The Great Animorphs Re-Read #50: “The Ultimate”

363403Animorphs #50: “The Ultimate”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, February 2001

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: “Really big trouble” is an understatement these days. The war between the Yeerks and the Animorphs is full on–and it’s definitely going to get worse. But Cassie, the other Animorphs, and Ax have a lot more going on than just trying to stay alive. Now they have to actively protect others. And they no longer believe they can do it alone. The Yeerks are just too powerful.

So, Cassie and the others have to ask themselves a very important question: Is it time to increase their numbers? They all remember too well what happened with David–the Animorph gone bad. But this time do they really have a choice?

Narrator: Cassie

Plot: I was kind of dreading this book. I only really remember one part of it, but it’s one of the two big moments that made me dislike Cassie as a character when looking back on the series: when she gives up the blue box, inexplicably. So, it was with trepidation, I started reading…

Cassie and the other Animorphs are drilling for the inevitable day that the Yeerks discover the new Hork Bajir valley where they, the Hork Bajir, and now their families are hiding out as the war continues. The drills aren’t going very well as Cassie is distracted by worries over her parents and Jake’s head and heart are clearly no longer in the game after the loss of his parents to the Yeerks.

What’s worse, their parents don’t seem to be catching on to the reality of their situation. Rachel’s mother keeps trying to escape the valley to contact the authorities, putting them all at risk and driving Rachel crazy. And Cassie’s parents don’t have a grasp on the enormity of the situation, fixating on the size and comfort of the enclosures where the Hork Bajir will hide if they’re attacked, not only treating the Hork Bajir like animals but clearly not understanding that comfort is the least of everyone’s concerns.

To try and get Jake’s mind back in the game, Cassie calls a meeting, putting Jake on the spot to come up with an idea. They eventually decide that the only real power they have is the blue box and their ability to give others morphing abilities. Due to the adults inability to, you know, act like adults, they rule out all of their parents, one by one. They then proceed to rule out all adults, deciding that adults struggle too much with coming to terms with so many changes to their world view. This leaves recruiting more kids. And to avoid the concern about approaching Controllers, they decide to target disabled kids. They figure that they Yeerks would never infest them in the first place, and after morphing cured Loren’s eyesight, they also wonder if some of these kids could be cured in the same way.

Dressed up in costumes, a few of them sneak into a facility to try and find some volunteers. They meet a group of kids, lead by a boy in a wheelchair named James. After various forms of show and tell, they manage to recruit some kids to the cause. With the first set, only James is cured of his disability, able to stand again after he demorphs back to his human form. It is also decided that James will be the leader of this other group of Animorphs. Over the next few days, the Animorphs continue to recruit more kids and even manage to bring them to the Gardens to acquire some fighting morphs.

Ax locates a new facility, one that is a home for blind kids. They decide to check that out next. Cassie’s dad overhears them all discussing this process and comes down on Cassie for it, asking whether or not she thinks it’s humane. She snaps at her dad to come to grips with the stakes they are working with and leaves with the other Animorphs.

They arrive at the school for the blind at night, but as they start to approach the kids, Cassie feels that something is off. She eventually morphs a fly and spots an infrared camera, but before they others can escape, Tom and a bunch of Hork Bajir burst in. They force Jake to hand over the blue box and march the others out of the room to the loading dock. Fly!Cassie escapes, morphs owl, and heads to the rehab center to fetch James and the others.

They wrangle everyone up and head back. On the way, they see a limo speeding towards the loading dock; Cassie guess it’s Visser One. Once there, she tries to give the others a quick pep talk on what the fight will be like, but they begin to freak out. It’s only a steady speech from James that gets them back on track. They all morph battle morphs. James has chosen a lion, which makes Cassie think of David and how very different he and James are.

A massive fight breaks out and in the chaos Tom loses the blue box which lion!James snatches up. Visser One arrives with Taxxons in tow and blames Tom for losing the blue box. The Animorphs all line up, ready to escape with the blue box. It’s a strange feeling, having enough numbers on their side for once. Visser One fights with Ax and Jake before beginning to morph himself. Bull!Kelly gets injured badly and has to demorph in the battlefield, leaving her fairly helpless. Gorilla!Marco snatches her up and heads away to allow her time to remorph.

Visser One completes his morph, becoming a tentacle monster of some sort. He snags tiger!Jake by the throat and begins slowly throttling him. Tobais is smashed into a wall, and things generally take a turn for the worse. Jake almost dies but is saved when a rogue Hork Bajir, a member of the Yeerk Resistance, slices off the tentacle holding Jake. The Taxxons converge on Visser One and the Hork Bajir have to fight them off. In the chaos, the Animorphs retreat. As they do, they see Tom take off with the morphing cube, clearly having decided to keep it for himself. Jake and Cassie set off after him.

In the woods, they come to a stand off, and Cassie decides that it’s not worth it, not worth Jake having to kill his brother to retake the morphing cube. Just as Jake is about to spring, she grabs him by his injured let. Tom escapes into the night.

The next day, Jake is still angry with Cassie. She tries to explain that she was saving him from having to kill Tom, but he asks why she didn’t go after Tom herself then. She doesn’t answer, because she doesn’t know, other than the fact that it had felt right and she still thinks it was the right choice.

Peace, Love, and Animals: This is an interesting Cassie book, I’ll give it that. We essentially have two different Cassie’s: one, the girl who has been fighting a war for years now and, when confronted by her parents who are pretty much spouting some of the same naive things she’s said herself in the past, she finds herself coming down on the other side of an argument from her usual stance.

Cassie, the Animorph who has arguably the best relationship with her parents throughout the series, has to have tough conversations with both of her parents. Her mom fixates on the state of the hideaway shelter, falling into the trap of thinking about the Hork Bajir as animals whose habitat isn’t satisfactory. She is having trouble accepting that these would be shelters in the case of an invasion where to be found is to be killed. Comfort is the last thing on anyone’s mind. Cassie’s dad is then concerned when he overhears Cassie and the others discussing their project to recruit more Animorphs, saying that recruiting disabled kids is not “humane.” This is also an interesting point. I think in any other book, we would have expected Cassie herself to be making this same argument and to have never agreed to it in the first place. But there is also an underlying discussion throughout the book on how we view those with disabilities. Ax points out that putting them in a hospital and stashing them away is almost as bad as his own people’s problematic attitudes. Even the Animorphs themselves fall into this trap and James has to point out that they are capable of making their own choices. He uses this same point, that their hardships have made them more capable of fighting, not less, when he’s giving his pep talk at the end of the book.

So, Cassie’s dad, essentially, is doing the same thing that her mom was doing: he’s saying that Cassie and her friends are “using” the disabled in the same way you would use animals. This attitude completely disregards the kids’ choice in the matter, treating the disabled kids as not capable of making decisions for themselves or almost so helpless that “able bodied” people like Cassie and her dad need to protect them from the choice at all. And really, the fact that Cassie’s mom and dad have taken themselves out of the running as soldiers themselves by behaving so poorly and needing their own kid to parent them is much more worth her father’s reflection.

On the other hand, however, to counterbalance all the thoughtfulness and moral pondering that Cassie goes through during much of the book, her decision to let the blue box slip through her hands because it “felt right” is a return to the complete nonsense decision making that we’ve seen from Cassie a few times. The decision on its own is infuriating, but the fact that it’s slotted in at the end of a book that is really discussing some big issues head on is rather unfortunate. There’s a line where Cassie tries to draw it all together, that some things maybe aren’t worth the moral compromise, but I think the point is lost when you actually look at the stakes. Just like her father was wrong to behave so poorly that his own kid can’t turn to him as an option when looking for support and then to question the only option (as far as the kids see it) for winning this war, Cassie is also wrong to let the blue box go, potentially losing the war right there. It’s not “just morphing.” The whole premise of the series is that morphing is powerful enough to allow five kids and an alien kid to stand up to an evil alien empire.

Our Fearless Leader: Man, there’s a huge change to Jake from the last book to this. It really highlights how tenuous was Jake’s mental space and that losing his parents was really one of the last straws to his ability to lead. Even when he gets it together somewhat, we see him going into missions without plans and failing to provide the general strength and assurance that the others rely upon so much. The events in this book don’t help and the contrast between Jake now and James (very much like Jake was at the start of this war) is really heart-breaking.

Xena, Warrior Princess: Rachel doesn’t have a whole lot, but she does have a scene where she gets in her mother’s face about sneaking off. Apparently, her mother has done this several times, and each time she does it, it sets the whole valley on high alert and risks everything. Again, with adults behaving has poorly as all of this, you really can’t blame the Animorphs for coming to the conclusion that recruiting more kids is the way to go, even if, on its own, that seems like a really terrible idea.

A Hawk’s Life: We see a few brief moments of Tobias with his mother that are very sweet. It’s not clear whether or not Tobias has told Loren about her history at this point, but you think that would come up soon. And, given what we know of Loren, it’s almost hard to believe that she wouldn’t be insisting on getting into this fight on her own. She already has morphing powers and has proven that she is still brave. Losing her memory wouldn’t make her lose her entire personality, and the Loren we know of old would definitely insist on helping her son in this war.

