A Revisit to Fear Street: “The Surprise Party” (Fear Street #2)

176637Book: “The Surprise Party” (Fear Street #2) by R.L. Stine

Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, 1989

Where Did I Get This Book: Interlibrary Loan from the Library!

Book Description: It’s been a year since Evan died in the Fear Street woods. A year since Ellen moved away, and “the gang” split up. Meg Dalton felt as if she’d lost her best friends. Everyone changed. Even her boyfriend Tony was acting moody, strange. But when she heard that Ellen was returning for a visit, Meg had the answer: she’d bring them all together again with a surprise party for Ellen!

That’s when the terror began…the phone calls…the threats…the bizarre acts of violence. “Cancel the party—or else,” the whispered voice on the phone told her. Meg was scared, and with good reason. Whoever wanted the party stopped would try anything—even murder! But why? The dark Fear Street woods held the answer…if Meg dared to discover the truth!

Had I Read This Before: Yes

The Plot: And it was with “The Surprise Party” that I not only got back on track with going through the “Fear Street” series in order, but also having a full understanding of what my devotion to finding the originals would entail. The ILL copy I got of this book was pretty gross and disgusting, guys. I found a long faded and nasty remnant of an M&M within it’s pages. The candy shell does NOT melt in your hand, but if cracked, the chocolate seeps into all the pages. But it was worth it, because the dreckitude of this book’s condition was far outweighed by how nostalgic it was to hold it in my hands.

Meg Dalton and her group of friends are living normal lives in Shadyside. Well, pretty normal, outside of the fact that the summer before the horrible death of their friend Evan kind of tore a big hole down the middle of their clique. Evan shot himself in the Fear Street Woods, and no one knows why. His girlfriend Ellen moved away she was in such shock and grief. Meg misses her friends, and her bestie Shannon and her boyfriend Tony just don’t quite fill that void. But then she hears from Lisa (of Lisa and Cory from “The New Girl”) that Ellen is coming back to town for a visit after all these months of being away. Meg has a scintillating idea when she hears that: Let’s throw this traumatized and potentially still in mourning girl a surprise party! Shannon seems down for it, while Tony is visibly shaken. Meg goes home and starts to plan her perfect little party….. Until she gets a scary phone call, with the person saying that she better not have a party for Ellen… OR ELSE.

Meg, not to be deterred by a little light stalking, continues to plan the shindig. Shannon even makes some nice invitations that they can pass around. Meg goes to study hall with her friends, and notices that her weirdo cousin Brian is there too. Brian is SUCH A WEIRDO because he likes to play Dungeons and Dra-, no, excuse me, Wizards and Dungeons, with his actually awful friend Dwayne ‘Date Rapist’ Colligan (who has been aggressively trying to get Shannon to go out with him). Brian was also in the woods the day that Evan killed himself, as he heard a shot and went running, only to find dead Evan and a frazzled Ellen. After Meg turns her attentions away from the invites for just one moment, she returns to find that they’ve been cut up! How dare someone try and stop this totally fun and wicked party idea?!

Meg decides she needs to make a list of suspects of attempted party pooping. There’s Brian, because he’s a weirdo. There’s Shannon, because she may blame Ellen for Evan’s death. And then maybe Ellen could be a suspect too, because ‘she never liked parties’, and someone could have tipped her off. Brilliant. She writes down Dwayne for good measure because she doesn’t like him. She decides to call Tony to see what he thinks. He thinks that someone was following him, and he also thinks that she’s nuts for still going through with this in spite of the blatant threats against her. Meg can’t understand why he’s so upset, and guarantees that she’ll find out who is behind this. She then calls Ellen, just to see how she is (and maybe to try and get a feel for her knowledge re: her shindig). Ellen sounds very happy to see her and excited about coming home… Maybe TOO happy and excited…

As Meg manages to isolate herself from everyone on her mad quest for fun, she visits Shannon and thinks about how impulsive- no, wait, what’s the word- volatile and violent Evan was when he was alive. From throwing things to hitting Tony with a pool cue. Meg notes that Shannon’s older half brother, Mike, looks so much like Evan, which surely won’t come into play later. Shannon and Meg think maybe Brian could have something to do with all of this craziness. And he’s been SO OBSESSED with Wizards and Dungeons since he found Evan dead in the woods, that has to mean something, right? When she’s about to go confront Brian, someone tries to run her down in their car!!! Though she jumps out of the way, she runs home and mulls her next move? Call the police? Nah, call Tony!… Who doesn’t answer (because he’s out for a run, and is having a confrontation with Dwayne). The next night Meg actually drops by, but he’s not home. And then, around 4am, Tony’s drunk of a father calls Meg and tells her that Tony has disappeared with Brian!

Meg decides to go into the Fear Street Woods to look for them, as they were supposedly going to play a game of W&D. When Meg is looking for them, she’s thrown down a ravine by an unknown assailant. She finds Brian all beaten up, and Tony soon appears, saying Brian fell down the ravine and he went for help. After they are all taken out of the woods, Meg goes to visit Brian, who seems standoffish (and not just because he’s in severe pain). He seems like he’s about to confess SOMETHING to her… but then ELLEN is there, and they’re both surprised to see each other. Meg leaves, and calls Tony. He asks if Brian confessed, and Meg says yes, thinking he meant to the phone calls… BUT TONY ACTUALLY MEANT TO KNOWING THAT TONY WAS THE ONE WHO KILLED EVAN A YEAR AGO, AND HE’S THE ONE MAKING THE PHONE CALLS! And now Tony thinks that he’s going to have to ‘take care’ of Meg!!!

