Serena’s Review: “A Curse So Dark and Lonely”

43204703Book: “A Curse So Dark and Lonely” by Brigid Kemmerer

Publishing Info: Bloomsbury YA, January 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: from the library!

Book Description: Fall in love, break the curse.

It once seemed so easy to Prince Rhen, the heir to Emberfall. Cursed by a powerful enchantress to repeat the autumn of his eighteenth year over and over, he knew he could be saved if a girl fell for him. But that was before he learned that at the end of each autumn, he would turn into a vicious beast hell-bent on destruction. That was before he destroyed his castle, his family, and every last shred of hope.

Nothing has ever been easy for Harper Lacy. With her father long gone, her mother dying, and her brother barely holding their family together while constantly underestimating her because of her cerebral palsy, she learned to be tough enough to survive. But when she tries to save someone else on the streets of Washington, DC, she’s instead somehow sucked into Rhen’s cursed world.

Break the curse, save the kingdom.

A prince? A monster? A curse? Harper doesn’t know where she is or what to believe. But as she spends time with Rhen in this enchanted land, she begins to understand what’s at stake. And as Rhen realizes Harper is not just another girl to charm, his hope comes flooding back. But powerful forces are standing against Emberfall . . . and it will take more than a broken curse to save Harper, Rhen, and his people from utter ruin.

Review: So, as always, another “Beauty and the Beast” retelling comes out and I line up obediently to read it. This, if anything, is proof that I am an eternal optimist, as I’ve had pretty poor luck with this particular fairytale and the versions I’ve read. Yes, “Beauty” is and likely will always be one of my absolute favorite fairytale retellings, and I loved “Uprooted.” But from there…maybe a few middling titles, but then it’s straight down to versions that I highly dislike.  So the scale is pretty heavily weighted on both sides of the extreme. Sadly, “A Curse So Dark and Lonely,” while not my least favorite version, joins the ever expanding ranks of disappointments for this story.

In the fairly standard layout of the story, Rhen is our cursed prince, doomed to relive one season over and over again, attempting to win over a new girl every three months. But, what’s worse, his failures don’t simply reset things, but end with his transformation into a terrible beast that kills all those in his path. Harper, a girl growing up in D.C. and with struggles of her own, suddenly finds herself pulled away from her life (one full of its own strife with her ill mother and a brother caught up in crime rings in an attempt to pay off the family debt) and thrust into the middle of this curse, the most recent would-be curse breaker. To make matters worse, this will be the last season and Rhen’s last chance to break the curse and avoid a life ever after as a monstrous beast.

This book has received a lot of positive reviews, so I just want to say right away that there’s a good chance much of what bothered me with this book wouldn’t hold true for others who enjoy YA fairytales. There have been comparison to “A Court of Thorns and Roses,” for example. Which, given the massive appeal of that series, means many will ultimately really like this. I hated ACOTAR, on the other hand, so that comparison might be even more apt. I didn’t hate this book, but it definitely wasn’t for me.

The good thing about this book is that it does what it sets out to do. We have a unique (ish) take on the “Beauty and the Beast” tale that leans into its darker elements (beast!Rhen is truly destructive and dangerous). A heroine who represents those with disabilities in a really great way (she has what seems to be a high functioning version of cerebral palsy). And a story that delivers both action and romance (eventually).

But, for me, it did all of these things in a very “meh” way. The world-building, for one, was an immediate let-down. Emberfall is simply “such and such, generic fantasy world with magic.” There is no real explanation or true creativity behind any of it. The castle itself has some of the standard magical elements that we expect to see (ooooh, musical instruments that play themselves) and even those that we are given are too few and far between. It’s just enough to set the stage as a fantasy land, but not enough to make it stand out in any way from the millions of other fantasy lands we’ve seen.

And when juxtaposed against the “real world,” this lack of world-building is made even more stark. It’s one thing to set a book entirely in a fairly bland fantasy world, but when you have the “real world” as an element in your book and characters from that world, it’s inevitable that the “hows” and “whys” of it all should come more to the forefront. If everyone lives in this fantasy world, there’s more of a “get out of jail free” card in that, naturally, everyone (and thus the reader) would take things at face value. That’s simply not the case when you have “real world” characters who should be asking these questions.

Beyond that, while there was nothing overtly objectionable with Rhen or Harper, neither of them were particularly intriguing either. Obviously, the inclusion of Harper’s disability is an interesting take and, not having any experience with this of my own, seems to be represented well. But that is not enough to make her a fully-fleshed out character. Rhen, too, was just kind of…fine. I just never felt fully invested in either of them, and there wasn’t enough given to either to make them feel like much more than the fairly standard “beauty” and “beast” cut-outs we’ve come to expect.

And, from the get-go, the story set off on the wrong foot. Pretty early in the book, right after Harper is kidnapped and brought to the castle, we start in on the “she’s so different than the other girls” lines of thought. I almost just put the book down at this point for how much I hate this way of writing. For one, it’s lazy. If you can’t make Harper look good without including negative comparisons to “other girls,” than you have a character problem on its own. Beyond that, Rhen is something like 300 years old at this point. So, how many seasons would that be? You’re telling me that in that entire time, girls have been kidnapped from the modern world and ALL of them have only ever been interested in dresses and NONE of them wanted anything to do with daggers or, I don’t know, trying to escape? Not only is this incredibly insulting (especially when it’s linked to another comment about how originally Rhen would ask for beautiful women in particular, so of course they’re also frivolous and, I don’t know, scared of weapons??), but it’s also beyond the point of belief. These women have been kidnapped. There is no way that they all simply got distracted by sparkles and sat around meekly adoring their wardrobes. It’s as if to say that, for women, the standard reaction to kidnapping is complacency, especially if your kidnapper is rich and handsome. And that Harper’s reaction of immediately trying to escape is somehow unique and note-worthy. I could go on and on with my frustrations with this, but I think I’ve made my point and any more would just be indulging myself in ranting.

So yes. This book wasn’t my favorite and sadly joins the list of “Beauty and the Beast” retellings that I won’t be recommending. Like I said, a lot of people have liked this book, so there is definitely an audience for it. But, for me, the world-building and characters were simply too bland to hold my interest and the early introduction of “other women shaming” into the story was an immediate turn-off.

Rating 5: Not for me, alas. Maybe check it out though if you liked ACOTAR?

Reader’s Advisory:

“A Curse So Dark and Lonely” is a newer book, so it isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists. It is on this one (though I disagree about the “best” in this title): “Best retellings of Beauty and the Beast.”

Find “A Curse So Dark and Lonely” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Kate’s Review: “The Innocent Wife”

32187685Book: “The Innocent Wife” by Amy Lloyd

Publishing Info: Hanover Square Press, January 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Twenty years ago, Dennis Danson was arrested and imprisoned for the brutal murder of a young girl. Now he’s the subject of a true-crime documentary that’s whipping up a frenzy online to uncover the truth and free a man who has been wrongly convicted.

A thousand miles away in England, Samantha is obsessed with Dennis’s case. She exchanges letters with him, and is quickly won over by his apparent charm and kindness to her. Soon she has left her old life behind to marry him and campaign for his release.

When the campaign is successful and Dennis is freed, however, Sam begins to discover new details that suggest he may not be quite so innocent after all. 

But how do you confront your husband when you don’t want to know the truth?

The winner of the Daily Mail First Novel Competition, Amy Lloyd’s The Innocent Wife is gripping psychological suspense from a brilliant new voice in crime fiction.

Review: I listen to a whole lot of podcasts, mostly ones that dabble in true crime, and sometimes through those podcasts I get reading ideas. While usually these idea come in the form of non fiction books (usually thanks to Marcus Parks being a thorough researcher who likes to share his sources), occasionally a fiction title will catch my ear. So when Georgia Hardstark of “My Favorite Murder” mentioned the book “The Innocent Wife” by Amy Lloyd, I immediately threw myself on the request list. Eventually it arrived, and I was eager to open it up and dive on in. Happily, the moment I opened it it pretty much took my full attention until I was finished. Yes, it’s that readable and that addicting. But while it is absolutely readable and addicting, it also left a sour taste in my mouth when all was said and done. And to really explain why, I’m going to have to give you a big ol’ spoiler alert before I really break it down.

