Book Club Review: “Scythe”

28954189We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing bookclub running for the last several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is a “Dewey Call Number” theme. This book comes from a Dewey Decimal Call Number range, and has to fit the theme of that range.

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

Book: “Scythe” by Neil Shusterman

Publishing Info: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, November 2016

Where Did I Get this Book: Giveaway from ALA 2017!

Dewey Decimal Call Number: 600s (Medicine and Technology)

Book Description: Thou shalt kill.

A world with no hunger, no disease, no war, no misery. Humanity has conquered all those things, and has even conquered death. Now scythes are the only ones who can end life—and they are commanded to do so, in order to keep the size of the population under control.

Citra and Rowan are chosen to apprentice to a scythe—a role that neither wants. These teens must master the “art” of taking life, knowing that the consequence of failure could mean losing their own.

Kate’s Thoughts

This book had been on my list but had never quite made it to my pile, so imagine my delight when Serena picked it for book club! I love Shusterman and his writing, and the premise itself is just like catnip to me. A future where people have conquered death, but still have to cull the population somehow, so they recruit ‘Scythes’ to do it? YES YES YES!

And it really lived up to my hopes and dreams and expectations. I liked that Shusterman thought outside the box for this book, giving us less dystopia and more utopia, but with the consequences a utopia would have. The idea that a person can regenerate to their younger physical self while maintaining everything else in their life is rich with possibilities, and I feel like Shusterman really did a good job of world building. From the Thunderhead to the small cultural things (like ‘splatting’, which sounds like the planking fad but with jumping off buildings because you can be rebuilt), he really made something that I wanted to explore to its limits.

I also really loved the characters. You have your veteran Scythes, Curie and Farraday, who both have their own approaches to ‘gleaming’, the process where they remove people from the population by killing them. Both Farraday and Curie end up as two of the mentors to our protagonists, Citra and Rowan, and their philosophies show that great care and reflection can be taken towards their jobs. An overarching theme in this is that people who are Scythes don’t want the job, and because they don’t want the job means they are the ones who should do the job. Both Farraday and Curie have these deep emotional moments surrounding that philosophy, and they were very likable and incredibly poignant. Between our protagonists I liked Citra more, but I think that’s because her arc was more about finding that balance between the job they must do, and how they can do it in the most thoughtful way possible. Rowan fell into a more used trope, as he is ultimately trained by a renegade Scythe named Goddard whose love for Scything is deeply disturbing, and his methods reflect that. I liked Rowan, I especially liked him with Citra, but where he ends up and where it looks like he’s going to go is less interesting because I feel like, as of now, we’ve seen it before.

I will say, though, that their relationship and their innate pull towards each other is going to make for a VERY interesting path in future books.

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Frankly, I’m hoping for a Veronica/JD from “Heathers” dynamic. (source)

Speaking of, I cannot wait for “Thunderhead” to come out. I’m so far down the list at the library, but oh MAN will it be worth it!

Serena’s Thoughts

I chose this book for bookclub even though I had already read (and reviewed) it. But that’s how much I enjoyed it! And it fit perfectly with my designated Dewey section which had a focus on medicine and technology. The whole story is about the effects that a perfected medical system, one that allows everyone to live forever, has on society. And for technology, we have the Thunderhead, the seemingly neutral AI that directs much of this world’s systems.

I won’t recap my entire previous review, but much of what I said then remained true in my appreciation of the book a second time. The sheer scope of creativity and attention to detail is what makes this world stand out as so fully realized and believable. Every minute aspect of society is touched by this one essential change. Without death, how would family life change? How would one approach day-to-day things like going to work or school? Would our friendships and marriages remain the same when the people we are befriending and marrying will now likely be around for centuries and “to death do us part” means a whole new thing?

Shusterman succeeds in one of the most challenging aspects of writing a dystopia/utopia storyline. Reading books like “The Hunger Games” or “Divergent,” it’s immediately clear to the reader that these worlds are terrible and it’s often confusing to see how they got to be where they ended up. How were people on board with that very first Hunger Games system where their children died? How did that overly complicated and nonsensically limited system of dividing people ever even get traction in “Divergent?” But here, it’s so easy to see how the world could end up in this place. Per Shusterman’s goal, the question can still be posed about whether this is a utopia OR a dystopia? Life seems pretty good for most of society and the steps that would move the world in that direction are easy enough to spot even today!

The second book has the rather ominous title of “Thunderhead,” so I’m excited to see where he is taking the series next. Will more of the curtain be pulled back and reveal a nasty underbelly to this seemingly well-ordered world? Is the Thunderhead truly a benevolent system? I’m excited to find out!

If you’d like to read my full, original review, here it is.

Kate’s Rating 9: Such a creative and engrossing novel! I love the characters and the world that Shusterman created, and cannot wait to see what happens next.

Serena’s Rating 9: I loved it just as much reading it again six months later! So much so that I went ahead and pre-ordered the sequel that is coming out any day now.

Book Club Questions

  1. Shusterman set out with the goal to write a true utopia. Did he succeed? Would you want to live in this world? Are there aspects that appeal to you and others that seem particularly challenging?
  2. There are a lot of advances to medicine and technology presented in this book. Do any of them seem more plausible or likely to be invented? Any that are unbelievable?
  3. Between Citra and Rowan, were you more drawn to one or the other’s character and story? Which one and why?
  4. We are presented with several different approaches to performing the work of a Scythe. Did any particular approach stand out to you? What are you thoughts on the various method of culling that are used? Are any more or less ethical?
  5. The Thunderhead is presented as a benevolent AI and plays an unexpected role in this story. What did you make of it? Any predictions, given the next book is titled after it?
  6. If you were a Scythe, what name would you choose for yourself and why?

Reader’s Advisory:

“Scythe” is on these Goodreads lists: “Fiction Books About Grief, Death and Loss” and “Grim Reaper Books.”

Find “Scythe” at your library using WorldCat

Next Book Club Pick: “Book of a Thousand Days” by Shannon Hale

The Great Animorphs Re-read #22: “The Solution”

366790Animorphs #22: “The Solution” by K.A. Applegate

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, October 1998

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: David, the newest Animorph, is not what he appears. His need to control the other Animorphs and Ax is all he thinks about. And the things he does are starting to break up the group.

Narrator: Rachel

Plot: Part two was where things got real. Part three is where things get dark. Real dark. And I retreat to a hole of my own making and cry forever.

