Kate’s Review: “The Lost Boys (Vol.1)”

33252331Book: “The Lost Boys (Vol.1)” by Tim Seeley, Scott Godlewski

Publishing Info: Vertigo, August 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: In this follow-up to the 1987 cult classic film, horror masters Tim Seeley and Scott Godlewski wade into the bloody, badass world of California vampires for an all-new tale of thrills, chills, and good old-fashioned heart-staking action in THE LOST BOYS VOL. 1!

Welcome to scenic Santa Carla, California. Great beaches. Colorful characters. Killer nightlife. And, of course, all the damn vampires.

The Emerson brothers (Sam and Michael) and the Frog brothers (Edgar and Alan) learned that last part the hard way–these underage slayers took on the vampire master Max and his pack of punked-out minions, and drove a stake right through their plans to suck Santa Carla dry. After scraping the undead goo off their shoes, they figured everything was back to normal.

But now there are new vamps in town.

A coven of female undead called the Blood Belles has moved in, and they’ve targeted Sam, Michael, the Frog Brothers, and every other vampire hunter in Santa Carla for bloody vengeance.

It’ll take every trick in the brothers’ monster-killing book to stop these bloodsuckers from unleashing an entire army of the damned. And they’ll need help from an unexpected source–a certain shirtless sax-playing savior known only as the Believer!

Do you still believe? Collects #1-6.

Review: Everyone who knows me knows that “The Lost Boys” is one of my very favorite movies of all time. OF ALL TIME. It’s a tongue in cheek, earnest as hell, and in some ways a legitimately creepy vampire movie. I love it so much that this past year my friend Laura (of our “It” video review fame) and I went to a Fantasy/Sci Fi convention cosplaying as Edgar and Allan Frog, the sibling vampire hunters played by Corey Feldman and Jamison Newlander.

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Destroy All Vampires.

So of course when I found out about the comic series that Vertigo created to work as a canonical sequel to that movie after two not so great film ones (though I have to say I kind of love “Lost Boys: The Thirst” because it’s basically just Corey Feldman acting exasperated the whole time), I was over the moon! A continuation of one of my favorite vampire tales, all in comic form? Hell yes! I started it in comic form but then just decided to wait for the trade collection, and when it finally came in at the library I snatched it up and dove right in.

One thing that struck me right away is that Tim Seeley and Scott Godlewski struck the proper tone that the movie had. It continues to have the earnestness and charm that the original had, and all of the characters feel in character and true to how they should be. It gives a good balance to the man characters, and gives a little more focus to the Frog Brothers, which is a-okay by me. Sam and Michael are still centered as the protagonists, but the spotlight is more equally distributed between the players. It also gives a little more gender equity to this universe, as there are actual honest to goodness female vampires in this called The Blood Belles. Unlike Star (more on that in a bit), the girl vampire from the movie, The Blood Belles are aggressive and formidable villains, with their own motivations and personalities that give ladies more to do this time around. They are a gang that lives up to the previous vampire villains, which was a true relief not only as a fan of the movie, but as someone who resents the fact that Star and Lucy Emerson are so passive in the original story. I also appreciated that this comic is partially steeped in pure, unadulterated fan service. Not only do we have The Frog Brothers becoming actual vampire hunters (under the tutelage of Michael and Sam’s Grandpa), there are also some other character returns that I never thought that we’d see. For one, David is back (which is kind of a spoiler, but it happens very early so I’m not going to feel THAT bad about it), and he’s brought back in a feasible way even after being impaled. He also doesn’t shove aside the Blood Belles with his presence, which I was quite worried about. Worry not. These chicks know how to take care of themselves. But the fan favorite return that I was the MOST excited about wasn’t David, or the Frogs, or even the adorable Laddie (more on him later). Nope. It was most definitely the triumphant return of The Saxophone Man.

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I STILL BELIEVE!!!! (source)

And not only is he back, he’s also a rogue vampire killer who calls himself, wait for it…. THE BELIEVER. I screamed my goddamn head off when all of this was revealed. This one off scene of a random band on the boardwalk has given us a treasure of a plot point.

But now I have to address the issues I had with this comic, because issues abound. The first involves the continuity problems. The biggest one was the fact that the little boy and former half vampire Laddie is now living with Sam and Michael now, in spite of the fact there was a milk carton with his face on it in the movie. Someone is looking for Laddie, guys!! You can’t just keep him! So either the Emersons and just prolonging his abduction, or that has been thrown out the window in interest of keeping Laddie there for plot purposes. But the bigger issue I had was with Star. Star is a character that I both love and kind of resent. She’s beautiful and charming, and Jami Gertz plays her so well, but she is so passive and just there to be a vaguely moral center. She’s another half vampire, but doesn’t even get to vamp out once! I had higher hopes that she would have more to do in this one, and at first it seemed like she did (and the reasons I say this I won’t spoil)….. But then she really just ended up being passive and unwilling or unable to act at times she could. AGAIN. They had the chance to redeem Star, or at least give her the credit that was never afforded her, but they still  relegated her to the sidelines again.

The artwork is a fun style, kind of reminding me of “Locke and Key” in the way the people are drawn. The colors pop off the page, and while the characters don’t really look like their inspirations, it kind of gives them a new chance to become their own characters that can evolve beyond the film.

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(source)

While I had my qualms, for the most part I had a blast reading “The Lost Boys (Vol.1)”. It feels like a worthy follow up to the classic vampire film, and I really hope that it goes for awhile. I need the Emersons, The Frog Brothers, and all their vampire foes in my life.

