A Revisit to Fear Street: “What Holly Heard”

89810Book: “What Holly Heard” (Fear Street #34) by R.L. Stine

Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, 1996

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Holly Silva not only has a big mouth, but ears like satellite dishes. If there’s a rumor, juicy piece of gossip, or scandal anywhere in Shadyside High, Holly can and will dig it up and spread it like peanut butter on bananas. New inklings of romance, BFFs on the outs, cheating, fights…Holly hears it all. Once she does, it’s a short trip from her brain to the brains of Miriam and Ruth, her closest friends.

Usually Holly’s gossip doesn’t amount to anything exciting, but this time is different. Rumor has it Mei Kamata’s involved in an on-going feud…with her own mother. The cause of strife is long-haired bad boy senior Noah Brennan, the guy Mei will no longer be dating if her parents have anything to say about it. When Holly walks by the pair in the parking lot after school one day, she hears the unimaginable: Mei tells Noah she’s going to kill her mother.

Ruth and Miriam don’t exactly see this as the jaw-droppingly incredible insight into teenage female psychology that Holly does. After all, how often to kids threaten to unleash exaggerated bodily harm on their parental units? It isn’t until Mei’s mom takes a fatal tumble down the stairs of her home that the three girls realize they might know more than they should. Somebody knows what Holly heard and is taking steps to ensure none of the girls hear the wrong thing again. Steps up to and including murder.

Had I Read This Before: Yes.

The Plot: Okay, first of all, that plot description above HAS to be updated. It doesn’t read like an old school “Fear Street” summary at all. And I am not totally clear on whether or not this Holly is the same Holly from “College Weekend”, as the descriptions sound similar but I don’t remember if the last times line up. But anyway, Holly Silva runs down the hallway to her friends Miriam and Ruth with some serious hot goss. This is what she’s known for, spreading gossip and feeding off of it like an emotional vampire (and as someone who loves a great gossip sesh over brunch, I feel her on that, though I like to think that I don’t spread so much as I ‘converse’). So maybe I’m more like Miriam, as she evidently lives for this while Ruth isn’t so down. Holly’s latest dish is that Miriam’s old friend and local rich girl Mei Kamata has been having bad fights with her mother all because Mei has been dating Shadyside’s newest bad boy, Noah Brennan. Holly is especially living for this gossip because she has a serious thing for Noah and this may mean trouble in paradise. Ruth is concerned about this, reminding Holly that she does have a boyfriend, a very cool and nice guy named Gary (Ruth and Gary are neighbors and BFFs), but Holly’s eye is wandering. Just then Noah walks up to them and Holly puts on her best flirtation display. Unfortunately, Mei walks up and sees the whole thing. Miriam, trying to diffuse the tension, asks Mei if her party is still on that night (it is), and Noah is immediately drawn back to her and they leave together and she tells him that her parents won’t be home until 6 (woo woo!). Holly is immediately petulant, and when Ruth says that she has Gary Holly gets crabby and heavily implies that she’s going to try and break them up. This girl is awful. Ruth storms off, and Holly tries to say that she can’t help herself because she loves Noah so much. They then run into Miriam’s boyfriend Jed, who is on the basketball team. We are told that Jed has always been Miriam’s dream guy, but he’s been acting strange the past few weeks. He’s been moody ever since the playoff season began. When she asks him if he’s still up for the party, he says he forgot about it, and asks if they REALLY have to go. They fight and he storms off saying he’ll pick her up at eight. Holly wonders what he was putting in his bag, and Miriam is at a loss. Holly says that she’ll dig up some dirt on him for her to find out what his deal is.

Later that night Miriam, Jed, Ruth, and Miriam’s cousin Patrick (who Miriam is trying to hook up with Ruth, who seems not at all interested) are driving to the party. Jed seems back to himself, and says that the playoffs are just stressing him out since college scouts are attending. They arrive at the party at Mei’s house, and Miriam laments the friendship she had with Mei before Mei and Noah started going out. They find Holly, who is wearing a dress that doesn’t sound at all age appropriate. Jed and Gary are basketball teammates so they start talking shop, and Holly tells Miriam that her dress is ‘working’ and that Noah’s been staring at her all night. When Miriam calls her out on it, Holly claims that she feels SO BAD about it now because Mei seems SO MAD at her. Miriam lays the blame squarely on Noah, and I’m not sure THAT’S totally correct. They go find their boyfriends and start dancing with them, but the music the live bad is playing is SO POWERFUL they blow the power in the house and the lights go out. Once the breakers get flipped, the lights come back on and Holly is clinging to Noah. Mei is PISSED, even though Noah seems totally not interested in Holly at all. Miriam asks Holly what she was doing, and Holly says that she was ‘afraid’, and that she wasn’t flirting, she swears, but now Noah has ‘something to think about’.

giphy
Mei should be throwing her ass out. (source)

The next night Ruth and Miriam are in Ruth’s bedroom waiting for Holly to pick them up from the basketball game. Ruth is infuriated at Holly for acting the fool, and thinks that she’s jealous of Mei. Miriam says that no, she just really likes Noah, but I think that it’s VERY possible for those two things to go hand in hand. Ruth also says that she and Patrick didn’t really click as she tends to her two hamsters Lizzy and Tilly. She then says she likes staying at home better than parties, especially since a group of rough necks were pulling up just as they were leaving. Ruth then takes her backpack out and dumps it’s contents on the bed. One item inside it is a hammer, which she says belonged to her Dad, who died a year earlier. She is apparently using it in art class to build a loom. Miriam thinks that Ruth doesn’t like dating because she has Daddy issues, essentially. She also is still mad about how Holly treats Gary, and honestly she isn’t wrong. It’s then that Holly bursts into the room and says that she has AWESOMELY HOT GOSS! After Miriam and Ruth left the party, the roughnecks who showed up were Noah’s drunk friends! After Mei’s Mom kicked them out, the two of them got into a huge fight about Noah, and Mei was told that she’s not allowed to see him anymore. Holly, of course, is ECSTATIC. Ruth calls her out on her bullshit, and Holly says that Gary is boring (SO DUMP HIM), and Miriam begs them to stop fighting and says they should get to the game. Ruth opts to stay home because she’s obviously sick of Holly and her crap.

At the game, Jed is doing awfully. After a Waynesbridge player accidentally elbows Jed in the face, Jed full on attacks him, punching him in the face and then putting him in a choke hold! After he’s pulled off he’s thrown out of the game, and Miriam rightfully freaked out. Holly says she’ll talk to Gary about Jed to see what the scoop is. Once the game is over (the Tigers DO win, by the way, so they’re still in the playoffs), Miriam waits for Jed outside the locker room. She asks if he’s okay and he starts railing about almost getting kicked off the team (um, he probably SHOULD have been kicked off, so count your lucky stars, bucko), and how the other player meant to elbow him. Miriam says he’s been elbowed before and never did anything like that, and he asks how SHE’D like it if SHE was pushed around, and starts pushing her and twisting her fingers, and holy SHIT this is messed up. He then stops, as if pulled from a trance, and deeply and profusely apologizes to her, and she says that if he EVER lays a hand on her again they are DONE. But then they have a ‘cute’ exchange and I could just barf. When Miriam goes to find Holly in the parking lot, she finds her hiding between some parked cars, and she has some news that has actually spooked her: she overheard Mei and Noah talking, and Mei said that she could just KILL her mother, and that Noah says that he would do ‘whatever it took’ for them to be together. So OBVIOUSLY, since Holly has never heard of hyperbole in a fit of emotion, this means that Mei and Noah are going to kill Mei’s Mom! Miriam tells her she’s being ridiculous, and Holly seems to come to her senses. When Holly asks Miriam about Jed, Miriam tells her everything. And for once Holly is a GOOD person because she tells Miriam that Jed is abusive and that he’s not worth being with.

