A Revisit to Fear Street: “The Overnight” (Fear Street #3)

656729Book: “The Overnight” (Fear Street #3) by R.L. Stine

Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, 1989

Where Did I Get This Book: Interlibrary Loan from the library!

Book Description: “Nothing bad will happen,” Della O’Connor assures her friends in the Outdoors Club. So what if their advisor can’t go on the overnight to Fear Island—won’t it be more fun with no adults around?

But it’s no fun at all when Della gets lost in the woods, and the dangerous stranger appears, whispering threats, driving her to a violent act.

Suddenly all of her friends are involved, prisoners in a conspiracy of silence, trying to conceal the terrible truth. But someone saw what Della did. And he’s threatening them all, forcing them back to Fear Island to find the evidence they forgot to bury…

Had I Read This Before: No (I’m starting to wonder if I read more standalones and “Super Chillers” rather than the original “Fear Street” series).

The Plot: As if the teens of Shadyside didn’t have enough problems and woes on their plates, we now have to factor in the possibility of leaving the more populated parts of the town and go straight into a remote location where mischief and mayhem (and in all probability MURDER) can wreak havoc. That’s right guys, “The Overnight” doesn’t just take us into Fear Woods! It takes us to the not until just now mentioned Fear Island, which is in the middle of the lake within Fear Woods! That is where the Shadyside High Outdoor Club is planning on taking their overnight this year. Our protagonist is Della, one of the members of the aforementioned club, along with her innocent and sheltered bestie Maia, her (as of very recently) ex-boyfriend Gary, the preppy and awkward Pete, the obnoxious class clown Ricky, and the town bicycle Suki (who is my favorite character in the “Fear Street” series because her physical description makes it sound like R.L. Stine has watched “Return of the Living Dead” a few too many times). At their meeting (where Della is moping about Gary and Suki being so close now), their faculty advisor, Mr. Abner, tells them that he won’t be able to escort them to Fear Island that weekend, as he has just heard of a family emergency and has to leave RIGHT NOW. The Outdoors club is disappointed, until Suki suggests that they all go anyway, just unsupervised. Maia is SHOCKED that she would even suggest such a thing, but Della thinks it will be fun and convinces her to go, because what could possibly happen?

While Della is packing that Saturday, we get some exposition about Fear Island. It’s either an old research facility that is now inhabited by mutants, or the site of an Indian Burial ground (ugh, goddammit, this friggin’ trope). Obviously a destination for camping fun. Pete picks Della up, his obvious crush flying over her head, and they meet the others at the lake, where Gary and Suki are already chumming up pretty heavily. After a close call involving Maia’s parents and Ricky acting like a moron in the boats, they get to the island and decide to play a round of ZAP tag. Which pretty much sounds like paint ball, but the guns spray liquid paint instead of pellets. Girls vs Boys, of course. After Suki (and her punk rocky boy crazy attitude) pisses Della off, Della goes off on her own. And suddenly, a strange man approaches her. Her first thought, instead of ‘hm, strange man acting funny in the woods, I should be careful’, is ‘ooh, hottie alert!’, and she starts to flirt with him. He tells her that he’s studying the trees in the woods, but can’t keep his story straight, and yet no warning bells are going off for Della yet. After she prods him a bit more he attacks her. He says some gobbledy gook about communication and something about an old man, and Della gets herself free from his grasp long enough that she can shoot him with the ZAP gun. A chase begins, he catches her at the top of a ravine, and she shoves him down it. And then she realizes that it looks like he’s dead. So while trying to cover him up with leaves, the others find her and the mass freak out begins. Mostly by Maia, who isn’t as concerned that a crazy man tried to murder and do God knows what else to her best friend, but that her parents will find out that she was on an unsupervised trip!! Really, bitch? They decide that instead of going to the police (when it’s pretty clearly self defense here!), they should just leave him there to rot because who will find him? They complete their camping trip so as not to raise suspicions, and outside of some weird noises in the night they sleep fine.

The next day they leave the island and go back to their lives. The day after that Maia is freaking out that her parents are going to find out about all this (still not about the dead guy), so Della goes to reassure her and suffer some guilt tripping from her friend. This is just too much. For being best friends Maia is pretty much the goddamn worst. When Della returns home, however, she finds a note in her mailbox, which contains some jewelry that the dead man was wearing, and a note that says ‘I KNOW WHAT YOU DID’.

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Hm, I’ve seen this movie… (source)

The Outdoors club meets to discuss this turn of events (as Gary also got a note). Both Dell and Gary are missing their wallets, so that’s how whoever this is must have found them. Pete arrives fashionably late, and shows them a newspaper clipping about a recent burglary and murder, where an old man was murdered, possibly for money that he may have had, and there are pictures of the suspects (I guess? I don’t know how they would have figured that out, but okay). ONE OF THE SUSPECTS IS THE DEAD GUY! So maybe the person stalking them is his partner! Maia freaks out about her parents again, Della FINALLY tells her to SHUT THE HELL UP, and they are all surprised when Della’s mom comes home with a gentleman caller, which pretty much breaks up the meeting. Though Pete has time to ask Della on a date. Which she accepts.