Rating 7: A fun follow up to one of my favorite movies. While there were continuity issues and I was frustrated with Star STILL having little to do, as a “The Lost Boys” fan I was pretty pleased with it overall.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Lost Boys (Vol.1)” is fairly new and not included on any Goodreads lists as of now, but I think that it would fit in on “Vampire Books That Don’t Suck”, and “Supernatural (not Superhero) Comics”.

Find “The Lost Boys (Vol.1)” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “You Should Have Left”

32337898Book: “You Should Have Left” by Daniel Kehlmann, Ross Benjamin (Translator)

Publishing Info: Pantheon Books, June 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: From the internationally best-selling author of Measuring the World and F, an eerie and supernatural tale of a writer’s emotional collapse

“It is fitting that I’m beginning a new notebook up here. New surroundings and new ideas, a new beginning. Fresh air.”

These are the opening lines of the journal kept by the narrator of Daniel Kehlmann’s spellbinding new novel: the record of the seven days that he, his wife, and his four-year-old daughter spend in a house they have rented in the mountains of Germany—a house that thwarts the expectations of his recollection and seems to defy the very laws of physics. The narrator is eager to finish a screenplay, entitled Marriage, for a sequel to the movie that launched his career, but something he cannot explain is undermining his convictions and confidence, a process he is recording in this account of the uncanny events that unfold as he tries to understand what, exactly, is happening around him—and in himself.

Review: Back when I was just out of college but still hadn’t quite found my footing, my dear friend Blake (bestie from high school, now far away friend) told me about this creepy book that he was reading called “House of Leaves” by Mark Z Danielewski . He said that it was basically three stories combined into one, told with transcripts, footnotes, weird spacing choices, and a claustrophobic nuance that made the reader feel like they were going a bit loony. I asked my sister to get it for me for my birthday, and when I picked it up it was so intricate and odd that it took me awhile to read it. But boy did I love the concept of a scary story told in weird, experimental ways. Flash forward to this fall, when my Mom sent me another of her emails saying “I found this book through the New York Times, you should look into it.” That book was “You Should Have Left”, and when I finally picked it up a few weeks later, I started having flashbacks to my time spent with “House of Leaves”. Only this one, clocking in at less than 150 pages, was possible to read in one night.

When we meet Narrator (as he has no name), his wife Susanna, and their little girl Esther, they have taken a cabin retreat to give him time to work on his newest screenplay. I mean, if you want isolation from the world around you, a mountain cabin is probably the way to go. The only parts of Narrator’s story we get to see are through his own writings, be it meditations on writing, the screenplay itself, or his random diary-esque entries talking about his family, the cabin itself, and other observations within the moment. It’s when he makes off the cuff remarks about things that seem odd that you start to slowly realize that something isn’t quite right here. Narrator is under such pressure, both in his professional life and his personal life, that as the reader you are constantly wondering how reliable these various things are. It’s a great device, and Kehlmann uses it pretty well. As various things happen, both in his personal and professional life AND within the house itself, it’s hard to know if one causes the other or vice versa. There were some really good moments of uncanny horror in this one, from strange silhouettes out of the corner of the eye to Narrator maybe seeing himself walking around inside the house even though he’s outside of it. Moments like these made it so that I was thrown for a loop and a bit weirded out, which was fun and unsettling and very satisfying because of it. Even though I read this all in one sitting, throughout that sitting I would find myself looking towards the dark corners of my bedroom and into the hallway, knowing I wouldn’t see anything, of course, but worried that I might. Any Gothic novel worth it’s weight knows how to make fear from isolation and darkness, and I felt like Kehlmann achieved it.

The translation itself was pretty good, Benjamin was very skilled and making the prose flow easily, and it never felt clunky or forced, or like anything was being lost from German to English. I find that can sometimes be a problem for translated works, so it was good that the suspense was still palpable and the tension still tight.

But sadly, because I went in with “House of Leaves” on the brain, this one didn’t quite live up to all of my expectations. I know that short and sweet horror can be very effective when it is done right, and while I do think that “You Should Have Left” was done very well, it sort of felt like a been there, done that kind of read for me. While that isn’t necessarily a relevant thing for those who haven’t read “House of Leaves”, it just wasn’t quite strong enough to buck that association and comparison. Had it been longer, and had we spent more time with Narrator as he either a) falls victim to a haunted house, or b) falls victim to his own emotional breakdown, perhaps I could have left my past associations at the door. While I do fully intend to go back someday and re-read “House of Leaves”, “You Should Have Left” is probably a one and done kind of ghost story for this reader.

If you’re in need of something short this Halloween season, “You Should Have Left” will probably whet your appetite pretty thoroughly. It’s unsettling and creepy, and knows how to push the right buttons.

Rating 7: An unnerving and eerie novella that kept me on edge, “You Should Have Left” was strange and raw. At times it felt like “House of Leaves”-Lite, but a solid and fast horror story it still is.

Reader’s Advisory:

“You Should Have Left” is not on any Goodreads Lists as of right now, but honestly, if you want some similar books dealing in isolation and potential mental breaks, give “The Shining” and “House of Leaves” a try.

