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 Margaret are spared from this fate and now they’re no longer werewoves 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”!

Bookclub 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!

The Great Animorphs Re-Read #49: “The Diversion”

125339Animorphs #49: “The Diversion”

Publishing Info: Scholastic Paperbacks, January 2001

Where Did I Get this Book: own it!

Book Description: The Yeerks are finally starting to realize that the “Andalite bandits” are probably not aliens at all. They’re finally starting to realize that maybe they’ve been dealing with humans all along. And no one–especially the newly appointed Visser One–is happy with this knowledge. Not happy at all.

When Tobias, the other Animorphs, and Ax realize that the Yeerks are about to find them, it’s by accident. But that doesn’t make the discovery any less serious. Because in war, one side wins. And one side loses…

Narrator: Tobias

Plot: The last Tobias book! Sadness! And, per the usual for his books, there’s a healthy dose of tragedy here as well. Though, in a shocking turn of events, by the end, a good thing has actually happened to him!

Tobias is experience his typical woes: the challenges of the hawk life with regards to getting food. While things aren’t as desperate as they have been in the past, he’s still happy to see Rachel show up with McDonalds. He eats part of it as a hawk, the only way the calories will sustain him, but morphs human to enjoy the rest as a boy who can appreciate taste. After that, they head off to Cassie’s barn for a group meeting.

There, Cassie informs them that her parents came back with odd news from The Gardens, that people had been there requesting blood samples from very specific animals, like wolves, grizzly bears, tigers, gorillas, etc. They were particularly upset when they discovered the zoo didn’t have a red tailed hawk in residence. The Animorphs are quick to put this together: the Yeerks are on to the fact that the “Andalite bandits” might be more than they seem and are collecting blood samples to try and match any humans with morphing abilities. They all try to recollect if they’ve had blood drawn recently, and Rachel is the only one with a concern that back when they all had the Andalite flu, her mom took her to the hospital and they may have drawn blood then.

They agree that the chance is too great, and Marco and Ax are set with the task of locating the blood bank where all of the samples are being stored and tested. By the next day they’ve already discovered the facility and the Animorphs are quick to take off to investigate. Once there, they come up across the typical problem now of Biofilters at all of the entrances. They decide to use their Hork Bajir morphs and tie blue armbands around their arms to pose as the elite Hork Bajir fighters they’ve recently come up across. Using this “authority,” they are able to weasel their way into the facility and get to the computer system. Ax demorphs and investigates and finds that the Yeerks already have a partial match and it’s Tobias’s lost mother who, it turns out, has been living only a few blocks away from the neglectful uncle whom Tobias stayed with when he was a boy.

Controllers break into the room, including a Granny-like Controller who seems to be in charge. She sees the flashing light on the computer and realizes that the system had found a match. A fight breaks out and the Animorphs flee the facility, but Marco is critically injured in the fight, forcing him to demorph and confirm the fact that there are humans with morphing abilities.

They manage to get away but know that now that Marco has been spotted, the game is up for them all, the Controllers will quickly put together who the other members could be. At the barn, the reality really begins to set in with what it will mean to tell their families and hide them away with the free Hork Bajir. Jake tells them all to take the night to think about it and they’ll begin the next day.

In the mean time, Tobias goes to scout out his mother. He discovers that she is blind and scarred, but she’s also kind to her guide dog and doesn’t show any outward signs of being a Controller. Having been fooled by a tactic like this in the past, Tobias is still wary. He’s also hurt and confused by why she would give him up only to live so close by.

They start with Cassie’s family whom Cassie says are scientist and will respect the truth. Tobias flies in and begins thought-speaking to Cassie’s mother while Cassie begins telling her what is going on. When Ax appears, Cassie’s mom tries to hide Cassie behind her in case Ax is dangerous. Cassie’s dad arrives and they explain to him too. The Chee agree to watch over the remaining animals at the barn clinic, and Cassie and her family pack up and head out.

Rachel’s family is next. Rachel morphs grizzly and speaks to her mom, who naturally freaks out. Ax walks in with one of Rachel’s little sisters on his back. Rachel’s mom grabs a spice rack and lunges at grizzly!Rachel. Like with Cassie’s mom, Tobias is struck with the bravery of mothers protecting their children. Rachel wrangles her family out, and the remaining Animorphs take off for Jake’s house.

