Kate’s Review: “Meddling Kids”

32905343Book: “Meddling Kids” by Edgar Cantero

Publishing Info: Doubleday Books, July 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: For fans of John Dies at the End and Welcome to Night Vale comes a tour de force of horror, humor, and H.P. Lovecraft. The surviving members of a forgotten teenage detective club (and their dog) must reunite as broken adults to finally solve the terrifying case that ruined them all and sent the wrong man to prison. Scooby Doo and the gang never had to do this!

1990. The teen detectives once known as the Blyton Summer Detective Club (of Blyton Hills, a small mining town in the Zoinx River Valley in Oregon) are all grown up and haven’t seen each other since their fateful, final case in 1977. Andy, the tomboy, is twenty-five and on the run, wanted in at least two states. Kerri, one-time kid genius and budding biologist, is bartending in New York, working on a serious drinking problem. At least she’s got Tim, an excitable Weimaraner descended from the original canine member of the team. Nate, the horror nerd, has spent the last thirteen years in and out of mental health institutions, and currently resides in an asylum in Arhkam, Massachusetts. The only friend he still sees is Peter, the handsome jock turned movie star. The problem is, Peter’s been dead for years.

The time has come to uncover the source of their nightmares and return to where it all began in 1977. This time, it better not be a man in a mask. The real monsters are waiting.

With raucous humor and brilliantly orchestrated mayhem, Edgar Cantero’s Meddling Kids taps into our shared nostalgia for the books and cartoons we grew up with, and delivers an exuberant, eclectic, and highly entertaining celebration of horror, life, friendship, and many-tentacled, interdimensional demon spawn.

Review: Though I was definitely more of a “Pup Named Scooby-Doo” viewer as a child, “Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?” was definitely a show that I was pretty familiar with thanks to visits to Grandma’s house and the local video store. I can’t say that I have a huge nostalgia for it, but it’s enough of a cultural icon that I am familiar with it and all the references, tropes, and influences that come with it. When my friend David sent me this book title on Facebook, I was immediately intrigued. Given that I love send ups of classic shows like “The Venture Bros”, “Sealab 2021”, and “Harvey Birdman: Attorney At Law”, I was stoked to see that FINALLY someone decided to take on “Scooby-Doo, Where Are You” and add in some Lovecraftian horror elements to boot.

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The start of way too many “Scooby-Doo” gifs. (source)

To start, I really enjoyed how Cantero took the characters that we are oh so familiar with and gave them some serious issues, issues that would make perfect sense for a bunch of kids who chased after criminals. Meet the Blyton Summer Detective Club: Kerri (Velma) was an incredibly smart girl, a genius, but has ended up an alcoholic tending bar. Andy (I think she’s supposed to be a inverted Daphne? She doesn’t really fit) was the tomboy of the group, who went on to get military training but is now on the run from the law. Nate (Shaggy) was the geeky and carefree one, but has voluntarily committed himself to Arkham Asylum (of Lovecraftian fame, not “Batman”)… Mainly because he keeps seeing Peter (Fred), who died of a drug overdose a few years prior. Throw in Tim (Scooby-Doo), the canine descendant of their original group, and there you have it. I liked how Cantero explored the damages that their friendship and group wrought upon them. Seeing all of these broken people try to come back together to fight the one case they didn’t quite solve was bittersweet and heavy, and I really appreciated that Cantero explored how a scenario like this may go. Kerri and Andy have a deep bond, stemming from childhood when Andy was almost in love with Kerri, and seeing them reconnect is very sweet, even if it feels like doom could come for them at any time. Nate’s struggle with his mental illness is also very revealing, though at times you are kind of wondering if maybe Peter’s ghost really is with him. After all, if monsters are real, why not this? They all need each other as much as they wish they didn’t, and that was both lovely and tragic because at the heart of it they are all survivors of a terrible trauma, and they need to confront it before they can move on with their lives. Cantero does a great job of reminding us that they were kids when this terrible stuff happened to them, and that sometimes you can’t just walk away and that’s the end of the story. Sometimes it’s not just a kook in a mask.

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This is so dated but I had to. (source)

I also really liked that Cantero has taken the ol’ chesnut that is Lovecraft and has applied it to this kind of story. Given that the original “Scooby-Doo” always ended with the villain being a plain old person in a mask, for them to be facing actual monsters and magic is SUPER fun, and at times genuinely creepy. From lake monsters that decompose at an alarming rate to mysterious books and words in an attic, Cantero has really taken the inter-dimensional horror theme and given it a fun little spin here. It’s meta as well as creepy and weird, and it’s just different enough that I wasn’t feeling like he was trying too hard to make two different themes fit together. He also did a good job of retaining the plausible explanation theme, as while a guy in a mask isn’t a solution, there are other natural disasters that pose just as much risk to these people as the supernatural creatures. That isn’t to say that this book is just doom and gloom and a Nolan-like take on “Scooby-Doo”. As a matter of fact, this is not only kind of sad, at times it’s a VERY funny book. The snide and sarcastic banter between the characters had me in stitches, as well as the occasional insight into Tim’s doggie mind (his love for a toy penguin, for example, is delightfully whimsical when it’s from his POV).

That isn’t to say that it was a perfect book. I will admit that I had a hard time with some of the stylistic choices, as it could jump from a novel narrative to a playwright’s dialog in the same scene, even the same breath. I found it to be a bit distracting, but it was never so jarring that I had to stop. I also do kind of question some of the influences that Cantero took from, specifically that sometimes it felt like he was kind of appropriating some indigenous legends, even if he put his own spin on them in the end. It kind of treaded the line, and while I don’t think that he ever really crossed it, I’m no expert. I would probably have to do more research and get other people’s opinions on the matter.

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Or perhaps I should say look for clues… (source)

Overall, I really liked “Meddling Kids” and think that it’s both super fun and super creative. I also liked how it took the familiar tropes of a beloved series and spun them on their head.

Rating 8: Both a nostalgic send up and solid adventure/horror story, “Meddling Kids” brings some real world insight and consequences to a group of former teen detectives with heart and scares.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Meddling Kids” is included on the Goodreads lists “Counter-Lovecraft”, and “Nerdventure”.

Find “Meddling Kids” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “City of Miracles”

31522139Book: “City of Miracles” by Robert Jackson Bennett

Publishing Info: Broadway Books, May 2017

Where Did I Get this Book: Blogging for Books

Book Description: Revenge. It’s something Sigrud je Harkvaldsson is very, very good at. Maybe the only thing.

So when he learns that his oldest friend and ally, former Prime Minister Shara Komayd, has been assassinated, he knows exactly what to do — and that no mortal force can stop him from meting out the suffering Shara’s killers deserve.

