Serena’s Review: “The Flight of Swans”

38397799Book: “The Flight of the Swans” by Sarah McGuire

Publishing Info: Carolrhoda Books, October 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss Plus

Book Description: Princess Andaryn’s six older brothers have always been her protectors–until her father takes a new Queen, a frightening, mysterious woman who enchants the men in the royal family. When Ryn’s attempt to break the enchantment fails, she makes a bitter bargain: the Queen will spare her brothers’ lives if Ryn remains silent for six years.

Ryn thinks she freed her brothers, but she never thought the Queen would turn her brothers into swans. She never thought she’d have to discover the secret to undoing the Queen’s spell while eluding the Otherworldly forces that hunt her. And she never thought she’d have to do it alone, without speaking a single word.

As months as years go by, Ryn learns there is more to courage than speech . . . and that she is stronger than the Queen could have ever imagined.

Review: Omg, I was so excited when I just randomly stumbled on this book on Edelweiss. I obviously love fairytale retellings. But I LOVE the “Six Swans” fairytale in particular. Juliet Marillier’s “Daughter of the Forest” is probably one of my favorite books ever and is the golden standard as far as I’m concerned for retelling this fairytale. And, frankly, in a world becoming chock-full of other fairytale retellings, there are still very few that tackle this particular tale. So, with those facts in mind, I went into this both very excited and very challenged to not simply do a comparison read with Marillier’s take.

The story follows the classic fairytale. Ryn is a young girl when the story starts out, the youngest of seven siblings with six beloved older brothers. When a sorceress bewitches the king, their father, these siblings rebel only to become caught in the crosshairs of a magical spell themselves. The brothers are all turned into swans, and Ryn is left with impossible task of remaining silent for six years while weaving six tunics out of painful nettles to free her brothers and restore their kingdom.

Long story short, I loved this  book. I loved our main character. I loved how true it remained to the original fairytale. I loved the ways that it expanded on the original fairytale. I loved the romance. I loved the magic. Review done now? Probably could be if I didn’t feel like I owed readers (and the book) at least a bit more detail.

Outside of my general love for the story, there were a few things that stood out in particular. For one, I loved the brothers in this book. Six brothers who spend most of a story as swans and off the page is always going to be a hard thing to tackle for an author. How do you make sure they each have personalities and can be differentiated from each other? While I won’t say that McGuire was completely successful here (there are still one or two brothers who I can only remember small details about), for the most part she does an excellent job of giving the brothers enough distinct traits to make each stand out. For one thing, the way the curse is laid out in this book, the brothers get to spend one night each month as humans. This gives them much more page time than other versions of the tale (Marillier’s swans only become human twice a year). With the addition of these scenes, we get to see much more of the brothers. I particularly loved Aiden, the oldest  brother, and his close relationship with Ryn. He’s probably the brother that is given the most throughout the book, and I just loved everything about him. Secondly, I very much liked Ryn’s twin brother who is the one who has the most of an arc in this book, going from a kind of bratty, young kid to a loyal brother who is the one who really understands the extent of Ryn’s sacrifice in the end.

I also loved the inclusion of particular elements of the fairytale that have been left out of other versions of the story. I always loved the part of the original tale that dealt with the swans carrying their sister across the sea to safety. This is the kind of fairytale scene that is pretty hard to adapt, being very whimsical and hard to actually picture in the real world. McGuire adapts the scene here, having the swans pull a raft carrying Ryn. It was thrilling to see this part of the tale included, and it was also one of the most shining moments for Aiden as a character, even in swan form.

I also loved the romance that builds up between Ryn and the foreign prince, Corbin. As this is a middle grade novel, I had to repeatedly remind myself to be happy with the romance I was getting. But as an example of middle grade romances, this one does very well. It’s another tough part of the story to adapt, what with the usual late entrance of the romantic interest in the fairytale itself. And the fact that our heroine can’t speak, so creating meaningful moments where readers can really buy this type of connection forming can be challenging. McGuire rises to the occasion with aplomb.

The only criticism of the book I have does have to do with my expectations and comparisons to Marillier’s version. Like I said, it was a huge challenge to not compare the two as there are so few examples of this fairytale and Marillier’s is superb. “Daughter of the Forest” is also an adult fantasy novel and has some very adult scenes in the book. It can be a tough read, but its darker moments are also what adds to the ultimate beauty and triumph of the story.

This book, as a middle grade novel, had to take a very different route. And while I can appreciate certain changes (the romance needing to be written in a different way, for one), there were also a few choices that I felt were unnecessary and needlessly removed some of the teeth from the story. For one, the aforementioned monthly transformation of the brothers. This lead to a lot of great development for these characters, but also made Ryn’s experience much easier as she regularly had the support of her brothers to tackle basic tasks, like shelter building. She was also limited to not speaking or writing, but was still able to tell others every bit of her tale as long as she mimed it or acted it out. This let her explain her situation to a lot more people, thus creating even more of a safety net for herself. Beyond this, the nettles themselves become less of a challenge. Ryn quickly finds a way of handling the viscous plants in a way that doesn’t injure her at all. Much of the power of the original story is the way the heroine perseveres through the awful trial that is this curse, and part of that trial is the combination of remaining silent while completely a very painful task. All of these choices, when put together, make Ryn’s story a bit too light, in my opinion. Yes, it is a middle grade novel, but I think the author took it a little too far here and could have kept a bit more of the original’s darkness.

But! I still absolutely loved this story. I was so pleased that is lived up to many of my expectations and even surpassed some of them. It’s also a nice alternative to point to for readers looking for a retelling of this fairytale. There are some younger readers to whom, before, I would have hesitated to hand “Daughter of the Forest” because of some of its adult themes. But now we have this! And put together, we have a version for younger readers AND a version for adults!

Rating 9: A beautiful take on a much-overlooked fairytale.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Flight of Swans” is a newer title, so it isn’t on many Goodreads lists. But it is on “The Wild Swans/The Six Swans Retellings.”

Find “The Flight of Swans” at your library using WorldCat!

A Revisit to Fear Street: “Runaway”

176251Book: “Runaway” (Fear Street #41) by R.L. Stine

Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, 1997

Where Did I Get This Book: An eBook from the library!

Book Description: Hoping to start her life over at Shadyside, where nobody knows about her secret dark powers, runaway Felicia becomes terrified that she will lose control of herself again when someone discovers the truth about her.

Had I Read This Before: No.

The Plot: Meet Felicia Fletcher. She’s a hitchhiker just getting towards Shadyside, hoping to start a new life and leave her past in Ridgely behind. And since this time around Stine doesn’t feel like drawing out what that past may be, we get a flashback to see that Felicia has telekinetic powers, and was being used as a test subject at a college by a guy named Dr. Shanks. She thinks about the time he was giving her a test to see what her powers could do, but instead of being vaguely scummy but mostly harmless a la Dr. Venkman in “Ghostbusters”, Dr. Shanks is yelling at her to show off her powers, so much so that she gets upset and shoots a pencil at his eye. She misses, and he is so stoked that she was able to do that he doesn’t even care that she almost gouged his eye out. Felicia, however, is not stoked, and she thinks that her power is evil (and thinks fleetingly about how her father was ‘proof’ of that). Back in the present, she is so lost in thought she is almost run over by a car! The driver pulls over, and from his description all I’m getting is serial killer. He says that she clearly needs a ride and to get in. For whatever reason, Felicia does. He tells her his name is Lloyd, but his friends call him “Homicide”. Seems legit. He tells her it’s because he’s a killer, and when she looks appropriately terrified he says he was just joking. Felicia isn’t into his humor, and asks that he let her out. He then gets SUPER mad at her for being probably far more reasonable than she should have been. He pulls out a switch blade and speeds the car up, so she can’t jump out to safety, and tells her that he’ll let her out if she gives him her wallet. When she tells him he has no money, he continues to threaten her, and Felicia feels ‘the power’ building up in her. This power makes Lloyd’s car crash into a tree! Felicia is okay, but Lloyd is in a daze (but not dead. Pity), and she’s relieved because she already killed someone at that lab. I imagine we’ll learn more later. Felicia gets herself out of the car as he’s coming to, and she flags down another car. Lloyd keeps saying he’s going to kill her, and the other car driver lets her in and they drive away. The driver is a boy named Nick who proceeds to scold Felicia for hitchhiking because look what almost happened to her, and NO SHIT, NICK. He suggests that they go to the cops but Felicia is adamant that they not, but lo and behold, suddenly a cop car is zooming up behind them! Felicia freaks because she’s CERTAIN they’ve come for her to take her away for the deaths she’s responsible for (OH REALLY NOW), but they just keep going. She insists that Nick pull over, and says that she’s fine getting out at the Donut Hole. He’s skeptical, but she kisses him for his troubles, and leaves him behind.