Pete and Della go dancing at some teenage dance club, but while they’re driving home they are nearly run off the road by a strange car. They maneuver their way out of it, and see the strange car crash into a tree. When they look to see who was driving, the driver has already skedaddled. AT WHAT POINT DO YOU JUST GO TO THE POLICE?! They go back to school on Monday and at Outdoors Club tell the others about this (Maia is still freaking out. She’s clearly the weak link, guys). Mr. Abner returns and has great news!! The family crisis is over and he can finally take them all to Fear Island THIS COMING WEEKEND!! Della and Ricky try to play it cool by feigning interest, but everyone else tries to make excuses. Mr. Abner, acting less like a teacher and more like a child, guilts them about how he’s made special time to do this. Dude, really? They say they will let him know in a couple days. Most of them want to bail… But then Ricky tells them he’s missing a ZAP gun, which must still be on the island with the body. Somehow this could tie him to the crime, I guess, and he says that if it does he’s taking all of them down with him. So they agree that they will go back to Fear Island this weekend to get the evidence.

The Outdoors Club doesn’t even try to pretend that they are having a good time, so poor Mr. Abner must really be feeling like he’s stuck with a bunch of ingrates as he leads them across the lake and to the camp. Once they’re settled Pete and Della try to go get the gun, but Abner, convinced they’re going to go bang, says they can’t leave his sight. He says he’ll go get it (because at camp they won’t get into shenanigans I guess), but is soon knocked out by the CREEPY GUY, who runs off into the night. The Club makes a decision: Ricky, Gary, and Suki go for help,Della goes to get the gun, and Pete and Maia will stay with Abner (because Maia would rather have someone with her instead of letting Pete go with Della, the little wretch). Della goes to get the gun, but finds that the body is missing! And in a scene very reminiscent of “Robocop”, Della finds herself face to face with the man she thought she killed. Turns out she hadn’t. Apparently he has a ‘very faint pulse’ and that’s why she thought he was dead. He is then mad that she left him for dead, and tries to kill her again, as unlike her fake gun, he has a real one!…. But then Pete shows up and shoots him with the ZAP gun, getting paint in his eyes. They run back to camp with the guy chasing them, but the others have arrived with the police, who have also nabbed his partner.

The book ends with Pete picking Della up for a date, and in an attempt at comedy he brings a folded up tent in his car. Good one, Pete. Let’s remind her of all the trauma she’s gone through. But then they opt to eat marshmallows and watch movies all night instead. The end.

Body Count: Zero! Can you believe it?! I feel ripped off, in all honesty.

Romance Rating: 6. Not much, but okay, I admit it, I liked Pete! He and Della worked and made sense. And I was happy that there wasn’t any kind of love triangle either between them and Gary.

Bonkers Rating: 3. The twists were pretty standard, and felt like a run of the mill thriller. I was hoping that it would be MR. ABNER THE WHOLE TIME, but then it wasn’t. Meh.

Fear Street Relevance: 4. I am calling a cheat on this because while it took place on Fear Island, Fear Island wasn’t established as a place within this universe until it was convenient!!

Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:

“The canoes!” Della said. They were gone. “Oh no!” Maia cried. “We’re trapped here!”

…. And then it was just that Ricky hid them like a douche.

That’s So Dated! Moment: Sadly there were few and far between super dated moments in this book! Though at one point Della’s shoes were described as white Reebok hightops, and I totally had a pair of those!

Best Quote:

“Knock it off, Suki,” Gary warned. “Stop picking on Ricky.” “Ricky’s picking on ME by existing,” Suki muttered.

I freaking love Suki Thomas.

I expected more from you, “Fear Street”. This just felt like “I Know What You Did Last Summer”. So maybe Kevin Williamson stole that idea from this. Regardless, it wasn’t one of the better stories in the series. Hopefully “Missing”, the next on the list, will be better.

Kate’s Review: “Tiny Pretty Things”

18710209Book: “Tiny Pretty Things” by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton

Publishing Info: HarperTeen, May 2015

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Gigi, Bette, and June, three top students at an exclusive Manhattan ballet school, have seen their fair share of drama. Free-spirited new girl Gigi just wants to dance—but the very act might kill her. Privileged New Yorker Bette’s desire to escape the shadow of her ballet star sister brings out a dangerous edge in her. And perfectionist June needs to land a lead role this year or her controlling mother will put an end to her dancing dreams forever. When every dancer is both friend and foe, the girls will sacrifice, manipulate, and backstab to be the best of the best.

Review: I honestly couldn’t tell you what it is, but there is something about the “Drama and mean girl bitchery happening at a boarding school/organization for some kind of art form” trope that I am a complete and total sucker for. It doesn’t necessarily HAVE to be about ballet (after all the movie “Fame” isn’t strictly about that art form and I LOVE it), but it’s just an added bonus if it is. “Center Stage” is by no means a good movie, but if I stumble upon it on the TV I am guaranteed to watch it. “Black Swan” messed me up real good and I could have taken even MORE mental anguish and paranoia from it. Because the competition of being the best within the strict and narrow world of ballet makes people do AWFUL THINGS, according to this trope, and I live for it.

