Kate’s Review: “The Best We Could Do”

29936927Book: “The Best We Could Do” by Thi Bui

Publishing Info: Abrams Books, March 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: This beautifully illustrated and emotional story is an evocative memoir about the search for a better future and a longing for the past. Exploring the anguish of immigration and the lasting effects that displacement has on a child and her family, Bui documents the story of her family’s daring escape after the fall of South Vietnam in the 1970s, and the difficulties they faced building new lives for themselves.
 
At the heart of Bui’s story is a universal struggle: While adjusting to life as a first-time mother, she ultimately discovers what it means to be a parent—the endless sacrifices, the unnoticed gestures, and the depths of unspoken love. Despite how impossible it seems to take on the simultaneous roles of both parent and child, Bui pushes through. With haunting, poetic writing and breathtaking art, she examines the strength of family, the importance of identity, and the meaning of home.
 
In what Pulitzer Prize–winning novelist Viet Thanh Nguyen calls “a book to break your heart and heal it,” The Best We Could Do brings to life Thi Bui’s journey of understanding, and provides inspiration to all of those who search for a better future while longing for a simpler past.

Review: Stories of refugees and immigration are incredibly relevant these days. Between certain world leaders trying to impose travel bans, to the threats of building a wall all along a border, to the devastating refugee crisis being seen due to instability in Syria, the very thought of people finding a safe place to live, while leaving their home behind, has become incredibly politicized. When I first heard about “The Best We Could Do”, I knew that I needed to immediately get it on my request list so that I could read it as soon as it was available to me. It’s heartening to see that graphic novels are becoming more and more used to tell personal stories, and a story as personal as this one was only bolstered by the imagery that we found on the page. Oh boy was this a wonderful book.

And a very sad book as well. Thi Bui was born in Vietnam, just around the time that the Vietnam War was starting to wind down. Her family history is intwined within the stark differences in the Vietnamese society up to and during the war, as her mother was from the bourgeois class and her father was decidedly less well off. But this story isn’t just about a family trying to escape a violent and unsafe situation; it is also about a family that is forever affected by society around it, and a family trying to fit in in a new place that is completely new and different to them. By giving the context of her mother’s background, her father’s background, and the culture and society of Vietnam during their childhoods and her childhood as well, we get a story that is tragic, hopeful, devastating, and important all at once. She also does a very good job of showing how Western Imperialism and Colonialism, of course, had a large effect on how Vietnam dealt with a cultural conflict of the North versus the South. I really appreciated that she pointed out that for people in America during the war (those fighting it aside), it was more of a concept and something to support or speak out against. But for the Vietnamese, it was the life they were living every day, and that somehow kind of got lost in the narrative.

I also really liked the stories of her family, as imperfect and in some ways dysfunctional as it was. She has a very conflicted opinion of both her parents. Her father wasn’t a very good parent to her, and he wasn’t a very good husband to her mother either. But seeing his childhood that was filled with turmoil, poverty, instability, and broken family ties, we can completely understand why he turned into the man he became. We also see that her mother was in many ways a remarkable person who had ambitions and dreams, but then found herself in a marriage she wasn’t completely invested in, and with a family that, as cherished as they were, put an end to her ambitions, ambitions that absolutely could have been backed up by talent and know how. Bui contrasts her own journey into motherhood against the story of her own mother, and it is incredibly effective and bittersweet.

I think that what I found most effective about this story is that it has a powerful message, but it is wrapped in a family memoir. I was expecting far more about the fall of South Vietnam, and the journey out under cloak of darkness. But while that certainly does play a part, it’s really a story about a family, and how having to move from one life to another, whole new life in a whole new place caused damage that never quite repaired. Trauma, war, and displacement isn’t something that is forgotten just because you move to a new place and start a new life, and sometimes adapting to that new life can be a challenge in and of itself.

The art in this book is absolutely gorgeous. It is fairly simple at first glance, but images pop out and really take the reader’s gaze into them. I loved the colors and I loved how detailed it was, even though it looks like it’s fairly straight forward.

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(source)

I really cannot recommend “The Best We Could Do” enough. In a time where I think empathy and understanding are sorely needed when it comes to trying to understand the refugee experience, Thi Bui’s memoir will engage readers and show them how much is lost and how much is sacrificed just to stay alive. This is an incredibly important book.

Rating 9: A personal and powerful memoir with gorgeous illustrations, “The Best We Could Do” is an important book with a relevant message to the issues of immigration and the refugee crisis we are seeing today.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Best We Could Do” is included on the following Goodreads lists: “Required Reading: Graphic Novels”, and “Vietnamese-American Novels and Memoirs”.

Find “The Best We Could Do” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “The Snake, the Crocodile, and the Dog”

157857Book: “The Snake, the Crocodile, and the Dog” by Elizabeth Peters

Publishing Info: Grand Central Publishing, February 1994

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

Book Description: Now, in the seventh mystery in the series, the Emerson-Peabodys are traveling up the Nile once again to encounter their most deadly adversary, the Master Criminal, who is back at his sinister best. Amelia Peabody was unabashedly proud of her newest translation, a fragment of the ancient fairytale “The Doomed Prince.” Later, she would wonder why no sense of foreboding struck her as she retold the story of the king’s favorite son who had been warned that he would die from the snake, the crocodile, or the dog. Little did she realize, as she and her beloved husband sailed blissfully toward the pyramids of ancient Egypt, that those very beasts (and a cat as well) would be part of a deadly plot.

Review: And we’re back for my first Amelia Peabody review of the year! After coming out on the top of my favorite reads list from 2016, I had high expectations for this book and this series. But, most comforting of all, even this far into the series, I had very few worries that I would not enjoy this book as much as I have the many that have come before it. Trust has been built, and I can now look forward to each next book in this series with very little trepidation.