They arrive to discover that Tom went with Jake’s parents to do chores. As the time ticks by, Marco and Tobias become increasingly concerned and Jake finally begins to admit that it is strange for Tom, a high ranking Yeerk, to go on a random chore run that morning. When they spot Jake’s family returning, but they are followed by two black SUVs. Through the window, Tobias can see Jake’s mom’s face twisted with anger and in her hand, a Dracon beam. They retreat.

Later, Tobias takes off to spy on Loren once again and sees that she is under Yeerk surveillance. While he’s there, Marco and Ax show up saying that the guide dog is Tobias’s way in. They follow Loren into a grocery store and, while posing as “rowdy youth”, they steal Loren’s guide dog and have Tobias acquire it. Tobais then returns in in place of the dog and makes his way back to Loren’s house with her. After she goes to sleep, Tobias searches the house but finds no evidence that Loren is a Controller. He does find a letter from an insurance company that mentions the fact that Loren lost her memories in the accident that scarred and blinded her.

The next morning, in his human form, Tobias confronts his mother. He learns that she knew she had a son, but had no memory of him. Worse, her memory was so badly damanged that she had had to re-learn how to do basic functions like brush her teeth. This all being the case, she had chosen to give him up as a baby to relatives, hoping that he would have a better life that way. As Tobias begins to explain the danger that she is in, it becomes clear that Loren has very vague memories of aliens, specifically Elfangor. Using these glimpses of shared knowledge, Tobias convinces her to stay in her house for three days and then meet him in a nearby park.

After the days have past and Loren hasn’t left the house, proving that she isn’t a Controller, they put the plan in action. When Loren gets to the park, she enters a tunnel and the Animorphs are able to switch out her dog for dog!Tobias once again without alerting the Controllers who are following her. Back in her house, with very little time as the Yeerks close in, Tobias has her keep her hand on his face while he demorphs. He then has her use the blue box to get morphing abilities, acquire his hawk form, and begin to morph herself. She manages to complete the morph right when things get crazy. The other Animorphs arrives as back up, but granny!Controller his back and in a helicopter.

Tobias and hawk!Loren take the sky and give the helicopter quite a chase. Tobias lures the helicopter away with his mad flying skills, but is almost hit by a Dracon beam shot, only saved by Loren flinging herself in front of him and taking a hard hit herself. The helicopter goes down and Loren demorphs to heal her injuries. Her blindness also heals in the process.

Back in the valley, all of the families are beginning to settle in. The Hork Bajir love Cassie’s parents and Rachel’s lawyer mother is helping them draft their own Constitution. Tobias is getting to know his mother, and while he’s sad that she still has no memory of him, he is comforted by the thought that when it came down to it, like Rachel and Cassie’s mothers, his own mother had tried to save her son as well.

A Hawk’s Life:  Most of Tobias’s books have to do with his struggle for identity between his life as a boy and his life as a hawk. But there is only brief point in the beginning where he again confronts the challenges of eating as a hawk, amusingly noting that Marco would have no problem living in his girlfriend’s room being hand fed, Tobias can’t let himself do that, even though Rachel has offered. Other than that, his main theme of reflection is on parenthood, specifically the relationship between mother and child.

Up to this book, there has been very little mention of Loren and really, until it shows up as a plot point, I realize I didn’t really notice how strange it was that it got so little attention, especially after Tobias learns about his real father. You’d think once that information had gotten out, Tobias would at the very least have been more curious about his mother’s whereabouts, even if he is still hurt and angry about being abandoned as a child. Regardless of that, his reflections throughout this book are very good, highlighting both his sense of abandonment, his distrust about new-found family, and his sense of hope even in the face of so much disappointment.

Loren, for her part, is great to see again, even if she doesn’t remember any of her adventures from “The Andalite Chronicles.” Her accident (did the Ellimist cause this??) and the resulting amnesia is a decent enough excuse for her abandonment of her child, if a bit soap-opera-like, a fact that Tobias himself points out in a good bit of self-awareness on the author’s part. But even without her memories, we can still see the essence of her original characterization. She is brave, throwing herself into danger to protect others. She is quick to accept the bizarre and adapt to insane circumstances with amazing agility. And she’s just generally a decent person.

