A Revisit to Fear Street: “Runaway”

176251Book: “Runaway” (Fear Street #41) by R.L. Stine

Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, 1997

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

Book Description: Hoping to start her life over at Shadyside, where nobody knows about her secret dark powers, runaway Felicia becomes terrified that she will lose control of herself again when someone discovers the truth about her.

Had I Read This Before: No.

The Plot: Meet Felicia Fletcher. She’s a hitchhiker just getting towards Shadyside, hoping to start a new life and leave her past in Ridgely behind. And since this time around Stine doesn’t feel like drawing out what that past may be, we get a flashback to see that Felicia has telekinetic powers, and was being used as a test subject at a college by a guy named Dr. Shanks. She thinks about the time he was giving her a test to see what her powers could do, but instead of being vaguely scummy but mostly harmless a la Dr. Venkman in “Ghostbusters”, Dr. Shanks is yelling at her to show off her powers, so much so that she gets upset and shoots a pencil at his eye. She misses, and he is so stoked that she was able to do that he doesn’t even care that she almost gouged his eye out. Felicia, however, is not stoked, and she thinks that her power is evil (and thinks fleetingly about how her father was ‘proof’ of that). Back in the present, she is so lost in thought she is almost run over by a car! The driver pulls over, and from his description all I’m getting is serial killer. He says that she clearly needs a ride and to get in. For whatever reason, Felicia does. He tells her his name is Lloyd, but his friends call him “Homicide”. Seems legit. He tells her it’s because he’s a killer, and when she looks appropriately terrified he says he was just joking. Felicia isn’t into his humor, and asks that he let her out. He then gets SUPER mad at her for being probably far more reasonable than she should have been. He pulls out a switch blade and speeds the car up, so she can’t jump out to safety, and tells her that he’ll let her out if she gives him her wallet. When she tells him he has no money, he continues to threaten her, and Felicia feels ‘the power’ building up in her. This power makes Lloyd’s car crash into a tree! Felicia is okay, but Lloyd is in a daze (but not dead. Pity), and she’s relieved because she already killed someone at that lab. I imagine we’ll learn more later. Felicia gets herself out of the car as he’s coming to, and she flags down another car. Lloyd keeps saying he’s going to kill her, and the other car driver lets her in and they drive away. The driver is a boy named Nick who proceeds to scold Felicia for hitchhiking because look what almost happened to her, and NO SHIT, NICK. He suggests that they go to the cops but Felicia is adamant that they not, but lo and behold, suddenly a cop car is zooming up behind them! Felicia freaks because she’s CERTAIN they’ve come for her to take her away for the deaths she’s responsible for (OH REALLY NOW), but they just keep going. She insists that Nick pull over, and says that she’s fine getting out at the Donut Hole. He’s skeptical, but she kisses him for his troubles, and leaves him behind.

After changing in the bathroom, Felicia orders some food and eaves drops on two college boys, one of whom is bitching about the house and cat sitting gig the other is doing for his professor, Dr. Jones. Seeing an opportunity, Felicia approaches them saying that her father is friends with Dr. Jones, so SHE can do the house and cat sitting job. The college guys, not at all interested in confirming that she is a family friend, take her up on the offer (though she also demands half of the hundred bucks, and good for her I say). The house is, of course, on Fear Street. She gets there and finds that cat, whose name is Miss Quiz, and thinks that she has it made.

The next day, in a move that I find COMPLETELY inexplicable, Felicia goes to Shadyside High and ENROLLS IN CLASSES. My first question is WHY WOULD YOU EVEN DO THIS? If the police are looking for a teenage runaway, don’t you think they’d be asking other teenagers, who would be localized at a school? And my second question is why on EARTH the school enrolled her without a parent present or any kind of record of her existence (and no, her transcripts being ‘in the mail’ SURE doesn’t count)? I call malarkey, but on we go. At the end of her first day of school, Felicia tapes a photo of her Dad up in her locker (this seems odd, as my locker was covered head to toe in pictures of James Marsters, but whatever), and then runs into Nick. He’s happy to see that she’s staying in Shadyside, and they walk out of the school together. She tells him she’s off to Fear Street, and he says that Fear Street is bad new, but Felicia has seen things and isn’t too concerned about a haunted street. He invites her to go to the Burger Basket with him, as he’s a line cook there, and she agrees. They arrive at the restaurant and meet Barry, the manager. Felicia asks him if there are any job openings, as she knows she can’t squat in Dr. Jones’s house forever. Barry pretty much hires her on the spot, and Nick is happy to hear that she’ll be working with him now. But do you know who isn’t happy? Some girl named Zan, who also works there (and apparently “Zen” is short for “Alexandria”, because of course it is). When Nick and Barry go off on their way on shift, Zan pulls out a knife and presses it against Felicia’s chest!!! She tells her that she’s going with Nick and Felicia better not forget that! Felicia’s power is about to go off, but then Nick comes in and Zan tries to play it off like a joke. The power still goes off, making a fry vat overflow and the lights flicker. Zan apologizes, assuring her she was just joking. Felicia leaves, more concerned about her power than the crazed girl with a knife.

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(source)

At school the next week Felicia is settling in. She’s friendly with Nick and Zan and enjoying her job at Burger Basket. As they all eat lunch together she’s feeling pretty good. But then when she goes to her locker at the end of the day she finds and envelope taped inside. Within the envelope is a note that says I KNOW ALL ABOUT YOU!, along with a photocopy of her driver’s license with her real name and her Ridgely address! Also, her face has been burned away on it. Her fear makes her power start to go off, and she is able to keep it in check. She rushes out of the school and retreats to the Donut Hole. She calls Nick while at work, though worries that Zan may be jealous of she found out she was calling him. But Nick is a good friend and takes his break so he can meet her and they can talk. She balks at telling him everything, and says that he and Zan are the first friends she’s had in a long time, and that she’s afraid she’s going to have to run away again. He says that he and Zan don’t want her to leave (I believe half of that sentiment), but she thinks to herself he’d feel differently if he knew what she did. She tells him she feels better now, and he goes back to work. She vows that she won’t let anything happen to him and Zan, unlike Andy and Kristy….

And now it’s a flashback!! Back in Ridgely, Felicia and her friend/fellow subject Debbie are walking along the beach. Felicia is complaining about the tests that Dr. Shanks made them do, while Debbie is complaining about how she didn’t have any powers (and Felicia doesn’t really know why Debbie signed up if she wasn’t telekinetic in the first place). Felicia says that it’s not all that great, and they stumble upon an old ugly beach house Felicia says that it’s so ugly, and Debbie says that she should tear it down with her powers. Felicia hesitates, but then Debbie goads her on, saying she bets that Felicia’s power couldn’t do it. So Felicia, properly goaded, uses all of her concentration, and the house comes apart and falls down. Unfortunately, once the house is down they see two cars parked behind the rubble, cars that belong to their friends Andy and Kristy! They run into the house’s skeleton/rubble, Felicia praying that their friends weren’t inside, but alas and alack, they were! They are DEAD, and Kristy’s arm has been cut off by a beam, and Andy’s face has been torn off by bricks!

