Serena’s Review: “The Beast is an Animal”

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

Publishing Info: Margaret K. McElderry Books, February 2017

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: A girl with a secret talent must save her village from the encroaching darkness in this haunting and deeply satisfying tale.

Alys was seven when the soul eaters came to her village.

These soul eaters, twin sisters who were abandoned by their father and slowly morphed into something not quite human, devour human souls. Alys, and all the other children, were spared—and they were sent to live in a neighboring village. There the devout people created a strict world where good and evil are as fundamental as the nursery rhymes children sing. Fear of the soul eaters—and of the Beast they believe guides them—rule village life. But the Beast is not what they think it is. And neither is Alys.

Inside, Alys feels connected to the soul eaters, and maybe even to the Beast itself. As she grows from a child to a teenager, she longs for the freedom of the forest. And she has a gift she can tell no one, for fear they will call her a witch. When disaster strikes, Alys finds herself on a journey to heal herself and her world. A journey that will take her through the darkest parts of the forest, where danger threatens her from the outside—and from within her own heart and soul.

Review: I am going to start this review by talking about the cover, because it is rare that I see a cover that so perfectly sets up the atmosphere of the book. Dark, yet beautiful. Indistinct, yet you feel drawn in, almost against your will. The tall dark trees, shadows, and bright red flowers all spark instinctive warning symbols in your head and that looming shape in the middle….is it a person? A creature? Or simply a strangely shaped tree stump? Whoever came up with this art design in the publishing house should be awarded major points for exactly matching book art to its source. Like this cover, “The Beast is an Animal” was beautiful, and terrifying, and I couldn’t look away.

At its core, this is a book about fear and about the horrors that a simple emotion can inflict on an individual, a family, and an entire community. Neighbors, always on the look out for witches to blame for poor weather, poor crops, posed almost a greater danger than the dark, looming forest around which many small communities exist. It is into this world that Angelina and Benedicta are born, twin sisters whose looks, down to unique birthmarks, exactly mirror the other. After a poor farming season, they, and their mother, are blamed and banished to live in the woods, and a husband/father who should have been their protector slinks away to begin his life again with a new, fresh-faced woman. Their mother doesn’t flourish. Angelina and Benedicta do, slowly being eaten away with bitterness and anger at the fear that lead to their banishment. And thus, two monsters are born.

After all of this set up, we meet Alys, our main character who throughout the book also struggles with the fear of “otherness” that floats around her. After her whole town is destroyed by the souleaters, excepting all of the children under 15, she and her fellow orphans go to live in a new town. While they do take the children in, this new community is even more stifled, building walls around their small town and forcing the children to guard it every night, all night.

We watch this story unfold over three periods of Alys’s life. First, when she is 7 and her town falls to the souleaters. Second, when she is 12 and begins to suspect that she has more in common with the souleaters and the mysterious Beast that haunts the woods. And finally, at age 15 when she must confront both the truth about herself, and the darkness that is growing in the heart of the woods.

What I loved about this book was how it plays with the topic of fear and bad/good. Are Angelina/Benedicta evil? Or were the “normal folk” who banished them? Where does the Beast fall on this spectrum? What about the community that takes in the children? While the supernatural elements were scary in their own right, it was the oppressive fear of the people themselves that made the book truly creepy. Alys, and the medicine woman who adopts her in the new town, are constantly on the look out for any hint that they are beginning to fall under suspicion for being different. The devices and tortures used against these supposed “witches” were more terrifying than the supernatural souleaters if only because we know from history that these things existed.

As I said in the beginning, what makes this story truly compelling is the atmospheric tone of the writing. It feels like a new fairytale, containing not only the darker elements that are typical to original fairytales, but also reads with a lyrical flow, combining beautiful imagery with poignant insights into the deep tragedy at the heart of the story.

Alys is a strong protagonist around which to center this story. However, Mother, the woman who adopts Alys in the new community, was the breakout character for me. She doesn’t have a lot of page time, but she provides a window into a world, and life, that Alys is trying to avoid. Mother is a midwife whose skills are depended on, but who must also constantly hide what she is doing and how she is doing it for fear that she would be labeled a witch. Her own personal tragedies, as well, must be similarly hidden. When Alys first meets her, she dislikes her, noting that she is cold and unemotional. But as the story goes on, we see that this is a coping mechanism and self-preservation tactic from a woman who has devoted herself to aiding a community of people who would as soon see her burned at the slightest sign of strangeness.

Like I said, the supernatural elements were very creepy (much more than I expected and in some ways this might have been a more “Kate book” than mine), but the descriptions of life in these walled up and fearful communities was almost unbearable to read. I was just so angry at these people! And it is this aspect that really marks this book as a success. The reader falls into the same trap as Angelina/Benedicta, and even Alys, thus making these characters all the more sympathetic, for all of their evil deeds. Fear leads to anger. And anger leads to…

I can’t say enough good things about this book! If you enjoy original fairytales and can handle a healthy dose of creepiness, this book is definitely worth checking out!

Rating 9: A beautiful, standalone dark fantasy novel. I absolutely loved it!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Beast is an Animal” is newer and thus not many relevant Goodreads lists, but it should be on “Popular Dark Fairy Tales”  and “Twin Thrillers.”

Find “The Beast is an Animal” at your library using Worldcat!