That Monday Ruth and Miriam are hanging out, when Holly comes up to them with not so hot goss, but sad news. Mei’s mother died that weekend. She was found at the bottom of the steps with a broken neck. Holly is convinced that it was murder, and no matter how much Miriam proclaims that Mei wouldn’t do that, Holly and Ruth won’t hear it. Holly thinks they should go to the police, and then when Noah walks up to them and says that Mei’s Mom is dead, and that he saw Holly at the game….. then he walks off. Okay, yeah, that’s admittedly a weird thing to say. Now Holly is convinced that he knows that she heard them and she is in danger! Seems to me that she’s REALLY making a tragedy all about her, but hey, at least she doesn’t seem into Noah anymore. She promises that she’s not going to say anything to anyone about this, and to THAT I say HA. Miriam asks if she can get a ride home from her that night, but Holly says she’s staying late to hang decorations for the victory rally post-basketball game. Miriam wonders if Noah is someone that she should be afraid of. Because you know, Noah wears leather, drinks occasionally, and has long hair, which means he’s gotta be a serial killer.

Later that night Miriam gets a phone call from Holly. She’s still at school but feeling jumpy, and she wonders if Miriam will come keep her company because she thinks she’s seeing Mei EVERYWHERE. Also, she has some news about Jed that she wants to tell her in person. Miriam says she’ll ask her Mom if she can take the car, but when she gets back on the line Holly isn’t answering her. She drives to the school, and when she goes into the gym Holly is nowhere to be seen. She goes by the door to the locker rooms thinking that maybe she went home… until she sees Holly’s scarf. When Miriam looks behind a pep rally sign, she finds Holly, dead. She freaks out and runs for the doors, but then someone grabs her. Luckily it’s just Jed, and when Miriam tells him what she saw, he goes to see for himself. He then takes her hand and says they need to go call the police. After he calls they sit in the parking lot, and he suddenly freaks out, kicking and punching Holly’s car in a fury. Miriam wonders why he’s doing this, but in his defense I don’t know how I’D react if I found the dead body of one of my friends. As they wait for the police, she realizes that it’s weird that he’s here, and she asks him why he’s at the school this late. He says that he and Gary were working out and Gary left just before Miriam started screaming. Miriam starts to suspect that maybe Mei DID do this.

The next day Ruth is dropping school work off for Miriam, who has been in bed basically since it happened. Ruth tells her that Gary is a wreck and wasn’t at school either, and neither was Mei. But Noah was, and Ruth says that he looked completely nuts. Miriam doesn’t want to talk about any of them, and Ruth says that she’s sad too even if she has a hard time showing it. There’s going to be a memorial at school the next day, and since Miriam’s Mom thinks that one day of mourning/processing time is perfectly adequate for a girl who found her best friend brutally murdered, Miriam will be there. Now Ruth is convinced that Mei and Noah killed her, but Miriam says they have no proof. And she says that if Mei DID do it, the police will be able to find proof that she did and will catch her.

anigif_enhanced-28329-1404919542-4
Tell that to John Walsh, honey. (source)

Ruth opens up her backpack to give Miriam her homework, but when she pulls her hand out both it and the notebook are covered in a red, sticky liquid. A message in blood is written on the cover: “We know you know, that’s why you die next!” Ruth says that Holly must not have kept her big mouth shut, and Miriam finally concedes that perhaps the police should be involved.

After dropping the notebook off at the police (and it wasn’t blood, of course, just paint), Miriam is feeling better now that she’s home. The police say they’ll look into Mei and Noah, and Miriam calls Jed. He says he’ll come right over, and when he arrives they start to talk about all the horrible things that have happened. Miriam says that she never thanked him for being there for her the night before,  he has a ‘murderous glare’ (as Miriam categorizes it, anyway). She decides not to tell him about Mei and Noah, lest he lose it. But then he says he doesn’t want to talk about Holly anymore because everyone is treating her like a saint but she was a bad person who treated his best friend like shit, AND he was trying to dig up dirt on HIM! She asks how he can be so cruel, and he says that it’s Holly’s fault that she was killed, and YUCK. She says that SHE was the one who asked Holly to go on a recon mission because he’s been acting different and being, you know, VIOLENT, and she’s worried about him. He says that it’s just pressure because of the playoffs, and he hasn’t talked to her and Holly about it because excuse HIM if he doesn’t want to gossip about Mei Kamata all the time. Ding ding ding, points for everybody I feel. But Miriam asks what he meant when he said that Holly was at fault for her own murder. He storms off, and she wonders what HE knows.

At school the next day Miriam doesn’t want to go to the memorial, so she ditches off to the bathroom. She’s confronted by Mei and Noah after she leaves it, and Mei asks her how she could spread the lies about her mother that Holly started, and how she could go to the police. Mei’s mother sprained her ankle the week before and it spasmed while she was at the top of the steps, that’s all. Miriam says that she doesn’t believe them, and if they didn’t kill Mei’s Mom then Miriam is being a grade A asshole right now. They also say that they didn’t kill Holly, and that Holly had a LOT of enemies because she got the dirt and spread it around the school. Miriam says that she and Mei used to be friends before NOAH came into the picture, and Mei says that while she WOULD kill for Noah, she DIDN’T. By the end of the day Miriam is totally over everything, and she sees Jed and Gary arguing, with Gary saying that he’s not covering for Jed anymore and that he knows everything that Holly knew. She waits for Gary to leave before she approaches Jed, and he apologizes again. So she asks what his problem is again, and here we go again as he gets defensive. She says that Holly knew something, and then she asks why he was at school the night she was murdered. He says that he was weight lifting, and that Gary was there, but she doesn’t believe him. He says that she can think what she wants, but he has a game to go play, and he looks less angry and more tired. They do their apology dance again.

Miriam asks Ruth to go to the game with her that night while they’re hanging out in Ruth’s room. Ruth says she’s not going anywhere where Mei and Noah are, and when Miriam expresses her doubts that Mei killed her mother, let alone Holly, Ruth says she thinks that it’s Noah who did everything. Miriam says she’s going to the game regardless because Jed needs her. When she gets to the school she sees Jed taking some kind of pill before the game, and when she asks what it was he says it’s a vitamin. They apologize to each other again, and he goes to play. While watching the game Miriam sees Noah watching her, but tries to focus on Jed. But then on the court Jed loses it again, and attacks another player, and now Miriam is convinced that HE is the one who killed Holly. She runs out, and Jed follows her. He tries to stop her from going, but she hits him in the stomach and bolts all the way to Ruth’s house.

Ruth answers the door and Miriam tells her that Jed is the killer, not Mei and Noah, and Ruth says that it couldn’t be him because there were two more murders tonight: LIZZY AND TILLY!!!!! DAMN YOU AND YOUR PET KILLING FETISH, STINE!!!! Ruth says that her Mom is working late and she was asleep on the couch when she heard a noise upstairs. When she got to her room, the hamsters were crushed to death, and they left a note: “Dead hamsters today, dead girls tomorrow.” Ruth goes to call the police, and when she comes back Miriam comforts her and asks if she wants to get dressed out of her pjs, but Ruth says that she can’t go back in her room with the dead hamsters. Miriam says that she’ll go cover them up. She can’t find anyhting to cover them with, so she goes to Ruth’s closet for a shirt, but when she opens the door, a bloody hammer falls out. The hammer that Ruth had in her backpack. Then Ruth walks into the room, and it’s clear from the look on her face that SHE KILLED THE HAMSTERS!! Ruth dives for the hammer and they start wrestling on the ground for it. Ruth wins and pulls an Annie Wilkes (kind of) and smashes Miriam in the knee cap with it. It was Ruth the whole time! Ruth killed Holly! When Miriam asks why, Ruth says it’s because Holly treated Gary like garbage and that Ruth has been in love with Gary this whole time. She had gone to the school that night to tell Holly to just dump Gary and stop leading him on, and Holly LAUGHED at her and said that once she had Noah she’d happily give Ruth Gary but not a moment sooner. In a fury she strangled her. Miriam says that Holly was a good person (I WOULDN’T GO THAT FAR. While this is certainly NOT a capital offense, and while murdering her isn’t the answer or the right thing to do, Holly really was just awful.) and that she didn’t deserve to die, and Ruth says that Holly’s endless hard on for gossip provided the perfect motive to frame Noah and Mei, and that it helped her manipulate Miriam because she, too, took the gossip very seriously. Miriam says that Jed is going to come in here any minute and Ruth says she’ll just kill him too, because he’s been acting like a loon and she will say that he killed Miriam and the hamsters, and then claim self defense. Jed does enter, and Ruth immediately cracks him with the hammer. But before Ruth can kill her, Miriam grabs the hamster cage and smashes it over her head, knocking her out.