Back in the present, Felicia is angsting about her involvement in this awful thing, and gets back to Dr. Jones’s house. But wait, the door is unlocked! Since she’s sure that she locked it, she wanders inside, carefully. I, myself, would cut my losses, as this isn’t even her house and she could just run off, but oh well. Once she determines that she’s alone, she exhales…. but then… THEN… she sees someone has written in red paint RUNAWAY! GET OUT NOW! I KNOW EVERYTHING! Felicia is convinced this mystery person must know about Andy and Kristy! Not ready to give up, she just cleans it up.

The next night, Felicia and Nick are eating dinner on their break, sitting behind the restaurant. Felicia is so on edge, and Nick asks her what’s wrong. She decides to tell him part of it, and tells him that she used to live in Ridgely with her Aunt Margaret. Her parents are dead, and while there she was part of an experiment. She doesn’t tell him the natures of the experiments, but does tell him that she got sick of it, and that’s why she ran away. Nick then kisses her, and she is surprised, and relieved that Zan didn’t see. At closing, Zan picks up Nick, and Felicia and he share a look. After she gets her things, she leaves, but overhears Zan and Nick arguing about her. She starts to panic, her power starting to rise up, but she calms down and gets it under control. She wonders if it’s Zan who has been leaving her notes, but how could it be? She couldn’t know about Andy and Kristy; only the police know about that.

The next day at school Felicia confronts Nick at his locker about the argument. He says that Zan has a jealous streak, and that he doesn’t blame her because she’s had a very hard time as of late. When Felicia asks if he can tell her what that means, he says no, and she’d have to ask Zan herself. But he does ask her to be nice to Zan. And Felicia agrees. Are we still just ignoring the fact she threatened you with a knife, Felicia?!

That Friday, Zan invites Felicia to a sleep over at her house. Felicia doesn’t really want to go, but remembers she said she’d be nice to Zan, and that doesn’t mean a slumber party, Felicia, that means letting her borrow a pencil every once in awhile or some shit! But Felicia misses Debbie, so thinks this could be good. She goes to Zan’s that night, noticing a sharp iron fence with very sharp points on it. Think this will come back later to haunt her? Zan leads her inside and they watch “The Birds” and eat popcorn and have a fun time. When Zan goes to make nachos, Felicia starts snooping. She pulls down a Shadyside year book, and starts paging through just for fun. She finds a cute picture of Nick, but when she turns the page she sees a picture of Zan, with the other half of the picture being crossed out with brown marker. The caption that is legible says THE COUPLE MOST. Felicia can’t tell who the other person is, and when she rubs at the ink she realizes that it isn’t ink…. IT’S DRIED BLOOD. She shoves the yearbook away when she hears Zan coming back up the steps, and tries to play it cool. She asks Zan how long she and Nick have been going out, and Zan says since they were freshmen. but Felicia knows that can’t be true, and wonders what she’s hiding.

At school that next week Felicia goes to the library to find the year book. She finds the picture, and with Zan is a handsome guy. The caption says ALEXANDRIA MCCONNELL AND DOUG GAYNOR, THE COUPLE MOST LIKELY TO LAST FOREVER. Felicia’s heard the name Doug Gaynor before, but where. She slams the yearbook shut, and then runs to a memorial bench. A MEMORIAL BENCH OF DOUG! HE’S DEAD!

On the way to work that night Felicia and Nick are talking in his car. Felicia is jumpy, and Nick asks why. She decides to hold her cars to her vest and only tells him about the fact she’s squatting in a professor’s house. Nick thinks that’s totally okay, a victimless crime, if you will. But Felicia also tells him that she thinks someone from Ridgely followed her, or someone in Shadyside found out about her. He parks the car at work, and she tells him about the notes. He tells her that she’s not going to let anything happen to her, and they kiss again. But then he pulls away, and tells her that he loves Zan. When she asks him if he really does, he kind of balks, but tells her that he can’t break up with her because she needs him and couldn’t take it. She asks him if this has to do with Doug, and he says it does, and that Zan ‘accidentally’ killed Doug.

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An accident. Of course it was. (source)

Long story short, Zan and Doug had been going out since 7th grade, then junior year he took another girl on a date, Zan found out and they fought on Zan’s balcony at her house. He shoved her, she shoved him, he fell off the balcony and was impaled in FOUR. PLACES on the iron fence!! IT TOOK HIM A LONG TIME TO DIE, GUYS. YIKES! So that’s why Nick can’t break up with her. Oh, because she’s violent and her actions killed a guy? No, because she’s SO SAD ABOUT IT. Zan is more afraid about what Zan could do to her if she found out about their kisses, and then says that Zan must have written the notes to try and scare her away. Nick doesn’t believe it, and while they argue suddenly Zan shows up, as Barry called her in early. Nick and Felicia make up a cover story about Nick asking Felicia for advice about where he can take Zan on a date. She seems to buy it, and they all go inside.

While on shift Zan asks Felicia if she can go change a light bulb. She agrees, and sets up a metal stepladder underneath it, noticing that someone spilled water on the floor like a n00b. As she bumps the light, a spark shoots out from it. Felicia notices that the wire is frayed… and that she’s standing in a puddle on a metal step ladder! She runs for the circuit breaker, hoping to shut off the power, but then BARRY comes in and reaches for the light, electrocuting himself!! The jolt is so powerful is fries the wiring in the entire building, setting the place on fire!!! She yells for everyone to get out, as a chain reaction courses through the wiring, making things explode and the oil spreading and HOLY SHIT THIS IS KIND OF AWESOME. Nick helps her move Barry for a bit, but then says that he’s going to try and get people out at the front. She pulls Barry out the back, but realizes that Nick and other people are still inside! So what does this awesome bitch do?! SHE RUNS BACK AROUND THE FRONT AND RUNS INSIDE, DETERMINED TO USE HER POWERS TO PUSH THE FIRE BACK!!! And damn if she doesn’t succeed, getting the fire back as most of the people get out! Soon it’s just her and Nick, and she’s running out of strength, but she manages to use the last of it to make a chair crash through a window, and they both get to the window…. but then Felicia collapses….

