Book: “Sleeping Beauties” by Stephen King and Owen King
Publishing Info: Scribner, September 2017
Where Did I Get This Book: The library!
Book Description:In this spectacular father-son collaboration, Stephen King and Owen King tell the highest of high-stakes stories: what might happen if women disappeared from the world of men?
In a future so real and near it might be now, something happens when women go to sleep; they become shrouded in a cocoon-like gauze. If they are awakened, if the gauze wrapping their bodies is disturbed or violated, the women become feral and spectacularly violent; and while they sleep they go to another place. The men of our world are abandoned, left to their increasingly primal devices. One woman, however, the mysterious Evie, is immune to the blessing or curse of the sleeping disease. Is Evie a medical anomaly to be studied, or is she a demon who must be slain? Set in a small Appalachian town whose primary employer is a women’s prison, Sleeping Beauties is wildly provocative and gloriously absorbing.
Review: Happy Halloween, friends!!!! I hope that you are all doing (or have been doing some great things to celebrate the holiday!! I’m unfortunately working today, but then tonight I’m going to watch some gory horror movies and hand out candy to the neighborhood children. I have been saving an epic book for my Halloween review, and what better book than the newest one by Stephen King and his son Owen, “Sleeping Beauties”. Clocking in at about seven hundred pages, this book is a bit of a behemoth, but the timing was such that it ended up being the book with which I close out my HorrorPalooza reviews (though fear not, lots more horror reviews to come in the near future).
Stephen King has always known how to write a tense and dark disaster tale, be it “Under the Dome”, or my personal favorite “The Stand”, and when he teams up with Owen King they bring us a dark and dreamy tale of a world without women. Well, mostly. The human women of the world have started to fall asleep, and a gauzy film grows over their faces as they refuse to awaken. If you try to remove the film, the woman will violently and graphically attack you before going back to her slumber. This is definitely the stuff of nightmares, but in this book it never really treads fully into pure horror territory. Tense, yes. But there is also a dreaminess about it that makes you feel more like you’re living within, well, a dream. The cast of characters is huge, and we see perspectives of many different people. At times it was hard to keep up with them all, but they all mostly had connections to each other within the small town of Dooling and the Women’s Prison that is nearby. The characters come from a number of different backgrounds, be it Clint Norcross, the Prison psychologist, or Lila, the Sheriff of the town and Clint’s wife, or Jeanette, a prisoner who is trying to do good so she can do right by her son, or many many others. I liked seeing how all of them responded to the sudden crisis, and the places that the Kings took the reactions, from the sad, to the disturbing. My favorite character by far, though, was Evie, the mysterious woman who shows up in town just as the ladies start falling under the mysterious spell. She is both menacing and whimsical, frightening and utterly charming, and I loved that we got to know her, without getting to know much at all.
I also liked the setting of this book. Stephen King has always done a very good job of creating a small town and exposing it’s underbelly, but along with Dooling we get to see where these women ‘go’, when they are ‘asleep’ (though not all of the women characters fall asleep; some stay awake through either drug induced interventions). A sort of post-apocalyptic world comprised entirely of women is a fascinating concept, and where they are is a little “Y, The Last Man” and a little “The Stand”, but without the carnage and tragedy and violence. Sure, it kind of raises some hamfisted musings about how if women ran society it would be a peaceful place because they are just so so good, but I liked seeing a new society built up without the usual bickering and power plays that come with a story like this when dudes are in charge. Especially given some of the stuff coming out about violence and sexual mistreatment of women across our present society. Did I think it was a bit cloying and kind of ‘madonna’-esque? Sure. But man, it did kind of sound nice, if only for a short while.
I do think that this book was kind of long and filled with so many characters it was hard to keep up. The Kings provide a handy dandy chart at the beginning of the book giving us all the characters and their roles in town. This was a nice resource to have, but damn, if you need that resource maybe there are just too many characters you’re trying to juggle. I think that some of the subplots were kind of unnecessary, and it could have probably been trimmed down by a hundred pages or so. But I also understand that when you have two writers, both of them from the King family, there might be lots of ideas that are ultimately going to want to make the final cut. And when you’re part of the King family, who is to say no to that? I just found myself having to go back and remind myself of various things because there was so much to keep straight, and that’s not always a good thing when you’re trying to be absorbed in an otherwise well thought out story.
Overall, I thought that “Sleeping Beauties” was a well done collaboration between father and son. They blended their voices together well enough that it did feel like one voice and contributor, and that can be hard. This may not be the usual fare that one may expect from Stephen King, but hey, the guy is expanding his horizons, and it’s nice to tag along. It also makes me interested in picking up more of Owen’s work, to see if I can pinpoint his influence.
Rating 7: An epic and dark fantasy that explores gender, human nature, and societal roles between the sexes. It was a little convoluted, a little hamfisted at times, and a little long, but Stephen and Owen King mostly achieve a book that raises some legitimate questions and examines the human condition.
While we do love us some books, believe it not, we do have a life outside of reading. So to highlight our other pop culture interests, on the last Monday of each month, we each will highlight three other “happenings” from the last month. Big events on favorite TV shows, new movies we’ve watched, old movies we’ve “discovered,” etc. Pretty much whatever we found of particular interest outside of the book world during the last month. Share your own favorite things in the comments!