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HERE. FOR. THIS. (source)

So of course “Tiny Pretty Things” was going to appeal to me. The fact that it has an underlying mystery is really just a bonus, I would have picked it up regardless. But “Tiny Pretty Things” also surprised me in a lot of pleasant ways. In a book that could have easily been about a bunch of spoiled and rich white girls (as the ballet world and culture is disproportionately white), authors Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton instead represented a rather diverse cast of characters, and the struggles they all face trying to fit into the ballet box. And they do this seamlessly, weaving these everyday moments of frustration or microaggressions against them into the bigger picture, so their struggles are just a natural, and yet exposed, part of their day to day realities. And there are a LOT of themes here, and since I want to break them all down, we’re going to have a lot to talk about.

One of the themes this book talks about is discrimination in the ballet world, both racial and sexual orientation. Gigi, being the only black student at the school, is always being put in the ‘Other’ role by those around her, be it fellow dancers or even the administrators. Her talents and merits are always being picked apart by those around her, and there is always a question of how much she deserves the roles that she’s getting. June, too, isn’t immune to such treatment, even if it’s to a different extent. Her biracial ethnicity has left her without a group, and since she has never known who her father is she is feeling even more like she has never known her true identity. And while they aren’t given many perspective moments, it’s mentioned that there are a number of the Korean dancers at this school who are absolutely fantastic at dance… but never get lead roles, and rarely get solos, because they just don’t ‘fit’ the part. Not only are racial biases spoken of, but so are those of sexuality and the idea of masculine and feminine ideals. There are two GLBT characters in this book, and while neither of them have perspective chapters, you do get to learn a bit about them through the other girls eyes. William is gay, and is definitely one of the best male dancers at the school. But again, because he doesn’t meet the physical (and yes, sexual preference) ideal of how a male ballerina should be, he too is denied lead roles. And Sei-Jin, June’s enemy, is a closeted lesbian. She torments June but is also terrified that June will tell the world that she’s a lesbian, therein ruining her chances, in her mind, at stardom. I really appreciated that this was touched on in this book when it easily could have just been ignored.

Along with discrimination there is the obsession with perfection and how far you go to achieve it. Be it the eating disorders that June and another girl named Liz are living with, or the Adderall addiction that Bette has, the competition runs all of these girls completely ragged. And this is why even Bette, mean awful HORRIBLE Bette, is a character that I can’t completely hate. She is certainly entitled and spoiled and bordering on psychopathic, but it is because this is all she has been raised to know, even since she was a little girl. She has seen her perfect older sister rise into prominency in the ballet world, and now their emotionally abusive and alcoholic mother wants both of her daughters to be stars. So Bette, who has been raised to be a star, is driven to the extremes beyond her Adderall addiction to achieve this perfection, and starts to spiral into madness when it just can’t quite be achieved. I really liked that this story addresses the fact that these CHILDREN are being completely put through the ringer, and that most of them aren’t going to make it in the ways that they are being pushed to do so.

Which leads us into the mystery of this book (as yes, there is indeed a mystery). Since Gigi is new and black and doing phenomenally well, someone starts harassing her and tormenting her. And while it very well could be Bette (and some of it is Bette because she’s the worst), some of these pranks and taunts are downright violent. While I may have a pretty good idea as to who it is (this is the first in a duology, so it hasn’t been revealed yet), I’m not quite certain. And I love the fact that I’m not quite certain! There are other little mysteries in this book that are a bit more obvious(such as the identity of June’s father, which I won’t spoil here, but it’s really not too hard to figure out), and while that’s fine, the mystery in itself is pretty run of the mill. The joy and power of this book isn’t in the mystery, though there are lots of pretty amazingly over the top moments of drama that surround it. The joy is definitely in the complex issues that Charaipotra and Clayton put in here, as well as, yes, the juicy juicy drama. Whenever a book about ballerinas ends up with one of said ballerinas getting glass shards left in her ballet shoes, you KNOW that I’m going to be a total sucker for it.

I really really enjoyed “Tiny Pretty Things” and will certainly be picking up “Shiny Broken Pieces” as soon as possible. It’s definitely soapy and dramatic, but it uses this premise to talk about other, very relevant problems within the ballet culture. So it’s a double win for me. Definitely pick it up if you want something fun, light, but thoughtful.

Rating 9: Steeped with soapy and sudsy drama, but also taking on some pretty relevant issues within the ballet world, “Tiny Pretty Things” is both a trashy mystery romp and a relevant commentary. A perfect quick read.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Tiny Pretty Things” is included on the Goodreads lists “Diverse Books by Diverse Authors”, and “Hell Is A Teenage Girl”.

Find “Tiny Pretty Things” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Scary Out There”

28954124Book: “Scary Out There” by Jonathan Maberry (Editor)

Publishing Info: Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, August 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Multiple Bram Stoker Award–winning author Jonathan Maberry compiles more than twenty stories and poems—written by members of the Horror Writers Association—in this terrifying collection about worst fears.

What scares you? Things that go bump in the night? Being irreversibly different? A brutal early death? The unknown?

This collection contains stories and poetry by renowned writers such as R. L. Stine, Neal and Brendan Shusterman, and Ellen Hopkins—all members of the Horror Writers Association—about what they fear most. The stories include mermaids, ghosts, and personal demons, and are edited by Jonathan Maberry, multiple Bram Stoker award winner and author of the Rot & Ruin series.