But, as always, I will first concentrate on the aspects of this book that I enjoyed. Lloyd has clearly done her research and has no problems showing the dark underbelly of American prison systems and how prisoners exist within them. The central question of this book is whether or not Dennis, a convicted murderer sitting on death row, is actually guilty of the crime he committed. There are similarities between this case and other cases of potentially innocent/clearly innocent people on death row, though I see many parallels to Damian Echols of The West Memphis 3. One consequence of sitting in a small confined cell for so many years is that Dennis’s eyesight has been warped so that he has to wear dark lenses on his eyes at all times. From being in a controlled and isolated environment for so long, Dennis doesn’t know how to function in the outside world, and things that we would take for granted such as newer slang or long passed world events are new and unexplained to him. There is also a focus on incompetence or corruption of law enforcement, and how sometimes law enforcement officials are far more interested in putting a collar on someone, anyone, to close a case, even if that person doesn’t necessarily fit the evidence or the realities of said case. I liked that Lloyd brought up these issues when other authors may not have, just to show that there are consequences to our systems, especially for those who shouldn’t be there in the first place.

But beyond those pertinent issues and themes “The Innocent Wife” was a quick but ultimately frustrating read for me. For one, I had a hard time with the characters. Our main character, Samantha, is completely unlikeable and unrelatable. She makes terrible decision after terrible decision, and is very self involved, getting married to a convicted murder that she barely knows (even if she’s convinced he didn’t kill the girl he supposedly killed) without thinking of potential consequences of said actions. She has temper tantrums of jealousy regarding women who visit Dennis in prison, gets petulant about how the public sees her after he’s been let out of prison, and has moments of feeling ugly because he is having problems with intimacy after he’s been INCARCERATED FOR TWO DECADES. While I don’t doubt that these are certainly realistic and believable traits, I had a really hard time stomaching them. The only character that I really liked in this book was Carrie, the filmmaker of the documentary that focuses on Dennis whose tenacity and will to expose a corrupt system was very enjoyable.

And why didn’t I like Dennis, you may ask? Well let me tell you. And here is your

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(source)

No, Dennis didn’t commit the crime for which he went to prison. But he SURE HELPED MURDER A NUMBER OF OTHER MISSING GIRLS AND WOMEN IN HIS HOMETOWN. Once that was revealed, I was pretty much miffed, and hate read the rest of the book. What frustrates me about this is that I felt like it negated all of the other legitimate injustices and concerns that were brought up within the narrative, as now the reader has his actual guilt which seems to negate the issues that were brought up earlier in the book. I felt like it knocked the legs out from under very reasonable arguments about inhumane treatment and corruption and incompetence, because now the ‘gut feeling’ the police officers had has been legitimized and the corruption of the conviction doesn’t have any weight anymore. I hated that. 

“The Innocent Wife” was a fast read, but an unsatisfying one. I won’t stop taking reading advice from podcasts, but I may be inclined to look into the titles a bit more from now on.

Rating 4: While “The Innocent Wife” did bring up interesting and grave truths about incarceration in this country, the ultimate solution was frustrating and I didn’t care for most of the characters.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Innocent Wife” is included on the Goodreads lists “Murderino Reading List!”, and “The Girl Who Didn’t See Her Husband’s Wife When She Disappeared Twice From The Train.”

Find “The Innocent Wife” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “A Sorrow Fierce and Falling”

36443576Book: “A Sorrow Fierce and Falling” by Jessica Cluess

Publishing Info: Random House BFYR, October 2018

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

Book Description: It’s time for war.

After suffering terrible losses, Henrietta and Lord Blackwood have led their warriors to Sorrow-Fell, a vast estate where only those invited by a Blackwood may enter–and the ideal place to plan a final assault against the Ancients.

It’s time for a wedding.

Henrietta nervously awaits her marriage to Blackwood, but when the ritual to become his bride reveals a dark secret, she realizes that Sorrow-Fell is not a safe haven; it’s a trap. Convincing the sorcerers of this, however, is not easy. So with Maria, the true chosen one, and Magnus, the young man who once stole her heart, at her side, Henrietta plots a dangerous journey straight into the enemy’s lair. Some will live. Some will die. All will be tested.

In this stunning conclusion to the Kingdom on Fire series, Henrietta must choose between the love from her past, the love from her present, and a love that could define her future. While battles rage, the fate of the kingdom rests on her decision: Will she fall or rise up to become the woman who saves the realm?

It’s time for Henrietta to make her stand.

Previously reviewed: “A Shadow Bright and Burning” and “A Poison Dark and Drowning”

Review: This trilogy has traveled an odd trajectory as far as my feelings for a book series go. I was underwhelmed by the first book, a bit put off by the sheer number of love interests who were introduced. The second one fared better, expanding the world out by quite a bit, upping the ante with the villain, history, and Henrietta’s true role in all of this. And then this one…just kind of threw out a lot of different things and saw what stuck, essentially? I’m not even sure! I’m still experience a bit of whiplash from it all, but I don’t think I liked it, in the end.

Events had been coming to a head at the last book, not least of which saw Henrietta agree to marry Blackwood. However, now, as events continue to spin out of control, Henrietta is forced to re-examine all that she thought she knew about those around her. And with new revelations come new choices, each with their own prices to be paid. Surrounded by her friends and facing new and terrible dangers, Henrietta must face her final challenge.

So, as usual, I’ll try to start with some things I enjoyed about this book. The one consistent thing throughout this series that I have liked has been the general writing style. There’s a nice mixture of interesting turns of phrase alongside stark, to-the-point writing that solidly carries the story along. For the most part, purple prose, of the like that can all too often pop up in YA fantasy that has a strong emphasis on romance, is largely avoided. I also listened to this one on audiobook again (which I did for the second book, too) and enjoyed the narrator’s interpretation of characters. I remember thinking that my increased enjoyment of the second book could have something to do with this change of format. And I now have to think that continuing my read of this series using this format was a wise choice, as I’m not sure I would have made it through this one without the increased enjoyment of the audio narrator.

I also generally still enjoy the world-building. There have always been a plethora of creative ideas at the heart of this story. And I’ve also appreciated the way the author has walked right up to the horror line with many of her villains, making them truly horrible. Much of that still continues here, though it did start to feel overly crowded and muddled at times. It’s only been a year since I read the last book, but there were times where I was still struggling to remember how some of these elements worked together and what there histories were.

However, other than those points, I really had a hard time with this book. I’ve never loved Henrietta as a character, but I also didn’t have any overt issues with her. I was particularly intrigued by the second book where we were introduced to Maria, the “real” chosen one. But here, Henrietta went from blandly ok to outright unlikable. We’ve had three books now to witness her making mistakes as she discovers herself and her role in this conflict. And that’s fine. But by this point, we need to start seeing the growth that comes out of those mistakes. Instead, if anything, Henrietta becomes more indecisive and makes even more nonsensical choices than we’ve seen in the past, often to disastrous results. It makes her not only a frustrating character to read, leaving the reader feeling like the character hasn’t grown at all over two entire books, but this weakness of character was necessary to drive much of the plot, as it revolved around said poor decision making and the results therein.

And, lastly, the romance was a huge problem for me. This has been the biggest question mark for me throughout the entire series. From the very beginning I had huge red flags going up regarding the sheer number of love interests that were introduced. We were way past love triangle and into the realm of love square or even more. It was always too much. As the story progressed, I was mostly able to distract myself from my concerns in these areas. But not here. To finally resolve all of the dangling romantic threads, several characters had to be almost completely re-written. One in particular became almost unrecognizable and the change came out of left field. Beyond this, Henrietta’s reaction to this change was not appropriate, as the character essentially became abusive. There are so many layers of problems with this that I’m tired even thinking about it. Ultimately, it felt like the author didn’t know how to resolve (or even decide!) all of the romantic plotlines that were introduced. So instead of making her main character progress along a natural arc of self-discovery throughout the series that would result in her forming a realistic attachment to one character over the others, the author just got to the last book and decided to write off at least two of the choices, leaving Henrietta with only one viable option anyways. It felt lazy and like a slap in the face to readers. What exactly were we wasting our time on before this point if this is how it’s going to be ultimately resolved?

So, while the book did have some creative ideas with its world-building, in the end that’s all it felt like: a collection of ideas. Looking back over the trilogy as a whole, it looks like the work of an author badly in need of an editor. Everything and the kitchen sink went into this series and it shows worst of all in this last book when you can see the wheels coming off as the author frantically tries to resolve all of the elements that have been introduced (most poorly in the romance arena, perhaps). If you’ve enjoyed this series up to this point, I’m not sure how you’ll feel about this one really. It’s the kind of thing where some readers may really enjoy it and others will hate it, but it’s going to largely come down to what each reader was getting out of the series before and how they wanted things to turn out in the end. For me, it didn’t work and almost retroactively lowered the first two books as well, as it seemed to highlight that there was only ever a shaky overall plot from the very start.