“Supernatural” is one of my favorite shows and at this point, it is one of those strange things that I’ve watched longer than I’ve known good friends/husbands, have lived anywhere ever, etc etc. I mean, 13 years is a lot. So it’s no surprise that this is the second time I’ve highlighted it here, and it probably won’t be the last. This season’s start came after one of the largest “mass killings” of characters the show has seen for a while. We lost Crowley, Mamma Winchester, and Castiel all in one fell swoop. It’s not an exaggeration to say the boys are at the lowest they’ve ever been. And that’s saying a lot for a series that has sent both of these guys to hell itself on more than one occasion. But of course they can’t just be left to grieve! Oh, no, nothing can be easy. And this season’s challenge comes in the form of Jack, the son of a human mother and Lucifer himself. Dean’s instinct is, of course, to shoot first, ask questions later. While Same wants to, of course, talk to Jack about his feelings. They’re going to be the worst “parents” ever, and I can’t wait to watch it all!
I love disaster movies. And I love action movies that walk the fine line between swagger and cheesiness. So it’s no surprise that I very much enjoyed the original “Pacific Rim,” questionable main character acting or not! I’m a simple-minded girl when it comes to my action movies, and robots punching monsters is fine by me. So I was very excited when I heard there was going to be a sequel, even more excited when I heard that John Boyega was going to star as the son of Idris Elba’s Stacker Pentecost, and now, at excitement extreme after watching this trailer. Particularly, I love that they went all in on what was my main take away from the first film: physical weapons like swords and such are WAY more badass, and, importantly, effective, than those silly guns. I can’t wait to see what craziness this movie has in store!
Mini Series: “Death Comes to Pemberley”
I have a rotation of Jane Austen mini series and movies that I routinely cycle through when needing to decompress. The obvious ones like the BBC version of “Pride and Prejudice” are all there, as well as the more controversial ones like the late 2000s version of “Emma” which some claim strayed too far from the book (I don’t care, Johnny Lee Miller is Mr. Knightley! Say no more!). But “Death Comes to Pemberley” has managed to wiggle its way on to this list as well, starting from the severely disadvantaged position of not being, well, based on a Jane Austen novel! However, it does everything right in every other way. The acting is superb, the mystery is well-drawn, and it does what would have seemed impossible and created a believable sequel to “Pride and Prejudice.” In particular, Darcy’s struggles to really “walk to the walk” that Elizabeth has modeled for him are well-explored. Sure, she has introduced him to a new way of thinking and behaving, but when unexpected and threatening events occur, it’s not surprise that he falls back onto old habits. This is the perfect mix of romance, mystery, and historical fiction and well worth a watch for any Jane Austen fan.
I’ve had multiple people tell me that I should listen to the “Lore” Podcast. It’s both history and folklore, scary and interesting, as Aaron Mahnke researches and tells tales from history about unexplained and/or creepy things. I don’t know what took me so long to finally start listening, but now that I have I’m hooked. And for those of you who may like watching more than listening, it is now a show on Amazon Prime as well! From the history of H.H. Holmes to Robert the Doll to faerie folk tales from around the world, “Lore” approaches scary and unsettling things from a very calm and research driven perspective. The show is a bit more expanded than the podcast episodes, and gives us dramatizations of some of the most beloved podcast episodes… which ends up being very, very upsetting sometimes.
Those of you who are familiar with the “Wolf Creek” movie series know that they’re definitely not for the squeamish. They’re pretty much just Psycho Killer Mick Taylor (based on actual Australian serial killer Ivan Millat) tearing through unsuspecting tourists in the bloodiest ways possible. But then the TV show came out, and spun that idea on it’s head. Mick Taylor is still killing people, but after he kills the entire family of college student Eve, she decides that she is going to hunt him down and take her revenge. It’s a fun reversal, as now we watch as Eve and Mick stalk each other throughout the outback. John Jarratt is back as Mick, and Lucy Fry plays Eve with the perfect mix of determination, grief, and blood thirst. On top of it all, the cinematography is breathtaking, making Australia look both beautiful and daunting.
I highlighted the trailer when it first dropped a couple months ago, and now the show is finally here and it was worth the wait. As someone who has always liked crime procedurals, I was expecting it to be kind of along the same lines, but instead “Mindhunter” is more philosophical in its approach, having its characters suss things out about the minds of serial killers through conversation. Jonathan Groff is a shining star as Agent Holden Ford, a young agent who wants to try to understand the minds of serial killers in hopes of being able to predict their behavior. At times he seems naive, at other times he seems incredibly insightful, and at all times he is dedicated and intrepid. The scenes between Ford and serial killer Ed Kemper are disturbing and fascinating and are alone worth the watch.
We at the Library Ladies are excited and honored to participate in the Minecrafters Blog Tour along with author Danica Davidson! For those unfamiliar, the Overworld Adventures books take place within the “Minecraft” Universe, and have proven to be a popular series for kids of all ages. Kate can personally attest that she sees a lot of these books being checked out her her library. We are very excited to have a guest post from Danica Davidson, the author of the upcoming “Adventure Against the Endermen”, the first in a whole new series of books! Today she is going to talk about what libraries and literacy mean to her, and we are very thankful for her perspective. Thanks, Danica!
I don’t know what I would do without libraries. I was the kid who went into the library and walked out with a pile (wait, that’s still true). I love the smell, feel and experience of holding a book. I love how books will open up new worlds and new perspectives to me in a way that nothing else does. I love all the options libraries supply, where there are so many books on different subjects, and that they’ve been there for me when there was no money to spare for buying books. When everything else is gone, there’s still the library.
It’s not a big surprise that has someone who had an interest in storytelling from an early age would end up a voracious reader. (According to my mom, when she would tell me bedtime stories and I was three, I would take over the stories and tell her what happened.) I always appreciated that my parents encouraged me to read and let me read what I wanted, and after initially dictating stories to my parents, I started writing down my own stories in early elementary school. I was making picture books for myself in first grade and by sixth grade I was writing short novels. My dream was always to be a professional author. I started working as a journalist in high school and got my first book contract three years ago. None of this would have happened if I hadn’t been a reader and had access to books.