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Me: re-reading this entire trilogy (source)

Ax shows up in the middle of the night, waking up Rachel with messages of doom. David has truly gone off the deep end, Tobias is likely dead, and Jake is MIA after sending Ax to get her. They are able to figure out that David and Jake are at the mall and rush there only to find tiger!Jake unconscious and bleeding on the floor. Knowing David must be lurking nearby, Rachel takes charge and has Ax demorph to look around. Lion!David attacks her, but with some fancy gymnastic skills, Rachel is able to avoid him. In the process, David shares, again, his gross little philosophy about not murdering humans only “animals.”

The police show up and David takes off. Cassie’s parents show up as the local animal experts. Cassie’s mom, in particular, is confused since she recognizes the tiger as one from the zoo (Jake’s tiger morph original). Cassie shows up too and they are all concerned about not only Jake’s recovering but about needing him to wake up to demorph before the two hour limit. With Jake in Cassie’s (and her parents’) hands, Ax and Rachel fly to Marco’s to gather the troops, essentially. On the way there, Rachel thinks about how challenging this is all going to be, and even empathizes a bit with the frustration that Visser Three must feel: with the morphing ability, David could be anything and anywhere.

They arrive at Marco’s to find him sleeping in his bed, but as they fly in, Marco smashes Ax with a bat. It’s David in morph. He quickly demorphs and remorphs a golden eagle and chases owl!Rachel. Behind her, she is relieved to see Ax demorphing.

As David chases Rachel, he begins taunting her about killing Tobias. Up to this point, Rachel had been in a state of confusion, but with his words, she goes cold and knows what she has to do. She takes advantage of her better knowledge of her owl morph and manages to just stay ahead of David, leading him towards some power lines that he won’t be able to see with his daytime bird eyes. But just as she nears it, David manages to attack her. Just in the nick of time, David is attacked by a red tailed hawk. Tobias to the rescue! Not liking the odds anymore, David runs off. (How does David not put two and two together with this? Throughout this book, the fact that Tobias is still alive is a huge secret. Maybe David didn’t pay much attention to what kind of bird attacked him here).

Later, the group are back together. Cassie managed to jab tiger!Jake with a syringe and wake him up so that he could demorph and walk out of the vet’s office (Cassie’s mom was super freaked by the whole thing, discovering later that the tiger was somehow magically back in its cage at the Gardens and free of any injury). Marco had woken up to find David standing over him with a bat and had been tied up in a closet

They go to school, all exhausted and scared. Marco!David shows up and Cassie rushes to get the real Marco to hide. He sits with them and is his usual blowhard self, going on and on about how they should just give up now as he has their same abilities and is oh, so much smarter than them all.

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He wants them to hand over the blue box to. They refuse and David gets up to go, issuing more threats. Rachel follows, cafeteria fork in hand. Outside, she catches up with  Marco!David and warns him that if he tries to rat them out to the Yeerks that they’ll know. David doesn’t know about the Chee, so Rachel is able to convince him that the Animorphs have a source within the Yeerk organization since how else would they have known about the world summit meeting. She goes further to say that if he did rat on them, they’d still have time to retaliate and would go after his parents.

“You know, maybe you forget this sometimes, but you are a girl, Rachel.” 

“And you’re a worm,” I shot back. “Want to see who wins that fight?”

He swings at her and she neatly avoids it and jams the fork in his ear, getting her point across. After he leaves, Rachel is shocked by her own actions, especially her threat against his parents. Further, she finds herself becoming more and more angry at Jake. For sending for her in the first place, and all the implications that come with that. And the fact that he let her go after David here too, knowing what she would do, but also making her feel judged for being the one to do it.

What made me feel stupid was that I hadn’t realized I was changing. But everyone else obviously did. Jake did. When he knew it was coming down to kill-or-be-killed with David, he’d sent Ax to get me. Not Marco. Not Cassie. “Get Rachel.” 

After school, the group meets back at the barn. After grilling Marco to make sure it’s really him, the group begin planning what to do about the world summit, since they still need to deal with that. Ax privately thought speaks Rachel telling her that they are putting on a show, assuming David is in the barn listening. After they all morph birds, they discuss the real plan. Rachel compares the new plan to a game of chess where you know you’re going to lose so instead you simply throw the board across the room.

They go to the Gardens to get morphs and then head to the ocean. There’s a huge storm rolling in, so the transition from bird to dolphin in the middle of the ocean is a difficult one. Cassie’s skill with morphing helps them all make the change safely. They swim to the beach outside the resort and then put their plan in motion: morphing big animals. Rachel, Cassie, Tobias, and Ax go elephant. Jake and Marco go rhino. The security at the resort was pretty unprepared for a bunch of huge animals to barge out of the ocean, so the plan to wreak havoc is pulled off well. Once the big guns show up, including Visser Three, the group retreat back to the ocean. Ultimately, the storm plays in their favor, hiding them and preventing the boats from getting in close.

But as they swim away, killer whale!David shows up (a question mark here: it seems fairly unlikely that David would have been able to anticipate all of this and have a killer whale morph on hand. He also wouldn’t know what ocean animal morphs the Animrophs would use. They could have all had killer whales themselves.) David, again, starts taunting them and tells the group about Rachel’s threat to his parents. The others are silent, infuriating Rachel, especially with Jake whom she thinks is a hypocrite for letting her go after David and then seemingly judging those same actions later.

David goes after Ax, but Rachel calls attention to herself and gets him to switch to her. Just in time, Cassie shows up in humpback whale morph (she manages to slip away during all of the taunting) and scares David off.

When Rachel gets home, she hears that her cousin Saddler is likely going to die. Rachel comforts her younger sister, Jordan. Back in her room, she hears David, talking to her in morph, hidden somewhere in her room, demanding the blue box again. Rachel asks what he’s going to do with it, make new Animorphs who can do to him what he’s doing to them? He’s silenced, but she doesn’t know if he’s left or not. She avoids the shower.

With her family, she heads to Jake’s house where they’re meeting to travel together to the hospital to see Saddler. Rachel tells Jake about David’s invasion of her room and that it’s gotten personal between her and David. She also confronts him about the hypocrisy of his actions, sending her to do his dirty work and then judging her later.

They travel to the hospital where a miracle has occurred: Saddler simply woke up, completely healed. Rachel and Jake realize the sick joke that this is: David has done away with Saddler and morphed him in his place. They go to the hall to try and frantically plan, since it’s one of the few times when they’ll know where David his. But Rachel is still angry about Jake’s hypocrisy.

“Look, Rachel, every one of us has his strengths and his weaknesses.”
“And my strength is being some kind of crazy killer?” I practically shrieked. 
 