“The Snake, the Crocodile, and the Dog” opens with Amelia and Evelyn pining for the adventure and romance of the past. Neither is unhappy with their life, full as each is by family and profession, but both Amelia and Evelyn spend moments reminiscing for the romantic passions they remember pre-children. And from these honest and natural feelings, comes very unwanted results, at least for Amelia. After returning to Egypt for another season, Amelia is looking forward to a rare opportunity to work alone with Emerson, as Ramses has chosen to remain in England for…school (to moon over Nefret, more likely). But these simple plans are suddenly foiled when Emerson is kidnapped and, while escaping the experience with his life, loses his memories in the process, including the fact that he was ever married to a woman named Amelia Peabody.

Generally, I am very suspicious of the whole amnesia plot tactic. This probably stems from being burned in early childhood by the egregious and completely unacceptable use of an amnesia story being thrown into my beloved “Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman” and essentially triggering the beginning of the end for the series as a whole. But I won’t go on another rant about that, though it’s is difficult to resist. However, here, Peters uses it as simply another foil to Amelia’s ever-lasting quest to simply get through an archeological season without murder and mystery.

Having read the series up to this point over the last few years, it was interesting being thrown back in time, essentially, to the character that Emerson was pre-Amelia. I have to say, I’m not sure he deserved her, based on his behavior here! I haven’t re-read the original story, but I have to think that this version of the character was fairly true to how he was written then, and in one word, he’s kind of an ass. I have gotten accustomed to his gruffness and easy piques of anger always being balanced by his love and respect for Amelia. But without her influence or his desire to appease her sense of rightness, these quirks suddenly start overcoming the more appealing parts of his character. However, Amelia remains steadfast to winning him back throughout it all, even if we, the readers, want to smack him up the backside of the head (though she does employ similar tactics in her “wooing”).

The mystery itself is quite a tangled web with many villains re-appearing from past books. Probably the most challenging part of the story was trying to remember these characters and keep their histories straight in my head. There is typically a large cast of characters in these books, but we’re often meeting them for the first time and thus given time to acquaint ourselves. Here, while brief introductions are given, a lot is left to the reader to fill in gaps. I feel like the suspects would have been better rounded out had these histories and motivations been a bit better documented, for those of us who don’t have an encyclopedic memory of the series as a whole.

I also enjoyed the fact that the Nefret storyline wasn’t completely dropped in this book.  Most of the previous books can be read as standalones, and that is true of this one as well, for the most part. But the adventures and outcomes of “The Last Camel Died at Noon” introduced lasting effects on the Emerson-Peabody family going forward. Not only do we have a new character whom we can only assume will be a major staple in the series in the future, but her sudden appearance and secret history would be largely commented on by society as a whole. On the more intimate character level, I loved Amelia’s struggles with adapting to being a mother figure for a daughter as well as a son, and her realization that their needs are very different. And on a larger story level, I appreciated the fact that the happenings of the previous book were paramount to the mystery we have here while still allowing the book to be read on its own. It is a tricky balance to maintain, but one that I feel Peters pulled off very effectively.

While the amnesia storyline was handled for the most part very well, this book does highlight a trend for my views on the series as a whole.  I understand that perhaps the author was concerned that the happy and stable relationship between Amelia and Emerson might come across as tired, book after book, and she felt compelled to throw wrenches into the work. But the two books were this tactic was more prominently used (this story with the amnesia, and “Deeds of the Distruber” where there is much confusion and distrust between the two) were both on the lower end of my ratings. I still very much enjoyed them, but I, at least, don’t need relationship drama from this series to remain interested and when it’s present, it doesn’t add much to the series as a whole.

But, as I said, I still very much enjoyed it and am happily looking forward to the next!

Rating 7: Relationship shenanigans aside, an interesting mystery and a nice tie-in to the previous book.

Reader’s Advisory:

The Snake, the Crocodile, and the Dog” is included on these Goodreads lists: “The Villain Was Interesting” and “Mysteries with great humor.”

Find “The Snake, the Crocodile, and the Dog” at your library using WorldCat.

Previously Reviewed: “The Crocodile on the Sandbank” and “The Curse of the Pharaohs” and “The Mummy Case” and “Lion in the Valley” and “Deeds of the Disturber” and “The Last Camel Died at Noon”

A Revisit to Fear Street: “The Sleepwalker”

176690Book: “The Sleepwalker” (Fear Street #6) by R.L. Stine

Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, 1991

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

Book Description: One week after she starts her summer job on Fear Street with old Mrs Cottler, Mayra Barnes begins to sleepwalk, waking up in the dead of night not knowing where she is. Mayra becomes even more terrified when she discovers Mrs Cottler may be a witch…

Is the old woman casting spells on Mayra? To add to Mayra’s horror, she is being followed by a menacing stranger who seems to recognize her – but she’s never seen him in her life!

Mayra’s sleepwalking is leading her into more and more peril. She soon realizes she must take action. She must find out what is happening to her – or she may never leave Fear Street alive!

Had I Read This Before: No

The Plot: We meet our protagonist Mayra, a girl who is starting summer break with a new job. This job consists of being an assistant and companion to Mrs. Cottler, an old woman who Mayra’s mom used to be a nurse to the previous summer. Though Mrs. Cottler is described as a total bitch by Mayra’s Mom, she pays five dollars an hour and acting as an assisted living practitioner builds character, I guess. But as she works with Mrs. Cottler, Mayra finds out a few things about her. One, she’s actually pretty chill. Two, she has a grumpy cat named Hazel who likes to destroy necklaces (sorry, Mayra). And three, Mrs. Cottler, who lives on Fear Street of course, had a son who drowned in Fear Lake years ago. At this point I’m thinking that Mayra’s mother’s accusations about Mrs. Cottler being a bitch are incredibly insensitive. After reading to Mrs. Cottler from “Nicholas Nickelby” (I’m kind of picturing Jo March reading to her sour old aunt), Mayra goes to fetch her new boss a sweater. Instead of asking where to find it, she goes digging through some drawers, and finds some strange black candles. But before she can think too much about it, Hazel stalks in and freaks out as only a cat can. Mayra, properly chastised by a suspicious feline, leaves.