The Comic Relief: Marco is probably doing the best in the ole parent arena, his mom being the only adult to truly understand what they’re in the middle of. But it also seems to make him oddly complacent about the fact that things are falling apart, especially his best friend Jake. This all felt a bit out of character for him. Yes, his mother was his main motivation, but we’ve also seen how singled minded and strategic Marco has been in the past about winning this war, even in the face of losing his mother. So it’s kind of strange to see him as disconnected as he is here. Obviously he has to be to push Cassie into being the one to take action, but it doesn’t really ring true on a character level. We do see how important his gorilla morph is though when he’s able to carry Kelly away from the battlefield when she had to demorph to heal herself and ended back up in her body which has limited mobility. One other new Animorph has a gorilla morph, but given this situation, more might have been better for just this circumstance. Plus, we’ve seen how valuable Marco’s gorilla morph has been in the past. Way more so than a bull. Just saying.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Ax’s prejudices about the disable make an unpleasant reappearance in this book. But it’s clear that he has learned a lot from his original book and has now evolved to the point where his questions shine a rather harsh light on the reality of our own world’s treatment of people who are different.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: Bull!Kelly gets gored pretty badly during the fight. And then the Taxxons get at her. She survives it, but I do think that getting eaten alive by the Taxxons has to be one of the most horrific things. But, on that note, I do have to question these battle morphs that the new Animorphs chose. I get that from a book-perspective, it’s cool to use new morphs. But from an actual war standpoint, these are some pretty limiting and poor choices. A bull is a prey animal. Sure, it can do some damage, but it simply isn’t built for fighting, with no natural armor, pretty spindly legs when you get down to it, and only one way of attacking, one that isn’t very nimble and depends on a lot of open space for charges. I could go down the line with the others, too. Crocodile? Bobcat?? Bobcats are only a tiny bit bigger than a large domestic cat!

I also think a case could be made for getting the same morphs the original Animorphs already have, if possible. For one thing, everyone knows that Jake is the tiger and also the leader of the group. Having a bunch more tigers is not only good due to their fighting abilities but also camouflage for the general of the resistance, essentially. And Rachel’s grizzly and Marco’s gorilla are pretty hard to top. We saw the Animorphs try to direct David’s morph options, and while that didn’t go over well, I think a well-reasoned suggestion would fly with James and could have been helpful with some of these choices.

Couples Watch!: Nothing from Tobias and Rachel. And as for Cassie and Jake, this is the beginning of the end. It actually feels like it’s coming a bit after the beginning of the end as Cassie mentions that their relationship was already strained at the start of the book. We’re left to guess that their romance is yet another casualty to Jake’s loss of self when his parents were taken. And the events of this book sure don’t help things.

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: Visser One uses his tentacle morph to pretty devastating effect in the last battle in this book. He flings tiger!Jake around like a ragdoll and almost kills Tobias when he smacks him into a wall. The only thing that saves Jake is a Hork Bajir member of the Yeerk resistance coming to his aid at the last minute.

There’s also an interesting bit where we see Tom make the decision to go it on his own with the blue box. Given Visser One’s penchant for killing his underlings on the slightest provocation or whim, it’s a wonder other smart Yeerks didn’t pull something like this ages ago. Visser One definitely doesn’t inspire loyalty, so it makes sense that an ambitious Yeerk like the one in Tom would think twice about handing over a powerful weapon like the blue box. Especially when he was already on the outs with Visser One after losing it earlier in the fight. Visser One isn’t one to forget and forgive, so there’s a decent chance that getting it back wasn’t going to save him anyways.

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Jake’s situation is by far the worst at this point, which is saying something since Tobias has had that spot staked out since pretty much day one. In his own books, we’ve seen his inner struggles with the burdens of being the leader, but this is the first time where it’s really clear to everyone around him and his actual performance is starting to suffer. He’s angry, sad, indecisive, and generally lacking the patience and focus it takes to continue on as he has been. It’s only being pushed by others that gets him through this book, and even then, we see mistakes along the way. Knowing how he ends up after this all, this book is really the first one where it all begins to be foreshadowed.

Beyond that, I’m not sure if it’s so much crying out sadness, but the way the parents behave in this situation is really bad. At one point Cassie even narrates that half the reason she’s angry at her parents is because they are forcing her to be the adult in this situation. They’re all acting as if they don’t even know what war is. It’s one thing to question the enemy itself (though the Hork Bajir are right there), but general war time tactics and life should be perfectly clear with a simple history lesson. When your life is at stake, you don’t quibble about the conditions of the hidey-hole. When humanity is at stake and you find out your child has been fighting a war for years, you don’t leave them out there on their own still, essentially making yourself so useless (or an active problem, like Rachel’s mom) that your kid is forced to resort to recruiting other kids because all of the adults so far have proven to be completely incapable of adapting. It’s pretty tragic, when you think about it that way. For all the criticism about recruiting disabled kids, it’s pretty solidly on the parents’ shoulders at this point for being so unhelpful.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: Cassie’s decision to let Tom escape with the morphing cube is one of the most controversial decisions the character makes in the entire series, right up there with letting herself get infested back in book #19. There’s a decent build up to the emotional side of this decision, Cassie’s concern that she is losing her humanity to this war (well-trod ground for the character, so not super new other than its contrast with her parents who are somehow even more out to lunch about reality). But this time she’s also concerned about Jake’s downward descent, and from this emotional view, she believes herself to be saving the remaining thread holding Jake’s sanity together.

Sure. I can’t argue whether or not that is true. But in the very end of the book, Jake asks her why she did it, why, if she was just trying to spare Jake, she didn’t go after Tom herself and leave him behind? Cassie was in wolf morph, the perfect morph of them all to track someone down in the woods. Her going after Tom herself to spare Jake makes sense. Her choosing to let Tom get away with the cube? Is idiotic to the extreme and really enough to make others question whether she should be on the team, if her decision-making is really that screwed up.

The only thing they had going for them was that cube, a fact that was made all the more clear in this book. And she just let Tom take it. And her reason? “It just felt right.” She even goes on to say that she can’t understand it herself but that, even now, it still feels like it was the right thing to do. And we’re all the way back around to the Cassie who essentially breaks the third wall with the readers. She’s a character who has authorial finger prints all over her and pretty much just announces it with the line about it “still feeling like the right decision” even though she can’t even justify or explain it herself. Her decisions, in the world she lives in, don’t make sense or they are indicative of a person you sure has hell don’t want on your team in a fight to save humanity. They are only “right” because the author allows them to be in the end. Under no circumstances was this the “right” call in the world the character lives in.

Favorite Quote: 

These are two bits from the section where Cassie talks about her frustrations with her parents and the adults, and it really gets at what I was talking about:

Suddenly, unexpectedly, I was angry. Mad that my mother, a scientist, wouldn’t—or couldn’t—face the awful truth. That we were at war. That the rules had changed. That we had to do things we’d never choose to do under peacetime circumstances. That we didn’t have that luxury. That every single minute of every single day we had to make scarifices we’d rather not make. And I was angry that my mother was forcing me to confront her with this truth.

“That’s right, Mom,” I said, my voice hard. “The Hork-Bajir could die. Every single one of us, human and Hork-Bajir and Andalite, could die. Any day. At any time. I still don’t get your point.”

______

Angry mostly because I had wanted to hurt her. Because she was making me be the grown-up. And even after all the endless months of fighting, with all the disgusting acts I had witnessed—or committed—I still sometimes wanted to be normal again. Also, because I was worried. Not just about my own parents. If the adults didn’t accept the reality of the war, they would never be prepared when the time came to fight. And if they weren’t prepared, they wouldn’t survive.

Also, for some irony, here is Cassie giving the speech that she’s been on the other end of a few times and chosen to ignore coughQuitTheAnimorphs#19cough:

But being here, talking to James, seeing these kids, I realized in a serious way, maybe for the first time, that they weren’t helpless. Just like our parents. “You know what,” I continued. “You don’t really have a choice here. This is duty time. You’ve been tapped. So step up to the plate. Whatever. Fact is, we need you. Your friends need you.”

Scorecard: Yeerks 15, Animorphs 17

I’m giving them each a point. The Animorphs get a point for recruiting 17 more people to their cause, but the Yeerks definitely get a point for walking away with the blue box in the end.

Rating: I have mixed feelings about this book. It’s almost the exact opposite experience of the Super!Rachel book. Instead of hating the first 3/4 and then loving the last quarter, it was flipped. I enjoyed the majority of this book up to the last bit where Cassie undoes all of her good work by making one of the most boneheaded decisions in the series with no other excuse than an author-magic-wand-wave that it “felt right.” And yes, I know the explanation has been floated that it’s because of Cassie’s status as a disrupter (from Megamophrs #4) that she has a predictive feeling like this, but I don’t buy it. Even if that’s the case, it’s lazy writing. This moment also feeds into my overarching anger with the character at the very end where she’s the only one who comes out of this all OK and it’s mostly just because her bad decisions were allowed to be right ones without her having to pay the logical price that would most likely have occurred by these choices.

But, like I said, I did like the majority of this book. It’s a new side of Cassie to see her as one of team members who is more committed to the war effort. It also makes sense that having her parents present would have a tangible effect like this, making her more invested, not less. I also liked the reflections on Jake’s descent coming through her eyes. The only other character who would have a similar point of view would be Marco, so we’ll see what he has to say in the next book.

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

Kate’s Review: “The Spirit in the Crypt”

The Spirit in the Crypt - Ebook CoverBook: “The Spirit in the Crypt” by Alexander Lound

Publishing Info: Self Published, June 2019

Where Did I Get This Book: The author sent me an eARC.

Book Description: When fifteen-year-old Jonathan Roberts goes out with his friends on a summer night, he doesn’t expect to be forced to enter a crypt by Francis Everton. To be forced to look at skeletons decaying in their graves.

To hear the voice, screaming at him. Screaming into his mind. Commanding him to leave.

What the voice in the crypt belongs to, he can only wonder. A demon? A ghost? It gives him nightmares for weeks afterwards. Of skeletons strangling him. And then, bizarrely, of a girl from his school, making the long walk across the graveyard and entering the crypt. Never to come out before his waking.

When he returns to school in September, he never expects to learn that something awful has happened to the girl, turning his fear to panic.

Panic which will force him to unravel the mystery of the crypt, and in doing so, many mysteries about himself.

Review: Thank you to Alexander Lound for approaching our blog and sending me an eARC of this book!