Jed comes to and has his own confession to make. He says that it is his fault that Holly is dead, because he told Holly to wait for him in the gym that day so they could talk. See, this whole time Jed has been acting weird because he’s on STEROIDS!!! The anger, the anxiety, the mood swings, ALL steroids. The pressure for a scholarship was too much, and he started the roids in hopes it would improve her performance. Gary knew and told Holly, and Jed wanted to talk to her before she talked to Miriam. But then he got in a weird ambiguous steroid fog, and he was late meeting her. If he’d just been on time, maybe Holly wouldn’t be dead! Miriam tells him it’s not his fault, and they make up. SHe says they need to call the police, and he asks her if she is will stay with him if he promises to get off the roids. She says ‘that’s the latest gossip’. The End.

giphy1
This is my brain on this book. (source)

Body Count: 4, if you include the hamsters. And you know that I do. Godspeed, Lizzy and Tilly.

Romance Rating: 3. Holly is hoping to cheat on Gary with Noah, Jed is lost in a roid rage and may in the future pull a Chris Benoit on Miriam, and Ruth killed Holly because she loves Gary. But that said, Mei and Noah seem like they’re a pretty good fit!

Bonkers Rating: 5. The Roid Rage subplot was totally nutso to me, but otherwise it’s not much to write home about, craziness wise.

Fear Street Relevance: 2. Miriam and Holly both live on Fear Street, but none of the action actually occurs there.

Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:

“They walked away from me now, Miriam thought. But will they come back?”

…. And nope. They won’t. Outside of a moment in the gym with Noah, that was it for them in this book.

That’s So Dated! Moments: I liked that Holly’s stylish hairstyle was very much a 1990s perm.

Best Quote:

“‘I’m sorry. So sorry,’ Ruth murmured. ‘I won’t have any friends left after tonight- will I? Not even my two hamsters. My two real friends.'”

Girllllll….. that was kind of on you.

Conclusion: “What Holly Heard” was a lame duck with a strange Nancy Reagan style anti-drug subplot, and I am kind of flummoxed by it. Do better, Stine. Next up is “The Face”. 

Summer Giveaway 2018: “Rebel of the Sands” & “Lies You Never Told Me”

Happy summer everyone! We’ve already shared our list of favorite beach reads to keep you occupied during any and all vacations this summer. Now it’s time to hand out some free books to further support distraction from any beautiful locations you’re touring or long-missed relatives you’re supposed to be visiting. It’s a package deal of one fantasy novel (for the Serena’s out there) and one thriller (for the Kate’s.) Good luck and enjoy!

24934065Book: “Rebel of the Sands” by Alwyn Hamilton

Publishing Info: Viking Books for Young Readers, March 2016

Book Description: Mortals rule the desert nation of Miraji, but mythical beasts still roam the wild and remote areas, and rumor has it that somewhere, djinn still perform their magic.  For humans, it’s an unforgiving place, especially if you’re poor, orphaned, or female.

Amani Al’Hiza is all three.  She’s a gifted gunslinger with perfect aim, but she can’t shoot her way out of Dustwalk, the back-country town where she’s destined to wind up wed or dead.

Then she meets Jin, a rakish foreigner, in a shooting contest, and sees him as the perfect escape route. But though she’s spent years dreaming of leaving Dustwalk, she never imagined she’d gallop away on mythical horse—or that it would take a foreign fugitive to show her the heart of the desert she thought she knew.

Serena’s Review: https://thelibraryladies.com/2018/01/31/rebel-of-the-sands-blog-tour-review/

36547961Book: “Lies You Never Told Me” by Jennifer Donaldson

Publishing Info: Razorbill, May 2018

Book Description: Gabe and Elyse have never met. But they both have something to hide.

Quiet, shy Elyse can’t believe it when she’s cast as the lead in her Portland high school’s production of Romeo and Juliet. Her best friend, Brynn, is usually the star, and Elyse isn’t sure she’s up to the task. But when someone at rehearsals starts to catch her eye–someone she knows she absolutely shouldn’t be with–she can’t help but be pulled into the spotlight.

Austin native Gabe is contemplating the unthinkable–breaking up with Sasha, his headstrong, popular girlfriend. She’s not going to let him slip through her fingers, though, and when rumors start to circulate around school, he knows she has the power to change his life forever.

Gabe and Elyse both make the mistake of falling for the wrong person, and falling hard. Told in parallel narratives, this twisty, shocking story shows how one bad choice can lead to a spiral of unforeseen consequences that not everyone will survive.

Giveaway details: We are giving away one (1) hardback copy of “Rebel of the Sands” and one (1) ARC copy of “Lies You Never Told Me.” The giveaway is open to US residents only and ends July 15, 2018.

Click here to enter!

The Great Animorphs Re-Read #33: “The Illusion”

302871Animorphs #33: “The Illusion”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, September 1999

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: The Yeerks possess a weapon that could be the biggest threat to the Animorphs yet. The anti-morphing ray transforms a person in morph back to natural form. Unless they find and destroy the top-secret ray, the Animorphs could be exposed for good.

Narrator: Tobias

Plot: What made getting through the last book so terrible (beyond the fact that it was god awful all on its own) was that I knew this one was coming up next. And this was one of my favorites as a kid growing up. Other than the first few and the David trilogy, this was by far the book I re-read the most and thus one of the rare later series stories that I have clear memories of. And yet, even I didn’t remember just how sob-worthy this story was!!

Actual footage of me while trying to read this book in public.

Tobias is at a school dance and feeling awkward. While many of us realize this is how ALL teenagers feel at school dances, Tobias attributes it to his discomfort being human again after spending so much time as a hawk. What’s more, he’s pretty sure Rachel wants to dance. Halfway through their dance, however, Tobias sees the clock on the gym wall and realizes he only has a few minutes left before he would be trapped in his human morph and out of the Yeerk war altogether. As he bolts for the outdoors, Rachel catches up with him and finally opens up about some of the challenges of their relationship. Notably, that with all of the craziness in her life, she needs something normal and would it really be that bad if Tobias were human once again? Unnerved, Tobias still makes a break for it and manages to escape outside and regain his hawk form. Jake, who also noticed the mad dash, comments that he is glad Tobias made it back to hawk as the team needs him for his eyes in the air. Tobias suspects that while this may be true, Jake has also become the type of leader to use his assets wisely and say what needs to be said to keep people in line.

The next day the team meets in the barn. Erek had caught up with Jake earlier and had some news to share about the Anit-Morphing Ray that the group had failed to destroy in their last mission. The problem is that they have no idea where the Yeerks are keeping the ray, but they do know that the Sharing is hosting a big unveiling for their new community center. Through this they come up with a plan: the Yeerks are likely looking to trap a “Andalite bandit” at this event to test their ray on. Instead, the Animorphs will purposely walk into said trap and then through capture figure out where the ray is located so they can destroy it. It’s clear to Tobias that Jake has more in mind than this, and he quickly understands that Jake means for Tobias to volunteer, reasoning that if Tobias is captured, the Yeerks will assume he in morph, use the ray gun on him, and then think that it doesn’t work when Tobias fails to “demorph.” Tobias will also need to acquire Ax so he can pretend to attempt “demorphing” to further convince the Yeerks that they do in fact have an Andalite in morph. Of course, there is no guarantee that the ray gun is even safe and won’t just kill its target, so this is a very high risk mission for Tobias. But the whole group recognizes it as the only option, and Tobias moves forward with acquiring Ax.