Meg and Shannon go to visit Ellen. After an awkward and forced conversation about their favorite childhood game ‘eek a mouse!’ (in which you randomly scream as loud as you can), they go to an unsupervised party at their classmate David’s house. Dwayne basically tries to molest Shannon, but Meg rescues her and they both downplay the situation. When Tony arrives he and Meg go off to talk alone. Tony is planning to kill Meg, but then realizes that she hasn’t actually put two and two together about his involvement. You get to live for now, Meg.

The night of the surprise party arrives! Meg brings Ellen to the old Haley house in Fear Street woods under pretense of Shannon being there for some reason. They surprise Ellen, who actually seems to be pretty excited to be dragged to the woods where her greatest trauma occurred. Everyone is having a good time, except Tony, who is on edge…. Until Brian shows up…. AND IN WITH HIM WALKS EVAN!!! Except no, it’s NOT Evan, it’s Shannon’s half brother Mike, who looks like Evan, remember?! Regardless, Tony freaks out, and starts to confess to what he did… But then the lights go out and a gunshot rings out!! When they come back on, Tony has been SHOT (by the gun he brought to the party) and it was DWAYNE who did it!!! Dwayne takes Meg and Ellen hostage and they leave the party, and go into the basement to ‘hide’. Ellen confesses that the day Evan was killed, she had just dumped him for Tony (yeah, sorry Meg). Evan ran into Fear Street woods with his father’s gun, and Ellen went after him, Tony not far behind. Soon Evan and Tony were fighting over the rifle, and then Evan ended up shot. Brian heard the gunshot and came to the woods, finding the scene. Tony said he would make it look like suicide, and if they told, he’d kill them. They all ran off at that point… BUT DWAYNE REVEALS THAT NO, IT WAS HE! Because he came looking for Brian (as they had been playing W&D), and found a very much alive, but weak, Evan, who hadn’t been shot but hit his head on a rock. So Dwayne decided to get rid of this guy because Evan never let him go out with Shannon. After he confesses he says he’s going to kill them… But then Meg decides to play ‘eek, a mouse’ (like Chekov says, if you introduce ‘eek a mouse’…). She distracts Dwayne, Ellen hits him in the head with a frying pan, and they make their escape…. No word on if Dwayne was killed, though it sounds like maybe he was.

It all wraps up at the end. Tony gets therapy, Ellen goes home, Brian says that he and Ellen had planned to try and get Tony to confess by bringing Mike to the party. No word on Dwayne’s status. As Ellen and Shannon wrap it up in a neat little bow, Mike asks Meg out on a date. She agrees… but says in a flirty way “Please… no parties!”. The End.

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I guess that’s one way to react to this whole thing… (source)

Body Count: Well I know for sure that Evan is dead, though he died off page. I don’t know if Dwayne died though, so we’ll say 2.

Romance Rating: 2. Given that Tony was lying and threatening Meg for most of the story and all other couples were generally dysfunctional that may be generous. But Mike seems fine.

Bonkers Rating: 7. From the dated evils of Dungeons and Dragons to the whiplash inducing twists at the end, this one was up there on the bonkers scale.

Fear Street Relevance: 9. There was a lot of action taking place on Fear Street and in the Fear Street Woods, including the most important moments of the book.

Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:

“It’s blood!” she cried. “My lunch bag is filled with BLOOD!”

….. and then it turns out it’s red paint.

That’s So Dated! Moment: Thank God that this was written in 1989 and this copy was the original publication! Because of that we got this gem:

“With her coppery hair, blue eyes, and full pouty lips, Meg thought, Shannon looked just like that actress in the movies, Molly Ringwald.”

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But I have brown eyes… (source)

Best Quote:

“Quick – crank up some music!:” Shannon shouted, startling Meg from behind once again. “And crank it all the way up! This party is okay!”

A ringing endorsement if there ever was one.

I remembered a few things about this book from my childhood, but reading it with an adult’s perspective kind of hit home how ridiculous this series was. And how it shows a weird and warped version of teen dating and love. I was especially horrified by the portrayals of Dwayne before his big reveal. His behavior towards Shannon was downright predatory, so it’s good that he was the villain or else I would have had a serious problem with downplaying his violent misogyny as ‘harmless’.

Next up is “The Overnight”! “Fear Steet” goes camping and I can’ wait!

March 2017 Highlights

We could try to type out something in a really terrible Irish accent in celebration of St. Patrick’s Day this month, but let’s just skip it maybe? March is also notable as it marks the Library Ladies one year anniversary! So yay for that!

Serena’s Picks

29522966Book: “The Beast is an Animal” by Peternelle van Arsdale

Publication Date: March 7, 2017

Why I’m Interested: There have already been comparisons to “Uprooted” floating around (one of my favorite reads of the last few years), and this book seems poised to be another break-out original fairytale.Featuring a girl with a strange power who sets out to save her village from the fearful twin soul eaters and their Beast overlord only to find that she shares a unknown connection with them, this book sounds like just the type of dark, twisted folk tale I would love. Plus, just look at that beautiful, creepy cover and tell me you’re not intrigued!