Since then, I’ve written kids’s books and YA books. My book Manga Art for Beginnerswill soon have a sequel, Manga Art for Intermediates, and my Minecrafter books (middle grade novels for ages 7-12 that take place as if Minecraft is real) have turned into two series. The first series, Escape from the Overworld, Attack on the Overworld, The Rise of Herobrine, Down into the Nether, The Armies of Herobrineand Battle with the Wither, are coming out as a box set November 7, the same day the first book in my spinoff series, Adventure Against the Endermen, comes out. The new series will have the same main characters, but different villains and adventures. I have also written a Barbie graphic novel, where Barbie and her sisters throw a puppy party to get all the local shelter pets adopted, and a Tales from the Crypt comic where a fight in the high school locker room leads to a deadly act. Just as I like reading in all different sorts of genres, I love writing in all different sorts of genres. This is how I experience the world and I want to write more books for different ages, including books for adults.
I believe that literacy is one of the most important issues out there, because so much stems from being able to read and from reading on different topics. I’ve been told by librarians that my books are hard to keep on the shelves, and that’s what I want. I want to write stories that keep the pages turning, that readers up later to see what happens, to have characters that people find involving. I find very few people don’t actually like to read; most of the time when I hear kids say they don’t like to read, it’s because they could use more help in their reading, or because they haven’t been introduced to books that interest them. Often the books I was assigned to read in class didn’t interest me much; I liked the books I could pick out for myself at the library better. If kids know “Yes, there are books about [plug in your interest]” I think that would make a world of difference for some young readers. I believe in encouraging kids to follow their interests when it comes to reading and their own creativity. Oftentimes when kids find books they like and learn that reading can be fun, they’ll expand into reading about other subjects as well and become more well-read on different topics.
Many librarians use Minecraft in their libraries these days, especially for STEM reasons. I hope they can also like their Minecraft-obsessed patrons know there are also books for Minecrafters! In my books, 11-year-old Stevie lives in the Minecraft world, but they he finds a portal to Earth, making Earth friends and paving way for adventures that take place in the Overworld, the Nether, the End . . . and, yes, on Earth as Minecraft infiltrates it! The books also talk about real world things, like friendship, cyberbullying, insecurity, stuff like that. I want to mix the fantastic and the realistic, so kids can read about issues they have . . . while being right there with my characters as they fight zombies and save the worlds from the villainous Herobrine. Hey, anything can happen in books!
Book Description: Charlotte is learning to control her emerging magical prowess under the secret tutelage of Magus Hopkins. Her first covert mission takes her to a textile mill where the disgruntled workers are apparently in revolt.
But it isn’t the workers causing the trouble. The real culprits are far more extranormal in nature.
Review: The second novella in Newman’s “Industrial Magic” series see Charlotte still learning to control her powers in the hopes of avoiding life in the restrictive, but privileged, Royal Society. Her brother, however, has been recently admitted to the Society, and is beginning to run into problems of his own. There is something going on at the textile mill that he has been tasked to oversee. He recruits Charlotte to work undercover and discover what is going on. But what she finds is more than he expected, or either of them wanted to know. “Weaver’s Lament” raises all the stakes, and I found myself enjoying it even more than I did the first!
Charlotte, as ever, is an excellent protagonist. She’s capable, curious, and still a bit naive about the Royal Society and, especially, the role her brother is now playing by being involved within it. I had a fairly good understanding of her motivations and character from the first book, and this one simply built upon what we already knew. More and more, we understand why she resists joining a society that in many ways would elevate her to a life of riches and success. But her characterization wasn’t one of the stumbling blocks I found in the first story.
After reading the first book, most of my confusion and qualms came from not understanding who I was supposed to be rooting for among the cast of secondary characters. Charlotte’s own confusion here didn’t help. But as this story moves along, I was relieved to see that, while Charlotte may still have the wool pulled over her eyes, we, as readers at least, are beginning to understand the roles these other characters play in her life. Specifically, we begin to see the true colors of her brother Ben and Mage Hopkins, the member of the Royal Society who has been training Charlie over the last several months. At the same time, as we begin to understand the motivations, priorities, and loyalties of these two men, we are still seeing them through Charlotte’s eyes and her perspective is very much colored by her experiences and wishes. She wants her brother to be the same man he was when he left, and even her evaluation of the man he was then is forever seen through the lens of her love for him as a sibling. Mage Hopkins, too, is both the man who is training her as well as her greatest liability for being turned in to the Royal Society should he ever suspect that her training is not enough to keep her from going “wild.”
The primary mystery was also very compelling. Not only did it expose more tidbits of knowledge of how the magic system in this world works, but we saw how the Royal Society uses its magic in industrial work like the textile mill. But the other half of the story is the more human one: Charlie’s shock and horror at the conditions of the mill workers and, at best, the complacency of those in power to the situation. At worst, she finds active participation and collusion.
We also learn more about what it means for an untrained mage to “go wild,” as Charlie struggles to hold herself and her power in check. But even as she discovers the price that comes with remaining free, she, and the reader, begins to question the truth behind any of it. There were a couple surprises wrapped up in this aspect of the story that added new layers to the fantasy aspects of this world. I’m excited to see where Newman is going with all of this.
