit. And as a librarian, I can never complain about finding a good novel to brainwash the kiddies into loving the library as much as I do. But as an adult reader and book critic, this one was a bit too sugary sweet for me and the “teach kids about the library” agenda was a bit too on the nose.

I did enjoy all the book name dropping, as Kate mentioned as well, and I applaud the author for bringing in titles/authors that most middle graders will need to follow up on on their own. Hopefully using the newly discovered wonder that is the library!

Kate’s Rating 7: A fun and quick read that promotes librarianship. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it’s cute for what it is.

Serena’s Rating 6: Same. A fun, quick read that is in love with the library. But it didn’t translate as well for me, as an adult reader.

Book Club Questions:

1.) This book has several similarities to “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” Does it stand on its own, in your opinion?

2.) This book works very hard to teach children about the library. Of all the lessons, what do you think the book most successfully taught kids who are reading this book?

3.) What were a few of your favorite book references? What other works would you have included?

4.) Is there any character growth you would have liked to see added to any of the characters?

5.) This book is a hit with young readers. But as Kate and I have expressed, more of a challenge for older readers. Is there a way to make this more appealing for adults? Should this even be a concern?

The author has also provided this great reading guide for the book for kids, so if you read this with a group of children, this is a really fun, helpful resource! Here it is!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library” is included on the Goodreads lists “Books about Books and Libraries”, and “The Games We Play”.

Find “Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library” at your library using WorldCat!

The Next Book Club Book Is “Beauty” by Robin McKinley

Rah Rah for RA!: Different Perspectives

Occasionally we here at Library Ladies get an email asking for some Reader’s Advisory. Sometimes it’s a general ‘what should I read next?’, and sometimes it’s a specific genre or theme that the reader is asking for. We do our best to match the reader to some books that they may like based on the question they give us.

Dear Library Ladies

Given the socially divisive climate of our world today, I’m looking for books that expose me to perspectives (suburban white gal) different from my own. I’d like to start with American since that’s where I live, but would also like a few international perspectives. I have a good amount of fiction on my to-be-read list so I’d like to start with non fiction, but will also take fiction suggestions. In terms of content, I’m in the middle of the spectrum of traumatized-for-a-good-cause to Disney-movie. Thanks for your help!

-Emma Watson Should Be The Patron Saint of Book Club

Hi EWSBTPSOBC!

First of all, brava for you seeking to stretch your reading experiences beyond what you usually may tackle. We’ll try to give you an array of reads that can fit your personal comfort spectrum.

30650040Book: “Muslim Girl: A Coming of Age” by Amani Al-Khatahtbeh

Publishing Info: Simon & Schuster, October 2016

This is a memoir by Amani Al-Khatahtbeh, the founder of the website and blog Muslim Girl. She was a child living in New Jersey on 9/11, and experienced a backlash against her and her family because they are Muslim. They moved back to Jordan for a time to flee the Islamaphobia, and while there Al-Khatahtbeh had a personal and spiritual awakening she took with her back to the United States. This book talks about those experiences of being a Muslim child in a post-9/11 world in this country, and how she came to found her blog. It emphasizes her experiences, but also highlights her activism on speaking out for Muslim rights in this country. This is a pretty quick read at 134 pages, and it’s very enlightening.

25666051Book: “In The Country We Love: My Family Divided” by Diane Guerrero

Publishing Info: Henry Holt & Co., May 2016

Diane Guerrero is probably best known for her characters on “Jane the Virgin” and “Orange is the New Black”, but she has also written a book about being the child of undocumented immigrants. When Guerrero, who was born in this country, was fourteen, her parents were arrested and deported back to Columbia. Guerrero was left alone in this country to live with family friends, but the trauma of losing her family deeply affected her. While this does talk a bit about her path to her acting career, the bulk of it deals with visiting her parents in detention centers, trying to get through school and life without her family, and the emotional issues she had in the aftermath of her parents deportation.

25489625Book: “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Publishing Info: Spiegal & Grau, June 2015

Written as a letter to his son, this collection of essays by Ta-Nehisi Coates is a powerful and incendiary examination of race in America. It covers the subjugation of African Americans in American history, form the days of chattel slavery, to systematic discrimination, to the deaths of African American males such as Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown at the hands of police officers. This work is both beautifully written and personal, as well as eye opening and a difficult read because of the deep injustice spoken of. It is framed as a number of letters to Coates’ son, which makes it all the more emotionally resonant and impactful. It charts dark truths of American history and society, and forces the reader to examine them.