30687916Book: “Silence Fallen” by Patricia Briggs

Publication Date: March 7, 2017

Why I’m Interested: This is the 10th book in the Mercy Thompson series. Tenth! That’s a lot of central Washington werewolf/shapshifter/vampire/fae action! While the series has been rather hit or miss for me with the last few books, I did enjoy the last book (which was good, because the one before that was a fairly large miss). But it is starting to feel like the stakes simply can’t be raised any higher and that this tale might be nearing its end. Through kidnapping shenanigans, this book drops Mercy into Europe where she must maker her way home on her own, which does sound interesting. A change of setting could be what the series needs. And as much as I love Mercy and Adam together, the strength of this series is Mercy herself and sometimes she’s best left to clean up messes on her own.

28449207Book: “Strange the Dreamer” by Laini Taylor

Publication Date: March 28, 2017

Why I’m Interested: I very much enjoyed Laini Taylor’s “Daughter of Smoke and Bone” trilogy. The fantasy elements were all very unique, her world building was extraordinary, and she wrote her teenage female protagonist in a believable and sympathetic way. So, on those strengths alone I would be interested in a new fantasy series by this author. But, as it happens, this one also features Lazlo Strange a junior librarian! The description of the story seems confusing, something about a world where dreams choose your path and a lost world and dead gods. But I’m pretty sure if I tried to explain the premise of “Daughter of Smoke and Bone” that would also sound very odd, so I’m going to have faith that Taylor once again knows what she’s doing.

Kate’s Picks

30687788Book: “Ill Will” by Dan Choan

Publication Date: March 7th, 2017

Why I’m Interested: I’m always on the lookout for a good thriller that may take inspiration from true events, and “Ill Will” sure sounds like The Smiley Face Killer Conspiracy! You have a psychologist named Dustin who is haunted by his brother, a convicted murderer who is just now being let out of prison. Who was put into prison in the first place because of Satanic Panic and Dustin’s own testimony. Add that in with a crazy, unrelated theory one of his patient’s is tossing around involving a serial killer who covers his tracks by staging drownings, and  you have a book that has ME written all over it!!! This genuinely sounds like it could be a serious mind warp and I am totally here for that, just as I’m always here for disturbing psychological thrillers.


23447923Book:
“The Inexplicable Logic of My Life” by Benjamin Alire Saenz

Publication Date: March 7th, 2017

Why I’m Interested: I know it isn’t one of the genres that I usually focus on on this blog, but I absolutely cannot WAIT for this book!! First of all, the plot itself sounds like it’s going to be punching me right in the feelings, as a teenage boy is having a hard time coming to terms with his own identity and questioning whether he belongs or not. But most importantly, this is a book that is written by Benjamin Alire Saenz, who wrote the book “Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe”, which is hands down one of my very favorite YA books of all time!!!! So even though this isn’t the “Aristotle and Dante” sequel that I’m waiting for (not terribly patiently I might add), I love his writing and story telling, so I am VERY stoked to get my mitts on this book.

30753832Book: “The Fall of Lisa Bellow” by Susan Perabo

Publication Date: March 14th, 2017

Why I’m Interested: Though it sounds like it’s less about the crime itself and more about the aftermath and damage done, “The Fall of Lisa Bellow” is on my list. When Meredith Oliver and her nemesis Lisa Bellow are getting lunch from a cafe, a masked man bursts in. He hesitates between the two, and picks Lisa to take with him. Now Meredith is trying to cope with her guilt, her trauma, and her life after the fact. This sounds like it’s probably going to break my heart, but I’m very interested in the concept of survivor guilt and how a town reacts to a crime like this. My guess is that this is going to be a book that needs tissues ready, but I’m up for it!

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

The Great Animorphs Re-Read:#4 “The Message”

366784Animorphs #4: “The Message”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, October 1996

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: It all started with the dreams. But Cassie didn’t pay much attention to them. She and her friends had all been having weird dreams since they’d first learned to morph. Maybe it was just some crazy side effect.

Narrator: Cassie

Plot: Cassie and Tobias have been having strange dreams of the ocean. And when the Animorphs begin to see signs that the Yeerks, too, are showing interest in a specific part of the ocean, they decide they’d better check it out. They morph dolphins, and with the help of their whale friend, they discover a piece of the Andalite home ship sunk to the bottom of the ocean. And even more importantly, there’s an Andalite on board, but not the adult warrior who could lead their team that they’d been hoping for, but a kid, Elfangor’s little brother, Ax. Many ocean hi-jinks ensue including another desperate escape from Visser Three. This book is important because it introduces Ax for the first time, a main character who will be part of the Animorphs team going forward. I always forget how much he brings to the tone of the books and how much is missing in the first three with his absence. But he’s finally arrived! Yay!

Peace, Love, and Animals: This is our first book from Cassie’s perspective. And while Cassie isn’t one of my favorite characters in the series (in all honesty, usually her books are my least favorite), she does get one of the best books of the series. I liked this book so much that as a kid I picked it for a bookclub book (we had a family bookclub with another family and everyone got to pick a book, and I picked this one!)