It’s been a little bit since I read a good old fashioned angry ghost story, and luckily I didn’t have to look far. I was approached by YA author Alexander Lound to see if I’d be interested in reading his new book “The Spirit in the Crypt”, and by the time I was diving in I realized that I had been in a serious mood for a story such as this. It checks off the boxes of subgenres in horror that I greatly enjoy: it has an angry ghost, it has a cute romance, and it has a psychic/medium theme to it. Add in some gloomy weather in my neck of the woods and it’s a perfect atmosphere to indulge in a spooky story!

What I liked most about “The Spirit in the Crypt” is that Lound makes his main character Jonny a pretty realistic teenage boy. While he definitely stands out from other kids his age in some ways, in a lot of other ways he ultimately wants to live a normal life and has the kinds of flaws you see in a lot of kids like him. From making questionable friend decisions to making impulsive choices, there were plenty of times where I wanted to smack him upside the head, but also could see a lot of realism within him. After he’s found himself pulled into a supernatural mystery, starting with an encounter in a crypt and escalating as he starts to see visions of children who have ended up in unexplained comas, Jonny has to look into himself and find out how he’s connected, and how far empathy will take him. Another aspect I liked about his character development was that not only was it about him figuring out his own supernatural abilities, but also learning about the power of empathy for those who have been victimized. Though there are a number of interesting ways this manifests, for me the most rewarding was when he befriends a girl named Cassy, who was the target of some pretty terrible sexual harassment at the hands of her ex boyfriend, who also happened to be a friend of Jonny’s for a time. Seeing Jonny have to reconcile the fact he’d shrugged off the abuse (never supported it or encouraged it, but didn’t discourage it either) was an arc that we’ve seen before (and frankly can be seen as frustrating when it’s framed as ‘he sees her as a person now that he’s gotten to know her and learned why he was wrong!’). But I felt that the way it developed and progressed in this story was more palatable if only because their friendship is definitely based on more than Jonny learning a lesson.

I’m also just a huge sucker for stories about mediums and ghosts. Jonny is taken under the wing of a psychic named Aaron, and they have to work together to figure out why this mysterious (and super pissed) ghost is victimizing kids. It also has a huge focus on Jonny himself learning about his own powers in this way, and boy oh boy do these kinds of stories really hit all my genre buttons! From seances to visions to exploring the true motivations behind the angry ghost, I was pretty hooked as I read this book. I also like it when an author or storyteller tries to give more depth to an antagonist, especially a ghostly one, and in this story there is a lot of background and reasoning that comes to light that makes the plot feel like it has more weight, both in a complexity sense and an emotional sense. I won’t spoil anything here, but I was pleasantly surprised with how much we got to learn about the titular spirit.

Was this book particularly scary? Perhaps not so much to me, but I’m old hat at this genre and it kinda takes a lot/very specific things to get me creeped out. But I think that for teens this is probably going to be a good match for levels of fear, as it does have its moments of creep factor in it. Because honestly, while I wasn’t particularly scared, I did find myself rather unsettled about being locked in a crypt, ghostly presence or not.

All in all, I thought that “The Spirit in the Crypt” was a fun read! I’m pleased that it showed up in my inbox, and given that it sounds like the start to a series, I can absolutely see myself reading the next one!

Rating 8: A fun and satisfying YA ghost story with a likable protagonist and the kind of story that I just love: mediums and angry ghosts.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Spirit in the Crypt” isn’t on any Goodreads lists, but I think that it would fit in on “YA Novels and Psychic Abilities”, and “Young Adult Ghost Stories”.

“The Spirit in the Crypt” isn’t available on WorldCat as of now, but it will be available for purchase in June. For more information, go to Alexander Lound’s WEBSITE.

Serena’s Review: “An Illusion of Thieves”

39662738Book: “An Illusion of Thieves” by Cate Glass

Publication Info: Tor Books, May 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley

Book Description: In Cantagna, being a sorcerer is a death sentence.

Romy escapes her hardscrabble upbringing when she becomes courtesan to the Shadow Lord, a revolutionary noble who brings laws and comforts once reserved for the wealthy to all. When her brother, Neri, is caught thieving with the aid of magic, Romy’s aristocratic influence is the only thing that can spare his life—and the price is her banishment.

Now back in Beggar’s Ring, she has just her wits and her own long-hidden sorcery to help her and Neri survive. But when a plot to overthrow the Shadow Lord and incite civil war is uncovered, only Romy knows how to stop it. To do so, she’ll have to rely on newfound allies—a swordmaster, a silversmith, and her own thieving brother. And they’ll need the very thing that could condemn them all: magic.

Review: Cover lust! I love everything about that illustration, the vibrant colors, the style, it’s all very eye-catching and definitely served its purpose as it instantly drew me in when I was browsing through NetGalley. The description helped quite a lot as well, as I can never resist a good heist story, especially if there’s a fantasy element involved! And while my hopes were not fully met, I still enjoyed this book quite a lot in the end.

For the most part, I very much enjoyed this story. Particularly, I enjoyed the detailed take on the political and economical environment in which the story took place. I’ve read a bunch of stories where magic being illegal is a central theme, but when combined with the other world-building elements twisted into the story, it still came off as a unique take. Pacing-wise, the story could read as a big slower with many of the little details getting more attention than some readers may prefer. Likewise, the main plot often takes a backseat to smaller, character-driven moments. I can enjoy both types of fantasy stories, but those looking for a grand epic might find themselves frustrated with the lower stakes of this story.

It was also an interesting read knowing that the author plans to write the series in an episodic manner. Most fantasy series typically follow a grand arc that takes place over several books, and while smaller offshoots exist here and there, the main conflict builds and resolves through all the books, linking them closely together. I can see the stage being set for a different type of read with this book, and I’m intrigued by what Glass has in mind with this type of tale.

As for the characters, I really enjoyed Romy. She was a fun narrator and it was exciting to see her so competently put her skills to work when she finds herself back on the streets, poverty-stricken and desperate. I was also surprised to find that the story is also largely Neri’s as well. I’m not quite sure how I feel about this character. His character type, that of the young, arrogant, swagger-ridden boy-o, has some natural flaws simply built in. But those same flaws are the points around which his characterization builds, so they have to be there to see any growth.

I was also surprised to find the story lacked a romantic plot line, instead focusing on the sibling relationship between Romy and Neri a its emotional crux. I confess that I typically prefer some romance in my stories, and second best is a sister-sister relationship, but I was also drawn in by the tense relationship between Romy and Neri as they learned to get along throughout the book.

Overall, this book was an entertaining read. I felt that the plot was a bit light for me and at times the author seemed to almost lose focus on her main story, caught up in the details of her world. But the interesting characters and the slowly built up trust and respect between Romy and Neri was a point in its favor. And, again, I’ll never say no to magical heist stories!

Rating 7: A fun, lighter read with a compelling brother/sister relationship at its heart.

Reader’s Advisory: 

“An Illusion of Thieves” isn’t on any relevant Goodreads lists, but it should be on “Popular Fantasy Heist Books.”

Find “An Illusion of Thieves” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Kate’s Review: “Catwoman: Copycats”

40996659Book: “Catwoman (Vol.1): Copycats” by Joëlle Jones

Publishing Info: DC Comics, April 2019

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

Book Description: Coming off of the wedding of the century to Batman, Selina Kyle stars in an all-new solo series written and illustrated by Eisner Award nominee Joëlle Jones!

The wedding night’s barely over, but Catwoman’s back on the streets, this time to expose a copycat who’s pulling heists around Gotham City. As Selina cracks the whip on her former criminal cohorts, she’s attracting unwanted attention from one of Gotham’s most dangerous groups. The mob? Nope. Try the GCPD. And as if the Bat-Bride didn’t have enough problems, don’t miss the debut of an all-new villain determined to make trouble for all nine of Selina’s lives.

Fresh off of her run on Batman with superstar writer Tom King, creator Joëlle Jones writes and illustrates this dynamic new series. Collects issues #1-6.

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

Ever since I was a little girl, I have loved Catwoman and Selina Kyle. I’ve mentioned before that I had Batman Returns sheets, I was Catwoman for Halloween the year it came out, and I had my Catwoman trapper keeper that I held dear to my heart. My love for Selina is a double edged sword, however. Because i love her when her character is done justice it gives me all the happy feels. But, on the other hand, if Selina and Catwoman are written in ways that I don’t like, I will hate it forever. There’s a reason I put down Sarah J. Maas’s “Soulstealer” after a couple of chapters and refused to continue.

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(source)

I haven’t been reading the Batman stories in the Rebirth arcs of DC, though I’ve been following them peripherally. I was elated to hear that Batman and Catwoman were going to get married, but then crushed (and not really too surprised) when I heard that the wedding didn’t happen. The good news that comes from this, though, is that it means that Selina gets to have some stories for herself, and not find herself pin holed into being Batman’s Wife first and foremost. Because as much as I would LOVE for DC to actually explore how these two characters would (and I argue TOTALLY COULD) properly function as a married couple, I think that first Selina needs to get some time on her own, and to give Bruce the time to learn how to be both Batman AND Bruce Wayne. And that is where “Catwoman: Copycats” comes in. After leaving Bruce at the altar Selina has rushed away to Villa Hermosa in hopes of escaping her guilt, and that is SO Selina and so heartbreaking to see. I’ve always loved Selina because of her determined independence, but also because part of her drive to be independent is because she doesn’t feel like she CAN fully give herself to anyone, even if that person is her one true love Bruce Wayne. She is irrevocably broken in some ways, but what I liked about this arc is that Jones doesn’t apologize for it. True, she shows the sadness and damage that Selina feels, but she also explores it beyond the romantic relationships and looks into the relationship that Selina had with her sister Maggie. It gives Selina more depth, and lets us see into her motivations more than we did when they were based solely in Bruce’s and her relationship. It allows us to see Selina’s vulnerability without making it look like it only comes out because of a dude. Her love for Bruce hasn’t been what makes her scared of loss; it goes much further back than that. And she has to confront both of those relationships in this, as her guilt over both has started to come to a head.

