Serena’s Review: “Jackaby”

20312462Book: “Jackaby” by William Ritter

Publishing Info: Algonquin Young Readers, September 2014

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: Newly arrived in New Fiddleham, New England, 1892, and in need of a job, Abigail Rook meets R. F. Jackaby, an investigator of the unexplained with a keen eye for the extraordinary–including the ability to see supernatural beings. Abigail has a gift for noticing ordinary but important details, which makes her perfect for the position of Jackaby’s assistant. On her first day, Abigail finds herself in the midst of a thrilling case: A serial killer is on the loose. The police are convinced it’s an ordinary villain, but Jackaby is certain it’s a nonhuman creature, whose existence the police–with the exception of a handsome young detective named Charlie Cane–deny.

Review: This was actually a book club book that I read a few years ago, but I wanted to review it here on the blog since I’m currently reading the sequel and I’m a librarian, so I’m naturally a completionist! Gotta have em all!

When this book showed up on our bookclub list, I was very excited. It was marketed as “Doctor Who” meets Sherlock Holmes, and while I’m not a complete nut for “Doctor Who” all told, I do love its wacky take on fantasy and science fiction. So combining that with “Sherlock Holmes” (my love of which has been well documented), seemed like it should be something that would be right up my alley! Ultimately, while I did like it, it was a bit more on the “meh” end of things than I would have liked.

Abigail Rook, fresh off the boat with dashed dreams of being an archaeologist like her father in hand, falls into a strange apprenticeship with an even stranger man: Jackaby, a paranormal investigator. Story aside (I’ll get to that a bit later on), this book lives and dies on these two main characters and right here is where we get into the general feeling of indifference.

Abigail herself is a likable character. Her personality, drive, and ability to make her way, even as ineptly as she does here, did feel a bit out of character for the time period. Yes, we’re on the cusp of the turn of the century, but there would still be some harsh realities facing her as a young woman alone in a new country. There’s nothing egregious going on as far as anachronisms or anything, but Abigail did feel a bit out of place for the time. That aside, I did enjoy her as a protagonist. She serves as our eyes into this new world, and her confusion is our confusion. As the story progresses, it becomes clear what role she will play as the Watson to Jackaby’s Holmes. Jackaby is nothing if not dense when it comes to social clues, and here is where Abigail fits in this puzzle. It’s not a super creative take, but it works for the story and she plays her part well.

I especially enjoyed the way Ritter approaches the small amount of romance in this story. Even that sentence is misleading as any romance that is seen here is strictly in the foreshadowing category. But what is most relieving is the fact that it is clear that this romantic angle will decidedly NOT focus on Abigail/Jackaby. I had definite concerns that this was going to be the romantic couple of the series, or *shudders* one corner of a love triangle. But, thankfully, we are introduced to a new character outside of the primary duo who seems to be set up to play this role going forward.

Jackaby himself was…ok? Honestly, I think some of my problems with the book had to do with him as a character. He was a bit too “preciously wacky,” if that makes sense? He’s obviously a creation based on  both Holmes and the Doctor, but the portrayal definitely falls more closely to the latter. It’s simply not unique enough. Jackaby could practically BE the Doctor, and it starts to feel derivative rather quickly.

To end on a good note, the world-building and the paranormal elements that were included were interesting and more unique. The villain character and several of the other beings were not the ones we’re used to seeing in this type of story, and I enjoyed diving into some of the history of these creatures. The supporting cast is also interesting, including the previously mentioned love interest who turns out to be more than he seems, as well as Jackaby’s current roommates, a ghost woman with unfinished business, and Jackaby’s previous apprentice who now lives an unfortunate, if still scholarly, life as a duck.

There were definitely strengths of the book, but it’s always going to be a struggle if the title character doesn’t live up to expectations. That said, if you enjoy “Doctor Who” and Sherlock Holmes this still might be a fun book to check out. Stay tuned for my upcoming review of the sequel “Beastly Bones.”

Rating 6: If I could, I’d give it a solid 6.5. Better than average, but rather underwhelming.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Jackaby” is included on these Goodreads lists: “YA & Middle Grade Sherlock Holmes” and “Victorian Spiritualism Fiction.”

Find “Jackaby” at your library using Worldcat!