Our Fearless Leader: Jake has a rough go of it in this book. He questions his choices with regards to timing with both the first and second mission, feeling that he went in too quickly with the blood bank and waited too long to retrieve their families. The loss of his parents, on top of still not being able to rescue Tom (his primary goal for being in this fight from book one) has to be a crushing blow. And as I discuss later, Jake’s perhaps more in need of family support and getting this win than the others. At the end of the book, Tobias reflects on the fact that he and Jake have essentially switched positions since the beginning of this entire affair: Jake has now lost his family and Tobias has gained one of his own.

Xena, Warrior Princess:  Rachel serves as a diversion at several points in this story, using her elephant morph to good effect (I always like when she breaks out this OG morph). Her choice to break the news to her mother by walking into the kitchen as a grizzly bear…not so sure about this. I get her concern that her mom being a lawyer means that a different approach is needed than with Cassie’s parents. But I have a hard time thinking of any personality type that is more receptive to news like this while staring down a grizzly in their house. And then her mom pretty much gets wrestled into the car and drove off before she gets a chance to really process things. Does make me wish we could have seen the scene when they all arrive at the Hork Bajir valley.

Peace, Love, and Animals: Cassie really doesn’t have a lot in this book, but her interactions with her parents really does highlight the great relationship she has with them. I think we really spend the most time with Cassie’s parents throughout the series, with Jake’s family coming in second. Whenever the books dealt with Jake’s family, Tom rightly came to the forefront. But Cassie’s parents have shown up not only in her books but in others, due to the meeting location so often being the barn. It’s also no surprise that they would settle in well at the Hork Bajir valley and quickly become favorites of the local residents.

The Comic Relief: Marco helps Ax with tracking down the blood bank and assists in the various family rescue missions. As his family has already been taken care of, he doesn’t have too much in this book. While it’s both him and Ax that show up when Tobias returns to spy on his mother some more, I think it’s pretty safe to assume that Marco was the one to figure out what was going on. Not only is he clever like that, but he has a good amount of experience under his belt with absent mothers and what the sudden return of one can do to a person’s mindset.

E.T./Ax Phone Home: Other than helping Marco with the blood bank search, Ax mostly serves as the final nail in the coffin of the other family members’ innocence about the state of the world. While both groups are exposed to morphing and thought speak, it’s Ax’s arrival that seems to really cement things in their minds.

Best (?) Body Horror Moment: Hands down this goes to Tobias’s introduction of the morphing technology to his mother which he does by giving her no warning or explanation of what’s going to happen, only instructing her to put her hand on his face as he morphs. We know how disgusting this process can be, and one can only imagine how horrifying it would be to only feel with your hands, having no idea what to even expect. To be fair, Tobias didn’t have the time to really spell out what was going to happen at this point in things. Lucky for him that Loren has the brave, accepting of the strange, temperament that I mentioned earlier.

Couples Watch!: My lasting regret will always be the fact that for some strange reason, other than a few exceptions, we only really get good insights into Rachel and Tobias’s relationship in his books, and he has fewer books overall than she does in the first place. His books and the scenes therein are excellent, don’t get me wrong. But I also feel like there were a lot of missed opportunities in Rachel books to deal with how she feels about dating a bird and, more importantly, a boy who is choosing to remain a bird. But no, instead we had to hear about “King Rachel” and how she was “like, the most powerful ever!” This book has a nice scene in the beginning with Rachel showing up with food for them both, and it’s just the sort of casual, every day scene that works really well as a glimpse into what the Animorphs’ lives are like when they’re not out on missions. This being the last Rachel or Tobias book though before the end though…oof. Hurry, distract oneself!

“You know, Tobias,” she said, “we have very weird dates.”