“Okay, fine, Rachel. You want to do this, fine. I think you’re the bravest member of the group. I think in a bad fight I’d rather have you with me than anyone else. But yeah, Rachel, I think there’s something pretty dark down inside you. I think you’re the only one of us who would be disappointed if all this ended tomorrow. Cassie hates all this, Marco has personal reasons for being in this war, Ax just wants to go home and fight Yeerks with his own people, Tobias . . . who knows what Tobias wants anymore? But you, Rachel, you love it. It’s what makes you so brave. It’s what makes you so dangerous to the Yeerks. I thought you’d scare David. I thought you’d say the things it took to scare him. I thought you’d say whatever you had to. And I thought that of any of us, David would be most likely to fear you.” 

Rachel responds by saying that she has a line, and she knows where it is. Jake says he has his own line, but he learned here and now that it wasn’t where he thought it was: he was willing to use his friend and cousin to do his dirty work, and apologizes.

Back in the barn, the group put on a masterclass performance for David whom they know is lurking around inside spying on them. Everyone plays their roles, with Cassie upset about Saddler. Marco taunting Rachel about being beaten, Tobias not being there and them all referencing the fact that David killed him. Cassie tells a tall tale about having Ax break the blue box down into pieces and “slips,” mentioning that Rachel was the one to hide it with her. They all go home, poor Jake returning to his house where now Saddler!David is in residence.

The next day they arrange to meet with David at a Taco Bell. David swaggers in and Rachel forces herself to not smack him, but play the humiliated and defeated role that they all figured David would want to see. David announces that he wants Rachel to lead him to the box because he was (surprise!) spying on them in the barn and heard everything. (Again, it’s so shocking how stupid David thinks they are. Even the brief amount of time he had with them, you’d think he’d have a better read on their abilities, but guess not). They head to the construction site.

Rachel morphs rat, and then snake!David threatens to bite her unless the group all morph cockroach and climb into a jar he found lying nearby. He seals them in, knowing that they can’t demorph without crushing each other. He then morphs rat and Rachel leads him into the maze.

They get one piece (a blue lego block, but the rat’s poor eye sight can’t see that), but as they head for the second one, Rachel realizes that she can small fresh air and hear a jet plane, belying the fact that they are supposed to be deep underground. David begins to put things together, and Rachel makes a dash towards the exit pipe. They wrestle and Rachel privately thoughts speaks to the others to be ready. She turns, chews off her own tail, and dashes out, just avoiding getting hit with the box lid slamming shut behind her, trapping rat!David within.

The group explain to David that they planned it all, that Tobias wasn’t dead, and then they sink into silence as David tries to talk his way out of it, saying they won, he’d just be going now.

“You tried to kill us,” Jake said. “You threatened to turn us over to Visser Three. Not to mention what you’ve done to Saddler’s family.”
<You can’t judge me!> David cried. <You’re not God!>
“David, we have fought the Yeerks for a long time now. It seems like forever,” Jake said wearily. “We are not going to let you beat us. We are going to save the human race if we can. There are larger issues . . . more important . . .”

They all leave, but Rachel and Ax. Ax to keep time. Rachel because she volunteers, saying that she can take it. After two hours, David is trapped in rat morph and they fly him out to a rock on the ocean that is known to have a thriving rat population. Later, they hear rumors that the rock is haunted and that passing boats have heard yells of “No!’ coming from the rock.

Xena, Warrior Princess: This is a huge book for Rachel. Some fans, myself included, have theorized that the action of this book (not only her own choices with regards to David, but her realizations about how the others, and particularly Jake, see her) are a tipping point in her arc and a direct point of reference for the further struggles her character goes through, particularly in the last few books of the series.

From the very beginning, it’s clear that Rachel is pretty messed up by the fact that Jake sent Ax to get her specifically. At the same time, she completely agrees with his decision. Not only because she is particularly close to Tobias, but after Marco!David tries to kill Ax and is chasing and taunting her in bird morph, she knows that she is capable of leading David to his death. Jake was right.

But what seems to be the killing blow is the fallout from her one-on-one with David where she threatens his parents. Jake allows her to go. She does her thing, knowing it needs to be done and that that’s what Jake “sent” her to do anyways, but still feeling sick about it. And then, worst of all, later when they’re all in the ocean and David begins taunting her once again and exposing what she said to the group, they all just….leave her hanging out to dry. It’s not a good look for any of them, but particularly not Jake.

I’m completely with Rachel on this. It’s one thing to send someone to do your dirty work, it’s another to leave them at the mercy of your enemy’s psychological mind games and let your silence serve as judgement. They completely abandon her in this moment. And while when Rachel and Jake are fighting at the hospital, Jake apologizes and even owns up to the hypocrisy of his actions, it’s still not enough, in my opinion.

He lays too much of it at Rachel’s own feet, and doesn’t acknowledge the fact that the entire group let her down here. Regardless of their opinions on her actions and threats, several of them (definitely Jake, and we’d assume Ax and Marco would likely agree with this too) essentially approved of what she did when she did it. And beyond that, even if they disagreed, not sticking together in this moment, letting David pick out one of them and letting it stand, is a huge breach of teamwork and mutual support. So, badly done, y’all.

Through this all, through being used and judged by her friends, Rachel still proves her own strength in several small scenes. When they are all dolphins, as is typical of her, she draws the attention of the threat away from another (this time Ax) and to herself. We’ve seen her do this countless times now, and it’s pretty unique to her character. In a very human moment, she comforts her younger sister as she grieves the imminent death of their cousin Saddler. And, most importantly, in the end, she volunteers to stay behind as David is trapped as a rat. This is the ultimate self-sacrificial move. Beyond simply staying, she tries to relieve the others’ guilt for not staying themselves, saying that it won’t bother her. She muses that some of them may actually believe that. But it’s hard to really think any of them would (Cassie is her best friend, Tobias is her…something, Jake definitely knows this isn’t true after their conversations in this book. Maybe Marco? But he seems too smart to fall for this line).

Our Fearless Leader: Another big book for Jake and his leadership skills. This book is a good look at how cold Jake has become when he begins evaluating situations and the assets in his arsenal. In this case, his assets are his friends and he’s beginning to see and use them like tools. He’s surgical, accurate, and, yes, cold. When he’s confronted by Rachel in the hospital, he seems to be almost surprised by his own actions. But, while he does apologize, it also seems pretty obvious that if he had to do it over again, he’d do the same thing. Because he didn’t make the wrong choice, even if it was one that almost broke his cousin.

His biggest mistake, I still think, was not standing up for Rachel to David when he begins coming after her while they’re in the ocean. It’s pretty unacceptable to leave a team member hanging there, vulnerable to an enemy’s jabs. Better to support her in the moment, and then, if he had qualms, confront her later. It’s even worse because the confrontation never comes, at least not on his part. He never expresses any regret that Rachel threatened David’s parents, so the judgemental silence is even worse in the moment.