Rating 5: A disappointing conclusion, most especially in the lazy resolution to the multiple love interests that had been introduced.

Reader’s Advisory:

“A Sorrow Fierce and Falling” is fairly new and isn’t on any very relevant Goodreads lists, but it is on “YA Releases of October, 2018.”

Find “A Sorrow Fierce and Falling” at your library using WorldCat.

A Revisit to Fear Street: “Who Killed The Homecoming Queen?”

537658Book: “Who Killed the Homecoming Queen” (Fear Street #48) by R.L. Stine

Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, September 1997

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Tania is having the best year of her life. She has a hot new boyfriend, she landed the starring role in a student film, and she’s just been voted homecoming queen. But someone is jealous of Tania. Someone plans to ruin her perfect year–even if Tania must be killed. Will Tania live to see the homecoming dance?

Had I Read This Before: No.

The Plot: It’s Pep Rally time at Shadyside High, and Eva Whelan is rushing through the halls to get to the gym. This is the pep rally where they find out the girl who won Homecoming Queen, so you know everyone is abuzz! Eva’s friend Tania catches up with her, and we find out that Tania is up for the position of Homecoming Queen. Tania asks Eva if she can use her psychic powers to tell her if she’s going to win, but Eva is clearly uncomfortable with this because she’s NOT psychic, she just gets intuitions and bad feelings before something bad happens. I’d say that that’s what Daphne Moon would call ‘a little bit psychic’, but that’s not my call. But Tania assures her that she doesn’t even care if she wins, because it’s already been a great year. Her Mom got remarried to a great guy, they moved into a fancy new house, and she has an awesome stepbrother named Jeremy (who it just so happens Eva has a huge crush on!). On top of that Tania is also dating the uber popular Sandy Bishop, captain of the football team who is a little too into himself but really does care about Tania. So things are going GREAT for her. As they’re walking, however, someone suddenly shoves Tania at the top of the steps! Tania almost falls but catches herself before she can, and it turns out it was LESLIE GATES did it! Leslie apologizes, saying it was an accident, but given that she too is up for Homecoming Queen Eva isn’t so sure it was very ‘accidental’. Add into the fact that Leslie has always been jealous of Tania’s life, going so far as to stop being friends with her she was so jealous, and it makes for a rather big coincidence. I’ve known a Leslie or two in my life, and they are EXHAUSTING, so I’m going to keep an eye on her. As Tania breaks off from Eva to sit in her nomination seat, Eva gets one of her ‘bad feelings’, but tries to write it off.

Eva takes her spot in the gym and looks at the Homecoming Queen nominees as they sit in a semi-circle looking like products of the patriarchy…. Okay fine, I’m kinda joking. It looks like a fun time, and my high school didn’t really HAVE a Homecoming Court so much as the members of the various grades of Student Council were just kind of appointed to their positions, which takes out the popularity contest aspect but also feels hollow.

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Seems a bit shady is all I’m saying. (source)

Anyway, there are only four of the five Homecoming Queen nominees sitting there (Mei Kamata being one of them, and I wonder if she’s still with that boy that Holly had such a thing for?), and Eva realizes that Leslie isn’t there. But then Leslie makes a grand entrance, fashionably late, and Eva is annoyed by her calculated attention seeking stunt. But she is distracted by Keith Hicks, a guy who dresses in black and has an earring so we better keep an eye on him too, and Jeremy, who are sitting next to each other because bromance! Eva joins them in hopes of catching Jeremy’s eye and finally getting the guts to ask him to the dance. Jeremy has barely been listening to Keith talk about movies because he’s SO nervous about Tania winning. He REALLY cares about Tania and they’ve become REALLY close ever since their parents got married, and huh… maybe we should keep an eye on him too… As Jeremy gushes about his stepsister, Keith rightfully points out that said gushing is WEIRD, but then he has an ulterior motive because he has a huge crush on Tania. Keith says that maybe he’ll write in his movie script a scene where Tania dumps Sandy for him, and Jeremy ups the ante by suggesting Keith just MURDER Sandy and Eva has probably regretted sitting next to these two. Keith says that Leslie has been pestering him to cast her as the lead in said amateur film he’s making, saying she’d do him the favor of being in it, but Keith is no dope and knows that she is desperate to get into a prestigious acting program, so him casting her would be doing HER the favor, and besides he’d prefer to cast Tania, especially if she wins homecoming queen, as his movie is titled ‘Who Killed the Homecoming Queen?’ Eva is still getting her bad feeling, but now it’s time to announce the winner! And, big surprise, it’s TANIA! But as she’s walking to get her crown, she suddenly collapses in a heap on the floor!! IS SHE DEAD? No, she has blood sugar issues, which causes her to faint. A candy bar will fix her right up! She gives a charming acceptance speech, and once the pep rally is over Jeremy says they should go say hi! He rushes ahead to congratulate her, and Eva wonders where Sandy is. She runs into Leslie, who is crying over her loss, and Eva tries to comfort her. But all of her sympathy runs out when Leslie says that Tania gets EVERYTHING, and even her blood sugar issues aren’t fair because it means she can eat candy whenever she wants and not worry about getting fat!

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Oh yes, lucky Tania with her constant fainting. (source)

Eva tells Leslie that you can’t be mad at Tania for getting the most votes, and Leslie tells her to essentially stuff it and storms off. But before Tania can think too much about it, she sees something horrible under the bleachers: SANDY IS MAKING OUT WITH CHERISE COLBY! Eva is shocked, and wonders if she should tell Tania about it, but doesn’t know if she wants to be the one to do it. She turns away to leave, but then sees that Leslie has slithered back and has seen the whole thing. She declares that this revelation would ‘kill’ Tania!

The next day Eva is watching Tania and Sandy argue about him sneaking around on her. Tania says that she knows all about it and that she’s dumping him, and he is affronted that she would dump him right before the Homecoming dance. She tells him that he should have thought about that before he cheated on her. He grabs her arm, and she tries to get away but he says that he’s not letting her go and he starts to manhandle her! Eva just keeps watching, horrified, and yells at him to stop and runs forward. Tania twists away and hits Sandy, but he starts to strangle her! Tania falls limp to the ground, and Eva screams ‘NOOOOOO!’…. But then Keith yells ‘cut!’ and tells everyone to take a few minutes. It was all part of his movie. Keith says that they have to do the scene again because a plane overhead interfered with the sound, and Sandy is pissed and tries to argue with him. But thus is the life of the outdoor shoot, dickhead. They then realize that Tania isn’t moving. She’s passed out again. Sandy starts to freak out and shake her and insists on calling an ambulance, but Tania comes to and it’s just her blood sugar again. No need for an ambulance, it’s chocolate time. I guess they haven’t been dating that long since he doesn’t know the drill. Keith goes to get some candy, and Sandy says he doesn’t know what he’s do if something happened to her. Eva thinks to herself that he’d just go fuck Cherise. She hasn’t told Tania about what she saw, and thinks it’s ironic that Keith’s movie is pretty much projecting what is going on with Sandy, Tania, and Cherise in real life. Keith says they need another take, but Tania has to go to Homecoming ceremony rehearsal. He’s mad for a bit, but the moment Tania touches his arm he lightens up about his ‘vision’ and calls it for the day. Eva follows Tania to the auditorium, thinking now is the time to tell her about what she saw. But before she can, Leslie is in there yelling at Tania about how she’s going to kill her because she got the lead in Keith’s movie! Tania says that she had no idea that Leslie wanted the role and if she HAD known she would have told Keith to cast her instead. Leslie seems convinced, but is so determined to hurt Tania that she’s about to tell her about Sandy and Cherise, but Eva stops her. She yanks Leslie off to the side of the auditorium and tells her to stop being such a nut, and Leslie says she won’t tell… for now. Eva goes back to Tania, intending to tell her, but then the rest of the Homecoming Court traipses in and Eva doesn’t want to embarrass Tania so she says they’ll talk later.