After changing in the bathroom, Felicia orders some food and eaves drops on two college boys, one of whom is bitching about the house and cat sitting gig the other is doing for his professor, Dr. Jones. Seeing an opportunity, Felicia approaches them saying that her father is friends with Dr. Jones, so SHE can do the house and cat sitting job. The college guys, not at all interested in confirming that she is a family friend, take her up on the offer (though she also demands half of the hundred bucks, and good for her I say). The house is, of course, on Fear Street. She gets there and finds that cat, whose name is Miss Quiz, and thinks that she has it made.

The next day, in a move that I find COMPLETELY inexplicable, Felicia goes to Shadyside High and ENROLLS IN CLASSES. My first question is WHY WOULD YOU EVEN DO THIS? If the police are looking for a teenage runaway, don’t you think they’d be asking other teenagers, who would be localized at a school? And my second question is why on EARTH the school enrolled her without a parent present or any kind of record of her existence (and no, her transcripts being ‘in the mail’ SURE doesn’t count)? I call malarkey, but on we go. At the end of her first day of school, Felicia tapes a photo of her Dad up in her locker (this seems odd, as my locker was covered head to toe in pictures of James Marsters, but whatever), and then runs into Nick. He’s happy to see that she’s staying in Shadyside, and they walk out of the school together. She tells him she’s off to Fear Street, and he says that Fear Street is bad new, but Felicia has seen things and isn’t too concerned about a haunted street. He invites her to go to the Burger Basket with him, as he’s a line cook there, and she agrees. They arrive at the restaurant and meet Barry, the manager. Felicia asks him if there are any job openings, as she knows she can’t squat in Dr. Jones’s house forever. Barry pretty much hires her on the spot, and Nick is happy to hear that she’ll be working with him now. But do you know who isn’t happy? Some girl named Zan, who also works there (and apparently “Zen” is short for “Alexandria”, because of course it is). When Nick and Barry go off on their way on shift, Zan pulls out a knife and presses it against Felicia’s chest!!! She tells her that she’s going with Nick and Felicia better not forget that! Felicia’s power is about to go off, but then Nick comes in and Zan tries to play it off like a joke. The power still goes off, making a fry vat overflow and the lights flicker. Zan apologizes, assuring her she was just joking. Felicia leaves, more concerned about her power than the crazed girl with a knife.

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(source)

At school the next week Felicia is settling in. She’s friendly with Nick and Zan and enjoying her job at Burger Basket. As they all eat lunch together she’s feeling pretty good. But then when she goes to her locker at the end of the day she finds and envelope taped inside. Within the envelope is a note that says I KNOW ALL ABOUT YOU!, along with a photocopy of her driver’s license with her real name and her Ridgely address! Also, her face has been burned away on it. Her fear makes her power start to go off, and she is able to keep it in check. She rushes out of the school and retreats to the Donut Hole. She calls Nick while at work, though worries that Zan may be jealous of she found out she was calling him. But Nick is a good friend and takes his break so he can meet her and they can talk. She balks at telling him everything, and says that he and Zan are the first friends she’s had in a long time, and that she’s afraid she’s going to have to run away again. He says that he and Zan don’t want her to leave (I believe half of that sentiment), but she thinks to herself he’d feel differently if he knew what she did. She tells him she feels better now, and he goes back to work. She vows that she won’t let anything happen to him and Zan, unlike Andy and Kristy….

And now it’s a flashback!! Back in Ridgely, Felicia and her friend/fellow subject Debbie are walking along the beach. Felicia is complaining about the tests that Dr. Shanks made them do, while Debbie is complaining about how she didn’t have any powers (and Felicia doesn’t really know why Debbie signed up if she wasn’t telekinetic in the first place). Felicia says that it’s not all that great, and they stumble upon an old ugly beach house Felicia says that it’s so ugly, and Debbie says that she should tear it down with her powers. Felicia hesitates, but then Debbie goads her on, saying she bets that Felicia’s power couldn’t do it. So Felicia, properly goaded, uses all of her concentration, and the house comes apart and falls down. Unfortunately, once the house is down they see two cars parked behind the rubble, cars that belong to their friends Andy and Kristy! They run into the house’s skeleton/rubble, Felicia praying that their friends weren’t inside, but alas and alack, they were! They are DEAD, and Kristy’s arm has been cut off by a beam, and Andy’s face has been torn off by bricks!

Back in the present, Felicia is angsting about her involvement in this awful thing, and gets back to Dr. Jones’s house. But wait, the door is unlocked! Since she’s sure that she locked it, she wanders inside, carefully. I, myself, would cut my losses, as this isn’t even her house and she could just run off, but oh well. Once she determines that she’s alone, she exhales…. but then… THEN… she sees someone has written in red paint RUNAWAY! GET OUT NOW! I KNOW EVERYTHING! Felicia is convinced this mystery person must know about Andy and Kristy! Not ready to give up, she just cleans it up.

The next night, Felicia and Nick are eating dinner on their break, sitting behind the restaurant. Felicia is so on edge, and Nick asks her what’s wrong. She decides to tell him part of it, and tells him that she used to live in Ridgely with her Aunt Margaret. Her parents are dead, and while there she was part of an experiment. She doesn’t tell him the natures of the experiments, but does tell him that she got sick of it, and that’s why she ran away. Nick then kisses her, and she is surprised, and relieved that Zan didn’t see. At closing, Zan picks up Nick, and Felicia and he share a look. After she gets her things, she leaves, but overhears Zan and Nick arguing about her. She starts to panic, her power starting to rise up, but she calms down and gets it under control. She wonders if it’s Zan who has been leaving her notes, but how could it be? She couldn’t know about Andy and Kristy; only the police know about that.

The next day at school Felicia confronts Nick at his locker about the argument. He says that Zan has a jealous streak, and that he doesn’t blame her because she’s had a very hard time as of late. When Felicia asks if he can tell her what that means, he says no, and she’d have to ask Zan herself. But he does ask her to be nice to Zan. And Felicia agrees. Are we still just ignoring the fact she threatened you with a knife, Felicia?!