 

Kate’s Review: “I’m Thinking of Ending Things”

27274343Book: “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” by Iain Reid

Publishing Info: Gallery/Scout Press, June 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: You will be scared. But you won’t know why…

I’m thinking of ending things. Once this thought arrives, it stays. It sticks. It lingers. It’s always there. Always.

Jake once said, “Sometimes a thought is closer to truth, to reality, than an action. You can say anything, you can do anything, but you can’t fake a thought.”

And here’s what I’m thinking: I don’t want to be here.

In this deeply suspenseful and irresistibly unnerving debut novel, a man and his girlfriend are on their way to a secluded farm. When the two take an unexpected detour, she is left stranded in a deserted high school, wondering if there is any escape at all. What follows is a twisted unraveling that will haunt you long after the last page is turned.

In this smart, suspenseful, and intense literary thriller, debut novelist Iain Reid explores the depths of the human psyche, questioning consciousness, free will, the value of relationships, fear, and the limitations of solitude. Reminiscent of Jose Saramago’s early work, Michel Faber’s cult classic Under the Skin, and Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk about Kevin, I’m Thinking of Ending Things is an edgy, haunting debut. Tense, gripping, and atmospheric, this novel pulls you in from the very first page…and never lets you go.

Review: I am constantly running the risk, given my fiction tastes and predilections, that when I close a book I may be saying to myself ‘what the EFF was THAT?!’ And knowing this, I kind of try to brace myself for it, especially when a book is described as ‘edgy’ or ‘literary’ in a horror sense. Usually this jives with me just fine. With “I’m Thinking of Ending Things”, I’m having a harder time making sense of what I read, what it meant, and what I thought of it. And I’ve been thinking about it! It’s one of those books that I think I’d have to go back and read again to really pick up on everything and to totally be able to unpack it. But…. I don’t have time, man. Not right now. Right now, there are other books to read.

So now I need to figure out what to say about this book without giving things away. Tricky tricky tricky.

Well for starters, Our Narrator, nameless as she is, has a very well done stream of consciousness voice. Her thoughts and feelings flow out, in regards to her boyfriend Jake, parts of her life before the events of the story, or just random passing musings. We know that she and Jake are going to meet his parents at their farm, her first meeting with them; we know that she’s been getting mysterious, stalker-esque phone calls; and we know that she’s thinking of ‘ending things’ with Jake, certain that it just won’t last. Why she thinks this is unclear, but her mind is pretty much made up. We know far more about Jake than we do Our Narrator, as she talks about how analytical he is, how his personality ticks, how he has bursts of passion but is almost always grounded in his earnestness. He works in a lab and is quite brilliant, but never lords it over her or puts on airs about it. It’s really quite stunning that we learn so much about Jake through her eyes, and yet learn so little about her outside of bits and pieces of stories.

This book builds up with unease from the get go. Our Narrator shares a number of disconcerting stories as the book goes on, stories from her experience in the past or moments happening as we read the book. They are always less in your face scary, and more ‘well that’s just weird and unsettling’. Like seeing a very tall man outside her window at night when she was a child, only seeing his chest and his hands and he wrung them together. Or the story of a neighborwoman bringing cookies to her family, asking her if she was ‘good or bad’, and then the Mom getting food poisoning from said cookies. It’s little things that just set your nerves on the slightest edge, that by the time you reach the serious crux of things that’s referenced in the description, you feel like you’re about to fall out of your chair. The suspense is taut and well done, and the imagery of shadows, unfamiliar hallways and faces, it’s all placed very well. You see clues and hints that come back later, but then when you’re done with it all you still have to go back and find everything. It’s meticulously crafted, and it definitely unsettled me.

But at the same time, the big confrontation came so late in the book, and it was so haphazard and chaotic, I had a hard time following it. Plus, there would be moments where the reader would be taken right out of it again, as Our Narrator would start on a tangent of waxing poetic on other, not as pressing matters as, say, the fact she’s lost in a strange labyrinthian school and can’t find her boyfriend. These moments of stopping and starting made the climax feel interrupted and jostled. There were other interruptions in the narrative as well, as between chapters we would get snippets of an italicized conversation between two faceless, nameless people, commenting on a terrible crime that has occurred. Obviously it has to do with what we’re all leading up to, but these interruptions worked a bit better because they felt like placeholders, and because they did give us more clues and puzzle pieces.