A Revisit to Fear Street: “The Wrong Number”

176340Book: “The Wrong Number” (Fear Street #5) by R.L. Stine

Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, March 1990

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

Book Description: It begins as an innocent prank, when Deena Martinson and her best friend Jade Smith make sexy phone calls to the boys from school. But Deena’s half-brother Chuck catches them in the act and threatens to tell their parents, unless the girls let him in on the fun. Chuck begins making random calls, threatening anyone who answers. It’s dangerous and exciting. They’re even enjoying the publicity, and the uproar they’ve caused. Until Chuck calls a number on Fear Street.

To his horror, Chuck realizes he has called THE WRONG NUMBER. The jokes are over when murder is on the line. The murderer knows who they are and where they live — and they have nowhere to call for help.

Had I Read This Before: No

The Plot: I pity any “Fear Street” book that had to follow “Missing”. But I hoped that “The Wrong Number” would maintain some of the zany thrills that the one before it had. It starts with Deena and Jade, best friends who are quickly getting bored at Deena’s house. Deena mentions that her half brother Chuck is coming to live with her and her parents, as he’s a serious troublemaker and got kicked out of his school, so his mother has had it. Jade hopes he’s cute, when she should probably be hoping he’s stable. Still bored, Jade suggests that they start prank phone calling people! They start with her sister Cathy, who sees right through the ruse. Then they call Deena’s crush Rob. Deena flirts and then hangs up.

The next day Deena goes with her folks to pick up Chuck.She fixates a bit too much on how handsome he is, though he is ‘snowling’ (that’s scowling and sneering at once). But on the way home they see an accident, and Chuck runs to the scene and saves a dog from a burning car. See, he’s not so bad after all!!! Except he is, because the next morning Deena pours him some cereal for breakfast and he dumps it down the sink. So complicated. A true riddle. At lunch Deena tells Jade that Chuck’s a jerk, and as if to confirm this statement Chuck gets into a fight with local bad boy Bobby and pulls a knife on him!! Jesus.

We find out that post knife incident, Chuck almost got in trouble but their Dad was able to sweet talk the school. But Chuck’s on thin ice! Being that it’s Saturday, their parents go out, and Jade comes after her date cancels on her, which means more prank phone calls! Jade convinces Deena to call Rob again, and it continues to go well. Deena is too shy to reveal herself, and hangs up after hearing some weird clicks. Chuck comes into the room and introduces himself to Jade (who is immediately turned on). Then he says that he was listening in and wants to do his own prank calls in exchange for not telling. ASSHOLE. Deena and Jade agree. He immediately calls the bowling alley and declares a BOMB THREAT (this kid is insane!), then decides he wants to call someone on Fear Street. Because SPOOOOOOKY! He decides on Bobby, calls him, says that it’s the ‘Phantom of Fear Street’ calling. Dumbass. After scaring the girls, Jade decides to call it a night. He then offers to help Deena with her homework. Cuz remember. Enigma.

The bomb threat makes the news and Deena wants to stop with the calls. But Jade, wanting to get closer to Chuck, says that if Deena doesn’t keep it up she’ll tell Rob who’s been calling him. Friends like these. That weekend they are hanging out and grilling, and Deena tries to convince them to stop calling. They agree… until Chuck decides that he wants to prove that Fear Street is just a silly place that isn’t scary. So how does he want to prove this? By prank calling a random Fear Street number.

source1
(source)

So he puts the phone on speaker and calls… Only to have a woman screaming about how she’s being murdered. They are shocked, and a man takes the phone from the woman, and tells them they have the wrong number. Instead of calling the cops (because HOW would Chuck explain that he called this number?…. SAY YOU CALLED THE WRONG NUMBER), Chuck says they need to go to this house and investigate. GREAT. They arrive at the house and find a DEAD WOMAN! She’s been stabbed! Before they can call the cops a man in a ski mask confronts them. Chuck grabs the knife as a defense, but then they run out of the house and for their car. A chase ensues, but they lose the guy. They get back home and call the police. Chuck tries to be anonymous (once again cites the Phantom character he created). But of course the cops show up later that night. Turns out that Stanley Farberson, the man who is married to the dead woman, ID’d their plates and accuses Chuck of killing his wife!!!

So Chuck is arrested because his prints are on the knife and Mr. Farberson identified him in a lineup. Deena and Jade are distraught! But sexy Rob is there to distract Deena a little bit. Until that night, when Jade calls her and tells her to turn on the news. Mr. Farberson is speaking, and HE HAS THE SAME VOICE AS SKI MASK MAN!!! HE KILLED HIS WIFE!

After Deena’s theory is rebuffed by the cops, Jade says that they can totally solve this and the first step is to go to his restaurant and snoop around. They disguise themselves and Jade pretends that she’s looking for a job. While Farberson has them fill out applications he steps away, and the girls snoop. They find a plane ticket to Argentina, one way! Farberson returns and says he knows that the agency didn’t send them. Jade worms them out of it, and they leave. They decide that maybe the next person to see is his former assistant, Linda. As apparently there are actually two tickets to Argentina…

Deena and Jade go to Linda’s house and pretend they’re doing a door to door survey. While they are inside they overhear Linda talking to someone on the phone… It’s Farberson! And it sounds like they’re pretty cozy. She talks about him needing to come get something because she can’t have it in her house anymore. Deena and Jade make a hasty exit, and lie in wait. They see Farberson pick up this strange package, and follow him in hopes he’ll dispose of it. They think it’s gotta be the ski mask and some bloody clothing. But after he trashes it, they come back later that night open it up…. and find a dead cat. UGH, NO MORE DEAD ANIMALS!!