Yet as Sigrud pursues his quarry with his customary terrifying efficiency, he begins to fear that this battle is an unwinnable one. Because discovering the truth behind Shara’s death will require him to take up arms in a secret, decades-long war, face down an angry young god, and unravel the last mysteries of Bulikov, the city of miracles itself. And — perhaps most daunting of all — finally face the truth about his own cursed existence.

Previously Reviewed: “City of Stairs” and “City of Blades”

Review: It’s no secret that I absolutely adored “City of Stairs” and “City of Blades.” In both books, Bennett established a seemingly endless world full of wonder and madness. He also accomplished the rare feat of producing a second book that I believe was even better than the first! It seems that resting on his laurels is simply something Bennett is incapable of doing, as “City of Miracles” is a perfect closely act for this trilogy.

It’s been 13 years since the events of “City of Blades,” and Sigrud lives a lonely, tired existence on the edge of society, waiting and waiting for a call from his former partner and friend Shara to call him back to the fight. To the world. To anything. The call finally comes, but not in a way he could ever have wished for: Shara has been assassinated. With this news, and the consuming grief and rage that has driven him throughout his life, Sigrud comes to live once again, blazing his way through the world hoping to servce justice for his friend’s senseless murder. Along the way, he finds new purpose in protecting Tatiana, Shara’s adopted daughter, and a girl who is tangled up in much more than Sigrud can imagine. Once again, the Divine is at work in the world. And once again, Sigrud will rampage through anything and everything in his way to protect and avenge those he loves.

What made “City of Blades” stand out from the first book in the series, was the added gravitas of subject matter that was layered upon an already fantastical story and world. The fantasy elements, the miraculous, even the Divine, served only as platforms upon which Bennett explored the deeply complicated history, purpose, and definition of warfare and what makes up the mind of a solder.

“City of Miracles” is excellent for following in this pattern. We have all the boundless creativity that can now be expected of this author and this world: Divinities of Night itself, steampunk-ish tramcars that trek across arctic mountainscapes, magical clothes and wondrously impossible buildings. But through these flashes of fantasy action and detailed world-building, Bennett is telling a much more grounded story.

Sigrud’s life is one of tragedy. The villain’s life is one of tragedy. The villain’s parent’s life is one of tragedy. It is all circular, and death follows death, vengeance and justice doling out the same misery and atrocity they work to revenge. Through Sigrud’s own life, and those he works to aid in this book, we see this pattern replay itself endless. Where is the live between justice and simply committing more crimes? At what point does the power gained through grief justify more grief itself to perpetuate its own existence? The the book before it, this story challenges its readers to think beyond common storytelling tropes. We’ve re-defined the soldier through a woman whose seen the damage and power that warfare brings. And here we’re redefining the avenging hero as more than the white knight we’re always given.

I was also pleasantly surprised by the inclusion of characters from previous books and the ways their stories were tied into the narrative of this book. Further, the new characters who are introduced were intriguing, particularly Ivanya, a character we met oh, so briefly back in book one but who plays a critical role in this story.

The author also cuts out quite a lot of work for himself with this story. It’s the final book in a trilogy, so our main characters’ story lines must all be tied off and resolved, any lingering questions about their pasts drawn to a close. But he also takes it upon himself to provide much needed information on the years that came before the first book itself. The ending is bittersweet and perfect. It closes in small moments and fantastic explosions (both literally and figuratively). These characters’ stories may be ending, but we’re left with a wide open world of possibility stretching out ahead.

I’m not sure if the author has any plans of revisiting this world, but if he is, the groundwork has been lain for a continuation, and I would be the first one in line at the bookstore. I can’t recommend this book, and this series, enough! If you enjoy fantasy with complicated heroes and challenging ideas, definitely check these out!

Rating 9: An excellent conclusion to an excellent trilogy. Fun, fast-paced, and challenging its readers at every turn!

Reader’s Advisory:

“City of Miracles” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Books” and “Best Fantasy Books of the 21st Century.”

Find “City of Miracles” at your library using Worldcat!

More Information: book information & author information.

A Revisit to Fear Street: “The Cheater”

227487Book: “The Cheater” (Fear Street #18) by R.L. Stine

Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, April 1993

Book Description: Carter Phillips is under a lot of pressure to ace her math achievement exam – so much pressure that she gets Adam Messner to take the test for her . . . in exchange for one date. But Adam wants more than a date – much more. Carter has no choice. She has to do whatever he asks. If not, he’ll tell hers secret and ruin life. Adam’s control over her gets more and more unbearable. Carter is desperate to get rid of him – but how? Is murder the only way?

Had I Read This Before: Yes.

The Plot: Our main gal Friday this time is Carter Phillips, a spoiled little rich girl who is the daughter of a Judge and has his high expectations thrust upon her. Also, her mother is one of those wealthy do gooder ladies who probably raises money for the less fortunate but her definition of ‘less fortunate’ smacks of racism. The most recent issue for Carter is that, while she is great at most academic subjects, math is just not her thing. I FEEL YA, CARTER. She has an upcoming math achievement exam (which I just assume is supposed to be the SAT or ACT in this parallel universe in which Shadyside resides), and she’s very stressed about it. If she doesn’t score 700, Princeton will surely tell her to take a hike. Given that she’s terrible at math, she’s certain that a 700 is not in the cards, and she’s terrified that she’ll disappoint her father, as she laments to her bestie Jill. While on a date at a local burger joint with her boyfriend Dan, who is honest and kind and totally devoted to her, she asks that maybe he could take the test for her? He tut tuts her for even suggesting such a thing, and in her shame she back tracks and says ‘nah, jokes!’. They part ways amicably, as Dan leaves and she remains, stressing about the upcoming test. This is when Carter is approached by Adam Messner, burger hawker, classmate, and goth/grunge weirdo. Carter doesn’t know Adam very well, but does know that 1) he’s strange, and 2) he has a girlfriend named Sheila who sounds like Courtney Love during the ‘unfortunate years’. Adam admits that he was eavesdropping, and offers to take the test for her. After all, it’s at a different school, and her name is like a boy’s name. Carter is hesitant, thinking that the proctor would ask for ID, but Adam assures her that it won’t be a problem. She asks why he’s offering, and he says that she needs his math skills, and he would like her to go on a date with him. One date. And that will be that. Even though Carter already has a boyfriend, she accepts the offer, because how could ONE SINGLE DATE possible hurt?

How indeed, Carter.