If Only Visser Three had  Mustache to Twirl: Visser One isn’t in this book. Instead, we have the rather comical granny!Controller to contend with. It’s definitely the kind of choice that is made for the bizarre mental images of a granny tearing around on a helicopter shooting laser beams. But funny

Adult Ugly Crying at a Middle Grade Book: Tobias’s musings on motherhood and what a unique relationship it is is quite touching throughout this book. He reflects on how incredible it is that Cassie’s mom throws herself in front of a “mutated deer”/Ax to save Cassie and that Rachel’s mom lunges at a fully grown grizzly with a spice rack in an attempt to protect her daughters. Tobias’s loss of family has always been tragic, even more so since we discovered his origin story in ‘The Andalite Chronicles.” But this one really hits home on this fact with the sad state that is his relationship with his mother. She has no memory of him, has been living only blocks away, and even now, safe in the Hork Bajir valley, there’s no regaining that time. But it also ends on an incredibly hopeful note with Loren’s own instinctual moment of putting herself in harms way to protect Tobias and how meaningful this is for Tobias who has never had a family member who cared about him, let alone was willing to risk their own life for his.

What  a Terrible Plan, Guys!: Jake beats himself up quite a bit about the plans in this book. Most notably the speed at which they went in on the blood bank, perhaps not scouting it out well enough, and then the slow response to getting their families out, giving it a night for them all to think about it before moving into action. But really, I don’t think either of those decisions were bad in the moment. They both seem pretty standard for the way Jake has approached decision making in the past, and it’s only hindsight that makes him feel otherwise.

I will say that perhaps Jake’s family should have come first in the order of rescue. Tom being a known Controller makes his family that much more of a quick target and a higher risk all around. At the very least, they should have come second after Cassie’s family (who went first only because they were at the barn already when they all made the final decision.)

Favorite Quote: Two rather longish ones, but there were some pretty funny sequences in this book, stuck in-between the soul-crushing sadness of the entire situation, of course.

“But unless you count the Victoria’s Secret Web page, there are no babes in my life anymore,” Marco said.

<There were no babes in your old life,> I said.

“Oh. Very nice, Tobias. Go for the jugular. You’ve got Rachel tending to your every need. Me, I’ve got Ax-man.” He jerked his thumb toward Ax, who was gazing lovingly at a magazine ad for the new original M&M’s. “I’ll trade you right now, straight across.”

And the entire scene as performed by Ax when trying to get the dog from Loren was pretty good.

“Ah.” Ax nodded. “She does not understand how menacing we are.”

He tapped her on the shoulder. “You do not know me,” he said, “but I am a juvenile delinquent. I do not trust authority figures, I probably will not graduate from high school, and statistics say my present rowdiness and vandalism will likely lead to more serious crimes. I am a dangerous fellow, and I am causing mayhem in this store.”

He reached behind her and pulled three jars of baby food from the top shelf. Shoved them behind a box of macaroni. Shuffled the Cheez Whiz in front of the Marshmallow Fluff. Tossed a bag of lady’s shavers onto a bag of hamburger buns. “There. I have now shamelessly destroyed the symmetry of this shelf, undoing hours of labor by underpaid store employees. If you could see me, you would be frightened.”

“If she could see you, she’d have you committed,” Marco muttered

Scorecard: Yeerks 14, Animorphs 16

While the Animorphs did manage to save most of their families, the loss of Jake’s parents is a pretty big blow. All of them are important members of the team, but you have to think that having the leader who is facing some huge decisions is going to suffer more in going into the endgame with a messed up mindset over the failure to not only save Tom but lose his parents as well. Outside of that, the loss of their human identities is a big hit. Not only do now none of them have the normalcy of their regular lives to help balance out and provide a distraction from the war effort, but a lot of their safety came from the fact that the Yeerks weren’t on the lookout for humans.

Rating: I really liked this book. It’s awesome to see Loren again, but man, that entire family has to win the tragedy card. You have Elfangor, tricked away from his pregnant wife and then dying after meeting his son for five minutes. Tobias who grows up neglected, is bullied, and pretty much chooses to trap himself as a bird, since that’s the better option and then ends up in this terrible war. And now Loren, already having her mind tampered with by the Ellimist, gets in a crash, loses her sight and her memories of her infant son, forcing her to give him up for adoption, and even when they’re re-united, her memories can never be regained.

I think I’ve probably mentioned this before, but in hindsight, I think the Tobias books are the best overall when you look at one single character’s contributions and quality. His always delved into important topics, not only for him as a character, but in the grander scheme of things (suicide, torture, PTSD, loss of family and found families, etc.) He’s also an excellent narrator and I’ve always appreciated the appropriate balance of action, humor, and even romance that is often found in his books.