Lucky for them when they climb back in the car, masked man his hiding in the back seat. He tells them to drop it or else. When Deena visits Chuck at the detention facility she tells him that she and Jade are on the case. He’s pissed because he’s afraid she’s going to get killed, but this doesn’t sway Deena. She and Jade decide to go back to the scene of the crime.

They sneak into the Farberson house, in a very Grace Kelly-esque move, and snoop. They find evidence that Mrs. Farberson was the rich one, and was sick of her bum husband spending all her money. She planned to leave him. The girls decide they can go now, but Mr. Farberson is in the house! They wait for him to fall asleep on the couch and plan to sneak out, but they balk and hide in the office when he gets restless. Then they make too much noise and he finds them. He confesses to everything, and locks them in the office saying he’ll be right back, no doubt to kill them. Deena and Jade decide they can climb out the window and jump to the tree that’s right outside it. Just as they get outside, Farberson busts into the room. Deena and Jade are a bit high up with no where to go, so Mr. Farberson leaves the room….

AND REAPPEARS OUTSIDE WITH A CHAINSAW!!!! HE INTENDS TO CHAINSAW THEM DOWN AND THEN MAYBE CHAINSAW THEM TO DEATH???

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THIS IS FINALLY INTERESTING! (source)

But luckily,  the police arrive JUST IN TIME because Chuck told the authorities everything. And I guess they had a hunch themselves but just didn’t have enough evidence, and this was the perfect way to get evidence: to let two teenagers put themselves in danger while a third rots in a jail cell unnecessarily. Though Deena’s Dad thinks that it’s fine because the experience scared Chuck straight or something. Yeesh.

So now they’re all famous at school. Jade and Chuck are officially a couple. And Rob and Deena finally set a date. ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL, I GUESS.

Body Count: 2. Mrs. Farberson and one dead cat. Stine needs to stop killing animals.

Romance Rating: 3. Deena gets to go out with Rob at the end, but their meet cute wasn’t very cute. And Chuck and Jade? Dude’s unstable.

Bonkers Rating: 4. Only because of the chainsaw. The rest was pretty dull.

Fear Street Relevance: 5. The Farbersons lived on Fear Street, after all. I guess.

Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:

“Rain slanted in, and another flash of lightning illuminated Chuck, his limp body curled up on the floor.”

… And he’s faking it. Jerk.

That’s So Dated! Moments: Well I would have to say that the obvious one is that THEY ARE MAKING PRANK PHONE CALLS. That’s just so hard to do these days with caller ID. But the other is that Chuck pulls a knife at school and isn’t immediately suspended/expelled.

Best Quote:

“Be sure to tell him hello for me,” said Jade.

“He doesn’t even know you.”

Jade turned her full smile on. “Not now he doesn’t. But I have a feeling….. he will soon.”

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EYEAAHHHHHHH!!!!!! (source)

This was a sad follow up to the absolute batshit absurdity that was “Missing”. If I wanted a story like this I’d just watch “Rear Window”. Hell, even “Disturbia” would be better. Next up is “The Sleepwalker”, and I hope that one’s a step up.

Book Club Review: “Flying Lessons and Other Stories”

We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing bookclub running for the last several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is a “Book Challenge!” theme. This book comes from a “Pick a Maud Hart Lovelace award winner” challenge.

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

24561496Book: “Flying Lessons and Other Stories” by Ellen Oh (Editor)

Publishing Info: Crown Books for Young Readers, January 2017

Where Did We Get This Book: the library!

Book Description: Whether it is basketball dreams, family fiascos, first crushes, or new neighborhoods, this bold anthology—written by the best children’s authors—celebrates the uniqueness and universality in all of us.

In a partnership with We Need Diverse Books, industry giants Kwame Alexander, Soman Chainani, Matt de la Peña, Tim Federle, Grace Lin, Meg Medina, Walter Dean Myers, Tim Tingle, and Jacqueline Woodson join newcomer Kelly J. Baptist in a story collection that is as humorous as it is heartfelt. This impressive group of authors has earned among them every major award in children’s publishing and popularity as New York Times bestsellers.

From these distinguished authors come ten distinct and vibrant stories.

Kate’s Thoughts

The “We Need Diverse Books” movement is one that I have been following for a bit now. Basically, it’s goal is to promote, publish, and highlight books by diverse authors, and tell stories of many different viewpoints and experiences, especially in children’s and young adult literature. When our dear friend and fellow librarian Alicia picked the short stories collection “Flying Lessons” for our book club, I threw it on my request list and got it almost immediately. I also happened to read it during the first attempt this administration made on implementing a travel ban into this country. So yeah, this felt like a very pertinent read, especially since the hope is that diverse books will build empathy to other experiences.

Like most short stories collection, it had some highs and lows. But luckily, it was mostly highs! I really liked the varied authors that contributed to this, and how they all offered so many different kinds of stories without feeling like a box was getting checked off. I expected no less from Ellen Oh, one of the instrumental members of We Need Diverse Books. I will focus on my two favorites.