Back in their forest, Tobias and Ax bond over Tobias’s experiences as an Andalite, especially given their familial relationship with Ax essentially being Tobias’s uncle. Ax teaches him a few tail blade moves and walks him through the evening ritual.

The next day, the team goes into action at the Sharing event. Jake sits with his family as Tom is given an award. Tobias flies above. Ax is in human morph and is meant to guide the remaining team who are all in fly morph. Hi-jinks ensue as Ax inevitably gets distracted by food and causes a minor scene. Eventually, he and Tobias manage to sneak into the back of the community center and discover the location of the Yeerk’s “trap:” a playground with a tunnel. It’s clear that the Yeerks are trying to set it up to look as if this tunnel is a new entrance to the Yeerk pool so as to temp Andalite bandits into it.

The group all reconvene near the playground. Fly!Rachel hides in Tobias’s feathers and it is her job to report back to the rest of them where the ray gun is so they can attack and rescue him. Ax and Tobias make a break for the tunnel, drawing the attention of the Yeerks. Tobias flies all the way in while Ax “aborts” at the last minute and draws the rest of the Controllers after him. Inside the tunnel in the connected room, hawk!Tobias confronts the Controllers who are in place to spring the “trap.” At their head is a young woman who looks eerily like Rachel. She identifies herself as “Taylor” and she is a sub-visser in the Yeerk ranks. She also happens to have a stun gun of sorts that she shoots at Tobias, not caring if it takes down a few Hork Bajir in the process. Paralyzed, fly!Rachel slips off to land on the floor, vulnerable to be stepped on. Now alone and with the plan already in shambles, Tobias is stuffed in a box and relocated.

When he is let out of the box, he finds himself in a larger clear box with the ray gun pointed directly at him. Visser Three shows up with two Controller scientists in tow. They test the ray gun on Tobias. When it fails, Visser Three is not pleased, feeding the scientists to a pit of Taxxons that is located beneath the floor. He instructs Taylor to torture Tobias into demorphing so he can be infested and give information on the other bandits.

And so begins pages of poor Tobias being tortured. Taylor uses the ray gun to shoot some type of rays at him that trigger pain sensors in his brain.Through it all, we get some great flashbacks to periods in Tobias’s life that highlight why he might be so hesitant to want to return to a human life. We see a bully who persistently comes after him. And a very sad scene where Tobias comes home with an award, only to be told by his lazy uncle that if there’s no money in it, than it’s worthless and Tobias should just get a job (we’re to remember that these kids were like 13 at the beginning of this series and that this scene presumably happened sometime before that even, so….yeah, the uncle is a piece of work). The scene and Taylor’s dialogue within it are a clear reference to the classic “Pit of Despair” scene from “The Princess Bride.” Eventually, Tobias realizes that he can retreat to the mind of the hawk in order to survive the pain. The hawk has no understanding of what is causing this pain or that it has any way of preventing it from happening again; to him it is just another unpleasant part of life now.

Eventually, Taylor figures out what Tobias is up to and introduces a third setting on the ray: the ability to send beams that connect to pleasure sensors in the brain, which brutally yanks Tobias back and forth between pain and pleasure, thus disallowing him from using the hawk for safety. In a few flashbacks here, we see there was once an elderly woman who would take Tobias in after school and feed him treats, one of the few good memories, it seems, from his childhood. He also has memories of showing up at Rachel’s room for what must be regular flying dates they go on.

During a break in the action, Tobias realizes that something strange is up with Taylor. It becomes clear that she has gone insane and Tobias is able to wheedle the story of her past out of her. It turns out that the girl Taylor had once been the homecoming queen of her highschool, but after a house fire she was left badly burned and missing an arm and leg. Having lost her looks, all that was important to her it seemed, she turned to the Yeerks who offered to heal her in exchange for becoming a Controller. Somehow throughout this all, the Yeerk who infested her and Taylor herself somehow merged their personalities, leaving the current Taylor to routinely switch between identifying past Taylor as herself or as a separate being. By this point, Tobias is past the two hour “limit” and Taylor realizes that she has failed to get the “Andalite” to demorph. The knowledge that there is a good chance Visser Three will also feed her to the Taxxons in the pit, she turns up the torture to a new level.

It is too much. Tobias feels himself dying and right near the end he experiences a vision. An Andalite comes to him and presses his tail blade to his forehead. He then experiences a series of “memories” from his father, Elfangor’s, point of view. At the end, Elfangor says that Tobias has come from a long line of warriors who put others before themselves, and that death to save his friends is a noble way to go. But before the light can finally go out, the other Animorphs arrive. They battle Taylor and the Hork Bajir who come to her defense and manage to destroy the ray gun.

Towards the end, grizzly!Rachel has an opportunity to kill Taylor, one that she is just about to take when Tobias tells her to stop. Throughout it all, he hasn’t been able to avoid drawing comparisons between Rachel and Taylor, two girls who are rarely beautiful. But where Taylor’s strength came from her beauty and without it lead her to do terrible things, Tobias sees the grizzly morph as an outer representation of Rachel’s stronger inner self. He asks her to let Taylor go; to be Rachel, and not Taylor.

The last scene is the Animorphs on the beach, trying to gain a bit of normalcy after all of the craziness. Tobias describes his last vision to Ax who is quite shocked. He says there is an Andalite legend that some memories are passed through the DNA and that they can be triggered in the last moments of life, but he’s been sure those were just tales.

Finally, Rachel joins them on the beach. Tobias runs to her and they hug, Rachel asking how bad it was and Tobias confessing that it was really bad, he almost gave in. But through it all, he comes to the conclusion that for now he knows who he is: the person that Rachel loves. She kisses him, and they go flying.

A Hawk’s Life: This is a great Tobias book. He has a lot to contend with before he even gets tot he torture scene. There’s his ongoing struggle with striking a balance between his hawk form and his human form and his fears that Rachel is becoming more and more unwilling to deal with the limbo that is their relationship as it stands.

The book also leans in heavily on the shortened life span of a hawk, something we haven’t seen before. Not only does Tobias see an inconveniently placed poster on this topic on the highschool walls while he flees to demorph, but there is an eagle that is dying from old age in Cassie’s barn (the team use the eagle as a way to gain entrance to the morphing ray room and save Tobias in the end of the book.) Whenever he looks at the bird, it’s a reminder of the shortened life span and the dangers that wild birds face.

He really gets into his Andalite heritage for the first time, morphing an Andalite and learning more about Andalite history and culture through his moments with Ax. The DNA-memory thing is also a great addition as it finally gives Tobias a more clear connection with his father. In one of the memories, Elfangor spends a moment thinking about how he misses Loren and wishes he was on Earth with her and his son. One has to imagine that this memory is a great comfort to Tobias, knowing Elfangor loved his mother and him and didn’t want to leave them.

All I could hear was “Siiimbaaaa” in my head while I read this scene.

And then, of course, there’s all the stuff in the torture scenes with the dark glimpses into Tobias’s past, as well as some of the more happy memories with Rachel and the woman who used to give him treats. Tobias also wisely catches on to there being something strange going on with Taylor and uses that knowledge to draw her into talking about herself and giving himself a break.

In the end, he confesses to Rachel that he almost broke. But Rachel reassures him that she knows who he is and that he’d never give them up, and Tobias realizes that his sense of self is well cared for him Rachel’s hands.

Our Fearless Leader: Tobias makes some pretty blatant statements about Jake’s transformation as a leader. He suspects immediately that while Jake might truly mean his words about being glad Tobias made it back to his hawk morph because he knows that’s what Tobias wants, Jake is also a leader who will say whatever he thinks will further his mission. He needs Tobias in his hawk form, and Tobias suspects that that is at the heart of anything he says.

Tobias also sees the manipulation at play when they’re all in the barn planning what to do about the ray gun. Jake volunteers at first, but Tobias sees that he isn’t expecting this plan to go forward. And then when Ax volunteers, he’s silent. It’s clear that he had a person in mind and is waiting for that person (Tobias) to volunteer himself, so that Jake doesn’t have to ask/order him to do it. It’s one of the more clear examples we’ve seen of Jake starting to use his friends a chess pieces. It’s cold, but it’s also necessary and Tobias recognizes this.