6493208Book: “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot

Publishing Info: Crown Publishing Group, February 2010

This book made the rounds on a bunch of “most read” lists back nearer its publication, but if you haven’t read it, it’s a definite go-to! This story details the history of race and medical experimentation, specifically the story of an amazing woman whose genes have been used for decades in all kinds of medical research from in vitro fertilization, cancer treatment, and vaccines. This is kind of a double-dose book as it features both race in America, as well as bio ethics and how much control people have on their own bodies. So if that’s a secondary subject that might be of interest, definitely check this one out!

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Book: “Snow Falling on Cedars” by David Guterson

Publishing Info: Vintage, September 1995

This is a fiction suggestion! But it does cover a very unique time period and perspective in American history, the Japanese internment camps. It’s a beautiful story wrapped up in the memories of a community that is still dealing with its own rocky history with the happenings of WWII. It book also tells the tale of a bi-racial couple, a white boy and Japanese girl, falling in love during this time period. I don’t always love the “high literature” jargon that gets tossed around so much, but this is a book where the term “atmospheric” really does apply!

197753Book: “Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto” by Vine Deloria, Jr.

Publishing Info: Oklahoma Press, October 1970

An older book, but a must-read for a take on Native American relations in the United States. For such a touch subject, the book is also surprisingly humorous in its detailing of such things as U.S. race relations, federal bureaucracies, Christian churches, and social scientists. Deloria tackles many deeply ironic subjects, like the romanticizing of Native American culture with regards to nature and social structures. Of course, this book is now nearly 50 years old, so some background/context reading could be helpful with some of the specific policies and cultural happenings, but it still makes most list for readers wanting a deeper look into Native American life in America.

Serena’s Review and Giveaway: “A Conjuring of Light”

29939230Book: “A Conjuring of Light” by V.E. Schwab

Publishing Info: Tor Books, February 2017

Where Did I Get this Book: I bought it! (And an extra for this giveaway, since, let’s be real: I’m keeping mine!)

Book Description: Londons fall and kingdoms rise while darkness sweeps the Maresh Empire—and the fraught balance of magic blossoms into dangerous territory while heroes and foes struggle alike. The direct sequel to “A Gathering of Shadows,” and the final book in the Shades of Magic epic fantasy series, “A Conjuring of Light” sees Schwab reach a thrilling culmination concerning the fate of beloved protagonists—and old enemies.

Review: While I should have felt completely confident after Schwab nailed the always-challenging middle book of a series, the final book is really what a series lives and dies on and…and…nothing bad must happen to my lovelies, Lila, Kell, and Rhy! And, while bad things do happen in this book (narrative-wise, not quality-wise, thank god), as a closing chapter for the trilogy, “A Conjuring of Light” was everything I wanted and many things I didn’t know I even DID want!

I was lucky enough to have gotten around to “A Gathering of Shadows” only a week or so before this book came out. So I only had to live with that killer cliffhanger for a few days before I rushed out to my local bookstore and purchased this book. I feel true and deep pity for all the other readers out there who had to struggle with it for a whole year! With my approach, and the fact that this book takes off exactly where the previous one leaves off (Lila rushing to Kell’s rescue AGAIN, and Rhy sinking into death-remission), this almost felt like the very long second half of the story that was started in the second book.

The pacing of this book is essentially action-packed from the get go with a few, very few, breaks often in the form of flash back sequences. As the personified dark magic seeps into Kell’s world, the true magnitude of the disaster that our heroes are up against begins to take form. The stakes are impossibly high, and from the beginning it was clear that any hope of winning wasn’t going to come without a steep cost. While the second book highlighted what magic can do as it was put on show during the international competition, this book shows its limitations, especially at the hands of the fragile human magicians with their limited capacity to channel it. The fancy flourishes and tricks prove to be much too little against the seemingly unstoppable force that is the Shadow King.

This book also can be split into two parts. The seemingly futile disaster overtaking Red London, and then a jaunty ship journey, complete with Sea Serpents! If it sounds like those two things wouldn’t mix well, you’d be wrong. And in many ways, this second half of the book was my favorite. It was essentially an odd company adventure romp featuring my favorite characters: Lila, Kell, Alucard, and, bizarrely, Holland.