“Sol Painting, Inc” by Meg Medina: I love the other books by Medina that I’ve read (“Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass”; “Burn, Baby, Burn”), and I was very excited to see that she had a story in this collection. She does a great job of showing one snippet of a day in the life of Merci, Roli, and Mr. Sol, who are Latinx and have a family painting business. While Mr. Sol and and younger sister Merci really love this business, so much so that Merci wants to open her own home improvement empire someday, the elder brother, Roli, is starting to feel embarrassed by it, and would prefer to focus on science things. Medina does a great job of showing the discomfort that Roli has surrounded by his very white peers in a very white space when they go to paint the high school gym, in exchange for tuition for Merci. This story also feels very real in Merci’s voice, as she is the narrator. She doesn’t understand her brother’s self loathing or her father’s self sacrificing. This is probably the saddest story in the bunch, but it was my favorite.

“The Difficult Path” by Grace Lin: Lin takes us back in time to long ago China. It follows the story of Lingsi, a servant girl who is also educated, as it was her mother’s dying wish and her mistress, fearful of being cursed with bad luck, agreed. Lingsi and her house are traveling to try and find a wife for the only son of the family, a cruel and idiotic lout. But as they are traveling, they are attacked by pirates, and Lingsi finds herself in a very surprising situation. I loved Lin’s story telling in this one, as I could totally see everything and hear everything with perfect clarity. It was also neat seeing a surprising feminist twist within this story. No spoilers here. But let’s just say that there is a history of female pirates during this time period. This story was fun and definitely satisfying.

I really liked “Flying Lessons”, and I think that it’s a great collection of short stories that all kids will love.

Serena’s Thoughts

I’m always a bit hesitant about short story collections for a few reasons. First is the same reason that Kate laid out earlier and is true to a certain extent with this one: there can be a variety in quality from one story to another which can be an off-putting reading experience. Secondly, writing a short story is a completely different beast than writing a novel, a fact that I think many authors tend to forget and that then leads to questionable short story collections. Publishers simply paste all the big author names together on one title and think it’s a clear win, with no understanding that many of the skills and traits that make an author successful as a novelist may not carry over to a short story collection.

So, with all of this in mind, I was hesitant about this book, especially as it was often marketed and sold on the fame of the authors’ works it included. But, while there were a few misses, I was happy with the collection as a hole and there were a few stories that particularly stuck out. Kate already discussed two of my favorites, but I’ll throw in a third.

“The Beans and Rice Chronicles of Isaiah Dunn” by Kelly J. Baptist: This story follows Isaiah Dunn, a young boy coping with the death of his father and with his mother’s subsequent fall into alcoholism. Just with that short description, you know going in that this was one of the heavier titles in the book. But this story was so incredibly powerful for it! Grief itself is a huge subject, but the story also touches on so many other factors that all get swirled together in a the life-changing impact that comes with the loss of a parent. The trying economic situation of the family, the mother’s coping method, and the hope that can be found amidst it all is beautifully illustrated in this tale. I particularly appreciated the rather meta use of the power of stories that is brought to being in this story after Isaiah finds a old book of his father’s stories. Isaiah’s voice is also particularly strong, effectively portraying the innocence of childhood but never short-changing his ability to deeply understand the world around him.

As Kate said, there were a few weaker stories included, but even these would likely be well-received by the middle grade target audience of this book. All in all, I greatly enjoyed this collection and its ability to tell important stories without falling under the weight of too much “agenda.”

Kate’s Rating 8: A fun, touching, and varied collection of stories from some of the best children’s and YA authors out there.

Serena’s Rating 8: What else should we have expected from this strong collection of children’s/YA authors? Its strength lies largely in the variety of stories included, both in tone and subject matter.

Book Club Questions:

1.) What was your favorite story in the collection? Why?

2.) Were there any stories that didn’t work for you as well?

3.) This book sets out to present a very diverse collection of stories. Are there any perspectives that you felt were missing?

4.) Were you familiar with any of these authors before? Did any of them have particular writing strengths that appealed to you?

5.) A lot of thought goes into the order in which stories are arrange din a short story collection. Were there any changes you would make to this line up and why?

Reader’s Advisory:

“Flying Lessons and Other Stories” is included on the Goodreads lists “2017 YA/MG Books With POC Leads”, and “YA Short Stories and Collections”.

Find “Flying Lessons and Other Stories” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Ghostly Echoes”

28110857Book: “Ghostly Echoes” by William Ritter

Publishing Info: Algonquin Young Readers, August 2016

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

Book Description: Jenny Cavanaugh, the ghostly lady of 926 Augur Lane, has enlisted the investigative services of her fellow residents to solve a decade-old murder—her own. Abigail Rook and her eccentric employer, Detective R. F. Jackaby, dive into the cold case, starting with a search for Jenny’s fiancé, who went missing the night she died. But when a new, gruesome murder closely mirrors the events of ten years prior, Abigail and Jackaby realize that Jenny’s case isn’t so cold after all, and her killer may be far more dangerous than they suspected.

Fantasy and folklore mix with mad science as Abigail’s race to unravel the mystery leads her across the cold cobblestones of nineteenth-century New England, down to the mythical underworld, and deep into her colleagues’ grim histories to battle the most deadly foe she has ever faced.

Review: Trekking right along with my read through of the Jackaby series, “Ghostly Echoes” starts off basically right where “Beastly Bones” leaves off. Jenny, the local friendly ghost whose murder has went unsolved for a decade, has finally decided to take things into her own hands. Literally. She actually learns how to pick up things. But this is an important step, and one that coincides with the return of murders that seem to match the M.O. of her own assailant many years ago.