Xena, Warrior Princess: This book did a great job following up on the awfulness that was the last book. Rachel is clearly shaken from the experience and looking for normalcy in her life, and her romance with Tobias isn’t helping. In the very beginning of the book, she has one of the more honest conversations we’ve seen between the two. It’s clear that it’s not simply selfish, romantic reasons that she wants Tobias to consider staying human, but that her own inner struggles make it even harder for her to deal with the burden that is their romance. Further, she seems to be the only Animorph who is concerned by the way that Tobias is leaning into his life as a hawk and more and more prone to discomfort whenever he’s human. She repeatedly reminds him that his human form isn’t just a “morph,” it’s who he naturally is and that it’s worrisome if he doesn’t remember this.

It’s never made clear whether or not she was actually aware of the time and had been trying to trick Tobias into staying. My interpretation is that she didn’t really know herself what she wanted to happen, and  that a small, secret part of her was both hoping he wouldn’t realize but not actively plotting to trap him.

Early in the barn conversation, she also volunteers for the mission before it becomes clear that Jake has Tobias in mind. We don’t see the scene when she insists on going in with him as a fly, but I feel confident we can assume it wasn’t much of a “discussion” at all. As they’re going in, she tells Tobias not to put the mission first. That if things get too bad, he should forget about the mission and save himself.

Peace, Love, and Animals: Cassie does very little in this book. After they all agree that Tobias is the one to go on this mission, Tobias notes that she gives him a particular sympathetic look that she reserves for only the most series moments. And then in the end when they’re all on the beach, she’s off looking for injured animals on the reef. Because of course she is.

The Comic Relief: Marco is the only other one to quickly realize that Jake has another plan in mind when they’re talking in the barn. He also is one of the quickest to realize what exactly that plan is. In the final battle scene, gorilla!Marco is the one to save Tobias, getting very torn up in the process. It’s a nice scene as often Marco and Tobias don’t have many scenes together and are two of the more disconnected members of the group, both due to differing personalities and a lack of any significant connection on their own. But here is is clear that Marco is unwilling to give up and leave Tobias behind, even if that means putting his own life on the line.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: This was a big book for really establishing the connection between Ax, Tobias, and their shared Andalite heritage. The scenes of Ax teaching Tobias about Andalite culture were very well done, and there’s an interesting moment when Tobias first morphs an Andalite when he realizes that the natural state of Andalites is to be optimistic. Ax confirms that they have had to “train” themselves to be warriors, against their natural instincts. Later, when Ax and Tobias are infiltrating the Sharing community center, it is clear that Ax is very worried about Tobias’s role in this mission, again highlighting the strong bond between them.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: The scenes of the damage that is done to Tobias during the torture sessions is pretty vivid. Not only is the ray setting of pain sensors in his head, but in his mindless thrashing, he does a lot of physical damage to himself. He breaks a wing, loses feathers, and, yikes, breaks his beak. It’s so bad that when the other Animorphs show up, grizzly!Rachel takes one look at him and knows how bad it must have been, further spurring her anger and wish to kill Taylor at the end.

Couples Watch!: This is by far the most romance-centric book so far (and from my memory, in the entire series). It starts right out with the challenges that Rachel and Tobias face and the increasing pressure they both feel to make this impossible thing work. Rachel is clearly hitting a wall with her ability to juggle so much craziness in her life and is concerned about Tobias’s well-being, not only his increasing association with his hawk self but the fact that the stark reality is that hawks have much shorter life spans than humans.

Then of course we have all of the concern from Rachel about Tobias going on this mission, though it’s worth noting that even she doesn’t come out against it, knowing it’s the best option. She goes in with him and tells him to put himself first.

While captured, Tobias repeatedly refers to the fact that Taylor looks like Rachel and notes how very different these two beautiful teenage girls are. It’s not only a reflection on his own thoughts on Rachel (and his ongoing concern that something terrible might have happened to her when she fell off him while paralyzed. She even began to cry when this happened, one of the few times we see this), but a good reminder for readers (after the book that shall not be named…) that while Rachel is dangerous, she’s still a good person and nowhere near the type of person who would have fallen in with the Yeerks had she lost her beauty.

Then there’s the end, of course. I think this is the first time either member of either couple has said the “love” word. And not only is he saying it, but Tobias sees this love and his relationship with Rachel as the foundation of his own identity, whether human or bird. They also kiss, rather casually even, further highlighting how much more established their relationship is than Jake and Cassie who are still awkwardly skirting around each other and (like in the last Jake book) barely referencing the thing between them.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: When Ax and Tobias sneak in to find out where the “trap/Yeerk pool entrance” is located, they stumble on two Controllers who are discussing the mad idea that Visser Three has had that somehow in an open-air Sharing event they’re supposed to catch any animal that wanders in. But they note that you can’t say this to him or you’ll end up dead, as the two scientists discover when they try to assure Visser Three that they ray can’t possibly not work.

Taylor also makes this comment to Chapman after they’ve caught Tobias, which I’m sure is a direct jab at his learning to speak “villain talk” from Visser Three, though luckily for her, Visser Three’s not there to hear it:

“A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush,” he offered, smirking.

“Shut up, Chapman,”the girl said calmly. “You sound like some pun-spouting villain from a Batman movie.”

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: As evident by the gif at the very beginning of this post, this book has by far been the biggest tear jerker of the series. Not only do you have an extended torture scene taking up a large chunk of the book (talk about not pulling your punches for a young audience!), but the thoughts and memories that come with it are rough. The scene with Tobias’s uncle is particularly heart-breaking as we have to imagine that this is just once moment from a long list of moments where a very young Tobias has been completely ignored and beaten down by the only parental figures he has had.

Then there are scenes of animal abuse that Tobias imagines when thinking about the hawk’s approach to pain and fear. Oof. There were legit tears in this section, what with the descriptions of the fear, the pain, and, in my opinion worst of all, the confusion that these animals would feel when being tormented by humans. Some of them were so specific (like the scene of a wild goose being clubbed to death on a golf course by cruel teenagers) that you have to imagine the ghost writer who wrote this book was pulling from some traumatic memory of their own. Yikes, it was a lot.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: This is another good plan from the Animorphs. It’s pretty complex, too, with all of the moving pieces, especially in the beginning. They really sell it hard that they are “accidentally” getting caught, even putting Ax at risk by having him run out and away in the open to be chased (and maybe caught) by the Yeerks. It’s not really their fault that they didn’t anticipate the freeze gun as that’s not technology they’ve run into before. I do feel like there is still a pretty big question mark about how exactly fly!Rachel was supposed to get off Tobias and, with very poor eyesight, find a place to demorph and get out to return to the others. But I’m sure this was a risk they felt they had to take (just like sending Tobias in in the first place) to destroy what would have been a game-changing weapon.

The Yeerks’ plan, however, was not that good. The group all comment that the Yeerk “trap” with the playground tunnel was all too easy to spot and that the Yeerks must really think the Andalites are idiots if they fell for it. But then again, the Animorphs were still choosing to go in, so….

Favorite Quote:

There’s a great scene where Jake and human!Visser Three come face to face while at the Sharing event when Visser Three tries to swat fly!Cassie off Jake’s arm. It’s a really cool moment and one of the ones that I can so easily picture as if it were in a movie:

“Such filthy insects. Allow me to . . .” He swung at Jake.

Jake’s hand shot up. He grabbed the Visser’s wrist in his fist. For a long few seconds the two of them glared at each other. Visser Three, leader of the Yeerk forces on Earth. And Jake, his unrecognized foe.

The “Ax goes crazy with food” scene at the Sharing event also provided some much needed levity to an otherwise very serious and sad book:

<Marco,what exactly are you doing in the fondue?> Rachel asked.

<Exactly? Well … I wanted to see if it would still taste good sucked up through a fly mouth.You gonna help me or do you just want to bust me?>

<Let him get eaten,>Rachel advised.