Adam takes the test for her, and while he maliciously tricks her at first saying that they did ask for ID (they didn’t, funny joke, Messner), he assures her that all went well and that he’s pretty sure he crushed it. In fact, he scored a 730, as the results come back, and Carter is thrilled, even if she is a little uneasy. But her father, The Judge, is so happy, he gives her a pair of diamond earrings as a congratulations, because that’s how the wealthy are. Carter and Adam go on their date that Friday, and it actually isn’t so bad. They even do a little kissing and gentle petting, as while Carter does really care about Dan, Adam is just so EXCITING and FORBIDDEN. When he drives her home, Carter, being the stuck up snoot she is at the heart of her, asks if he would please drop her off at the curb instead of up at her house. Lest someone see them together. While it’s probably prudent given that she has a boyfriend, it also smacks of elitism. He asks her what she’s doing the next day, and she says she’s going to play tennis at the country club with her BFF Jill. Adam says that he’ll meet her there, and speeds off. As if that wasn’t stupid enough, as Carter walks the rest of the way home, she is ambushed by Sheila, who jumps out of the bushes, angry that Carter was on a date with her boyfriend. Carter assures her that nothing happened (not true), and Sheila storms off.

At the country club the next day, Carter arrives to find Adam arguing with the guard. The guard isn’t convinced that this boy dressed in a black tee shirt and black jeans is here to play tennis with Shadyside’s Vanderbilt Equivalents, but Carter says that yes, he is. They go to the courts and play doubles against Jill and her flavor of the month, a real top drawer boy named Richard. Adam is actually pretty good, and once again Carter is a bit aroused by him. Thank God he knows his way around a racket. After they are done, he asks her on another date. This time she tries to be firm in her refusal, but he tells her that if she doesn’t go out with him, she’ll be sorry. Girl, this is ALWAYS how these things go! And where does poor Sheila enter into this? In the locker room, she opens her gym bag and finds an ANIMAL HEART. Sheila’s doing?

So the next weekend, Carter and Adam go to a movie, and then they go back to his house on, you guessed it, Fear Street. It’s one of the dilapidated ones, as you either have slum houses on Fear Street or gorgeous and perfectly okay ones, depending on whether a protagonist or antagonist lives in it. They go into the kitchen, and Carter tries to leave, but Adam shoves her into the wall and starts kissing her against her will. She tells him that she’s leaving, and he lets her, but tells her that he wants another favor: his friend Ray has a huge boner for Jill, and he wants them all to go on a double date the next night. Carter doesn’t want to, but feels like she has no choice because, you know, blackmail. Carter calls Jill and asks her to do this for her (rudely interrupting a mauling sesh with Gary Brandt), and Jill is rightfully perplexed and horrified. Ray is a creep, you can tell because he has tattoos! But she agrees because she’s too good a friend.

So they go on the date to some seedy club that country club girls probably wouldn’t be caught dead in usually. Unfortunately, Carter and Jill are basically fresh meat to the thugs in this bar who sound like they’re hot off a spitting session in a Sex Pistols pogo pit, as they are well dressed AND underage girls. Ray starts grinding up on Jill, who is repulsed and terrified, and when Carter tries to help the punks surround them and grab at them and to be frank, this felt like it was one big sexual assault and I was very uncomfortable. Carter grabs Jill and barrels through them, running to her car and speeding them far far away. Once they’re safe at Carter’s house back in North Hills (I assume? That is the fancy part of Shadyside), Jill weeps as Carter begs for forgiveness.

At school the following week, Carter basically rips Adam a new one and tells him that they are done with this bullshit. He counters her offer by demanding she give him one thousand dollars, unless she wants him to spill his guts. I call bullshit on this, because he too would be held accountable as HE WOULD ALSO BE A CHEATER. I think Adam Messner doesn’t have the balls, but Carter seems to think he does, so she pawns those earrings that The Judge gave her. At dinner that night The Judge asks her where her earrings are (I guess she’s supposed to wear them at all times), and she lies saying that the backing fell off one so she’s getting them repaired. How bittersweet.

After the heat seems to be off her, as she has paid Adam off and he’s leaving her alone, Carter FINALLY goes on a date with Dan. You remember Dan! Her actual boyfriend! They watch movies on the couch at his house and probably mess around a bit, and eventually she leaves for home. While she’s driving, some crazy person tries to run her off the road! Given that she has some enemies now, she thinks it must be either Adam or Sheila. She gets home, and Adam is there, waiting for her. He demands another cool grand, saying that he’ll tell if she doesn’t fork it over.

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(source)

Later, Carter’s parents go out of town for a family wedding, and Carter stays behind. That night Dan comes over and confronts her about how weird she’s been acting, saying that he AND Jill have noticed it. Carter breaks down, confessing everything to him, the cheating, the blackmail, maaaaybe not the vague excitement she felt around Adam at first. She then grabs her Dad’s handgun out of a drawer, and says that she wants to KILL ADAM!! Dan tells her that that’s a terrible idea, and then, not at ALL suspiciously, leaves. Carter gathers up more jewelry to pawn, and once she gets the cash she drops it off at Adam’s house without going to find him, driving around afterwards aimlessly. She gets home to find Dan waiting for her, and before they can have any kind of reunion, the police show up. ADAM MESSNER HAS BEEN SHOT AND KILLED. And they have reason to believe that Carter may have been connected to him because of evidence they found at his house. She tells the police that no way, she hadn’t been to his house that night. The cops leave, and Dan points out her lie, as hadn’t she gone to Adam’s house? She says she doesn’t want to get the cops involved in her life. Dan leaves, suddenly acting strange. A short while later, the phone rings, and Carter answers, hoping it’s Dan. But instead, it’s someone who just whispers “I know what you did.”

At school people seem to have heard the rumors about Carter and Adam, as everyone is avoiding her, including Jill. Dan is even saying he doesn’t know what to say to her anymore. That night her parents have gone off to one of her mother’s charity drives , so Carter is alone. And then, of course, the power goes out. No go on the phone, as it’s dead too! And then she hears footsteps in the basement. A STRANGE MAN emerges and attacks her, saying that he was the one who tried to run her off the road. As he tries to strangle her, the police come in, in the nick of time! Thank god for rich people and their alarms! Carter’s parents come home in the middle of this, and The Judge recognizes this guy as a hired muscle for a guy whose case he is presiding over. Huh! That was actually a pretty okay twist! If not a bit superfluous.

A few nights later, Carter is feeling like maybe things are going to go her way, but then Sheila calls. Now SHE wants money, because Adam told her everything, and Sheila is convinced that Carter is the one who killed him because she somehow has ‘proof’. She asks for five hundred smackaroos, and Carter pawns her fancy stereo system. She meets Sheila in the woods, and they do an exchange. Carter gives Sheila the money, and Sheila gives her the proof…. a necklace that says ‘Carter’ on the back of it. It was by Adam’s body. Hmmmmmmm….