Find “You Should Have Left” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Meddling Kids”

32905343Book: “Meddling Kids” by Edgar Cantero

Publishing Info: Doubleday Books, July 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: For fans of John Dies at the End and Welcome to Night Vale comes a tour de force of horror, humor, and H.P. Lovecraft. The surviving members of a forgotten teenage detective club (and their dog) must reunite as broken adults to finally solve the terrifying case that ruined them all and sent the wrong man to prison. Scooby Doo and the gang never had to do this!

1990. The teen detectives once known as the Blyton Summer Detective Club (of Blyton Hills, a small mining town in the Zoinx River Valley in Oregon) are all grown up and haven’t seen each other since their fateful, final case in 1977. Andy, the tomboy, is twenty-five and on the run, wanted in at least two states. Kerri, one-time kid genius and budding biologist, is bartending in New York, working on a serious drinking problem. At least she’s got Tim, an excitable Weimaraner descended from the original canine member of the team. Nate, the horror nerd, has spent the last thirteen years in and out of mental health institutions, and currently resides in an asylum in Arhkam, Massachusetts. The only friend he still sees is Peter, the handsome jock turned movie star. The problem is, Peter’s been dead for years.

The time has come to uncover the source of their nightmares and return to where it all began in 1977. This time, it better not be a man in a mask. The real monsters are waiting.

With raucous humor and brilliantly orchestrated mayhem, Edgar Cantero’s Meddling Kids taps into our shared nostalgia for the books and cartoons we grew up with, and delivers an exuberant, eclectic, and highly entertaining celebration of horror, life, friendship, and many-tentacled, interdimensional demon spawn.

Review: Though I was definitely more of a “Pup Named Scooby-Doo” viewer as a child, “Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?” was definitely a show that I was pretty familiar with thanks to visits to Grandma’s house and the local video store. I can’t say that I have a huge nostalgia for it, but it’s enough of a cultural icon that I am familiar with it and all the references, tropes, and influences that come with it. When my friend David sent me this book title on Facebook, I was immediately intrigued. Given that I love send ups of classic shows like “The Venture Bros”, “Sealab 2021”, and “Harvey Birdman: Attorney At Law”, I was stoked to see that FINALLY someone decided to take on “Scooby-Doo, Where Are You” and add in some Lovecraftian horror elements to boot.

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The start of way too many “Scooby-Doo” gifs. (source)

To start, I really enjoyed how Cantero took the characters that we are oh so familiar with and gave them some serious issues, issues that would make perfect sense for a bunch of kids who chased after criminals. Meet the Blyton Summer Detective Club: Kerri (Velma) was an incredibly smart girl, a genius, but has ended up an alcoholic tending bar. Andy (I think she’s supposed to be a inverted Daphne? She doesn’t really fit) was the tomboy of the group, who went on to get military training but is now on the run from the law. Nate (Shaggy) was the geeky and carefree one, but has voluntarily committed himself to Arkham Asylum (of Lovecraftian fame, not “Batman”)… Mainly because he keeps seeing Peter (Fred), who died of a drug overdose a few years prior. Throw in Tim (Scooby-Doo), the canine descendant of their original group, and there you have it. I liked how Cantero explored the damages that their friendship and group wrought upon them. Seeing all of these broken people try to come back together to fight the one case they didn’t quite solve was bittersweet and heavy, and I really appreciated that Cantero explored how a scenario like this may go. Kerri and Andy have a deep bond, stemming from childhood when Andy was almost in love with Kerri, and seeing them reconnect is very sweet, even if it feels like doom could come for them at any time. Nate’s struggle with his mental illness is also very revealing, though at times you are kind of wondering if maybe Peter’s ghost really is with him. After all, if monsters are real, why not this? They all need each other as much as they wish they didn’t, and that was both lovely and tragic because at the heart of it they are all survivors of a terrible trauma, and they need to confront it before they can move on with their lives. Cantero does a great job of reminding us that they were kids when this terrible stuff happened to them, and that sometimes you can’t just walk away and that’s the end of the story. Sometimes it’s not just a kook in a mask.

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This is so dated but I had to. (source)

I also really liked that Cantero has taken the ol’ chesnut that is Lovecraft and has applied it to this kind of story. Given that the original “Scooby-Doo” always ended with the villain being a plain old person in a mask, for them to be facing actual monsters and magic is SUPER fun, and at times genuinely creepy. From lake monsters that decompose at an alarming rate to mysterious books and words in an attic, Cantero has really taken the inter-dimensional horror theme and given it a fun little spin here. It’s meta as well as creepy and weird, and it’s just different enough that I wasn’t feeling like he was trying too hard to make two different themes fit together. He also did a good job of retaining the plausible explanation theme, as while a guy in a mask isn’t a solution, there are other natural disasters that pose just as much risk to these people as the supernatural creatures. That isn’t to say that this book is just doom and gloom and a Nolan-like take on “Scooby-Doo”. As a matter of fact, this is not only kind of sad, at times it’s a VERY funny book. The snide and sarcastic banter between the characters had me in stitches, as well as the occasional insight into Tim’s doggie mind (his love for a toy penguin, for example, is delightfully whimsical when it’s from his POV).

That isn’t to say that it was a perfect book. I will admit that I had a hard time with some of the stylistic choices, as it could jump from a novel narrative to a playwright’s dialog in the same scene, even the same breath. I found it to be a bit distracting, but it was never so jarring that I had to stop. I also do kind of question some of the influences that Cantero took from, specifically that sometimes it felt like he was kind of appropriating some indigenous legends, even if he put his own spin on them in the end. It kind of treaded the line, and while I don’t think that he ever really crossed it, I’m no expert. I would probably have to do more research and get other people’s opinions on the matter.