We also finally get to see a villain who is worthy of Selina’s focus. True, there are copycats running around making her look bad, but the true Big Bad of this story is all too familiar: it lies within corrupt political circles. Raina Creel is Selina’s nemesis, and as the Gubernatorial First Lady of Villa Hermosa she has an image she presents to the public, while she hides a literal aged, rotting frame underneath the glitz and glam. And, of course, the ways that she maintains her ‘youth’ are not at all ethical, as she takes blood transfusions from people who have little to no recourse to fight back. Because of her place of power, the rivalry between her and Catwoman is far more based in cat and mouse intrigue (pun unintended) than usual. Jones has made sure to let the stakes build up at a proper rate, and also draws some parallels between the two women who have both chosen to do improper things in order to get what they want. I also kind of wonder if Creel is something of a sly nod to Sharon Stone’s character in the dreadful Halle Barry “Catwoman” movie. They both have obsessions with youth and beauty, and will got to drastic measures to attain both. If so, that’s a cheeky and fun reference.

The artwork is also done by Jones, naturally, and it continues to be stunning and splashed with life and color. The vintage designs are right up my alley, and Jones is easily one of my favorites in the business because her artwork is always so on point. It’s really wonderful that she is also a superb writer, especially when it comes to her women characters. What I also really appreciate is that Jones draws Selina in a way that doesn’t make her seem like a total sex object. Sure, she wears sexy outfits and looks chic as hell, but rarely (a couple times it did get close, but rarely) did I see her as drawn like she’s meant solely to be desired for sex; she just looks great and powerful without being a total fuck fantasy for male readers.

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Case in point. If comics could do the same for Harley Quinn that would be great. (source)

Overall, I really enjoyed “Catwoman: Copycats”. I am very interested to see where Jones takes Selina next, and I know that she will be in good hands.

Rating 8: A solid foray into the mind of one of my favorite antiheroines, “Catwoman: Copycats” gives Selina Kyle her own juicy story while remaining true to her full, complex character.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Catwoman (Vol.1): Copycats” is included on the Goodreads lists “Best of Catwoman”, and “Best of DC Rebirth”.

Find “Catwoman (Vol.1): Copycats” at your library using WorldCat!

Not Just Books: May 2019

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

Serena’s Picks

mv5bmte0ywfmotmtytu2zs00ztixlwe3otetytniyzbkzjvizthixkeyxkfqcgdeqxvyodmzmzq4oti40._v1_sy1000_cr006751000_al_Movie: “Captain Marvel”

I actually watched this last month before the second “Infinity Stones” movie, but I forgot to list it, so I’m including it here! I was a bit skeptical about how this movie would turn out as I’m not a huge fan of the actress. But surprise, surprise, I really enjoyed it! Per the usual for Marvel movies, it did an excellent job balancing action, humor, and a compelling narrative arc for our hero. The villain, also per the usual, left a bit to be desired, but as far as origin stories go, this one was excellent. I did wonder how they were going to handle her in the “Infinity Stones” movie, however, given that she’s pretty much invincible and could take out Thanos and his entire army herself, essentially. But I was also really pleased with how that was handled and also the built in excuse provided for where she is when the inevitable other conflicts appear in future movies that she could also handle without breaking a sweat.

p11936366_b_v8_aaTV show: “Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries” 

After a certain epic fantasy show proved to be a massive let down in my (our) personal opinion, I needed a bit of a palate cleanser that would just be some light, good fun. Enter “Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries,” a show I had been hearing good things about for a while but had never had the full motivation to start. And now I’ve blown through the first season and a half in about a week. And it already has such a short run! But I did read that they made a movie that is going to be on limited release in the U.S. sometime this year, so I’ll definitely be keeping my eyes out for that!

mv5bmdg3nmnjntitywu2mc00owjhltlkzjqtmmiynjlhztvizdljxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvynjg4nzayota40._v1_sy1000_cr006661000_al_TV show: “The Amazing Race”

It’s been a while since the last season of this show aired, so I was excited when it finally started up again. I was also intrigued by this season’s theme that brought back past teams from this show, as well as from “Survivor” and “Big Brother.” I have no opinion on “Big Brother,” having never watched that show. And I was sadly disappointed by the “Survivor” contestants that showed up, as none of them were really favorites for me on that show (really, of the three teams, two of them were made up of “villains” from that show, as far as I can remember). But I have enjoyed the returning “Amazing Race” teams, as several of them were favorites when they raced originally. I’m excited to see who comes out on top!

Kate’s Picks

22-the-last-days-of-august.w330.h330Podcast: “The Last Days of August”

I heard about “The Last Days of August” on another podcast, and after waffling about taking on another podcast I decide to give it a listen. And boy, am I glad that I did. In December 2017, adult film star August Ames, after tweeting out a message that was perceived as anti-LGBTQIA and getting piled on for it, committed suicide. Her husband, porn director Kevin Moore, accused a number of big names in the industry of being responsible for her death for piling on. Jon Ronson had just finished a podcast on the adult film industry when Ames killed herself, and decided to do a follow up, thinking that it would be a story about online shaming and the consequences (as he also wrote the book “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed”). But what he found was something much more complicated, and perhaps more nefarious. This podcast is very evenhanded and well researched, and Ronson does a GREAT job of telling August’s story, as well as addressing very difficult issues like emotional abuse, mental illness, and the horrible outcomes of misogyny when left unchecked. And a warning: there are disturbing accounts of sexual assault.

dead20to20me20poster20Netflix Show: “Dead to Me”

I don’t even know how or why I stumbled upon “Dead To Me”, a new Netflix show starring Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini. But one night I kinda saw it sitting there on Netflix and I said to myself ‘well why not give this a try?’ Before I knew it, I had binged the entire show. Jen Harding (Applegate) is a grieving and angry widow whose husband was killed in a hit and run, and decides to give grief counseling a try. There she meets Judy (Cardelinni), a free spirit who is attending because of a loss of her own. Jen and Judy become quick and close friends, and Jen invites Judy to come stay with her. But Jen doesn’t know that Judy may be hiding some things from Jen. Both Applegate and Cardellini are superb in their roles, and show the ups and downs of complicated, adult friendships, especially when grief is so prevalent in one’s life. There are lots of laugh out loud moments, which definitely dabble in gallows humor, but it also explores themes of sadness and loss in realistic, sometimes ugly, ways.

santa-clarita-diet-season-3-netflix-scheduleNetflix Show: “Santa Clarita Diet”

First of all, I want to say that it’s a freakin’ travesty that this show was randomly cancelled by Netflix at the end of the third season. IT IS SO GOOD AND SO FUNNY AND EVERY CAST MEMBER IS A TREASURE! And the biggest shame is that it has changed and grown and still sustained its charm when the premise (that of a zombie housewife trying to live her not really life and her family dealing with it as well) could have easily been wrung out at this point. In Season 3, Sheila and Joel are trying to figure out what group is trying to hunt her down, and if they can potentially circumvent its detection, while their daughter Abby has to cope with the consequences of a crime she committed, as well as figuring out her feelings for her best friend Eric. EVERYONE on this show is perfection, the comedy is on point, and the mythology expands in the most satisfying ways. So the fact it’s done is a real shame. Go watch it. It’s a delight.

 

 

 

Serena’s Review: “Kingsbane”

40523458Book: “Kingsbane” by Claire Legrand

Publishing Info: Sourcebooks Fire, May 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: ARC from the publisher

Book Description: Rielle Dardenne has been anointed Sun Queen, but her trials are far from over. The Gate keeping the angels at bay is falling. To repair it, Rielle must collect the seven hidden castings of the saints. Meanwhile, to help her prince and love Audric protect Celdaria, Rielle must spy on the angel Corien—but his promises of freedom and power may prove too tempting to resist.

Centuries later, Eliana Ferracora grapples with her new reality: She is the Sun Queen, humanity’s long-awaited savior. But fear of corruption—fear of becoming another Rielle—keeps Eliana’s power dangerous and unpredictable. Hunted by all, racing against time to save her dying friend Navi, Eliana must decide how to wear a crown she never wanted—by embracing her mother’s power, or rejecting it forever.

Previously Reviewed: “Furyborn”

Review: As my review above indicates, I had some problems with the first book in this trilogy. But, as the book was so well-received, to a certain extent I know these were a lot of personal preferences, mainly having to do with the decision to include a prologue that, I felt, gave away a bit too much of the story, if read carefully. So, with that in mind, when I received an ARC in the mail from the publisher, I decided to give it a go. And, while I still struggled with aspects of the story, I also enjoyed it more than the first.

Rielle and Eliana both are thought to be the Sun Queen, though Eliana does have the dark history of her mother, Rielle’s, decent into darkness to back up her claim. But so far these titles and prophesies have brought nothing but danger and challenges, one after another. Eliana must bear the heavy load of her mother’s legacy, worrying constantly that she will follow in her footsteps, fearing her own powers. And Rielle, centuries earlier, must walk a tight line between protecting her kingdom and spying on the angels who threaten them, all while becoming increasingly intrigued by one of them, the mysterious Corien.

Having the world and writing set-up (alternating POVs from the past and the future) already established definitely helped me enjoy this book more than the first. If I worked very hard, I could even try and put the initial prologue out of my head and enjoy the story as it is. I’m particularly intrigued by the ongoing mystery of which Queen is really the Sun Queen and which is the one who turns to evil. While it feels fairly established as Rielle, I’m still on the look-out for a trick up this author’s sleeve in the eleventh hour.