Carter calls Dad and says she’s going to confess everything to her father, and she wants him to be there when she does. He says that he will. They go into The Judge’s office, and Carter confesses to cheating, and then she confesses to killing Adam as well!!! The Judge seems totally disappointed in his little girl. Dan asks if The Judge can get her off the hook, but The Judge isn’t totally sure, and says he’s going to call the police…. And this is when DAN ADMITS TO KILLING ADAM!! He accidentally shot him, he went to confront him about blackmailing Carter and Adam pulled a gun on him. They tussled, and Dan accidentally pulled the trigger….. And then Carter says ‘See Daddy? I told you he’d confess!’

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(source)

Yes, the necklace was one that Dan had bought for her. When she saw it, she knew, and she knew that he would eventually own up if she tried to take the fall. Though he almost didn’t! Anyway, The Judge says that he can probably pull some strings, but that Carter does have to own up for cheating in the first place. Her mother is more concerned about how scandalous this is than anything else, but it does seem like The Judge is using his connections to not only get Carter a pass, but to get Dan some really great lawyers who can get him kind of deal, or no charges whatsoever, etc etc. The book ends with Carter and Dan playing chess together, and it sure makes it seem like there will be no consequences for these two privileged white kids from North Hills. And of course, while they’re playing, Dan says to Carter ‘no cheating!’, and then beats her because she doesn’t cheat anymore. The End.

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(source)

Body Count: 1. That piece of crap Adam Messner. Good riddance.

Romance Rating: 7. I don’t know, Dan is a pretty okay guy who really cares for Carter, and while accidentally shooting Adam wasn’t great, he did own up to it. Though, he was willing to let Carter take the fall for a bit, so….. Maybe let’s bump it down to a 6.

Bonkers Rating: 3. It’s actually not that crazy, but it does get some points for the red herring of the hired goon from Judge Phillips’s case trying to hurt Carter.

Fear Street Relevance: 3. Carter doesn’t live on Fear Street. Adam does, but only a little of the plot takes place at his house.

Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger: 

“Desperately, she struggled to straighten the wheel. Too late! She screamed – closed her eyes – and waited for the crash.”

…. And then she just brakes the car.

That’s So Dated! Moments: Well first of all, just look at the cover. Look at that phone. But what made me cackle (and gave me pangs of nostalgia to my grade school years) was that the choices of hot movies from the video store were “Batman Returns” and “Waynes World”.

Best Quote:

“Mrs. Phillips was horrified, of course, at having her daughter mixed up in such a scandal. ‘They’ll be dragging our name through the mud in the papers!’ she cried tearfully at the dinner table that night. ‘I just hope they don’t kick us out of the club!'”

Priorities.

Conclusion: As silly as it was, I pretty much enjoyed “The Cheater”. There’s a reason I remember it so vividly from my childhood. Next up is “Sunburn”! And let me tell you, the cover alone is glorious. 

Book Club Review: “Eliza and Her Monsters”

31931941We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing bookclub running for the last 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 “Dewey Call Number” theme. This book comes from a Dewey Decimal Call Number range, and has to fit the theme of that range.

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: “Eliza and Her Monsters” by Francesca Zappia

Publishing Info: Greenwillow Books, May 2017

Where Did We Get This Book: The library!

Dewey Decimal Call Number: 800s (Literature, Writing)

Book Description: Her story is a phenomenon. Her life is a disaster.

In the real world, Eliza Mirk is shy, weird, and friendless. Online, she’s LadyConstellation, the anonymous creator of the wildly popular webcomic Monstrous Sea. Eliza can’t imagine enjoying the real world as much as she loves the online one, and she has no desire to try.

Then Wallace Warland, Monstrous Sea’s biggest fanfiction writer, transfers to her school. Wallace thinks Eliza is just another fan, and as he draws her out of her shell, she begins to wonder if a life offline might be worthwhile.

But when Eliza’s secret is accidentally shared with the world, everything she’s built—her story, her relationship with Wallace, and even her sanity—begins to fall apart. 

Kate’s Thoughts

My high school years were during the time before social media really became a huge thing. My parents had Internet, but it was a dial up connection that we could only use if we weren’t expecting or planning to make any pertinent phone calls. And honestly, I’m so relieved that the Internet wasn’t the big social zone that it is now, for regular people as well as celebrities. I think that teenage Kate would have both loved living a lot of her life online, but I also think that it would have been isolating in its own way (and given that I was bullied a fair amount, it probably would have opened up a huge target on my back from my peers). And that is where “Eliza and Her Monsters” comes in. As a teenager who suffered from social anxiety and depression, I saw a bit of me in Eliza, our main character who has found the online world to be more comforting than the real world. And as someone who has written some fanfiction in her life (and was a vaguely well known author in a niche fandom at one point, though I’m not telling which), the ups and downs of online artistry also spoke to me. But the core of Eliza herself, and how she interacted with those around her, didn’t do as much for me as one might think that it would.

But I want to start with what I liked here. I thought that Eliza’s social anxieties were pretty spot on in terms of characterization. Without really outwardly saying that she was suffering from it, you get a slow and well painted picture of what Eliza’s insecurities are like, how they hinder her, and how she tries to cope with them. It was refreshing to see this character portrayed in a realistic and honest way, and that while it was understandable that she would act in various ways, she wasn’t totally let off the hook when she was being a jerk to those around her. I also really liked that this book brings up the philosophical question of ‘what do artists owe their fans?’. Sure, this is something that has been going on for a long time, but with the advent of social media, now fans can not only interact with each other, but they now have the opportunity to address and interact with their favorite creators in a more direct way. And while this is great in lots of ways, in other ways, sometimes lines are crossed and fan entitlement gets a bit out of hand. From the “Song of Ice and Fire” fandom to the “Harry Potter” fandom to the wonderful world of comics across the board, sometimes healthy and relevant critiques of topics turn into “YOU OWE US THIS.” This book allows us to see that from the creator’s POV through Eliza and one of her favorite authors, and it’s a great way to raise these questions and get the reader to think about them.

But there were other things about this book that frustrated me. Mainly, I didn’t really care for Eliza, as relatable and realistic as she was. I think that seeing it from the perspective of an adult who had to tramp through that swamp of teen angst and came out on the other side, a lot of me was saying “goddammit, suck it up.” Teen Kate would have TOTALLY loved Eliza though, and given that this is, ultimately, written with teens in mind, I think that she probably works well. I also was a bit frustrated with her relationship with Wallace, if only because I felt like there were some things that she did that were SO manipulative and she never really was taken to task for it. I didn’t really like what it said about acceptable things in teen relationships.

Overall, I liked how “Eliza and Her Monsters” approached fandom, artistry, and teenage mental illness. I wish that I had liked the protagonist more, but hey, you can’t have everything.