Lila is, and will always be, my favorite character. And while much of her growth took place in the second novel, we see her really come into her own in this book, recognizing the benefit of staying put every once in a while and the strength to be gained from relationships with others, even with the risk of loss.

Kell, too, was much more filled out coming off the second novel, so his arc was also more limited to simply overcoming this great nemesis. However, there was some interesting nuance added to his relationship with the royal parents, and his relationship with Rhy continues to by my favorite portrayal of brotherhood on page.

And, obviously, Lila and Kell now together….my heart!

The more surprising character arcs came for both Alucard and Holland. With both, but especially with Holland, we are given a much clearer look into their past through flashbacks. Alucard’s story highlights the fact that Red London, as advanced as it is, does struggle with similar prejudices as our own world, a fact that he suffers for greatly.

And Holland. His story came out of left field! While the first book does a good job setting him up as more than a simple villain, this is where we finally see behind the mask and are witness to the complete and utter tragedy that has been his life. Honestly, after seeing it all, Holland turns out to be the strongest character of them all, even given the fact that they largely wouldn’t even be in this whole “Shadow King” mess had it not been for him.

I’ve already written a bunch and I still feel like I’ve barely skimmed the surface of what’s to love about this book and series as a whole. I honestly can’t recommend it enough for fans of fantasy. It’s been a long time since I’ve read a trilogy that feels so perfect in every way. In this case, even the most wild and outlandish praise is well deserved.

Rating 10: A perfect 10 for the whole trilogy.

Reader’s Advisory:

“A Conjuring of Light” is newly released and thus not on many Goodreads lists, but it should be on “Fantasy/SF Atlas–London” and “Magic, Adventure, Romance.”

Find “A Conjuring of Light” at your library using Worldcat!

But wait! There’s more! If somehow you have managed to resist instantly purchasing this for yourself, never fear, I am hosting a giveaway for a hardcover edition of “A Conjuring of Light!”

EDIT: I failed to update the “comment on the blog” question for the giveaway! So instead of favorite murder mystery (darn you, Kate, and your murder mysteries and my own ineptitude when recycling your work!), what is your favorite fantasy novel that was published in the last year?

Click here to enter the giveaway!

Kate’s Review: “Little Heaven”

29430791Book: “Little Heaven” by Nick Cutter

Publishing Info: Gallery Books, January 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: An all-new epic tale of terror and redemption set in the hinterlands of midcentury New Mexico from the acclaimed author of The Troop—which Stephen King raved “scared the hell out of me and I couldn’t put it down…old-school horror at its best.”

From electrifying horror author Nick Cutter comes a haunting new novel, reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian and Stephen King’s It, in which a trio of mismatched mercenaries is hired by a young woman for a deceptively simple task: check in on her nephew, who may have been taken against his will to a remote New Mexico backwoods settlement called Little Heaven. Shortly after they arrive, things begin to turn ominous. Stirrings in the woods and over the treetops—the brooding shape of a monolith known as the Black Rock casts its terrible pall. Paranoia and distrust grips the settlement. The escape routes are gradually cut off as events spiral towards madness. Hell—or the closest thing to it—invades Little Heaven. The remaining occupants are forced to take a stand and fight back, but whatever has cast its dark eye on Little Heaven is now marshaling its powers…and it wants them all.

Review: I have heard of Nick Cutter. This horror author gets some serious buzz from other horror authors, like Stephen King, for example. Anyone who’s good by Stephen King is usually going to be good by me. I requested Cutter’s first big break novel, “The Troop”, but when I realized that it was a parasite story, I was an immediate NOPE and sent it back to the library and on to the next person. Some time passed, and then I saw that he had another book that came out called “The Deep”. I was tempted, but then I saw a reviewer say that it was more of the same creepy themes that “The Troop” touched on, and therefore I continued my NOOOOOPE because parasites + the deep deep ocean is just not my idea of fun. But THEN I heard about “Little Heaven”. Cults in the desert? I can handle that, I told myself. I love a good cult story!!…..

And then I saw all the NOOOOOOOOOOOOOPE stuff that I’d hoped to avoid in the first two books.

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(source)

But I was invested and in it, so I powered on through. The good news is that since the themes and imagery was genuinely upsetting, this was a pretty damn scary book that messed me up pretty damn good. The bad news is that…… see the above gif.