That Friday, Zan invites Felicia to a sleep over at her house. Felicia doesn’t really want to go, but remembers she said she’d be nice to Zan, and that doesn’t mean a slumber party, Felicia, that means letting her borrow a pencil every once in awhile or some shit! But Felicia misses Debbie, so thinks this could be good. She goes to Zan’s that night, noticing a sharp iron fence with very sharp points on it. Think this will come back later to haunt her? Zan leads her inside and they watch “The Birds” and eat popcorn and have a fun time. When Zan goes to make nachos, Felicia starts snooping. She pulls down a Shadyside year book, and starts paging through just for fun. She finds a cute picture of Nick, but when she turns the page she sees a picture of Zan, with the other half of the picture being crossed out with brown marker. The caption that is legible says THE COUPLE MOST. Felicia can’t tell who the other person is, and when she rubs at the ink she realizes that it isn’t ink…. IT’S DRIED BLOOD. She shoves the yearbook away when she hears Zan coming back up the steps, and tries to play it cool. She asks Zan how long she and Nick have been going out, and Zan says since they were freshmen. but Felicia knows that can’t be true, and wonders what she’s hiding.

At school that next week Felicia goes to the library to find the year book. She finds the picture, and with Zan is a handsome guy. The caption says ALEXANDRIA MCCONNELL AND DOUG GAYNOR, THE COUPLE MOST LIKELY TO LAST FOREVER. Felicia’s heard the name Doug Gaynor before, but where. She slams the yearbook shut, and then runs to a memorial bench. A MEMORIAL BENCH OF DOUG! HE’S DEAD!

On the way to work that night Felicia and Nick are talking in his car. Felicia is jumpy, and Nick asks why. She decides to hold her cars to her vest and only tells him about the fact she’s squatting in a professor’s house. Nick thinks that’s totally okay, a victimless crime, if you will. But Felicia also tells him that she thinks someone from Ridgely followed her, or someone in Shadyside found out about her. He parks the car at work, and she tells him about the notes. He tells her that she’s not going to let anything happen to her, and they kiss again. But then he pulls away, and tells her that he loves Zan. When she asks him if he really does, he kind of balks, but tells her that he can’t break up with her because she needs him and couldn’t take it. She asks him if this has to do with Doug, and he says it does, and that Zan ‘accidentally’ killed Doug.

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An accident. Of course it was. (source)

Long story short, Zan and Doug had been going out since 7th grade, then junior year he took another girl on a date, Zan found out and they fought on Zan’s balcony at her house. He shoved her, she shoved him, he fell off the balcony and was impaled in FOUR. PLACES on the iron fence!! IT TOOK HIM A LONG TIME TO DIE, GUYS. YIKES! So that’s why Nick can’t break up with her. Oh, because she’s violent and her actions killed a guy? No, because she’s SO SAD ABOUT IT. Zan is more afraid about what Zan could do to her if she found out about their kisses, and then says that Zan must have written the notes to try and scare her away. Nick doesn’t believe it, and while they argue suddenly Zan shows up, as Barry called her in early. Nick and Felicia make up a cover story about Nick asking Felicia for advice about where he can take Zan on a date. She seems to buy it, and they all go inside.

While on shift Zan asks Felicia if she can go change a light bulb. She agrees, and sets up a metal stepladder underneath it, noticing that someone spilled water on the floor like a n00b. As she bumps the light, a spark shoots out from it. Felicia notices that the wire is frayed… and that she’s standing in a puddle on a metal step ladder! She runs for the circuit breaker, hoping to shut off the power, but then BARRY comes in and reaches for the light, electrocuting himself!! The jolt is so powerful is fries the wiring in the entire building, setting the place on fire!!! She yells for everyone to get out, as a chain reaction courses through the wiring, making things explode and the oil spreading and HOLY SHIT THIS IS KIND OF AWESOME. Nick helps her move Barry for a bit, but then says that he’s going to try and get people out at the front. She pulls Barry out the back, but realizes that Nick and other people are still inside! So what does this awesome bitch do?! SHE RUNS BACK AROUND THE FRONT AND RUNS INSIDE, DETERMINED TO USE HER POWERS TO PUSH THE FIRE BACK!!! And damn if she doesn’t succeed, getting the fire back as most of the people get out! Soon it’s just her and Nick, and she’s running out of strength, but she manages to use the last of it to make a chair crash through a window, and they both get to the window…. but then Felicia collapses….

But she wakes up outside!! Nick got her through the window. He tells her that Barry is okay and everyone got out. He asks her how she did it, and she asks him not to ask her that. Then the goddamn press show up and they want to see the hero girl, but she freaks out, afraid the police will see her. Nick gives her his car keys and she somehow sprints away in spite of the logical smoke inhalation that must be inside her lungs. She hears a guy telling the news about how she pushed the fire away with her mind, but before she can be too concerned about that, ZAN attacks her, asking her why she couldn’t have just changed the light bulb?!?! Zan tries to strangle her, since her electrocution plan LITERALLY backfired, but Nick pulls her off, telling her that Felicia means nothing to him! Felicia, convinced that no one cares about her and that Zan won’t stop trying to kill her (especially since Nick is just enabling her apparently), leaves his keys in his car, and decides to pack up and leave town. BUT WAIT! Her dad’s photo is in her locker at school! She can’t just leave it behind. So she decides to go get it the next morning.

Flashback time! Back in Ridgely, Felicia has a bad dream about Andy and Kristy. She wakes up to a tapping on her window. Debbie is outside, and she climbs in with bad news. The police picked her up, asking her about the beach house and the experiments they’re part of! And apparently Dr. Shakes narced on her, saying her power is indeed strong enough to knock a house down! Debbie tells her she has to leave town, that she can take her car and go. Debbie helps her pack, and drives her to the city limits. Felicia doesn’t leave a note for her aunt. They part ways, and Debbie tells her that she police think she’s dangerous, and that she should use her fear to keep herself safe. As Felicia starts to drive away with Debbie, the usual panic makes her power start to go out of control. Felicia smells gas, and panics even more, but is able to get out of the car just in time. The car then explodes, sending Felicia through the air. Convinced that her powers are truly out of control, she ran into the night.

And now she’s about to run again. The next day she wakes up and sees that no one has come for her yet. She gets to school, determined to get the photo and then be off, but Nick takes her aside. She tells him to buzz off, but he tells her that he didn’t mean what he said the night before, that she actually means EVERYTHING to him. But he still hasn’t dumped Zan, and Felicia is pissed about this for about three seconds, because then Zan comes running down the hallway AT THE SCHOOL with a knife in her hands! When Nick tries to intervene she slices his hands, and then tackles Felicia to the floor! They struggle, and Zan admits that she did send the notes to Felicia, and that now she’s going to kill her. But Felicia is able to use her powers to fight her off! Once Zan is subdued, Felicia realizes that she CAN control her powers (so what, the fact you saved all those people at the Burger Basket wasn’t enough for you to realize that?!). With the police on the way, she opens her locker, gets her Dad’s photo, and heads back to Fear Street.

When she gets to the house, she packs up her shit and says goodbye to Miss. Quiz. She locks up and is about to leave, when someone puts their hand on her arm. She thinks it’s Zan, but no, it’s Debbie! She’s happy to see Debbie at first, but then it’s VERY clear that Debbie is NOT happy to see her. Apparently Debbie saw the news where that blabbermouth guy was talking about her moment of heroics at the Burger Basket. And Debbie ALSO wants to kill Felicia!!

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This seems superfluous. (source)

So Debbie has powers too, and she is mad that Felicia never noticed it? I guess? She tried to kill her in the car explosion but Felicia’s powers probably saved her from that. And after the Beach House Felicia would be too much of a liability, because it was DEBBIE that made the house collapse because she was in love with Andy but was mad that he wanted to be with Kristy instead! She let Felicia think that it was HER powers that tore down the house, but it was actually Debbie’s powers because she is FAR more powerful than Felicia ever was! Then Felicia slaps her for being such a bitch. They fight with their telekinesis, and honestly, it’s kind of badass. Like, they’re throwing branches and light posts and stuff at each other. Eventually, Nick drives up and jumps out to help Felicia, and Debbie flings a mailbox at him. But before it can connect, Felicia uses her power to target Debbie’s power (somehow?), and it knocks Debbie completely out.