Serena’s Thoughts

As Kate has lain out so nicely, my evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of this book is pretty similar. I don’t have the personal experience of existing as a creator on an online platform, but I follow various fandoms online fairly avidly and have witnessed first hand the strength in community that these groups can bring, as well as the viscous cycle of entitlement and possession that can also be on display at times. In these ways, I think this book is very much speaking to an ongoing struggle in today’s teens’ lives that I, like Kate, never had to deal with.

Like Kate, I was never part of the popular crowd in highschool. I wasn’t the most bullied either, and instead existed somewhere in the probably lucky “no one cares” zone of being unnoticed. I also had no other “version” of life or a representation of my life that I had to maintain, like today’s teens who must carefully navigate and manage not only their day-to-day activities, but also the version of themselves that exists online. Eliza, uncomfortable and shy in real life, has found a niche for herself online. But no social sphere comes without its own strings.

I very much enjoyed the exploration of creativity on an online platform. Eliza is both safely at a distance from those who interact with her online (one of the appeals of her online persona), but is also exposed and at the mercy of those same fans. No longer do fans need to write a letter and mail it in to an author who may or may not even look at their fan mail. Creators online are exposed across so many formats to the visceral reactions of the same fans whose admiration and appreciation they are hoping to garner. I think one of the best representations of the push/pull relationship of this kind is Bo Burnham’s raw, and almost tragic, song “Can’t Handle This.”

But, in general, I read books for the characters, so as much as I loved the themes that were tackled in this story, I had a similar hang up with Eliza as Kate did. I think Kate hit it on the nose when she mentioned the fact that she and I are reading this having come out on the other side of that hellish tunnel called “highschool.” Many years (yikes!) distanced from these same struggles, they begin to lose their edge. This is good, but it also presents a reality check when reading books like these. I don’t want to dismiss these problems as “just highschool stuff, get ready for REAL life, kids!” But…I’m still a 30 something woman reading this and that’s what I felt. So with that perspective, maybe there’s nothing wrong with this character for highschoolers themselves, and it’s probably touching on many relatable challenges. But there are many YA stories out there that present the challenges of their young protagonists in ways that are more approachable and sympathetic to their adult readers as well than this one did, which is a legitimate mark against it.

Kate’s Rating 7: This book brings up a lot of good questions about artistry and creativity, the relationship artists have with their fans, and mental illness, but I was put off by Eliza, as relatable as she could be at times.

Serena’s Rating 6: Many great themes are discussed, but the protagonist wasn’t as widely relatable as she could be to readers beyond highschool themselves. And as a reader who goes in mostly for characters, this put a pretty big dent in my enjoyment of the book.

Book Club Questions

  1. What did you think of Eliza as a main character? Did you find her to be relatable and/or likable?
  2. Have you ever had a friend you met online, or know solely from online interaction? What do you think about the claim that online friends aren’t ‘real’ friends?
  3. Eliza has a complex relationship with the fans of her work. What do you think an artist owes their fans when it comes to content production, or characterization? Do they owe their fans anything?
  4. Eliza has a contentious relationship with her parents. What did you think of how they all interacted with each other? What could they have done differently?
  5. Have you ever followed an online work that is posted occasionally like “Monstrous Sea”? What was it? Is it still going on? If not, how did it end?

Reader’s Advisory

“Eliza and Her Monsters” is included on the Goodreads lists “YA Fiction Featuring Fangirls, Fanboys, or General Fandom”, and “YA Nerd/Geek Books”.

Find “Eliza and Her Monsters” at your library using WorldCat!

Next Book Club Book: “Every You, Every Me” by David Levithan

The Great Animorphs Re-read #17: “The Underground”

343177Animorphs #17: “The Underground by K.A. Applegate

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, April 1998

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: What’s tasty, good for you, and only takes sixty seconds to make? Oatmeal. And it’s making the Yeerks more than a little crazy. Now Rachel, the other Animorphs, and Ax have a new weapon against the Yeerks. Sounds good, right?

Narrator: Rachel

Plot: Now unlike the last few, I have very clear memories of this book and I think it’s for a pretty basic reason: it absolutely terrified me reading it as a kid. Where battles with aliens were something purely out of fiction and thus not threatening, this book is a perfect example of the more mundane aspects of the Animorphs’ missions and the truly horrifying, easier to comprehend dangers that these missions brought down upon them.

The story starts with mainly Marco and Rachel attempting to convince Jake that the group should be allowed to use their abilities for purely selfish reasons: to attend the opening of  new Planet Hollywood in their town. Notably, Lucy Lawless, or Xena herself, would be in attendance. Jake only signs on, however, when he hears that Shaq will also be there. Oh, Jake, and you’re basketball-obsessed heart. Of course, they all go in bird morph. But while there, Rachel notices a man getting ready to commit suicide by jumping out of a skyscraper. She and the group swoop in and just barely manage to glide him to be dropped into the nearby river. There he proceeds to get stuck in the mud on the bottom of the river necessitating Rachel’s morphing dolphin to save him once again. (It should be noted that this is the second cold open for a Rachel book where she saves the life of someone. Last time it was the boy in the crocodile pit.)

Back home, Rachel hears from her mother, who is a lawyer, that the man’s family is looking to have him committed to a clinic: he’s claiming there is an alien parasite called a Yeerk in his head. Rachel and the team know they have to check it out. After flipping a coin, Rachel, Marco, and Jake are chosen to infiltrate the mental hospital in cockroach morph. After a brief run-in with a tarantula (Tobias’s bird powers come in for the save once again), the group makes it in and locates the man, a Mr. Edelman. To speak with him, Rachel demorphs and then poses as a human-morphed Andalite to figure out what is going on. Edelman reveals that the Yeerks have encountered a human food substance that is highly addictive to their species and, after prolonged ingestion, causes the Yeerks to go mad. But with this madness, the Yeerk is also freed of its need to consume Kandrona rays. So now Controllers like Edelman are stuck with a mad Yeerk in their brain that never needs to come out. Edelman is typically in control of his body again, but, as Rachel sees while they are talking, the Yeerk breaks through in brief moments to spew nonsense, thus leading to his family’s questioning his sanity. What’s most surprising, however, is what this addictive substance is: instant maple and ginger flavored oatmeal.

After joining back with the others, the group debates the morality of using an addictive substance (even though it’s just oatmeal, as Marco and Rachel continue to point out in increasingly loud voices). In the end, they decide they can’t ignore an opportunity like this to do massively damage to the Yeerk invasion. Now all they have to do is break into the Yeerk pool once again.