So what did I think of this book overall? I think I liked it. I know it disturbed me. I didn’t see where it was going at first, but then looking back at clues and references it started to come together. The problem was that getting there was so crazed and maniacal that at the end I was more overwhelmed than satisfied.

Rating 6: I THINK I pretty much liked it okay? But it gets kind of disorienting and also has the ability to take us into journeys that would amount to nothing, and distrupt the plot. It’s well done in a lot of ways, but you’ll have to read it twice (or more) to get it, I think.

Reader’s Advisory:

“I’m Thinking of Ending Things” is included on the Goodreads lists “ALA Midwinter 2016”, and “Thrillers with Big Plot Twists”.

Find “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” at your library using WorldCat!

Emily’s Corner: “The Blue Castle”

20170202_140222Emily and I (Serena) have been friends since the first week of freshman year of college. Other than a lost purse (I did the losing, Emily did the calming), take a wild guess as to what we bonded over? Yes, that is correct: books. And the fact that we both had plans to be English majors and would go on to coordinate our schedules to have as many similar classes as possible! All that said, Emily has agreed to be a semi-regular contributor to our blog, so keep your eyes open for posts from her in “Emily’s Corner” on random Mondays going forward!

 

95693Book: “The Blue Castle” by Lucy Maud Montgomery

Publishing Info: 1908

Where Did I Get this Book: Amazon. Though book cover purists be warned; when I tried to purchase this book for a friend they only had a recently published version that has a horrendous new book cover that makes it look like an adolescent romance novel!

Book Description: Valancy lives a drab life with her overbearing mother and prying aunt. Then a shocking diagnosis from Dr. Trent prompts her to make a fresh start. For the first time, she does and says exactly what she feels. As she expands her limited horizons, Valancy undergoes a transformation, discovering a new world of love and happiness. One of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s only novels intended for an adult audience, “The Blue Castle” is filled with humour and romance.

Review:

Emily here, I’m a college friend of Serena’s, fellow book nerd and English major. I have gleefully followed the Library Ladies since its inception, so I was delighted when Serena asked me to write a guest post. Picking a first book to review is almost as hard as picking a favorite book, but the one that always comes to mind is “The Blue Castle” by Lucy Maud Montgomery.

Most people know of L.M. Montgomery because of “Anne of Green Gables,” but I’ve been surprised by how few people (even fellow English nerds!) know of her stand-alone books. This one is a gem. This is the book I re read every year, the book that I foist upon friends and strangers alike.

I discovered “The Blue Castle” at the library my sophomore year of high school and instantly fell in love with the timid-turned-feisty protagonist. Valancy Sterling is the snubbed and put-upon spinster of her family. At the ripe old age of 29 (!) she is considered a failure and a dull one at that. (It’s a toss-up which is worse to be in the Sterling clan.) After receiving life-altering news, she flips a Victorian finger to her family and sets off on her own adventure.

It’s not a new concept by any means, but the genius of this book is in the hilarious characters. Yes, we have the typical overbearing and aloof mother, the whiny aunts, and the golden-child cousin who can do no wrong, and the pompous uncle who finally gets put in his place at the end. But Montgomery is a master at writing characters who shine, whose flaws and virtues alike liven up what would otherwise be a trope. You get the sense that each character, no matter how small or unimportant to the plotline, has their own significant life story.

The characters that truly shine are Valancy and the two male leads. No, this isn’t a love triangle scenario, thank goodness, but each man is a hero to her in his own unique way. The first is the aptly titled Roaring Abel, a carpenter and a drunk, but also a thoughtful and generous man. His character problem is what opens the door for Valancy to escape her domineering family.

The second man is of course the love interest, but here is where Montgomery throws another twist in the story. Barney Snaith does not love Valancy. “Never even thought of such a thing,” he says to her very face! You’ll have to read the book to see how Valancy gets around this one, and I assure you the result is both delightful and decidedly unladylike!

Overall, what I love most about this book is watching Valancy’s progression from dutiful daughter to a someone who creates a colorful life for herself. And yes, gets a happy ending after all.