That Saturday Eva is waiting for Tania at the Mall fountain. They’re going to go Homecoming dress shopping, and maybe now would be a good time to tell Tania about Sandy and Cherise? But instead of Tania showing up it’s Jeremy! Eva is excited to see him, but he’s just there to deliver a message to Eva; Tania forgot to bring an item she wants to return, so she’ll meet her at Pete’s Pizza later. Eva, not one to miss an opportunity to spend time with Jeremy, asks him to go to Pete’s Pizza with her while she waits. He agrees, and Eva is seeing hearts in her eyes in spite of the fact he’s weirdly obsessed with his step sister. They get to the pizza place and she asks him what his Mall plans are. He tells her that she’s going CD shopping for his Mom, and then laughs in what I can only imagine is a weird awkward way and says that it’s SO wonderful having a REAL family again! He says that before Tania and her mom came into his and his dad’s life he got into trouble at his old school, but now his life has changed for the better! But he doesn’t want to talk about the ‘trouble’ either. Eva, not to be deterred by these GLARING RED FLAGS that are waving in a goddamn hurricane, asks him if he has a date to the Homecoming Dance. But suddenly Jeremy looks angry, and when Eva looks to see where he’s looking she sees Sandy and Cherise in a booth, kissing! And to make matters worse, who should walk into the pizzeria, but TANIA! Jeremy stands up and leads her out before she can see what they saw, and tells Eva to meet them by the fountain. Eva decides that she needs to tell Tania for sure.

That Monday they’re filming Keith’s art house joint again, and Eva still hasn’t told Tania about Sandy. Stine is trying to write this like it’s some kinda betrayal, but I think it’s a complicated conversation to have with a friend. What she SHOULD be doing is confronting Sandy! And while they’re on some down time, she gets about halfway there by being passive aggressively snide to him, and she must be from the Midwest because we have that on LOCK. She tells him that he’s ‘unreal’ (whoa there Eva, you can’t take THAT back), and he thinks she’s talking about his acting (LOL). She tells him she knows about him and Cherise, and he says that he can explain that, and she says he should explain it to Tania. He grabs her arm and asks her if she’s going to tell on him, and she asks why he cares, and he INSISTS he can explain it, but Eva doesn’t want to hear it. Keith says they are going to film the strangling scene again. But as they’re filming Keith yells cut because his camcorder has jammed again. Sandy stamps off in a fury (chill dude), and Jeremy yells after him, which gets TANIA in a tizzy and this is a soapy mess. Keith gets the camcorder in order and they film again, but this time they’re interrupted by Keith’s sister Mandy who needs him to take her to gymnastics practice. Nothing is going right… And even worse, Tania has passed out again. But Sandy starts to freak out because this time, she has no pulse!!!! Sandy insists he wasn’t really choking her but she died anyway. Jeremy FREAKS OUT and runs to her lifeless body, shaking it and wailing her name to the heavens. Keith goes to call an ambulance and Eva tells Sandy to go with him so she can stay with Jeremy who is having a total meltdown as he cries and shakes her. Eva tells him to stop, and he jumps up and runs away. Eva chases after him, but he’s too fast. When she hears the ambulance and police sirens she goes back to the bleachers to meet the police with Keith. Jeremy trudges back (WHAT WAS THE POINT OF RUNNING YOU WEIRDO?!) as well, but when they get back to where they left Tania’s body… IT’S GONE! Which is awkward given the police and ambulance are here for a body. The teens tell them that the body was here but now it’s gone, and it goes just as well as one would expect it to. Eva notices Leslie at the top of the bleachers, smiling down at them, and Eva points at her and says that SHE can tell them what happened to Tania’s body! The police grab her and Leslie says that she didn’t even SEE Tania, she just saw everyone running around and was curious. Eva wonders if she’s telling the truth or working on her acting. As the police try to suss out what is going on/how badly they were just had, Eva looks around at all her friends. One of them has to be lying. Sandy comes trudging back and says that he was looking for Tania, thinking she’d gone to his car. Eva asks what that even means, and one of the police officers also wants clarification. Sandy says that they had planned this all out. Tania was going to pretend to die, just to scare everyone, but then yell ‘surprise!’ and that would have been that. But she wasn’t supposed to disappear. The police officer asks if Tania was breathing when the scene ended, and Sandy admits that he doesn’t know. Jeremy says that SANDY KILLED HER (even though with no body and a witness saying that it was a bad joke there is NO reason to believe she’s dead, you obsessive weirdo!) and starts to strangle Sandy. The police officers break it up, and say that this really sounds like it’s just a dumb joke, and if it’s not they will figure it out. They offer to take the gang home.

Eva gets home and tries to call Tania’s house, but gets a busy signal. She wonders if this is all just a mean joke or if Tania’s dead and her body has been stolen in a Victorian Medical student kinda way. She then realizes that the camcorder could have caught everything on tape if it kept running, and calls Keith. He says he was just about to see what was on it, and invites Eva over to watch it with him. Because I guess what’s another half hour of not knowing? She goes to his house, and they sit down to watch the video, but it was jammed again and didn’t record anything outside of static. Keith tries calling her house again, but says he got a busy signal. He says that he has to finish his video with or without Tania. Jeremy bursts in and says that Tania wasn’t at home, and he’s called everyone in her address book asking if they’ve seen her. The police still think it’s a joke, and Jeremy says that he KNOWS that Tania is dead because he overheard Sandy and Cherise talking about how they were going to murder Tania! Keith says that he’s nuts, and Jeremy insists that he heard them whispering to each other while he was at his locker. Eva says that he could have misheard them, but Jeremy says there’s no way he did! Eva wants to ask Cherise before they tell the police, but when she calls she can’t get ahold of her.

The next day (no school because of Teacher Conferences, VERY convenient) Eva decides to go to Cherise’s house to confront her. When she pulls up across the street she sees Sandy and Cherise on Cherise’s porch, kissing. She waits until Sandy leaves and Cherise goes inside before leaving her car. She tehn knocks on the door, but hears someone inside yelling about how they’re going to kill someone. But Cherise opens the door and it’s just the TV. Eva follows Cherise inside, and asks Cherise if she and Sandy were plotting to kill Tania, as per Jeremy. Cherise is mortified and denies it, and Eva says Jeremy overheard them at the lockers. Cherise then relaxes and says that she was helping Sandy learn his lines. The phone rings, and Cherise puts it on speaker phone (because fuck privacy I guess?). The voice on the line says ‘I killed Tania. You’re next.’ Cherise asks what they’re talking about, and the voice says ‘Tania was first. You’re next.’, and hangs up. Eva says that something is wrong, in that she just feels like something isn’t what it seems…

The next day after school Eva is catching Keith up on the phone call. Still no sign of Tania. Jeremy took the news poorly and is now sulking by his car. Even after Cherise called the cops the cops still think it’s all a joke. Leslie then comes rushing across the parking lot, saying that now that Tania is missing Keith will need a new star of his video, and she will HAPPILY step in.

giphy-13
Buzz off, leech. (source)

Keith tells her that he’s not doing the Homecoming movie anymore and that he’s working on something with Sandy instead. Leslie demands to know if there’s a role in it for her, and he says ‘NAH’, so she storms away. Sandy then arrives saying that he can’t stop thinking about Tania and that he’s losing his mind. Keith tells him to go home and rest up, and offers Eva a ride home. She says she’ll ask Jeremy for one, but then notices he’s disappeared. Eva’s about to walk home, but realizes she forgot her backpack inside. She goes to her locker, and then finds Leslie covered with blood! Leslie says that she was so mad about the movie that she slammed her locker door against the wall, and the mirror hanging inside shattered and sprayed glass all over her. Eva takes her to the bathroom to try and help her clean up, but I’m more concerned about the glass spraying outward instead of just falling to the ground. Physics? Leslie leaves the bathroom and thanks Eva for helping her clear up, and when Eva goes back to her locker she finds something very bad: a pool of dark liquid pooled under her door. When she opens it, she finds something worse: SANDY’S DEAD BODY TUMBLES OUT ONTO THE FLOOR! There’s a knife sticking out of his back. And written in his blood in Eva’s locker is the phrase ‘YOUR TURN NEXT’.

Eva invites all the suspects her friends to her house that evening to discuss the turn of events. Cherise is freaking out and Keith is trying to discern who could be next, movie style. Eva wonders if Leslie REALLY cut herself on an exploding mirror. The police interrogated her and now she’s scared that she’s a suspect (just test the blood on her clothes, that should clear things up right quick). The phone rings, and it’s the voice again, reminding Eva that it’s her turn next.