Tobias, of course, knows of an entrance from his days of spying. Together, they all morph fly and attempt to follow a Controller in (this time through a backroom in a McDonalds). Once through the door, however, it becomes clear that the Yeerks have upped their security game. Some type of bio weapon is triggered by the presence of DNA that has not been submitted into the program and they barely manage to escape a fatal gassing. With their typical point of entrance now lost to them, the group needs to get creative. Cassie suggest digging their way in using a mole morph.

What follows is a perfect example of the least glorious aspects of what life as an Animorph would really be like. One by one the group takes turns morphing mole and digging through the earth. They make very slow progress and it takes them a week to get very far at all. Not to mention, each shift is horrifying in its own way: alone, beneath the earth, digging blindly ahead. By the end of the week however, their tunnel hits a bat cave. From there, the group morph bat and plan on heading home to re-think their approach. But on the way out of the bat cave, they sense another exit, once that leads to the Yeerk pool.

But again, the increased Yeerk security kicks in, and flying security bots quickly injure several members of the group, including Rachel who falls into the Yeerk pool itself. She manages to time her demorph to angle herself below one of the piers sticking out over the pool so that she can remain hidden and keep her head above water. She then has to do something she swore never to do again: morph ant. But from her time with the allergy, she remembers that the ant morph did fairly well in liquid. This time as an ant she is able to essentially “walk” on the surface and escape the pool.

Once out, she sees that Ax has been captured and demorphed. Even worse, Visser Three is coming. She manages to find Marco and Cassie, both hiding in sheds around the perimeter. They frantically try to think of a plan, and happen to hear a Controller mention removing “oatmeal contraband” from another person. They reference a storage shed where they have confiscated over 200 pounds of the stuff.

Visser Three arrives and immediately orders that all exits be sealed and everyone be searched systematically. Rachel, Marco, and Cassie frantically come up with a plan to use the oatmeal as a type of bargaining chip. Elephant!Rachel crashes through walls and into the storage shed, where Gorilla!Marco grabs a barrel of the oatmeal, throws it into the Yeerk pool and threatens to blow it up with a Dracon beam, thus infecting hundreds of Yeerks, unless Visser Three lets them all go. Visser Three decides that a few hundred of his compatriots is a price he is willing to pay. Elephant!Rachel thinks to change this equation by charging him and throwing him into the pool as well. Visser Three quickly changes his mind. But as the group begins backing towards one of the exit tunnels, Visser Three begins to morph. At the same time, a team of Hork Bajir charge down the very tunnel they were trying to climb through. Throwing caution to the wind, Rachel shoots the barrel of oatmeal, then aims the Dracon beam at the ceiling and yells to the others to morph mole. Then, not knowing who survived or how long it will take, she slowly digs her way back up to the bat cave (having to stop to hollow out a human-sized hole to not get caught with the two hour limit). One by one they all return.

Lastly, back at home a few days later, Rachel’s mom returns home from work telling a crazy story about how Mr. Edelman escaped from the mental hospital after a “talking grizzly” showed up and told him to run and hide and enjoy what freedom he could make for himself.

Xena, Warriar Princess: Again, we hear a lot about the pressure that Rachel puts on herself to be strong. Part of it is her conviction that she won’t let fear rule her life, a sentiment that we heard Jake discuss just in the last book. But she also confesses to not being able to admit her fear, and to understanding what part she plays for the group.

Everyone in a group has a role to play. At least that’s how it always works out. My role was to say, “Let’s do it. Let’s go. That’s what we came here for.” But I was tired. And I’d had a really, really bad few days digging down to this stupid cave.
So I said, <Let’s do it. That’s what we came here for.> Sometimes it’s hard to get out of a role once you’ve started playing the part.

Her and Jake probably most clearly see the role that they play for the group. The rest definitely have their contributions, but they don’t seem to feel these roles in such a strong (or burdensome) way as Jake and Rachel do. Marco, probably, is the next closest thing, knowing that they count on him to lighten the mood and joke his way through anything.

There are some good moments with Rachel’s home life, with her sisters and mother. There’s also a reference to the fact that her house is still under construction after she halfway destroyed it by accidentally morphing elephant while allergic back in her book.

There are several examples in this book of the pros and cons of Rachel’s tendency to jump without looking. Part of the reason that so many of her books open with her saving people is that she doesn’t question whether it is possible or wise, she just does it. But on the other hand, while in the Yeerk Pool, her first instinct is to simply morph grizzly and attack. It is Marco and Cassie who come up with the plan to use the oatmeal to create a stalemate, obviously a much better idea. But then when Visser Three calls their bluff, Rachel again acts before anyone else, throwing him in the pool. She also blows up the tunnel they’re in. Too much thought about these actions, too much hesitancy about the possible negative outcomes, would have resulted in disaster for the entire group. I really liked seeing the balance of how this inclination of hers was not only a bad thing (as it is often reduced to), but can also be their saving grace when the others might have hesitated.

Our Fearless Leader:  During the debate about using the oatmeal, Jake makes a connection to the Civil War and the idea that that war, too, could have been ended sooner if the North had simply compromised and let a few people remain slaves. He also says that he makes all of these decisions by asking himself whether he is ok or not with it happening to Tom.

A Hawk’s Life: Tobias is the first to raise the question about the morality of using the oatmeal. This seems to be in line with his more thoughtful approach to the war. After they thoroughly discuss the matter, he agrees to use it. But as a character, Tobias needs to fully think through any course of action they are about to take, even if, in the end, he will always side with the plan that means bringing more of the fight to the Yeerks.

He’s also the last one to arrive back to the bat cave in the end.

“You scared us to death! Where have you been?” I yelled at him.
<I was worried about you, too, Rachel,> he said, with a smile in his silent voice.

This is why they work; he understands her.

Peace, Love, and Animals: Like in book #9, Cassie is the one to realize that they can use a specific type of animal morph to solve a problem that seems impossible. She came up with the bat morph then, and the mole morph this time.

For a moment no one said anything. Then Cassie said, <Well . . . there is one way.>
<I take it back!> Marco said. <I take it back! I can tell by your tone, Cassie, I really don’t want to know.>

When they’re debating the morality of using the oatmeal against the Yeerks, Cassie confesses to not knowing what is right and wrong anymore. This, more than anything, scares Rachel about how this war is changing them all.