On her way home Mayra provides some plot exposition by thinking about how much she misses her deadbeat Dad, and also how much she misses her new boyfriend Walker, who has been off on some summer adventure for a couple of weeks. As she ruminates about how much she wishes he were home, someone grabs her arm. I would say that it’s not a homicidal maniac, but I can’t because it’s her ex boyfriend Link and he is a total lunatic. He begs her to talk to him, and when she tells him no he really doesn’t want to take said no for any kind of answer. She runs off and he calls after her that ‘she’ll be sorry’. Yeah, nothing suspicious about that.

The next day Mayra is at Mrs. Cottler’s again, and there is an angry knocking on the door. Cottler’s neighbor Mr. Kleeg (we will hear more about him later in this post, because this is my favorite moment in the book) is mad that Mrs. Cottler’s peach tree is continuously dropping peaches in his yard. Look, I don’t like peaches either, but I have a hard time feeling any kind of sympathy for him because you could probably make some rad cobbler out of that that you could share with friends. After hurling angry words at Mrs. Cottler, he leaves. But he dropped a handkerchief, one which Mrs. Cottler picks up and pockets. Mayra is constantly daydreaming about Walker pretty much the whole time, but she’s with it enough to take Mrs. Cottler up for a nap. Though, when she checks in on her one last time Mrs. Cottler is sitting up completely straight and holding the purloined handkerchief in her hand. Mayra leaves, feeling a bit uneasy. So the next afternoon she calls her friend Donna and tells her that she thinks that Mrs. Cottler is a witch. Kind of a jump, but okay. Donna says that Mayra should just ask Mrs. Cottler if she is, but Mayra is too scared. The only other person she’s known in her life who has loved the occult is Stephanie, Link’s sister, well, and Walker, who is into that stuff too. Donna thinks that Mayra’s spending too much time with her new boyfriend. Mayra doesn’t care, and when they hang up she decides to go see Mrs. Cottler….. And sees an ambulance carrying Mr. Kleeg away, as he has just broken his hip. Mrs. Cottler says that ‘she told him something would happen’.

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Actual footage of young Mrs. Cottler. (source)

Walker comes home from his trip, and he and Mayra decide to go out for pizza and card tricks. Because remember, Walker is way into magic and stuff. They banter wittily about her sundress and her shoulders, and then Mayra goes home. Her Mom tells her that Link has been leaving insistent (read: harassing phone calls) asking to speak to her. Which doesn’t so much creepy Mayra out as it makes her kind of flattered (ladies: no). That night Mayra dreams about standing in front of Fear Lake, and finds out that she can walk on water. As she walks onto the lake, she sees someone on the shore watching her. Then she wakes up… and finds herself on the front lawn. BOOM.

The next day after work Mayra is spotted and followed by a man who seriously sounds like Mr. Larson from “Happy Gilmore”. Note that this is basically how I imagined this mystery man whenever he showed up. She loses him and decides to go for a pizza at the mall….. BUT SEES WALKER THERE WITH SUKI THOMAS, “Fear Street”‘s answer to town slut, and therefore my favorite side character of the series. Mayra jumps into their conversation, accusatorially, but Walker insists he’s just teaching Suki some coin magic tricks. Mayra believes him because he’s WALKER. That night Mayra confides in her mother about her sleepwalking, and her Mom says that maybe she should see a shrink. Before any solid plans are made, the doorbell rings and Link’s sister Stephanie demands to talk to Mayra. Stephanie says that Mayra is being SO MEAN to Link and that they need to get back together. I can’t even. Mayra says no and Stephanie says ‘You’ll be sorry!!’ before stealing a scarf. That night Mayra sleepwalks again and ends up on Fear Street. Yeah, it’s probably best to see a doctor.

The next day before work, Mayra is visited by Walker, who says that maybe his amateur hypnotism skills can find some answers. Mayra says no thanks, and goes to work. Since Mrs. Cottler is showering when she arrives, it’s prime snooping time. Mayra finds her broken necklace (which Cottler said she’d fix) next to a melted black candle, and she freaks out but goes to make some lunch so she can act natural for Mrs. Cottler. On the way home Link drives by and offers her a ride. She accepts, and it’s not as molesty as I thought it would be. When she gets home Donna is there and says that a tall guy named Cal was asking for her. And he sounds like a Mr. Larson looking motherfucker. Uh oh.

Mayra goes to see Mrs. Cottler, who says she’s going out of town to see her ill sister, and asks Mayra to house sit and cat sit.  When she gets home that night her mother tells her Donna has been in an awful car accident. She’s alive, but hurt. When she visits Donna, Mayra finds out that a red pickup ran her off the road. Mayra thinks that sounds like Link! She goes to talk to Walker, because has a theory: her Mom worked for Mrs. Cottler. Mrs. Cottler thinks her Mom tried to kill her. Now Mrs. Cottler is trying to kill Mayra! Seems like a leap. Walker thinks that they should investigate while Cottler is out of town. The next day they go looking, and Walker sees Hazel and is immediately convinced. They also find books on sleepwalking. Okay, kind of odd. They then see some pictures on the desk.. of Link and Stephanie! And a note that says that they are her NIECE AND NEPHEW!