A few days later Nick is driving Felicia back to Ridgely. She’s made up with Aunt Margaret, and that she’s going back to testing but she won’t let the doctors bully her anymore. Debbie and Zan have been institutionalized, and Debbie is in a weird catatonic state. Felicia reminds Nick that he should visit her every weekend, and that if he doesn’t she will break out again and come find him. But he tells her that she’ll ‘never, ever have to run away again’. The End.

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And with that we’ve made a triumphant return to Fear Street Recaps! (source)

Body Count: 3. And pretty gnarly deaths too.

Romance Rating: 6. I think that it’s kinda bullshit that Nick was stringing Zan along (homicidal or not), but admittedly he and Felicia have pretty good chemistry.

Bonkers Rating: 7. If only because of the psychic fight and the fact that Shadyside school has NO rules and regulations re: enrollment and knife play.

Fear Street Relevance: 5. Felicia’s squatting in a house of Fear Street and the final confrontation happens there, but nothing about Fear Street itself drove the plot.

Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:

“Felicia took a deep breath. Now or never. She turned around and leaned into their booth.”

…. And I’m not really invested into whether or not she cons two dumb college boys into letting her squat in a college professor’s house, so why is this a cliffhanger.

That’s So Dated! Moments: Not much that’s too fun, but I did like the reference to the ‘tape’ version of “The Birds”.

Best Quote:

“She lashed out at Debbie – and Felicia heard a loud smack. Debbie fell back, holding her cheek.

‘What was that?’ Debbie demanded.

‘The slap in the face you deserve!’ Felicia cried.”

AWESOOOOOOOME.

Conclusion: “Runaway” was bland, but it did have some pretty awesome action moments and a pretty likable protagonist. Next up is “Killer’s Kiss”! 

Highlights: November 2018

Kate is still in mourning over Halloween being over. Serena is setting up a permanent camp in front of her fireplace from which she will not budge for the next 4 months. And we’re both doing our best to turn a blind eye to any and all advertising for Christmas that is brazenly trying wedge its way in before Thanksgiving has even been given a chance! But, of course, we still have books to look forward to. Here are our picks for November.

Serena’s Picks

36382969Book: “Umbertouched” by Livia Blackburne

Publication Date: November 6, 2018

Why I’m Interested: “Rosemarked” took me by surprise last year and quickly sucked me into a new world that is plagued by a deadly disease, a disease that our heroine immediately contracts. But that does nothing to detract her from her mission: to go across the border into enemy territory as a spy. I expect this sequel to pick up where that story left off, with Zivah and Dineas making their way to report on the soon invasion, and still struggling to comprehend their ever-changing relationship. The first book was a bit of a slower read, establishing this world and these characters. But with that work now complete, I’m excited to see where the story goes from here!

36300671Book: “Dragonshadow” by Elle Katharine White

Publication Date: November 20, 2018

Why I’m Interested: “Heartstone” was one of those rare, unicorn books: a Jane Austen retelling that I actually enjoyed! It didn’t hurt that this version of “Pride and Prejudice” threw in a healthy dose of dragons and magic. But when it ended, I happily put it on my shelf and thought that was that. Imagine my surprise and delight when I saw that a sequel was coming out this fall! What makes this second book all the more intriguing is that by this point, the original re-telling is complete. The story is free to go wherever it pleases from here on out without needing to tie back to a piece of classic literature. Beyond that, I’m happy to just get more dragon goodness out of the deal.

26061583Book: “The Dark Days Deceit” by Alison Goodman

Publication Date: November 20, 2018

Why I’m Interested: Observant readers may have noted a missing review for the second book in the series and here I am anticipating the third. The review for the second is on its way, never fear! Sometimes I need the release of yet another book in a series to kick me in the pants and get me caught up. This is the final book in the trilogy, and I can’t wait to find out what happens to our Lady Helen. The stakes have only gotten higher as the trilogy has progressed and in this book it looks like things are really going to come to a head.

Kate’s Picks

Woman wearing a red hoodie by a riverBook: “Someone Like Me” by M.R. Carey

Publication Date: November 6. 2018

Why I’m Interested: I have been mostly impressed by books by M.R. Carey, as he always knows how to take a typical horror story and turn it on its head. I never really know what to expect when I pick up one of his books, and I kind of feel the same way about “Someone Like Me”. It sounds like a straightforward plot: a woman is usually kind and demure, a loving mother determined to raise them the best way she can. Then another side of her, a violent and malicious side, starts to take over, and she has to try to beat back this new personality before it overtakes her. It may sound like a typical “Jekyl and Hyde” kinda thing, but knowing Carey’s work and how he twists expectations I am thinking it’s going to be something else entirely. I can’t wait to see what it is.

38927017Book: “Daughters of the Lake” by Wendy Webb

Publication Date: November 1, 2018

Why I’m Interested: Gothic ghost stories are a genre that I try to seek out, but am very picky about. One of the authors who usually does a pretty good job with the genre is Wendy Webb, a Minnesota author whose affection for my home state is as deep as her affection for a good ghost story. “Daughters of the Lake” takes place on Lake Superior, and involves a woman named Kate who has been dreaming of a mysterious woman. When this woman ends up being a murder victim, who is found in the lake with a baby in her arms, Kate is swept up in a mystery that may span a full century. Webb has a real knack for writing creepy and unsettling moments and scenes, and given that the setting is always a comfort with its familiarity, I’m very much looking forward to her newest work.

38749157Book: “Wet Hot American Summer” by Christopher Hastings

Publication Date: November 20, 2018

Why I’m Interested: “Wet Hot American Summer” is my favorite movie of all time. With a star studded cast, absurd humor, and a WHOLE lot of heart, the story of Camp Firewood’s last day of Camp (and the first Netflix Series that talks about the first day) never fails to make me laugh. And now Boom! Comics (the same publisher of the “Clueless” graphic that I really liked) has written a new story within that universe! While capturing the humor of the original may seem like a daunting task (it IS incredibly irreverent), Christopher Hastings may be up for the task. After all, he’s written for “Deadpool”. And since it’s in written form, we don’t have to worry about certain actors being unable to come back to reprise their roles (goddamn it, Bradley Cooper). I’m always eager for new “Wet Hot” content. And it can’t be as big of a disappointment as “10 Years Later”, right?

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

The Great Animorphs Re-Read #40: “The Other”

363353Animorphs #40: “The Other”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, April 2000

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: Ax and the Animorphs find new hope when they learn that he is not the only non-infected Andalite on Earth.

Narrator: Marco

Plot: I had some vague memories of this book, of the fact that it was another “more Andalites on Earth” book VERY shortly after we had just gotten done with the last “more Andalites on Earth” book. But since I really liked the last one, I had high hopes for this one. And while it doesn’t paint certain Animorphs coughAxcough in the best light, it’s a pretty good book as far as general characterization for our team and for Marco in particular.

Me towards Ax throughout this entire book.

Marco is chilling at home on one of his rare free evenings when he sees a strange video clip being highlighted on the news and immediately recognizes the blurry form as an Adalite. Sure that Ax has been caught on film and that a good percentage of Controllers also saw the clip and will be trying to find him, Marco immediately morphs osprey and flies off to find Ax and Tobias in their meadow. Once there, Ax is able to view the clip and notes that this is an entirely different Andalite, since it is missing the last half of its tail. Tobias is also able to guess at the location of the scene and he, Ax, and Marco quickly take off to check it out. Once there, Marco demorphs. Halfway through, however, a local possum starts morphing as well and they find themselves confronted with a massive, adult Andalite, notable NOT the one in the film. After a brief confrontation where the adult Andalite threatens them, smacks around Tobias, and insists they leave, they split off. But, of course, they decide to follow the new Andalite. After seeing him morph human, they are able to track him to a house in the suburbs. They decide that now is the time to call in the rest of the team.