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Or perhaps I should say look for clues… (source)

Overall, I really liked “Meddling Kids” and think that it’s both super fun and super creative. I also liked how it took the familiar tropes of a beloved series and spun them on their head.

Rating 8: Both a nostalgic send up and solid adventure/horror story, “Meddling Kids” brings some real world insight and consequences to a group of former teen detectives with heart and scares.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Meddling Kids” is included on the Goodreads lists “Counter-Lovecraft”, and “Nerdventure”.

Find “Meddling Kids” at your library using WorldCat!

A Revisit to Fear Street: “The Cheater”

227487Book: “The Cheater” (Fear Street #18) by R.L. Stine

Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, April 1993

Book Description: Carter Phillips is under a lot of pressure to ace her math achievement exam – so much pressure that she gets Adam Messner to take the test for her . . . in exchange for one date. But Adam wants more than a date – much more. Carter has no choice. She has to do whatever he asks. If not, he’ll tell hers secret and ruin life. Adam’s control over her gets more and more unbearable. Carter is desperate to get rid of him – but how? Is murder the only way?

Had I Read This Before: Yes.

The Plot: Our main gal Friday this time is Carter Phillips, a spoiled little rich girl who is the daughter of a Judge and has his high expectations thrust upon her. Also, her mother is one of those wealthy do gooder ladies who probably raises money for the less fortunate but her definition of ‘less fortunate’ smacks of racism. The most recent issue for Carter is that, while she is great at most academic subjects, math is just not her thing. I FEEL YA, CARTER. She has an upcoming math achievement exam (which I just assume is supposed to be the SAT or ACT in this parallel universe in which Shadyside resides), and she’s very stressed about it. If she doesn’t score 700, Princeton will surely tell her to take a hike. Given that she’s terrible at math, she’s certain that a 700 is not in the cards, and she’s terrified that she’ll disappoint her father, as she laments to her bestie Jill. While on a date at a local burger joint with her boyfriend Dan, who is honest and kind and totally devoted to her, she asks that maybe he could take the test for her? He tut tuts her for even suggesting such a thing, and in her shame she back tracks and says ‘nah, jokes!’. They part ways amicably, as Dan leaves and she remains, stressing about the upcoming test. This is when Carter is approached by Adam Messner, burger hawker, classmate, and goth/grunge weirdo. Carter doesn’t know Adam very well, but does know that 1) he’s strange, and 2) he has a girlfriend named Sheila who sounds like Courtney Love during the ‘unfortunate years’. Adam admits that he was eavesdropping, and offers to take the test for her. After all, it’s at a different school, and her name is like a boy’s name. Carter is hesitant, thinking that the proctor would ask for ID, but Adam assures her that it won’t be a problem. She asks why he’s offering, and he says that she needs his math skills, and he would like her to go on a date with him. One date. And that will be that. Even though Carter already has a boyfriend, she accepts the offer, because how could ONE SINGLE DATE possible hurt?

How indeed, Carter.

Adam takes the test for her, and while he maliciously tricks her at first saying that they did ask for ID (they didn’t, funny joke, Messner), he assures her that all went well and that he’s pretty sure he crushed it. In fact, he scored a 730, as the results come back, and Carter is thrilled, even if she is a little uneasy. But her father, The Judge, is so happy, he gives her a pair of diamond earrings as a congratulations, because that’s how the wealthy are. Carter and Adam go on their date that Friday, and it actually isn’t so bad. They even do a little kissing and gentle petting, as while Carter does really care about Dan, Adam is just so EXCITING and FORBIDDEN. When he drives her home, Carter, being the stuck up snoot she is at the heart of her, asks if he would please drop her off at the curb instead of up at her house. Lest someone see them together. While it’s probably prudent given that she has a boyfriend, it also smacks of elitism. He asks her what she’s doing the next day, and she says she’s going to play tennis at the country club with her BFF Jill. Adam says that he’ll meet her there, and speeds off. As if that wasn’t stupid enough, as Carter walks the rest of the way home, she is ambushed by Sheila, who jumps out of the bushes, angry that Carter was on a date with her boyfriend. Carter assures her that nothing happened (not true), and Sheila storms off.

At the country club the next day, Carter arrives to find Adam arguing with the guard. The guard isn’t convinced that this boy dressed in a black tee shirt and black jeans is here to play tennis with Shadyside’s Vanderbilt Equivalents, but Carter says that yes, he is. They go to the courts and play doubles against Jill and her flavor of the month, a real top drawer boy named Richard. Adam is actually pretty good, and once again Carter is a bit aroused by him. Thank God he knows his way around a racket. After they are done, he asks her on another date. This time she tries to be firm in her refusal, but he tells her that if she doesn’t go out with him, she’ll be sorry. Girl, this is ALWAYS how these things go! And where does poor Sheila enter into this? In the locker room, she opens her gym bag and finds an ANIMAL HEART. Sheila’s doing?

So the next weekend, Carter and Adam go to a movie, and then they go back to his house on, you guessed it, Fear Street. It’s one of the dilapidated ones, as you either have slum houses on Fear Street or gorgeous and perfectly okay ones, depending on whether a protagonist or antagonist lives in it. They go into the kitchen, and Carter tries to leave, but Adam shoves her into the wall and starts kissing her against her will. She tells him that she’s leaving, and he lets her, but tells her that he wants another favor: his friend Ray has a huge boner for Jill, and he wants them all to go on a double date the next night. Carter doesn’t want to, but feels like she has no choice because, you know, blackmail. Carter calls Jill and asks her to do this for her (rudely interrupting a mauling sesh with Gary Brandt), and Jill is rightfully perplexed and horrified. Ray is a creep, you can tell because he has tattoos! But she agrees because she’s too good a friend.