Mayra visits Donna to run her witch family theory by her. Donna isn’t convinced, but Mayra decides to go confront Stephanie. She finds Stephanie wearing her purloined scarf on her head, and chanting with black candles lit around her. Mayra accuses her of being a witch. and Stephanie says no she isn’t. Then tells Mayra that Walker has been seeing Suki behind her back and really Mayra should just get back together with Link already. Then they make up to progress the plot or something and Mayra goes home (but inspects Links truck. No dents. He’s in the clear for attempted murder on Donna). That night she dreams again. But this time she can see the person on the bank. It’s Walker! And then she starts to drown in her dream… and wakes up to find herself DROWNING IN FEAR LAKE! Luckily a fisherman taking a pleasure cruise in eel infested waters is there, and saves her.

The next day Mayra goes to the psychiatric unit of the hospital to see a shrink (and has a run in with Cal! She escapes, but still, what’s up with this guy?). He says that her sleepwalking may be due to repressed trauma and writes her a scrip for some pills. The next day she goes to the lake to try and remember some things, and Link shows up, begs her to take him back, and LITERALLY ATTACKS HER. She punches him in the head, and jumps in the water to swim away…..? But in the water she remembers something. And asks Link, who just attacked her, to take her home so she can think.

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(source)

Flashback time. God this plot is so long. Mayra remembers a night awhile back where she and Walker were at the mall. To prove he’s cool, he decides to steal a car. They go on a joyride, but he hits another car, which falls into the lake they’re driving past. One man splashes up, but Mayra is pulled away by Walker before they can see if the other person is okay.

After she remembers all this, Mayra asks to meet Walker. They go to the lake, and Walker tries to hypnotize her about forgetting that night in the car. Mayra, not one to play hte long game, angrily confronts him about all this. He says that he’s just been using her hoping she won’t tell on them or remember what happened, and that he’s actually seeing Suki. He then tries to drown her now that she remembers everything, because his magic career comes first. But Hazel the cat shows up and saves the day! She claws the shit out of WAlker, and Mayra runs away back to Mrs. Cottler’s house. For some reason Mr. Larson is there, and when he sees Walker chasing after Mayra he says “YOU ARE THE ONE WHO KILLED MY BROTHER!” That’s right, Mr. Larson and his brother were in the car they ran off the road. He was also the one who ran Donna off the road, but gets a pass because it was an oopsie and he thought she was Mayra. As if that’s okay.

Regardless, in the end Mayra is back together with Link (I CANNOT) and he tells her that his aunt Mrs. Cottler isn’t a witch, she’s a former professor of occult studies with a Ph.D and a number of books she’s written on the subject. And a badass cat. The end.

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(source)

Body Count: 1. Poor Jerry.

Romance Rating: 0!!!!!! Absolutely not! You have Walker, who is using her/hypnotizing her, and Link who has a serious problem with taking ‘no’ for an answer!!! Fuck these guys!

Bonkers Rating: 6. If only because this isn’t how hypnotism works and Cal is only mildly relevant, but Hazel the cat is a goddamn hero.

Fear Street Relevance: 9. Mrs. Cottler lives on Fear Street and lots of stuff happens in the woods and by the lake!

Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:

“Oh no!” she cried, pointing to the photos. “Walker – Look! I don’t believe it!”

…. and then it’s just photographs of Link and Stephanie because they’re related to Mrs. Cottler.

That’s So Dated! Moments: There were LOTS of people sporting cut off jean shorts, and in once scene one of the girls was rocking a Hard Rock Cafe tee shirt. Remember when those were huge???? I do!

Best Quote:

“Is that you again, Mr. Clean?” [said Mrs. Cottler]

“It’s Kleeg – NOT Clean!” he shouted angrily. His face got even redder.

“What do you want this time, Mr. Clean?” Mrs. Cottler asked, appearing beside Mayra in the doorway.

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Mrs. Cottler, though. (source)

Well if you ignore the fact that all the boys in this book were predatory as hell and that Mayra’s big traumatic reveal was super lame, this one had Mrs. Cottler and her cat Hazel, and my girl Suki made an appearance! So meh. “Haunted” is up next! Severe lack of hero cats puts it at a disadvantage.

May 2017 Highlights

On the first Monday of each month we highlight our top three books that are scheduled to be published that month.

Serena’s Picks:

31632115Book: “Triple Threat” by Gwenda Bond

Publication Date: May 1, 2017

Why I’m Interested: Kate and I have posted joint reviews for the first two books in this series, “Fallout” and “Double Down,” as our love of  all things Superman and Lois Lane is never-ending. While we’ve each begun to have some concerns about the longevity of the premise of this series (teenage Lois solves mysteries in Metropolis with the help of her “friend” SmallvilleGuy whom she knows only through virtual reality), I’m sure we’ll both end up reading and reviewing this one sometime in the near future!

23308087Book: “Flame in the Mist” by Renee Ahdieh

Publication Date: May 16, 2017

Why I’m Interested: I read and enjoyed both “The Wrath and the Dawn” and “The Rose and the Dagger” by this author, so I was excited to hear that she was starting a new YA series. Even more exciting, this book is being marketed as a similar story to “Mulan” and I love me some “Mulan.” Basically, any story about a girl dressing up as a man and becoming a badass warrior is a book that I will probably be checking out. The fact that it’s by an author who wrote a solid YA duology just increases the appeal.

8306741Book: “Thick as Thieves” by Megan Whalen Turner

Publication Date: May 16, 2017

Why I’m Interested: OMG OMG OMG! This is not only one of the books I’m most looking forward to that is being published this month, but it may be my most anticipated book of the entire year! The combination of it being the 5th in a series that I have absolutely adored and the fact that it’s been SEVEN YEARS since the last one came out….I’m so excited! What’s more, Whalen Turner has created such a complex world and changed up her narrator and storytelling style so many times throughout the series that I truly don’t even know what to expect from this. All I know is that, yes, I am excited.