Review: During one of our recent book club meetings, our fellow member Aimee mentioned to me a book of short stories she was reading for a book committee she was on. That book was “Scary Out There”, and as the resident (and kind of lone) horror buff she felt that this might be a good fit for me. I’ve read horror short story collections for teens before. One of the very best ones I’ve read is the FABULOUS book “Slasher Girls and Monster Boys”, and knowing that there are some great horror authors out there for young adults, I was pretty intrigued by “Scary Out There”. The problem with short stories collections is that sometimes you may have a set of stories that may have some stand outs, but are, as a whole, a dud. And unfortunately, “Scary Out There” pretty solidly fell into this unfortunate trap.

But I will talk about the stand out stories first. Because there were a few that I really liked.

“Danny” by Josh Malerman

Josh Malerman is the author of the incredibly creepy and completely ambiguous “Bird Box”, so when I saw that he had a tale of terror in here I had high hopes. The man did NOT disappoint. This story is about Kelly, a fifteen year old girl who wants to start babysitting, even though her parents aren’t sure she’s up to the task. After some convincing on their part, she answers an ad for The Donalds, who need a babysitter for their young son Danny. After her Dad drops her off for the job, the Donalds come clean. They don’t actually have a son, but really, really wish that they did, so could she just go through the motions of acting like she’s babysitting their nonexistent while they go out for the night? Kelly, wanting to seem responsible and not get an ‘I told you so’ from her folks, agrees. But is she actually alone in the house? HOW SCREWED UP, but also, how Josh Malerman. This story really hit all the right notes, as you spend the majority of this book wondering if the Donalds are totally insane (scary enough on it’s own), or if there is actually something else in this house with Kelly. I was completely unsettled and freaked out by this one, and Malerman did a great job of building suspense slowly, and being deliberate in turning the screws on the reader.

“Corazón Oscuro” by Rachel Caine

This one is definitely an old school, nightmare fuel ghost story, with horrifying imagery and revenge. When Zenobia and her doctor mother are driving in the desert at night, they come upon a car accident. While her Mom goes to help, Zenobia calls 911, but instead of connecting to help, she connects to something else. Shortly thereafter they realize that they are not alone in this desert scape, as illuminated eyes and strange noises can be seen in the darkness. Help in the form of a man in a pickup truck comes to them, and he tells them about the ghost of a girl covered in scorpions. Zenobia and her mother get caught up in the unfinished business of this girl. I loved this story. It had a taut and scary plot, really creepy moments, and hit all of my ‘NOOOOOPE’ bingo squares with the description of the girl ghost (strange movement, sounds, AND scorpions?! YIKES).

“Death and Twinkies” by Zac Brewer

This one stood out mainly because it’s more sad and melancholic than it is scary. Jeremy is a depressed teenager who is on a quest to kill himself to get away from his terrible life. But when he goes to jump off a bridge, a mysterious teenage boy is there. They start talking, and Jeremy realizes that he’s talking to Death. As they talk, Jeremy starts to wonder if he can go through with what Death should want him to do. I liked this one because, oddly, it was one of the more tender stories in this book. Definitely not scary or unsettling, but kind of sweet and hopeful. Plus, Death is a fun and snarky character, as any personification SHOULD be, in my opinion.

“Non-Player Character” by Neal and Brendan Shusterman

Neal Shusterman is just a powerhouse in the YA world, and this time his son came along for the ride! Darren is a teenager whose parents are obsessed with an online video game. Darren pretty much cares for himself they’re so far gone, and cares for them too. But then he sees a strange girl inside the game, a non-player character. Darren is compelled to pick up the controller and play too, if only to get closer to her. But as he does get close to her, his own dangerous obsession begins. This one was upsetting on a few levels. The first is that Darren’s parents are the absolute worst in how they neglect him. The second is all about the power of the game itself, and what it can make people do. The end was screwed up beyond belief, and I loved that about it.

But guys. These are just four stories out of twenty one. The rest didn’t really do it for me. They were either boring, pointless, or ended abruptly and felt haphazard. There were multiple times that I would feel like the story built up so much that it didn’t work where it ended, feeling incomplete and unfulfilling. Other times there would be such hamfisted ‘issues’ stories that could have used horror as a good metaphor, but ended up falling pretty damn flat. OR, they ended on a cliffhanger and that was it. Come on! I don’t want so many stories to end with a big ol’ question mark, or a ‘she ran away but doom was certain… but was it?’ kind of resolution.

So while four of these stories were pretty damn awesome and I shall sing their praises to hell and back…. the rest were rather disappointing. If you can find these mentioned stories on their own, definitely do. But if you want want a more well rounded book of horror short stories for teens, I would say definitely go with “Slasher Girls and Monster Boys”. “Scary Out There” just doesn’t have the balance.

Rating 5: While four of the stories stand out as strong contributions, the rest of them are rather lackluster and not as scary as they want to be.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Scary Out There” isn’t on many Goodreads lists that reflect the material, but I think it would fit in on “YA Short Stories and Collections”, and “Short Horror/SciFi Collections”.

Find “Scary Out There” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Little Heaven”

29430791Book: “Little Heaven” by Nick Cutter

Publishing Info: Gallery Books, January 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: An all-new epic tale of terror and redemption set in the hinterlands of midcentury New Mexico from the acclaimed author of The Troop—which Stephen King raved “scared the hell out of me and I couldn’t put it down…old-school horror at its best.”