So they go on the date to some seedy club that country club girls probably wouldn’t be caught dead in usually. Unfortunately, Carter and Jill are basically fresh meat to the thugs in this bar who sound like they’re hot off a spitting session in a Sex Pistols pogo pit, as they are well dressed AND underage girls. Ray starts grinding up on Jill, who is repulsed and terrified, and when Carter tries to help the punks surround them and grab at them and to be frank, this felt like it was one big sexual assault and I was very uncomfortable. Carter grabs Jill and barrels through them, running to her car and speeding them far far away. Once they’re safe at Carter’s house back in North Hills (I assume? That is the fancy part of Shadyside), Jill weeps as Carter begs for forgiveness.

At school the following week, Carter basically rips Adam a new one and tells him that they are done with this bullshit. He counters her offer by demanding she give him one thousand dollars, unless she wants him to spill his guts. I call bullshit on this, because he too would be held accountable as HE WOULD ALSO BE A CHEATER. I think Adam Messner doesn’t have the balls, but Carter seems to think he does, so she pawns those earrings that The Judge gave her. At dinner that night The Judge asks her where her earrings are (I guess she’s supposed to wear them at all times), and she lies saying that the backing fell off one so she’s getting them repaired. How bittersweet.

After the heat seems to be off her, as she has paid Adam off and he’s leaving her alone, Carter FINALLY goes on a date with Dan. You remember Dan! Her actual boyfriend! They watch movies on the couch at his house and probably mess around a bit, and eventually she leaves for home. While she’s driving, some crazy person tries to run her off the road! Given that she has some enemies now, she thinks it must be either Adam or Sheila. She gets home, and Adam is there, waiting for her. He demands another cool grand, saying that he’ll tell if she doesn’t fork it over.

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(source)

Later, Carter’s parents go out of town for a family wedding, and Carter stays behind. That night Dan comes over and confronts her about how weird she’s been acting, saying that he AND Jill have noticed it. Carter breaks down, confessing everything to him, the cheating, the blackmail, maaaaybe not the vague excitement she felt around Adam at first. She then grabs her Dad’s handgun out of a drawer, and says that she wants to KILL ADAM!! Dan tells her that that’s a terrible idea, and then, not at ALL suspiciously, leaves. Carter gathers up more jewelry to pawn, and once she gets the cash she drops it off at Adam’s house without going to find him, driving around afterwards aimlessly. She gets home to find Dan waiting for her, and before they can have any kind of reunion, the police show up. ADAM MESSNER HAS BEEN SHOT AND KILLED. And they have reason to believe that Carter may have been connected to him because of evidence they found at his house. She tells the police that no way, she hadn’t been to his house that night. The cops leave, and Dan points out her lie, as hadn’t she gone to Adam’s house? She says she doesn’t want to get the cops involved in her life. Dan leaves, suddenly acting strange. A short while later, the phone rings, and Carter answers, hoping it’s Dan. But instead, it’s someone who just whispers “I know what you did.”

At school people seem to have heard the rumors about Carter and Adam, as everyone is avoiding her, including Jill. Dan is even saying he doesn’t know what to say to her anymore. That night her parents have gone off to one of her mother’s charity drives , so Carter is alone. And then, of course, the power goes out. No go on the phone, as it’s dead too! And then she hears footsteps in the basement. A STRANGE MAN emerges and attacks her, saying that he was the one who tried to run her off the road. As he tries to strangle her, the police come in, in the nick of time! Thank god for rich people and their alarms! Carter’s parents come home in the middle of this, and The Judge recognizes this guy as a hired muscle for a guy whose case he is presiding over. Huh! That was actually a pretty okay twist! If not a bit superfluous.

A few nights later, Carter is feeling like maybe things are going to go her way, but then Sheila calls. Now SHE wants money, because Adam told her everything, and Sheila is convinced that Carter is the one who killed him because she somehow has ‘proof’. She asks for five hundred smackaroos, and Carter pawns her fancy stereo system. She meets Sheila in the woods, and they do an exchange. Carter gives Sheila the money, and Sheila gives her the proof…. a necklace that says ‘Carter’ on the back of it. It was by Adam’s body. Hmmmmmmm….

Carter calls Dad and says she’s going to confess everything to her father, and she wants him to be there when she does. He says that he will. They go into The Judge’s office, and Carter confesses to cheating, and then she confesses to killing Adam as well!!! The Judge seems totally disappointed in his little girl. Dan asks if The Judge can get her off the hook, but The Judge isn’t totally sure, and says he’s going to call the police…. And this is when DAN ADMITS TO KILLING ADAM!! He accidentally shot him, he went to confront him about blackmailing Carter and Adam pulled a gun on him. They tussled, and Dan accidentally pulled the trigger….. And then Carter says ‘See Daddy? I told you he’d confess!’