Back with the group, Ax reports that he has heard of both the Andalites who are stranded on Earth. The large one is named Gafinilan and the injured one is named Mertil. Both have strong reputations, though Ax makes sure to get in a few digs about how Mertil is now essentially useless due to his injury. The group decides that for now it is best for just Ax and Marco to approach, not giving away their true numbers. At the house, osprey!Marco decides to try and get a closer look, but when he flies in towards the house he is zapped by a force field. Gafinilan gets on a speaker system and tells him to surrender and come in or he will shoot them. Marco and Ax demorph and approach.

After some more barbed words, Marco and Ax are invited in. On the way in, Marco notices a slight tremble in Gafinilan’s large body. Inside, he leads them to a hidden room where through mad gardening skills he has re-created an Andalite meadow. He and Ax partake in eating an Andalite herb while Marco surreptitiously acquire a  bee that is buzzing around, figuring he may need the morph later. After establishing a reluctant amount of trust, Marco and Ax agree to bring their Prince to meet with Gafinilan.

The next day, the group meets up at the mall to discuss their plan of action. It’s agreed that while Gainilan appears to be a bit of a loose canon, Jake should go ahead and meet with him. The others head out, but Rachel lingers behind with Marco. She has correctly guessed that Marco has his own plans and isn’t about to let Jake wander in without further investigation. The two team up for a spy job.

At Gafinilan’s house, Rachel sets up to provide back up support and Marco morphs bee to make his way in. He almost gets eaten by another bug on his way in, but eagle!Rachel manages to rescue him. The second trip in goes better and bee!Marco makes his way into the house. He doesn’t find Mertil. Anywhere.

After Jake scolds Marco and Rachel, the team try and figure out what game Gafinilan is playing. Ax suddenly realizes the importance of the herb he ate while visiting. It is a pain killer, and after witnessing Gafinilan’s shaking, Ax is able to guess that he has a horrible Andalite disease called Soola’s Disease. It create horrendous pain and is fatal. They figure out that Gafinilan is likely trying to meet Jake thinking that he is an adult Andalite whom Gafinilan could acquire and thus escape his disease (even though, according to Ax, this is considered a very shameful thing to do).

The next day, Jake goes in to meet with Gafinilan. After becoming frustrated when Jake refuses to “demorph” to his Andalite form, Gafinilan pulls a shredder on him and tries to force him to demorph. The other Animorphs barge in in their battle morphs. Gafinilan realizes that they all are human, except for Ax. Gafinilan finally comes clean with what is going on. He does not want to acquire Jake, agreeing with Ax that this is a shameful way out of his illness. Instead, the Yeerks have captured Mertil and are willing to exchange him for a healthy Andalite (the Yeerks don’t want Mertil since he is morph incapable and don’t want Gafinilan because of his illness). Ax is incredulous that Gafinilan would be willing to exchange one of his own people for a mere vecol, an Andalite who can’t morph. Gafinilan says that he would do anything for his friend, vecol or no.

They begin to form a plan to rescue Mertil. The Yeerks move him daily and he is well-guarded. Ax again protests that a vecol is not worth them risking their lives over. Marco finally snaps and calls Ax out on his horrible attitude. Jake says it doesn’t matter what Ax things and they will move forward with the rescue plan.

Marco, speaking from his own ruthless nature, recognizes the same trait in Gafinilan. That he would do terrible things (like turn them over) all to reach the goal of saving his friend. This leaves the Animorphs in a perilous position, trusting Gafinilan to not give them up in the middle of the mission. They move forward with the plan, however, and locate Mertil in an old train yard.

The Animorphs and Gafinilan go in for the rescue, but what started out as a surprise attack quickly devolves into the team be largely outnumbered by Yeerks. A massive fight breaks out. The team is quickly divided up, all fighting seemingly losing battles. The Yeerks attempt to drive off with Mertil in a Uhaul, but gorilla!Marco and elephant!Rachel manage to catch up with them. Gafinilan shows up too and helps rescue Mertil.

Ax again sinks to his normal low for this book with more disparaging comments about Mertil. Tobias finally snaps and calls Ax out on his inability to look past “normal.” Ax finally seems to cave and reluctantly greets Mertil saying that he will always remember the hero he was (great progress, really great).

After they escape, Gafinilan asks the Animorphs to give the two Andalites their space. Gafinilan is dying and would like to be left alone with Mertil during this time. A few days later, Marco makes his way to visit Mertil in the greenhouse. He lets Mertil know that once Gafinilan passes, he would be wiling to visit Mertil, not wanting him to just be alone. After a long silence, Mertil thanks Marco.

The Comic Relief: After the Marco’s last book which was a massive letdown, it was a relief to open this one and find myself back with the character I know and love. We again have a smart, strategic thinker who is impatient with others’ bullshit and willing to confront his own darkness.

Throughout the book, Marco repeatedly calls Ax out for his really negative attitude towards Mertil and those with disabilities. As the story progresses, these put-down become more and more harsh; but in this case, one is completely on Marco’s side of this situation. At one point towards the end, Marco chews Ax out pretty thoroughly and Rachel notes that this might be a bit hypocritical of Marco, who regularly makes some pretty inappropriate jokes. He rightly notes that there is a big difference, that that is gallows humor and that when it comes to his actions, he’s not like that at all. It’s a nice highlight of a key feature for Marco. Yes, he makes a lot of jokes, some that definitely tow the line. He’s also very cynical and suspicious. But, importantly, he owns these aspects of himself and, even more importantly, when it comes to his actions, he’s one of the most loyal members of the group. We also see, at the end of this book, that he can be very considerate, coming to visit Mertil and offering companionship. Just making sure not to tell the others that he has a heart.

We also get a return to Marco’s self-evaluation as far as his ruthlessness and direct-line method of getting from point A to point  B. He sympathizes with Gafinilan, who was willing to turn over another Andalite to save a friend. To Marco, this type of cold-hearted decision making makes sense. Gafinilan’s priority is his friend, and that rules all. It’s a very unique point of view to Marco, and it’s nice to see it used to differentiate how Marco can see, and understand, Gafinilan’s choice as compared to the others.

Our Fearless Leader: Jake has some really good lines when he first meets Gafinilan. At this point, Jake’s met his fair share of arrogant, adult Andalite leaders and isn’t having any of it. It’s always fun to see him in his element as leader of the group, fully embracing his role and even making sure that others (usually other Andalites) know that he will be the one calling the shots from here on out.

Xena, Warrior Princess: I really liked how much Rachel/Marco team up action there was in this book. Though I’ll save some of my thoughts on that for the “Couples” section since there isn’t any actual romantic couple stuff to cover for this book. But we see Rachel team up with Marco not only for the initial spy mission, but also in the end when they both are the ones to catch up with and rescue Mertil from the UHaul.

A Hawk’s Life: There are a lot of weird hints in this book about Tobias being a bit off. I can’t remember this building up towards anything in other books (at least not in a way that feels like it was intentional here), so I have to imagine it was just to lead up to the last discussion about Ax and his unpleasant attitudes when Tobias finally cracks and comes down on him. He has a nice little speech about “normal” being a word that this group, in particular, probably shouldn’t throw around. He mentions all the weirdness in his own life as good examples. Stuck as a bird. Best friend is an alien. Girlfriend is a human. Etc. But as good as his speech is, he’s also not saying anything that the others haven’t said to some extent before in this book. They all come down on Ax at one point or another. But we have to imagine that when Tobias finally speaks up, it’s more the fact that he’s Ax’s best friend than what he actually says that finally breaks through to Ax.