Rating 10:  This is the finest that Montgomery has to offer!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Blue Castle” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Best Lesser-Known Books” and “Anne and Friends.”

Find “The Blue Castle” at your library using Worldcat!

Serena’s Review: “The FitzOsbornes in Exile”

7389741Book: “The FitzOsbornes in Exile” by Michelle Cooper

Publishing Info: Random House Australia, April 2010

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

Book Description: Forced to leave their island kingdom, Sophie FitzOsborne and her eccentric family take shelter in England. Sophie’s dreams of making her debut in shimmering ballgowns are finally coming true, but how can she enjoy her new life when they have all lost so much?

Aunt Charlotte is ruthless in her quest to see Sophie and Veronica married off by the end of the Season, Toby is as charming and lazy as ever, Henry is driving her governess to the brink of madness, and the battle of wills between Simon and Veronica continues. Can Sophie keep her family together, when everything seems to be falling apart?

An enticing glimpse into high society, the cut and thrust of politics as nations scramble to avert world war, and the hidden depths of a family in exile, struggling to find their place in the world.

Review: Kate and I read the first book in this young adult trilogy, “A Brief History of Montemaray,” for bookclub and as I was more enamored by it than she was, I decided to continue with the trilogy. Especially since the ending of the last book left a large, lingering question mark over the future of the FitzOsborne family and their small, island kingdom.

Driven away from their remote home, this book refocuses the story on more typical, historical fare: debutantes, dinner parties, and their poor Aunt Charlotte’s ever-long struggle to marry off her young charges. But, sprinkled within these more frivolous aspects, was a running commentary on the dramatic, and often tragic, historical happenings of the time.

While the first book took place over a few short months, was limited by its location, and was told from the perspective of a much younger character, this story expands itself in every way. The book takes place over the course of 2-3 years, leaving us with an 18-year-old Sophie by the end of it. Throughout the time, we see her mature as a narrator, and, even more interestingly, watch the slow shifts that went on throughout the world during this tumultuous time period.

Without going into a political rant, I was particularly fascinated by the slow, steady evolution of these events. As a reader, we know how these things turn out and have the perspective of time to influence our opinions. Through this book, we see how small concessions and small moments of willfully turning a blind eye to the plight of those we (as a country or as a smaller group) deem disconnected from us can lead to very negative events. There was also a particularly fascinating bit where Sophie and Simon discuss the appeal of these types of populists leaders, how their message can be so easily tuned to  the wishes and prejudices of each specific audience group, and how broad promises and the creations of “others” to blame can have massive appeal when people are desperate.

Beyond the political and historical aspects of the story, I enjoyed watching these characters change and grow throughout the story. The first book gives us such a brief glimpse into their lives, that, while I loved many of them, it was also easy for each to fall into stereotypes (even if I loved some of those stereotypes like bookworm!Veronica). But here, we see how Toby’s struggles with school more broadly reflect his confusion with his place in his family and the world. How Veronica’s political and historical interests stand up against the onslaught of British high society. How Sophie learns to see the strengths in her own, more quiet, personality.

I also loved the introduction of a few new characters. Aunt Charlotte was brilliant. Similar to the Dowager Countess from Downton Abbey, she is a character that is written in a way that while she spouts some rather unfeeling, aristocratic nonsense, she does it in such a comical way that the reader ends up loving her for it.

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(source)

There is also the introduction of Julia’s brother, Rupert, who seems to be set up as a potential love interest for Sophie. And, as he spends large portions of the book carrying around an injured doormouse in his pocket and feeding the squirrels, he seems quite suitably sweet for our lovely main character.

I very much enjoyed “The FitzOsbornes in Exile.” In fact, I would say that it was even better than the first, benefiting from a more extended timeline, a closer connection to historical happenings, and more mature characters.

Rating 9: An excellent, young adult historical fiction piece. Definitely recommended for fans of the WWII era who are interested in the quieter side and effects of the build up to the war.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The FitzOsbornes in Exile” can be found on the following Goodreads lists: “World War II England” and “YA Debutantes.”

Find “The FitzOsbornes in Exile” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously Reviewed: “A Brief History of Montmaray”

Kate’s Review: “The X-Files Origins: Devil’s Advocate”

29244734Book: “The X-Files Origins: Devil’s Advocate” by Jonathan Maberry

Publishing Info: Imprint, January 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: How did Fox Mulder become a believer? How did Dana Scully become a skeptic? The X-Files Origins has the answers in this young adult origin story.