There’s a lot going on in a very short book, but I thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of it. My only criticisms would come down to a writing style that at times felt stunted, perhaps due to the constraints of the shorter page count. But this by no means hindered my reading experience, and I would highly recommend both this book, and the previous novella, to any fans of historical fantasy fiction or steampunk fantasy.
Rating 8: It’s always thrilling when a second book out performs the first, and here we really see Newman coming into her stride with this series!
“Weaver’s Lament” is a newer book and isn’t on any Goodreads lists, but it should be on “Gaslamp Fantasy.”
“Weaver’s Lament” does not yet have a library catalog entry, but request it from your local librarian!
Where Did I Get This Book: An ARC from the publisher at ALA.
Book Description:A collection of four chilling novels, ingeniously wrought gems of terror from the brilliantly imaginative, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Fireman, Joe Hill
“Snapshot” is the disturbing story of a Silicon Valley adolescent who finds himself threatened by “The Phoenician,” a tattooed thug who possesses a Polaroid Instant Camera that erases memories, snap by snap.
A young man takes to the skies to experience his first parachute jump. . . and winds up a castaway on an impossibly solid cloud, a Prospero’s island of roiling vapor that seems animated by a mind of its own in “Aloft.”
On a seemingly ordinary day in Boulder, Colorado, the clouds open up in a downpour of nails—splinters of bright crystal that shred the skin of anyone not safely under cover. “Rain” explores this escalating apocalyptic event, as the deluge of nails spreads out across the country and around the world.
In “Loaded,” a mall security guard in a coastal Florida town courageously stops a mass shooting and becomes a hero to the modern gun rights movement. But under the glare of the spotlights, his story begins to unravel, taking his sanity with it. When an out-of-control summer blaze approaches the town, he will reach for the gun again and embark on one last day of reckoning.
Review: While we were at ALA, Serena and I were making our way through the throngs of eager librarians at the publisher tables. After all, the vendor’s hall had just opened up, and that meant free books. At one point Serena grabbed my arm and pointed to a stack of books. I immediately saw that they were ARCs of the new novellas collection by Joe Hill, entitled “Strange Weather”. Given that you all know my deep deep love for Joe Hill, it should come as no surprise that I basically went like
I saved it and saved it and SAVED IT for Horrorpalooza, and I can say that it was basically worth the wait. I’m going to talk about all four novellas, split up into four sections. I’ll try to keep it concise, but this may be a ramble, y’all.
“Snapshot”: Okay, so I’ll be honest. I read “Strange Weather” for Horrorpalooza, but I would say that this story was the only one in the set that was a mostly ‘conventional’ horror story. More on the others later. What I liked about “Snapshot” was that it had the nostalgia feel down pat, with our protagonist being a teenage boy named Michael who is fairly normal, if not a little awkward. His neighbor and family friend Shelly Beukes has been succumbing more and more to memory loss and dementia, and Michael keeps an eye on her for her aging husband Larry. She keeps talking about a “Polaroid Man” who is stalking her, but it’s chalked up to her failing memory. Of course, Michael then meets this “Polaroid Man” and his camera that steals memories from people. From the description of this guy to the very concept of someone stalking you to steal your memories, I was sufficiently spooked by this first novel. I thought that Michael also had a very realistic voice, and it just proves that Hill, like his father Stephen King, really knows how to write a book from the perspective of kids and pull it off. There was also a lingering sense of pathos about this story, as it didn’t end after a battle of good and evil, like so many horror stories do. I had to wipe tears away from my eyes as Hill ruminated and explored the ideas of losing oneself to time and old age, and how it affects those who love you. Man does this man know how to make me cry.
“Loaded”: This was probably the ballsiest, and most maddening, book in the collection. Hill doesn’t shy away from his personal politics and opinions in his public persona, and he has a lot to say about gun violence in this country. “Loaded” takes the themes of gun violence, racism, privilege, and, dare I say, the Alt-Right (before it became so prevalent), and turns it into this sucker punch of a story. Basically, a white mall cop with a history of racism and violence is said to have stopped a mass shooting at a mall, in which five people were killed, including the suspect. He becomes a hero to the community. But then his story starts to fall apart as a reporter with her own painful memories involving racist cops and police brutality starts to dig into his ‘heroic act’. This one built up nice and slow, piecing things together bit by bit until I was on the edge of my seat. This was also the story in the collection that made me yell out in anger at the end, and have to walk around my house a bit before I could continue onto the next one. Hill brings up a lot of hot button by ever relevant issues in how we view authority, how we downplay racism in our culture, and how deadly situations that can totally be prevented instead explode because of our obsession with guns and the inability (or refusal) to confront our racist culture and disdain for gun control. DAMN this one pulsated with indictments and anger, and while it was bleak as HELL, I like that he took it on, even if there were a couple of tropes used that feel a bit outdated and not so culturally sensitive (like, why did the father of Aisha’s daughter have to have run off on her?). Overall, this one lights up the page with frustration and misery. Be ready.
“Aloft”: This story might have been my favorite in the book, actually, which I wasn’t expecting because it was the one that was the LEAST horror-oriented. A guy named Aubrey is skydiving with the girl he pines after, as part of a promise they made to a mutual friend who has now passed on. But he manages to land on a solid, cloud-like…. thing. It tries to provide him with everything he needs, as if it has a mind of it’s own and wants him to stay, and Aubrey is tempted to take it up on it’s hospitality. What I liked about this one was that it just kind of felt a little whimsical, as well as bittersweet. We learn about Aubrey and his relationships with his crush, Harriet, and their now deceased bandmate June. You slowly see his strengths and weaknesses, and how his inability to take various plunges in life now applies to not taking ‘the plunge’ off this weird ‘cloud’ that so entices him to stay. I just loved the mechanics and the world building of this ‘cloud’. We don’t really know what it is, we don’t really know how it works, but I was so tickled by the various things that it could do. It’s just such an original concept, even if it wasn’t particularly ‘scary’. It reminded me of some of the more whimsy-based stories in “20th Century Ghosts” that didn’t scare, but entertained through sheer creativity.