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

Kate’s Review: “The Missing Season”

39937609Book: “The Missing Season” by Gillian French

Publishing Info: HarperTeen, May 2019

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from Edelweiss+

Book Description: Whenever another kid goes missing in October, the Pender kids know what is really behind it: a horrific monster out in the marshes they have named the Mumbler.

That’s what Clara’s new crew tells her when she moves to town: Bree and Sage, who take her under their wing; spirited Trace, who has taken the lead on this year’s Halloween prank war; and magnetic Kincaid, whose devil-may-care attitude and air of mystery are impossible for Clara to resist.

Clara doesn’t actually believe in the Mumbler. But as Halloween gets closer and tensions build in the town, it’s hard to shake the feeling that there really is something dark and dangerous in Pender, lurking in the shadows, waiting to bring the stories to life.

Review: Thank you to Edelweiss+ for sending me an eARC of this novel!

I’ve been racking my brain, but given that I lived in a fairly large metro area when I was a kid (and still do for that matter) I can’t think of any ‘urban legends’ that were prevalent in my hometown during my childhood. The closest I can come is when two mean girls in first grade tried to convince me that at midnight if you looked up at the sky you’d see a star that would automatically kill you and everyone you loved, and yes, I totally fell for it. But in terms of rumors turned folklore, I can’t recall any. But I’ve always been fascinated with localized urban legends, even back then, so finding books that have those themes are always going to grab my interest. That’s why I was so eager to read “The Missing Season” by Gillian French, a YA mystery thriller that includes tales of a mysterious figure called “The Mumbler” that supposedly snatches teens up during Halloween season. I went in expecting a mystery thriller with ambiguous horror elements. But instead, I got… a mishmash of themes that didn’t work for me.

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Me as I was reading this book and I still wasn’t clear in regards to its intent… (source)

“The Missing Season” takes place in the smallish town of Pender, and our protagonist Clara has just moved there due to her father’s somewhat nomadic career in construction. As our main character, I will say right off the bat that I liked Clara and I liked following her story and point of view. She lacks the luxury of being able to make connections because of the chance she might be moving again, so when she does make these connections there is a palpable fear of losing them, even if it isn’t outright said. The biggest conflict of this kind is the friendship between her and a girl named Bree. Bree, along with another girl named Sage, takes an immediate shine to Clara, and their friendship is a mix of the rush of having a girl pal, and the angst of competing with that girl pal in ways that were unanticipated. I know this familiar feeling all too well from my adolescent years, and I thought that French did a great job of showing it instead of telling it. The conflict in this case is the competing affections for local mysterious outsider Kincaid, who is the deepest in The Mumbler mythology of all the friends that Clara makes. The underlying tension and hurt between the two friends was the strongest aspect of this book, and the ways that Clara did, or in some cases didn’t, deal with that conflict felt very realistic.

But here is the problem with “The Missing Season”: it is very much marketed as a mystery thriller, and the description makes it sound like a new missing kid case is the center of the novel. But it’s very much not. The center of the novel is Clara’s relationships with the kids in town, and how she navigates her friendship with Bree and her need to fit in as those things come in conflict with the relationship she wants with Kincaid. Sure, another kid goes missing, and sure, there’s a question of what happened to her, but it wasn’t focused on nearly as much as I thought it was going to be. Instead, most of the conflict was Clara worrying about what Kincaid’s deal was, and what was going to happen to her new friendship with Bree if Clara and Kincaid did pursue their mutual feelings for each other. It wasn’t until the last fifth of the book that a full conflict with another child kidnapping raised the tension and thriller stakes, and even by then it was wrapped up VERY quickly, so quickly it almost felt like the author realized that oh yes, this was supposed to be a mystery thriller, better toss in a climax and wrap it up as quickly as possible. Even the ultimate solution felt tossed in there, with a couple of hints and clues scattered early on in the book, but not in a way that felt cohesive to a mystery. I kept waiting for the mystery and tension to build, but it plateaued very early at a level that wasn’t terribly high. I would be more inclined to call this book a contemporary realistic YA fiction book with some mysterious elements, but not enough for it to be considered an actual ‘thriller’. And because of that, I was totally let down by “The Missing Season”. If I had gone in with the expectations of this  being about a teenage girl’s bildungsroman I think I would have enjoyed it much more than I actually did, but as it was I couldn’t enjoy the story. I felt too duped.