The Comic Relief: Not surprisingly, Marco sides with Rachel immediately about using the oatmeal. If anything, he is even more appalled by the fact that the group is even debating not dealing such a direct hit to the Yeerks. Once again, we see that, of them all, he is the most pragmatic about this fight. Where Rachel is more inclined to go for it simply because she will always choose action, Marco only sees the cost/benefit of a mission. He is also even more exasperated by the fact that the “drug” they are debating is oatmeal.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Ax saves all of their lives by immediately recognizing the danger of the bio sensor when they first try to infiltrate the Yeerk Pool as flies. He’s also good for some Yeerk biology lessons, but only so much…

<Yes,> Ax said. <Yeerks have mouths. Or what humans would think of as mouths. Actually, if I remember my exo-biology classes, and sadly, I sometimes ->
<Fell asleep,> I said. <Yeah, we know. You didn’t like exo-biology class.>

There’s also a comedic interlude at the mall (of course) where the group watches in horror/awe as Human!Ax consumes not only an entire massive Cinnabon, but the paper plate it was sitting on as well.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: When they’re breaking into the mental hospital as cockroaches and run into the tarantula, Rachel gets jumped by it. She only escapes when Tobias swoops down and carries it off. Unfortunately, it doesn’t let go of her leg, so it gets ripped off. Even worse, it is implied that Tobias eats the spider…so…did he eat her leg??!

Couples Watch!: Early in the book, Rachel wakes up in the morning to do homework and opens her window for Tobias. Apparently, he comes by most mornings like this. They discuss their upcoming plan to go to the Yeerk Pool and Rachel admits to being afraid. It’s a quiet little scene that really highlights these two’s relationship and how special it is in that Rachel can be open and vulnerable with Tobias about feelings that she never shows to the rest of the group.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: When it is announced that Visser Three is coming to the Yeerk Pool, Rachel runs into a Controller who blatantly makes up an excuse to get the heck out of there. So at this point, even among the Yeerks themselves, it’s pretty clear that Visser Three is batshit (ha!) crazy and it’s best to be elsewhere when he shows up. It’s also no surprise that he pretty quickly decides that sacrificing 500 or so Yeerks to the oatmeal threat is worth it, but then once it’s his own skin on the line, he quickly changes his tune.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: That last scene where they are all tunneling back to the surface. Man, it’s just horrifying if you really think about it. Earlier in the book, it was already made clear how terrifying the tunneling was with claustrophobia and being so alone. So here, to crash a tunnel down on yourself, not knowing whether your friends were hurt or killed, and then tunneling ever upwards, for hours, long enough that you need to stop and dig out a hole to morph back to human, still underground, all alone…It definitely freaked me out as a kid and still does now.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: While the mole morph is a good idea in theory, I’m not sure how they were thinking this was actually going to work. They all stock up on oatmeal at their homes, but what were they really going to do? Pull down mini bags of it through the tunnel and then try to somehow aim it above the Yeerk Pool and hope that it makes it all the way down? Seems like there are a few pretty big holes in this plan and the only reason they succeed is because first they completely fail at their original plan. This seems to be a pattern.

Favorite Quote:

A more serious quote from when they’re debating the morality of using the oatmeal:

Cassie suddenly laughed. It was a cynical laugh. I didn’t know she was capable of a cynical laugh.
“And all the rights and wrongs, and all the lines between good and evil, just go wafting and waving and swirling around, don’t they?”

And a more fun quote:

“You know,” Jake said in a conversational tone as we waited for Tobias to acquire the bat, “from the point where Edelman said ‘maple and ginger oatmeal,’ I should have known this was going to end stupidly.”
“Instant maple and ginger oatmeal,” Cassie said.
“Battles that involve oatmeal are just never going to end up being historic, you know?” Jake went on. “Gettysburg? No major oatmeal involvement. The Battle of Midway? Neither side used oatmeal. Desert Storm? No oatmeal.”

Scorecard: Yeerks 4, Animorphs 8

I’m giving them both points. Yes, the Animorphs strike a pretty major blow. But it can’t be ignored that the Yeerks have really wised up, what with the bio detectors, the security bots, and Visser Three’s systematic shut down and search of the Yeerk Pool.

Rating: For as wacky as the whole madness-by-oatmeal thing is, this book has some legitimately tense moments. It’s also one of the few books that takes place over almost an entire week (they usually seem to take about a day or two), so it was a nice touch of reality, that many of these missions weren’t glamorous or non-stop action. We continue to see Rachel’s decline as the pressure she puts on herself to be brave becomes increasingly hard to bare. Though I do like that this book highlights the ways that this aspect of her personality saves the group at times as well. I doubt any of the rest would have been brave enough or thought quickly enough to blow the tunnel up on themselves.

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: “Sing, Unburied, Sing”

32920226Book: “Sing, Unburied, Sing” by Jesmyn Ward

Publishing Info: Scribner, September 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: A searing and profound Southern odyssey by National Book Award winner Jesmyn Ward.

In Jesmyn Ward’s first novel since her National Book Award winning Salvage the Bones, this singular American writer brings the archetypal road novel into rural twenty-first-century America. Drawing on Morrison and Faulkner, The Odyssey and the Old Testament, Ward gives us an epochal story, a journey through Mississippi’s past and present that is both an intimate portrait of a family and an epic tale of hope and struggle. Ward is a major American writer, multiply awarded and universally lauded, and in Sing, Unburied, Sing she is at the height of her powers.

Jojo and his toddler sister, Kayla, live with their grandparents, Mam and Pop, and the occasional presence of their drug-addicted mother, Leonie, on a farm on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. Leonie is simultaneously tormented and comforted by visions of her dead brother, which only come to her when she’s high; Mam is dying of cancer; and quiet, steady Pop tries to run the household and teach Jojo how to be a man. When the white father of Leonie’s children is released from prison, she packs her kids and a friend into her car and sets out across the state for Parchman farm, the Mississippi State Penitentiary, on a journey rife with danger and promise.

Sing, Unburied, Sing grapples with the ugly truths at the heart of the American story and the power, and limitations, of the bonds of family. Rich with Ward’s distinctive, musical language, Sing, Unburied, Sing is a majestic new work and an essential contribution to American literature.

Review: Every once in awhile, a book comes along that just blows me the hell away. One that feels like an elevated experience just reading it, pouring over it, immersing oneself in it. “Sing, Unburied, Sing” by Jesmyn Ward did that for me, and I am still staggered by how fantastic it was. I’ve come to expect nothing less from Jesmyn Ward, one of the best writers out there today, bar none. I’ve read two of her other books, both of which are transcendent and incredibly emotional. The first is the novel “Salvage the Bones”, a story about a rural and poor African American family living in Mississippi as Hurricane Katrina lurches and looms towards them. The other is “Men We Reaped”, a memoir about the numerous black men in Ward’s life who all died far too young, brutal casualties of overt and systemic racism that is all too present in the U.S. When I heard she had a new book coming out, I requested it, and then steeled myself for it as I picked it up.