But she wakes up outside!! Nick got her through the window. He tells her that Barry is okay and everyone got out. He asks her how she did it, and she asks him not to ask her that. Then the goddamn press show up and they want to see the hero girl, but she freaks out, afraid the police will see her. Nick gives her his car keys and she somehow sprints away in spite of the logical smoke inhalation that must be inside her lungs. She hears a guy telling the news about how she pushed the fire away with her mind, but before she can be too concerned about that, ZAN attacks her, asking her why she couldn’t have just changed the light bulb?!?! Zan tries to strangle her, since her electrocution plan LITERALLY backfired, but Nick pulls her off, telling her that Felicia means nothing to him! Felicia, convinced that no one cares about her and that Zan won’t stop trying to kill her (especially since Nick is just enabling her apparently), leaves his keys in his car, and decides to pack up and leave town. BUT WAIT! Her dad’s photo is in her locker at school! She can’t just leave it behind. So she decides to go get it the next morning.

Flashback time! Back in Ridgely, Felicia has a bad dream about Andy and Kristy. She wakes up to a tapping on her window. Debbie is outside, and she climbs in with bad news. The police picked her up, asking her about the beach house and the experiments they’re part of! And apparently Dr. Shakes narced on her, saying her power is indeed strong enough to knock a house down! Debbie tells her she has to leave town, that she can take her car and go. Debbie helps her pack, and drives her to the city limits. Felicia doesn’t leave a note for her aunt. They part ways, and Debbie tells her that she police think she’s dangerous, and that she should use her fear to keep herself safe. As Felicia starts to drive away with Debbie, the usual panic makes her power start to go out of control. Felicia smells gas, and panics even more, but is able to get out of the car just in time. The car then explodes, sending Felicia through the air. Convinced that her powers are truly out of control, she ran into the night.

And now she’s about to run again. The next day she wakes up and sees that no one has come for her yet. She gets to school, determined to get the photo and then be off, but Nick takes her aside. She tells him to buzz off, but he tells her that he didn’t mean what he said the night before, that she actually means EVERYTHING to him. But he still hasn’t dumped Zan, and Felicia is pissed about this for about three seconds, because then Zan comes running down the hallway AT THE SCHOOL with a knife in her hands! When Nick tries to intervene she slices his hands, and then tackles Felicia to the floor! They struggle, and Zan admits that she did send the notes to Felicia, and that now she’s going to kill her. But Felicia is able to use her powers to fight her off! Once Zan is subdued, Felicia realizes that she CAN control her powers (so what, the fact you saved all those people at the Burger Basket wasn’t enough for you to realize that?!). With the police on the way, she opens her locker, gets her Dad’s photo, and heads back to Fear Street.

When she gets to the house, she packs up her shit and says goodbye to Miss. Quiz. She locks up and is about to leave, when someone puts their hand on her arm. She thinks it’s Zan, but no, it’s Debbie! She’s happy to see Debbie at first, but then it’s VERY clear that Debbie is NOT happy to see her. Apparently Debbie saw the news where that blabbermouth guy was talking about her moment of heroics at the Burger Basket. And Debbie ALSO wants to kill Felicia!!

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This seems superfluous. (source)

So Debbie has powers too, and she is mad that Felicia never noticed it? I guess? She tried to kill her in the car explosion but Felicia’s powers probably saved her from that. And after the Beach House Felicia would be too much of a liability, because it was DEBBIE that made the house collapse because she was in love with Andy but was mad that he wanted to be with Kristy instead! She let Felicia think that it was HER powers that tore down the house, but it was actually Debbie’s powers because she is FAR more powerful than Felicia ever was! Then Felicia slaps her for being such a bitch. They fight with their telekinesis, and honestly, it’s kind of badass. Like, they’re throwing branches and light posts and stuff at each other. Eventually, Nick drives up and jumps out to help Felicia, and Debbie flings a mailbox at him. But before it can connect, Felicia uses her power to target Debbie’s power (somehow?), and it knocks Debbie completely out.

A few days later Nick is driving Felicia back to Ridgely. She’s made up with Aunt Margaret, and that she’s going back to testing but she won’t let the doctors bully her anymore. Debbie and Zan have been institutionalized, and Debbie is in a weird catatonic state. Felicia reminds Nick that he should visit her every weekend, and that if he doesn’t she will break out again and come find him. But he tells her that she’ll ‘never, ever have to run away again’. The End.

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And with that we’ve made a triumphant return to Fear Street Recaps! (source)

Body Count: 3. And pretty gnarly deaths too.

Romance Rating: 6. I think that it’s kinda bullshit that Nick was stringing Zan along (homicidal or not), but admittedly he and Felicia have pretty good chemistry.

Bonkers Rating: 7. If only because of the psychic fight and the fact that Shadyside school has NO rules and regulations re: enrollment and knife play.

Fear Street Relevance: 5. Felicia’s squatting in a house of Fear Street and the final confrontation happens there, but nothing about Fear Street itself drove the plot.

Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:

“Felicia took a deep breath. Now or never. She turned around and leaned into their booth.”

…. And I’m not really invested into whether or not she cons two dumb college boys into letting her squat in a college professor’s house, so why is this a cliffhanger.

That’s So Dated! Moments: Not much that’s too fun, but I did like the reference to the ‘tape’ version of “The Birds”.

Best Quote:

“She lashed out at Debbie – and Felicia heard a loud smack. Debbie fell back, holding her cheek.

‘What was that?’ Debbie demanded.

‘The slap in the face you deserve!’ Felicia cried.”

AWESOOOOOOOME.

Conclusion: “Runaway” was bland, but it did have some pretty awesome action moments and a pretty likable protagonist. Next up is “Killer’s Kiss”! 

Kate’s Review: “The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein”

38255342Book: “The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein” by Kiersten White

Publishing Info: Delacorte Press, September 2018

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

Book Description: Elizabeth Lavenza hasn’t had a proper meal in weeks. Her thin arms are covered with bruises from her “caregiver,” and she is on the verge of being thrown into the streets . . . until she is brought to the home of Victor Frankenstein, an unsmiling, solitary boy who has everything–except a friend.

Victor is her escape from misery. Elizabeth does everything she can to make herself indispensable–and it works. She is taken in by the Frankenstein family and rewarded with a warm bed, delicious food, and dresses of the finest silk. Soon she and Victor are inseparable.

But her new life comes at a price. As the years pass, Elizabeth’s survival depends on managing Victor’s dangerous temper and entertaining his every whim, no matter how depraved. Behind her blue eyes and sweet smile lies the calculating heart of a girl determined to stay alive no matter the cost . . . as the world she knows is consumed by darkness. 

Review: A special thanks to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel!