The X-Files Origins: Devil’s Advocate will explore the teen years of Dana Scully, the beloved character depicted in the cult-favorite TV show The X-Files. Her story is set in the spring of 1979, when serial murder, the occult, and government conspiracy were highlighted in the news.

The book will follow Scully as she experiences life-changing events that set her on the path to becoming an FBI agent.

Review: Who is one of my very favorite TV queens? Who is one of the TV characters that I love for her inspirational strength, her smarts, her snark, and her perseverance? Who is up there in my personal hall of fame of badass ladies on the small screen?

Dana. Freakin’. Scully.

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You rang, fives? (source)

So the very moment that I discovered that both Mulder and Scully of “The X-Files” fame got their own origin stories, I knew that I’d save Scully for second. I wanted to savor her. I wanted to bask in her story and her background. Jonathan Maberry had a huge character to take on, and I really wanted him to do her justice. And it took me a little while, but eventually I decided that Maberry did.

This story, since again we don’t get much background in the description, finds Dana as a fifteen year old adjusting to a new life in Maryland. She’s close with her sister Melissa, and trying to fit in in school, even though she knows she’s more introverted and reserved than her sister and her peers. And she’s also been having dreams, visions of violence and carnage. She’s seeing an ‘angel’ in her dreams, an angel who is killing. As teenagers in the area keep dying in accidents, Scully can’t shake the feeling that they are connected to the dreams that she doesn’t understand. What she doesn’t know is that she may be in a more dangerous situation than she realizes.

So this book takes the “Scully is a psychic’ theory and totally runs with it. There have been hints at her intuitive abilities throughout the series (in “Beyond the Sea” she sees a vision of her father right before his death; “Irresistible” finds Scully kidnapped, and she sees her kidnapper’s face shifting into different iterations of evil), but it was never truly confirmed. But I liked that Maberry decided to take this theory and give it a lot of life in her background. I was kind of wondering how he would make it believable that she could have psychic visions in her youth, and then have such a skeptical foundation in the series when it starts. Without spoiling anything, I can tell you that he pulls it off, and that I really liked how he did it. And seeing Dana react and manage these very scary visions was fascinating to watch. I think that she is still very much within her character, even as a fifteen year old. She feels younger and perhaps less secure in herself, but still feels like Dana Scully, even when in a situation that is so not something you’d think she’d be in. I sort of liked the mystery that she had to solve, because it’s foundation was a good harkening to her faith, her abilities, and her ultimate road to skepticism. I had a feeling I knew what was going on from the get go, so it wasn’t terribly surprising in it’s completion. But it wasn’t about the mystery itself for me. It was about how Dana was going to solve it with her strengths and wits.

I really enjoyed seeing the Scully family as well. In the series you get to know a few of her family members, specifically her sister Melissa and her mother Margaret, though you also get some solid and touching insight into Dana’s relationship with her Dad. You know that she was close to him in a lot of ways, from her reaction to his death in Season 1, to their nicknames for each other (Ahab and Starbuck!), to her seeing him in other visions as the series went on. In “Devil’s Advocate” we see how that close relationship is also a bit strained, and that Captain Scully was a bit more closed off from his family than maybe we realized. There were many moments between Dana and Captain Scully that made me misty eyed, as well as a wonderful scene with them reading from their favorite book “Moby Dick”. Whenever he called her Starbuck, I practically began to cry. I also loved seeing Dana and Melissa close and partners in crime, because their relationship on the show, while loving, was a bit contentious because they were so different. Having Melissa and Dana go to a New Age coffee shop and store for yoga and advice from local New Age practitioners just tickled me completely. Maberry also made an interesting choice of taking one of the Men in Black from the original series (the Red Haired Man), and gave him a role in a side plot. This was kind of a weaker part of this book for me, just because it took away from the main plot. In the Mulder book the surveillance parts involving X and Cigarette Smoking Man felt like a foregone conclusion; Mulder’s life had been intertwined with Cigarette Smoking Man since the beginning. Scully having this surveillance stuff in her life just felt… odd. Yes, later in life that aspect was there. I just had a harder time swallowing it in her youth.