As Cassie’s little section title implies, most of what we get from her in other books has to do with her pacifist take on the war and her role as the one with the animal connection. Diving into her viewpoint, we get a lot on both of these aspects of her personality. She struggles when she finds herself in a decision maker/leadership role in this book as one of only two Animorphs dreaming of Andalites; she’s clearly much more comfortable as the supporter of the group. But she does rise to the occasion which speaks well of her ability to do what needs to be done to save her friends and other creatures, even if it goes against her own nature.

Secondly, because the morph they use in this book is dolphins, we hear a lot about Cassie’s perspectives on animals. Specifically, here she is concerned that the Animorphs are not any better than the Yeerks in that a large portion of morphing has to do with taming the wild mind of the animal they become, so is it the same, especially when the animal is very intelligent, like dolphins? While I’m impressed that this short little book in this ridiculous sci fi series is tackling deeper issues like this, this same dilemma of Cassie’s is what makes her frustrating for me as a character. There seem to be large holes in her reasoning here, in that they are not taking over the minds of animals that exist independently of the Animorphs themselves. The morphed body is her own body and it does not exist on its own.

Further, we’ve been getting into each Animorph’s personal reason for fighting in each of their books. And here she finds her motivation after learning from Ax that the Yeerks not only arrive on a planet to take over the minds of the primary sentient species, but that they also terraform each planet to resemble their barren home world, destroying the natural flora and fauna. Yes, it’s horrifying what the Yeerks have planned for Earth itself, but it makes me question Cassie that her tipping point was its destruction not, say, the human race being killed and enslaved.

Our Fearless Leader: Jake has a nice little scene with Cassie that reminds us all why he’s such a great leader. She’s in the midst of a mini crisis about having to make decisions for the group, and we get some lovely thoughts from Jake about the way he handles this same pressure constantly. While he is not the decision maker behind this adventure, he is a leader all the same, providing the support needed for a teammate who is struggling. It’s these behind-the-scenes moments of strength and support that really show why Jake is such a natural leader.

Xena, Warriar Princess: Rachel’s not up to much, though it is interesting hearing about Rachel and Cassie’s friendship from Cassie’s perspective. They’re such oddball best friends, but it is clear how they balance each other out. Rachel has the confidence to challenge Cassie and get her moving when she could get stuck over-thinking every decision. But Cassie also brings reserve and caution to Rachel’s impulsiveness.

A Hawk’s Life: While we learn that the Animorph’s believe that Cassie is having these dreams due to her morphing powers (that she is so much better at it and thus more closely connected to Andalites in general), Tobias’s connection seems to only be that he had a deeper connection with Elfangor before he died (foreshadowing!!) Poor Tobias once again gets left out of much of the action due to the obvious: hawks don’t do water.

The Comic Relief: Poor Marco has a rough time, but we’ll get to that in “Body Horror”…But the fact that he can’t swim is a big problem in a book that involves the ocean. His close calls in this book only further cement his wariness about his future involvement in Animorphs missions. He’s still worried about leaving his father alone. But he does concede that after watching Elfangor heroically die trying to distract Visser Three from them, if there is an Andalite in need, he’ll be there. 

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Yay, Ax is here! We only get a bit of him when he shows up in the final third of the book. But his introduction does bring in a bunch of recurring things that will show up in later books. First, the running gag that he calls Jake “Prince Jake” since that is how Andalites address their war leaders. Second, his wealth of information on the Yeerks and space history. And third, the fact that he creates a new morph by combining the DNA of all of the Animorphs. It’s super wacky. It’s like his morph is their group-child or something.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: Marco gets bit in half by a shark! Marco gets bit in half by a shark! It’s as gross as it sounds. As dolphins, the group sees a whale being attacked by sharks and get into a scrap saving it that results in the horrifying image of Marco floating in the ocean with his dolphin tale only hanging on by a few threads of skin. But it does present an important concept about morphing going forward: any wounds that they get while in morph are healed when they de-morph/re-morph since it is all dependent on DNA which isn’t affected by this type of physical damage. Also, the Animorphs discover that the whales can sort of kind of speak? And the whale saves Marco here and the whole group later on.

Couples Watch!: Man, I really forgot how blatant she makes these couples right off the bat! While Cassie and Jake aren’t my favorite couple, they do have several very sweet moments together, including the scene I described earlier where Jake is boosting up Cassie’s confidence. They also have some nice “shared looks” and all of that.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: There’s a scene that’s described here that we never see but I want it now! Apparently, due to his Andalite host body, Visser Three is also having these weird dreams and they’re making him grumpy. So much so that at one point he shoves a Hork-Bajir out of an airlock when he disturbs him. So essentially he’s like Darth Vadar, and you’re going to get Force strangled or shoved out airlocks at any moment if you catch him at the wrong moment.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Poor Ax! The guy’s been stuck at the bottom of the ocean for a month or so now and then when people finally show up to save him he learns that his brother is dead. Stuck on a lonely planet as the only one of his kind, forced into a war he’s not prepared for with a bunch of kids who he doesn’t know and are a different species. Sad times.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: It turns out that the Andalite ship is wrecked out in the ocean quite a ways from the shore. So far, in fact, that one 2-hour dolphin morph won’t get them there. So they decide to first morph seagulls (this is a hilarious morph, by the way, in that they all become food obsessed while in it).

giphy2
(source)

Then they scout out a ship heading in the general direction they want to go and hop on board, de-moprhing to human and hiding out. Then when they get nearer, they jump off the side (forgetting somehow that Marco can’t swim, so he has to half morph a dolphin then get tossed over). Then swim the rest of the way as dolphins. Which…already this is a bad plan. But the biggest problem is HOW ARE THEY PLANNING ON GETTING BACK?? There’s no discussion of this and as it turns out, they end up needing to be rescued by the whale who carries them a large portion of the way back. Pure luck.