Something that I found really interesting about this book was that it felt almost like a Western as well as a horror novel, and not just because it took place in the New Mexican desert. Outside of “No Country for Old Men” I’m not terribly acquainted with the genre, but if you have three mercenaries hired to check out a small town in the middle of nowhere, with little trust between the three of them, I feel like that just screams Western. I could be wrong, but whatever. The story follows Micah, Minerva, and Ebeneezer, three guns for hire who set out to check up on a small boy who has been taken to a compound in the middle of the desert. Cutter did a pretty good job of fleshing out all three mercenaries in terms of how they interact with each other and how they would react in the situation they find themselves in. But of Micah, Eb, and Minny, I think that Minny is the one whose motivations I understood the most, as in her heart of hearts she most wants to take out Ebeneezer because of a tragedy in her life that he unknowingly caused. In one of the many, many upsetting scenes in this book. Essentially Minerva saw her younger brother killed and devoured by a snake with no help in sight because Eb had killed their Dad. I totally got her rage and need for revenge, even when it seemed to be completely crazy and detrimental to the situation they found themselves in….. Ugh, the descriptions of a child being strangled and eaten by a snake will not leave me for awhile, I can assure you of that.

Little Heaven itself takes great influence from Jim Jones and the People’s Temple. Between the physical description of Amos, the leader of this group, the fact that they started in San Francisco, and some of the rituals and proclivities they embark on, Cutter has definitely written a ‘love letter’ of sorts to the group that’s best known for drinking the Kool Aid. But while the group in Little Heaven is strange and pretty messed up on it’s own, it’s the strange demonic creatures that live in the wilderness that are the real threats in this story. And my GOD was all that just completely upsetting and disturbing as well. It got to the point where I was having a hard time reading this book in the evening because I was so freaked out by what I was reading. And while this is usually a good thing in the stories I read, it almost went a little bit too far for me. Visceral and very violent horror, especially of the body horror variety, is something that turns me off pretty quickly, and I have a hard time enjoying what I’m reading. I like being scared, but I don’t like being upset. And “Little Heaven” kind of upset me more than it scared me. The body horror violence just keeps getting worse and worse, and every once in awhile we’d be treated to some actual visuals thanks to an extremely talented illustrator…. but whose works were too good at putting what was messing me up on full display.

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Goodbye, peaceful nights. (source)

Nick Cutter does the job, but he almost does it too well when it comes to me. Add that in with an ending that felt incredibly existential and nihilistic just for the sake of nihilism, and I closed the book and felt yucky on the inside. Look, sometimes I enjoy a good nihilistic downer ending (uh, hello, “Hex”). But in the case of “Little Heaven”, so much of the pain that was heaped upon some of these characters felt undeserved, and while there were some bits of joy, overall I just felt kind of bad once it was all said and done. I know that that’s sometimes the goal of a good horror novel. But that’s so not my thing.

So I have to give “Little Heaven” a lot of credit for freaking me out and making me unable to read it at night. But it kind of made my heart hurt a bit too much along with the lots and lots of nopes that it bubbled up inside of me. I know lots of horror fans who will love it, though. You’re made of stronger stuff than I!

Rating 7: This book scared the living daylights out of me, but the ending was a bit too nihilistic for my tastes.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Little Heaven” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Upcoming Books Of Note: Horror”, and “Best Picks: Adult Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Novels of 2017”.

Find “Little Heaven” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “A Gathering of Shadows”

20764879Book: “A Gathering of Shadows” by V. E. Schwab

Publishing Info: Tor Books, February 2016

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

Book Description: It has been four months since a mysterious obsidian stone fell into Kell’s possession. Four months since his path crossed with Delilah Bard. Four months since Prince Rhy was wounded, and since the nefarious Dane twins of White London fell, and four months since the stone was cast with Holland’s dying body through the rift–back into Black London.

Now, restless after having given up his smuggling habit, Kell is visited by dreams of ominous magical events, waking only to think of Lila, who disappeared from the docks as she always meant to do. As Red London finalizes preparations for the Element Games–an extravagant international competition of magic meant to entertain and keep healthy the ties between neighboring countries–a certain pirate ship draws closer, carrying old friends back into port.

And while Red London is caught up in the pageantry and thrills of the Games, another London is coming back to life. After all, a shadow that was gone in the night will reappear in the morning. But the balance of magic is ever perilous, and for one city to flourish, another London must fall.