In the end, Rachel also admires Jake’s leadership abilities when he makes the rest of them leave her and Ax with rat!David. She recognizes the fact that he knows he needs to spare as many of them as he can from the traumatizing scene that is about to unfold.

A Hawk’s Life: David is really terrible at counting (as is Visser Three in Jake’s book when he fails to see cobra!Marco). I mean, there are a bunch of times when David had to have been lingering around and Tobias was there in morph. Most notably, all the points during the world leaders summit mission. Flying there. As rhinos/elephants. As dolphins. Clearly David was around since he was so easily able to intercept them in his killer whale morph. So how did he not catch this? Highly questionable for some who is a self-proclaimed “genius.”

Tobias is pretty instrumental to the final plan in helping get them out of the jar. But, other than the moments when David should have spotted him, he makes himself scarce for much of the book to keep up the facade. I do wish there had been more Tobias/Rachel scenes in this book. Their reunion was nice, but too brief. And poor Rachel was left without all of her support systems it seems. Not only did she not have any scenes with him to talk through all of this, but she also doesn’t get any time with Cassie, her other primary support person.

 Peace, Love, and Animals: Cassie is on top of her manipulation skills in this trilogy! Her biggest move came during the cafeteria scene when David showed up to threaten them. She pointedly sits right next to him, reminding him that they are, in fact, people and not animals. And then talks very clearly to him about what he’s doing and the realities of trying to bargain with the Yeerks. It’s pretty slick.

Her morphing abilities are also paramount to their success with all of their morphs in the ocean during the storm. Rachel is pretty clear about how dangerous the water is and Cassie’s ability to quickly morph is one of the only reasons they manage it, with her able to be in dolphin morph to help the others. She’s also able to quickly leave, morph out of dolphin and then morph back to humpback whale during the fight with David.

In the end, she’s very broken up about what they have to do to David. But she also was the one to come up with the plan (again, probably largely due to her knowledge of animals and what morphs would work, but mostly because she understands people and could predict what David would want/do).

The Comic Relief: Marco ends up being the one to get sidelined a few times in this book. First getting attacked and left in a closet (more on that below) by David in the beginning, and then also needing to be shuffled out of the cafeteria once David shows up at school in a Marco morph. Part of me wonders if part of the reason Applegate did this was an attempt to work around the fact largely it was Marco, not Rachel, who had been set up as David’s primary rival (not only in his POV book, but Jake references the particular animosity between David and Marco several times in his book).

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Ax doesn’t have much in this book, other than being the second Animorph to stay behind with Rachel and rat!David. Supposedly this is because of his ability to track time. But…there are such things as watches, so I’m not sure I buy this reasoning for why Ax gets burdened with this.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: There aren’t so much “body horror” moments in this book as simply “horror” moments. David’s psychotic philosophy with the supposed non-humanity of the Animorphs while in morph is just so incredibly messed up. The bat to the face that Ax takes is particularly vicious  and it’s pretty surprising that he even survives it.

And the the sheer, traumatizing horror that is what happens to David at the end of this book. It makes Tobias’s situation look like a walk in the park. But did the Animorphs have much of a choice? They had to pick an animal that couldn’t hurt them. They had to find one that they could easily contain while in morph, preventing him from demorphing. And they had to find one that the could take somewhere away from the general population (so that he wouldn’t just start thought-speaking at anyone and everyone telling them all of the Animorphs’ secrets). So, supposedly Cassie (it had to be her, right?) already knew about this rock out in the ocean that had a thriving rat population and…well, there you go. But man, it’s cold. Luckily, Applegate spares us a blow-by-blow description of the two hour time period that they’re waiting him out, but even the brief glimpses are bad enough. It’s hard to think of anything in the series that is more horrifying than this.

Couples Watch!: When Ax first shows up to get Rachel in the beginning of the book, she assumes he’s Tobias. Another indicator that Tobias probably is a regular visitor to her room. She also shares this observation after hearing about his “death.”

And yet, as I completed the morph to fly, I knew Jake had picked the right person. See, I cared for Tobias. I don’t think I even knew how much I cared till right then.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: There a brief moment in the beginning when Rachel and Ax are at the mall and overhear two Controllers discussing how they know that the hurt tiger must be an Andalite in morph but that they don’t have enough Controllers on the police force. They both wonder aloud how mad Visser Three would be if they didn’t do anything….and agree to just not say anything about the whole thing. Another instance when we get a glimpse into the thought process of Visser Three’s underlings, all of whom seem to have a pretty good read on their boss and know that avoiding any interaction with him is always best.

But, again, David is the villain of this trilogy.

His biggest downfall in this entire thing is that he forgets that he’s not fighting regular teenagers, but kids who have been fighting a real war for months now. Not only are they more skilled with their morphs and know how to construct and pull off complicated missions, but, physically, they are capable fighters. Rachel’s own battle abilities were on display in the exchange outside of the school. David’s small-minded, sexist opinions of her abilities (as evidenced in the quote earlier) get him in trouble not only in that scene, but in the entire ending of the story. If he hadn’t been so firmly entrenched in his own need to validate his ego and look down on the others, he would have known better than to be tricked by their act. His sheer inability to view Rachel as the powerful threat that she is leads to his doom.

Another example of this, his inability to realize he’s not fighting normal kids, is his failure to anticipate the fact that they would anticipate that he would spy on them and to not simply buy their whole scene they put on in the barn. But it played to his ego a bit too much, and, like all ego-maniacs, he couldn’t look beyond his own assurance that he was the smartest one in the room, to realize that the Animorphs, again, have been doing this for a while and could guess David’s actions.

“See, David,” Marco said, “we knew you were in the barn, listening to our every word. How did we know? Tobias. So we played out that whole pathetic scene for you about how disgraced Rachel was. We knew you’d get so much sick pleasure out of forcing her to obey you.”

 

<All of your actions, even your emotions, were anticipated,> Ax said. <We anticipated how you would respond. So we were able to manipulate you.>

It’s also worth noting that David’s issues with Rachel largely seem to stem from a fairly insecure, sexist viewpoint. She’s the one to call him a coward in Jake’s book after he tries to turn himself over to Visser Three, and he knows that she’s widely agreed to be the bravest and best fighter in the group. And we have the quote earlier in this post when he tries to wave off Rachel as being “just a girl” when she’s not in morph. She proves that to be the load of bullshit it is pretty quickly. But his kneejerk judgements and insecurities with women are yet more nasty elements to David’s personality that were likely always lurking there before any of this happened.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Um, the whole book?! Rachel’s arc in this is just so sad and hard to read, especially knowing the mindjob it works on her that carries on throughout the series. But I won’t go into that all again, or the horror of David’s situation at the end.