This book represents an interesting turning point in the series so far. Up to this point, the books have been largely stand-alone novels. Sure, a few things will be referenced here and there, but very few plot lines carry through directly from one book to the other. However, in the last book, Ritter laid the groundwork for a “big bad” to best all “big bads.” And one who had been operating in the background all along. Here, we find this is very true, with the plot lines from not only its direct prequel, “Beastly Bones,” but also from the first book in the series, “Jackaby,” being tied together to a larger mystery.

However, this book was very hit and miss for me, tonally. Ritter was essentially wanting to have his cake and eat it too with this one. The larger plot line and mystery were intriguing. Both Jenny’s burgeoning abilities to operate in the real world, the murders that seem so similar to her own, and the clues that begin to point to a strange organization that is operating with its own nefarious agenda were interesting. There was a lot to get through just with this main story line.

But Ritter had also to pay off the set-up he had built with the previous two books where readers expect to find wit, strange beasts, and madcap adventures. All of these bits, while good, seemed to fit in strangely with the more serious tone of this book. I found myself getting pulled one way and the other when the book would veer back and forth between the main story and the smaller interactions that, while important to the overall plot, felt more light and oddly out of line with the rest of the story.

As I mentioned in my last review of the series, the story is at its best when the character of Jackaby is used sparingly. He did have more page time in this story than the last, but this book also did a lot of work building up his past and making him into a more three dimensional character with deeper inner struggles than the simple “wacky Doctor-like” character he has been presented as for the last two books. I was happy to see him becoming more of a character than a plot point.

Towards the end, Ritter did seem to find his footing a bit better, sending Abigail off on an adventure of her own. However, Abigail probably was the least served character by this change of pace to the series. As I mentioned above, Jackaby’s past and character are fleshed out more fully. Jenny becomes an actual character in her own right beyond simply being a friendly ghost and friend to Abigail. But Abby herself? Largely it just feels like she was there to narrate the story to us. And while she does get her own action, it is only that: action. There didn’t feel like there was a lot of character development for her in this book, which I sadly missed. Also Charlie! He was barely there!

So, in conclusion, this book was a bit of a mixed bag. I very much liked the added depth that was given to the greater story line that now pulls through all the books in the series. And Jackaby himself is a more intriguing character now that it has been revealed that he is more than just a quirky, gimmick. But my favorite character, and the main character of the series, was left dangling a bit. And tonally, the book was a bit all over the place, teetering between a more serious larger plot line, and the expected wackiness established in the first two books.

The next and final book comes out this summer, however, and I am still excited to see how Ritter wraps up this all up!

Rating 7: Some imbalanced highs and lows make for a mixed bag read, but still a strong series overall!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Ghostly Echoes” is included on these Goodreads lists: “YA & Middle Grade Historical Mysteries”and should be on this list “YA Mythology Challenge.”

Find “Ghostly Echoes” at your library using Worldcat!

Previously Reviewed: “Jackaby” and “Beastly Bones”

A Revisit to Fear Street: “Missing”

176576Book: “Missing” (Fear Street #4) by R.L. Stine

Publishing Info: POCKET BOOKS, 1990

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

Book Description: “Please help…Our parents are missing!”
What would you do if your parents didn’t come home, didn’t call, left no note? At first, Mark and Cara Burroughs aren’t terribly alarmed. Their parents have stayed out late before. But then other things start to go wrong. Mark’s girlfriend Gena breaks up with him and suddenly disappears. The police don’t seem at all interested in finding Mark and Cara’s parents. And their mysterious cousin who boards with them seems to be spying on their every move!
When murder strikes, Mark and Cara learn their terror is only beginning. Someone wants them to disappear too! But why? The answer lies deep in the Fear Street Woods. But will they live long enough to find it?

Had I Read This Before: Yes.

The Plot: Okay, I have VIVID memories of reading this one at the clothing store where we would get my grade school uniforms. I totally hid in a sales rack while my mother tried to find some pants that maybe wouldn’t completely wear out in the knees (this is still a curse that I have to bear when it comes to my pants).

Cara and Mark Burroughs have just moved to Shadyside with their parents, and have taken up residence on Fear Street. Their new friends find that weird, and Cara and Mark don’t exactly disagree, but it’s not strange enough that they can’t throw a rocking party because no one will come. Mark is the innocent and popular one, Cara is the cynical one who is 2edgy4you. One of the people at this aforementioned party is Gena, Mark’s new girlfriend who is, by all accounts, super sexy. His parents aren’t thrilled about him dating her for some reason, but Cara thinks she’s fine…. Outside of the fact she takes Mark’s attention away from her (once again, getting a Lannister Vibe from this sibling pair). Cara has noticed that even though it’s pretty late at night, their parents have yet to come home. A policeman knocks on their door, and while at first Cara thinks he’s there to tell them something awful has happened to their folks, he says his name is Captain Farraday and is just there asking around about a burglary. He gives her his card in case they think of anything. After he leaves, the party starts to wind down, as cops are total buzzkills. As Cara and Mark clean up they start to worry more about their parents, and try to call them. But the house phone is dead.