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(source)

Yes, the necklace was one that Dan had bought for her. When she saw it, she knew, and she knew that he would eventually own up if she tried to take the fall. Though he almost didn’t! Anyway, The Judge says that he can probably pull some strings, but that Carter does have to own up for cheating in the first place. Her mother is more concerned about how scandalous this is than anything else, but it does seem like The Judge is using his connections to not only get Carter a pass, but to get Dan some really great lawyers who can get him kind of deal, or no charges whatsoever, etc etc. The book ends with Carter and Dan playing chess together, and it sure makes it seem like there will be no consequences for these two privileged white kids from North Hills. And of course, while they’re playing, Dan says to Carter ‘no cheating!’, and then beats her because she doesn’t cheat anymore. The End.

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(source)

Body Count: 1. That piece of crap Adam Messner. Good riddance.

Romance Rating: 7. I don’t know, Dan is a pretty okay guy who really cares for Carter, and while accidentally shooting Adam wasn’t great, he did own up to it. Though, he was willing to let Carter take the fall for a bit, so….. Maybe let’s bump it down to a 6.

Bonkers Rating: 3. It’s actually not that crazy, but it does get some points for the red herring of the hired goon from Judge Phillips’s case trying to hurt Carter.

Fear Street Relevance: 3. Carter doesn’t live on Fear Street. Adam does, but only a little of the plot takes place at his house.

Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger: 

“Desperately, she struggled to straighten the wheel. Too late! She screamed – closed her eyes – and waited for the crash.”

…. And then she just brakes the car.

That’s So Dated! Moments: Well first of all, just look at the cover. Look at that phone. But what made me cackle (and gave me pangs of nostalgia to my grade school years) was that the choices of hot movies from the video store were “Batman Returns” and “Waynes World”.

Best Quote:

“Mrs. Phillips was horrified, of course, at having her daughter mixed up in such a scandal. ‘They’ll be dragging our name through the mud in the papers!’ she cried tearfully at the dinner table that night. ‘I just hope they don’t kick us out of the club!'”

Priorities.

Conclusion: As silly as it was, I pretty much enjoyed “The Cheater”. There’s a reason I remember it so vividly from my childhood. Next up is “Sunburn”! And let me tell you, the cover alone is glorious. 

Kate’s Review: “Sing, Unburied, Sing”

32920226Book: “Sing, Unburied, Sing” by Jesmyn Ward

Publishing Info: Scribner, September 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: A searing and profound Southern odyssey by National Book Award winner Jesmyn Ward.

In Jesmyn Ward’s first novel since her National Book Award winning Salvage the Bones, this singular American writer brings the archetypal road novel into rural twenty-first-century America. Drawing on Morrison and Faulkner, The Odyssey and the Old Testament, Ward gives us an epochal story, a journey through Mississippi’s past and present that is both an intimate portrait of a family and an epic tale of hope and struggle. Ward is a major American writer, multiply awarded and universally lauded, and in Sing, Unburied, Sing she is at the height of her powers.

Jojo and his toddler sister, Kayla, live with their grandparents, Mam and Pop, and the occasional presence of their drug-addicted mother, Leonie, on a farm on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. Leonie is simultaneously tormented and comforted by visions of her dead brother, which only come to her when she’s high; Mam is dying of cancer; and quiet, steady Pop tries to run the household and teach Jojo how to be a man. When the white father of Leonie’s children is released from prison, she packs her kids and a friend into her car and sets out across the state for Parchman farm, the Mississippi State Penitentiary, on a journey rife with danger and promise.

Sing, Unburied, Sing grapples with the ugly truths at the heart of the American story and the power, and limitations, of the bonds of family. Rich with Ward’s distinctive, musical language, Sing, Unburied, Sing is a majestic new work and an essential contribution to American literature.

Review: Every once in awhile, a book comes along that just blows me the hell away. One that feels like an elevated experience just reading it, pouring over it, immersing oneself in it. “Sing, Unburied, Sing” by Jesmyn Ward did that for me, and I am still staggered by how fantastic it was. I’ve come to expect nothing less from Jesmyn Ward, one of the best writers out there today, bar none. I’ve read two of her other books, both of which are transcendent and incredibly emotional. The first is the novel “Salvage the Bones”, a story about a rural and poor African American family living in Mississippi as Hurricane Katrina lurches and looms towards them. The other is “Men We Reaped”, a memoir about the numerous black men in Ward’s life who all died far too young, brutal casualties of overt and systemic racism that is all too present in the U.S. When I heard she had a new book coming out, I requested it, and then steeled myself for it as I picked it up.

The first thing that I must mention is the characters and characterization in this novel. We follow a couple main perspectives. The first is Jojo, a thirteen year old boy who has been raised mostly by his grandparents (Mam and Pop), as his mother is addicted to drugs and his father is in prison. He has also taken on the caregiver role to his little sister Kayla, wanting to keep her safe from the ills of the world. Mam is very ill with cancer, and Pop tells Jojo stories from the past in hopes that Jojo can learn from them. The second is Leonie, Jojo and Kayla’s mother. Her boyfriend Michael is getting out of prison soon, and her all encompassing love for him blinds her to most other things. Her drug addiction is fueled in part by the fact that she sees visions of her dead brother Given while she’s high. The final perspective is from Richie, the ghost of a thirteen year old boy who died at Parchman, the prison Michael is at. Richie knew Pop when he was alive, and he has unfinished business with him. Jojo starts seeing Richie on their travels, as Richie knows that there’s a connection there. All of these characters are well rounded and explored, and I got a feel for every one of them (as well as a number of the other characters like Mam and Pop). I understood the motivations of each of them. I was especially moved by Leonie, as while she makes terrible and selfish decisions when it comes to her children, I completely understood why she made those choices, and how factors both within her control and outside of it have made her into the person that she is.