Review: After the high that was “A Darker Shade of Magic,” I went into “A Gathering of Shadows” with extremely high expectations. And without any ado, this book more than met those!

Second books in a trilogy are a beast. The stage has been set, the characters established, but the grand finale must be held off. Too many series experience the “second book slump” when these delicate balances can’t be met. Often these books come across as filler, so busy holding back that they never present a story of their own. “A Conjuring of Light” shows how you do a second novel right.

The story itself is simple yet effective. Schwab builds her narrative around an Olympics-like competition of magicians that will be held in Red London, using it as a support on which to overlay the character development of Kell and Lila.

Kell is struggling with his new reality, his life forced tied to Rhy’s. With any harm that is done to him affecting Rhy as well, his freedom has been greatly limited by a King and Queen who fear for their son and heir’s life. Further, while Kell struggled with the awe with which the city’s populace viewed him before, after the devastation left in the Black London artifact’s wake, hero worship has shifted to general fear and distrust. Sensing this growing restlessness and unhappiness, Rhy concocts a scheme for Kell to enter the Games in disguise.

Lila, on the other hand, is living her dream. Through a series of flashbacks, we see the way she managed to con her way onto a pirate ship and slowly ingratiate herself with the charming captain and powerful magician, Alucard Emery. She has also slowly been training as a magician and in true “Lila” style has decided that nothing will due but to also enter the Games as a disguised contestant. Her sheer brazenness and over-confidence is unfailingly charming!

While one of my favorite aspects of the first novel was the report that was built up between Kell and Lila, I found myself equally enjoying this extended period of separation. Schwab drew out the tension, ratcheting up reader’s expectations higher and higher, as she had her two main characters circle closer and closer to one other through their experiences in the Games before finally, and satisfyingly, clashing together towards the final third of the novel.

Through Lila’s lessons with Alucard and the Games themselves, Schwab also greatly expands her magical system. While we heard a lot about elemental magic in the first book, we were largely only exposed to Kell’s specific brand of blood magic. Here, however, the full force of what can be done with elemental magic is on display, and it was fascinating!

Behind the scenes, we also begin to see the stage being set for the grand final conflict to come in the last book. Holland, our favorite Antari villain from the first book, has survived and the Black London magic is yet again in play.

As I said, this book seemed to hit all of the marks as as second novel. Schwab carefully uses this book to add layers to her main characters and give them all room to grow and react to the happenings of the first book (we also get more of Rhy in this story, which I loved). The main story arc advances very little, but the Games serve as an architectural framework upon which to hang this character development, provide action, and expand an existing magic system. And behind it all, the building blocks are slotted in place for the final story.

A warning: this book ends on a massive, MASSIVE, cliffhanger. But despair not! The final book is out, and I will have a review for that up on Friday along with a giveaway!

Rating 10: A rare thing indeed, a sequel that meets the same high rating as its predecessor!

Reader’s Advisory:

“A Gathering of Shadows” is included on these Goodreads lists: Thieves and “YA Books with Parallel Universes” (though this book is not a YA title, officially).

Find “A Gathering of Shadows” at your library using Worldcat!

A Revisit to Fear Street: “The Surprise Party” (Fear Street #2)

176637Book: “The Surprise Party” (Fear Street #2) by R.L. Stine

Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, 1989

Where Did I Get This Book: Interlibrary Loan from the Library!

Book Description: It’s been a year since Evan died in the Fear Street woods. A year since Ellen moved away, and “the gang” split up. Meg Dalton felt as if she’d lost her best friends. Everyone changed. Even her boyfriend Tony was acting moody, strange. But when she heard that Ellen was returning for a visit, Meg had the answer: she’d bring them all together again with a surprise party for Ellen!

That’s when the terror began…the phone calls…the threats…the bizarre acts of violence. “Cancel the party—or else,” the whispered voice on the phone told her. Meg was scared, and with good reason. Whoever wanted the party stopped would try anything—even murder! But why? The dark Fear Street woods held the answer…if Meg dared to discover the truth!

Had I Read This Before: Yes

The Plot: And it was with “The Surprise Party” that I not only got back on track with going through the “Fear Street” series in order, but also having a full understanding of what my devotion to finding the originals would entail. The ILL copy I got of this book was pretty gross and disgusting, guys. I found a long faded and nasty remnant of an M&M within it’s pages. The candy shell does NOT melt in your hand, but if cracked, the chocolate seeps into all the pages. But it was worth it, because the dreckitude of this book’s condition was far outweighed by how nostalgic it was to hold it in my hands.