Kate’s Picks:

33151805Book: “Into the Water” by Paula Hawkins

Publication Date: May 2nd, 2017

Why I’m Interested: I was one of those people who enjoyed “The Girl on the Train”, and I feel that Paula Hawkins has a pretty good chance of delivering another solid thriller novel. This one involves the body of a single mother being discovered in a lake, a fate that met a young woman in that town fairly recently before that. Now the daughter left behind has to adjust to a new life, and a new person in the form of her strange aunt. I’m sure that twists and turns will ensue. This sub-genre may wear me down and grate me a bit, but I’m looking forward to see what Hawkins brings us this time.

31752345Book: “Black Mad Wheel” by Josh Malerman

Publication Date: May 23rd, 2017

Why I’m Interested: I really liked Malerman’s novel “Bird Box”, and I was hoping that he would be coming out with something new. This one also has an incredibly intriguing and original premise, as a group of people have been recruited by the U.S. Government to go into an African desert and track down the origin of a dangerous sound. What they find is something that is far more complicated and dangerous than just one malevolent piece of audio, I guess, and honestly that sounds pretty freakin’ rad, premise wise. Malerman is so good at writing unsettling and uncanny stories, and I have high hopes that “Black Mad Wheel” will be a worthy follow up to “Bird Box”.

31554413Book: “The Boy on the Bridge” by M.R. Carey

Publication Date: May 2nd, 2017

Why I’m Interested: This is the much anticipated sequel to Carey’s break out work “The Girl With All The Gifts”, the runaway zombie hit. While I didn’t particularly care for the execution of that one, the originality he gave to the zombie story did impress me to a certain degree. And therefore, even if I wasn’t too impressed by that one, I am more than happy to go back into this world that he has created. It seems that official promotions are being pretty tight lipped about the plot to this one, but the few things I have read has given me hope that the originality is still going to be there.

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

The Great Animorphs Re-read: Megamorphs #1 “The Andalite’s Gift”

1153858 Megamorphs #1: “The Andalite’s Gift”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, January 1997

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: We never should have done it. But we needed a break. You know, some time off from the superhero stuff. A chance to act like normal kids. Well — as normal as four kids who can morph, a hawk, and an alien can be. Everything should have been cool.
Now Rachel is missing. And there’s this…this thing that’s after us. But it’s not up to me to tell the whole story. Tobias, Cassie, Marco, and Ax were there, too. Even Rachel has some info to add. So go ahead and check this out. And remember not to tell anyone what we’re about to tell you. It could mean the difference between life and death. Or worse…

Narrator: Everyone!

Plot: Visser Three has a new pet and it hunts by sensing the energy given off when someone morphs. This, obviously, spells trouble for the Animorphs who must race to find a way to take out this strange creature all while their major advantage, their morphing ability, is also now their greatest weakness. As far as the story goes, that’s about it. Rachel ends up with amnesia, just to throw another wrench in the gears. There is a lot of action in this book, racing away from the Veleek, morphing different animals to see how the Veleek reacts, getting captured on Yeerk ships, and some more ocean action towards the end when they find a way to kill the beast.

This is the first “Megamorphs” book in the series. I think there ends up being around 4 or so of them? The book is longer than the typical books in the series and features chapters from the perspectives of all the Animorphs. While I enjoyed this book, I do remember liking the later “Megamorphs” books better as I feel like Applegate does a better job of coming up with things for them all to be doing in those. As you’ll see in the character portions, the action isn’t very evenly divided and certain characters (mostly Jake and Tobias) don’t end up with much to do and other Animorphs (Rachel) end up with storylines that, in the end, don’t have any tie-in/impact on the primary story arc. The stakes just never seem very high, and so far, this has been my least favorite book in the series. However, fun was still to be had in parts, so onwards!

Our Fearless Leader: Strangely enough, other than Tobias, Jake has the least to do in this book. Rachel has amnesia. Cassie saves the day. Marco and Ax are abducted. And Jake…becomes a tiger? Towards the end there is some commentary that Jake is the type of person who will become president some day due to his ability to make the necessary tough decisions, even when those decisions involve sending people he cares about (Cassie) into danger.

Xena, Warriar Princess: Even with amnesia, somehow Rachel ends up caught in the most gruesome fight scenes in this book, as detailed in the “body horror” section below. But it must speak to a deep truth about her character, some type of nature vs. nurture aspect, where she will go full throttle whenever challenged even if she isn’t quite sure why she can change into animals, what aliens are doing roaming the earth, and what not. She just knows that she can become a grizzly. And if you mess with her, that’s what she will do! The whole amnesia thing was a bit strange, though, really. There was no actual impact on the story due to this, so it mostly just felt like an added story line that went nowhere. But…oh well, I still love Rachel and enjoyed watching her confront the horror of their whole situation for the first time again.

A Hawk’s Life: Poor Tobias. Not only does he get way fewer chapters than the rest of them (I believe he even had less than Ax!), but he literally sleeps through the major action scene in the middle of the book. I have to think that it was around this point that Applegate started playing around with options for getting Tobias back in the game. Turns out that as emotionally traumatic as it was turning one of her characters into a hawk, there isn’t a lot of plot action that can come from it and figuring out what to do with Tobias in the mean time during all of these books had to start getting frustrating.

Peace, Love, and Animals: There’s an adorable scene towards the end where Cassie meets up with Rachel who is still struggling with her memory. So to kill two birds with one stone, Cassie goes on a ride on Elephant!Rachel and gives her a quick run through of their history. The mental image of Cassie riding along on Elephant!Rachel is just precious. Besties forever! Their friendship is one of my favorite parts of the book, and probably my favorite part of Cassie’s character since she is the one I struggle with most in the series.