As far as characters go, I still have enjoyed Eliana’s story more than Rielle’s. Part of this might have something to do with the timing of my read of this book. Frankly, I’m a bit exhausted by the “power hungry queens” in fantasy stories right now (I think the reason why is probably pretty obvious). This is definitely not the book’s fault. But timing aside, I do think that Rielle’s decision making and thirst for power made her a bit less appealing for me. At my heart, I always will prefer to the straight-forward hero character over an anti-hero. I also wasn’t a fan of the strange love triangle that was being built up between Rielle, Corien and Audric. I didn’t feel like there was enough established to really justify Rielle’s interest in Corien.

I do very much enjoy the general writing style and world-building of these books. The story feels expansive and epic, and the writing effortlessly flows between witting dialogue and engrossing descriptions of action and setting. If only the characters who populated it all were a bit better. The book is pretty long, however, and I do think some editing could have been in order to tidying it all up.

I also had some questions about the marketing of this book as YA. There are some pretty intense scenes in this book, particularly in the romance plot line between Corien and Rielle. This is by no means coming from a “the children aren’t ready for this!!” place, but more a general question about fantasy fiction and current marketing practices. It almost feels like a lot of good fantasy works are being relegated to YA regardless of that being the appropriate place for them simply because YA fantasy is booming. And look, I love that so many fantasy titles are coming out in YA. But I’m also starting to feel like there is an equal and growing lack of fantasy coming out in adult fiction for the very same reason.

I would place good money on the fact that several titles are pitched to publishers as adult fantasy fiction and then are sent back with the note “Great! But let’s make the protagonists teenagers so we can market it to YA, since that’s where this stuff sells!” It’s too bad, because a lot of adults want to read good fantasy fiction (again, look at the recent epic fantasy TV show that just concluded. Clearly, there is an adult interest in these types of stories). And books like this read as if they could just as easily, and perhaps more appropriately, be marketed as adult fantasy. Teenagers can pick up an adult fantasy novel just as easily as an adult can pick up a YA fantasy title. So maybe we can try giving each their due based on the story itself, and not marketing tactics. A girl can dream.

Having the characters and world set up in the first book, overall I felt as if I could sink more fully into this read and enjoy it. I still had some struggles, but some of that can be laid at the feet of the timing of my read more than any real flaw on the book’s part. Fans of the first book are sure to love this one, and those who may have had middling feelings might want to check it out as well, as I do think everything was strengthened, if not perfected, in this sequel.

Rating  7: An overall improvement on the first book!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Kingsbane” is a newer title, so it isn’t on many Goodreads lists, but it is on: “Books Marketed as Young adult that might be New Adult, Adult Fiction.”

Find “Furyborn” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Persephone”

36323550Book: “Persephone” by Allison Shaw

Publishing Info: Hiveworks, 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: I own an eBook.

Book Description: In his ancient hymns, Homer tells us of the unyielding Lord of the Dead who kidnapped the innocent daughter of Demeter. He tells us quite a bit, in fact, for someone who wasn’t there.

Persephone is no tragic victim, but a kind young woman held in place by her overbearing mother. A failed scheme by Apollo leads her to a chance encounter with the humorless Hades, who is struck by love’s arrow. Now he must wrestle with his aching heart before he loses control entirely.

…Not that the infatuated Persephone has any complaints regarding Hades’ plight. 

As desire blooms between the secluded goddess of the harvest and the ruler of the underworld, the world changes both above and below.

Allison Shaw, creator of comics Far to the North and Tigress Queen, drew on her passion for mythology and ear for modern dialogue to create an updated myth for a mature audience. She wished to offer to her readers a feminist and sensual take on the story, which has grown more and more popular over the years, thanks to its themes of change, rebirth and growth.

Review: Ever since I was a kid I’ve been completely taken with the Persephone and Hades myth. I’m not sure if it’s because Hades is the original Depressive Demon Nightmare Boy, or that I’ve always loved the idea of a Queen of the Dead, but their romance and (part time) joint rule of the Underworld is one of my favorite pieces of mythology. As such, I’m always looking for adaptations of it. Sadly, I haven’t really found many to my liking outside of a few children’s stories (side note, if you have recommendations, send them my way!), and it saddens me that the myth is a bit underappreciated. But that’s why I wanted to spotlight “Persephone” by Allison Shaw, because the moment I started reading I knew that I was going to really enjoy what was done to the characters that I love so much.

The story that Shaw makes takes influence from the original Greek mythologies and updates them a bit to be, shall we say, less problematic than the source material. While it’s important to remember the historical and cultural context at the heart of these stories, the idea of a guy kidnapping a woman and making her his bride doesn’t sit well anymore (even if it’s all a metaphor for growing up and leaving home for a new family AND the changing of the seasons). So Shaw makes Persephone not only the main character, but Hades conflicted about his attraction to her (thanks in part to an errant arrow from Eros) as he doesn’t think that she would be happy with him in the Underworld. Persephone, too, approaches their romance in a different way, as her infatuation slowly grows and is VERY real by the time she and Hades disappear while a domineering Demeter panics. Side note: even as a kid I thought it was strange that Demeter was SO overprotective/controlling of her grown daughter, and found it creepy that she’d stop things from growing in a blackmail effort to get her kid back; I’m glad that authors of newer adaptations are willing to point out that this, too, takes away Persephone’s agency and has it’s own toxicity about it. Their characterizations are also quite strong, and you get a sense of their motivations and personalities pretty easily. She is bubbly and optimistic and kind, and he is sarcastic and dour and a bit lonely, and the differences round each other out well. The romance is very cute as it builds, and yes, it’s also pretty damn sexy. There is a reason this book is described as ‘mature’. It transforms original moments of potential violation in the original story and turns them into moments of very intentional consent, with very, shall we say, steamy results.

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I may have made this face a few times during the more titillating moments… (source)

Now I’m not one who reads that much romance fiction, but I know good smut when I see it, and for the most part “Persephone” has good smut. There’s one moment that seems a bit tacked on as an afterthought, but who am I to complain about love scenes within a love story, especially if they’re between one of my favorite fictional couples of all time?

There are also VERY fun references to other Greek myths and characters, from a lecherous and obnoxious Apollo being a creep to a determined Artemis taking Persephone under her wing, to a snarky Eros who is dealing with his own conflicted feelings about Psyche, and oh can we please, PLEASE get an adaptation of that one next?! IT’S MY SECOND FAVORITE GREEK MYTH!! Persephone and Hades have interactions with all of these characters and act in ways that seem totally true to how their characters would act. I do wish that the story had been longer so that we could have had even more exploration of all of these characters, but I think that it’s better to be left wanting more than to feel like a story is slogging along at a snail’s pace.

And finally, I really loved the art work and the character designs. From Persephone’s voluptuous frame to the fact that Hades has his own speech bubble type, I thought that artwork was unique and fit the tone of the story.

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Source: Hiveworks

I greatly enjoyed what Allison Shaw did with the Hades and Persephone myth. “Persephone” was a sweet and satisfying adaptation of a myth that I have always held dear to my heart.

Rating 8: A sweet and sexy retelling of the Persephone and Hades myth, with a focus on agency, attraction, and choosing one’s own path in life no matter how it may diverge from original expectations.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Persephone” isn’t included on any Goodreads lists, but I think it should be on “Hades and Persephone”.

You can find “Persephone” at Hivemill in both print and eBook form. It isn’t available on WorldCat, but keep an eye out should this change in the future.

Giveaway: “Kingsbane”

40523458

Book Description: Rielle Dardenne has been anointed Sun Queen, but her trials are far from over. The Gate keeping the angels at bay is falling. To repair it, Rielle must collect the seven hidden castings of the saints. Meanwhile, to help her prince and love Audric protect Celdaria, Rielle must spy on the angel Corien—but his promises of freedom and power may prove too tempting to resist.

Centuries later, Eliana Ferracora grapples with her new reality: She is the Sun Queen, humanity’s long-awaited savior. But fear of corruption—fear of becoming another Rielle—keeps Eliana’s power dangerous and unpredictable. Hunted by all, racing against time to save her dying friend Navi, Eliana must decide how to wear a crown she never wanted—by embracing her mother’s power, or rejecting it forever.

Giveaway Details: I read and reviewed the first book in this popular fantasy duology last spring. But while I had middling feelings about it all, I was intrigued enough to pick up the second book. My full review is coming up later this week, so to build up the anticipation I’m offering a giveaway of an ARC version of this book. While I don’t want to spoil my own review, I will say that I enjoyed this one more than the first. And, beyond that, I know that the series is generally wildly popular, so don’t miss your chance at a free copy!

Enter here!

A Revisit to Fear Street: “Bad Moonlight”

176343Book: “Bad Moonlight” (A Fear Street Super Chiller) by R.L. Stine

Publishing Info: Archway Paperbacks, 1994

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

Book Description: She wasn’t just crying wolf…

Danielle Verona can’t believe the band picked her to be their new lead singer. She’s on the road, performing at all the hot clubs. The adoring fans, the bright lights— it’s a dream come true!

But when nighttime falls, Danielle can feel the terror in the darkness. There’s eerie howling outside her window. And then a band member is killed—ripped to shreds by a wild animal. Danielle knows something is out there, lurking in the moonlight. Something savage…and hungry.

Had I Read This Before: Yes

The Plot: First I want to give a shout out to my friend Melissa, whose vivid memories of this book inspired me to re-read it myself! On the night of the half moon (mentioned as I’m sure this will be relevant to the timing later in the story), Danielle Verona is making a quick stop at the grocery store. Her physical description is given right away: brown hair with blonde highlights, and a body that looks like she’s twelve instead of eighteen. Why THAT is relevant, I’m not sure I want to know. Her obnoxious younger brother Cliff and her Aunt Margaret are also at the store. Margaret (who is described with bleached red hair? What does that mean? All we get beyond that is that she looks ‘hard’ and ‘tough’). Danielle and Cliff live with Margaret because their parents died, and she’s been very loving to them. Danielle has just returned from a two week trip with her band, and seems to be feeling strange. As she goes to look for Cliff, she wanders the aisles, feeling super cold and out of it. Before she knows it, she’s torn into a package or raw beef and started eating it! When Cliff asks her what she’s doing, she replies that she doesn’t know.