I generally liked the new characters that Maberry created to interact with Scully, be it Corinda the New Age guru (her shop also makes an appearance in the Mulder book “Agent of Chaos”), or Scully’s love interest Ethan. Like in “Agent of Chaos” I was skeptical that a love interest had to happen in this book, since we know that he’s not going to be around ultimately, but Ethan was an okay addition. He was really there to give Scully some support from someone who was more like her, which I appreciated. Her relationship with him was also a good platform to show some of the casual sexism that Dana, as a fifteen year old girl in the late 1970s, could run into, even from someone who really does care about her. Seeing her push back against that was very gratifying, and seeing Ethan try to learn from it was refreshing and a good message to modern teens who may read this. While Ethan wasn’t as strong of an original character as Phoebe was in “Agent of Chaos”, I liked having him there for Dana to bounce more down to Earth ideas off of and help her find her voice. I liked that their partnership was it’s own thing, not just a predecessor to her eventual partnership with Mulder.

“The X-Files Origins: Devil’s Advocate”, showcased my girl Scully. I know that we probably won’t get anymore teen books about Scully and Mulder, just because it would feel a bit absurd to take it too far with their backgrounds, but I really enjoyed how Scully was showcased in this one. It did a good job of speculating how she became the person she was when “The X-Files” started.

Rating 8: While the mystery itself wasn’t as entertaining as it could have been, the character study of Dana Scully as a questioning teenager was incredibly effective, and very well done.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The X-Files Origins: Devil’s Advocate” is fairly new and not on any Goodreads lists yet. But I think it would fit in on “X-Files Related Books”, and “YA Novels about Psychic Abilities”.

Find “The X-Files Origins: Devil’s Advocate” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Magic Binds”

17333174Book: “Magic Binds” by Illona Andrews

Publishing Info: Ace, September 2016

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: Kate and the former Beast Lord Curran Lennart are finally making their relationship official. But there are some steep obstacles standing in the way of their walk to the altar…

Kate’s father, Roland, has kidnapped the demigod Saiman and is slowly bleeding him dry in his never-ending bid for power. A Witch Oracle has predicted that if Kate marries the man she loves, Atlanta will burn and she will lose him forever. And the only person Kate can ask for help is long dead.

The odds are impossible. The future is grim. But Kate Daniels has never been one to play by the rules…

Review: From all accounts, the Kate Daniels series is set to be a ten book run. And this, the 9th, definitely feels like it is the setup for a grand finale, hitting all the right notes by growing the conflict with Roland, raising the psychological stakes for our heroine, and setting up a clear end game for the story as a whole.

The last few books were a bit middling, if I’m honest. As I said in my last review of this series, with Roland on the scene any other “big bad” feels superficial and like a place-holder whose only purpose is to delay the big eventual show-down between Kate and her father. In this book, we’ve arrived at that show-down. Or, at least, to the initial skirmishes that lead up to it.

For a series that started out fairly firmly rooted in the urban fantasy/romance genre, I feel like the story has really come into its own as a family drama. And what a dysfunctional, all-powerful, ego-maniacal family it is! While Curran still plays his role, his and Kate’s relationship has felt steady and well-defined for some time now. And I really appreciate that after the one stumble with relationship shenanigans a few books ago, Andrews hasn’t felt the need to fiddle with this aspect much. Instead, the focus has shifted to Kate’s growing understanding and relationship (?) with her remaining family, in whatever form they may now be.

Kate’s aunt, the “City Eater,” who was killed off a few books ago makes a refreshing re-appearance. That character was brilliant the first time around, both as a legitimately threatening enemy for Kate, but almost more importantly as another bridge into Kate’s family history. Here, this secondary role is even more strongly focused in upon. Kate is feeling the repercussions of her claim on Atlanta, an action that has triggered a well of power and family ambition. Not only do we get Kate’s aunt back with all of her amazing snark, but we even get to meet whatever remains of Kate’s grandma, a powerful being whom Roland has trapped to serve as an energy source to power his massive prison. There’s a lot of focus on the extensive history of Kate’s family with some beautiful looks back to what their world had been like. These flashes, combined with some quiet moments between Roland and Kate, served to much better flesh out Roland’s character and motivations.