Scorecard: Yeerks 8, Animorphs 13

The Animorphs manage to take out the ray gun and came up with a pretty clever way of tricking the Yeerks into thinking it didn’t work, in the event that they hadn’t been able to destroy it. Plus, bonus, the two scientists who came up with what was actually a brilliant idea, ended up fed to Taxxons by a very short-sighted Visser Three who had a tantrum. So a win/win/win!

Rating: I loved this book. Always did and still do. All of the characters are exactly on point. There are good references to past events, particularly Rachel’s struggle to find normalcy in her life after being so shaken up by her last book. Jake’s ongoing descent into pure leadership mode and his showdown with Visser Three. Marco’s smarts. Cassie’s concern. Ax’s acknowledgement of his and Tobias’s shared Andalite heritage. And all of the confusion and inner strength that make Tobias such an interesting character. We get a lot of extra information on what his life was like before the Animorphs, and I think at this point in the series, it’s very important to get these scenes to fully understand why Tobias is so hesitant to go back to life as a boy.

We also get a very good villain in Taylor. It’s always nice to have another villain other than Visser Three to focus on in these books, and Taylor is given quite a bit of character development herself. Not only does she have an interesting back story that ties into her crazed perspective that we see on display, but her similarities to Rachel lead Tobias to make some poignant and important comparisons and contrasts between the two.

And, of course, as I’m fully on the Tobias/Rachel ship, I like the focus on their relationship in this book. It doesn’t feel silly or immature, but really highlights the challenges faced by these two and why they are so drawn together and serve as much needed support systems to each other.

This is probably one of the better ghost written books in the series, and I feel like that had to have been clear since I’m pretty sure this same writer also wrote a good number towards the end of the series. It does present a weird contrast when placed next to the last book that was somehow written by Applegate herself. Just goes to show that even good authors can make big missteps and that the ghost writers shouldn’t be completely written off either.

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!

Kate’s Review: “Dread Nation”

30223025Book: “Dread Nation” by Justina Ireland

Publishing Info: Balzer + Bray, April 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Jane McKeene was born two days before the dead began to walk the battlefields of Gettysburg and Chancellorsville—derailing the War Between the States and changing America forever. In this new nation, safety for all depends on the work of a few, and laws like the Native and Negro Reeducation Act require certain children attend combat schools to learn to put down the dead. But there are also opportunities—and Jane is studying to become an Attendant, trained in both weaponry and etiquette to protect the well-to-do. It’s a chance for a better life for Negro girls like Jane. After all, not even being the daughter of a wealthy white Southern woman could save her from society’s expectations.

But that’s not a life Jane wants. Almost finished with her education at Miss Preston’s School of Combat in Baltimore, Jane is set on returning to her Kentucky home and doesn’t pay much mind to the politics of the eastern cities, with their talk of returning America to the glory of its days before the dead rose. But when families around Baltimore County begin to go missing, Jane is caught in the middle of a conspiracy, one that finds her in a desperate fight for her life against some powerful enemies. And the restless dead, it would seem, are the least of her problems.

Review: Zombies have been a genre trope of choice for awhile now in horror fiction. They are usually used to show that in a world of zombies, humans are still the real monsters, and that’s a theme that I enjoy no matter how often it is invoked. But the thing is, zombies are starting to feel a bit stale. With “The Walking Dead” hemorrhaging viewers and post apocalyptic horror movies choosing to go other routes, the zombie story has needed a jolt for awhile now to, uh, revive it. So that is probably why I enjoyed “Dread Nation” so much. “Dread Nation” definitely breathes new life into the zombie story, quite possibly because the zombies are not the focus, nor are they the ultimate bringer of the end of the world. Zombies pale in face of the true enemy in this book, and that enemy is racism in American society. So that means fans of “Lovecraft Country”, this might be the next  book you should add to your list.

Justina Ireland has created an alternate timeline history of America, the divergence happening during the Civil War when the Undead (or Shamblers, as they are called in this) suddenly rose from the ground. The alternate history is so rich and new, and yet so familiar, that it definitely feels like this how things would have worked out had this occurrence actually happened in American History. Jane is our protagonist, and she is a true delight as a YA historical fiction/horror/thriller heroine. She has some character similarities to other greats in the genre (Katniss Everdeen comes to mind), mainly because Jane doesn’t necessarily seek out being a leader or a rabblerouser and just wants to live life by her own rules. But unlike books like “The Hunger Games” series, which have a vague and malleable version of oppression and dystopia, the one in “Dread Nation” is right out of the history books: Jane is a black girl living in a racist society, and the injustices that she deals with are still relevant in real world American in 2018, not limited to an alternate history of this nation. Jane, like other kids of color her age, has been sent to a school to learn how to fight the zombie hordes so the white people in society don’t have to, and while she is learning to be an Attendant (a more prestigious position in some ways, as she learns not only to fight but also trains in etiquette to serve a rich white woman) it’s still a subservient place in society. Much like the modern wars of Vietnam and the Gulf Wars, it’s the minorities who are on the front lines giving up their bodies while the white elite sit by and live their lives blissfully unaffected. Jane faces systemic racism and oppression from positions of authority because of her skin, but those aren’t the only themes that still apply today. Jane’s classmate/frenemy Katherine is a white passing black girl, and while her skin means she can shield herself from racism, she doesn’t feel like she has a place in the black community or the white community. Ireland does a great job of bringing these themes (and more) to the forefront, and making them feel relevant today even though the story takes place two centuries ago.

(Note: There has been some criticism of “Dread Nation” regarding how it discusses and portrays the Native characters and themes, most prominently from Debbie Reese. While I did like the book for the most part and think that it does a good job with its portrayal of racism in America, these criticisms are important to see and think about.)

But what about the zombies, you may be asking. As a zombie aficionado (even as they start to feel a bit played out), I can say that I really liked Ireland’s take on them. The action scenes with them never failed to disappoint, and the mythology that Ireland has built around them feels fresh because this isn’t a fallen society, but a society that is trying to coexist with these things. That is a narrative that you don’t see often, and given that I’ve always wanted to see it explored more I was so happy that Ireland went in that direction with the Undead world building. I also felt like she integrated it enough into actual events in American History and changed some of the outcomes or paths in response to it that it felt believable that this is how society would have reacted. Because of this, it always does feel like Civil War Era America, even with a zombie uprising. The Undead storyline, too, finds ways to  bring forward social justice topics on race that still concern society today and back then, with science, medicine, and research being done at the expense of black lives and bodies.

“Dread Nation” was a great read that has re-energized my love for the zombie genre. Ireland has given it so much more meat, and I hope that people who read it will think about all of the things she’s trying to say, even if they just came in for the Undead.

Rating 8: A tense and unique historical fiction/horror novel, “Dread Nation” not only tinkers with the zombie story, it also uses it to examine modern issues of race and racism in America.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Dread Nation” is included on the Goodreads lists “Black Lives Matter Library Ideas”, and “Zombie Apocalypse by Black Authors or w/ Black Main Characters”.

Find “Dread Nation” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Spinning Silver”

36896898Book: “Spinning Silver” by Naomi Novik

Publishing Info: Del Rey, July 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss!

Book Description: Miryem is the daughter and granddaughter of moneylenders… but her father isn’t a very good one. Free to lend and reluctant to collect, he has loaned out most of his wife’s dowry and left the family on the edge of poverty–until Miryem steps in. Hardening her heart against her fellow villagers’ pleas, she sets out to collect what is owed–and finds herself more than up to the task. When her grandfather loans her a pouch of silver pennies, she brings it back full of gold.

But having the reputation of being able to change silver to gold can be more trouble than it’s worth–especially when her fate becomes tangled with the cold creatures that haunt the wood, and whose king has learned of her reputation and wants to exploit it for reasons Miryem cannot understand.

Review: I was so excited when I saw that this book was coming out! “Uprooted” is one of my favorite more recent fairytale novels, and part of the reason I loved it was that it was a stand alone book. So to see that Novik was releasing yet another fairytale that would likely also be a standalone made my day. I was even more excited when I realized that it looked to be a reinterpretation of “Rumpelstiltskin” which has been, by far, one of the more underutilized fairytales in the midst of this retellings resurgence. And all of my wildest hopes and dreams have come true! I absolutely adored this book and my hardback copy is already pre-ordered.