“Rain”: Hill is no stranger to the Apocalypse story. You remember how much I LOVED “The Fireman”, so when I realized that “Rain” was an end of the world story but with NAIL RAIN, I was pretty pumped. Our protagonist this time is Honeysuckle, a woman who lives in Boulder and is excited that her girlfriend is finally moving in with her. Unfortunately, the day that Yolanda is going to move in, a storm cloud comes through, and instead of water, the sky rains sharp crystals that look like nails. They shred every living thing below, causing death, damage, and panic. In the acknowledgments Hill said that he was kind of having a bit of fun with the fact he’d already written such an epic end of the world story, but “Rain” isn’t exactly light hearted. It is very despondent, as Honeysuckle travels on foot to Denver to try and find Yolanda’s father, having to deal less with rain than the human wreckage and evils along the way. From a strange cult to homophobic misogynists, Honeysuckle has a long road ahead of her. This one made me cry deeply at one point, because, fair warning for a spoiler here, a person that Honeysuckle comes upon is completely broken over the fact his cat Roswell has been impaled by these crystals. Roswell is still alive, but in agony, and Honeysuckle decides to put the poor animal out of it’s misery. And it was here that all my tears for other things in this collection decided that enough was enough.
But even though Hill said in the acknowledgments that the Trump election made him make this story far less hopeful that he originally intended, he doesn’t leave it totally hopeless. I appreciate that even in darkest times in his writing, he will usually give us the strength to keep on hoping. Unless it’s “Loaded”. GOD that was a rough one.
All in all, I thought that “Strange Weather” was a very strong collection of stories. Joe Hill continues to amaze me and move me, and if you haven’t already, please do seek him out. This might be a good collection to start with, as it balances so many of the genres that he excels in.
Rating 8: A solid and enjoyable collection of four novellas that made me laugh, cry, shudder, and have to walk around my house in a rage. So you know, everything I want Joe Hill to do.
Publishing Info: Algonquin Young Readers, August 2017
Where Did I Get this Book: the library!
Book Description:The fate of the world is in the hands of detective of the supernatural R. F. Jackaby and his intrepid assistant, Abigail Rook. An evil king is turning ancient tensions into modern strife, using a blend of magic and technology to push Earth and the Otherworld into a mortal competition. Jackaby and Abigail are caught in the middle as they continue to solve the daily mysteries of New Fiddleham, New England — like who’s created the rend between the worlds, how to close it, and why zombies are appearing around. At the same time, the romance between Abigail and the shape-shifting police detective Charlie Cane deepens, and Jackaby’s resistance to his feelings for 926 Augur Lane’s ghostly lady, Jenny, begins to give way. Before the four can think about their own futures, they will have to defeat an evil that wants to destroy the future altogether.
Review: “Ghostly Echoes” did a nice job of tying together all the pieces methodicly laid out in the previous two books. More than that, it gave us some much needed history for many of our main characters, as well as, importantly, the villain. The stage was set, and all that remained was whether or not Ritter would be able to balance the light tone and quirkiness at the core of the series with this more serious plotline. The answer is mostly! While there are spots that I believe could have been improved or more fleshed out, I’m happy to report that I finished this book, and this series, pleasantly satisfied.
There was a lot to get done in this book. The supernatural world has been exposed to the general public, once and for all. The series “big bad” is gearing up to make its move. And there are two romantic plotlines that needed to be handled, both with fairly large obstacles standing in there way. Charlie is still a wanted man for this actions back in book one that exposed his identity as a shapeshifter. And now, in a city that is spooky at the barest hint of the strange, his position and future are all the more uncertain. And Jenny, while making great strides forward with her ability to function more fully in the living world, is still, well, a ghost.
After learning that his wife is a supernatural being who has been operating behind the scenes for years in the service of her villainous leader, the governor of New Fiddleham is not messing around. But with this new found belief comes fanaticism, and Abigail and Jackaby are horrified to see the city’s jail cells filling up with all manner of innocent, supernatural beings. It’s a literal witch hunt. I very much enjoyed this portion of the story. Many of the side characters we’ve met throughout this series were either already familiar with the supernatural world, or, for whatever reason, more open-minded to the positive aspects of these beings. Here, we see the negative side of humanity when confronted with beings they don’t understand, and I think this balance added a healthy dose of realism to a series that could, at times, veer into the twee with its characters.
I also very much enjoyed the exploration of the two main romantic plotlines to the story. Jenny and Jackaby’s relationship has been later to the show, and while I’m still not convinced that this was a necessary addition, I was pleasantly surprised with the way this played out. Importantly, Jackaby’s utter cluelessness wasn’t undercut by his being turned into a second romantic hero. While I may still have preferred the series to have left his character single in the more traditional “Sherlock Holmes” manner, I was satisfied with what Ritter did with him here.
Abigail and Charlie, however, have been slowly building towards this point throughout the series. They have had to confront not only the challenges of Charlie’s public image issues, but also explore the balance between their personal and professional lives. It was fun seeing these two work together on a case in this book, witnessing the fact that they work together not only as romantic interests, but as equals who respect what the other brings to the table.
The larger story, that of the Dire King himself, was also very intriguing. The fae world was blown out and we see that up to this point we, and the characters, have mostly been operating in a tiny slice of this strange and complicated world.