Cut to the next day (that previous scene was damned near pointless) and Keith is going to film a ‘candid portrait’ of Eva and Cherise. As they wait for Cherise Eva talks about how scared she is, and Keith wishes he’d heard the voice. Eva goes to pose at the top of the bleachers, but as she leans against the rail it snaps. She almost falls off, but Keith is able to grab her in time. He also notices that the break is clean instead of jagged, which means that someone must have sawed it down in hopes that she would lean against it. They decide to take this to the police, but as they’re about to leave, then look up at the top of the bleachers.. and TANIA is there!! They call out to her and she rushes down to meet them. She says that she heard about Sandy’s death and had to ‘come home’. They ask her where the HELL she was, and she tells them that it was all a joke. She wanted to get revenge on them for not telling her about Sandy and Cherise. Because JEREMY told her after he saw them at Pete’s Pizza and told her about the cheating and that Eva knew to. So it was HIS idea to do this elaborate joke. Tania told Sandy about it to a point, but then she disappeared to go stay with cousins in Waynesbridge! They told her parents that she was fine, and the parents told the POLICE she was fine, which is why they thought it was a joke! But when she heard about Sandy she came back, feeling awful that he died, possibly because of her disappearance. Eva then realizes that Cherise was supposed to be at the bleachers an hour ago. They try to call her, but there’s no answer. So they decide to drive to her house.

When they get to Cherise’s house they hear screaming coming from inside. They enter the house and see Jeremy running away, and Cherise holding a knife in her hand. She tells them that Jeremy killed Sandy and tried to stab her, but she got the knife away from him and that he wants to kill them all. Jeremy yells at her to stay away, and when Eva asks why he did this he tries to run. Tania grabs for him but he falls and is knocked unconscious. They ask Cherise what happened and she says that he wanted to get revenge on Sandy and her for Tania, because he couldn’t stand to see her hurt as the ‘first family he’s ever had’. Eva wonders if the trouble he got into in his past was murder. Cherise also says that he was going to kill Eva because Tania spends so much time with her, and that was why he sawed the bleacher railing. Cherise says they have to call the police but Tania is reluctant because it’s ‘her brother’ (fucking Lannister vibes man), and then Jeremy starts to come to. He says that they have to get away, and when he sees Cherise he freaks out and says that SHE killed Sandy!!!! Cherise says that’s not true and he broke into her house and attacked her, and HE says that THAT’S not true and the knife belongs to her. He says he’ll tell them everything that happened, and Cherise says they have to get out of there and that she’s afraid, and he says she has no reason to be afraid because SHE has the knife and that doesn’t mean ANYTHING, asshole! But he says that she called him over and then began screaming as soon as she saw the rest of them arrive. He started to run because she was setting him up. Eva eventually comes around and says that she knows that Cherise is lying, because Jeremy already GOT his revenge on Sandy with the joke and there was no need to kill him. And besides, how did Cherise know about the bleacher railing? THEY HADN’T MENTIONED IT AND IT HAD JUST HAPPENED.

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Cherise in this moment. (source)

So now we get the real reveal, and it’s actually pretty upsetting. APPARENTLY, Sandy never actually liked Cherise, he and Keith were using her to make a movie! Sandy would pretend to like Cherise, and Keith would film it in secret as another of his ‘candid’ movies. Cherise found out and killed Sandy, and was convinced that everyone else was in on the secret and was laughing at her humiliation. She sawed the railing in hopes Eva would fall. Eva says they should call the cops, and Cherise says they have no proof, but Keith says he’s been recording the whole time. Cherise tries to attack him with the knife, but Keith blocks her blow with the camcorder. The knife flies out of her hands, and Eva kicks it away. Cherise tries to grab the camcorder, but when it’s clear she can’t win she collapses into tears.

The police arrive, and Eva and her friends tell the cops everything. The police turn to Cherise and ask if that’s all true, and SHE SHRUGS PETULANTLY. Keith says that they have her confession on tape, and SHE SHRUGS PETULANTLY AGAIN, but then just kinda sighs and says ‘yeah okay, I did it’. The police ask where her parents are and she says they’re at a convention and the phone number is on the fridge, and they just kinda  nonchalantly take her away. It’s the most anticlimactic Fear Street ending ever. Keith and the others decide to try and watch the confession on the tape…. BUT IT WAS JAMMED AGAIN. The End.

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Well let’s hope that the court doesn’t decide that they need that piece of evidence. (source)

Body Count: 1. Quite the dip from the previous book!

Romance Rating: 1, only because there was very little to be had and the romances that WERE present were filled with LIES!

Bonkers Rating: 3. Tania’s disappearance act was ridiculous, but everything else was standard and bland.

Fear Street Relevance: There is no mention of Fear Street or the Fear Family anywhere in this damn book, but since it does take place in Shadyside it gets a 1.

Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:

“In the sudden quiet, another sound rang out. A single, sharp, metallic sound. A piercing blast that echoed off the walls of the gym. A shot!, Eva thought with a cry. A gunshot!”

… But it was just a student crushing a soda can with his foot. How that was mistaken for a gunshot, I don’t know.

That’s So Dated! Moments: Keith is filming all his stuff on a VHS based camcorder, and at one point Jeremy refers to CD stores at the mall.

Best Quote:

“‘It really is,’ he agreed. ‘I guess it sounds weird. But having a real family is so awesome. I never really had one before. My mother died when I was a baby. And I hardly ever saw my father because he worked all the time. He stays home more now.’

Why is he telling me all this? Eva wondered.

HAHAHA, I love how even Stine had to acknowledge this plot exposition was shoved in sloppily.

Conclusion: “Who Killed The Homecoming Queen?” ended up being a total misnomer and felt trite and lazy once it all shook out. We didn’t even get to go to the homecoming dance!!! Up next is “Into The Dark”!

Not Just Books: March 2019

While we do love us some books, believe it not, we do have a life outside of reading. So to highlight our other pop culture interests, on the last Monday of each month, we each will highlight three other “happenings” from the last month. Big events on favorite TV shows, new movies we’ve watched, old movies we’ve “discovered,” etc. Pretty much whatever we found of particular interest outside of the book world during the last month. Share your own favorite things in the comments!

Serena’s Picks

aa6041accee0a0148d85fd41d0e742ef59f09e879d52779c4c80fcc98ec99387a2def3b457a1a4293b7b8a8c5e047533431742d41bdf69d4fbdc97c7d226b5ef_28129Podcast: “Binge Mode”

In a perfectly timed moment of pure luck, I happened to read an article about an apparently super popular podcast called “Binge Mode” that releases its episodes in a Netflix-like style where you can then “binge” an entire “season” of podcasts. An intriguing idea, sure. But even MORE intriguing when I realized that they started this podcast/format to review each season of “Game of Thrones.” And, as we all know unless we’ve been living under a rock, the final season of “Game of Thrones is almost upon us! So what better time to go back and re-experience all 7 previous seasons in podcast format? And really, this podcast is excellent. It really deep dives into all the intricacies of the show and the books in ways that I haven’t seen other reviewers attempt. And as I only got through the first book in the series, there’s been a lot of really interesting background information that I’ve picked up while listening to this. So, if you have, oh, 60-ish hours of free time before the final season drops, I definitely recommend checking this out!

mv5bzwyxodvimgytmge2zc00zgq3lthhmwutytvknge3owu4nwrkl2ltywdll2ltywdlxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymjywnda2mde40._v1_TV Series: “Planet Earth II”

This is one of those series where I both love it and hate it. When it popped up on Netflix, my husband immediately turned it on and I was like “Yaaayy…??” Because, let’s be real, I cry at the drop of a hat where animals are involved and yes, yes, I know “circle of life” and all of that. But that literally has zero impact on my crazy-immediate and intense attachment to any animal that pops on the screen, and then watching the predator/prey reality play out…it hurts me! But I also love animals! And there’s no denying the sheer wonder that is the cinematography and crazy moments that they somehow managed to capture on film. So yes, while I spend a stupid amount of time covering my cat’s eyes so he “doesn’t witness the violence” (an obvious ploy to simply distract myself from said crying), I also can’t deny how incredible this series is.

his-dark-materials-e1536684005776-700x348Teaser Trailer: “His Dark Materials”

Omg, I’m WAY too excited about this. Which is also simply terrifying given the absolute dumpster fire that was the first attempt at bringing this story to the screen. At least this time, they’ve started out on the right foot by admitting that the sheer scope of this trilogy necessitates a TV series rather than a simple movie format. And while I will always think that Nicole Kidman was perfectly cast as Mrs. Coulter, and it’s a shame she was in such a wreck of a movie, I’m also pretty excited about this cast, especially the excellent Dafne Keen as Lyra, who I loved in “Logan.” This is just a teaser trailer, so there’s not a whole lot to go on. But like I said, I’m way too excited to NOT feature it on this list. Be prepared for various other iterations of this to show up here in the future as things progress!