Favorite Quote:

Rachel: “First we morph into something like a seagull.”
Marco: “I hate plans that begin with the words ‘first we morph.'”

Scorecard: Yeerks 1, Animorphs 2

Another win for the Animorphs! Managing to swipe Ax out from under the Yeerks’ noses counts as a major win for the team. While they didn’t hurt the Yeerks directly, they gained a friend, comrade, and a team member who knows a whole heck of a lot more about the Yeerks and space history than any of them do! Currently the Animorphs are winning the scorecard, let’s see how long this lasts!

Rating: One of my favorite books that introduces our last main character, Ax!

Note: I’m not going to rate these books since I can’t be objective at all! But I’ll give a one sentence conclusion and you can take from that what you will!

Kate’s Review: “The Roanoke Girls”

30689335Book: “The Roanoke Girls” by Amy Engel

Publishing Info: Crown, March 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Book Description: Roanoke girls never last long around here. In the end, we either run or we die.

After her mother’s suicide, fifteen year-old Lane Roanoke came to live with her grandparents and fireball cousin, Allegra, on their vast estate in rural Kansas. Lane knew little of her mother’s mysterious family, but she quickly embraced life as one of the rich and beautiful Roanoke girls. But when she discovered the dark truth at the heart of the family, she ran fast and far away.

Eleven years later, Lane is adrift in Los Angeles when her grandfather calls to tell her Allegra has gone missing. Did she run too? Or something worse? Unable to resist his pleas, Lane returns to help search, and to ease her guilt at having left Allegra behind. Her homecoming may mean a second chance with the boyfriend whose heart she broke that long ago summer. But it also means facing the devastating secret that made her flee, one she may not be strong enough to run from again.

As it weaves between Lane s first Roanoke summer and her return, The Roanoke Girls shocks and tantalizes, twisting its way through revelation after mesmerizing revelation, exploring the secrets families keep and the fierce and terrible love that both binds them together and rips them apart.

Review: I don’t know what I was expecting when I requested this book from Librarything for a free giveaway (one again, a big thank you to both Librarything and Penguin Random House for sending me this book!). Reading the description it makes “The Roanoke Girls” sound like a pretty typical, run of the mill “Thriller with a Messed Up Female Protagonist”. Secrets happen, you can’t go home again, etcetera. While you can probably surmise what that big secret is if you read the description and have a working knowledge of the genre, I was not prepared for what I was picking up. Pretty early on the big underlying secret is revealed, but it was how Engel handled it that I was most interested in. And it was in the way she handled it that I was most impressed by this book.

Though I won’t go into many spoilers here, I am definitely going to say that this book carries some serious trigger warnings with it, regarding rape and sexual abuse.

Lane, our main character, seemingly falls into the usual trap of ‘messed up female protagonist’ of a story like this. She harbors secrets, she left town and hoped to never return (with many secrets under her belt), and she comes back reluctantly due to a mystery (being the disappearance of her cousin Allegra). Hell, she even runs into Cooper, her old boyfriend who, of course, still lives in this small town and still carries a brightly burning torch for her. She even has an ex-husband that she cheated on, therein ruining their marriage because she felt like she didn’t deserve him. But while these are, yes, certainly tropes that are all too familiar, the way that Engel writes Lane, and the things that Lane has had to endure, almost make it that I can forgive how familiar they are. Lane is by far one of the most damaged protagonists that I’ve seen in this genre, but Engel never makes her victimhood, or any of the victimhood portrayed in this book, seem tantalizing. Therefore, I never felt that it was exploitative in how it portrayed the abuse. I kind of try to measure it on a “Flowers in the Attic” kind of scale when it comes to that kind of thing. And this never felt like “Flowers in the Attic”.  And Lane’s portrayal felt genuine to me, as did Allegra’s. While they both made terrible decisions, and while sometimes they could be absolutely terrible to each other and others, I never felt like there was any judgment that Engel was throwing at them. They always came off as complex and broken, so therefore their behavior was more tragic than maddening (as I sometimes feel in books of this genre).

This story is told through three different ways to varying degrees. The majority of it is from Lane’s perspective, shifting from her summer in Kansas in the past to her return to the family farm in the present. The mystery of Allegra can be pieced together in both of these time periods, as much of what Lane sees and refers to will eventually come back to her present disappearance. The mystery itself wasn’t really all that interesting to me, as I had it pretty well figured out fairly early on. True, Engel tried to toss a couple of red herrings at the reader, making us question who the culprit was, or if there was even a culprit at all, but it’s all laid out if you’re looking for it. Part of that is because of this third perspective, that of every Roanoke Girl. There are little intermittent chapters from a different Roanoke Girl’s perspective, which are there to really emphasize how far reaching and how damaging the ‘big family secret’ is. I was a bit torn about having this all out in the open, because at first I was thinking that it kind of takes away the secrecy. But then it occurred to me that the mystery isn’t what the family secret is. That would almost be too lurid if it was the big reveal. The mystery is about how deep it has affected Lane, and if she was able to get away before it totally consumed her. The sexual abuse is no secret, to anyone, really, not even the characters. The people who are privy to it are either warped by it so they think it’s normal, or they are more inclined to blame the Roanoke Girls, or see them as tainted goods because this is the culture that we live in. The isolation is just as physical as it is emotional, as Lane has no one to turn to. So ultimately I am glad that Engel didn’t treat it like some big twist reveal. Because that would have felt like it was perpetuating it, somehow.