From electrifying horror author Nick Cutter comes a haunting new novel, reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian and Stephen King’s It, in which a trio of mismatched mercenaries is hired by a young woman for a deceptively simple task: check in on her nephew, who may have been taken against his will to a remote New Mexico backwoods settlement called Little Heaven. Shortly after they arrive, things begin to turn ominous. Stirrings in the woods and over the treetops—the brooding shape of a monolith known as the Black Rock casts its terrible pall. Paranoia and distrust grips the settlement. The escape routes are gradually cut off as events spiral towards madness. Hell—or the closest thing to it—invades Little Heaven. The remaining occupants are forced to take a stand and fight back, but whatever has cast its dark eye on Little Heaven is now marshaling its powers…and it wants them all.

Review: I have heard of Nick Cutter. This horror author gets some serious buzz from other horror authors, like Stephen King, for example. Anyone who’s good by Stephen King is usually going to be good by me. I requested Cutter’s first big break novel, “The Troop”, but when I realized that it was a parasite story, I was an immediate NOPE and sent it back to the library and on to the next person. Some time passed, and then I saw that he had another book that came out called “The Deep”. I was tempted, but then I saw a reviewer say that it was more of the same creepy themes that “The Troop” touched on, and therefore I continued my NOOOOOPE because parasites + the deep deep ocean is just not my idea of fun. But THEN I heard about “Little Heaven”. Cults in the desert? I can handle that, I told myself. I love a good cult story!!…..

And then I saw all the NOOOOOOOOOOOOOPE stuff that I’d hoped to avoid in the first two books.

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(source)

But I was invested and in it, so I powered on through. The good news is that since the themes and imagery was genuinely upsetting, this was a pretty damn scary book that messed me up pretty damn good. The bad news is that…… see the above gif.

Something that I found really interesting about this book was that it felt almost like a Western as well as a horror novel, and not just because it took place in the New Mexican desert. Outside of “No Country for Old Men” I’m not terribly acquainted with the genre, but if you have three mercenaries hired to check out a small town in the middle of nowhere, with little trust between the three of them, I feel like that just screams Western. I could be wrong, but whatever. The story follows Micah, Minerva, and Ebeneezer, three guns for hire who set out to check up on a small boy who has been taken to a compound in the middle of the desert. Cutter did a pretty good job of fleshing out all three mercenaries in terms of how they interact with each other and how they would react in the situation they find themselves in. But of Micah, Eb, and Minny, I think that Minny is the one whose motivations I understood the most, as in her heart of hearts she most wants to take out Ebeneezer because of a tragedy in her life that he unknowingly caused. In one of the many, many upsetting scenes in this book. Essentially Minerva saw her younger brother killed and devoured by a snake with no help in sight because Eb had killed their Dad. I totally got her rage and need for revenge, even when it seemed to be completely crazy and detrimental to the situation they found themselves in….. Ugh, the descriptions of a child being strangled and eaten by a snake will not leave me for awhile, I can assure you of that.

Little Heaven itself takes great influence from Jim Jones and the People’s Temple. Between the physical description of Amos, the leader of this group, the fact that they started in San Francisco, and some of the rituals and proclivities they embark on, Cutter has definitely written a ‘love letter’ of sorts to the group that’s best known for drinking the Kool Aid. But while the group in Little Heaven is strange and pretty messed up on it’s own, it’s the strange demonic creatures that live in the wilderness that are the real threats in this story. And my GOD was all that just completely upsetting and disturbing as well. It got to the point where I was having a hard time reading this book in the evening because I was so freaked out by what I was reading. And while this is usually a good thing in the stories I read, it almost went a little bit too far for me. Visceral and very violent horror, especially of the body horror variety, is something that turns me off pretty quickly, and I have a hard time enjoying what I’m reading. I like being scared, but I don’t like being upset. And “Little Heaven” kind of upset me more than it scared me. The body horror violence just keeps getting worse and worse, and every once in awhile we’d be treated to some actual visuals thanks to an extremely talented illustrator…. but whose works were too good at putting what was messing me up on full display.

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Goodbye, peaceful nights. (source)

Nick Cutter does the job, but he almost does it too well when it comes to me. Add that in with an ending that felt incredibly existential and nihilistic just for the sake of nihilism, and I closed the book and felt yucky on the inside. Look, sometimes I enjoy a good nihilistic downer ending (uh, hello, “Hex”). But in the case of “Little Heaven”, so much of the pain that was heaped upon some of these characters felt undeserved, and while there were some bits of joy, overall I just felt kind of bad once it was all said and done. I know that that’s sometimes the goal of a good horror novel. But that’s so not my thing.

So I have to give “Little Heaven” a lot of credit for freaking me out and making me unable to read it at night. But it kind of made my heart hurt a bit too much along with the lots and lots of nopes that it bubbled up inside of me. I know lots of horror fans who will love it, though. You’re made of stronger stuff than I!

Rating 7: This book scared the living daylights out of me, but the ending was a bit too nihilistic for my tastes.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Little Heaven” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Upcoming Books Of Note: Horror”, and “Best Picks: Adult Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Novels of 2017”.

Find “Little Heaven” at your library using WorldCat!