The first thing that I must mention is the characters and characterization in this novel. We follow a couple main perspectives. The first is Jojo, a thirteen year old boy who has been raised mostly by his grandparents (Mam and Pop), as his mother is addicted to drugs and his father is in prison. He has also taken on the caregiver role to his little sister Kayla, wanting to keep her safe from the ills of the world. Mam is very ill with cancer, and Pop tells Jojo stories from the past in hopes that Jojo can learn from them. The second is Leonie, Jojo and Kayla’s mother. Her boyfriend Michael is getting out of prison soon, and her all encompassing love for him blinds her to most other things. Her drug addiction is fueled in part by the fact that she sees visions of her dead brother Given while she’s high. The final perspective is from Richie, the ghost of a thirteen year old boy who died at Parchman, the prison Michael is at. Richie knew Pop when he was alive, and he has unfinished business with him. Jojo starts seeing Richie on their travels, as Richie knows that there’s a connection there. All of these characters are well rounded and explored, and I got a feel for every one of them (as well as a number of the other characters like Mam and Pop). I understood the motivations of each of them. I was especially moved by Leonie, as while she makes terrible and selfish decisions when it comes to her children, I completely understood why she made those choices, and how factors both within her control and outside of it have made her into the person that she is.

The themes of this book also blew me away. For one, I’m a huge sucker for a ghost story, and this one has the feel of a Southern Gothic novel with the isolation and wide open spaces that still feel claustrophobic. But Ward brings in other ghosts that haunt this country and our culture, as the setting and characters are still plagued by the racism that has so infected this country. From the remnants of Jim Crow laws to the consequences of the War on Drugs to police brutality and violence, the journey that this family takes, physical and emotional, always has the specter of racism hanging over it. Ward doesn’t offer any solutions or answers or happy endings of conclusions to this, and all you can hope for is that this family will continue to survive in face of explicit (Michael’s family) and implicit racism that surrounds them. It’s really the perfect use of a ghost story, as the all too true horrors of our racist culture and society still haunt us, as much as we may hate to acknowledge it.

And the writing is just beautiful. Ward has a serious talent for creating a story and an imagery that leaps and flows in the pages of this book. I felt like I could see everything that was happening in my mind’s eye, and I was so engrossed I devoured this book in a day’s time. Ward is an author who is being called a ‘modern Faulkner’ by a number of people, and while I understand the sentiment (examinations of the American South are a commonality between the two), I think that she easily stands in a league of her own. This book is exactly why, and I urge everyone to give it a try and see why, because nothing I write here will be able to do it justice.

“Sing, Unburied, Sing” is one of the best books I’ve read this year, no question. Please please please go read it and see for yourselves.

Rating 10: I cannot tell you how much I loved this book. A heart rendering story about literal and metaphorical ghosts, family, the South, and Americana.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Sing, Unburied, Sing” is included on the Goodreads lists “Anticipated Literary Reads for Readers of Color 2017”, and “Anticipated/Best 2017 Literary Fiction”.

Find “Sing, Unburied, Sing” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “The Beautiful Ones”

335741431Book: “The Beautiful Ones” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Publishing Info: Thomas Dunne Books, October 2017

Where Did I Get this Book: e-book from NetGalley

Book Description: In a world of etiquette and polite masks, no one is who they seem to be.

Antonina Beaulieu is in the glittering city of Loisail for her first Grand Season, where she will attend balls and mingle among high society. Under the tutelage of the beautiful but cold Valérie Beaulieu, she hopes to find a suitable husband. However, the haphazard manifestations of Nina’s telekinetic powers make her the subject of malicious gossip.

Yet dazzling telekinetic performer and outsider Hector Auvray sees Nina’s powers as a gift, and he teaches her how to hone and control them. As they spend more and more time together, Nina falls in love and believes she’s found the great romance that she’s always dreamed of, but Hector’s courtship of Nina is deceptive.

Review: Like my recent review of “The Goblins of Bellwater,” I think this book is another example of a poorly written book description. Unlike “Goblins” which read more as contemporary romance, the more true genre focus (historical romance) of this book happens to be one that I enjoy and was particularly in the mood for, thus coloring my reaction to this initial misdirection. Like in that case, however, I do think both of these books would be better received had they been marketed more appropriately to the groups of readers who are true fans of these types of books.

I know that “fantasy” is kind of going through a boom right now, but targeting every book towards that community when there may only be the barest hint of actual fantasy elements in your book, is unlikely to be met with a positive reaction. This book, for example, is presented as if it is going to be a “fantasy apprenticeship” type book, leading the reader to assume much of the book is about Nina learning to navigate her own abilities. Not so. This is much more closely aligned with historical romance fiction with a brief dash of fantasy.

Getting off that soap box and on to the review itself! As I mentioned above, “The Beautiful Ones” ticked many boxes for me, and the fact I was surprised by the story I was getting almost added to my personal enjoyment. Nina is has come to the city to experience her first Grand Season. Under the tutelage of her glittering and popular married cousin Valerie, she soon comes to realize that she does not fit the typical mold of a debutante. Luckily, she meets Hector Auvrey, a performer who has leveraged his own telekinetic powers to raise himself to position and influence. But Hector and Valerie have a history of their own.

The story is told from the perspectives of all three characters, something that I was initially skeptical of (my own personal preference is always to follow one main character), but I quickly grew to love this format. Nina, Valerie, and Hector all have distinct voices and are fully realized characters of their own, each with strengths, weaknesses, and their own agendas. Valerie, in particular, is the type of villainous character who you simply love to hate. And Hector is the perfect example of a flawed hero. Nina, on the other hand, may have read as a bit too perfect, but her naivete and the growth she goes through, particularly in the last half of the story, are enough to keep her from falling into a “special snowflake” category. Further, with Valerie and Hector being as frustrating as they were at times, Nina’s chapters proved a bit of a relief.

We all know my feelings on instalove plot lines (recently I DNF’d “Juliet Immortal” for committing this sin in the most blatant way, choosing to not even review the book on this blog out of sheer and utter frustration). “The Beautiful Ones” seems to be Moreno-Garcia’s answer to this trend. It serves as a perfect rebuttal to all the things that are wrong with an instalove storyline. Not only is the main romance a slow burn story, based on many interactions, and taking place over a full year, but the failures of previous romances that followed the instalove equation are fully explored and the repercussions are serious.

This book is almost completely character driven. There is little action (other than balls and visits to the country side). The fantasy elements of this story are very minimal. You could remove them all together, honestly, and not much would change in this story. There are many scenes of characters simply talking to each other. In this way, it is a slow read, and yet, loving this genre as I do, I blew through it in a day. If you enjoy historical romances, ala Jane Austen, this is the perfect book for you!

Rating 9: A complete and utter surprise with characters you couldn’t help but root for, both to succeed and fail miserably!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Beautiful Ones” is on these Goodreads lists: “2017 Latinx/Latin American SFF” and “Fantasy of Manners.”

Find “The Beautiful Ones” at your library using WorldCat