Let’s go back in time now! Specifically a couple weeks prior when Danielle and her as of now unnamed band members are traveling between gigs! Let’s meet her fellow bandmates. There’s Billy, the manager of the band and the twenty two year old hanging out with a bunch of teens. There’s Kit, the hot roadie that all the ladies have a crush on. There’s Dee, the former lead singer and now back up singer (and the one diverse character that Stine threw in here, so NATURALLY she is jealous of Danielle, who replaced her on vocals). There’s Caroline, the bubbly keyboardist that Danielle really likes, and Mary Beth the drummer, who doesn’t have much of a personality beyond being good at the drums. And last and totally least is Joey, the ‘sound guy’ who is presently driving the van at dangerous speeds as he fancies himself a Blues Brother and/or Corey Hart as he drives with his sunglasses on at night. Joey is a real creep who keeps asking Danielle for a kiss and he’s supposed to come off as crude and fun loving as opposed to a sexual harasser. As they drive Danielle thinks about the day she auditioned for the band, and how everyone loved her but Dee. When they took her on Dee cornered her in the driveway and told her that she doesn’t belong in the band. So now Danielle is intimidated by her. As Joey drives like an idiot and makes sexist jokes, Danielle suddenly freaks out as he DRIVES THE VAN OFF A CLIFF, and by that I mean he doesn’t actually do that, but Danielle has a hallucination that he did. She has hallucinations, you see. Joey says that since it’s a full moon and the moon makes him a little ‘wild’, that’s why he’s driving like a guy with a death wish. Danielle thinks about how her parents died in a car accident on a night like this one, in a similar way that her hallucination happened. She also seems to remember their bodies cut up by rocks, though she wasn’t there and her aunt Margaret never told her any details… She thinks about how her therapist Dr. Moore has been trying to help her with these hallucinations and hopes he can help her soon. The moonlight makes her shiver and then her hair stands straight up on end I guess?

They arrive at the hotel and after Caroline and Danielle drop their bags on in their room they go to the elevator to meet up with their bandmates to check out the club. Dee tells her that she has to talk to her and grabs her arm tightly, but Danielle, convinced Dee just wants to yell at her, blows her off. They all arrive at the club to check it out, and soon Joey is once again harassing Danielle and inviting her to his room and trying to force her to dance (SHE SAID NO YOU CREEP). She declines, and Bill shoos him off to help Kit with equipment stuff for the gig the next night. He then says that Joey ‘comes on kind of strong’.

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My feelings towards many a dude right now between this and current events. (source)

Billy asks Danielle if she’s nervous about the show, and tells her that she’s going to be great. Danielle is more worried about Dee, who is staring at them from across the room. Danielle thinks that perhaps Dee has a thing going with Billy and is jealous, even though Billy isn’t doing anything untoward or unprofessional in this moment. Kit comes up and asks Danielle if she’d like to go for a walk, and now Danielle thinks that perhaps it’s KIT that Dee wants and that’s why she is mad! Because now KIT clearly, CLEARLY, wants to do her. She happily accepts, as Kit is cute, and she likes being ‘seen as a groupie’ or something? There was a weird quote like that, I don’t know. They get to a local park, the moonlight making her uneasy again, and he tells her that he’s wanted to be alone with her for awhile. They start to make out, but the mood is ruined when Danielle bites his lip so hard she makes him bleed! Horrified, she runs all the way back to the hotel. She bursts back into her room and Caroline asks what’s going on, and Danielle says that she has to see Dr. Moore! Unable to do anything in that moment, Caroline tells her to take a shower and relax. Once she does, and once Caroline gets in the shower for her turn, Danielle decides to try and write a new song, as she’s a lyrical wunderkid. She whips up a song about Bad Moonlight and Caroline is so impressed she gathers up the rest of the band to listen. The band then says that their name should be Bad Moonlight! They then decide to go their separate ways for the night. Caroline says she’s going to walk Billy out, and Danielle is so tired she falls right asleep. She startles awake around midnight to the sound of an animal making horrible noises outside, in fact, you could say that it’s howling. Danielle whispers for Caroline, but no answer. There is, however, a knocking on the door. It’s Dee, who whispers that she has to talk to Danielle, and Danielle ignores her until Dee leaves.

The next day Danielle goes back to Shadyside to see Dr. Moore before the gig that night. She tells him about her hallucination, the strange song she wrote, and biting Kit’s lip until he bled. Dr. Moore tells her that this is something that sometimes happens when two people who are attracted to each other kiss (uhhhh NOT ESPECIALLY), and in regards to her hallucination he starts doing some hypnotherapy for her, as is his usual method. She tells him that she sees herself running across a field as the moonlight pours down on her. She says she feels angry, and she turns around to fight someone or something that has been chasing her. He snaps her out of it, and tells her that letting her fantasies run their course will help her with her anger that she has over her parents’ deaths. She thinks that maybe this is all normal, but then looks at the arms of the chair she’s sitting in. She’s ripped them to shreds.

That night the gig goes well and the crown is chanting ‘BAD MOONLIGHT!’ over and over again, so Danielle encores with the same song that she presumably just played as if this is an episode of The Teletubbies. Danielle sees Kit watching her from the audience, and it makes her more confident. After the club has closed down the band is too excited to go home just yet, and Billy suggests that they go to the coffee shop at the hotel since it’s the only thing open at one in the morning. Joey also picks up Danielle and kisses her without her consent, and UGHHHHHH, can we please just get rid of him!? Danielle is concerned because Kit saw the whole thing and looked miffed. Still too wired to come down completely, she asks Caroline to order her a rare cheeseburger when she gets to the coffeehouse because she’s going to take a walk. While on her walk,  she jumps over a high wall with ease and lands on all fours. When she stands up in the moonlight, she notices that her nails have grown long and look gnarled and crusty!! Then, someone runs up beside her. It’s Joey!…..

And then it’s the next morning and a number of the band members have gotten together for breakfast. Everyone but Joey. They ask Danielle where she was the night before as she never showed, but she says she just went back and straight to bed. The reality is she doesn’t remember. No one knows where Joey is, and Dee says that he said something to her about Danielle before he left. Danielle notices that Dee seems nervous. The band eventually meets up in the lobby, ready to head home to Shadyside, but still no Joey. Danielle notices Caroline and Kit talking in low tones, and she hopes that there isn’t anything going on btween them. As they all start to load up the van, emergency vehicles rush down the street towards the park, and Kit says they should go rubberneck see what’s going on. When they get to the park, they see an ambulance. Dee and Kit rush ahead, and soon Dee screams. When Danielle gets to the scene, she sees a dead body, it’s clothes and skin all torn up. And, wouldn’t you know it, it’s Joey.

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No great loss there. (source)

Three weeks later, Danielle is in Dr. Moore’s office, lamenting that she couldn’t POSSIBLY have killed Joey! But she also admits that she doesn’t remember what happened that night, so maybe she DID kill him. Dr. Moore says that she was probably over tired and that’s why she doesn’t remember what happened, and that in all likihood she went back to her room without incident. He says that she’s still trying to work through the death of her parents and that she probably wont’ actually act on her fantasies, and performs more hypnotherapy on her just to ease her mind.

On the way to the next gig, Danielle is feeling a lot better. Dee is upset that they’re just continuing on as if Joey was never important, and newsflash, Dee, that’s exactly right. He was awful. Danielle tells the band that she wrote a new song specifically for Dee to sing, and it’s just kind of “Bad Moonlight” again, but with more aggressive lyrics, like ‘don’t let me kill again’. Everyone LOVES it, however. Except Dee, who accuses Danielle of killing Joey and proceeds to jump on her and strangle her! Mind you, we’re still in a moving vehicle here! The van pulls over and Kit pulls Dee off, and Danielle says that she didn’t write that song to accuse Dee of anything. Kit reminds them that they have a show to do so they all need to just chill out. Danielle notices that Mary Beth the drummer looks nervous, but Danielle doesn’t know if she’s scared of Dee or scared of her. They eventually make it to their next destination in spite of band strife and a thunderstorm. Danielle gets out of the van, and then for some unknown reasons she sprints down the sidewalk. Once she can’t run anymore, she falls on all fours and starts to drink water in the puddles on the ground next to her. Like you do when you’re a wolf.

At the club the next morning the band is rehearsing and the club owner is already counting all the money he’s bound to get from their appearance. Because he heard that Danielle is ‘dy-no-mite’. Danielle is still on edge because of how Dee’s been acting, and how she drank rain water from a dirty gutter. May wanna get tested for giardia, Danielle. That evening as Danielle and Caroline are trying on outfits for the gig, Billy comes into their room asking if they’ve seen Kit. The last Mary Beth saw him was leaving the club with Dee, and it looked like they were fighting. Danielle is worried when she hears this, and as they all go to look for Kit she runs ahead, in a way that I would describe as aimlessly. She arrives at an empty lot, and sees Dee standing over Kit. She yells out, and Dee smiles at her, and then attacks Kit! Danielle starts to scream, and Caroline runs up behind her asking her what’s wrong. Danielle yells about Kit and Dee, but Caroline tells her that Kit and Dee aren’t there, it’s two kids just wrestling. Another hallucination strikes again! Caroline says they should go back to the hotel, and asks Danielle what Dr. Moore has said about all this. When Danielle tells her that he says her hallucinations happen because of her memories of her parents deaths, and Caroline says that ‘makes sense’. NOT REALLY, CAROLINE. Danielle is still wondering why she just knows her parents were torn up when no one told her they were. She asks Caroline not to tell Billy about this, and Caroline agrees. When they get back to the hotel, Kit and Dee are there. Kit says he was catching up with friends, and Dee says she went on a walk.