Instead, we never see the fallout of David’s decision to morph Saddler and essentially bring him back to life. And now, suddenly, he’ll just disappear. It’s unclear what David did with the original Saddler’s body. He had a longterm plan to live Saddler’s life, so you’d think he somehow must have pretty thoroughly hidden/destroyed it. Not sure about the logistics there, but oh well. So now this family that was grieving the inevitable death of their son are miraculously spared, think they’re out of the woods, and then…he’s just gone. No signs where he went. No body. Nothing. Beyond the parents and family themselves who would be in mourning, shock, etc., this had to be terrible for Jake and Rachel. There had to have been a hunt for “Saddler” for months, and the family trauma would be ever present. And there sit Jake and Rachel, knowing the truth but not able to say anything.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: For the most part, their plans are very good in this book. For one, the way they cancel the summit was the obvious route to take from the beginning. I’ve already expressed my opinions on their whole “expose to alien invasion” plan in the last book/review. For two, all told, they fairly easily predict, manipulate, and capture David. For all of their concerns, they take him out in one day, essentially. And, while so, so cold, their plan to force him to be stuck in rat morph is a simple and effective way of handling a situation that could have easily gotten a much more dark, more murder-y route.

But there were a few things that didn’t make much sense. There were several instances in this book where David has to demorph/remoprh that you’d think would present golden opportunities to the group. In the beginning, when he’s in Marco’s room posing as Marco, he has to demoprh and the remorph golden eagle to chase Rachel. It’s supposed to take around 3 minutes either way. So, here, that’s six minutes for Rachel to either do the same and get into a more powerful morph. Or to easily get out of there and disappear. Doesn’t make much sense that he gets through these morphs so quickly without the Animorphs doing something about it.

And another big one is during this same scene when Marco is tied up in the closet. Why the heck wouldn’t he have simply morphed bug and gotten out of there? This is a huge flaw since he could have easily escaped and managed to either nab David himself (during one of his vulnerable in-between morph stages) or at the very least, warned Rachel and Ax.

Favorite Quote:

At points in the book, it was almost physically painful reading David’s gloating.

<You guys made a big mistake: You got me. See, I was smarter than any of you. That’s why you lost. I’ll be more careful. I’ll only choose the kind of guys who are too dumb to do anything except obey me.>
I rolled my little rat eyes. This guy’s ego just kept growing.

But on a more serious note, one of the last chapters about the two hours during which David is becoming trapped in morph…it’s rough.

It took two hours for David to become a nothlit. A person trapped in morph. Two hours. But that two hours of horror will last forever in my mind. If I live a hundred years, I will still hear his cries, his threats, his pleading, each night before sleep takes me. And beyond sleep, in my dreams. 

Scorecard: Yeerks 6, Animorphs 10

I’m giving a point to the Animorphs. Partly because their plan to break up the summit meeting worked out in the end (though why they didn’t start with this is beyond me), but they managed to handle the David threat pretty quickly and efficiently, for all the inner drama of the situation. David posed the largest legitimate threat they’ve ever faced, knowing all of their secrets, but also being a human kid whom they would have a bunch of moral tangles about attacking. But they find a neat (as in “orderly”) solution to the problem and the execute their plan with exacting precision.

Rating: Simply excellent. The re-read just reminded me why I love this trilogy so much. It really highlights the very adult themes that a fairly wonky, middle grade sci fi series takes on and why these books are definitely more than they seem on the surface.

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 Marriage Pact”

31748890Book: “The Marriage Pact” by Michelle Richmond

Publishing Info: Bantam, July 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: I received and ARC from the publisher.

Book Description: Newlyweds Alice and Jake are a picture-perfect couple. Alice, once a singer in a well-known rock band, is now a successful lawyer. Jake is a partner in an up-and-coming psychology practice. Their life together holds endless possibilities. After receiving an enticing wedding gift from one of Alice’s prominent clients, they decide to join an exclusive and mysterious group known only as The Pact.

The goal of The Pact seems simple: to keep marriages happy and intact, and most of its rules make sense: Always answer the phone when your spouse calls. Exchange thoughtful gifts monthly. Plan a trip together once per quarter. . . .

Never mention The Pact to anyone.

Alice and Jake are initially seduced by the glamorous parties, the sense of community, their widening social circle of like-minded couples–and then one of them breaks the rules. The young lovers are about to discover that for adherents to The Pact, membership, like marriage, is for life, and The Pact will go to any lengths to enforce that rule. For Jake and Alice, the marriage of their dreams is about to become their worst nightmare.

Review: Ahhh, marriage. I’ve been married to my husband for eight years, and while it certainly isn’t a perfect marriage, it’s a good one. Probably because we don’t strive for perfection. And because we don’t strive for perfection nor are we perfectionists in any way, I take solace in the fact that had we been approached by a deranged marriage cult we probably would have answered with a solid

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But lucky for us readers, Alice and Jake in Michelle Richmond’s “The Marriage Pact” did not make the same choices that I would make. After all, had they said ‘no thanks’, we wouldn’t have gotten this tense and dark thriller that took me by surprise. As someone who didn’t have any expectations going into it I had no idea what to expect, but I’m thinking that in some ways that worked in the book’s favor. Because after letting it collect some dust on my book stack, I finally picked it up and cursed myself for not picking it up sooner.

“The Marriage Pact” is a slow building thriller that puts the reader in the position of Jake and Alice, newlyweds who find themselves invited to join a prestigious and secret group specifically for married couples. They are both written in such a way that I could definitely see them getting sucked into it: for Alice, her commitment phobia from her past could easily make her nervous about falling out of step with Jake. For Jake, he’s so in love with Alice that he would happily indulge her in her eagerness to try it out. And because it’s seen from their perspectives, we too get to experience the gradual change from fun and quirky hobby to all encompassing nightmare. This point is what struck me the most as I read this book: it didn’t rely too much on major twists or turns to get the thrills into the narrative. While I do love a good thriller with lots of game changing moments, the horror and surprise in “The Marriage Pact” was far more based in the realities of the dark sides of human nature and group think, and how far we can be taken because of cognitive dissonance and denial. It felt fairly real that Jake and Alice would find themselves in a frog in the boiling water scenario because of this. The punishments for breaking the ‘rules’ of the group evolved from minor and silly consequences to full blown horror shows, and by the time we got to that they were in so deep that all you could feel was abject dread for them. The cultist perspective was masterfully done, as while Jake (our narrator) knew that things weren’t right, he also seemed under the spell in some ways, thinking that in spite of the horrific circumstances they were finding themselves in that his marriage to Alice was, in fact, stronger when all was said and done.