Kate’s Picks

medium26aTV Show: “Medium”

Back in college I remember a friend referring to the show “Monk” as ‘a show I love in spite of me not being part of the target demographic’. And my equivalent, I said, was the show “Medium”. I love the crime procedural/fantasty/family drama about Allison Dubois, an Arizona wife, mother, and psychic who helps the District Attorney with her visions of crimes and victims. The center of the show is Patricia Arquette, who played Allison with so much heart, empathy, and realism that she won an Emmy for her portrayal. While the mysteries and cases are always well done and unsettling, the true strength of this show is the Dubois Family. Allison’s wonderful and devoted husband Joe (played by Jake Weber) is a great foil for her, and when you add three psychic daughters into the mix (who are all wonderful actresses as well) you get one of the best and most realistic portrayals of family life I’ve seen on TV. And it’s streaming on Amazon Prime right now, so you KNOW that I rewatched it and took joy in doing so (though I refuse to watch the finale. Fans know why.).

STAR TREK: DISCOVERYTV Show: “Star Trek: Discovery”

I was raised by two “Star Trek” geeks, so it’s no surprise that I have inherited a huge love for the franchise and the universe that Gene Roddenberry created. Like other “Star Trek” fans, I was very happy to hear that we were getting a new TV show, but sad that it was going to be on a streaming service that I couldn’t justify to purchase with my other streaming services (that said, I’m wavering on that). But now “Star Trek: Discovery” Season 1 is on DVD, and you KNOW that the hubby and I tore through it! Set before “The Original Series”, “Discovery” shows the origins on the war between the Federation and the Klingons, with a focus on the science vessel The Discovery. I like the overarching mystery of the first season regarding what Captain Lorca of The Discovery is actually motivated by, and while I am getting a little sick of all the Klingon re-designs that happen I do love seeing things from their POV, as they are my favorite alien species in the mythology. It’s a bit darker than past series, and I LOVE our main character Michael Burnham, the intelligent and complex former Star Fleet officer AND first African American woman main character “Star Trek” has seen.

p16594939_b_v8_aaTV Show: “RuPaul’s Drag Race”

It’s not “All Stars” this time, it’s the regular show! Which means a whole new set of drag queens and a whole new set of challenges, runways, fashion choices, and drama! I’ve been watching the show as it airs since season 4, and now we’re at season 11 and I don’t know where the time went. I always prefer the regular show to the “All Stars” format, as the new talent and new dynamics are always fun to see unfold. My favorite so far is Yvie Oddly, an avant garde queen who pushes the limits on glamour and creepy, but there are so many talented contestants this year it’s hard to predict who is going to make it to the top 3. And while it’s true that the move to VH1 has potentially led to some, uh, QUESTIONABLE format changes, overall I still quite enjoy watching all of the queens doing what they love to do.

 

 

The Great Animorphs Re-Read #46: “The Deception”

363401Animorphs #46: “The Deception”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, October 2000

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: The Animorphs and Ax have managed to contact the Andalite home world. But the battle is far from over. Visser Two has arrived on earth, and he’s not happy about the state of things. He decides the best way to take over Earth is to have the humans destroy the people and the land the Yeerk’s don’t need. He decides to start World War III.

Ax and his friends know that Visser Two means business and there will probably only be two ways to keep him from destroying everything they know: Find a way to stop the war. Or, find away to stop him …forever..

Narrator: Ax

Plot: Another “beginning of the end” book where we see the start of the expansion of what, to this point, has been a very small war up on to a much larger, global scale. And poor Ax really embraces his role as being of two people and what that means, and it’s just rough.

Poor Ax, with the worst choices of all.

The story picks up right off the back of the last with the Animorphs reaching out to the Andalites. In no surprise to anyone, even, notably, Ax himself at this point, the Andalites are huge dicks and immediately question the validity of the information the Animorphs are providing about the Yeerks preparation for the Andalite fleet. They accuse the Animorphs of potentially just trying to make things up to re-direct the Andalite fleet back towards helping Earth. Ax even gets on at one point and they say that while they’ll take what he says “under consideration,” he “might have confused his loyalties” by all of this time on Earth at this point, so they can’t completely trust him. Again, Andalites, showing their true colors as just the worst (all the more so for always strutting around claiming to be the best).

Later, Ax, Marco and Tobias overhear a garble report from the Yeerks on the transmitter. Ax manages to hack the transmitter into the NSA computer system and with its greater power is able to more fully receive the full Yeerk report: Visser Two is on his way to Earth to begin to put Visser Three’s (now Visser One) more grand plans into action. They overhear a set of coordinates and immediately need to make a plan.

They discover that the location is far out over the Pacific Ocean, and with the short amount of time before the plan, whatever it may be, is set to be put in motion, they won’t have time to make it out there using any of their morphs. This sets off the moral debate about whether or not they’ve finally reached the point where they will need to compromise on their general practice of not morphing humans. Cassie protests, but Jake is able to convince her that by this point in the war, they have to make these tough choices.

They make their way to an air force base and there Rachel and Ax knock out two pilots, morph them, and commandeer a fighter jet. The other morph flea and hang on for the ride, their small bodies able to survive the increased pressure from the incredible speeds the jet reaches. They make their way out to a large nuclear carrier ship in the middle of the ocean. But by the time they’ve gotten there, the original pilots have been discovered and everyone is on high alert. Ax manages to execute a controlled crash into the ocean and they all morph seagulls and make their way to the ship.

Jake, it turns out, has an almost encyclopedic knowledge of huge military ships like this, and using this information, they infiltrate the ship with Ax morphing another human sailor and making his way around. The problem is: they don’t know what they’re looking for! Until they spot some new arrivals who include a familiar face: Chapman. Alongside an officer called Admiral Carrington who they quickly discover is Visser Two, Chapman approaches the ship’s captain and says they have a special delivery for him. Ax slips two of the roach!Animorphs into the captain’s pocket and they are able to get in the room with him, but they are too late and the captain is infested. Ax and the others go to battle morphs to try and help, witnessed by several sailors around them. They barge in and Ax upends the portable Yeerk pool. In the madness, human soldiers barge in and the Animorphs have to bail to avoid hurting innocents.

Cassie and Ax end up together and Ax once more morphs his human sailor morph and, with Cassie on board, makes his way through the ship to an information deck that Jake had mentioned. There, they overhear an announcement of an incoming Chinese missile which shortly after hits with a massive explosion. Ax is quick to put together the Yeerk plot: they are planning on setting off WWIII by instigating a war between the Chinese and the U.S. Ax frantically calls out to Jake who orders him to do whatever he has to to reverse the admiral and captain’s orders to retaliate. Ax shoots the admiral/Visser Two in the leg. When the medics arrive to take him to medical bay, Ax follows them and quickly knocks them out when they are in a private room. He acquires the admiral and returns to the control center where he orders the captain to reverse the order for a counter attack.

Chapman and the captain return to the room where Visser Two is lying, but the room is now also full of the rest of the Animorphs in their battle morphs. They demand to know what the rest of the plan is. In the way of any true villain, Visser Two immediately spills the rest of the plan: in a few hours, the US will hear that the ship has been attacked by the Chinese, and a specific sub, manned by Yeerks, will set out with a nuclear weapon to attack China. They try to threaten Visser Two into telling them which sub is the one controlled, but Visser Two is a true believer and zealously wackadoodle with his visions of Yeerk glory and refuses to tell them.

They are interrupted by the arrival of a bunch of Bug Fighters carrying Hork Bajir. Pandemonium breaks out on the ship with the human crew fighting against the Controlled crew and the alien invaders. Several members of the crew begin to recognize that the Earth animals that have suddenly appeared on the ship are fighting on their side and try to team up with the Animorphs. However, they are all badly outnumbered and it is hard to tell which humans are Controlled and which aren’t in the madness. In the madness, Visser Two escapes.