Roland himself was great as always. Here we really begin to see the pay-off of taking this long (several books worth of time) to fully flesh out a villain. Roland is so many things all at once: loving father, murdering sociopath, sympathetic hero, misguided maniac. The reader both despises him, but also understands him. With Kate herself struggling with the “Dark Side,” for lack of a better word, it is easy to see Roland’s own fall from hero to villain. His relationship with Kate is so tragic, and yet Andrews saves the book from melancholy with trademark wit. At one point Roland is both threatening to end Kate while also being offended on her behalf about the “shameful lack of feasting” that is planned for her wedding. It’s lovely.

There are few short mini-adventures in this story, and those were the weaker points for me. They were fun enough and we run into a few interesting new creatures (a spunky pegasus is a high point), but given the added depth that we were seeing in the other parts of the book, these adventures also felt a bit too simplistic.

My only other quibble was with the very end of the story, and it was an event that had been literally prophesied from the very beginning of the book, if not the book before even. And really, this quibble is only a personal choice as *spoiler warning* not typically being a fan of pregnancy storylines in fantasy is purely on me.

All in all, I very much enjoyed this book. It actually might be one of my favorites in the series. The stakes are higher, the personal conflict is greater, the backstory is richer, and the characters have all come into their own.

Rating 8: A great penultimate story!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Magic Binds” is included in these Goodreads lists: “Vamp’s, Were’s, Sorcerer’s/Witches & Elves “  and “Girl with a Sword and an Animal Friend.”

Find “Magic Binds” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously Reviewed: “Kate Daniels Series” and  “Magic Shifts”

 

A Revisit to Fear Street: “The New Girl”

9851339Book: “The New Girl” (Fear Street #1) by R.L. Stine

Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, August 1989

Where Did I Get This Book: Ebook from the library!

Book Description: Welcome to Fear Street.

Don’t listen to the stories they tell you about Fear Street. Wouldn’t you rather explore it yourself…and see if its dark terrors and unexplained mysteries are true? You’re not afraid, are you?

Dying for a Kiss

She’s pale as a ghost, blond, and eerily beautiful—and she seems to need him as much as he wants her. Cory Brooks hungers for Anna Corwin’s kisses, drowns in her light blue eyes. He can’t get her out of his mind. And the trouble has only begun: Shadyside High’s star gymnast is losing sleep, skipping practice, and acting weird. All the guys have noticed, but only Cory’s friend Lisa knows the truth: Anna Corwin is dead and living on Fear Street. Now Cory must explore its menacing darkness to discover the truth. He has already been warned: come to Fear Street and you’re dead!

Had I Read This Before: No

The Plot: Sweet baby Jesus, jumping back into this series right at the beginning and I have learned that it didn’t slowly turn into a batshit bananasfest, it was ALWAYS this way. We first visit Fear Street because of high school gymnast and lovesick puppy Cory, a boy who sees a beautiful new girl in the cafeteria one day and just has to find out who she is. He’s oblivious to the fact that his best friend Lisa is in love with him, and would rather cuddle up next to this blonde who ‘haunts’ him and practically ‘floats’ down the hallway. All Lisa knows is that girl is named Anna Corwin. After asking around and getting a phone operator complicit in his stalking (she gives him Anna’s address even though she isn’t supposed to, because he ‘seems nice enough’ and ‘it’s [her] last night anyway’), Cory calls the number only to be told there is no Anna there.

Not to be deterred in his obsession, Cory asks Anna if the number he has is right, to which she says yes. But when he calls, a woman answers and says that Anna isn’t there, despite the fact he can hear her screeching in the background. So, deciding that this is obviously a messed up situation, he ventures off to Fear Street, the street that Anna lives on. And this is where it starts to get crazy. A man answers the door and tells Cory that Anna isn’t there, because Anna is DEAD!!!!!!

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Cory in that moment. (source)

Still undeterred, Cory refuses to believe that she’s dead in spite of the fact that he’s presented with newspaper articles, testimony, and an obituary that Anna Corwin is dead and buried. By all accounts, she’s no more, ceased to be, etc. He even breaks some pretty serious privacy ethics when he looks for her file in school and cannot find one for her. Signs are pointing to ghost. So how come whenever he kisses her (and boy does Anna REALLY like to kiss him, like all the time), she feels alive, warm, and supple? And why is it that she’s always asking him to save her and take her away and be with her FOREVER AND EVER AND EVER? Nothing fishy about that. Everything must be on the up and up.