“The Roanoke Girls” was definitely a rough read for a lot of reasons, but I found it to be worthwhile as well. I definitely want people to approach it with caution, because it’s very upsetting. But I do think that it makes the reader think about how we view victims of prolonged sexual abuse in our current cultural climate.

Rating 8: Though it’s incredibly dark and upsetting, “The Roanoke Girls” pushes the envelope and boundaries of the usual genre conventions, and brings up legitimate questions about how our culture views and treats victims.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Roanoke Girls” has not come out yet and is on very few Goodreads lists. However, it is on “Books About Rape and Rape Culture”, and I think it would fit in on “Family Secrets”.

Though it is not out yet, you will soon be able to find “The Roanoke Girls” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “RoseBlood”

While I make an effort to complete most books I read, every once in a while I come upon one  that I just can’t get through. When I find myself repeatedly putting down a book to the point that attempting to finish it is taking up weeks of my time, I sometimes come to the conclusion that a book is a book, not a life and death contract to read until completion. There are too many books in the world that I will never get to to spends days on end trying to finish a book that I already know will not be my cup of tea. Sadly, one such of these books came across my desk recently.

28818314Books: “RoseBlood” by A.G. Howard

Publishing Info: Amulet Books, January 2017

Where Did I Get these Books: the library!

Book Description: In this modern day spin on Leroux’s gothic tale of unrequited love turned to madness, seventeen-year-old Rune Germain has a mysterious affliction linked to her operatic talent, and a horrifying mistake she’s trying to hide. Hoping creative direction will help her, Rune’s mother sends her to a French arts conservatory for her senior year, located in an opera house rumored to have ties to The Phantom of the Opera.

At RoseBlood, Rune secretly befriends the masked Thorn—an elusive violinist who not only guides her musical transformation through dreams that seem more real than reality itself, but somehow knows who she is behind her own masks. As the two discover an otherworldly connection and a soul-deep romance blossoms, Thorn’s dark agenda comes to light and he’s forced to make a deadly choice: lead Rune to her destruction, or face the wrath of the phantom who has haunted the opera house for a century, and is the only father he’s ever known.

There will be spoilers in this post!

Review: I included this book as one of my highlights in January’s post and even there I expressed nervousness going in. The expectation game plays a large part in books like this. I love everything “Phantom of the Opera,” so this being the case I have a critical eye for stories related to it. And while this was definitely part of my struggle with “RoseBlood,” it was combined with some other flaws to the point that I put it down about two thirds of the way through.

This book tries to do two things with “Phantom of the Opera:” present a sequel while also re-telling the classic tale in the modern day featuring our two teen protagonists. As a sequel, nothing about this book worked for me. Perhaps if had simply been a retelling I could have gotten on board, but as a sequel, the author wrote herself into a corner where she had to re-create and “modernize” the Phantom himself while also providing backstory into the original story that would make it fit with her new version. So the Phantom, Erik, becomes a…wait for it…psychic vampire whose method of feeding is siphoning off the emotions of others. And the way he does that is…wait for it…owning a rave where he shows the audience his face nightly and feeds off their fear. Yes. This is a real thing the book does. I can barely take it seriously enough to type it out.

Next, the author creates a paranormal “soulmates” device (but she calls them “twin flames” because apparently she can’t take the term “soulmate” seriously, but somehow “twin flames” is a more acceptable term?) where not only are our main characters “twin flames,” but so were Erik and Christine in the original story. Only she wasn’t “mature” enough to understand the deep love and soul connection she shared with the Phantom. So, now beyond the ridiculousness factor of psychic vampires who own raves, we’ve got a backstory that completely misses the message of deep tragedy in the original and throws Christine under the bus. The relationship between Christine and the Phantom was never a healthy one, and that was the whole point. Erik’s life was one of such deep tragedy that he was broken as a person, not knowing how to express real love for another or how to exist in society. At no point should Christine have ever stayed with him, and to paint her as an immature character who threw away true love does a huge disservice to the character and to the message of the original story.

So those were my concerns with this book as far as it goes as an adaptation of “Phantom of the Opera.” While I can’t say whether or not I would have continued reading had these been my only stumbling blocks, the fact that the novel as a whole reads as a “paint by numbers” YA fantasy was the final nail in the coffin of my ability to complete it.

In other reviews I’ve discussed some of the over-used tropes that can be found in YA fantasy that now feel so tired that they need to be shelved immediately. But this book manages to hit every single one of them, reading almost like a “Twilight” rip-off with only the aforementioned “Phantom” tie-ins differentiating it.