Miryem’s life has been one filled with strained relationships. Her grandfather, a wealthy money lender, has struggled to watch his daughter’s family slowly slip into poverty as his son-in-law, Miryem’s father, has failed to make an earning as a moneylender himself. What’s more, Miryem, a decisive and strong-willed young woman, has never understood her father’s struggles to collect. After being pushed to far, with her mother’s health at risk, Miryem finally takes over the business, to her father’s shame and sadness, as this is by no means a “proper” task for a young lady. But Miryem excels. Far too well even, as she draws the attention of the magical beings who wander the winter woods looting and raiding villages for gold. And who could be more valuable than a woman you seems to turn anything she touches to gold? Now tangled in a complicated world of fairy rules and wars, Miryem will need to  draw on all the strength she has to save not only herself but perhaps even her country.

It’s no secret that I love fairytales, be they original or retellings. But as I’ve had a string of bad luck with “Beauty and the Beast” retellings (oof, there’s another one coming, folks, so look forward to that!), I have been hankering for a more original tale, unbound from conventions that all too often skew what could have been a good story. What’s more, Novik has already proven herself as being able to masterfully take the bare bones of a fairytale and make it something that only marginally resembles the original. And this held true for “Spinning Silver,” as well. While there are the barest tinges of the original “Rumplestilskin” tale before the story quickly (I’m talking a few chapters in) swerves into new and uncharted territory. And much better territory, when it comes down to it.

For one thing, given the description above and my own false assumption that it would follow the standard set by “Uprooted,” I went into this book fully expecting it to be Miryem’s tale following her struggles to turn rooms of silver into gold. And for the first several chapters, that’s what I got. But then a new character was introduced, a young woman from the same village whose home life is terrible and who is looking for a way out for her and her young brothers. Ok, now we have two. A few chapters more and yet another new character comes in, this time a young woman who is the disappointingly plain heiress to a father who has high hopes of rising his family’s position in the nobility. And that’s only the first three and the three who would turn out to be the more traditional lead characters for a book like this! But Novik doesn’t stop there and we get even more chapters from characters like the younger brothers, the nurse maid to the heiress, and even the villain himself at one point.

As has been documented on this blog several times before, I typically prefer books with only one narrator. I can handle two. But, like all silly reading “rules,” an exception was bound to come along, and that exception came here. While I did have favorites, Miryem herself, of course, as well as the heiress who played a much bigger role than I had expected at first, I enjoyed ALL of these characters. Not only did they all contribute important view changes on what became a very twisty plot, but each had a distinct voice, a “must” for any multiple POV book, and the point where I usually have criticisms for same-ness. They also all experienced clear character growth as the story progressed, though the amount of this was tied to the varied amount of page time each was given. Miryem’s sense of responsibility warred with the pride that lead her to become entangled in fairy wars. The peasant girl with the bad home life grew to have an appreciation for what family should mean. And the heiress found her own power in a world that had already written her off.

It also takes a lot of plot to provide ample room for movement and growth for a book with a cast of characters as large as this. And, again, Novik met this challenge head-on. The story slowly builds with several seemingly disparate through lines following each of these characters. But as the book continues, steadily these lines get woven together until by about halfway through the book the complicated network of intrigue is coming together. The players have been established and it is now up to several young women, all of whom are hugely out of their depth with creatures of magic and power surrounding them, to come together and save a country that is more and more plagued by long-lasting winters.

The magical elements were also surprising and unique. With the “Rumpelstilskin” parallel presented right at the get-go, I fully expected to see plenty of struggles regarding turning various things into gold. But that was only a small part of the fantasy world Novik created here. For one thing, the villain came completely out of left-field and was appropriately threatening and devious. Further, Miryem is not the only one to encounter and wield power in this story, and I was thrilled to see small references to other fairytales sprinkled here and there throughout the story.

The book also surprised me with a careful look at the anti-Sematism that Miryem, her family, and her people experienced throughout this book. While the story is set in a fantasy world, the challenging tension that is balanced between the Jewish people, their neighbors, and their roles in finance and banking was all too familiar to real-life history. Through Miryem, we see the struggles her family has faced with these prejudices, but also the important role her religion and culture holds in her life. Through other characters, we see their own biases and prejudices challenged and changed. It’s a nice added commentary in an otherwise purely fantastical tale.

Like “Uprooted,” the romance is understated in this story and isn’t a driving force for any of its characters. While I could have liked a bit more of it, I was quite pleased with what we did get, and, again, surprised that it wasn’t limited to our primary main character.

All in all, I absolutely loved this book. If you liked “Uprooted,” or like fairytales, or like fantasy, or just like good books, get your hands on this one!

Rating 10: Should I have been surprised? No. Was I thrilled? Yes. I can pretty much guarantee this will make my “Top Ten” list in December.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Spinning Silver” is on these Goodreads lists: “All that Glitters: Rumpelstiltskin Retellings” and “Upcoming 2018 Sci-Fi/Fantasy With Female Leads or Co-Leads.”

Find “Spinning Silver” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Kate’s Review: “The Last Time I Lied”

36750068Book: “The Last Time I Liked” by Riley Sager

Publishing Info: Dutton Books, July 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an ARC from NetGalley.

Book Description: In the new novel from the bestselling author of Final Girls, The Last Time I Lied follows a young woman as she returns to her childhood summer camp to uncover the truth about a tragedy that happened there fifteen years ago.

Two Truths and a Lie. The girls played it all the time in their tiny cabin at Camp Nightingale. Vivian, Natalie, Allison, and first-time camper Emma Davis, the youngest of the group. The games ended when Emma sleepily watched the others sneak out of the cabin in the dead of night. The last she–or anyone–saw of them was Vivian closing the cabin door behind her, hushing Emma with a finger pressed to her lips.

Now a rising star in the New York art scene, Emma turns her past into paintings–massive canvases filled with dark leaves and gnarled branches that cover ghostly shapes in white dresses. The paintings catch the attention of Francesca Harris-White, the socialite and wealthy owner of Camp Nightingale. When Francesca implores her to return to the newly reopened camp as a painting instructor, Emma sees an opportunity to try to find out what really happened to her friends.

Yet it’s immediately clear that all is not right at Camp Nightingale. Already haunted by memories from fifteen years ago, Emma discovers a security camera pointed directly at her cabin, mounting mistrust from Francesca and, most disturbing of all, cryptic clues Vivian left behind about the camp’s twisted origins. As she digs deeper, Emma finds herself sorting through lies from the past while facing threats from both man and nature in the present. And the closer she gets to the truth about Camp Nightingale, the more she realizes it may come at a deadly price.

Review: I want to extend a thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an ARC of this book!

If you remember, last year I was very excited about a book called “Final Girls” by Riley Sager. Sager kind of came out of nowhere with that book, an homage to the Final Girl trope from horror movies. So you can be sure that when I saw that he had a new one called “The Last Time I Lied” I was going to need to get my hands on it ASAP. The moment I sat down and started it, I was immediately sucked in and had a hard time putting it down, just like “Final Girls” the summer before. So thank you, Riley Sager, for taking me in and refusing to let me go until I found out what happened. AND for making it take place at a summer camp with a scandalous past. Because now I get to use “Wet Hot American Summer” and “Sleepaway Camp” references while I gush about this awesome mystery thriller, as is tradition when dealing with a story about summer camp.

sleepawaycamp
Me as I think of all the GIFs I could use… (source)

If “Final Girls” was a homage to slasher films, “The Last Time I Lied” is one to Nancy Drew. There are teenage and adult female detectives alike trying to figure out mysteries from missing people, to a mysterious village that may have disappeared, to rumors of a once operational mental asylum. Granted, these mysteries are a bit more amped up in stakes than Nancy Drew ever was, but the parallels are certainly there. This story is told in two separate narratives (this is a really popular narrative form I’m realizing). There is the present day, where our protagonist Emma is a damaged adult who is haunted by her one summer at Camp Nightingale, and thirteen year old Emma while she is attending the camp during that fateful summer where her bunkmates Vivian, Natalie, and Allison disappeared. We see what a mess present day Emma is, and as we explore both timelines we not only get clues about what may have happened to the girls, but what has happened to Emma as well in the years after. Sager did a great job of using this plot structure to its full effect, as there were clues to all the various mysteries across both timelines, some obvious and some not so obvious. As you all know I liked trying to guess what is happening as I read along (more like I can’t help it), and I’m pleased to say that in “The Last Time I Lied” I was pretty much caught unawares, and the moments that I did guess part of a solution, I was missing vital pieces. Sager is even good at pulling off a last moment epilogue twist without supremely pissing me off, and THAT, as you know, is a feat that few an accomplish. I think that Sager did it so well because he knows that you have to set up a foundation for it, and definitely put it all in there even if I didn’t notice it. So when I got to the end I was definitely enthralled.