A Revisit to Fear Street: “The Surprise Party” (Fear Street #2)

176637Book: “The Surprise Party” (Fear Street #2) by R.L. Stine

Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, 1989

Where Did I Get This Book: Interlibrary Loan from the Library!

Book Description: It’s been a year since Evan died in the Fear Street woods. A year since Ellen moved away, and “the gang” split up. Meg Dalton felt as if she’d lost her best friends. Everyone changed. Even her boyfriend Tony was acting moody, strange. But when she heard that Ellen was returning for a visit, Meg had the answer: she’d bring them all together again with a surprise party for Ellen!

That’s when the terror began…the phone calls…the threats…the bizarre acts of violence. “Cancel the party—or else,” the whispered voice on the phone told her. Meg was scared, and with good reason. Whoever wanted the party stopped would try anything—even murder! But why? The dark Fear Street woods held the answer…if Meg dared to discover the truth!

Had I Read This Before: Yes

The Plot: And it was with “The Surprise Party” that I not only got back on track with going through the “Fear Street” series in order, but also having a full understanding of what my devotion to finding the originals would entail. The ILL copy I got of this book was pretty gross and disgusting, guys. I found a long faded and nasty remnant of an M&M within it’s pages. The candy shell does NOT melt in your hand, but if cracked, the chocolate seeps into all the pages. But it was worth it, because the dreckitude of this book’s condition was far outweighed by how nostalgic it was to hold it in my hands.

Meg Dalton and her group of friends are living normal lives in Shadyside. Well, pretty normal, outside of the fact that the summer before the horrible death of their friend Evan kind of tore a big hole down the middle of their clique. Evan shot himself in the Fear Street Woods, and no one knows why. His girlfriend Ellen moved away she was in such shock and grief. Meg misses her friends, and her bestie Shannon and her boyfriend Tony just don’t quite fill that void. But then she hears from Lisa (of Lisa and Cory from “The New Girl”) that Ellen is coming back to town for a visit after all these months of being away. Meg has a scintillating idea when she hears that: Let’s throw this traumatized and potentially still in mourning girl a surprise party! Shannon seems down for it, while Tony is visibly shaken. Meg goes home and starts to plan her perfect little party….. Until she gets a scary phone call, with the person saying that she better not have a party for Ellen… OR ELSE.

Meg, not to be deterred by a little light stalking, continues to plan the shindig. Shannon even makes some nice invitations that they can pass around. Meg goes to study hall with her friends, and notices that her weirdo cousin Brian is there too. Brian is SUCH A WEIRDO because he likes to play Dungeons and Dra-, no, excuse me, Wizards and Dungeons, with his actually awful friend Dwayne ‘Date Rapist’ Colligan (who has been aggressively trying to get Shannon to go out with him). Brian was also in the woods the day that Evan killed himself, as he heard a shot and went running, only to find dead Evan and a frazzled Ellen. After Meg turns her attentions away from the invites for just one moment, she returns to find that they’ve been cut up! How dare someone try and stop this totally fun and wicked party idea?!

Meg decides she needs to make a list of suspects of attempted party pooping. There’s Brian, because he’s a weirdo. There’s Shannon, because she may blame Ellen for Evan’s death. And then maybe Ellen could be a suspect too, because ‘she never liked parties’, and someone could have tipped her off. Brilliant. She writes down Dwayne for good measure because she doesn’t like him. She decides to call Tony to see what he thinks. He thinks that someone was following him, and he also thinks that she’s nuts for still going through with this in spite of the blatant threats against her. Meg can’t understand why he’s so upset, and guarantees that she’ll find out who is behind this. She then calls Ellen, just to see how she is (and maybe to try and get a feel for her knowledge re: her shindig). Ellen sounds very happy to see her and excited about coming home… Maybe TOO happy and excited…

As Meg manages to isolate herself from everyone on her mad quest for fun, she visits Shannon and thinks about how impulsive- no, wait, what’s the word- volatile and violent Evan was when he was alive. From throwing things to hitting Tony with a pool cue. Meg notes that Shannon’s older half brother, Mike, looks so much like Evan, which surely won’t come into play later. Shannon and Meg think maybe Brian could have something to do with all of this craziness. And he’s been SO OBSESSED with Wizards and Dungeons since he found Evan dead in the woods, that has to mean something, right? When she’s about to go confront Brian, someone tries to run her down in their car!!! Though she jumps out of the way, she runs home and mulls her next move? Call the police? Nah, call Tony!… Who doesn’t answer (because he’s out for a run, and is having a confrontation with Dwayne). The next night Meg actually drops by, but he’s not home. And then, around 4am, Tony’s drunk of a father calls Meg and tells her that Tony has disappeared with Brian!

Meg decides to go into the Fear Street Woods to look for them, as they were supposedly going to play a game of W&D. When Meg is looking for them, she’s thrown down a ravine by an unknown assailant. She finds Brian all beaten up, and Tony soon appears, saying Brian fell down the ravine and he went for help. After they are all taken out of the woods, Meg goes to visit Brian, who seems standoffish (and not just because he’s in severe pain). He seems like he’s about to confess SOMETHING to her… but then ELLEN is there, and they’re both surprised to see each other. Meg leaves, and calls Tony. He asks if Brian confessed, and Meg says yes, thinking he meant to the phone calls… BUT TONY ACTUALLY MEANT TO KNOWING THAT TONY WAS THE ONE WHO KILLED EVAN A YEAR AGO, AND HE’S THE ONE MAKING THE PHONE CALLS! And now Tony thinks that he’s going to have to ‘take care’ of Meg!!!