Peace, Love, and Animals: Cassie doesn’t have a whole lot in this book. She makes one really strange observation towards the middle of the book that makes you question whether she’s actually paying attention to what’s going on, though. After Marco returns from the spy mission and they’re debating whether they can trust Gafinilan, she says that he must be a good guy because of the care he’s taken of Mertil. But…we’ve just established that no one really knows where Mertil even is! Why is she so sure that Gafinilan is taking such good care of him? It’s really strange. Marco even partially notes that this is a ridiculous line of reasoning, so it can’t be excused as just a weird writing mishap. The author actually just wrote Cassie as being this out of it. I mean, we all know Cassie’s not my favorite character, but this would be really dumb, even for her. But she’s also the one to note in the end that Marco’s right, that his actions do prove more than his out-there jokes, as far as being on the right side of the disability argument.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Man, it’s been a long time since I’ve disliked Ax this much. And really, the other times it at least made more sense, because it was usually early in the series and he wasn’t quite on-board with his role in the team. In other stories, we’ve seen plenty of examples of the nastiness at the heart of the Andalite culture. But this is one of the few times where we’ve seen it really come out in Ax himself. And not just once, but again, and again, AND AGAIN. It never really gets better, and in fact just gets worse and worse. He tries to claim that he never said he was human, but the Animorphs (and readers, I have to think) aren’t going for it. Especially when you have another Andalite in the book who is proving that you can get past this type of backwards thinking, regardless of how instilled it is in Andalite culture. But nope! Ax is all-in, saying again and again that Mertil is completely valueless, not worth saving, and even says as much to Mertil’s face after they rescue him. Even in the end, his small step in the right direction is so tiny that it barely counts. Especially with the insult that is wedged into it as well, that all that is worth honoring/remembering about Mertil is how he was before. At this point, between the attitude towards the disabled and the idea that it is somehow “cowardly” for an Andalite like Gafinilan to try to save himself, I think we just have to admit that the Andalites as a whole are just kind of bad people. They can be on the right side of this war, but being better than a Yeerk is a low bar, and I’m not convinced they’re doing a whole lot to elevate themselves above it.

Rachel said it best as far as Ax goes in this book. Not only Ax actually making progress on his own thinking, but the sheer number of times we have to go over his bad attitude.

<Jeez, can’t we just get over this issue, please?> Rachel said.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: There wasn’t really much as far as body horror, other than our usual descriptions of gross morphing. Marco rightly is concerned about morphing a bee, theorizing that it is also a hive-mind insect like the ants and might be equally horrible. Luckily, he has a better time of it here than he did then.

Couples Watch!: So, it’s been a long time since I’ve been able to indulge my side-ship of Marco/Rachel. As I’ve noted so many times in the past, these two are really the members of the group who have the most in common as far as their philosophies and attitudes towards the war. We still usually see them on the same side of most arguments and they still have good banter. So, it’s nice to see here that Rachel is the only member of the group to cotton on to Marco’s plan to further investigate Gafinilan’s house before letting Jake go in. They have a nice little buddy adventure scoping it out, and it really proves how in-step they both are with the other.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: Visser Three is absent from this book. I do wonder at the reasoning behind some of his choices though. I mean, from a strategic standpoint, Gafinilan and Mertil would still be strong assets on their own as Controllers, if only for their knowledge of Andalite strategy and plans. It also seems strange that Visser Three would ask him to only turn over one other Andalite or, really, even attempt this kind of trade at all. It seems more in line for him that he’d try to just set a general trap to capture all of the bandits who he’s assume are connected to these two.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Not much really, other than my general frustration at the number of times we have to hear about Ax’s horrible ideas.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: They have some good plans in this book. Their approach to Jake’s first meet-and-greet with Gafinilan is probably one of the better ones. They are all prepared in various forms of back up (Marco going in with Jake as a bug, the others waiting in the wing in their battle morphs), and Jake never flinches when Gafinilan goes off track and pulls the shredder on him. Clearly, they were expecting this and it shows with the tidy way they clean up the situation.

Favorite Quote:

One of Marco’s more lethal put-downs of Ax:

Ax interrupted,

“Okay, Ax-man,” I said, my voice a little less than steady. “I’ve been cutting you slack on this handicapped thing because you’re part of the team. But when you talk like that, like this guy is some sort of dirty, worthless thing, I have to say you’re just not one of us.”

And a nice, funny bit of dialogue when they’re going in to the train yard to rescue Meril at the end:

<Gee, Jake, have the odds ever been this bad?> I asked brightly.

<Sure,> Jake answered. <But this time we’ve got the element of surprise.>

“Andalite!”

<Oh, crap.>

Scorecard: Yeerks 10, Animorphs 15

No change! Technically this is a win for the Animorphs, but the stage remains largely unchanged by the end of it, since Mertil and Gafinilan pretty much take themselves out of the equation on both sides.

Rating: I really liked this book as a Marco book. I’m not sure about it as anything else. As I said, it was a relief to get back to a book from his narrative standpoint that wasn’t ridiculous. But man, other things about this book drove me up the wall. For one thing, Ax makes himself very, VERY unlikable in this book. And the book just keeps hitting.that.point.home. And in the end, it doesn’t even feel like he’s made progress. Beyond that, it seems to further reinforce the fact that Andalites are probably just a terrible group of beings, given what we’ve seen about their general culture. And lastly, it’s only been one book since the LAST story we’ve had dealing with new Andalites on Earth. The timing makes it feel very strange and its proximity to the last book kind of cuts the legs out of the interest of this one. After going for long in the series without anything from the Andalites, it’s a bit much to have two stories like this so close together. But, again, I liked it as a Marco book, so I came away pleased.

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: “The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein”

38255342Book: “The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein” by Kiersten White

Publishing Info: Delacorte Press, September 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley

Book Description: Elizabeth Lavenza hasn’t had a proper meal in weeks. Her thin arms are covered with bruises from her “caregiver,” and she is on the verge of being thrown into the streets . . . until she is brought to the home of Victor Frankenstein, an unsmiling, solitary boy who has everything–except a friend.

Victor is her escape from misery. Elizabeth does everything she can to make herself indispensable–and it works. She is taken in by the Frankenstein family and rewarded with a warm bed, delicious food, and dresses of the finest silk. Soon she and Victor are inseparable.

But her new life comes at a price. As the years pass, Elizabeth’s survival depends on managing Victor’s dangerous temper and entertaining his every whim, no matter how depraved. Behind her blue eyes and sweet smile lies the calculating heart of a girl determined to stay alive no matter the cost . . . as the world she knows is consumed by darkness. 

Review: A special thanks to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel!