The story concludes on a bitter sweet and more serious note than I had expected. But I found this to be particularly refreshing. When I picked up this book, it took me a bit of time to again slip into the particular tone of this series. All four books have been written in a rather simple style, often playing with words and phrases in a comedic way. This style, while fun, also tends to undercut more serious moments in the story, and knowing that this was the conclusion to the series, I was a bit more put off my this lightness when dealing with these more serious issues. However, Ritter doesn’t shy away from consequences in this book, light writing tone or no light writing tone.
All in all, I very much enjoyed this book and the series as a whole. Definitely check it out if you enjoy re-imagingings of Sherlock Holmes type characters, and historical fantasy. The writing style is on the lighter side, however, something that may read as strange to fans of adult fiction. But keep an open mind! For all of its quirkiness, there are real monsters hidden in this text!
Rating 8: A great conclusion to a unique, creative series!
The perfect suntan. Soaking up the rays. Fun on the beach. That’s what Claudia Walker had in mind when she accepted her friend Marla’s invitation to spend the weekend at her cliffside beach house. Little did she know that horrible accidents—fatal accidents—would occur on the beach and in the house.
But Claudia knows they’re not “accidents.” She’s sure somebody is out to get them…out to kill them. The week of “fun in the sun” has turned dark and deadly!
Had I Read This Before: No
The Plot: Meet Claudia! Claudia is in a sticky situation, as we first meet her when she’s waking up on a beach, with a whole lot of sand on top of all of her but her head. And the tide is coming in! In a ‘record scratch, yeah that’s me, you’re probably wondering how I got here’ kind of moment, we then flashback to find out who Claudia is and what she’s doing on this beach.
Apparently, a few weeks prior, she got a letter from her summer camp friend Marla Drexell! Marla invited her to go spend some time with her at her summer home in the beach town of Summerhaven, sort of a reunion for them and their other friends Sophie and Joy. Since Claudia’s summer had been a bust at that point, what with breaking up with her boyfriend and losing her waitressing job, she thought why not. It may help them all forget about the accident at camp…. When she got to Summerhaven she was reunited with Marla, Sophie, and Joy (side note: casual racism alert, as not only does Stine refer to Joy as ‘exotic’ looking, she is also described as having ‘slightly slanted green eyes’. Holy. Shit. That’s problematic as hell). They got to Marla’s summer home, which was a palace to say the least, and maybe they immediately went swimming and that is how Claudia got in this situation.
So anyway, back on the beach, Claudia is panicking because the tide is coming in closer, and then a shadow starts to enfold her. Is it the shadow of imminent death? Naw! It’s a handsome guy who just came in with the tide. He asks her if she needs any help (no shit buddy, she was literally screaming about five seconds ago), and she says yeah, she’s stuck under the sand pile. He digs her out and mentions that she has a bad burn on her face. Claudia says she must have fallen asleep, but where did her friends go and why did they leave her? He helps her back towards the Drexell estate, and he says his name is Daniel. She asks if he lives around there and he evasively says ‘not really’. Somehow, though, he knows the code to the gate to the estate, and Claudia doesn’t seem to find this odd as they walk back through the grounds. Claudia finds her friends and confronts them, but Joy and Sophie say that after they buried her they went for a walk, and then they ran into Marla who told them that Claudia had gone back to the house. Marla says she thought that Claudia had gone back too, and asks who helped her out? Claudia says Daniel, and Marla asks who that is. When Claudia turns, Daniel has disappeared.
At dinner that night we are introduced to Alfred, the Drexell’s near sighted servant, who is cooking them all dinner (NOTE: in this moment there is a typo in which Stine writes ‘Marla told us’, even though it’s in the third person. Was it originally in the first person??? Mysteries!). He brings the salad bowl in, and Marta starts to serve all of them. Then Joy freaks out, as she finds a big brown WORM in her salad! Marla chides Alfred about it, and he says that he’s sorry and that the lettuce is ‘locally grown’. I feel so bad for Alfred. The girls laugh at this as he walks away, and Marla says she wishes he’d get glasses. POOR ALFRED. He’s the only servant on duty for these little brats. Marla asks Claudia about the boy who saved her, and says that it must have been a hallucination because there ARE no boys around here, just a bird sanctuary. But then she remembers about the GHOST BOY who lives in the guest house who died a hundred years ago. She’s seen him around the estate, and this “Daniel” was so cold because he’s a ghost… But PSYCH!!! Marla’s just fucking with them! There is not ghost boy. After dinner and movies, the girls are getting ready for bed. As Claudia is looking out the window, she sees a light go on in the guest house! And a figure!!! MAYBE THERE IS A GHOST BOY?! Marla comes in and scoffs at the thought, as there’s no one else at the house but them. She says the light was just a reflection. Claudia isn’t so sure, but goes to sleep.
When she wakes up the next morning, she thinks about how luxurious this house is, and we get some Drexell exposition (Dad’s a financial genius, Mom’s a socialite, they’re always traveling). She examines her burn, and is still a bit bitter that they all just left her, but whatevs. She goes downstairs and finds that Marla’s the only one up, so they go to play tennis. Marla’s game is off, and Claudia suggests that maybe she’s ‘upset to see them’ again. Because of ‘the accident’, where Marla’s sister Alison died. OH. That’s what this is. Marla yells that she really doesn’t want to talk about it and storms back to the house. When Claudia gets back Sophie and Joy are up and Marla seems okay, so they all decide to go to the beach (though Claudia puts on lots of sun protection). They get to the gate and Marla tells Sophie to open it…. And then Sophie is ZAPPED BACKWARDS because it’s ELECTRIFIED!! Marla runs and turns off the power, and Sophie is stunned but seems okay. Marla says that it’s supposed to be turned off during the day, so what gives?! Sophie insists that she’s okay, and Marla says that she’s going to talk to Alfred when they get back.