Meg and Shannon go to visit Ellen. After an awkward and forced conversation about their favorite childhood game ‘eek a mouse!’ (in which you randomly scream as loud as you can), they go to an unsupervised party at their classmate David’s house. Dwayne basically tries to molest Shannon, but Meg rescues her and they both downplay the situation. When Tony arrives he and Meg go off to talk alone. Tony is planning to kill Meg, but then realizes that she hasn’t actually put two and two together about his involvement. You get to live for now, Meg.

The night of the surprise party arrives! Meg brings Ellen to the old Haley house in Fear Street woods under pretense of Shannon being there for some reason. They surprise Ellen, who actually seems to be pretty excited to be dragged to the woods where her greatest trauma occurred. Everyone is having a good time, except Tony, who is on edge…. Until Brian shows up…. AND IN WITH HIM WALKS EVAN!!! Except no, it’s NOT Evan, it’s Shannon’s half brother Mike, who looks like Evan, remember?! Regardless, Tony freaks out, and starts to confess to what he did… But then the lights go out and a gunshot rings out!! When they come back on, Tony has been SHOT (by the gun he brought to the party) and it was DWAYNE who did it!!! Dwayne takes Meg and Ellen hostage and they leave the party, and go into the basement to ‘hide’. Ellen confesses that the day Evan was killed, she had just dumped him for Tony (yeah, sorry Meg). Evan ran into Fear Street woods with his father’s gun, and Ellen went after him, Tony not far behind. Soon Evan and Tony were fighting over the rifle, and then Evan ended up shot. Brian heard the gunshot and came to the woods, finding the scene. Tony said he would make it look like suicide, and if they told, he’d kill them. They all ran off at that point… BUT DWAYNE REVEALS THAT NO, IT WAS HE! Because he came looking for Brian (as they had been playing W&D), and found a very much alive, but weak, Evan, who hadn’t been shot but hit his head on a rock. So Dwayne decided to get rid of this guy because Evan never let him go out with Shannon. After he confesses he says he’s going to kill them… But then Meg decides to play ‘eek, a mouse’ (like Chekov says, if you introduce ‘eek a mouse’…). She distracts Dwayne, Ellen hits him in the head with a frying pan, and they make their escape…. No word on if Dwayne was killed, though it sounds like maybe he was.

It all wraps up at the end. Tony gets therapy, Ellen goes home, Brian says that he and Ellen had planned to try and get Tony to confess by bringing Mike to the party. No word on Dwayne’s status. As Ellen and Shannon wrap it up in a neat little bow, Mike asks Meg out on a date. She agrees… but says in a flirty way “Please… no parties!”. The End.

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I guess that’s one way to react to this whole thing… (source)

Body Count: Well I know for sure that Evan is dead, though he died off page. I don’t know if Dwayne died though, so we’ll say 2.

Romance Rating: 2. Given that Tony was lying and threatening Meg for most of the story and all other couples were generally dysfunctional that may be generous. But Mike seems fine.

Bonkers Rating: 7. From the dated evils of Dungeons and Dragons to the whiplash inducing twists at the end, this one was up there on the bonkers scale.

Fear Street Relevance: 9. There was a lot of action taking place on Fear Street and in the Fear Street Woods, including the most important moments of the book.

Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:

“It’s blood!” she cried. “My lunch bag is filled with BLOOD!”

….. and then it turns out it’s red paint.

That’s So Dated! Moment: Thank God that this was written in 1989 and this copy was the original publication! Because of that we got this gem:

“With her coppery hair, blue eyes, and full pouty lips, Meg thought, Shannon looked just like that actress in the movies, Molly Ringwald.”

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But I have brown eyes… (source)

Best Quote:

“Quick – crank up some music!:” Shannon shouted, startling Meg from behind once again. “And crank it all the way up! This party is okay!”

A ringing endorsement if there ever was one.

I remembered a few things about this book from my childhood, but reading it with an adult’s perspective kind of hit home how ridiculous this series was. And how it shows a weird and warped version of teen dating and love. I was especially horrified by the portrayals of Dwayne before his big reveal. His behavior towards Shannon was downright predatory, so it’s good that he was the villain or else I would have had a serious problem with downplaying his violent misogyny as ‘harmless’.

Next up is “The Overnight”! “Fear Steet” goes camping and I can’ wait!

Kate’s Review: “The Roanoke Girls”

30689335Book: “The Roanoke Girls” by Amy Engel

Publishing Info: Crown, March 2017

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

Book Description: Roanoke girls never last long around here. In the end, we either run or we die.

After her mother’s suicide, fifteen year-old Lane Roanoke came to live with her grandparents and fireball cousin, Allegra, on their vast estate in rural Kansas. Lane knew little of her mother’s mysterious family, but she quickly embraced life as one of the rich and beautiful Roanoke girls. But when she discovered the dark truth at the heart of the family, she ran fast and far away.