What the hell. Let’s do ONE MORE DAY OF HORRORPALOOZA and call it even. Think of it as a late Halloween surprise. Or a birthday present for “Frankenstein”, which turned 200 this year. I was an ambitious reader as a kid, as I got it in my head in fourth grade that I could totally take on “Frankenstein”. While I know that there are absolutely kids out there who could, I was not one of those kids, and after reading a few pages I set it down and that was that… until college, when I took a class on Monsters, Robots, and Cyborgs in literature. It was then that I finally read “Frankenstein” in it’s original, Mary Shelley goodness. I really enjoyed it, but I will absolutely admit that I found it very ironic that Mary Shelley, the daughter of feminist Mary Wollstonecraft and independent woman in her own right, really only had Elizabeth for female representation in the OG science fiction horror story. So when I heard that Kiersten White had written “The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein”, a retelling of “Frankenstein” from Elizabeth’s perspective, I was stoked. Especially since White has already tackled a gender bent notorious ‘horror’ (sorta) story with her “Conqueror’s Saga”, which follows a female version of Vlad the Impaler (and which Serena adores). And if you like what she did with Lada, you will love to see this version of Elizabeth Lavenza Frankenstein.

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It may not be this iconic, but it comes close. (source)

“The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein” has carved out space for women from a source material that had very little room for them to begin with. In “Frankenstein” Elizabeth is Victor Frankenstein’s devoted, and doomed, love interest/wife. The Monster strangles her on her wedding night, giving Victor man pain and guilt and more reason to hate his creation. In this book, Elizabeth has fought against being a victim her entire life, even though living during this time period made victimhood an all too familiar existence. In this tale, Elizabeth was taken in by the Frankenstein family to give their odd and antisocial son Victor some companionship, and Elizabeth knew that she would be safer with them than as an orphan or a ward in other circumstances. Her connection to Victor is purely a matter of survival, and she learns how to calculate and manipulate to keep him safe so that she too can be kept safe. It means that this Elizabeth makes some pretty tough, and sometimes nasty, decisions. But given that Elizabeth has no means to survive in this society as an woman, especially as an orphan in spite of her wealthy lineage, the reader can still understand why she makes these decisions. But Elizabeth isn’t the only woman in this book who has a story to tell. Justine is the governess for the Frankensteins, being a live in tutor for Victor’s younger brothers Ernest and William. She is a stand in mother to the boys, and Elizabeth’s closest friend, and like Elizabeth has come up from an abusive home to have a coveted position in a well to do family. But also like Elizabeth, Justine is almost always steps away from disgrace given her lower class upbringing and the inherent distrust in women, especially lower class ones, and unlike Elizabeth she doesn’t have the calculated shrewdness to stay ahead. These two are not only wonderful foils for each other, but also constant reminders that if women step out of line or are accused of such, the consequences can be grave.

The adaptation itself is also incredibly strong. This story runs parallel to the original “Frankenstein” tale, with various moments of flashbacks to Elizabeth and Victor’s childhoods with their dynamic of her trying to hide his odd obsession with death and anatomy lest it get him into trouble. She keeps him safe to keep herself safe, no matter what he does, no matter how horrible. You see the obsession that they have with each other, and you see how it grew, and the two narratives weave together seamlessly. Seeing Victor’s unethical journey through Elizabeth’s eyes, and having her own journey centered as the anchor of this tale, was very satisfying for me. We get to see huge events in the original story in a new way, and we also get to see what the fallout might have been like outside of Victor’s own culpability (William’s death, for example, sets off a huge domino effect that feels so unfair and tragic).  Like I said, I really like “Frankenstein”, but I LOVE that White wants to give Elizabeth a voice.The original point of “Frankenstein” is to make the reader question what makes a monster and what makes a man, and White portrays Victor in the way that people have pretty much come to view him in modern times. But that said, there were a few choices and plot points where it felt a little too mustache twirly. Just a few! Because of this, Victor felt more two dimensional than he needed to be, and I think that you can still get your point across while maintaining complexity. By the end he just felt like a bit of a cartoon. But that said, this IS Elizabeth’s story, and given that she was wonderful I could easily forgive that. And while I don’t want to spoil anything, I also really like what she did with The Monster, one of the true tragic figures in horror literature. At the end of the day, he too was a victim, and like Elizabeth a new voice is given to him, one that has some empowerment behind it.

“The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein” is a lovely and fantastic take on the “Frankenstein” story. I think that Mary Shelley would be happy to see what Kiersten White has done with her story, and what she has done with Elizabeth.

Rating 9: A gripping and suspenseful retelling of an old classic through a feminist lens, “The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein” is a must for “Frankenstein” fans.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein” is included on the Goodreads lists “YA Gothic Retellings”, and “Homages to Mary Shelley and Frankenstein”.

Find “The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “You May Now Kill The Bride”

35603814Book: “You May Now Kill The Bride” (Return to Fear Street #1) by R.L. Stine

Publishing Info: HarperTeen, July 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Two sisters, divided by time. Each with a terrible resentment she can barely contain.

Two Fear family weddings, decades apart… Each bride will find that the ancient curse that haunts the Fears LIVES ON. It feeds off the evil that courses through their blood. It takes its toll in unexpected ways, and allows dark history to repeat itself.

In this all-new Fear Street story, family ties bind sisters together—till DEATH do they part.

Review: In time for Halloween, this week I am doing something a little different. Instead of reviewing a classic “Fear Street” book, I’m taking on the first book in R.L. Stine’s newest “Fear Street” series, “Return to Fear Street”! Just to make a note right off the bat: I am not going to treat “You May Now Kill The Bride”, or any other future “Return to Fear Street” books, like I’m treating my retro “Fear Street” re-read. Stine is approaching these books differently than he did back in the day, and therefore I am going to approach them like I would any other non-“Fear Street” novel.

“Fear Street” is back, guys, and for the most part it is not the “Fear Street” you remember from your youth. This is something of a second comeback for “Fear Street”, as before HarperTeen picked it up St. Martin’s Press did with books like “Party Games” and “The Lost Girl”. I’m not completely certain why a second reboot with a new publisher happened, but “You May Now Kill The Bride” is the inaugural novel. Now that publishers and authors know that teens are able/willing to read books that are more than one hundred and twenty pages long, and that have complex characters, “Fear Street” has to up it’s game. And “You May Now Kill The Bride” accepts that challenge, repackaging “Fear Street” for a modern teen audience.

There are two narratives in this book: the first is the story of Ruth-Ann and Rebecca Fear, two sisters in the 1920s who are part of the illustrious and wealthy Fear Family. Ruth-Ann is jealous of her beautiful and popular older sister, who is about to get married to the man that Ruth-Ann loves. As you can imagine, the wedding has disastrous results, all because of a family curse that the Fears have upon them. The second narrative is about Harmony and Marissa Fear, two sisters in modern times who are having similar problems. Marissa is about to get married to her high school sweetheart Doug, and while Harmony isn’t in love with Doug, she and Marissa have been at odds ever since Harmony messed up Marissa’s relationship with a different guy named Aiden. In a really horrific way, I should mention. The similarities don’t end there, however: not only is Harmony a witch, like Ruth-Ann was (seems that all Fears have the ability to be), but Marissa’s wedding is going to be at the same lodge that Rebecca’s wedding was. While this does sound like a pretty standard “Fear Street” tale (and in a lot of ways, it is, but more on that later), Stine has reworked the old set ups and tropes, and has improved upon the long trotted out formulas of the past.