The gig that night goes great. The band decides to go for a walk by the river afterwards, but when Danielle looks up at the moon she decides she isn’t feeling well enough to be in the ‘bad moonlight’ (Stine is REALLY trying to make this happen). Kit says he wishes she’d come, but she declines. When she gets back to her hotel room, Dee suddenly jumps out of the closet, and tells Danielle to not even ‘try to get away this time’. She says that she knows what really happened to Joey. But before this can be elaborated on, Kit comes into the room and asks them what’s going on. Dee says she was just saying goodnight to Danielle, and rushes away. Danielle says that she’s convinced Dee was going to attack her again and that she said she knew the truth about Joey. When Kit asks what that means, Danielle admits she doesn’t know. And she says it’s weird because Dee didn’t act like she even liked Joey, and Kit says that some people don’t show how they actually feel. But he’s not one of those people. That’s Santana/Rob Thomas levels of Smooth, my man! They start to kiss, but then a howl outside makes Danielle jump and freak out. Kit asks what’s wrong, and she says it’s the howling, but he tells her he can’t hear anything. Put off and feeling a little sheepish, Danielle tells him that she’s tired and needs to work on a song, and says he should go on the walk with their bandmates. Kit is sad that he couldn’t round the bases, but kisses her and tells her goodnight. Danielle tries to ignore the howls, and falls into a not so pleasant sleep. She wakes up a little while later, and Caroline isn’t in her bed. She goes into the hallway, and sees Billy on the floor, and she’s convinced he’s dead…. but no, he’s just drunk. Now THIS is how rock and rollers behave! Late night river walks and cheese burgers my ASS! She wakes him up and asks him why he got so drunk, and he says that he has a lot on his mind. She helps him back to his room, and then he wraps his arms around her and hugs her. She likes the feel of his arms around her (DUDE, SHE’S EIGHTEEN!), and when she presses him to tell her what’s wrong he snaps at her to forget it, and they part ways.

The next day Danielle is back home and she’s telling Aunt Margaret that maybe she should quit the band. Margaret tells her that she should just rest up and see how she feels after the next show, but Danielle insists that her hallucinations have only been getting worse. Margaret reminds her that Dr. Moore said this was normal, but Danielle says that maybe if she knew about the accident that killed her parents in full detail she could process things better. Margaret says no way and then makes up an excuse to walk away. Danielle mulls over her options of things she could do and decides to call Caroline, but when she picks up the phone she hears Margaret on the line talking to someone. It’s Dr. Moore! He tells her to come over so they can discuss their worries about Danielle. Danielle plays dumb when Margaret comes back into the kitchen, but then goes to snoop once Margaret leaves. She goes to Margaret’s room and starts rifling through her things. She finds a newspaper clipping about her parents’ deaths that says they ‘died mysteriously’, but Margaret always told Danielle it was a car accident! To make matters worse, the article says that their bodies looked like they’d been shredded up in an animal attack.

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Were there any shredded tracksuits near by? (source)

At her appointment with Dr. Moore the next day Danielle expresses her confusion and anger towards Margaret, but Dr. Moore tries to assure her that Margaret is just worried about her. He also tells her that their concern isn’t about the hallucinations themselves, but how Danielle reacts to them, and suggests that they do some more hypnosis. In this hallucination/flashback/whateverthefuck, Danielle sees herself running with Dee, and getting into a scuffle with her. Just as Danielle is about to strangle Dee, Dr. Moore snaps his fingers. She tells him that wasn’t really helpful, and says she wants to quit the band. He encourages her to stay in it as it seems to be the only thing she has going for her right now (I guess she’s a high school graduate?). She says she’ll take that advice for now, and the session ends. She’s supposed to meet Caroline in the parking lot so they can go shopping, but whoops, it’s Dee instead. Dee says she wants her out of the band, and that she’s running out of time to leave. They argue and eventually they end up wrestling around on the ground, with Danielle getting very violent with Dee. Caroline breaks it up, and Dee storms off. Danielle tells Caroline that she felt out of control, and Caroline says that everything was probably not as out of control as she thought it was and offers to take her home. But Danielle sees that Caroline looks a little worried.

The next day Danielle and Cliff and playing together, and after Cliff gets hurt Danielle starts to lick the blood off his arm. That night as she tries to relax she starts to write a new song that is also about moonlight (BIG OL SHOCK), but then sees someone in her backyard! It’s just Billy, and she lets him inside so they can talk. He tells her that the gig the next night is sold out, but the bad news is that Dee quit the band. Danielle thinks that it’s her fault, but he tries to assure her it isn’t, but won’t give her an answer when she asks how he could think that. After he leaves she calls Kit to voice her concerns/suspicions about Billy, and he tells her that Billy is probably just stressed. He invites her over and she agrees to stop by. When she gets there he suggests they go for a walk, and they start to walk down Fear Street (CONTINUITY ERROR! It was stated that Kit lived in a carriage house on a North Hills estate! North Hills isn’t in the same area as Fear Street, it’s the rich part of town!). She suddenly has an urge to run randomly. As she runs way ahead of Kit, she smells a rabbit, and decides to chase after it, thinking about how she can taste the blood already.

SMASH CUT TO rehearsal the next day. Billy thinks they sound like shit, and the new backup singer/bass player Shawna is probably questioning why she agreed to join this band. Danielle assures her that he isn’t usually like this, he’s probably just nervous about playing at Red Heat (yes, THE Red Heat! Been so long since we had reference to it!). Kit asks Danielle if he upset her since she ran away the night before, but she says no. They all decided to play her new song in her ‘Moonlight’ catalog. Well that’s what I’m calling it because so many songs about Moonlight that aren’t part of a multi song story arc is just ridiculous. After they’re done Danielle asks Billy what his problem is but he doesn’t answer. That night before the show the band is getting ready and Shawna says she needs to go get her bass, which is in a big trunk in the dressing room. Danielle offers to go get it, and when she opens the big trunk, guess what happens! Dee’s body spills out onto the floor! And she’s been shredded up! Danielle wonders if she did this, along with Joey, and makes a break for it. She runs into Billy who grabs her, and tells her that she can’t leave! She breaks away frmo him and keeps running, past Caroline and Mary Beth (remember her? She’s the drummer), and into the night. She worries that Billy may try to come find her at her house, but before she can think too much she hears Caroline calling after her. She stops, and Caroline catches up. Danielle begs for Caroline’s help, saying that Billy is going to kill her, and that they have to get to her house to warn Margaret and Cliff. Caroline says she should calm down, but then the moon comes out, and guess what! CAROLINE TURNS INTO A SWEARWOLF WEREWOLF!!! For a moment Danielle tries to reason with her, but there’s no reasoning with a werewolf, Danielle, and wolf!Caroline grabs her. A car suddenly drives past and Danielle yells for help as she breaks away from wolf!Caroline. The car stops, and Danielle realizes it’s a van! It’s Billy and Mary Beth who have come to save the day! And by that I mean they too suddenly turn into werewolves. They back her into a corner, but once the clouds cover the moon they all say that she doesn’t have to worry. Then another car pulls up and it’s Kit, saying to run with him, that they’re in a werewolf band. Billy says that Kit is one of them but Kit says that Danielle can trust him, and Danielle doesn’t know what to believe. But she decides to believe Kit, and they start to run away as the moon comes back. But wolf!Billy catches up with Kit and tackles him, and Kit tells her to run and save herself. Danielle throws mud in the eyes of wolf!Mary Beth and wolf!Caroline, distracting them in time for her to run to the van and get inside. It takes a bit but it starts, and Danielle drives away to safety planning to come back for Kit.

Danielle rushes home and finds Aunt Margaret. She says that they have to call the police because werewolves are chasing her and Kit is in danger, but Aunt Margaret balks, and says that they can’t call the police because it would ruin the plans that they all have for her. Danielle thinks that she’s having one of her hallucinations, but nope. Margaret confesses that she isn’t, in fact, Danielle’s aunt. Danielle’s actual aunt died the same way her parents did, disemboweled by werewolves! Margaret has been part of a conspiracy to make Danielle a werewolf bride to her master! It must be Billy! Cliff comes in and acts as a momentary distraction, just in time for Billy to show up and for Danielle to break away, making a run for it once again. She gets back to the van, Billy on her heels, but is able to get in. He tells her that she can’t win, but she’s willing to test that theory, and decides to go to Dr. Moore’s house. As she drives she realizes that the moonlight never bothered her until she joined the band. Clouds cover the moon again and Danielle thinks that may buy her time.

She gets to Dr. Moore’s house and pounds on his door. He lets her in and she tells him everything. He tells her to sit and gets her a glass of orange juice to calm her nerves, though I feel like a nice shot of whiskey may do her better. He tells her that he believes her and that perhaps they can work together to find a way to trap the werewolves. Then someone else enters the house and calls out ‘Dad? Where is she?’, and Danielle recognizes that voice. It’s Kit! And Dr. Moore says ‘yes, your bride is waiting for you!’

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I’ve heard of a Werewolf Bar Mitzvah, but a wedding?! (source)

Kit tells her that not only is he a werewolf, he’s the pack leader! All the others are controlled by him, and Dr. Moore has been hypnotizing Danielle to act more like a wolf so that the transition will be easier for her I guess? Kit once saw Danielle a few years prior and decided that she was destined to be his bride and she was absoLUTELY not of age when THAT happened, so they decided to wait. He isolated her (killed her parents and her real aunt) and sent Margaret to keep tabs on her. He killed Joey because Joey knew that she was betrothed to him but flirted/harassed her anyway, and killed Dee because she was trying to warn Danielle. And now he has to take care of Billy since Billy tried to save her tonight. Kit also tells her that once they’re married she will be one hundred percent devoted to him and won’t want to escape. She tries to escape, but Kit grabs her and tells his Dad they’re perform the ceremony now in the backyard in the moonlight. Question: why didn’t Kit turn into a werewolf before? This isn’t explained.