But, after a moment of weakness in the middle of the book that leaves Cassie questioning herself, she is the crux to the whole story. Her unique talent at morphing allows her to speed through the many morphs necessary to pull off their “drop through the air while morphing from a cockroach on Tobias’s back to human to a whale in order to crush the Veleek into the ocean where it’s particle body will break to pieces” crazy pants plan.

The Comic Relief: Marco’s truly terrible driving makes a second and even more extended appearance (last time was in book #2, I believe). Without even knowing its him, Rachel hears the car coming and thinks to herself “that’s a very bad driver.”

BAM! BAM! BAM!
“Do you hate trash cans?” Jake asked. “Is that your problem? Do you just HATE TRASH
CANS?!!”
“I can’t drive with you screaming in my ear,” I [Marco] said.
“You can’t drive at all!” Jake said.

Turns out that when Marco volunteers for this little jaunt, his driving experience came from video games. Later the scene devolves into Marco continuing to drive, only this time he has Tiger!Jake in the back of the truck. Honestly, the Marco/Jake snark through all of this was probably the most fun part of the entire book.

Other than the silly mouse plot at the beginning (see the “bad plans” section), Marco’s major action comes from being captured by the Veleek and ending up on a Yeerk space ship alongside Ax. They escape by jumping out an open hatch, essentially. Come to think of it, a disproportionate amount of time in this book is spent with various Animorphs plummeting through the air desperately trying to morph.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Ax now has a 60/30 chance, it seems, of somehow ending up captured and on board a Yeerk space ship. Not counting “The Capture” where Jake is Controlled and which doesn’t involve really any major Yeerk battles, Ax has ended up on a space ship in 2 of the last 3 books. And, more importantly, gotten off alive, which is quite the feat! Sure, this time the space shift was still in the atmosphere which is the only reason his and Marco’s plan to just “jump out” worked, but still! I also have to suspect that Ax is going to continue to play a pretty strong role in continuing the charade that the Animorphs are all Andalite warriors. In this book, Visser Three mentions that some of the Yeerks had begun to become suspicious that humans may be involved, but here Ax is! But, Visser Three has also already met Ax and noted that he is a youth, something you don’t typically see in Andalite fighting forces. You’d think he’d start to be curious that the only Andalite he’s meeting is the same young kid. Hm…we’ll see I guess!

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: Two come to mind immediately, both for poor Rachel. The first comes right after she’s woken up from hitting the tree as an eagle (thus the amnesia) and discovers that she is halfway through morph. Now the descriptions are as nasty as ever about what midpoints in morphs are like (random patches of skin here, feathers there, talons sticking out of legs), but what makes it worse is that Rachel, at this point, has no memory! So the horror of waking up to find your body in that condition with no context for it?? The second moment comes after she’s been attacked by the Veleek in her bear morph and has had both of her paws…ahem…removed (what is it with her bear morph losing paws?!). And there’s a particularly gross part later on where she describes human fingers emerging from the gory stumps of her arms as she returns to human form. Yeah…

Couples Watch!: There are a few little references here and there to our favorite two couples. Rachel mentions that she takes care of things for Tobias that he can’t manage himself (like bringing him books to read!), and doing just that is what leads her into the amnesia trouble. She also remembers Cassie and Tobias first when she begins having flashes of memory. Cassie also mentions that Jake can read her facial expressions better than anyone else later in the book. And also resents the fact that she is suspicious that he sent her to look for Rachel around town (when they all realize she’s missing) not only because she’s Rachel’s best friend, but because he wanted to keep her out of danger.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: At one point in this story, Chapman meets up with a few other Controllers and one of them literally compares Visser Three’s melodramatics to the antics found in bad spy novels. I’ve been saying it all along!

Also, Visser Three’s ongoing love affair with Tiger!Jake shows up again in this book. I mean, the guy has, outloud!, waxed poetic about the tiger morph, and cats in general (Rachel’s house cat being the other instance), four times that I can remember at this point! And we’re only 8 books in! I think it’s safe to say that he has an obsession.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: This one actually avoided most of the tragedy. There’s a point towards the end where Cassie tells Tobias that they will need to tell her parents what happened to her if her plummeting towards the ocean as a whale plan doesn’t work out, but only when it’s safe. So that kind of struck home about the reality of what would happen if one of their missions ended badly. They couldn’t even tell the parents why their child died because it would put the family at risk. Sads.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: Well, Marco’s idiotic mouse plan in the beginning has to be mentioned. Essentially, he’s not invited to a girl’s pool party and instead of handling this gracefully, Marco decides to crash the party in mouse form to “see if anyone’s talking about him” since “she obviously has a crush on him.” It’s completely in character, and yet you just have to feel bad for poor Ax who gets dragged along with really no clue about any of this. Pool parties. Crushes. Teenage gossip. Immature practical jokes. At one point, Ax puts the whole thing down to Marco suffering from an affliction called “sense of humor.” And that he’s seen this strange affliction cause Marco to do bizarre things in the past, as well, so this must just be yet another instance.

Favorite Quote:

I think this exchange proves why I always hone in on how similar Rachel and Marco really are to how they approach the war. Essentially the same way, but Marco can resist quipping.

“Rachel isn’t here to cast her vote. So, on her behalf, I’ll say what she would say: What we need to do is find a way to kick this Veleek’s butt.”
Cassie smiled. “And what would the real Marco say to that?”
“He’d probably make some stupid but very funny remark,” I admitted. “Then he would start thinking about how to do just that: Kick this big windbag’s dusty butt.”

Scorecard: Yeerks 1, Animorphs 4

While the Animorphs do manage to kill Visser Three’s killer alien creature, their real success is simply: came out alive. So no points for anyone!