I do think that this book was a bit longer than it needed to be. While it was a fast read and an entertaining one too, I did find myself thinking that it was kind of repetitive at times. The various punishments and strange meetings with other ‘Friends’, as the members call themselves, tended to make things drag on a bit more than I would have liked, and I did find myself skimming here and there. I also found a few of the details unbelievable or farfetched, specifically about how much power and money this secret group could possibly have. And finally, given that Alice is a freaking LAWYER at a high powered firm, I REALLY found it odd that she didn’t have any problems with the giant manual of rules that you have to agree to abide by, via non negotiable contract. What kind of lawyer would agree to ANY of that without going through the entire manual bit by bit? But those are minor quibbles when the rest of the story was so creative and outside the box of what I’ve come to expect from thrillers today.

Overall I found “The Marriage Pact” to be a satisfying and compulsively readable novel. And it makes me thank my lucky stars that my husband and I are such lazy non perfectionists, lest we be approached by some crazy marriage cult someday.

Rating 8: A solid and original thriller that slowly burns to a disturbing level, “The Marriage Pact” relied less on twists and turns and more on the dark side of human nature.

Reader’s Advisory

“The Marriage Pact” is included on the Goodreads lists “Follow The Rules and Everything Will Be Okay”, and “Domestic Noir”.

Find “The Marriage Pact” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Strange the Dreamer”

28449207Book: “Strange the Dreamer” by Laini Taylor

Publishing Info: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, March 2017

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

Book Description: The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around—and Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared that his dream chose poorly. Since he was five years old he’s been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance or lose his dream forever.

What happened in Weep two hundred years ago to cut it off from the rest of the world? What exactly did the Godslayer slay that went by the name of god? And what is the mysterious problem he now seeks help in solving?

The answers await in Weep, but so do more mysteries—including the blue-skinned goddess who appears in Lazlo’s dreams. How did he dream her before he knew she existed? And if all the gods are dead, why does she seem so real?

Review: This books if full of dreams and mystery. Moths and monsters. Poems painted onto a page leaving stardust in its wake, and images leaping from page to mind in a way that pulls you further in. And, while the audiobook version of this story was incredible, I spent much of my time while listening wishing and dreading that the story would unfurl faster. And, by the end, this combination of joy and dread was the perfect explanation of this book.

Lazlo Strange is a boy who grew up without a name. He has one, but it is similar to the “Jon Snows” of the world, and his childhood was that of an orphan raised among monks who finds his true home in books, and then later, in a library. (Obviously the librarian in my loved the fact that Lazlo was a librarian and that this fact, combined with his love of dreams, fairytales, and curiosity (traits that ring true for librarians everywhere, I’m sure we’d all agree) was repeatedly referenced and critical to the story.) And when he’s given the opportunity to visit the mysterious city of Weep that had suddenly cut off contact with the rest of the world years ago, Lazlo, armed with his dreams, is quick to take up the call. What he finds is much more mysterious, wonderful, and terrible than he ever imagined.

Beyond this basic plot, it’s hard to discuss much of this book due to many of the mysteries at the core of this story. I will say that I was surprised to find, about a third of the way into the book, that we were given another viewpoint character. One who was completely shocking and tremendously important to the story. But one whose history, motives, and role in this book would spoil much of it if I dug in too deep.

Lazlo, himself, was a fantastic character. It is easy to see how he falls into the roles he does and becomes generally beloved by those around him. He’s endlessly optimistic, creative, and sees the world in a way that is new and, most importantly, beautiful. And, like Jon Snow, Lazlo is much more than he seems. I was able to guess where the story was going with his character, but given the many other mysteries that took me completely by surprise, and the ones that are still remaining, this is hardly much to pat myself on the back over.

Thematically, this story covers a lot of pretty dark and grim ground. I was surprised by the levels of brutality the author brought to play, but it became clear that nothing else would do to fully realize the true horrors and terrible choices that were before all the characters involved. Both “villains” on either side of the conflict were terrible and terribly tragic. It was easy to see how each ended up where they did, and to feel the brokenness of their characters, and question what one would have done differently in their positions.

Beyond this more individual level, the story explored systematic oppression and trauma. And, the other side of the coin, the ugly side of hatred and fear, even if those feelings are based in truths. There was one line in the book about good people being just as capable of committing atrocities as the bad ones, only in the good people’s case they call those atrocities “justice.” I loved this, and it’s just one of a million examples of the careful handling of difficult subjects that Taylor covers in this story.

But, to balance all of this darkness, there is the sheer beauty of Taylor’s writing and storytelling. I’ve read other books by her, but it’s been a while and I had forgotten just how creative and poetic her writing style is. It walks right up to the edge of purple prose, looks at it, and walks forward, fully confident that it is beautiful and that that accusation won’t stick. There’s not a single falter in the entire book in this aspect. And the style of writing is just half of it. The sheer expanse of creative and lovely imagery is staggering. Taylor creates worlds within worlds and then invites readers to immerse themselves alongside her characters.

The only point that knocks this down from a “10” rating is the fact that it ends on a cliffhanger. I didn’t know going in that this was part of a trilogy, so that’s on me. But I also feel that it is possible to write trilogies without cliffhangers, and I’ve just never personally cared for them. This, however, may not be as off-putting for other readers (especially for those who know about it, or at least the fact that this is the first in a series, going in). Even with it, I highly recommend this book for fantasy readers everywhere. I think this has been marketed as young adult, but I feel like it falls pretty firmly into “new adult” (whatever that really means in the larger scheme of things). Who cares! Any fantasy fan should check out this book!

Rating 9: Dark and mysterious, full of wonder and wonderful terror. A must read for fantasy fans!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Strange the Dreamer” is included on the Goodreads lists: “Emotion Overload in Fantasy/Paranormal” and “Original Stories . . . a Breath of Fresh Air.”

Find “Strange the Dreamer” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “DC Bombshells (Vol.5): The Death of Illusion”

34690764Book: “DC Bombshells (Vol.5): The Death of Illusion” by Marguerite Bennett, Marguerite Sauvage (Ill.), Laura Braga (Ill.), Mirka Andolfo (Ill.).