At the beach, the girls all get ready for a nice afternoon by the water. Claudia notices that Marla is pretty pale, which is weird because she said she’d been spending so much time outside all summer long. But there isn’t time to wonder, because suddenly two guys are on the beach with them from the surf. Claudia thinks one of them in Daniel at first, but it’s not. They say that they must not be at the bird sanctuary anymore, and that a riptide pulled them this far down shore. Marla is visibly angry that they’re there, and demands that they leave. But Joy and Sophie think they’re cute, and the guys say they’re Dean and Carl. Dean immediately starts rummaging through their cooler, making himself at home.
Joy and Sophie are totally down with this, though, and the boys horn in on the day as Marla goes to sulk and as Claudia feels uncomfortable at all of it. Daniel/Ghost Boy wouldn’t do this. Marla once again insists they leave, and Dean starts to get a bit menacing on her saying that they should go back to her house and ‘party’. They exchange more words, and then Dean SLAPS her (WHAT THE FUCK) on the arm. He claims there was a horsefly there, but I’m not so sure. Carl says that they should go (a little late to wrangle it all in, buddy), and Dean says that his Dad worked for Marla’s family at one time before parting. Claudia asks Marla why she was giving the guys a hard time (REALLY?), and Marla says she promised her parents no boys. As they go back to the house Claudia remembers that Marla was always weird about boys.
At the house Claudia, Joy, and Sophie are talking. They all agree that Marla’s acting weird, not like she used to, but Claudia reminds them that a lot has happened since those days (like her SISTER DYING). Joy and Sophie tell Claudia that they have a confession: they wanted to go back to check on her at the beach the other day, but Marla insisted they not. They also think it’s weird that Marla won’t talk about Alison at all. After dinner they all decide to go to a boardwalk amusement park, and when Claudia says she wants to ride the Ferris Wheel, Joy says that she’s afraid of heights ‘after what happened last summer’. Another clue. They get to the boardwalk and run into Dean and Carl, aka Predatory Squiggy and Lenny, and as Joy and Sophie each lay claim and Marla gets miffed, Claudia decides to go explore by herself…. And then she runs into Daniel/Ghost Boy! She calls him Ghost Boy, even and he doesn’t quite get it, but they still walk and talk pleasantly. He thinks her friends are jerks for leaving her on the beach, but she insists it was an accident. They then go on the Ferris Wheel together, and at the top Claudia flashes back to the night Alison died.
Apparently Alison was a bratty little sister, and after getting on Marla’s nerves during Truth or Dare at Camp Full Moon, Marla dared her to walk across a log that goes over Grizzly Gorge, at night. Alison took the dare, and they all said they’d meet after lights out. Marla was busted by a counselor before she could get there, and when Claudia and co. got to the Gorge Alison was waiting. They gave her the option to not do it, but Alison crankily insisted she could because THEY all had, so SHE COULD TOO… But, as it turned out that was false, as while the others begged her not to, and then to come back, she persisted, and when the arrival of camp counselors scared the others off, Claudia ran and heard a snap of a log, signaling Alison falling to her death.
After getting off the Ferris Wheel, Claudia loses Daniel in the crowd again before reuniting with the others. The guys aren’t the big jerks they pretend(?) to be, and the girls go back to the summer house. As Claudia is falling asleep, thinking about Daniel/Ghost Boy, she is awakened by screams!!! She runs into Joy’s room, Sophie and Marla on her tail, and Joy is covered in LEECHES! How odd! They pull them off Joy, who is hysterical. The window is open and they realize that someone must have put them on her while she was sleeping. Marla asks Alfred if he knew about any of this, but he’s confused too. After they all calm down they decide to go back to sleep, but Claudia first goes to get some water from the kitchen… And she sees Daniel/Ghost Boy!! She calls out to him, but he retreats, and before she can go after him she runs into Alfred, who says that it’s impossible for anyone from the outside of the property to get in, what with the electric fence and the guard dog. Especially since Marla changed the code that night (so don’t even try saying he knows the code, Claudia!). Was Daniel the one causing the problems? Was he a ghost?
While the police and Alfred search the house, the girls go water skiing. Sophie is up first, even though she’s not very good in the water, and all is going well… Until the rope snaps, and Sophie fallsf behind the boat! Marla tries to start it up to go help her, but the motor stalls! Claudia grabs a flotation belt and jumps in, swimming for Sophie… But then they’re BOTH taken by the riptide! Before they can drown, though, Carl and Dean to the rescue! They pull them both in, and take them back to shore. Marla and Joy catch up in Marla’s boat, and Marla says she got the engine to turn over. As they inspect the rope, they notice that it isn’t frayed, it’s been cut part way and then snapped! Marla thinks it’s Daniel, or maybe Carl and Dean, and the girls go back to the house. Joy says to Sophie and Claudia that she’s convinced Marla is trying to kill them, because she must know that Alison’s death WASN’T AN ACCIDENT! We get a NEW story now, in which Alison actively asked for their help but they still ran away. I don’t know, that still seems like an accident. Apparently Alison’s body was never found and no one knew that the three of them were there that night. The three of them make plans to try and make a break for it the next day, but Claudia’s Mom can’t come until the day after tomorrow, so it will have to do As they’re planning, though, they see Marla has been in the doorway listening.