I hesitate to write off “The Missing Season” for everyone, because my expectations were in a completely different place than they should have been. If you go in without the supposition that it’s a thriller, it may be more appealing. But, given that it’s trying to portray itself that way, I don’t feel comfortable recommending it as it’s presented.

Rating 5: While I liked the protagonist, the description of this being a ‘thriller’ did not fit the content of the story, and because of that I was pretty disappointed with “The Missing Season”.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Missing Season” is included on the Goodreads lists “Halloween in YA and Middle Grade Fiction”.

Find “The Missing Season” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “The Living God”

40006251Book: “The Living God” by Kaytalin Platt

Publishing Info: Inkshares, May 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley

Book Description: The Living God is foretold to bring about the destruction of the world in order to rebuild it into a paradise. Some worship and welcome His coming, other’s fear Him and would do anything to stop it. “The Living God” follows the internal struggle of two mages, Saran and Keleir, as they confront their fears and attempt to find meaning in the hand that life has dealt them. Saran seeks to overthrow her crazed father and salvage what is left of her country before it falls into complete ruin. Keleir is cursed with a Rauke’s soul, an ancient creature who is only able to survive by merging with an unborn child upon entering our world. Saran and Keleir are touched by fate, gifted with the ability to sense each other, and destined for a future that neither care to know. When Saran’s magic is stolen, she must confront a life without the ability to manipulate time, struggle to see the rebellion finished, and keep Keleir from becoming The Living God.

Review: Other than the gorgeous cover, I really didn’t know much about this book when I placed a request for it on NetGalley. There seemed to be a lot of interesting magical tidbits peppered throughout the book description, so that was a point in its favor. But, unfortunately, none of those little tidbits added up to a book I enjoyed.

Saran is a Time Mage, and as the name suggests, she has the ability to manipulate time. She is also a princess and the daughter of a tyrannical king whose violence is taken out on his family and his country. Saran is joined in her fight for her country by her love, Keleir, a Fire Mage who has his own internal demons, quite literally. Together, they work to overthrow Saran’s father in a rebellion, made only more difficult when Saran loses her time manipulation abilities.

This was…a weird read. Not having a whole lot of expectations going in, it seems weird to now write that it surprised me, but somehow that’s still the case. Most of those surprises weren’t of the good variety, but I’ll start with a few things I did enjoy.

As characters go, I did like Saran and Keleir, though he could veer a little too far into overprotective at times. But, overall, they were both interesting and  complex characters, each dealing with their own traumas: Saran, with the challenging tightrope she walks trying to pull off a rebellion under her vicious father’s nose, and Keleir working to contain a demon that lives within him and had, in the past, forced him to do terrible things before Saran saved him. I also really liked their romance (though some of descriptions of intimacy were awkward at best). It’s not that often that you come across a fantasy novel with an established couple at its heart, so I thought that read as a breath of fresh air.

But other than the basic outlines of those main characters and the novelty of the established romance, I struggled with this book. For one thing, it’s very slow. I’m often ok with slow books, too, so I feel like there was something in particular about this book that made this stand out to me. I think it comes down to two things. One, for a story about a time mage and a fire mage, after the initial first chapter of action, there’s a lot of planning and talking about plans and truly very little action. If action was never going to be at the heart of this story, fine. I can get behind a political fantasy. But this doesn’t feel like that, instead spending an inordinate amount of time talking about plans of action instead of carrying them out.

Two (and I think this is the real issue), there were a lot of references to past events that read as really important, eventful, and potentially more worth reading about than what we got in this book. It was really strange, to the point that in the second or third chapter of this book, I actually set it down and went on Goodreads because I was convinced that this must be the second book in a series, and I should check out the first one first, since man, it looks like some cool stuff happened there! But no. There was no first book and these awesome and important past events are just dropped in casually. I don’t know how to describe it or think of a time I’ve come across something similar. If anything, I think the author has a huge missed opportunity on her hands here as it seems that she missed out on writing a really cool book in lieu of writing a fairly bland one with references to said awesome, but nonexistent, book.