What the hell. Let’s do ONE MORE DAY OF HORRORPALOOZA and call it even. Think of it as a late Halloween surprise. Or a birthday present for “Frankenstein”, which turned 200 this year. I was an ambitious reader as a kid, as I got it in my head in fourth grade that I could totally take on “Frankenstein”. While I know that there are absolutely kids out there who could, I was not one of those kids, and after reading a few pages I set it down and that was that… until college, when I took a class on Monsters, Robots, and Cyborgs in literature. It was then that I finally read “Frankenstein” in it’s original, Mary Shelley goodness. I really enjoyed it, but I will absolutely admit that I found it very ironic that Mary Shelley, the daughter of feminist Mary Wollstonecraft and independent woman in her own right, really only had Elizabeth for female representation in the OG science fiction horror story. So when I heard that Kiersten White had written “The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein”, a retelling of “Frankenstein” from Elizabeth’s perspective, I was stoked. Especially since White has already tackled a gender bent notorious ‘horror’ (sorta) story with her “Conqueror’s Saga”, which follows a female version of Vlad the Impaler (and which Serena adores). And if you like what she did with Lada, you will love to see this version of Elizabeth Lavenza Frankenstein.

original
It may not be this iconic, but it comes close. (source)

“The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein” has carved out space for women from a source material that had very little room for them to begin with. In “Frankenstein” Elizabeth is Victor Frankenstein’s devoted, and doomed, love interest/wife. The Monster strangles her on her wedding night, giving Victor man pain and guilt and more reason to hate his creation. In this book, Elizabeth has fought against being a victim her entire life, even though living during this time period made victimhood an all too familiar existence. In this tale, Elizabeth was taken in by the Frankenstein family to give their odd and antisocial son Victor some companionship, and Elizabeth knew that she would be safer with them than as an orphan or a ward in other circumstances. Her connection to Victor is purely a matter of survival, and she learns how to calculate and manipulate to keep him safe so that she too can be kept safe. It means that this Elizabeth makes some pretty tough, and sometimes nasty, decisions. But given that Elizabeth has no means to survive in this society as an woman, especially as an orphan in spite of her wealthy lineage, the reader can still understand why she makes these decisions. But Elizabeth isn’t the only woman in this book who has a story to tell. Justine is the governess for the Frankensteins, being a live in tutor for Victor’s younger brothers Ernest and William. She is a stand in mother to the boys, and Elizabeth’s closest friend, and like Elizabeth has come up from an abusive home to have a coveted position in a well to do family. But also like Elizabeth, Justine is almost always steps away from disgrace given her lower class upbringing and the inherent distrust in women, especially lower class ones, and unlike Elizabeth she doesn’t have the calculated shrewdness to stay ahead. These two are not only wonderful foils for each other, but also constant reminders that if women step out of line or are accused of such, the consequences can be grave.

The adaptation itself is also incredibly strong. This story runs parallel to the original “Frankenstein” tale, with various moments of flashbacks to Elizabeth and Victor’s childhoods with their dynamic of her trying to hide his odd obsession with death and anatomy lest it get him into trouble. She keeps him safe to keep herself safe, no matter what he does, no matter how horrible. You see the obsession that they have with each other, and you see how it grew, and the two narratives weave together seamlessly. Seeing Victor’s unethical journey through Elizabeth’s eyes, and having her own journey centered as the anchor of this tale, was very satisfying for me. We get to see huge events in the original story in a new way, and we also get to see what the fallout might have been like outside of Victor’s own culpability (William’s death, for example, sets off a huge domino effect that feels so unfair and tragic).  Like I said, I really like “Frankenstein”, but I LOVE that White wants to give Elizabeth a voice.The original point of “Frankenstein” is to make the reader question what makes a monster and what makes a man, and White portrays Victor in the way that people have pretty much come to view him in modern times. But that said, there were a few choices and plot points where it felt a little too mustache twirly. Just a few! Because of this, Victor felt more two dimensional than he needed to be, and I think that you can still get your point across while maintaining complexity. By the end he just felt like a bit of a cartoon. But that said, this IS Elizabeth’s story, and given that she was wonderful I could easily forgive that. And while I don’t want to spoil anything, I also really like what she did with The Monster, one of the true tragic figures in horror literature. At the end of the day, he too was a victim, and like Elizabeth a new voice is given to him, one that has some empowerment behind it.

“The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein” is a lovely and fantastic take on the “Frankenstein” story. I think that Mary Shelley would be happy to see what Kiersten White has done with her story, and what she has done with Elizabeth.

Rating 9: A gripping and suspenseful retelling of an old classic through a feminist lens, “The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein” is a must for “Frankenstein” fans.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein” is included on the Goodreads lists “YA Gothic Retellings”, and “Homages to Mary Shelley and Frankenstein”.

Find “The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “The Witch of Willow Hall”

37007910Book: “The Witch of Willow Hall” by Hester Fox

Publishing Info: Graydon House, October 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley

Book Description: New Oldbury, 1821

In the wake of a scandal, the Montrose family and their three daughters—Catherine, Lydia, and Emeline—flee Boston for their new country home, Willow Hall. The estate seems sleepy and idyllic. But a subtle menace creeps into the atmosphere, remnants of a dark history that call to Lydia, and to the youngest, Emeline.

All three daughters will be irrevocably changed by what follows, but none more than Lydia, who must draw on a power she never knew she possessed if she wants to protect those she loves. For Willow Hall’s secrets will rise, in the end…

Review: I picked up this book from NetGalley based on a promotional line comparing it to a spooky Jane Austen novel set in the U.S. Well, as we know, about 95% of the time, any comparison to Jane Austen will both A.) lead to me reading the book and B.) leave me massively disappointed. While I’ve definitely read books that fared worse (for one, for all I can tell the only reason this comparison was made was because of the time period and the “manners romance” aspect of it…which, just stop it. It’s a historical romance. There are plenty of those, and they don’t all need to be compared to Austen), this book was a disappointment to me. Maybe not a massive disappointment, but a disappointment all the same.

Lydia, the middle daughter, has always known there is something strange about herself, ever since she mildly blacked out as a child when fighting with a local bully and re-awakened to find him beaten on the street. But at this point, any concerns about scandal she may bring to the family pale in comparison to the mess that her sister, Catherine, has gotten them into. Fleeing to the country, the family now find themselves closed up in a mysterious house with many strange rumors surrounding it. But on the positive side, they have quite a charming neighbor, a gentleman named John.

There were a few strong points of this book that I want to start by highlighting. For one, I’m always going to love a good historical setting. While there were a few anachronisms here and there, nothing was too extreme to really throw me out of the book in any meaningful way. Instead, I still enjoyed the general rhythm of language, emphasis on social callings, and historical setting that were employed. As long as an author doesn’t greatly mess these basic features up, they’re always going to come away with at least a partial win under their belt as far as I’m concerned.

Secondly, as readers of this blog know, Kate is the horror fan. While I’ll read the heck out of dark fantasy novel any day of the week, I tend to steer clear of straight-up horror. And this is probably one of the closest reads to that genre that I’ve wandered into for a while. Don’t get me wrong, horror fans will likely be underwhelmed by this book, since, let’s be real, this is definitely a historical romance at its heart. But I will say that there were elements of the story that legitimately creeped me out. It didn’t help that I was reading this book the one night my husband was out of town. But I think either way, there would have been some shivers.

The other positive note is that, alongside with these legitimately creepy scenes, the book didn’t shy away from going to some pretty grim places with the story. It starts out with a pretty rough scene dealing with animal cruelty and then continues in a story that insists that even main characters aren’t safe from harsh consequences. There was one scene in particular that was lead up to and the entire time I was partially rolling my eyes, expecting the author to pull back at the last minute. Instead, she went full throttle into it and I was honestly surprised and (in a very grim sort of way) pleased that she committed to this particularly story thread.

But, even with these positives in its favor, I still greatly struggled with the story. For one thing, there were a few twists that I found entirely predictable and the story took way too long to finally come out with the “mysterious” truth. And then when this secret does land, it didn’t really seem to have much of an impact. Not only did I already suspects this particular twist, but the revelation doesn’t greatly change the situation. The family is still disgraced; the mystery behind why doesn’t have much impact on the reality of that situation.