Cara and Mark are surprised by their distant cousin Roger, who apparently lives in the attic. He also is wondering where the folks are, but says he’s retiring for the night. Cara and Mark decide to see if they can find a note in their parents’ room. The rumpled bedding makes Cara think something terrible must have happened, but Mark dispels her of that notion pretty quickly. Roger pops up, saying he’s looking for a note, but acts strange enough to make Cara and Mark suspicious. The sudden appearance of a parked grey van outside doesn’t help matters. And then Cara finds a white stone monkey head in the sheets of the bed. How odd. What’s even odder is after they go to bed, they’re awakened by legit howling outside, and see Roger going to that strange van and climbing inside, but not leaving (why he is howling is never explained, by the way). Mark tries to find something of relevance in Roger’s room, but is caught and slinks off to bed. The monkey head continues to haunt him.

The next day, still no Mom and Dad. Mark and Cara decide to look around Roger’s room, and find a gun! Totally spooked, they decide that maybe they could call their parents at work, but the phone is still dead. They go to a neighbor, who says her phone is working just fine. When they call the phone company, they are told there shouldn’t be a problem. So now they decide to cut school and go to their parents’ office. They think they may need to catch a ride, since their folks have the car…. But when they get to the garage they find the car! Their folks never took it! So they drive to their parents’ present employers (after confronting the people in the van. Who act casual. And by casual I mean not at all casual). They get to this firm (which apparently makes stuff for the military but just lets two strangers in willy nilly), but no one seems to have heard of their parents. However, the CEO, Mr. Burroughs, will happily speak with them! Huh. He tells them that no one by their parents names have ever worked there.

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The plot thickens. (source)

Cara and Mark regroup. They go to school to try and have a normal day. Mark calls Roger, and the phones are working again. Roger says not to worry and he’ll see him at home. But Gena wasn’t at school, which is odd to Mark. He goes hom  and calls her…. and then she promptly dumps him. When Cara gets home they talk about this (Mark more weeps about it), and Cara thinks it’s weird since they were so close and cuddly the night before. Cara tells him to pull himself together because she’s calling Farraday to see if he can help them find their parents. He says that he’ll see if he can hunt them down, but on the line Cara hears a click. Roger must have been listening in on them! She and Mark go up to confront him. But he confronts them about their snooping in his room, and says that of COURSE he has a pistol, it was a gift from his father! Cara and Mark are suspicious, but drop it.

Cara decides to follow Roger when he goes out, and Mark says he’ll hang out at home in case Mom and Dad come back. But then Gena calls! And she sounds like she’s in trouble! So Mark decides to cut through the Fear Street woods to find her!…. and then promptly falls into a man made ditch trap thing. Meanwhile, Cara follows Roger to a diner, and sees him talking to the man in the van!!! Roger, however, catches her and says this is his faculty advisor, but no one really believes that. Cara leaves, and realizes a car is following her. BACK IN THE WOODS, Mark is in a pit, and a crazy dog jumps in and attacks him. Mark snaps it’s neck (holy SHIT), and sees that on it’s collar there’s a white monkey head!! So someone trained this dog to attack people, and it has the same monkey head he found at home. But Gena comes first, and he runs to her house. Instead of knocking on the door he decides to climb a trellis…. And falls. Good one, Mark.

Cara realizes that it was Captain Farraday following her, saying he’s following up, and he drives her home. On the way she tells him everything about Roger, and he says he’ll figure out what’s going on. When she gets home she finds Mark missing and no note. Mark is still trying to see Gena, and he does manage to get into her window, but is then confronted by her Dad, Dr. Rawlings. He tells Mark Gena was so upset she took off to visit a cousin upstate. After a quick study sesh, Cara decides to see if Roger’s gun is still there. It isn’t.

The next day after school they catch up with everything they found out the night before (and find out the phone is dead again). Conveniently, they remember that their parents had a friend named Wally at work, and they decide to go visit him. He says that he hasn’t seen them either, but in the work directory their parents names ARE LISTED! Which means Mr. Marcus lied to them! BUT WHY?!?! They race back to the house, hoping Farraday will have contacted them, but instead they find Roger DEAD!!!! BY BOW AND ARROW (oh yeah, Mark is an archer)!! AND FARRADAY IS THERE AND THINKS MARK DID IT!! And THEN they Guy from the Van comes in waving his gun around, and Farraday shoots HIM!! He says he’s going to go call for backup, and they see him talk to someone on the phone. Mark and Cara go to get some water But then… Cara remembers!! THE PHONE IS DEAD!! THERE IS NO WAY FARRADAY CALLED FOR BACKUP.

They try to play it cool but Mark bungles it, and Farraday pulls Roger’s missing gun on them. Farraday tells them that he isn’t a cop. He USED to be a cop, and is now looking for their folks, and where are they? Cara and Mark don’t know, and Farraday is going to shoot them. But then GENA ARRIVES WITH HER OWN GUN!! She gets Cara and Mark away from Farraday and takes them into the woods, saying that her Dad tried to get her out of the way, and that there’s a ‘meeting’ that they have to stop. She gets them some robes from her house so they can fit in to whatever it is they are about to experience. In her house there are people in robes and white monkey masks. They follow the group and come to a clearing in Fear Street Woods, and see A MILITIA/CULT MEETING IN WHICH THEIR PARENTS ARE ABOUT TO BE MURDERED BY MARCUS, WHO IS THE LEADER.

Yup, now THIS is the batshit “Fear Street” malarkey I wanted to share with you all. Just think of how fun this entire re-read is going to be.