In the yard are the wedding guests, including all the members of the band (who look guilty and chastened), and Margaret. Kit says that before his father marries them, he wants her to sing “Bad Moonlight” to him. Danielle, thinking this could buy her some time, subjects us to the awful lyrics again. She tries to stall, but Dr. Moore tells her to hurry up and do it so they can do the ceremony. She goes from guest to guest, hoping to get some help, and even though Billy can’t help her as he’s under Kit’s thrall, he does tell her that she can save herself by using the ‘bad moonlight’ and I AM SO SICK OF THAT PHRASE. She rejoins Kit and the ceremony starts. But once the moon comes out, Danielle turns into a werewolf (why is this happening now?), and ATTACKS KIT. She lunges and bites him in the throat and won’t let go. As the moon fades away again, she turns back into a human, and Kit is dead. Then Dr. Moore starts shaking and his limbs start flying off (?!), and the same thing happens to Margaret and Kit!! I DON’T UNDERSTAND THIS MYTHOLOGY BUT WHATEVER. Somehow Billy, Mary Beth, and Caroline are spared from this fate and now they’re no longer werewolves because Danielle killed the head werewolf (because I guess it’s the same rules as vampires) in spite of the fact she was never actually a werewolf but somehow turned into a werewolf right when she needed to.

I like to imagine that while all this is going down Shawna is doing a solo set at Red Heat and is just KILLING IT.

Danielle realizes that she has to raise Cliff on her own now but ‘can face anything’ since she killed a werewolf all by herself (honey, you haven’t tangled with the U.S. Legal System, have you?). Billy puts his arms around her shoulders) (? Are they a thing now? Four years is a big age gap when you’re eighteen and twenty two), and says they don’t have to fear the moonlight anymore. Danielle says that she’s looking forward to some ‘bright sunlight’. The End.

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Sure, whatever, it’s a better ending than “Game of Thrones” could come up with. (source)

Body Count: 5! And what crazy deaths we got out of it as well!

Romance Rating: 2. Given that Kit was ready to make a barely legal and uncooperative bride out of Danielle, I gotta say that the yuck levels were off the charts. She may have better luck with Billy, but…. still.

Bonkers Rating: 8! The werewolf violence, the weird hypnotherapy stuff and EXPLODING BAD GUYS was totally nuts.

Fear Street Relevance: 4. Dr. Moore lived on Fear Street, and the final confrontation was on/around there.

Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:

“Danielle heard the crush of metal as the van crashed through the low metal guardrail. She screamed again as the van sailed off the edge of the cliff.”

…. But it was just a hallucination. They were never in any danger.

That’s So Dated! Moments: Almost right out the gate Danielle asks Margaret if she’d make her a chicken dish that she describes as ‘oriental’. Holy shit for the casual racism tossed in here, but we’ve seen it before in these books, sadly.

Best Quote:

“‘Bad moonlight, falling over me, bad moonlight shining down on me, bad moonlight makes me feel so strange and new….'”

Once again, Stine shows us his musicality based talents that we have not seen since the halcyon days of Stevie Nicks….

Conclusion: “Bad Moonlight” was a kind of fun and totally bananas romp that leaned all the way in with supernatural elements. It’s always nice seeing werewolf tales, as they seem to have fallen out of style. Up next is “The Dead Lifeguard”!

Book Club Review: “Girl Squads: 20 Female Friendships That Changed History”

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 ‘genre mash-ups’, where we pick two random genres and try to find a book that fits both. 

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

39873981Book: “Girl Squads: 20 Female Friendships that Changed History” by Sam Maggs

Publishing Info: Quirk Books, October 2018

Where Did We Get This Book: from the library!

Genre Mash-Up: Non-fiction and short stories

Book Description: A modern girl is nothing without her squad of besties. But don’t let all the hashtags fool you: the #girlsquad goes back a long, long time. In this hilarious and heartfelt book, geek girl Sam Maggs takes you on a tour of some of history’s most famous female BFFs, including:

• Anne Bonny and Mary Read, the infamous lady pirates who sailed the seven seas and plundered with the best of the men
• Jeanne Manon Roland and Sophie Grandchamp, Parisian socialites who landed front-row seats (from prison) to the French Revolution
• Sharon and Shirley Firth, the First Nations twin sisters who would go on to become Olympic skiers and break barriers in the sport
• The Edinburgh Seven, the band of pals who fought to become the first women admitted to medical school in the United Kingdom
• The Zohra Orchestra, the ensemble from Afghanistan who defied laws, danger, and threats to become the nation’s first all-female musical group

And many more! Spanning art, science, politics, activism, and even sports, these girl squads show just how essential female friendship has been throughout history and throughout the world. Sam Maggs brings her signature wit and warmth as she pays tribute to the enduring power of the girl squad. Fun, feisty, and delightful to read—with empowering illustrations by artist Jenn Woodall—it’s the perfect gift for your BFF. 

Serena’s Thoughts

This was my bookclub pick. I drew “nonfiction” and “short stories,” which on first glance was a pretty terrifying and unintuitive draw for me. I read very little nonfiction and only a handful of short story collection, all of which were decidedly NOT nonfiction and definitely were lots of fantasy/magic/aliens action that in no way could be pass off as “true to life.” But after thinking about it a bit more, short biographies seemed like the obvious choice and when I stumbled on this title when browsing around, it was an obvious pick.

Overall, I really enjoyed this story. Collections like this about women of history who have largely gone unnoticed have had a bit of a spotlight recently and our bookclub, when asked, could rattle off three or four similar titles off the top of their heads. But the interesting quirk that made this one stand out was its focus on female friendships and partnerships. All too often we hear stories about the one woman who stood out as unique (and often forgotten) among all of the men who surrounded her, so it was a breath of fresh air to read this book that focused on the fact that it wasn’t just one in a million women who was doing interesting things and chances were good that she surrounded herself by other like-minded women who are worth noting, not just a bunch of dudes.

Many of the stories were unfamiliar to me and I really liked that about the story. There were a few familiar ones as well, but even those felt as if they were providing new insights into the lives of these women. Overall, I enjoyed most of the choices provided. However, the book is broken up into section that have an over-arching theme with the women included in each, like “sports,” “science,” and “warriors.” I get the reasoning for this, but I do feel it might have worked against the book, as readers who are less interested in certain areas, like sports, perhaps, might go into a segment of stories prepared to be bored. And then, because they have similar focuses, the way each story plays out could begin to feel a bit predictable and repetitive. Had the stories been presented in a more random manner, this might have helped this aspect.

My only other complaint comes with annoyances with the writing style. At times, it can read as very dry and a bit pedantic. And then, in an obvious effort to counterbalance this very thing, the author would throw in some quirky, conversational-style line to try and “spice things up.” I found these one-liners very distracting and fairly eye-roll-worthy most of the time. Other than that, though, I really enjoyed this book and was glad that my bookclub pairings lead me to it!

Kate’s Thoughts

I, for one, am always going to be happy to see women’s history showcased, especially if they are stories that haven’t really been brought to the public’s attention on a large scale level in the past. So when Serena picked “Girl Squads” for her book club pick, I was definitely excited to learn some new things about some awesome ladies.

And new things did I find! While there are some familiar stories in this book, like the stories of the three present Women Supreme Court Justices or the ‘Hidden Figures’ of NASA, a lot of the tales of lady friendships and partnerships were new to me. I enjoyed the variety and range of the stories told, from sports and athletics, to warriors and battles, to innovators and creatives and more. It was both really empowering to read all these different tales, and also frustrating that so many of these tales have gone unnoticed or under-told for as long as they have, at least in terms of what I’ve been exposed to. My favorites included the Haenyo Divers on Jeju Island, South Korea, and the Japanese Women’s Olympic Volleyball team.

I also really liked that Maggs made a concerted effort to tell a variety of stories from all over the world, so as not to focus mostly on white, European narratives. Given that our educational system in this country is so Euro-centric, seeing stories from all over the world and many different experiences was really enlightening. Given that academia, like many other communities, has problems with diversity, I was happy to see that Maggs intended to write an intersectional book.

But like Serena I had similar problems with the structure of the book and the conversational tone it attempted to implement. By the time I reached the final fourth of the book, I found myself skimming and missing various sections of the chapters due to zoning out. It just got to be a little long, and, as Serena mentioned, the structure made it feel repetitive and lagging. And when it comes to the conversational commentaries that Maggs tried to drop in every once in awhile, I had very little patience for it. I think that this kind of creative choice CAN be done, as I’ve read a few books that manage to nail the fun quirky tone with the more ‘serious’ subject matter, but Maggs’s attempts felt more ‘how do you do, fellow kids?’, as opposed to natural or organic.

Those things aside, overall I enjoyed “Girl Squads” because of the stories that it told.

Serena Rating 7: Never quite felt like it found the writing style or organization that best fit it, but the stories were interesting and enlightening, none the less.

Kate Rating 7: With similar complaints about the writing style and structure, this book tended to take me out of the moment more often than not. That said, I liked learning new things about women I wasn’t familiar with.

Book Club Questions

  1. Which story was your favorite and why?
  2. Were there any stories that you want more information on or think could have been improved? Which one would you read a full-length biography on?
  3. Are there any women you would have like to see highlighted who weren’t included and what notable aspects of their life would you draw upon?
  4. How did you feel about the writing style and organization of the collection?
  5. Are there any other “themes” (like “girl squads”) that you would like to see be used to create a collection of short biographies? Who would you include in a collection like that?

Reader’s Advisory:

“Girl Squads: 20 Female Friendships that Changed History” is on these Goodreads lists: “Biographies of Women, by Women” and “Great Books For Young Girls.”

Find “Girl Squads: 20 Female Friendships that Changed History” at your library using WorldCat!

Next Book Club Book: “Northhanger Abbey” by Jane Austen.