I also didn’t particularly enjoy Catherine as a character. As the focal point of said “twisty” family rumor, there was a lot of room to do something interesting with her arc. Instead, she is written as pretty much an awful person with no redeeming qualities. There are a few moments where I thought we would see some growth or some expanded depth of character revealed, but then in only a few short pages, she goes right back to just being plain terrible with very little else in the way of character development to support her. And with this being a fact of her character, many of Lydia’s own struggles are automatically undercut. I couldn’t sympathize with her indecision or naivete when everything that the reader has seen (and we’re only exposed to Catherine for a period of a few short months, when presumably Lydia has a lifetime of experience) would point to a relationship that has been not worth fighting for for quite a while. There were a few moments towards the last third, in particular, where Lydia’s choices are so incredibly stupid that I had to actually put the book down and take a deep breath before continuing.

This same problem, Lydia’s bizarre choices and fixations, lead to my not particularly enjoying the romance at the center of this story. And this is where the Austen comparisons are coming into play, as there is a lot of miscommunication and confusion at the heart of this romance to draw out the moment of happiness until the end. But the thing is, Austen created legitimate stumbling blocks and points of misdirection in her romances. We get why Elizabeth misunderstood Darcy. We understand why Emma didn’t recognize her feelings for Knightly. But here, we have a hero who is actually spelling it out for our heroine and she, instead, is choosing to believe the terrible sister who has mislead her and betrayed her at every turn. Or she simply gives in to crippling indecision and insecurity for no real reason whatsoever.

I have very little patience for these types of heroines or these types of plot points that aren’t based in anything other than an author’s need to follow a typical romance plot storyboard where the main characters can’t get together until the final scene. If you don’t have a legitimate, plot- or story-based reason for keeping your romance in suspense, you might just need to re-think the entire thing. Either flesh out your plot/characters, or just accept that your romance needs to follow a non-traditional path. This type of forced suspense not only kills any real suspense there might be, but also damages the characters at its heart.

In the end, I was ultimately let down by this book. I’m glad I got in at least one sort-of spooky book before Halloween, but it’s too bad that other than the creepiness and general historical setting, this book didn’t have a lot going for it. If you really love historical romances with a dash of creepiness, than you might enjoy this. But if you’re wanting any depth of character from your heroine, hero, and villain, you probably need to look elsewhere.

Rating 5: Some legitimate spooky scenes were let down by a plot and set of characters that were simply too weak to carry the story.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Witch of Willow Hall” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Historical Ghost Fiction” and “Autumn Seasonal Reads.”

Find “The Witch of Willow Hall” at your library using WorldCat!

 

 

Kate’s Review: “You May Now Kill The Bride”

35603814Book: “You May Now Kill The Bride” (Return to Fear Street #1) by R.L. Stine

Publishing Info: HarperTeen, July 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Two sisters, divided by time. Each with a terrible resentment she can barely contain.

Two Fear family weddings, decades apart… Each bride will find that the ancient curse that haunts the Fears LIVES ON. It feeds off the evil that courses through their blood. It takes its toll in unexpected ways, and allows dark history to repeat itself.

In this all-new Fear Street story, family ties bind sisters together—till DEATH do they part.

Review: In time for Halloween, this week I am doing something a little different. Instead of reviewing a classic “Fear Street” book, I’m taking on the first book in R.L. Stine’s newest “Fear Street” series, “Return to Fear Street”! Just to make a note right off the bat: I am not going to treat “You May Now Kill The Bride”, or any other future “Return to Fear Street” books, like I’m treating my retro “Fear Street” re-read. Stine is approaching these books differently than he did back in the day, and therefore I am going to approach them like I would any other non-“Fear Street” novel.

“Fear Street” is back, guys, and for the most part it is not the “Fear Street” you remember from your youth. This is something of a second comeback for “Fear Street”, as before HarperTeen picked it up St. Martin’s Press did with books like “Party Games” and “The Lost Girl”. I’m not completely certain why a second reboot with a new publisher happened, but “You May Now Kill The Bride” is the inaugural novel. Now that publishers and authors know that teens are able/willing to read books that are more than one hundred and twenty pages long, and that have complex characters, “Fear Street” has to up it’s game. And “You May Now Kill The Bride” accepts that challenge, repackaging “Fear Street” for a modern teen audience.

There are two narratives in this book: the first is the story of Ruth-Ann and Rebecca Fear, two sisters in the 1920s who are part of the illustrious and wealthy Fear Family. Ruth-Ann is jealous of her beautiful and popular older sister, who is about to get married to the man that Ruth-Ann loves. As you can imagine, the wedding has disastrous results, all because of a family curse that the Fears have upon them. The second narrative is about Harmony and Marissa Fear, two sisters in modern times who are having similar problems. Marissa is about to get married to her high school sweetheart Doug, and while Harmony isn’t in love with Doug, she and Marissa have been at odds ever since Harmony messed up Marissa’s relationship with a different guy named Aiden. In a really horrific way, I should mention. The similarities don’t end there, however: not only is Harmony a witch, like Ruth-Ann was (seems that all Fears have the ability to be), but Marissa’s wedding is going to be at the same lodge that Rebecca’s wedding was. While this does sound like a pretty standard “Fear Street” tale (and in a lot of ways, it is, but more on that later), Stine has reworked the old set ups and tropes, and has improved upon the long trotted out formulas of the past.

The pacing is far more drawn out in “You May Now Kill The Bride”. Stine isn’t in any hurry to get to the action points, and he lets the characters slowly explore the scenes they are in just as he lets the exposition flow at it’s leisure. “You May Now Kill The Bride” isn’t rushing to get to action moments or cliffhangers, so when these moments do arrive they have more oomph. There is also more complexity to the plot, and the threads that exist between the 1920s story and the modern story take a lot more time to come together, with the hints and puzzle pieces being dropped throughout both timelines. Stine trusts his audience a bit more to be able to parse out the nuance and the implications, and because he trusts his readers, the book rarely feels like it’s being spoon fed. He also has a pretty good grasp on the fact that people like me, former “Fear Street” junkies turned horror aficionados, are probably going to pick this up, so little nods, winks, and references are dropped throughout the book. The one that actually made me shriek out was a character who was staying at the lodge, and what room was he in? Room 237.

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I love feeling in on the joke, sir. (source)

That isn’t to say that it doesn’t fall into familiar “Fear Street” traps. While I think that the characters are definitely more rounded in this book than previous characters have been, and while I did enjoy how Harmony was complex and sometimes morally ambiguous, there are still obvious and beaten down tropes in others. There’s the loutish uncle character we’ve seen before, the familiar sparring sister relationship, the clueless parents. And there are a number of huge plot holes, and confusing moments that I still haven’t quite wrapped my head around. There are even still some kind of dumb cliffhangers at the end of various chapters (though he has definitely toned it down from the past). But these weaknesses are kind of just what you have to expect to come with the territory when it comes to “Fear Street”, and in some, odd ways it vaguely adds to the charm of this reboot, if only because it feels familiar and comforting that some things never change.

I didn’t really go in expecting much from “You May Now Kill The Bride”, and I ended up enjoying it. If this is what “Fear Street” is going to be for this new generation of teenagers, I am very excited for the kind of horror fans it is going to nurture.

And with that, Horrorpalooza has come to an end! From me to you, I am hoping that you all have a FABULOUS Halloween tomorrow!

Rating 7: Solid for a new “Fear Street” novel, “You May Now Kill The Bride” is a new return to an old favorite series that exceeded many of my expectations. It’s fun, it’s creative, and it’s giving a new feel to an old favorite.

Reader’s Advisory:

“You May Now Kill The Bride” isn’t on any Goodreads lists, but it should quite obviously be on “Best Fear Street Books”, and, for funsies, “Books With a Wedding Theme”.

Find “You May Now Kill The Bride” at your library using WorldCat!