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(source)

Mark throws his own little monkey head and disrupts the murdering. Their Dad gets free and pulls a gun on Marcus, identifying himself as FBI, and they are all under arrest. Yes, this whole time Cara and Mark’s parents have been undercover FBI agents. Marcus and Gena’s Dad were part of this group they’d been tracking. Farraday is just a crooked cop they put away on a previous case. Now their cover is blown and they will have to move again.

Gena comes to see Mark one last time before she moves to live with her mother. They promise they will write each other. She gives him a note with her new address, and a the words ‘can you keep a secret? I love you.’

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Jesus this was a doozie. (source)

Body Count: 3, being poor poor rookie Agent Roger, his van friend, and a guard dog.

Romance Rating: 7. Hear me out. Mark’s and Gena’s relationship was admittedly silly, but unlike other romances in these books it also seemed pretty genuine. That note at the end actually made me smile. And she saved his butt!!!

Bonkers Rating: 9! A crazy cult/militia group in the woods?! AH-mazing.

Fear Street Relevance: 10! Not only do Cara and Mark live on Fear Street, but the showdown is in the woods behind their house. Ya earned this, R.L.

Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:

“Then I saw their beds and cried out again. It was obvious that something terrible had happened….”

… And it turns out their parents’ bed was just unmade. Jesus, Cara.

That’s So Dated! Moment: Cara and Mark’s parents are described as ‘computer mainframe specialists’, who travel from place to place installing computer systems for companies. And it can take weeks, or months, or even YEARS. Boy it just REEKS of late 80s techno babble to me.

Best Quote:

“We were both feeling pretty miserable. She found a box of cornflakes in the cabinet, but there was no milk. So we poured a bottle of Coke on it instead.”

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You can’t call a friend for a ride to the store? (source)

So there’s clearly a reason that this book stuck with me from all those years ago. It was nuts, and genuinely creepy at parts. I know that the thought of my parents just up and disappearing is still upsetting to me to this day. Next up is “The Wrong Number!”.

Kate’s Review: “To Catch a Killer”

29939266Book: “To Catch a Killer” by Sheryl Scarborough

Publishing Info: Tor Teen, February 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Erin Blake has one of those names. A name that, like Natalee Holloway or Elizabeth Smart, is inextricably linked to a grisly crime. As a toddler, Erin survived for three days alongside the corpse of her murdered mother, and the case—which remains unsolved—fascinated a nation. Her father’s identity unknown, Erin was taken in by her mother’s best friend and has become a relatively normal teen in spite of the looming questions about her past.

Fourteen years later, Erin is once again at the center of a brutal homicide when she finds the body of her biology teacher. When questioned by the police, Erin tells almost the whole truth, but never voices her suspicions that her mother’s killer has struck again in order to protect the casework she’s secretly doing on her own.

Inspired by her uncle, an FBI agent, Erin has ramped up her forensic hobby into a full-blown cold-case investigation. This new murder makes her certain she’s close to the truth, but when all the evidence starts to point the authorities straight to Erin, she turns to her longtime crush (and fellow suspect) Journey Michaels to help her crack the case before it’s too late.

Review: Back in the mid 2000s, the world was introduced to the character of Dexter Morgan in the book “Darkly Dreaming Dexter”, which in turn became a hit television series. In this book/TV series, the premise is that Dexter, a forensics lab employee in Miami, is a murderous psychopath, his psychopathy put into place when he witnessed his mother brutally murdered when he was a toddler and was left in a storage locker with her body for a couple of days. In “To Catch A Killer” similar circumstances just leaves Erin with some mild PTSD and a deep interest in forensics. Now I don’t know which situation is more true to life, and my guess is that for a lot of people it would be more a happy medium between the two. But that said, I’m less inclined to believe Scarborough’s scenario than Dexter’s.

Honestly, there were a few things in “To Catch A Killer” that I had a hard time stomaching. For one thing, it felt to me like many of the characters weren’t terribly well thought out. First of all, there’s Erin. I liked Erin enough, actually, she had a solid voice and some pretty fun snappy moments. But like I mentioned above, I just have a hard time thinking that a person who went through that kind of trauma would have more issues than a fascination with forensics and some pretty remote and just mentioned in passing PTSD symptoms. Oh, and a hard time trusting boys, leading to a dating drought in her life. While I did appreciate her quirks and her interests (as I too was a fan of “Natural Born Killers” when I was a teenager), I was never quite buying how together she was, especially since it made it sound like Rachel, her guardian, never really wanted to discuss the murder with her, or even talk about her mother at all. Along with Erin feeling a bit unrealistic, her friends were broad templates of the ‘awesome best friends’ without ever really having much depth added to them. Spam especially, who is the ‘cool gamer girl with the funky sense of style’ trope, and never really moves beyond it. Lysa also functions as a loyal but pragmatic sidekick, there to be a voice of reason and to temper down Spam’s spitfire. I did enjoy that the three of them have their own “Cheater Check” service, where they offer up their forensic investigative services to catch cheating boyfriends and girlfriends, so it wasn’t just Erin who was a science minded lady. I’ll always support girls having science minded role models in fiction. And then there’s Journey, the love interest/potential suspect. Erin knows that he couldn’t have done it, which takes on an interesting angle that could have been explored. While it may be a sort of trite angle, without it Journey is a bit watered down. He has a tragic backstory as well involving his father, but it never really elicited much emotion from me. These teens never felt like they were real teens, but a broad idea of what teenagers act like.