Meg Dalton and her group of friends are living normal lives in Shadyside. Well, pretty normal, outside of the fact that the summer before the horrible death of their friend Evan kind of tore a big hole down the middle of their clique. Evan shot himself in the Fear Street Woods, and no one knows why. His girlfriend Ellen moved away she was in such shock and grief. Meg misses her friends, and her bestie Shannon and her boyfriend Tony just don’t quite fill that void. But then she hears from Lisa (of Lisa and Cory from “The New Girl”) that Ellen is coming back to town for a visit after all these months of being away. Meg has a scintillating idea when she hears that: Let’s throw this traumatized and potentially still in mourning girl a surprise party! Shannon seems down for it, while Tony is visibly shaken. Meg goes home and starts to plan her perfect little party….. Until she gets a scary phone call, with the person saying that she better not have a party for Ellen… OR ELSE.

Meg, not to be deterred by a little light stalking, continues to plan the shindig. Shannon even makes some nice invitations that they can pass around. Meg goes to study hall with her friends, and notices that her weirdo cousin Brian is there too. Brian is SUCH A WEIRDO because he likes to play Dungeons and Dra-, no, excuse me, Wizards and Dungeons, with his actually awful friend Dwayne ‘Date Rapist’ Colligan (who has been aggressively trying to get Shannon to go out with him). Brian was also in the woods the day that Evan killed himself, as he heard a shot and went running, only to find dead Evan and a frazzled Ellen. After Meg turns her attentions away from the invites for just one moment, she returns to find that they’ve been cut up! How dare someone try and stop this totally fun and wicked party idea?!

Meg decides she needs to make a list of suspects of attempted party pooping. There’s Brian, because he’s a weirdo. There’s Shannon, because she may blame Ellen for Evan’s death. And then maybe Ellen could be a suspect too, because ‘she never liked parties’, and someone could have tipped her off. Brilliant. She writes down Dwayne for good measure because she doesn’t like him. She decides to call Tony to see what he thinks. He thinks that someone was following him, and he also thinks that she’s nuts for still going through with this in spite of the blatant threats against her. Meg can’t understand why he’s so upset, and guarantees that she’ll find out who is behind this. She then calls Ellen, just to see how she is (and maybe to try and get a feel for her knowledge re: her shindig). Ellen sounds very happy to see her and excited about coming home… Maybe TOO happy and excited…

As Meg manages to isolate herself from everyone on her mad quest for fun, she visits Shannon and thinks about how impulsive- no, wait, what’s the word- volatile and violent Evan was when he was alive. From throwing things to hitting Tony with a pool cue. Meg notes that Shannon’s older half brother, Mike, looks so much like Evan, which surely won’t come into play later. Shannon and Meg think maybe Brian could have something to do with all of this craziness. And he’s been SO OBSESSED with Wizards and Dungeons since he found Evan dead in the woods, that has to mean something, right? When she’s about to go confront Brian, someone tries to run her down in their car!!! Though she jumps out of the way, she runs home and mulls her next move? Call the police? Nah, call Tony!… Who doesn’t answer (because he’s out for a run, and is having a confrontation with Dwayne). The next night Meg actually drops by, but he’s not home. And then, around 4am, Tony’s drunk of a father calls Meg and tells her that Tony has disappeared with Brian!

Meg decides to go into the Fear Street Woods to look for them, as they were supposedly going to play a game of W&D. When Meg is looking for them, she’s thrown down a ravine by an unknown assailant. She finds Brian all beaten up, and Tony soon appears, saying Brian fell down the ravine and he went for help. After they are all taken out of the woods, Meg goes to visit Brian, who seems standoffish (and not just because he’s in severe pain). He seems like he’s about to confess SOMETHING to her… but then ELLEN is there, and they’re both surprised to see each other. Meg leaves, and calls Tony. He asks if Brian confessed, and Meg says yes, thinking he meant to the phone calls… BUT TONY ACTUALLY MEANT TO KNOWING THAT TONY WAS THE ONE WHO KILLED EVAN A YEAR AGO, AND HE’S THE ONE MAKING THE PHONE CALLS! And now Tony thinks that he’s going to have to ‘take care’ of Meg!!!