Publishing Info: DC Comics, October 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Based on the hit DC Collectibles product line! As World War II rages across Europe, the Bombshells battle new enemies showing up out of the woodwork… and a Bombshell we haven’t seen since the Battle of Berlin shows up to help!
The incredibly popular DC Collectibles line is brought to life in these stories that reimagine the course of history! From writer Marguerite Bennett (BATGIRL, EARTH 2: WORLD’S END) and featuring artists including Marguerite Sauvage (HINTERKIND), Laura Braga (Witchblade) and Mirka Andolfo (Chaos) comes DC COMICS: BOMBSHELLS VOL. 5. Collects #26-29 and the DC COMICS: BOMBSHELLS ANNUAL #1.

Review: Ever since I discovered the “DC Bombshells” series, I’ve kind of been waiting for the other shoe to drop. Far too often do I find a comic series that I love, and inevitably have to have that moment of ‘oh, that was kind of lame’. It happens for most series and it’s by no means a bad thing! Sometimes there will be volumes that feel out of step with the others, and I’ve come to expect it and by no means hold it against the series as a whole. But for five volumes running, “DC Bombshells” hasn’t lost it’s step or it’s groove, and now we are at “The Death of Illusion” and I am STILL thrilled with almost everything about it as a whole.

We are now at the point where we can’t cover all of the characters in each volume, as there are too many and the cast is ever expanding. So while Batwoman, Wonder Woman, Renee Montoya, and the Gotham Batgirls sat this one out for the most part (more on that in a bit), we refocussed on a few familiar faces who had been away, some for a long time. Most importantly to me, we see the returns of Ivy and Harley, who are now an established lesbian power couple and leaving Atlantis to try and stop a famine in Russia, as Ivy plans to grow food for them. I already have to gush and geek out about this. I LOVE that in these stories, there is just as much creation as there is destruction. The women in this series are not only fighting to save the world, they are also trying to nurture the world back to life. It’s lovely and positive and a testament to the power of ladyfriends! With this plot line we get to see the less talked about ravages of war, specifically the starvation in Leningrad.

We also get the return of Supergirl, which was both excellent and bittersweet. Kara is still very much in mourning over her sister Stargirl, and she and Steve Trevor find themselves in the clutches of Doctor Hugo Strange. Supergirl teams up with Lois Lane, who has her own reasons for wanting to take revenge on Strange, and they both have to face their pasts and those that they are mourning if they hope to defeat this madman who has violated them both in various ways. I liked that Kara’s trauma regarding Kortni dying is still very present, as it shows that she is very much human as well as Kryptonian. With war comes loss and with loss comes grief, and I love that Bennett is showing that these costs take great tolls, even on the strongest of us all. And along with this plotline comes the first of the two debuts that made me freak out. I don’t really want to spoil it here, because it was a gasp worthy reveal, but…… OKAY FINE,

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SUPERMAN IS HERE, GUYS!! SUPERMAN IS HERE!!! But worry not, because while he has made his debut, much like Arthur Curry he does not step on any toes while doing so. While I’m sure it’s tempting to make him the focus, as he is, after all, the iconic Superman, this is still very much more Kara’s story than his, and he is staying in his lane as of right now.

Our universe expands again in this volume, as we go back to see Amanda Waller, who is one of the leaders of the Bombshells. She is tracking down a reclusive figure, a French woman who was a flying ace during WWI, but then disappeared into the swamps of Louisiana after her lover Luc vanished and was presumed dead. She hires Frankie Charles to go and find this strange woman. And who, is this strange woman?

Guys. Batgirl has arrived.

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I’VE BEEN WAITING FOR THIS MOMENT!! (source)

And not only is she here, but her storyline opens up a whole new set of possibilities involving her, Waller, Frankie, and The Suicide Squad. That’s right, WE ARE GETTING THE SUICIDE SQUAD!!!!!! I was admittedly hoping a bit for Secret Six (if Scandal Savage ended up in these pages I would absolutely DIE), but this is also excellent.

So yes, the shoe has not dropped yet and “DC Bombshells (Vol.5): The Death Illusion” has only upped the stakes when it comes to this series. It’s flying so high, and while I’m still terrified that it’s going to come crashing down, it has yet to do so. It oozes positivity and girl power, and it continues to be one of the most empowering and fun comics out there.

Rating 9: With the returns of Supergirl, Ivy, and Harley, along with the debuts of some familiar faces, “DC Bombshells (Vol.5): The Death of Illusion” continues the streak of excellence.

Reader’s Advisory:

“DC Bombshells (Vol.5): The Death of Illusion” is fairly newish and isn’t on many Goodreads lists as of yet, but I think that it would be good on “Graphic Novels Featuring LGBTQ Themes”, and “Girls Read Comics”.

Find “DC Bombshells (Vol.5): The Death of Illusion” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously reviewed:

Highlights: January 2018

2018!!! Whaaaaat? [Insert witty comment that somehow accidentally ages oneself and reveals that 2018 might be a decade from a certain graduation year for one of us…and not the graduation you’d wish in this instance.] But never mind that! We will also NOT discuss the dumpster fire that was 2017. Instead, we choose to remember last year by all of the excellent books we read, and will look forward to 2018 as nothing more or less than another year during which we will read even more! So, without further ado, here are a few books we’re looking forward to this month!

Serena’s Picks

26032825Book: “The Cruel Prince” by Holly Black

Publication Date: January 2, 2018

Why I’m Interested: Though I haven’t had a chance to review one of her books on this blog, I’m a huge fan of Holly Black. She writes just the sort of dark fantasy that I right up my alley. So, when I saw a new one coming out from her, I knew it would make it onto this list. When I read that the story was going to feature a group of orphaned sisters who had been stolen away as small children and raised in a cruel and capricious Faerie court, I knew I had to get my hands on it AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. It’s like Holly Black opened my own personal wish list for fantasy fiction and pulled out this book just for me!

27366528Book: “Beneath the Sugar Sky” by Seanan McGuire

Publication Date: January 9, 2018

Why I’m Interested: I’ve read and loved (to varying extents) the first two novellas in McGuire’s “Wayward Children” series, so it’s a no brainer that I would include her next book on this list. From the description, it looks like we’ll see a continuation of a plot point (Sumi’s death back in book one) that I definitely never expected. Somehow the story features Rini, Sumi’s daughter, who is on a mission to bring her mother back to life. So I’m guessing there’s some sort of “Back to the Future” stuff going on here? Other than that, the title implies that we’re going to spend some time in Sumi/Rini/s world of candyland, one of the worlds we’ve heard about but never visited so far.