Rating: This was a fun first attempt at a book told from the perspectives of all the characters. But it’s also clear that Applegate was struggling a bit with the format and trying to find action for them all. If I remember correctly, the next two “Megamorph” books do a better job of it.

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: “Shiny Broken Pieces”

26198216Book: “Shiny Broken Pieces” by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton

Publishing Info: HarperCollins, July 2016

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

Book Description: June, Bette, and Gigi have given their all to dance at Manhattan’s most elite ballet school. Now they are competing one final time for a spot at the prestigious American Ballet Company. With the stakes higher than ever, these girls have everything to lose…and no one is playing nice.

June is starting to finally see herself as a prima ballerina. However, getting what she wants might cost her everything—including the only boy she’s ever loved. Legacy dancer Bette is determined to clear her name after she was suspended and accused of hurting her rival, Gigi. Even if she returns, though, will she ever regain the spotlight she craves? And Gigi is not going to let Bette—or the other dancers who bullied her—go unpunished. But as revenge consumes her, Gigi may be the one who pays the price.

After years of grueling auditions, torn ribbons, and broken hearts, it all comes down to this last dance. Who will make the cut? And who will lose her dream forever?

Review: So here we are again, following the vindictive and somewhat sociopathic students at the American Ballet Company. This time, in “Shiny Broken Pieces”, it’s basically senior year and the stakes are higher than ever!!! Which means that, one would think, shit is about to get real, dramatics wise! And maybe we’ll get some answers regarding what happened at the end of the previous book, “Tiny Pretty Things”. Like, who killed Gigi’s butterflies? Who put glass in her shoe? Who shoved her in front of a taxi in hopes that she would be injured for life? We get some answers to all those questions and more. But I’m sorry to say that this sequel didn’t quite live up to the amazingness of the original.

But let’s start at the beginning and start with the good. Also, there are going to be spoilers for this book, because some of my issues are about certain plot points and plot twists.

I really liked that in “Shiny Broken Pieces”, Charaipotra and Clayton were perfectly comfortable exploring and expanding all of their characters to make them even more well rounded and interesting. I think that it’s a pretty brave move to take favorites and lovable characters from the first book and make them more flawed and potentially unlikable in this one, if only to make the point that damaged people can do crappy things, and that doesn’t mean they’re necessarily evil. I’m talking, specifically, about Gigi. Gigi went through some terrible crap in this first book, no doubt about it. From racism thrown her way to injuries caused by others, Gigi is angry, and rightfully so. But in her anger, she starts to lose herself and starts to make the shift from damaged, to broken, and I believe there is a distinct difference. Now we are worried that she is going to turn into a monster, much like Bette was in the first book. And Bette, too, went through some serious changes through the pain that she suffered in the first one. She’s still entitled and snooty, but in this book you see her trying to find her redemption, and the strengths of her character are drawn out and put on display. These girls, the protagonist and the antagonist, get to grow and show that they are just people, and people make mistakes. But that doesn’t mean that they can’t find atonement.

And the dramatics were back in this one, though the ante has been upped and it’s far more life or death for some of the characters. Now that Cassie, one of Bette’s victims from the first story, is back, things start to get especially gruesome at school. From peanut allergies being weaponized to trap doors opening unexpectedly, we do get a dose of the soapy thrills from the first book. But we also get some realistic conflict that maybe and every day teen could have to face. June, for example, is facing the potential of making a choice about her future. She wants to dance, but isn’t sure that she has what it takes to do so. Her eating disorder is running away with her, and many ballet companies won’t take on a girl who could be a liability in that way. Plus, she has her boyfriend now, who wants her to got NYU with him. June has to decide between a potentially unattainable/destructive dream, and a stable and loving but possibly unfulfilling future.

But now we come to the big problem I had with “Shiny Broken Pieces”, and this is where the big spoiler guns come out.

giphy
(source)

So in this book, we find out who did some of the most heinous things to Gigi in the previous book: Will is the one who pushed her in front of the car. Sei-jin is the one who put glass in her ballet shoes. And Henri, who is Cassie’s boyfriend, seduced Will and influenced him to push Gigi in the first place as part of a grand scheme to solidify Cassie’s spot as top dog when she returned to school. So, a gay character, a lesbian character, and a bi-sexual (heavily implied) character were the ones who committed the violent acts against Gigi. And they are the only representations of LGBT characters in this book.

giphy1
I… take issue. (source)

So let me say right now that as a theoretical debate, I don’t really have a problem with characters from marginalized groups being the villains in stories in general. I think that villains can be from all backgrounds and that a well rounded villainous character is a good thing in a lot of stories. I think that equity and representation can extend to antagonists as well as protagonists. HOWEVER, I think that it’s irresponsible to do this if that is the only representation of that group within the narrative. And I think that it’s irresponsible if all of the characters from a marginalized group are antagonists. So for EVERY LGBT character in this book to have done something REALLY terrible (and gosh, Henri really just kind of fit into the ‘evil and untrustworthy bisexual’ trope in all ways, looking back at it), it didn’t sit well. And yes, people like Bette, June, and Gigi also did really terrible things as the story went on as well. But at least Bette, June, and Gigi all had perspective chapters so that we could see into their motivations and into their trains of thoughts. We may have some implied moments for Will and Sei-jin, but because we don’t get their own personal sides to their stories, they definitely come off as two dimensional caricatures with very little, or no redemption. Which isn’t great. These books are awesome when it comes to portrayals of racial diversity, no doubt. But I was very frustrated with the LGBT portrayals.

And finally, the audiobook might not have been the best choice for reading this book. I did it because my stack was so high, but the narrators for the three characters were pretty lackluster. There wasn’t much consistency between them and the accents they gave some characters, and none of them were particularly emphatic or lively. It felt more like they were reading a book, and I think that audiobook narrators really need to embody the book. I wonder if I would have been a bit more forgiving of some of the problems I had with this book (excluding the LGBT representation) if I had read this book in print.