The pacing is far more drawn out in “You May Now Kill The Bride”. Stine isn’t in any hurry to get to the action points, and he lets the characters slowly explore the scenes they are in just as he lets the exposition flow at it’s leisure. “You May Now Kill The Bride” isn’t rushing to get to action moments or cliffhangers, so when these moments do arrive they have more oomph. There is also more complexity to the plot, and the threads that exist between the 1920s story and the modern story take a lot more time to come together, with the hints and puzzle pieces being dropped throughout both timelines. Stine trusts his audience a bit more to be able to parse out the nuance and the implications, and because he trusts his readers, the book rarely feels like it’s being spoon fed. He also has a pretty good grasp on the fact that people like me, former “Fear Street” junkies turned horror aficionados, are probably going to pick this up, so little nods, winks, and references are dropped throughout the book. The one that actually made me shriek out was a character who was staying at the lodge, and what room was he in? Room 237.

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I love feeling in on the joke, sir. (source)

That isn’t to say that it doesn’t fall into familiar “Fear Street” traps. While I think that the characters are definitely more rounded in this book than previous characters have been, and while I did enjoy how Harmony was complex and sometimes morally ambiguous, there are still obvious and beaten down tropes in others. There’s the loutish uncle character we’ve seen before, the familiar sparring sister relationship, the clueless parents. And there are a number of huge plot holes, and confusing moments that I still haven’t quite wrapped my head around. There are even still some kind of dumb cliffhangers at the end of various chapters (though he has definitely toned it down from the past). But these weaknesses are kind of just what you have to expect to come with the territory when it comes to “Fear Street”, and in some, odd ways it vaguely adds to the charm of this reboot, if only because it feels familiar and comforting that some things never change.

I didn’t really go in expecting much from “You May Now Kill The Bride”, and I ended up enjoying it. If this is what “Fear Street” is going to be for this new generation of teenagers, I am very excited for the kind of horror fans it is going to nurture.

And with that, Horrorpalooza has come to an end! From me to you, I am hoping that you all have a FABULOUS Halloween tomorrow!

Rating 7: Solid for a new “Fear Street” novel, “You May Now Kill The Bride” is a new return to an old favorite series that exceeded many of my expectations. It’s fun, it’s creative, and it’s giving a new feel to an old favorite.

Reader’s Advisory:

“You May Now Kill The Bride” isn’t on any Goodreads lists, but it should quite obviously be on “Best Fear Street Books”, and, for funsies, “Books With a Wedding Theme”.

Find “You May Now Kill The Bride” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “Dry”

38355098Book: “Dry” by Neal Shusterman and Jarrod Shusterman

Publishing Info: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, October 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss Plus

Book Description: The drought—or the Tap-Out, as everyone calls it—has been going on for a while now. Everyone’s lives have become an endless list of don’ts: don’t water the lawn, don’t fill up your pool, don’t take long showers.

Until the taps run dry.

Suddenly, Alyssa’s quiet suburban street spirals into a warzone of desperation; neighbours and families turned against each other on the hunt for water. And when her parents don’t return and her life—and the life of her brother—is threatened, Alyssa has to make impossible choices if she’s going to survive.

Review: Important first note: I literally just now, starting to write this review, figured out what that cover design was. It’s a water drop being eaten up by flames from below. For the life of me I couldn’t figure it out the entire time I was reading the book, only seeing the blue portion and being like “…is it…a feather?? What does that have to do with this topic?”

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(source)

Living in southern California, Alyssa and her family have been hearing about the water shortage for a while now. But like any other news that is told too often, they have quietly gone about their lives not expecting any big changes. Sure, they’d water the lawn less and swimming pools have been banned, but life goes on. Until one day the water turns off. Completely. And in a very short period of time Alyssa comes to realize just how fragile her life and community has been. With the lack of this one crucial resource, chaos and danger quickly descend and she finds herself fighting for her life alongside her brother and a random assortment of other teenagers: the son of the prepper family next door, a teenage girl who has been living by her own laws for years, and a teenage boy with a gift for gab and his own shading dealings. Who can she trust and more importantly, where can they go if they want to survive?

Teaming up with his son, Shusterman once again proves why he is a master of dystopia fiction. What makes this book special is how very real it feels. While “Scythe” looks at a completely foreign society, there are still enough aspects of humanity to imagine this as a very true future. “Dry,” instead, feels as if it could happen tomorrow and that makes it all the more terrifying. Not only is the threat one that we can understand, but it is one that already feels like it is on our door, at least to some extent. But both “Scythe” and “Dry” rely on the very honest and true portrayals of how humanity operates in crisis. In this book, we see how very quickly “society” can devolve and makes the world we live in feel as if it is simply balancing on a very thin knife’s edge. Reacting on spectrums, we see all the extremes in reactions to how a crisis like this might play out. But what makes it all the more disturbing is the transformation of regular people into survivors who will quickly cross moral boundaries to horrific results.

I particularly the way this novel was lain out, with points of view from not only Alyssa but the other teenagers in her group. And between these sections we also saw glimpses into small moments throughout the city as people respond to this crisis. One woman’s time trapped on a freeway. A reporter who finds a way to twist the situation to her benefit. A factory manager who quickly find himself at the center of a mob. Each serves as harsh reminders of the plethora of dangers that immediately show up in a situation like this and how crucial every decision has to the one’s own survival.

Beyond these glimpses, each of the teenage characters were interesting to follow. And what made them all the better as narrators was that there was no assumption that they were all “heroic” as readers often expect from our point of view characters. Instead, they each have their own strengths and weaknesses, and, more importantly, their own priorities that can often run in conflict with other members of the group. While Alyssa does feel like the “main” character, I found myself much more invested in the story of her neighbor who is the son of a family of preppers. His arc felt the most fully-realized of the group. Alyssa, on the other hand, was probably one of least favorite. While she presents an important point-of-view, being the most optimistic and moral of the group, she also had an early tendency to make very bone-headed decisions when all the evidence was already against her. She had already seen the depths to which humanity had sunk and was still taking dumb risks with the idea that these same people would somehow react differently. It made her read as naive and a bit silly at times.

But the strength of this story really lies with its plotting and descriptions of the horrors brought about by an event like this. Unlike many other disaster/post-apocalyptic stories, there is no major BOOM that sets things off. Instead, it is something much more insidious and quiet. We also see how this lack of “boom” surrounding a situation like this would play against it, with too many people not treating it with the seriousness it deserves. There is a clear commentary on global warning that can be drawn from this, but both Shustermans are careful to not beat readers over the head with it too much. Instead, the discomforting “realness” of the situation does all the work for them on this point.