Ax sets off through the battle to track him down. To do so, he decides to follow Chapman and to do that, he gets another human morph, this time asking the individual in question who quickly agrees. He tracks down Chapman and, holding him at gun point, tries to get him to reveal the location of Visser Two. But before he can make much progress, he gets knocked out. He comes to, returns to his Andalite body, and makes his way back through the ship where he discovers the dying Captain. The Yeerk slithers out, but Ax knows it won’t make it far. The Captain says he tried to fight it, and Ax reassures him that he did all he could and stays with him until he dies.

Ax meets up with Tobias who has also acquired another human morph. All around them, the battle is being lost, with more and more of the ship falling under Yeerk control and the real humans being massacred. They meet up with the others and debate what to do, knowing that Visser Two, in his mania, can’t be threatened into revealing the Yeerk-controlled sub.

It’s at this point that Ax realizes the only way forward and privately thought speaks Jake. He tells him that in this situation, they only threat that could work against Visser Two is  a threat against the Yeerk pool itself. And fighter jets on the ship has some pretty strong bombs…Jake is horrified, knowing that they’d have to kill thousands of humans to drop a bomb through the middle of their city to reach the Yeerk pool. Ax realizes that Jake can’t make this decision, but he, Ax, the alien and outsider, can. He knocks Jake out and tells Cassie that he’s been injured.

He spots Visser Two and calls out to Rachel, Tobias and Marco that he needs there help; he needs to steal a plane and Visser Two needs to be one it with him. Tobias and Rachel don’t stop to question him, but Marco is suspicious asking not only where Jake is but what Ax plans on doing once he’s in a plane with Visser Two.

<You Andalites. You people have a tendency to destroy what you want to preserve.
And that plane is carrying a nuke. I saw it being fitted up by some of the visser’s
men.>

Ax acknowledges that he and Marco have not always trusted each other, but that he, Ax, knows that Marco has always been one to put the mission first, to do what needs to be done in the face of horrible choices. Rachel looks to Marco, and Tobias looks away. Marco finally agrees to help, asking whether they ever really had any choices in this war.

With Marco, Tobias and Rachel’s help, Ax manages to get Visser Two on a plane and take off, right as Cassie and Jake run up. In the plane, Ax lays out the situation for Visser Two: either contact the submarine and have it stand down, or he will drop a nuke on the Yeerk Pool. At the very last moment, Visser Two agrees and Ax lets him use the radio to contact the submarine. He releases Visser Two and makes his way home, wondering how he will be received by his friends.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: This is a big book for Ax, with a lot of important notes for his character. One of the smallest ones, but one I still found interesting, was seeing just how far Ax has come in his understanding of human behavior. Throughout this story, instead of the general confusion and bewilderment at “strange humans” like we’ve seen in past books, instead we saw more and more evidence of how thoroughly Ax has come to understand humanity. From little things like know what rhetorical questions are and even using them himself, to larger things like being able to imagine facial expressions alongside comments made by his friends while in morph, thus increasing his knowledge of what is truly being communicated beyond the words themselves.

We also see in the very beginning of the book how much Ax has had to readjust his perceptions of his own people. He’s no longer completely surprised by the Andalites’ poor response to pleas for help from him and his friends. And, when asked by Jake later, he admits to not knowing whether the Andalites will ultimately listen to their warning.

Throughout the story, we hear more and more about how much Ax now sees himself as both Andalite and human. He is horrified by the evils of each race, but also loyal and and values them both as well. The destruction on the ship and loss of human life hurts him just as much as it does the others. But then, in the end, he also realizes the unique role he has come to inhabit on the team. He has adopted humanity as his own, but he is also still an alien, still the only one capable of making a decision such as the one to drop a nuke on the Yeerk Pool. That being the case, however, we see how much this decision tears him apart. Marco accuses him of perhaps doing it for Andalite glory, but as a reader, inside of Ax’s head, we see how terrible this decision weighs on him the entire time. And, given that Marco, Rachel, and Tobias ultimately agree to help him, we have to imagine they sense that his real reasons are still in the right place: trying to avoid WWIII.

Our Fearless Leader: It’s pretty lucky/convenient that Jake has so much knowledge of the layout and organization of a massive battleship like the one they end up on. But on the other hand, as someone who has been leading an underground war for years now, it’s also probably not surprising that he may have spent his down time researching other military avenues.

The moment between Ax and Jake where Ax brings up the suggestion to bomb the Yeerk Pool is exceptionally good. We see that while Jake has come far in his ruthlessness and willingness to bend moral lines to do what needs to be done, he still has a pretty hard and fast line with regards to the loss of human life. Ax, to his credit, is quick to realize this as well and to even conclude that it hadn’t been right of him to even ask or expect Jake to be able to grapple with a decision like this. This is pretty close to the end of the series, and I think from here on out, Jake’s progress down this ruthless path goes faster and faster.

Xena, Warrior Princess: Rachel doesn’t have a whole lot in this one. Of course, she’s in on the action the entire time and is chosen to be the other Animorph to morph another person to operate the fighter jet with Ax in the beginning. Ax mentions that she was elected to this role for her “nerves of steel,” since the incredible speeds of the plane would be pretty intimidating to most. It’s also worth noting that in the end, when confronted with Ax’s plan, she looks to Marco to make the ultimate decision about whether they will help Ax.

A Hawk’s Life: Tobias, too, doesn’t have much other than his involvement in Ax’s plan in the end. Looking at the three who end up involved in this, I think it makes a lot of sense. Of the entire team, Rachel, Tobias and Marco have a pretty solid history of making big, often ruthless decisions. Let it not be forgotten that Tobias and Ax were the ones to ultimately decide the fate of an entire alien species back in Megamorphs #2.

Peace, Love, and Animals: One of the more notable moments for Cassie came with the discussion about morphing humans. She immediately resists the idea, but Jake is able to convince her that it has to be done (though, notably, she doesn’t do it herself). She also says that Jake is the only one she would trust to know if the time has come where this type of moral compromise is truly necessary.

The Comic Relief: As I said, it makes sense that Marco, Tobias, and Rachel end up being the three to ultimately decide to go with Ax’s plan. It’s also great seeing just how quickly Marco figures out what is going on. Ax even notes that he had prepped for Marco to ask where Jake was, but even with that prep, Marco jumps immediately to the correct conclusion about Ax’s use of the plane as well. It’s interesting to see Marco accuse Ax of potentially doing this for Andalite glory. Being in Ax’s head, especially in this book, we’ve seen the transformation he’s underwent with regards to the naivety he used to have about his own people. We see how much he values Earth and sees the Animorphs as his family. But from an outsider’s perspective, especially someone as naturally cynical and suspicious as Marco, it’s interesting to note that a motivation like this could still be assigned to him. But Ax’s direct reasoning, that WWIII can not be allowed to happen, is exactly the sort of Point A to Point B line of thinking that would resonate with someone like Marco.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: There wasn’t a whole lot as far as body horror goes in this one, other than your usual morph descriptions. I will say that it’s interesting to see just how “all-in” they went on the morphing humans thing once they decided that was the way to go. Ax ends up acquiring something like three human morphs over this entire book, and he’s the one of them that even has a human morph already that couldn’t be traced (though, of course, the fact that he’s a kid would stand out). And then Tobias and Rachel each morph people. Rachel’s makes sense, but I’m not sure that Tobias really had to. It almost seems a bit too easy, morally speaking. Like once they got the go-ahead, any moral qualms were immediately out of the window, making it seem like the only one who truly cared about this particular issue was Cassie herself. The others just start morphing people willy-nilly.
Couples Watch!: Not a whole lot in this one, unsurprisingly given it’s an Ax book. Marco notes at one point, after riling Rachel up, that he doesn’t know how Tobias does it. And, of course, we see Cassie’s trust in Jake’s judgement when he gets her to agree to them using human morphs.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: Whelp, it has happened: Visser Three has become Visser One. And we get the introduction of yet another Visser, Visser Two. For the most part, he’s played for pretty comical effect. I mean, the title of this topic area pretty much fits him perfectly. He immediately reveals the Yeerks’ entire plan under very little pressure. And he randomly starts saluting and genuflecting throughout his various speeches about the coming glory. For all of this, he’s also set up as a pretty unmovable foe as far as being threatened into giving up any real advantages. Unlike Visser Three who values his own life above anything, it’s made pretty clear that Visser Two would die before giving up the submarine, which ultimately forces Ax’s hand at the end to take things to a much more extreme level.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: There are a handful of pretty sad scenes in the last third of the book when we see the poor human sailors fighting against the Hork Bajir. Ax’s own encounter with the dying captain, and his last words essentially trying to apologize for everything, was pretty heart breaking. But there’s also another scene where at one point a sailor solutes gorilla!Marco, having noted that the Earth animals seem to be on their side. And later in the battle, Ax spots Marco kneeling over the body of this same soldier. Scenes like these also prompt Ax further into action, as well as the others, who all see how badly this individual battle is being lost and are, for the first time, losing fellow human fighters alongside them.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: A lot of people see them morph in this book. Like…a lot. Pretty much immediately it seems they all throw caution to the wind and start morphing/demoprhing in front of pretty much anyone. I don’t get this! For one, it’s pretty well established that they don’t know who is Controlled and who is not. And for two, it’s also pretty well assumed that almost everyone will be eventually Controlled once the Yeerks show up and start laying the smack down. So all of those people who saw kids morphing…not only is now really obvious that its humans morphing, but after the close call with Marco in the last book, it’d be really easy to figure out the exact identity of these kids. Obviously, the whole secrecy thing is going to go out the window pretty quickly now, but the Animorphs themselves have no reason to assume this, so their lack of caution is pretty strange.