And then there was the sudden introduction of other worlds, including our own. This just hit me out of nowhere and not in a good way. Maybe it’s worth blaming the cover art, but I felt completely blindsided by this twist and it ultimately threw me out of a story that I was already either bored by or confused with.

I was really disappointed not to like this book more. Like I said, I can get behind slower fantasy fiction. Indeed, half the time I read fantasy, especially YA fantasy, I feel like the stories could benefit by being slowed down, giving more attention to fleshing out characters and worlds. But here it didn’t work out, mostly I think because there were so many references to really cool past events that we never got to actually see. And then the established romance was also a pro, but not enough to counterbalance these other issues. If you like slower-moving fantasy novels, you may like this. Especially if you go in prepared, unlike me, about the fact that this will read as if there should have been a prequel and yes, there are alternate worlds involved.

Rating 5: Why oh why didn’t we get a first book before this first book in this series?!

Reader’s Advisory: 

“The Living God” is a newer title, so it isn’t on many Goodreads lists. But it is on “Indie Science Fiction, Fantasy, Paranormal.”

“The Living God” isn’t yet listed on WorldCat, but check our your local library to find a copy!

 

Kate’s Review: “Before She Knew Him”

40390756Book: “Before She Knew Him” by Peter Swanson

Publishing Info: William Morrow, March 2019

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: Catching a killer is dangerous—especially if he lives next door

Hen and her husband Lloyd have settled into a quiet life in a new house outside of Boston, Massachusetts. Hen (short for Henrietta) is an illustrator and works out of a studio nearby, and has found the right meds to control her bipolar disorder. Finally, she’s found some stability and peace.

But when they meet the neighbors next door, that calm begins to erode as she spots a familiar object displayed on the husband’s office shelf. The sports trophy looks exactly like one that went missing from the home of a young man who was killed two years ago. Hen knows because she’s long had a fascination with this unsolved murder—an obsession she doesn’t talk about anymore, but can’t fully shake either.

Could her neighbor, Matthew, be a killer? Or is this the beginning of another psychotic episode like the one she suffered back in college, when she became so consumed with proving a fellow student guilty that she ended up hurting a classmate?

The more Hen observes Matthew, the more she suspects he’s planning something truly terrifying. Yet no one will believe her. Then one night, when she comes face to face with Matthew in a dark parking lot, she realizes that he knows she’s been watching him, that she’s really on to him. And that this is the beginning of a horrifying nightmare she may not live to escape. . .

Review: GodDAMN do I look forward to any and every Peter Swanson book. Unfortunately, I missed the library hold boat on this one, as by the time I realized it was happening both systems I use had long hold lists on them. So what’s a girl to do but go and buy it. I’m usually loathe to buy books given that I work at a library and use its services exhaustively, but with authors I love I’m willing to make exceptions, and so I went out and purchased “Before She Knew Him”.

Also, this review is going to have some spoilers in it, as I feel like it’s the only way that I can truly discuss what I liked about it. SO, that means

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If you want to read this book completely ignorant, stop here. (source)

Like other good Peter Swanson books, “Before She Knew Him” sucked me in with it’s fascinating characters, and legitimately surprising twists and turns. Our main two perspectives are that of Hen, an artist who has struggled with bipolar disorder in the past, and Matthew, Hen’s neighbor whom she is convinced is a murderer. And guess what: he totally is. This is made quite clear very early on. Hen’s suspicions are right, and therefore we aren’t going to see the tired ‘is she right or is she just having an episode’ trope that feels so common in stories like this. Matthew is indeed a killer, but he is incredibly compelling in his motivations. He targets men that he sees as predatory, his ethos being that if they hurt women, be it through mental abuse, cheating, sexual assault, what have you, they don’t deserve to live. It stems back to childhood trauma, which still haunts him due to his brother Richard, who seems to be escalating in his own violent tendencies, which disturbs Matthew because he doesn’t want to face his brother. In the same vein, Matthew isn’t exactly a Madonna/Whore savior complex killer either. I don’t even really know how to describe him, and his complex nature is one of the things I greatly liked about this book. Swanson doesn’t make him totally evil, but he certainly isn’t totally good either. Swanson also does a great job with Hen and her characterization. I’m always a little afraid of how thriller writers address mental illness, as more of then than I’d like it’s used as a way to make a character seem unreliable or unstable in a stigmatizing kind of way. With Hen I felt like while her struggles with mental illness do play a large role in the story, she never seemed to be stigmatized by them in the reader’s eyes. If anything when people would throw them back at her, particularly her husband Lloyd, you didn’t question her, you sympathized with her. Perhaps this had to do with the fact that we KNEW Matthew was a killer almost from the jump, but even so I thought it was a welcome change from books where she might have been portrayed as ‘crazy’ to keep the ‘is he or isn’t he?’ going. And when these two are on page together, it’s incredibly satisfying, if only because it’s less cat and mouse and more two people on equal footing trying to figure the other one out.