This story was gripping and impossible to put down. I was frantically turning pages with a feeling of growing dread. And by the last page, while this story was completed (it’s a standalone work), I was left thinking about it and, let’s be honest, mentally prepping for days. I highly recommend this for fans of post-apocalyptic stories and Shusterman’s writing in particular.

Rating 9: A horrifyingly real-feeling story about the collapse of humanity in crisis situations.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Dry” is a newer title so it isn’t on any relevant Goodreads lists, but it should be on “Natural Disaster Fiction.”

Find “The Dead Zone” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review and Giveaway: “Muse of Nightmares”

25446343Book: “Muse of Nightmares” by Laini Taylor

Publishing Info: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, October 2018

Where Did I Get this Book: ARC from the publisher

Book Description: In the wake of tragedy, neither Lazlo nor Sarai are who they were before. One a god, the other a ghost, they struggle to grasp the new boundaries of their selves as dark-minded Minya holds them hostage, intent on vengeance against Weep.

Lazlo faces an unthinkable choice—save the woman he loves, or everyone else?—while Sarai feels more helpless than ever. But is she? Sometimes, only the direst need can teach us our own depths, and Sarai, the muse of nightmares, has not yet discovered what she’s capable of.

As humans and godspawn reel in the aftermath of the citadel’s near fall, a new foe shatters their fragile hopes, and the mysteries of the Mesarthim are resurrected: Where did the gods come from, and why? What was done with thousands of children born in the citadel nursery? And most important of all, as forgotten doors are opened and new worlds revealed: Must heroes always slay monsters, or is it possible to save them instead?

Previously Reviewed: “Strange the Dreamer”

Review: While I loved “Strange the Dreamer” with its unique world, beautiful prose, and well-drawn characters, it did commit one of the biggest sins in the book: ending on a horrible cliff-hanger! Why?! Why would you do this?! But, unlike certain other books that Kate and I reviewed recently, cough”Career of Evil”cough, there was only a short, year-long wait before the follow up story was released. I guess that makes it ok. Doesn’t hurt that the sequel was a blast to read on its own, even after tackling the immediate issue left by the cliffhanger.

Lazlo has discovered that he is a God. And not only any ole God, but one of the most rare and powerful with the ability to manipulate the strange blue metal that makes up the godspawns’ home. But power isn’t everything, and Sarai is still dead, even if her being has mostly been saved in the form of one of Minya’s ghosts. And Minya has her own plans for life going forward, ones that distinctly feature revenge and the use of Lazlo’s abilities to achieve it. However, soon, thoughts of revenge begin to subside when all involved realize how small their scope of past events has really been and how much more is truly at stake.

One of the strongest points of all of Taylor’s books is her lyrical manner of writing. That talent is put to good use here and the beautiful imagery continues. However, the topic and storyline of this book is much more action-oriented and in many ways darker in theme. While the first book spent much of its time establishing Strange as a dreamer and exploring Sarai’s abilities, painting lush landscapes with words. Here, Taylor’s gorgeous prose instead speaks to the pain and heartache that is at the core of so many of our characters and how they approach the world they now find themselves in.

Lazlo and Sarai, our main characters from the first book, largely subside into the background in this one, which came as a complete surprise to me. I don’t want to misrepresent the book, as they still narrate a large portion of the story and their romance is still heavily focused upon. However, for me, I found other characters quickly rising to the forefront of my interest.

Minya, in particular, comes to mind. We briefly explored her experiences in the first book, but here we learn that we had only scraped the surface. Not only are past events expanded upon, but we learn more about her own motivations and the mysteries of her being. Why has she remained a child? What drives the seemingly bottomless well of darkness within her and how does her power truly work? There were several great reveals with this character and in many ways I think she has a greater depth of character built for her than Lazlo and Sarai who have a tendency to fall into the rather generic hero category. We know what to expect from them: they’re good people who want to do good things. Minya is much more complicated, and in that way, I found her much more interesting.

There are also two sisters whose stories are introduced. They live in a far away world, and it is only slowly revealed throughout the story how these disconnected bits make up the history of Lazlo and Sarai’s world. I, of course, love stories about sisterhood, so I was all over this arc of a deep bond that drives two sisters to achieve the impossible. And even here, nothing is made simple, easy, or predictable. There is tragedy, confusion, anger, and, of course, a boundless love and loyalty.

This takes me to a few of my criticisms for the book. As I said, other characters (Minya, the sisters, Thyon Fane, etc.) largely took over my interest in this book and while I still enjoyed Lazlo and Sarai, I was much less intrigued by their romance in this go-around. So much of the first book was devoted to establishing their connection that I guess I would have just been fine mostly leaving it at that. I’m guessing this will be an unpopular opinion, as I know many fans of Taylor’s work read her for the beautiful romances. And I still enjoyed it. But given the depth and scope of the larger topics at hand (topics such as revenge, forgiveness, self-identity and discovery), reading more scenes of their ongoing romance taking place in mystical dream-scapes just seemed to interrupt the flow and left me anxious to return to the more serious subjects at hand.

From there, I also continued to struggle to connect to the other godspawn. There were a few whiffs of dialogue here and there that rang a bit too “twee” or “pixy dream girl” esque from these areas. As a fan of Taylor’s writing, I could recognize some of these beats from characters who filled similar roles in her other books, but that recognition just made them fall all the more flat here, as I was never able to fully understand Ruby, Sparrow or Feral as unique characters in their own right.

But, to end on a positive note, for fans of Taylor’s “Daughter of Smoke and Bone” series, there are some really incredible tie-ins to be found in this book that took my completely by surprise. Readers by no means need to be familiar with that series, but it’s a great connection for those of us who have read those books.

I was lucky enough to snag an ARC of this book, and now I want to give it away to you! The giveaway ends on October 31 and is open to US residents only.

Click here to enter the giveaway!

Rating 8: “Muse of Nightmares” expands upon its predecessor by leaps and bounds, exploring complicated and deep topics of revenge, loyalty, and self-created identity.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Muse of Nightmares” is included on the Goodreads lists: “Quality YA Paranormal Romance Novels” and “Consider it NA.”

Find “Muse of Nightmares” at your library using WorldCat!

Bookclub Review: “S.T.A.G.S.”

35248505We 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!

Book: “S.T.A.G.S.” by M.A. Bennett

Publishing Info: Penguin Teen, January 2018

Where Did We Get This Book: Kate received an ARC from NetGalley.