The themes of this book also blew me away. For one, I’m a huge sucker for a ghost story, and this one has the feel of a Southern Gothic novel with the isolation and wide open spaces that still feel claustrophobic. But Ward brings in other ghosts that haunt this country and our culture, as the setting and characters are still plagued by the racism that has so infected this country. From the remnants of Jim Crow laws to the consequences of the War on Drugs to police brutality and violence, the journey that this family takes, physical and emotional, always has the specter of racism hanging over it. Ward doesn’t offer any solutions or answers or happy endings of conclusions to this, and all you can hope for is that this family will continue to survive in face of explicit (Michael’s family) and implicit racism that surrounds them. It’s really the perfect use of a ghost story, as the all too true horrors of our racist culture and society still haunt us, as much as we may hate to acknowledge it.

And the writing is just beautiful. Ward has a serious talent for creating a story and an imagery that leaps and flows in the pages of this book. I felt like I could see everything that was happening in my mind’s eye, and I was so engrossed I devoured this book in a day’s time. Ward is an author who is being called a ‘modern Faulkner’ by a number of people, and while I understand the sentiment (examinations of the American South are a commonality between the two), I think that she easily stands in a league of her own. This book is exactly why, and I urge everyone to give it a try and see why, because nothing I write here will be able to do it justice.

“Sing, Unburied, Sing” is one of the best books I’ve read this year, no question. Please please please go read it and see for yourselves.

Rating 10: I cannot tell you how much I loved this book. A heart rendering story about literal and metaphorical ghosts, family, the South, and Americana.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Sing, Unburied, Sing” is included on the Goodreads lists “Anticipated Literary Reads for Readers of Color 2017”, and “Anticipated/Best 2017 Literary Fiction”.

Find “Sing, Unburied, Sing” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “The Town Built On Sorrow”

34773852Book: “The Town Built on Sorrow” by David Oppegaard

Publishing Info: Flux, September 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Description: Welcome to the strange mountain foothills town of Hawthorn, where sixteen-year-old Harper Spurling finds herself increasingly obsessed with the diary of a local 1860s pioneer girl while a serial killer runs unchecked through the area, dumping his victims into the town’s dark river. As Harper’s curiosity leads her closer and closer to the killer, she’ll have to think fast or join the killer’s growing list of victims. Because in Hawthorn, a town built on sorrow, the barrier between life and death is as fragile as an old, forgotten skull.

Review: First and foremost I’d like to give a huge thank you to both NetGalley, for providing me with this book, and David Oppegaard, whose FB post pointed me towards the book on NetGalley in the first place.

We are officially kicking off Horrorpalooza, in which I try and keep my focus (mostly) on horror/scary stories for the month of October! October is my very favorite month because of Halloween, and I intend to honor it with tales to chill your bones and give you nightmares! So let’s begin!

A few years ago I took a horror writing class at a local writing workshop in downtown Minneapolis. My teacher was a man named David Oppegaard, who also happened to be a friend of a friend. Not only did I enjoy his class immensely, I still see David at Halloween and Christmas parties each year, in which we stand over various punch bowls and talk about any and all things. David has written a few books, his previous book “The Firebug of Balrog County” a Minnesota Book Award Nominee (and one that I quite enjoyed). While that one was more realistic/contemporary teen fiction, his newest book “The Town Built on Sorrow” is straight up horror/thriller, with a little historical fiction thrown in for good measure. It’s a combination that works pretty well, and sets up for a dreamy and atmospheric setting.

We follow the storylines of three characters. The first is Harper, an ambitious and driven high school girl living in the small town of Hawthorn. She has been obsessing over the diary of a pioneer girl who was part of the settling party of the town in the 1800s, named Sofie Helle. Right off the bat I thought this was pretty unique, as what YA novels as of late have shown their lady protagonists having a healthy interest in history? Perhaps there are some, but I haven’t read them. The second is Olav, an outsider from his peers at the high school is is also, spoiler alert but not really, a serial killer. The third is Sofie Helle herself, through not only her diary, but also flashbacks to see what the diary never did. Of the three, I probably liked Harper’s the most, just because she did feel like a pretty typical teenage girl, and her interests were of interest to me. And since we know that Olav is bad news, it was rife with tension when we saw her slowly getting to know him and becoming attracted to him. I really liked that aspect of the story, as the suspense about her wellbeing would teeter towards unbearable. I also liked the Sofie story, as the dangers and horrors of the prairie to the untrained interloper can have dire consequences. Right out of the gate a baby is taken and eaten by a wolf, which really got my attention. You know from the get go that Hawthorn is going to have a dark pall over it, and darkness is indeed oozing off the page. It’s definitely a dark, dark book, as death is always just within striking distance, and watching it slowly circle Harper in the form of Olav is distressing. And then when a strange dark form appears in a dark room part way through the book, well, the gothic tension just shuddered and oozed off of the page, and damn was it effective. The blend of real life horror and supernatural horror works well here, and I almost always imagined Hawthorn with a dense fog because of how Oppegaard builds it in the reader’s mind.

But while the atmospheric notes are tight and on point, the characters themselves, likable as some were, kind of fell a bit flat for me. I liked Harper enough but she didn’t really stand out too much outside of her interest in history. Olav gave me the creeps to be sure, but it was definitely rooted in his actions and not in who he was as a person. Sofie, too, is likable enough, but there was little connection to her for me and little investment in what exactly did happen to her. I suppose that I was worried for Harper as I read the book, but only because you are supposed to be.