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And yes, I’m back on my bullshit of shipping couples that probably shouldn’t be shipped. Because man, even though it was (rightfully) never really addressed as a possibility, I SHIP IT. (source)

The plot, too was incredibly satisfying, with other mysteries sprinkled in along the way. These I won’t address, because that would be a true crime to spoil things. All that being said, I kind of guessed one of the reveals a bit early on. But I say kind of because it was a fleeting thought I had that soon flitted away, and by the time that reveal happened I was legitimately caught by surprise, even though I HAD thought of it. Swanson slowly lays out the various clues as to what things are going to happen, but you keep reading not necessarily because you want to know about these things, but because you want to know just what is going to happen to both Hen AND Matthew, especially since Hen knows the truth about him. It was a real journey finding out how things all shook out, and I greatly enjoying accompanying these two on said journey.

“Before She Knew Him” was a fun and satisfying read. If you haven’t gotten on the Peter Swanson train yet, do yourself a favor and check him out. This would be a good place to start.

Rating 8: With intriguing characters and some pretty well laid out surprises, “Before She Knew Him” is another fun and twisty thriller from Peter Swanson.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Before She Knew Him” is included on the Goodreads lists “The Girl Who Didn’t See Her Husband’s Wife When She Disappeared Twice from the Train”, and “Mystery and Thriller 2019”.

Find “Before She Knew Him” at your library using WorldCat!

Spring Giveaway: “Heroine” by Mindy McGinnis

40536342Book: “Heroine” by Mindy McGinnis

Publishing Info: Katherine Tegan Books, March 2019

Book Description: An Amazon Best Book of the Month! A captivating and powerful exploration of the opioid crisis—the deadliest drug epidemic in American history—through the eyes of a college-bound softball star. Edgar Award-winning author Mindy McGinnis delivers a visceral and necessary novel about addiction, family, friendship, and hope. 

When a car crash sidelines Mickey just before softball season, she has to find a way to hold on to her spot as the catcher for a team expected to make a historic tournament run. Behind the plate is the only place she’s ever felt comfortable, and the painkillers she’s been prescribed can help her get there.

The pills do more than take away pain; they make her feel good.

With a new circle of friends—fellow injured athletes, others with just time to kill—Mickey finds peaceful acceptance, and people with whom words come easily, even if it is just the pills loosening her tongue.

But as the pressure to be Mickey Catalan heightens, her need increases, and it becomes less about pain and more about want, something that could send her spiraling out of control.

Giveaway Details/Mini Review: I read “Heroine” after purchasing it on a whim while on a book store run, and it blew me away. It didn’t quite make the cut for a review on this site for various reasons, but I can tell you that it’s good. It’s dark. It’s raw and difficult and a gut punch. But it’s also an honest look at the opioid epidemic in our country, and how it can affect just about anyone. I was emotionally wrung out after I read it, but I thought that it was a very important, if not heartbreaking, read. And on top of that, it’s absolutely riveting. Mindy McGinnis is a strong and gritty voice in YA fiction, and her stories will suck you in. So because of that, I wanted to give one of you a chance to see for yourself, so I’m running a giveaway of a hardcover, mostly brand new copy of it.

This Giveaway is open to U.S. Entrants only, and will run until April 29th. Good luck and happy reading!

Enter the Giveaway HERE