But on top of an excellent mystery, Sager also writes great characters who feel very real. Emma is such an interesting protagonist because she could fit the usual tropes of ‘damaged woman has to confront her dark past’ that we so often see in these stories, but she rises above them in almost every way. She’s a mess, but she’s not unlikable; on the contrary, she’s very easy to root for. She’s also realistic in how she behaves both as an adult and as a teenager. I found out about halfway through this book that Sager is a man (Riley Sager is a pen name, and the identity behind it was kept close to the vest for “Final Girls”), and I was surprised if only because DAMN does he know how to write teenage girls. I related hard core to thirteen year old Emma, with her shyness, insecurities, and awkward crush on Theo, the oldest son of the camp director, Franny. In fact, every teenage girl that Sager wrote reminded me of girls I knew in my teenage years. It’s a serious talent to know how to genuinely channel the minds and ways of teenagers, and Sager has proven that he has that talent.

giphy5
Almost as much talent as THESE GUYS! (source)

In fact, all of the characters are given moments to shine and feel like fleshed out individuals. From Emma’s friend Marc (acting as a faraway Nancy Drew in his own right) to high strung camp counselor Mindy, all of his characters are given moments of humanity and expression, and it makes it so you don’t want ANY of them to be the culprits of the eventual stalking that Emma becomes victim of, and perhaps something even more sinister as well.

“The Last Time I Lied” was an awesome mystery thriller, and Riley Sager is one of the best in the business. If you haven’t already checked out his work, this book could be the place to start. Just be sure that any fond memories of camp you may have are kept safe and far far away. And if you have bad memories of camp, well, perhaps this can give you the perspective of ‘it could have been worse’.

Rating 9: A thrilling and exciting mystery from a stellar voice in horror thrillers, “The Last Time I Lied” kept me guessing, kept me going, and lived up to my high expectations and then some.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Last Time I Lied” is fairly new and not on any Goodreads lists yet. But I would definitely put it on “Boarding, Private Schools, and Camps”, and “Best Wilderness Horror Stories”.

Find “The Last Time I Lied” at your library using WorldCat!

Highlights: July 2018

We hope that you are all still enjoying summer time! As we start to enter the dog days of the season, our book piles keep growing, giving us lots of options to take to the pool or the lake or the park. Here are some of our most anticipated releases of July!

Serena’s Picks

22817368Book: “Bright We Burn” by Kiersten White

Publication Date: July 10th, 2018

Why I’m Interested: Oh man, oh man, oh man. I’m so nervous!! I absolutely loved the first two books in this series that is re-imaging history through the perspective of Lada, a female version of Vlad the Impaler, and her brother, Radu. There were real tears in the last book and I was constantly vacillating between fear and anger as I watched my precious characters be raked across the coal again and again. And by the end, everything was even more broken than it had been to start. How can this end in anything other than gallons of even more tears?? It’s rare for me to be excited for a book that is sure to be heart-wrenching, but the masterful characterization and historical detail have carried this series so far. It’s kind of a “put me out of my misery” situation going on over here, but of the very best variety.

36896898Book: “Spinning Silver” by Naomi Novik

Publication Date: July 10th, 2018

Why I’m Interested: I absolutely adored “Uprooted” when it came out several years ago. Not only was it a completely unique fairytale that was only loosely connected to familiar stories, but it was the magical white stag in fantasy fiction: a stand alone book. So it’s weird to then be excited by a…sequel? But it’s not a sequel? But the cover art is clearly trying to pair the two together? Really, I think it’s only the cover art and the fact that this is also a fairytale that tie these two together because nothing in the description even distantly refers to events/characters from “Uprooted.” (Mostly, I’m calling “publishing shenanigans” on this one, with publishers just wanting to bank on the success of that book.)  Instead, it looks like this is going to be some type of “Rumpelstiltskin” interpretation. But, just like “Uprooted” had only minuscule parallels to “Beauty and the Beast,” I’m looking forward to what I hope will be another mostly new story with only the loosest similarities.

36518517Book: “Dreadful Company” by Vivian Shaw

Publication Date: July 31, 2018

Why I’m Interested: “Strange Practice” was a quirky little novel that completely took me by surprise last year. I don’t read that much urban fantasy, and the two series I do follow are fairly typical of the genre. So this one, set in London and featuring a heroine who serves as a doctor to the supernatural beings in her city was like a breath of fresh air! I enjoyed the many winks to classical monster/supernatural cliches and the neat tie-ins to the type of “ailments” these beings might suffer from. Gretta herself was a strong leading lady and not prone to some of the more irritating tendencies that befall other urban fantasy heroines (like rushing in even when they’re much more under-powered than their colleagues). The story also neatly tied things up in one book, but left just enough room for the story to grow. In this second outing, I’m particularly interested in who the new big bad will be and whether or not Gretta will make any inroads on the romance side of things.

Kate’s Picks

36750068Book: “The Last Time I Lied” by Riley Sager

Publication Date: July 10th, 2018

Why I’m Interested: I greatly enjoyed Sager’s debut novel “Final Girls”, so when I found out that he had a new one coming out I was all over it. While that one seemed to be an homage to the slasher killer girls of cinema, “The Last Time I Lied” seems like it’s a loving tribute to Nancy Drew and intrepid girl detectives. Our main character Emma was at Camp Nightingale when her bunkmates disappeared mysteriously. As an adult Emma is invited to come back and be a counselor at the reopened camp. But when she gets there in hopes of getting some closure, instead she finds that her friends may have been involved in a mystery… and that she may have a new, scarier one to contend with. This hits so many of the themes I love in a thriller mystery, so you know that I’m very excited for this one.

29569206Book: “Give Me Your Hand” by Megan Abbott

Publication Date: July 17th, 2018

Why I’m Interested: While I’ve had a hit or miss time with Megan Abbott up until now, her most recent book “You Will Know Me” was a definite hit for me. Abbott has a talent for writing a pretty twisted up mystery with compelling characters, and so I’ve had high hopes for “Give Me Your Hand”, her newest novel. While we aren’t dealing with gymnasts and driven teenagers this time, instead we have Diane and Kit, two women who were friends as teens, and now are pitted against each other as adults in a working environment. Even worse, Diane divulged a terrible secret to Kit when they were teens, a secret that has haunted Kit ever since. A lot of fans of thrillers have been waiting for this book, so you know the buzz is a din for it.

32928987Book: “Scream All Night” by Derek Milman

Publication Date: July 24th, 2018

Why I’m Interested: You all know that I love horror movies like whoa, and so when I heard about a book that has themes of old horror movies, a film studio, and an emancipated youth having to revisit his horror movie past, I was absolutely interested. While I’m not sure if this is something that can REALLY be classified as horror (the description makes me wonder, but what do I know, I am sure that “Scream All Night” is going to have a lot of fun horror easter eggs that I will enjoy spotting. Hell, even the main character’s first name is Dario, and that alone made me smile. Even if this doesn’t end up being a ‘true’ horror novel, the themes of going home again, horror cinema, and quirky characters is enough to make me truly intrigued by this book.

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