The other really strange thing is the idea that somehow preventing the Yeerk-staffed sub from launching an counter attack will do much to stop a domino fall that’s already been started. I mean, it would already be communicated back to who knows how many bases that the Chinese attacked this ship. So…isn’t the mission already successful for the Yeerks? Theoretically, the US on its own would launch a counter attack, no need for a Yeerks-only sub at all!

Favorite Quote:

This line from Jake to Cassie when they are discussing the morality of morphing humans is a pretty good summation of the general thought-process/experience of every one of the Animorphs that we witness playing out in each of their books in the entire series:

“But…doesn’t it always come down to each one of us, all alone, asking ourselves: Am I right in doing whatever it takes for the greater good? And, do I trust myself enough to know I won’t become evil in the process? It always comes down to something that personal.”

There are so many good lines from Ax as he reflects on his choices at the end of the book, but he concludes with this simple, but sad, realization.

I would accept the consequences of my actions. I would accept full responsibility. I was the alien.

Scorecard: Yeerks 12, Animorphs 16

I’m going to give this one to the Animorphs, since preventing WWIII is a pretty big win (regardless of whether or not it’s believable that they actually accomplished this.)

Rating: This was a really good book. It reads a lot differently than other Ax books, which, at this point in the series, is pretty great to see. We see how fully he’s come to embrace his role as belonging to both species and how that effects the way he thinks and interacts with each.

The story does drag a bit in the middle when it feels like they just spend a lot of time running around a huge ship with no real idea of what to do. But then it concludes with a massive battle on the ship, with humans teaming up with the Animorphs for the first time really. And then the excellent, huge moral dilemma that Ax finds himself in at the end of the book.

I didn’t remember that this one ended without really resolving how Ax’s return to the group plays out. I’m not sure I like the cliff-hanger like ending here, though. I get that there’s potentially a lot that would need to be gone through with that reunion, but it also feels wrong to not get that scene from Ax’s perspective in particular, after spending so much time in his head for the rest of it. Oh well, still a great book!

Note: I’m not going to rate these books since I can’t be objective at all!

Kate’s Review: “Inspection”

41058632Book: “Inspection” by Josh Malerman

Publishing Info: Del Rey Books, March 2019

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

Book Description: Boys are being trained at one school for geniuses, girls at another. And neither knows the other exists–until now. The innovative author of Bird Box invites you into a tantalizing world of secrets and lies.

J is a student at a school deep in a forest far away from the rest of the world.

J is one of only twenty-six students, who think of their enigmatic school’s founder as their father. And his fellow peers are the only family J has ever had. The students are being trained to be prodigies of art, science, and athletics, but their life at the school is all they know–and all they are allowed to know.

But J is beginning to suspect that there is something out there, beyond the pines, that the founder does not want him to see, and he’s beginning to ask questions. What is the real purpose of this place? Why can the students never leave? And what secrets is their father hiding from them?

Meanwhile, on the other side of the forest, in a school very much like J’s, a girl named K is asking the same questions. J has never seen a girl, and K has never seen a boy. As K and J work to investigate the secrets of their two strange schools, they come to discover something even more mysterious: each other.

In Inspection, the masterful author of Bird Box crafts a sinister and evocative gender equality anthem that will have readers guessing until the final page.

Review: Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel!

I am going to sound like an insufferable hipster for a moment, so bear with me; I liked “Bird Box” before it was cool. A few years before Netflix dropped their thriller hit, I read the book it was based on, written by Josh Malerman. I know the reception of the film was hit or miss, but I legitimately think that the book is terrifying. It kept me on the edge of my seat, and I could barely put it down even as it stressed me out. So when I saw the new book by Malerman was available for request on NetGalley, it caught my eye. And when I found out it took place at a boarding school with malevolent intentions… Well….

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(source)

While evil or mysterious boarding schools have been done before, Malerman leans into the concept and makes it feel wholly original. We first see it from the perspective of an experiment that involves all boys, in which the man heading the experiment, who refers to himself as D.A.D., has taken twenty four boys at birth and raised them isolated from modern society with no knowledge of the female gender. The hypothesis (and trust me, I will absoLUTEly be addressing this later) is that if they are not distracted by women/sexuality/attraction, they can reach their full potential as the next great thinkers and scientists of the world. Malerman covers pretty much all of his bases in this regard, accounting for the need for space, control, and isolation, and did it in ways that felt as realistic as they could be in a story like this. We follow one of the subjects, J, as he and the others start to reach puberty, and we see how he is starting to question his place at this school, and the world that is being presented to them. I liked J quite a bit, and appreciated that Malerman gave him the right amount of rebellious nuance and a believable curiosity, along with a fear and anxiety about his questions, and his fear of being ‘spoiled rotten’ and sent to The Corner, a place where two boys who questions, A and Z, never returned from. I also appreciated that Malerman took into account other aspects of this experiment that I never would have thought of, specifically the role that propaganda would have to play. I thought it was genius to have a specific propagandist on staff, a failed writer named Warren who writes morality tales for the boys that will help keep them in line and under control. It never occurred to me that propaganda would need to play a role in this kind of situation, but this subplot was so, so intriguing, especially as the propagandist starts to question his own culpability.

It’s at the halfway point that “Inspection” really grabbed me. That was when we switched to another boarding school, this one with twenty four girls. This is where Malerman made this story truly all his own. D.A.D.’s wife, who calls herself M.O.M., naturally, is running the same experiment, this time with girls, in hopes of unlocking creative potential. In this part of the story we meet K, the girl who is at the top of the class, but has potentially seen something that she shouldn’t have. Her journey is far less hesitant than J’s, and I loved seeing her creative thinking, as opposed to J’s more rigid thinking, help bring her to conclusions about her situation in a different way. And by the time the two stories converge (though I don’t want to spoil anything here), that is when this story shifts from a vaguely dystopic thriller into a full blown horror novel. While in some ways it felt a little late for the horror elements to arrive, I was so enthralled by the rest of it that I didn’t mind it.

There was one aspect of this story that I couldn’t quite swallow, and that is based within the premise that D.A.D. and M.O.M. have for their awful experiment. They both believe that by isolating the genders, they will be able to unlock the full potential of their subjects, as to them sexuality and attraction are the distractors that keep humans from the highest intellectual levels. This story takes place in a modern-ish time or perhaps a very near future. As two scientists, I don’t understand how they didn’t think about as to whether, within twenty four boys and twenty four girls, there may be the possibility of subjects who were attracted to the same gender. Given the odds, you’d think you’d get at least one, if we’re being conservative in our estimates. I wasn’t sure if Malerman was trying to say that D.A.D. and M.O.M. were so corrupted by their devious and unethical thinking that they would also be biased against LGBTQIA+ people as part of their experiment, or if such a development would immediately call for The Corner, or whether he just didn’t think of it at all. Because it doesn’t come up. And to me, it’s a pretty big question that probably should have been addressed.

That aside, I quite enjoyed “Inspection” in all of it’s creepy and unsettling glory. Malerman continues to surprise and shock me in the best ways, and my hope is that he just keeps getting more attention as time goes on.

Rating 8: A propulsive and then eerie thriller/horror novel, “Inspection” is another triumph from Josh Malerman.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Inspection” is a new book and isn’t on any Goodreads lists yet, but I think that it would fit in on “Evil Schools – Public, Private, and University”.

Find “Inspection” at your library using WorldCat!