The mystery of ‘who killed Miss P/Erin’s Mom’ is the bigger theme of this book, and the smaller one is ‘who is Erin’s Dad’. Within the first few chapters I had pretty clearly figured out the answers to both questions, and while many red herrings were thrown at me, I ended up being right in the end. I think that had I enjoyed the journey of getting to the conclusion, had I enjoyed the characters and enjoyed how they pieced things together, I would have liked this book more overall. I don’t necessarily read books like this just for the mystery, but for the detection and the investigation. The only parts that I really enjoyed involved Erin’s uncle Victor, Rachel’s brother. He’s an FBI Agent who has written a number of books about crime investigations, and I did enjoy it when he and Erin interacted and geeked out over forensics. These scenes were both fun because of the well researched science that was involved, and because the chemistry between Erin and Victor did feel genuine. Their moments of science and tech geekery were really fun ways to introduce this kind of stuff to the reader, and I really can appreciate that.

I think that overall “To Catch A Killer” had promise, but it just wasn’t the book for me. Perhaps someone super into forensics would enjoy it more, but it didn’t quite stand on it’s own when it wasn’t talking about that stuff.

Rating 4: While it had scenes and moments of cool science and a pretty solid (if not at times unrealistic) main character, “To Catch A Killer” didn’t stand up underneath all it wanted to do.

Reader’s Advisory:

“To Catch a Killer” is fairly new and not on many specific lists, but I think that it would fit in on “Forensics: If It Doesn’t Walk, We Bring Out The Chalk”, and  “Forensic Fiction”.

Find “To Catch a Killer” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “The FitzOsbornes at War”

13414810Book: “The Fitzosbornes at War” by Michelle Cooper

Publishing Info: Knopf Books for Young Readers, October 2012

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: Sophie FitzOsborne and the royal family of Montmaray escaped their remote island home when the Nazis attacked. But as war breaks out in England and around the world, nowhere is safe. Sophie fills her journal with tales of a life during wartime. Blackouts and the Blitz. Dancing in nightclubs with soliders on leave. And endlessly waiting for news of her brother Toby, whose plane was shot down over enemy territory.

But even as bombs rain down on London, hope springs up, and love blooms for this most endearing princess. And when the Allies begin to drive their way across Europe, the FitzOsbornes take heart—maybe, just maybe, there will be a way to liberate Montmaray as well.

Review: I’m back for the final book in the Montmaray trilogy, and boy, am I sad to see it go! And sad for tons of other reasons cuz the story has now progressed to the point where this book is pretty much entirely made up of World War II. But, while it’s not the most perky of the series, it is definitely my favorite, so let’s get down to it!

As this series has progressed, so has the stakes. Looking back on the first book, it now seems like such a fluff pot (though of the very good variety) full of oddball characters, a bizarre little island country, and a madcap adventure at the end. The second book, with the FitzOsbornes forced away from their Nazi-invaded home, raised the stakes, though was still largely comprised of social outings and kerfuffles with their strict Aunt whose primary goal in life was marrying off her young relatives. But here, in the last book in the series, the tone is very different.

This book takes place over the longest segment of time of the three stories, covering 1939-1944. And it’s a haul for our main characters with one challenge after another. Even more so than the previous two books, it is clear just how much research Cooper put into this story. Beyond our fictional main characters and a few of their associates, most of the happenings in this book are lifted directly from the history books. And where many other authors have focused on the more dramatic events of this time period, Cooper focuses Sophie’s story on the day-to-day struggle of surviving in a war-torn country for so many years.

As an American, we have a tendency to view WWII through our own lens: one that is viewed from a more comfortable oceans-apart distance and one that is much shorter, as was our involvement. So it is a stark reminder to read a book like this that truly focuses in on life in London and just how long British citizens were living in this horrible reality. Through Sophie’s eyes we see her initial terror when the bombing starts, but then as the years go by, we see how, overtime, even the most horrific things can become one’s norm and how this change in oneself can affect  day-to-day decision making as well as one’s larger world view. This is the quieter side of the war: the hours spent in shelters every day, the constant change to the city with whole blocks disappearing over night, the sense of never knowing whether one will make it to the next day, the long lines for food, and the struggle to remain connected to the regular parts of life throughout it all.

Cooper doesn’t take any easy outs to the harsh truths of what it would be like to live through this time period. This book is fully of tragedy and hopelessness, but through it all, Sophie and Veronica still find moments of strength, beauty and even romance. Sophie truly grows up through this book, and her maturation is handled so subtly, that by the end of the book, you can’t pinpoint any one moment where this change was obvious.

I greatly enjoyed this book and series as a whole. It’s always exciting to find a series that grows in strength as it continues. For a series that started out with what could have been a rather ridiculous premise (a fictional island country with a family growing up in a crumbling castle), I would strongly recommend these books for any history buffs. The books provide a unique view on a very well-known time period (focusing on the daily life of those at home rather than the more common stories of those fighting in the war itself) and touch on many small details that you may or may not be aware of (for example, there’s even discussion of a spy scandal that went on in the American Embassy in the early part of the war). The author’s note truly hits home just how many historical facts are crammed into this novel. While the book is listed as young adult, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this to adult historical fiction fans either!

Rating 9: An excellent end to an excellent series.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The FitzOsbornes at War” is included in these Goodreads lists: “World War II England”  and “YA set in the 1940s.”

Find “The FitzOsbornes at War” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously Reviewed: “A Brief History of Montmaray” and “The FitzOsbornes in Exile”