33257757Book: “Iron Gold” by Pierce Brown

Publication Date: January 16, 2018

Why I’m Interested: A continuation of the “Red Rising” trilogy!!!…oh…you want more than that? Well, to be honest, that same excitement about the continuation of a much-loved trilogy is also tinged with extreme amounts of worry. I’m always concerned when authors revisit stories that they had originally ended a few years ago. Is there really a new story to be told? Or are they just dipping back in a known well and will somehow retroactively damage the quality of the originals? I’m pleased to see that the story will be set 10 years after the first trilogy and that it will feature more protagonists than just Darrow himself. These avenues will hopefully provide options for keeping this world and story fresh. I’m so excited! I’m so nervous!

Kate’s Picks

29749090Book: “Batman: Nightwalker” by Marie Lu

Publication Date: January 2, 2018

Why I’m Interested: I really enjoyed Leigh Bardugo’s take on Wonder Woman in “Wonder Woman: Warbringer”, which was the first in the “DC Icons” series. This series is a set of  books written by some of the hottest YA authors about some of the coolest DC characters. Up next is “Batman: Nightwalker” by Marie Lu, and I must say that I’m QUITE excited for this one. First of all, it’s about my main dude Batman, specifically Bruce Wayne when he’s a teenager and before he’s officially become Batman. I like Lu’s writing style (I read “WarCross” last year and found it very fun, and I think that she can bring a good amount of edge and excitement to Bruce.)

33918883Book: “Before I Let Go” by Marieke Nijkamp

Publication Date: January 2, 2018

Why I’m Interested: One of the stories that I didn’t really talk about in “Feral Youth” was written by Marieke Nijkamp. It was dark and brooding, and had a lot of hard themes and good characterization. When I saw that she had a new book coming out in January, “Before I Let Go”, I wanted to explore more than just a short story of hers. This book sounds like part small town conspiracy, part psychological chiller piece. When Corey’s best friend Kyra dies in their small Alaska town, she is heartbroken. And when it seems like the townspeople are hiding something, Corey has to delve into the dark secrets to find out what happened to her friend. My guess is this one will be tense and twisty.

35248505Book: “S.T.A.G.S.” by M.A. Bennett

Publication Date: January 30, 2018

Why I’m Interested: It’s another book with bitchy boarding school girls and danger at every turn!! You know I’m into it. “S.T.A.G.S.” already came out in England last year, but it’s finally making it’s Stateside debut and I’m itching to get my hands on it. When Greer gets a scholarship to the prestigious St. Aidan the Great School (or S.T.A.G.S.), she is shunned from the cliquey atmosphere. But she is soon invited to a weekend holiday by a group called the Medievals, the most popular kids in school. Little does she know that her invitation is merely to set her up as bait. “The Most Dangerous Game” meets “Pretty Little Liars”, “S.T.A.G.S.” is sure to be a soapy thrill ride.

What are you most excited to read this month? Let us know in the comments!

 

Serena’s Favorite Reads of 2017: Picks 5 Through 1

Another a year, another almost impossible task trying to each choose our Top 10 Reads of the year! And don’t forget to check out our “12 Days of Christmas” giveaway that may even features a few books from these very same lists! Today I’m going to countdown my favorites reads, five to 1. 

23909755Pick Number 5: “City of Blades” by Robert Jackson Bennett

“City of Blades” Review

This is the special snowflake of a pick because it’s the middle book of a trilogy. And that’s when you know you have something special. Without the crutches of introducing a new world or wrapping up a complete series, a middle story must stand on its own. “City of Blades” capitalizes in all of the strengths of world-building and creative magic systems given to us in the first book. But it expands on them with a deep look at the cost of war and what it means to be a solider. Add to that the fact that we have a middle aged veteran woman as the leading lady who turns into my favorite character in the entire series, and “City of Blades” is a must for this list.

32718027Pick Number 4: “City of Brass” by S. A. Chakraborty

“City of Brass” Review

“The City of Brass” has been compared to “The Golem and the Jinni,” and as someone who loved the latter, it’s quite something for me to now report that this book is even better! Especially for those looking for more magic, more action, and more complicated political and religious maneuverings ala “Game of Thrones.” I completely loved the lush descriptions of the cities (both real and magical) in the historical Middle East, as well as the brilliantly-drawn characters each exposing a new, and deeper, version of a history that is still playing out as the story progresses. I love books where I can’t decide who is right or really have any clue how this whole mess will be resolved.

31817749Pick Number 3: “The Broken Earth” trilogy by N. K. Jemisin

“The Fifth Season” Review
“The Obelisk Gate” Review
“The Stone Sky” Review

The first of what, as you will see, is a cheaty pattern of mine in these reviews: the entire series pick! But really, it’s just a way of saving you all from hearing me blather on about multiple books in a series/by an author over and over again as they fill up the entire list. But especially in this case, I feel justified. In many ways, this trilogy reads as one long book that has simply been cut into three parts. If you had the wrist strength, you could mash all the books together and read it that way and probably not notice a thing. The story takes places in a diverse world where power and privilege don’t necessarily go hand in hand, where one woman unwilling finds herself in a battle for the future, with allies who were enemies and an enemy who may too have been a victim in its own time. These books are winning all the awards and they are all deserved.

34050917Pick Number 2: “The Bear and the Nightingale” & “The Girl in the Tower” by Katherine Arden

“The Girl in the Tower” Review
“The Bear and the Nightingale” Review

It’s hard to believe that “The Bear and the Nightingale” technically came out in 2017, but it did, thus dooming me to a second (but not last) multiple-book-entry. But really, how can you ask me to choose? With both of these books, I absolutely adored the beautiful fairytale-like quality of the storytelling, the unique setting of Medieval Russia, and the haunting story of a young woman who doesn’t fit into the role the world wants of her. The first book was dark, quiet, and dangerous like a winter’s night. The second was moving, pushing, willing itself forward and through,like its young protagonist and her magical horse. They are both exquisite reads and I confident that the third book will make its way on next year’s list as well.

29939230Pick Number 1: “Shades of Magic” trilogy by V. E. Schwab

“A Darker Shade of Magic” Review
“A Gathering of Shadows” Review
A Conjuring of Light” Review

I don’t know why it took me so long to pick up the first book in this trilogy! And while I have tons of side-eye for my past self’s decision making process, I also was lucky enough to blow through the first two books in this trilogy mere weeks before the third, so that dreaded cliffhanger was barely a blip for me. This trilogy had everything I could ever ask for: action, magic, world-hopping, romance, an awesome hero and an even more awesome heroine. Lila Bard is everything. Just typing out this mini synopsis is making me hanker for a re-read; maybe this will be my late Christmas present to myself! Gift yourself as well and check these books out immediately!

So there’s my complete list! What were your top five reads of 2017?