We have a main character with a ridiculous name who is gorgeous and has a special talent that she was born with but can’t control. She goes to a school that she hates (though it’s in Paris and full of rich, beautiful people), and immediately, through no effort of her own, becomes friends with everyone. The popular girls of school also immediately dislike her because they envy her beauty and talent. She meets a mysterious boy who wears a mask even though he, too, is incredibly good looking (this also felt like a very poor use of a “Phantom” tie-in, again missing the point of original that beauty is found beyond one’s face). She discovers they are soulmates, and they immediately fall in love (no stakes in the relationship, no growing to know, appreciate, and love each other, they’re just “destined”). Powers, magic, an attempt on her life. The end. There was just nothing there.

The unique aspects of this story were the connections to the original, and after they were used so poorly, there was nothing left to grab on to. The fact that the book was also over-written and overwrought with pages upon pages of flowery, descriptive language just really killed any interest I had in the story.

Now look, we here at The Library Ladies try to always include positives. And the positive for this is if you are a reader who truly enjoys the formula I described above, then this book will be great for you. And that’s fine! But, for me, nothing about this story worked. And while there are clearly readers who still enjoy this type of story, I also sincerely hope that we begin to move beyond these overly tired YA fantasy staples. They have been so over-used that they almost feel like a parody of themselves at this point. YA fantasy can do (and be) better.

Rating: DNF

Reader’s Advisory:

“RoseBlood” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Retellings of Classic Novels for Children and YA”and “Phantom of the Opera.”

Find “RoseBlood” at your library using Worldcat!

 

Kate’s Review: “Transmetropolitan (Vol.4): The New Scum”

6941759Book: “Transmetropolitan (Vol.4): The New Scum” by Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Vertigo, September 2000

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it!

Book Description: Investigative reporter Spider Jerusalem attacks the injustices of the 23rd Century surroundings while working for the newspaper The Word in this critically-acclaimed graphic novel series written by comics superstar Warren Ellis, the co-creator of PLANETARY and THE AUTHORITY.

Review: The more I revisit “Transmetropolitan”, the more I see and deeply feel parallels to our current legal situation, and in turn the more I mourn the lack of a Spider Jerusalem to jump in and start speaking ten kinds of truth. This re-read is both cathartic and upsetting, but the good news is that at least I’m finding myself laughing hysterically at many points of these comics. Because Spider, Yelena, and Channon are all so perfect and filled with snark.

We pick up where Volume 3 left off. Spider (and the world, really) is mourning the assassination of Vita Severn. She’s become a martyr and a symbol for the Callahan campaign. Spider, however, isn’t convinced that Callahan (aka The Smiler) is actually in mourning for Vita. In fact, he has a pretty good hunch that murdering Vita was a political move on the Callahan’s part. And with the election coming up, Spider wants to get the truth out in the only way he knows how. The problem is, there’s no way to win. Because the choices are The Beast, or The Smiler. And either way, Spider, and the country, is screwed….

And along with that we get a Christmas story and a story about the joys of Winter!

Ellis continues his masterful and deft political satire that continues to feel just as relevant today as it felt back when it was first written. While this collection does have a few off shoots and off story vignettes (more on that in a bit), the meat of it is about The Campaign, and Spider’s not so slow realization that there is no good solution. You either get stuck with The Beast, who has driven the country into the ground with oppressive and totalitarian policies, or you end up with The Smiler… Who has managed to prove himself far, far deadlier and menacing than his opponent behind closed doors. There are two moments in this book where Spider confronts both candidates. We get a swift reminder that The Beast is still basically the worst (and he even kind of looks like a certain presidential advisor), but at the same time you see the portrait of a man who is less beastly, and more pathetic and complacent. It was a truly unsettling moment for me as a reader, because it shows that what’s coming is going to somehow be WORSE than the worst. It was a very interesting and kind of pathos ridden final confrontation between Spider and President Beast.

And then there’s The Smiler. It is here that we get full confirmation that he is a full blown psychopath who just kind of wants to watch the world burn. So while The Beast may look like that certain Presidential Advisor, The Smiler shares ethos with him. And it is in this volume that we see Spider, wily, truth pursuing and clever Spider, is bested. Spider had an enemy in The Beast, for sure. But The Smiler is full on intent of annihilating him and wiping him from the Earth. “The New Scum” kind of feels like an “Empire Strikes Back” moment, where almost all hope has been lost and the Empire has won (even more so than Vol. 3, which ended with Vita being assassinated on live TV, and THAT was pretty dismal). Finishing that arc before the next left me feeling drained and in need of chocolate cake.

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(source)

But along with these painful and ‘oh no it’s far too true to life’ moments, there were small moments of pure hope and joy in this collection. In one of our offshoot stories, Spider finds himself meeting up with Mary, his friend who was frozen from the 20th Century and woke up in a scary and completely different future. As she talks about how different it all is, there are still the little joys that make her happy, even if the world is overwhelming and sometimes scares the crap out of her (and then Spider gives her a camera, as she was a photographer in her old life, and that just made my heart sing). In this same story Spider meets a little girl whose Mom had to pawn her favorite doll…. So Spider buys it back for her. Because he recognizes that “… all we’ve actually got is each other. You decide what that means.” And the other story that really affected me is Spider’s rumination on Winter. Winter means change. Winter means a rebirth is coming. Winter means that we can always look forward to the next one, and maybe next Winter will be better. It was a poignant and stunning one off that, true, feels a little harder to swallow these days. I don’t feel like I’m better off this Winter than I was last Winter. But the point is that Ellis knows that even when there’s all this garbage and terribleness, you can always depend on a couple things: the small joys and kindnesses that you will encounter, and that hope for change and rebirth is always there. In these moments, I was able to feel at least a little calmer.