So overall, I think that “Shiny Broken Pieces” was a solid follow up to “Tiny Pretty Things” with a fairly satisfactory ending. But the caveats to that kind of overshadowed how good it could have been.

Rating 7: A pretty solid follow up to the first book, but some problematic portrayals and lackluster narration made it not as entertaining as the first book.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Shiny Broken Pieces” is included on the following Goodreads lists: “Hell is a Teenage Girl”, and “Books with Diversity”.

Find “Shiny Broken Pieces” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously reviewed: “Tiny Pretty Things”

Serena’s Review: “Silence Fallen”

30687916Book: “Silence Fallen” by Patricia Briggs

Publishing Info: Ace Books, March 2017

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

Book Description: Attacked and abducted in her home territory, Mercy finds herself in the clutches of the most powerful vampire in the world, taken as a weapon to use against alpha werewolf Adam and the ruler of the Tri-Cities vampires. In coyote form, Mercy escapes only to find herself without money, without clothing, and alone in the heart of Europe…

Unable to contact Adam and the rest of the pack, Mercy has allies to find and enemies to fight, and she needs to figure out which is which. Ancient powers stir, and Mercy must be her agile best to avoid causing a war between vampires and werewolves, and between werewolves and werewolves. And in the heart of the ancient city of Prague, old ghosts rise…

Review: The tenth book in the Mercy Thompson series sees our intrepid heroine off on her own, kidnapped to another country. While the series is beginning to show its age, I still very much enjoy these characters, and choosing to set the story in a new location added a new dimension to a familiar story.

Mercy Thompson remains my one of two favorite urban fantasy heroines (right up there with Kate Daniels), and, as the series has progressed, she has been the primary draw for my returning to the series. As I mentioned earlier, this is the 10th book, and with a long-running series like this, its not surprising that story arcs can begin to feel familiar and the cast of characters begins to be unmanageably large. Briggs uses a clever trick to side-step both of these issues by setting this book in Europe after Mercy is kidnapped by a powerful Italian vampire. Suddenly we’re in a new location and the cast of characters involved is greatly reduced to only Mercy herself and Adam and the select few others he brings along on his “rescue” mission (the term “rescue” always requires quotes when it comes to Mercy as she is typically as capable of getting herself out of trouble as she is at getting herself into it, though she gets a pass on that last part in this one as her kidnapping was clearly not of her own volition). We’ve had a few other books where we’ve swapped viewpoints between Mercy and Adam, and here that format is utilized once again.

Mercy’s storyline is fairly straight forward. Escape her kidnappers, travel across Europe, somehow land in even more hot water, and learn more about her shapeshifter heritage and how her unique powers to see and talk with ghosts could mean even more than she had previously known. The first bit is pretty par for the course. At this point there really isn’t much tension that can be built around Mercy’s original dilemma. We’ve seen her kidnapped or in the clutches of a much more powerful being one too many times to be really intimidated by this setting, and, smartly, Briggs moves past this fairly quickly.

One of the remaining mysteries in this series is Mercy’s background as a child of Coyote, a powerful Native American spirit, and what gifts this has bestowed upon her. My favorite parts of this story revolved around the added depth that was given to this topic and the introduction of a much more vast and expansive history for Coyote’s influence and work in the greater world. Briggs also introduced a new creature with the Golem of Prague, a powerful being whose mysteries Mercy must unlock to save herself and the city.

Adam’s storyline was much more…political. While I enjoyed seeing a few of my favorite characters back (Stephan has been absent quite a lot in the last several books), it was also disappointing to find that much of his story arc ultimately served very little purpose. The larger dynamics that take place within the vampire seethes worldwide was interesting, but Briggs sets up the Italian vampire lord as one of the most powerful supernatural beings in the world and then…it all kind of comes to nothing? There were a few exciting moments, but much of this arc was taken up with carefully worded negotiations and power plays, but very little action. And in the end, the reader is kind of left wondering what was the point of it all?

There was also a neat twist towards the end that I didn’t see coming. However, it also threw a few things into question. Adam’s perspective makes up half of the story, and we know that he would be informed of this particular secret, but when we’re reading his earlier sections, it reads as if he is unaware of this. I know that this is to keep the reader in the dark, but it doesn’t ring true that Adam would think/act this way knowing the truth that we later find out. When it was revealed, I found it to be very jarring and had to go back and re-read several section to both now further appreciate what was going on and to confirm that yes, it was weird that this was written this way in the first place given Adam’s knowledge of it the whole time. This seems like a small quibble for what was actually a very neat reveal. But I wish there had been a way to neaten it up so that that same fun reveal wasn’t undercut by what had come before.

Ultimately, I very much enjoyed Mercy’s story line, but I was left underwhelmed by Adam’s. I still loved reading chapters from his perspective, but the arc he was given wasn’t strong. For an Alpha werewolf, he was given very little actual action, and the end results of his storyline didn’t feel worth the time it was given throughout the book. In the end, I’m not quite sure why it was even necessary to split this book into two parts. The ending would have needed to be changed, but it feels like very little tweaking would have been necessary to focus this story in on the more interesting arc and do away with the overly extended political maneuvering all together. Especially given that, by the end, things simply felt re-set and I was still left questioning the point of it all.

Rating 6: The original strengths of these books (its main characters) are still going strong, but the series is beginning to fray at the edges.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Silence Fallen” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Bad Bitches of Urban Fantasy “ and “Native American Paranormal.”

Find “Silence Fallen” at your library using WorldCat!

Previous reviewed: “Mercy Thompson series review” and “Fire Touched”