Well, after a few too many meetings, Cory finds out that Anna’s brother Brad wants to keep him away from her, so much so that she’s taken out of school for a bit. Though Cory continues to pine, when Lisa asks him to the Turnaround Dance, he accepts, only to find out that Anna has returned, saw the whole exchange, and also wants to go with him. By complete coincidence, Lisa later opens her locker to find that someone has thrown a dead and gutted cat inside of it, with a note that says she is up next for the killing. Cory is convinced that it MUST be Brad, Anna’s deranged brother!

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Totally. (source)

Come the night of the dance, Cory goes with Lisa even though he really wishes he was there with Anna, and then Brad shows up and shoves Lisa down some steps, though he claims it’s a mistake. But, mistake or not, dude, that’s uncool. Luckily Lisa gets away with just a swollen ankle. The harassing phone calls up until this point seem like cake now.

Cory eventually confronts Anna about her crazy brother over pizza, and Anna tells him that she and Brad had a sister named Willa, who fell down the basement stairs. It broke the Mom, and Brad as well, and now they moved to Shadyside as a family to start over. Anna says that Brad, sad about Willa and dealing with a recently dead girlfriend named Emily (who died in a plane crash, what the HELL?!), got the names mixed up when he sent the obit to the newspaper. Hence why everyone thinks Anna is dead. It’s not Anna, it’s Willa who’s dead. Because of course. Not strange at all. But then Brad is outside the pizza parlor, staring in at them, Anna runs off.

SO WE ARE BACK AT THE CORWIN HOUSE, and Cory comes to take Anna away with him to keep her safe from Brad. But as he’s confronting Brad, suddenly Anna starts to turn exceedingly violent with a letter opener. She takes a few swings at Brad, and then turns on Cory when he tells her to maybe knock it off. And it is then (after an asinine moment with a window) that we find out that Anna is NOT Anna, she is WILLA. Willa, jealous of Anna, killed her sister, and Brad covered up for her, but never got her the help she needed, thinking he could keep her safe. Good one, Dr. Frasier Crane.

Our story concludes with Willa possibly getting the help she needs, and Cory and Lisa finally coming together as a man and his silver medal. And that, guys, is how the very first “Fear Street” book ends.

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(source)

Okay, let’s unpack it all, shall we?

Body Count: One, being Anna before the events of the actual story. Well, and a cat. So I guess two. Poor cat.  A pretty low number for a Fear Street book, really.

Romance Rating: 5. Anna was far too creepy from the beginning and Cory was so heartless to/oblivious about Lisa until basically the end. But ultimately I was happy that Lisa was happy because she was pretty decent.

Bonkers Rating: A solid 9. I expected this kind of craziness from later books, but apparently it was there from the get go.

Fear Street Relevance: This book introduced Fear Street as a concept and a lot of the important plot points took place on it, so I will give it a 9 in this category as well.

Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:

“The passenger door swung open. He started to scream.”

….. And then we find out it’s just Anna opening the car door. Stine is known for these kinds of things. Sometimes you gotta improvise when every chapter needs to end with suspense!

That’s So Dated! Moments: So the copy I found of this book was actually an updated version, trying to make “Fear Street” hip and relevant to the youth of the early 2000s. But it was done in an incredibly lazy way, such as replacing a Walkman with an iPod and Phil Collins songs with Missy Elliott songs (I did my research), and yet leaving in references to video stores, records, and actual human phone operators. PET PEEVE! Will be looking for the originals from now on.

Best Quote:

“Go get more paper towels,” Lisa said. “Ucccch, I think I’m going to be sick. It’s a good thing I hate cats.”

That’s Lisa after she finds the dead cat in her locker. I swear, they’re all psychos in Shadyside .

So “The New Girl” really gets things going with the Revisit to Fear Street! Next up is “The Prom Queen”, Fear Street #15 (I’m jumping ahead just this once because I had access to that one right away, I’ll be trying to go in order after that).