Thanks for the hope, Spider. And thanks for staying inspirational when it comes to truth and journalism.

Rating 9: “Transmetropolitan (Vol.4): The New Scum” is one of the most hopeless and hopeful collections of this series yet. Definitely hard to read, but impossible to put down.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Transmetropolitan (Vol.4): The New Scum”is included on these Goodreads lists: “Great Non-Superhero Graphic Novels”, and “Bibles for the Revolution”.

Find “Transmetropolitan (Vol.4): The New Scum” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously Reviewed:“Transmetropolitan (Vol.1): Back on the Street”, “Transmetropolitan (Vol.2): Lust for Life”, “Transmetropolitan (Vol.3): Year of the Bastard”.

Not Just Books: February 2017

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:

mv5bmtg4nda1ota5nf5bml5banbnxkftztgwmdq2mdm5ode-_v1_sy1000_cr006741000_al_Movie: “Hell or High Water”

I’m on a bit of a “Western” kick right now both with what I’ve been reading (upcoming review of “Silver on the Road!”) and watching. This movie is a modern western about two brothers who are pushed to their limit and begin a bank robbery spree in an attempt to save their family home. Their story is balanced by that of the federal ranger who is tasked to stop them. The cast in this one is really what sells it. It’s no surprise that Jeff Bridges plays the gruff and grumpy federal ranger character as it seems like the part must have been written specifically with him in mind. But the surprising performance is that of Chris Pine who gives himself a break on the action hero type and instead shows that he has real drama chops in this much more subdued and complicated character. Also, Ben Foster is criminally under-recognized as a fantastic actor, and this is no exception!

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TV Show: “Top Chef”

There are a few reality tv shows that are my guilty pleasure (I’m sure others will show up on this list eventually). But maybe the most bizarre is my love of realty cooking competitions, as I hate cooking myself and am quite terrible at it. I particularly like “Top Chef” because while it is reality tv, is often lacks the added and unnecessary drama that pops up in other cooking show (I’m looking at you “Master Chef” and “Hell’s Kitchen!”). This season has been set in Charleston and has had a mix of new chefs and returning Top Chef competitors. Some of my favorite contestants did very well, which also increased my enjoyment of this particular season!

oregon-trail-old-featureOnline Game: “The Oregon Trail”

I discovered that you can play the old 1990 version of “The Oregon Trail” online! This has not been good for my productivity levels either at work or at home. Kate and I, and our other halves, got together on New Year’s Eve and among other fun board games, we tried playing a card game version of “The Oregon Trail.” Her husband and I didn’t make it to Oregon due to tragic circumstances, sadly. But the game did spark major nostalgia and when I found the online game…an addiction was re-born!

Kate’s Picks:

heathers300Soundtrack: “Heathers: The Musical”

Some friends and I, on a whim, went to see a local production of this Off Broadway musical, based on one of my favorite movies. I had never heard the music from it before, but I was completely entranced by it as we watched it. It captures the movie perfectly with a rock and roll soundtrack, and it has some amazing power ballads between Veronica Sawyer and J.D., the renegade teens who are killing their most awful classmates (much to her horror). This is one of my most screwed up ships (I DON’T WANT TO HEAR IT, GUYS!), but the two songs “Seventeen” and “Our Love Is God” have been on a constant loop in my day to day this past month because they’re so passionate and power ballad-y, and capture that doomed relationship so very well. Sweet, sweet anguish.

drew-barrymore-timothy-olyphant-santa-clarita-dietNetflix Show: “Santa Clarita Diet”

Now I love me some zombie shows, but I love them even more when they think outside the box. “Santa Clarita Diet” is a hilarious satire of suburban life mixed with a zombie show, in which Drew Barrymore, or Sheila, finds herself turned into a sentient zombie. Her husband Joel (played by the foxy Timothy Olyphant) is doing his best to be supportive, because he loves his wife. It’s her ‘eating people’ thing that’s hard to stomach. Barrymore and Olyphant are hilarious, as it their daughter Abby (Liv Hewson) and her best friend Eric. It’s gross and bloody, but has a whole lot of heart to it. And many, MANY laugh out loud moments.

riverdale-header3TV Show: “Riverdale”

YES, OKAY, I’M INTO THE SEXED UP “ARCHIE” SHOW!!! But I have my reasons. First of all, it’s seeping in “Twin Peaks”-esque nostalgia and aesthetic. Second, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, the man behind “Afterlife with Archie” and “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina”, is the showrunner, so you know he’s going to have some serious, SERIOUS dark and screwed up stuff up his sleeves. Yes, I’m bitter that they started by killing off Jason Blossom (GODDAMN I LOVE THE BLOSSOM TWINS, HOW DARE THEY!?!?!), but I love what they’re doing with a lot of the characters that I like (Betty, Kevin, Josie, and of course, Veronica). Though I will never understand why we’re supposed to believe that the doof Archie attracts so many capable and intelligent women….. But also, Luke Perry. I mean, really.