So while the characters themselves didn’t do much for me, Hawthorn the town was enough of a character in and of itself that the chills there made up for it. I think that “The Town Built on Sorrow” would be the perfect read for a chilly autumn night this Halloween season. So wrap yourself in a blanket, pick it up, and if you live in small town setting or in a place with forest and nature surrounding you, maybe try not to get too freaked out as you read it. I’m sure come Halloween I will get to talk to David about this story, and I know that I will definitely give him props for Hawthorn and it’s demons.

Rating 7: Tense and atmospheric, “The Town Built on Sorrow” weaves three stories together over two time periods. While the characters were kind of flat, the setting was eerie and unsettling.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Town Built on Sorrow” is new and not on many Goodreads lists as of yet. I think that it would fit in on “Small Towns with Secrets”, and “Epistolary Fiction”.

Find “The Town Build on Sorrow” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “There’s Someone Inside Your House”

15797848Book: “There’s Someone Inside Your House” by Stephanie Perkins

Publishing Info: Dutton Books for Young Readers, September 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an ARC of it from the publisher at ALA.

Book Description: Scream meets YA in this hotly-anticipated new novel from the bestselling author of Anna and the French Kiss.

One-by-one, the students of Osborne High are dying in a series of gruesome murders, each with increasing and grotesque flair. As the terror grows closer and the hunt intensifies for the killer, the dark secrets among them must finally be confronted.

International bestselling author Stephanie Perkins returns with a fresh take on the classic teen slasher story that’s fun, quick-witted, and completely impossible to put down.

Review: We’re nearing the end of September, guys, which means that October is just around the corner! For me, that means HORRORPALOOZA is on the way, in which my reading tastes gravitate towards all horror, all the time. I had to get a little taste of that before the calendar turned over, though, as I just couldn’t wait to pick up “There’s Someone Inside Your House” any longer. So I don’t know if it was the waiting and the hype that I built up in my head for it, but I’m wondering if waiting was a mistake. because while there were definitely things I enjoyed about this book, it was something of a let down.

I’ll start with what I did like, though. “There’s Someone Inside Your House” has had comparisons to “Scream”, one of my favorite slasher movies of all time because of how it cheekily deconstructs the tropes and tricks of the slasher genre. While I was reading this book, I one hundred percent could see it in my mind’s eye as a film. It has the right amount of characters, it has the right dynamic for the group that we follow, and it has so many visual moments in it that would translate very well to a movie screen. I also enjoyed Makani, our protagonist and surmised ‘final girl’, as of course this book would need one to play to genre type. She is a fish out of water, but not in the ways we may be used to seeing. Not only has she moved to small town Nebraska from freakin’ Hawai’i (I can totally get her bitterness), she is also a biracial girl living in a town with a majority of white people. Being half black and half native Hawaiian means she gets a lot of ‘but where are you from really?’ questions, and this book deals with that openly and frankly, which is very important. She does, of course, have a dark secret in her past that she fears getting out, and while I was rolling my eyes at this cliche when it was revealed what had happened, I was actually at peace with it, as it wasn’t too melodramatic, yet she also did have legitimate things to be sorry for while having reason to be hurting and traumatized. From characters who are POC to LGBTQIA to socioeconomically different, I feel like Perkins was committed to exploring diversity for this story when other authors may have not bothered.

The slasher killer plot line (so, the main plot line) had some issues that I couldn’t quite wrap my head around. I give props in that while Perkins starts out making us wonder who the killer is (mainly is it Ollie, Makani’s brooding but sensitive love interest), once it is revealed who they are, there are no more questions or twists, or suppositions of coming twists. It was who it was, and that was that. But once it was revealed WHY the killer was doing what they were doing, this book kind of lost me. It’s one thing if you are doing it because you’re a supernatural being that is taking revenge for your deserved but untimely murder (“Nightmare on Elm Street”), or because camp counselors weren’t paying attention and you drowned (“Friday the 13th), or because you’re just one big metaphor for Evil (“Halloween”). Even in “Scream” the trauma of parental abandonment mixed with the need to be famous/notorious worked out as a solid motive. But in this one it’s just so…. not that, and without more background to the killer I couldn’t and wouldn’t swallow it so easily. On top of that, each teenager killed by this person has something cut off and taken away, and it seemed like it was going to build up to one big gross reveal of just what was happening with these absconded body parts…… But then nah, the pomp and dramatics were all for naught, it was maybe just because reasons (note, I will admit that perhaps I’m wrong on this, as when I start getting near the end of a tense book I sometimes inadvertently skim in my anxiety).

While there were a few hang ups I had with “There’s Someone Inside Your House”, I do think that it’s a quick, simple, and totally appropriate book for the upcoming Halloween season. Teens that are craving horror but maybe aren’t feeling something a but denser and darker will probably find a lot to like here, and anything that nurtures kids and teens loves of horror gets props from me.

Rating 6: The characters were fine and I liked the diversity. While the identity of the killer wasn’t drawn out or too twisty turny, the motivation and MO felt flimsy at best.

Reader’s Advisory:

“There’s Someone Inside Your House” is included on the Goodreads lists “Teen Screams”, and “2017 YA Books With LGBT Themes”.

Find “There’s Someone Inside Your House” at your library using WorldCat!