The next day starts out okay, with the girls doing their own things. Claudia decides to go for a run on the beach. She gets close to the bird sanctuary, but then realizes that the birdsongs randomly ceased. Down the beach she sees someone who looks like Marla from a distance, but she doesn’t answer when Claudia calls for her. And then…. A HUGE DOG JUMPS OUT OF THE BUSHES, growling at her. It’s an Irish Wolfhound, and Claudia remembers that they’re bred to be killing machines.
Claudia runs into the water and tries to swim away, but the dog bites her foot. She kicks if off and decides that she can keep going back further and further and be safe. It works for a bit…. UNTIL A SHARK ARRIVES!!! So Claudia tries to swim away smoothly, so as not to attract attention in spite of her bleeding foot… AND GETS PULLED INTO THE RIPTIDE. Sweet Jesus! On TOP of that, the SHARK decides to EAT THE IRISH WOLFHOUND!!! In full, gory, upsetting details. Involving dog chunks floating away.
Somehow she washes up on shore and Marla finds her. They start to make their way back to the house, and Marla mentions that it’s Alfred’s day off. Claudia has a moment of clarity: that was Marla on the beach, and that dog was her family guard dog. Marla is DEFINITELY trying to kill her. When they get back to the house, Marla goes to find antiseptic, and Claudia checks the dog pen. Yep, the dog didn’t break out, it was let out. She limps up to find Sophie and Joy, but Joy is in town with Carl. Claudia tells Sophie they need to get to town ASAP, and then Marla walks in and tells them that they’re going to have dinner in the rain gazebo so they can watch the incoming thunderstorm over the ocean. That would sound super cool, if Marla WASN’T TRYING TO KILL THEM.
Joy gets back and Sophie and Claudia fill her in. They haphazardly pack as the storm comes in. They go towards the gazebo to demand that Marla take them to town, but are waylaid by a smell coming from a shed nearby. They open it, and MARLA’S LIFELESS BODY TOPPLES OUT!!! And boy does she look like she’s days dead. They girls freak out and run to the house! They’re alone with a killer!!! Is it Alfred? Is it Daniel/Ghost Boy!? As they run towards the guest house, they find out who it is. Why…. it’s MARLA, who is holding a gun! Except, NOPE, IT’S ALISON!!!!!! IT’S BEEN ALISON THE WHOLE TIME!!! MARLA’S BEEN DEAD FOR A WEEK!!!
Okay, I need to call bullshit on this. I will give you that sure, Alfred is near sighted, and I’m sure the Drexells tell their servants to NEVER look them in the eyes, so maybe he can’t tell the difference. But Alison and Marla were NOT TWINS!!! HOW DID THESE THREE GIRLS NOT RECOGNIZE THIS WAS ALISON THE WHOLE TIME?!?!?!?!
So Alison survived the fall at Camp Full Moon, and was rescued by a nice, down to earth family who lived in the woods! But Marla apparently DID see her fall (which doesn’t make sense because wasn’t she captured by a counselor?), and she was SMILING, or so Alison says. Alison pretended to have amnesia so she wouldn’t have to go back to her shitty family with her shitty sister who dared her to cross the gorge and was happy she fell, but now she’s back for revenge. She arrived a week prior and killed Marla, and saw that these three were coming and decided to kill them too!!! Before she can finish the job, however, a dark figure steps out of the guest house. It’s Daniel!!! Claudia tells Alison it’s the Ghost from the Guest House!! Alison starts to panic in confusion, and a lightning strike knocks out the power. Alison and Daniel struggle in the dark, and Daniel gets the gun away. Alison runs for the gate, and they all scream at her that it’s electric. She says that ‘the power is out, idiots!’… but then, the family generator kicks on JUST IN TIME as she grabs for the fence…. Well, let’s just say she didn’t fare well as Sophie. She twitches a few times, and dies.
Daniel comes to the three girls left standing, and explains that he’s Alfred’s son. The Drexells never let Alfred have enough time off to see him, and so he was secretly visiting this weekend, coincidentally the weekend the reunion was. He and Claudia kiss as they go inside to call the police. The End.
Body Count: 3. Imagine what it’s going to be like for their parents to get home from vacation. Also, the dog getting eaten by a SHARK. I will never get over that.
Romance Rating: 5. I liked Daniel quite a bit whenever he was on page, but Dean and Carl were either creepy (Dean), or a dud (Carl).
Bonkers Rating: 7. From the identity switcheroo that made no sense to a dog getting eaten by a goddamn SHARK, this book had some great batshit moments.
Fear Street Relevance: 1. Claudia lives there but we just get ONE mention of it and that’s it. Another one that could have been a standalone.
Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:
“Claudia stared in horror as Daniel, his arms still outstretched, went sailing over the safety bar and fell head first to his death.”
…. But no, he actually didn’t at all. Claudia was just remembering Alison’s death.
That’s So Dated! Moments: Not so much in this one, sadly, though there is mention of watching a VHS of “Bye, Bye, Birdie” and laughing at the sexist attitudes towards women, so maybe that’s a meta moment or sorts? Otherwise, just the usual mentions of fashion that sounds fit for Lisa Frank. Oh, and the thought that tanning was still perfectly harmless.
“There, she thought with satisfaction. I look like a total jerk, but the sun won’t get near me!”
As someone who has to slather in sunblock and wear a hat at all times when outside, I felt this Claudia moment so, so hard.
Conclusion: “Sunburn” was pretty entertaining for what it was, and we finally got some over the top ridiculousness which had been sorely lacking for the past few reads. Up next is “The New Boy”.