Genre Mash-Up: “Satire” and “School Story”

Book Description: Seventeen-year-old Greer, a scholarship girl at a prestigious private school, St Aidan the Great School (known as STAGS), soon realizes that the school is full of snobs and spoilt rich brats, many of whom come from aristocratic families who have attended the institute throughout the centuries. She’s immediately ignored by her classmates. All the teachers are referred to as Friars (even the female ones), but the real driving force behind the school is a group of prefects known as the Medievals, whose leader, Henry de Warlencourt, Greer finds both strangely intriguing as well as attractive. The Medievals are all good-looking, clever and everyone wants to be among their circle of friends. Greer is therefore surprised when she receives an invitation from Henry to spend a long weekend with him and his friends at his family house in the Lake District, especially when she learns that two other “outsiders” have also been invited: Shafeen and Chanel. As the weekend unfolds, Greer comes to the chilling realization that she and two other “losers” were invited only because they were chosen to become prey in a mad game of manhunt.

Kate’s Thoughts

Yes, I did read and review this back at the beginning of the year. But when my genre mash-up came up in our Book Club drawing, I thought that perhaps “S.T.A.G.S.” should get a revisit through the lens of pure satire as opposed to teenage thriller. I thought that it was really just going to meet the requirements for our book club, but then something  happened that brought it into a new focus: Brett Kavanaugh was nominated and confirmed for the Supreme Court, in spite of the fact that he was accused of attempted rape by a classmate from high school (not to mention a whole slew of other issues), with many people saying that his Yale credentials and good background meant that he couldn’t POSSIBLY be a sexual predator. All of a sudden, a book about privileged wealthy kids at a private school stepping on the less fortunate, all because they CAN, felt incredibly, incredibly relevant, and it caused my opinions of this book to evolve a bit.

So re-reading “S.T.A.G.S.” with these events in mind made it a sobering experience. This time, seeing Greer, Chanel, and Shafeen have to contend with the Medievals and their cat and mouse nonsense made me look a bit deeper into how this could be satirical as opposed to straight up survival YA popcorn. Seeing the action unfold again with a different lens made it a more chilling read, and my eyes were more eager to spot the little moments, be it when Greer is more willing to believe her rich, white counterparts over Shafeen in spite of damning evidence of wrongdoing, or presumptions that both Greer AND Nel have about Shafeen based on his heritage.

As satire I do think that it can be heavy handed at times, but over all I think that it works effectively. High school is always ripe for the picking when it comes to satirical possibilities, though it’s not as often you see it unfold in full on violence, though that’s probably more due to actual violence in schools being far too prevalent as opposed to creators not thinking about it. “S.T.A.G.S.” manages to tread a good line in making the points it wants to make, while still managing to mostly punch up. I enjoyed reading it again with these themes in mind.

Serena’s Thoughts

I was excited to read this book when Kate said it would be our next bookclub pick. While not falling in my typical genre of reads, I had had it on my own personal reading list for a while. I like survival stories in general (though I’m often overtaken with judgement about plausibility and stupid choices, but that’s half the fun!) and I remember one of my favorite projects in highschool English had to do with re-creating scenes and a map (which I hand drew and was very proud of) for “The Most Dangerous Game.” So yes, in many ways this was right up my alley.

As Kate discussed, this also came at a pretty rough period in American politics so many of its themes struck a more somber note than they may have reading outside of the current environment. I liked a lot of the more up-front points being made about uber wealth and privilege as well as some of the more subtle comments that Kate alluded to. I would be curious to see how this story read in Great Britain which has a much longer history and different understanding of the type of class system on display here. American readers simply don’t have this type of background to layer onto our reading of this story and, even while I still was able to appreciate many of its larger point, I feel like some of these shades of criticism and even comprehension were lost on U.S. readers.

I very much liked our main character Greer. There were a few moments here and there  where her plethora of cultural references could have been a bit much, but over all, I was so involved in the story and on-board with her character that I don’t think these distracted overly much. And there were a few key ones that really struck home with how a fan of media (movies, books, etc) would relate a new situation/scene to something they’ve read or seen in a film. And while there were definite moments where I wanted to shake her out of some of her more stupid decisions, overall she read as a very realistic protagonist. For the most part, she is clever and discerning, so her moments of weakness read as very believable. I mean, c’mon, it IS an unbelievable situation! Doubting their suspicions only makes sense.

My one criticism of the book had to do with the violence and introduction of the story. No, it wasn’t too much for a young adult novel. If anything, it felt too PG. I kept waiting for something truly terrible (in a life-ending way) to happen, but instead, all of the action and violence felt a bit toothless. In particular, there is one event that Greer references right in the beginning of the book, so the entire story is building towards it, supposedly. And then we get there and…it is not at all that thing. And even after the event, Greer insists on referring to it as her original concept, and I was just like “but…but…IT’S NOT THAT!” I don’t think this would have annoyed me so much if it hadn’t been for the fact that readers are teased about this event for the entire story. And then when this misdirection is combined with the relatively tame action of the story, it just felt like a bit of a let down.

But overall, I still very much enjoyed this book and it was a nice excuse to venture outside of my typical reading boundaries.

Kate’s Rating 8: “S.T.A.G.S.” held up pretty well the second time through, and reading it this time I was more in tune with the satirical elements about the haves subjugating the have nots, and how systems (as well as the compliance of other have nots) help them escape consequences.

Serena’s Rating 8: A stellar main character makes up for a few weaknesses as far as plotting and action.

Book Club Questions

  1. I picked “S.T.A.G.S.” for this book club choice because my theme was satire meets a school story. Do you think that the satire (of the wealthy privileged literally hunting the less fortunate) is effective?
  2. One of the biggest themes in this book is about privilege, and how those with it exploit and victimize those that don’t. How did Shafeen, Greer, and Nel’s interactions with the medievals and each other come off? So you think that these three had some privileges that others didn’t?
  3. What do you think Bennett was trying to say with Greer’s hesitance to believe that the Medievals were up to no good in spite of the evidence presented to her? Why do you think that she was more susceptible to believe the best of them as opposed to Nel and Shafeen (outside of her crush on Henry, that is)?
  4. Shafeen made up a story about feeding at a tiger’s tit to take the attention off of Nel, but tells Greer that he doesn’t live in a palace but is actually from a bustling city (though he does have royal roots). Why do you think he made up a story like that instead of telling a true story from his youth.
  5. What did you make of the Medievals rejection of technology and their categories of Medieval vs Savage? Do you think that Henry had a point about the ills of the internet?
  6. At the end it is revealed that even though Greer, Shafeen, and Nel have become the new prefects/medievals, the Abbot has been shielding and continuing the violence without their knowledge. What did you think of that revelation?

Reader’s Advisory

“S.T.A.G.S.” is new and not included on any relevant Goodreads lists, but I think that it would fit in on “Let The (Deadly) Games Begin!”, and  “Boarding Schools, Camps, and Private Academies”.

Find “S.T.A.G.S.” at your library using WorldCat!

Bookclub Review: “A Thousand Nights”

21524446We 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 “B-Sides,” where we pick different books from previous authors that we read in the club.

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!

Book: “A Thousand Nights” by E. K. Johnston

Publishing Info: Disney Hyperion, 2015

Where Did We Get This Book: The library!