Meg and Shannon go to visit Ellen. After an awkward and forced conversation about their favorite childhood game ‘eek a mouse!’ (in which you randomly scream as loud as you can), they go to an unsupervised party at their classmate David’s house. Dwayne basically tries to molest Shannon, but Meg rescues her and they both downplay the situation. When Tony arrives he and Meg go off to talk alone. Tony is planning to kill Meg, but then realizes that she hasn’t actually put two and two together about his involvement. You get to live for now, Meg.

The night of the surprise party arrives! Meg brings Ellen to the old Haley house in Fear Street woods under pretense of Shannon being there for some reason. They surprise Ellen, who actually seems to be pretty excited to be dragged to the woods where her greatest trauma occurred. Everyone is having a good time, except Tony, who is on edge…. Until Brian shows up…. AND IN WITH HIM WALKS EVAN!!! Except no, it’s NOT Evan, it’s Shannon’s half brother Mike, who looks like Evan, remember?! Regardless, Tony freaks out, and starts to confess to what he did… But then the lights go out and a gunshot rings out!! When they come back on, Tony has been SHOT (by the gun he brought to the party) and it was DWAYNE who did it!!! Dwayne takes Meg and Ellen hostage and they leave the party, and go into the basement to ‘hide’. Ellen confesses that the day Evan was killed, she had just dumped him for Tony (yeah, sorry Meg). Evan ran into Fear Street woods with his father’s gun, and Ellen went after him, Tony not far behind. Soon Evan and Tony were fighting over the rifle, and then Evan ended up shot. Brian heard the gunshot and came to the woods, finding the scene. Tony said he would make it look like suicide, and if they told, he’d kill them. They all ran off at that point… BUT DWAYNE REVEALS THAT NO, IT WAS HE! Because he came looking for Brian (as they had been playing W&D), and found a very much alive, but weak, Evan, who hadn’t been shot but hit his head on a rock. So Dwayne decided to get rid of this guy because Evan never let him go out with Shannon. After he confesses he says he’s going to kill them… But then Meg decides to play ‘eek, a mouse’ (like Chekov says, if you introduce ‘eek a mouse’…). She distracts Dwayne, Ellen hits him in the head with a frying pan, and they make their escape…. No word on if Dwayne was killed, though it sounds like maybe he was.

It all wraps up at the end. Tony gets therapy, Ellen goes home, Brian says that he and Ellen had planned to try and get Tony to confess by bringing Mike to the party. No word on Dwayne’s status. As Ellen and Shannon wrap it up in a neat little bow, Mike asks Meg out on a date. She agrees… but says in a flirty way “Please… no parties!”. The End.

giphy14
I guess that’s one way to react to this whole thing… (source)

Body Count: Well I know for sure that Evan is dead, though he died off page. I don’t know if Dwayne died though, so we’ll say 2.

Romance Rating: 2. Given that Tony was lying and threatening Meg for most of the story and all other couples were generally dysfunctional that may be generous. But Mike seems fine.

Bonkers Rating: 7. From the dated evils of Dungeons and Dragons to the whiplash inducing twists at the end, this one was up there on the bonkers scale.

Fear Street Relevance: 9. There was a lot of action taking place on Fear Street and in the Fear Street Woods, including the most important moments of the book.

Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:

“It’s blood!” she cried. “My lunch bag is filled with BLOOD!”

….. and then it turns out it’s red paint.

That’s So Dated! Moment: Thank God that this was written in 1989 and this copy was the original publication! Because of that we got this gem:

“With her coppery hair, blue eyes, and full pouty lips, Meg thought, Shannon looked just like that actress in the movies, Molly Ringwald.”

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But I have brown eyes… (source)

Best Quote:

“Quick – crank up some music!:” Shannon shouted, startling Meg from behind once again. “And crank it all the way up! This party is okay!”

A ringing endorsement if there ever was one.

I remembered a few things about this book from my childhood, but reading it with an adult’s perspective kind of hit home how ridiculous this series was. And how it shows a weird and warped version of teen dating and love. I was especially horrified by the portrayals of Dwayne before his big reveal. His behavior towards Shannon was downright predatory, so it’s good that he was the villain or else I would have had a serious problem with downplaying his violent misogyny as ‘harmless’.

Next up is “The Overnight”! “Fear Steet” goes camping and I can’ wait!