B-Side Book: “The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim”

Book Description: Lo-Melkhiin killed three hundred girls before he came to her village, looking for a wife. When she sees the dust cloud on the horizon, she knows he has arrived. She knows he will want the loveliest girl: her sister. She vows she will not let her be next.

And so she is taken in her sister’s place, and she believes death will soon follow. Lo-Melkhiin’s court is a dangerous palace filled with pretty things: intricate statues with wretched eyes, exquisite threads to weave the most beautiful garments. She sees everything as if for the last time. But the first sun rises and sets, and she is not dead. Night after night, Lo-Melkhiin comes to her and listens to the stories she tells, and day after day she is awoken by the sunrise. Exploring the palace, she begins to unlock years of fear that have tormented and silenced a kingdom. Lo-Melkhiin was not always a cruel ruler. Something went wrong.

Far away, in their village, her sister is mourning. Through her pain, she calls upon the desert winds, conjuring a subtle unseen magic, and something besides death stirs the air.

Back at the palace, the words she speaks to Lo-Melkhiin every night are given a strange life of their own. Little things, at first: a dress from home, a vision of her sister. With each tale she spins, her power grows. Soon she dreams of bigger, more terrible magic: power enough to save a king, if she can put an end to the rule of a monster.

Serena’s Thoughts

Back when we were doing our “A-side” books, I was the one who picked Johnston’s “The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim,” so I was already a bit predisposed to liking this title. On top of that, just based on the book description alone, the story checks off a lot of boxes for me: fairytale-retelling, non-Western setting, sisterhood, and magic. Is it any wonder that I very much enjoyed this book?

There have been a fair number of “1001 Arabian Nights” retellings to come out in the last few years, and I’ve had many mixed reactions to most of them. In its very nature, it’s a rather difficult story to tell. In the original version, our storyteller buys her life with a new story each night. And in the end, her reward is a continued marriage with a murderer. So, how do you twist that story into something worth cheering for? In this area, I think Johnston did several things right.

For one, the central relationship at the heart of this story is not one between our storyteller and her horrible husband. It is instead between her and her sister, the woman she sacrificed herself for and who remains behind in their small village faithfully supporting and working for her sister’s welfare from afar. This a much better focal point for the story itself and takes a lot of pressure off any “romance” that could have come to the forefront. The author’s choices as far as that “romance” goes were also very clever. The biggest challenge, how to make a monster not a monster, is dealt with in a satisfying way, and the biggest trope and pitfall of stories like this, having your heroine fall in love with a monster WHILE HE’S STILL A MONSTER, is avoided.

By also focusing on the relationship with the sister, Johnston centers her story around the role of women in this world, the type of work they do and the largely unnoticed position they hold in society. Through this lens we see how it could become acceptable for a king to go through so many wives without uproar. It’s a subtly feminist story that tackles a lot of bigger points without ever banging it over your head. And the value of typical women’s work is never undervalued in this as well, which is another pitfall that often occurs when trying to make some of these larger points.

I also very much liked the magic system in this book, if you can even call it a “magic system” at all. Like many fairytales, we are given very few explanations or descriptions of where this story is taking place (other than the desert) or how its magic works. Instead, we are allowed to simply immerse ourselves in what is without worrying overly much about the “hows.” There were also a few clever winks and nods to other classic fantasy components at the end of the book that I very much enjoyed.

It’s a quieter, slower moving story, but I think fans of fairytale fantasy will very much enjoy it.

Kate’s Thoughts

Going into “A Thousand Nights”, there were two truths about myself and perceptions in regards to it that I knew: 1) I have never actually read the “1001 Arabian Nights”, and 2) I have had a very mixed experience reading E.K. Johnston. I thought that “The Story of Owen: Dragonslayer of Trondheim” was fine, though I’m far more partial to raising and riding dragons as opposed to slaying them, and I thought that “Exit: Pursued by a Bear” had a good message, but a clunky execution of said message. So picking up “A Thousand Nights” was hard to predict. But I am kind of disappointed to say that it wasn’t really my favorite in terms of fairy tale re-tellings that I have read, and it kind of solidifies that Johnston isn’t an author I would seek out on my own.

I think that a majority of it is the fantasy aspect. As you all know, I have a hard time with that genre, and “A Thousand Nights” wasn’t added to my list of exceptions. There were certainly pros for me within the story itself, which I will try to focus on. The first is that I loved the descriptions of the desert and the different groups of people who lived within it. I am someone who, paradoxically, hates the heat but really loves deserts, so seeing the rich and colorful description of the setting was lovely. I felt like the desert was a character in and of itself, and I had a very clear idea of what it looked like in my mind’s eye. I also really enjoyed the commentary about how women are overlooked within this world, be it through repeated emphasis of women being sacrificed to Lo-Melkiin’s murderous whims because were he overthrown, the economy would destabilize and male traders would lose profits. I think that Johnston paid close attention to how to portray her female characters in an undercurrent lens of feminism, in while they were not named (as this world didn’t place value on them), they were always instrumental in plot points through all kinds of work, both through traditional ‘male’ and ‘female’ roles. And neither gender role was devalued.

All that said, I think that Johnston gets a bit wrapped up in flowery writing and descriptions, and the fantasy elements didn’t pull me in. I appreciate the fact that magic is just a part of this world, but I needed more concrete system behind it. I know that sometimes fantasy novels get TOO wrapped up in the descriptions and the logic of the way magic works, but I needed a bit more in this book beyond the vagueness. I know that Serena was totally fine with not worrying about the hows, and I get that, but as someone who already doesn’t care for the fantasy genre, I REALLY need those hows to explain to me why I should buy into the magic of a world as it is presented to me.

I think that fantasy fans would find a lot to like about this book. I, however, was underwhelmed.

Serena’s Rating 8: A nice fairytale retelling that leans into themes of sisterhood and inner strength.

Kate’s Rating 5: A genre that already doesn’t connect with me is encumbered by a writing and author style that I’ve never totally cared for. Good messages, but an execution I wasn’t fond of.

Book Club Questions

  1. This is a retelling of “1001 Arabian Nights” and features the same basic set up of a young bride trying to outlast a cruel husband. How does this retelling compare to the original or other versions that you have read?
  2. Other than Lo-Melkiin himself, all of the other characters remain nameless. How did this affect your reading of the story?
  3. The story is never clear on a time period or exact location. How did you imagine this land and time?
  4. There is strong emphasis on women and their often over-looked role in this world. What were your thoughts on how this book portrayed its female characters and their relationships with the men around them?
  5. There is a sequel to this book called “Spindle.” Are you interested in reading it and where do you imagine the story could go from here?

Reader’s Advisory

“A Thousand Nights” is on these Goodreads lists: “Scheherazade” and “Desert and Djinni.”

Find “A Thousand Nights” at your library using WorldCat.