March 2017 Highlights

We could try to type out something in a really terrible Irish accent in celebration of St. Patrick’s Day this month, but let’s just skip it maybe? March is also notable as it marks the Library Ladies one year anniversary! So yay for that!

Serena’s Picks

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

Publication Date: March 7, 2017

Why I’m Interested: There have already been comparisons to “Uprooted” floating around (one of my favorite reads of the last few years), and this book seems poised to be another break-out original fairytale.Featuring a girl with a strange power who sets out to save her village from the fearful twin soul eaters and their Beast overlord only to find that she shares a unknown connection with them, this book sounds like just the type of dark, twisted folk tale I would love. Plus, just look at that beautiful, creepy cover and tell me you’re not intrigued!

30687916Book: “Silence Fallen” by Patricia Briggs

Publication Date: March 7, 2017

Why I’m Interested: This is the 10th book in the Mercy Thompson series. Tenth! That’s a lot of central Washington werewolf/shapshifter/vampire/fae action! While the series has been rather hit or miss for me with the last few books, I did enjoy the last book (which was good, because the one before that was a fairly large miss). But it is starting to feel like the stakes simply can’t be raised any higher and that this tale might be nearing its end. Through kidnapping shenanigans, this book drops Mercy into Europe where she must maker her way home on her own, which does sound interesting. A change of setting could be what the series needs. And as much as I love Mercy and Adam together, the strength of this series is Mercy herself and sometimes she’s best left to clean up messes on her own.

28449207Book: “Strange the Dreamer” by Laini Taylor

Publication Date: March 28, 2017

Why I’m Interested: I very much enjoyed Laini Taylor’s “Daughter of Smoke and Bone” trilogy. The fantasy elements were all very unique, her world building was extraordinary, and she wrote her teenage female protagonist in a believable and sympathetic way. So, on those strengths alone I would be interested in a new fantasy series by this author. But, as it happens, this one also features Lazlo Strange a junior librarian! The description of the story seems confusing, something about a world where dreams choose your path and a lost world and dead gods. But I’m pretty sure if I tried to explain the premise of “Daughter of Smoke and Bone” that would also sound very odd, so I’m going to have faith that Taylor once again knows what she’s doing.

Kate’s Picks

30687788Book: “Ill Will” by Dan Choan

Publication Date: March 7th, 2017

Why I’m Interested: I’m always on the lookout for a good thriller that may take inspiration from true events, and “Ill Will” sure sounds like The Smiley Face Killer Conspiracy! You have a psychologist named Dustin who is haunted by his brother, a convicted murderer who is just now being let out of prison. Who was put into prison in the first place because of Satanic Panic and Dustin’s own testimony. Add that in with a crazy, unrelated theory one of his patient’s is tossing around involving a serial killer who covers his tracks by staging drownings, and  you have a book that has ME written all over it!!! This genuinely sounds like it could be a serious mind warp and I am totally here for that, just as I’m always here for disturbing psychological thrillers.


23447923Book:
“The Inexplicable Logic of My Life” by Benjamin Alire Saenz

Publication Date: March 7th, 2017

Why I’m Interested: I know it isn’t one of the genres that I usually focus on on this blog, but I absolutely cannot WAIT for this book!! First of all, the plot itself sounds like it’s going to be punching me right in the feelings, as a teenage boy is having a hard time coming to terms with his own identity and questioning whether he belongs or not. But most importantly, this is a book that is written by Benjamin Alire Saenz, who wrote the book “Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe”, which is hands down one of my very favorite YA books of all time!!!! So even though this isn’t the “Aristotle and Dante” sequel that I’m waiting for (not terribly patiently I might add), I love his writing and story telling, so I am VERY stoked to get my mitts on this book.

30753832Book: “The Fall of Lisa Bellow” by Susan Perabo

Publication Date: March 14th, 2017

Why I’m Interested: Though it sounds like it’s less about the crime itself and more about the aftermath and damage done, “The Fall of Lisa Bellow” is on my list. When Meredith Oliver and her nemesis Lisa Bellow are getting lunch from a cafe, a masked man bursts in. He hesitates between the two, and picks Lisa to take with him. Now Meredith is trying to cope with her guilt, her trauma, and her life after the fact. This sounds like it’s probably going to break my heart, but I’m very interested in the concept of survivor guilt and how a town reacts to a crime like this. My guess is that this is going to be a book that needs tissues ready, but I’m up for it!

What books are you looking forward to this month? Let us know in the comments!