Eleven years later, Lane is adrift in Los Angeles when her grandfather calls to tell her Allegra has gone missing. Did she run too? Or something worse? Unable to resist his pleas, Lane returns to help search, and to ease her guilt at having left Allegra behind. Her homecoming may mean a second chance with the boyfriend whose heart she broke that long ago summer. But it also means facing the devastating secret that made her flee, one she may not be strong enough to run from again.

As it weaves between Lane s first Roanoke summer and her return, The Roanoke Girls shocks and tantalizes, twisting its way through revelation after mesmerizing revelation, exploring the secrets families keep and the fierce and terrible love that both binds them together and rips them apart.

Review: I don’t know what I was expecting when I requested this book from Librarything for a free giveaway (one again, a big thank you to both Librarything and Penguin Random House for sending me this book!). Reading the description it makes “The Roanoke Girls” sound like a pretty typical, run of the mill “Thriller with a Messed Up Female Protagonist”. Secrets happen, you can’t go home again, etcetera. While you can probably surmise what that big secret is if you read the description and have a working knowledge of the genre, I was not prepared for what I was picking up. Pretty early on the big underlying secret is revealed, but it was how Engel handled it that I was most interested in. And it was in the way she handled it that I was most impressed by this book.

Though I won’t go into many spoilers here, I am definitely going to say that this book carries some serious trigger warnings with it, regarding rape and sexual abuse.

Lane, our main character, seemingly falls into the usual trap of ‘messed up female protagonist’ of a story like this. She harbors secrets, she left town and hoped to never return (with many secrets under her belt), and she comes back reluctantly due to a mystery (being the disappearance of her cousin Allegra). Hell, she even runs into Cooper, her old boyfriend who, of course, still lives in this small town and still carries a brightly burning torch for her. She even has an ex-husband that she cheated on, therein ruining their marriage because she felt like she didn’t deserve him. But while these are, yes, certainly tropes that are all too familiar, the way that Engel writes Lane, and the things that Lane has had to endure, almost make it that I can forgive how familiar they are. Lane is by far one of the most damaged protagonists that I’ve seen in this genre, but Engel never makes her victimhood, or any of the victimhood portrayed in this book, seem tantalizing. Therefore, I never felt that it was exploitative in how it portrayed the abuse. I kind of try to measure it on a “Flowers in the Attic” kind of scale when it comes to that kind of thing. And this never felt like “Flowers in the Attic”.  And Lane’s portrayal felt genuine to me, as did Allegra’s. While they both made terrible decisions, and while sometimes they could be absolutely terrible to each other and others, I never felt like there was any judgment that Engel was throwing at them. They always came off as complex and broken, so therefore their behavior was more tragic than maddening (as I sometimes feel in books of this genre).

This story is told through three different ways to varying degrees. The majority of it is from Lane’s perspective, shifting from her summer in Kansas in the past to her return to the family farm in the present. The mystery of Allegra can be pieced together in both of these time periods, as much of what Lane sees and refers to will eventually come back to her present disappearance. The mystery itself wasn’t really all that interesting to me, as I had it pretty well figured out fairly early on. True, Engel tried to toss a couple of red herrings at the reader, making us question who the culprit was, or if there was even a culprit at all, but it’s all laid out if you’re looking for it. Part of that is because of this third perspective, that of every Roanoke Girl. There are little intermittent chapters from a different Roanoke Girl’s perspective, which are there to really emphasize how far reaching and how damaging the ‘big family secret’ is. I was a bit torn about having this all out in the open, because at first I was thinking that it kind of takes away the secrecy. But then it occurred to me that the mystery isn’t what the family secret is. That would almost be too lurid if it was the big reveal. The mystery is about how deep it has affected Lane, and if she was able to get away before it totally consumed her. The sexual abuse is no secret, to anyone, really, not even the characters. The people who are privy to it are either warped by it so they think it’s normal, or they are more inclined to blame the Roanoke Girls, or see them as tainted goods because this is the culture that we live in. The isolation is just as physical as it is emotional, as Lane has no one to turn to. So ultimately I am glad that Engel didn’t treat it like some big twist reveal. Because that would have felt like it was perpetuating it, somehow.

“The Roanoke Girls” was definitely a rough read for a lot of reasons, but I found it to be worthwhile as well. I definitely want people to approach it with caution, because it’s very upsetting. But I do think that it makes the reader think about how we view victims of prolonged sexual abuse in our current cultural climate.

Rating 8: Though it’s incredibly dark and upsetting, “The Roanoke Girls” pushes the envelope and boundaries of the usual genre conventions, and brings up legitimate questions about how our culture views and treats victims.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Roanoke Girls” has not come out yet and is on very few Goodreads lists. However, it is on “Books About Rape and Rape Culture”, and I think it would fit in on “Family Secrets”.

Though it is not out yet, you will soon be able to find “The Roanoke Girls” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Transmetropolitan (Vol.4): The New Scum”

6941759Book: “Transmetropolitan (Vol.4): The New Scum” by Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Vertigo, September 2000

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it!

Book Description: Investigative reporter Spider Jerusalem attacks the injustices of the 23rd Century surroundings while working for the newspaper The Word in this critically-acclaimed graphic novel series written by comics superstar Warren Ellis, the co-creator of PLANETARY and THE AUTHORITY.

Review: The more I revisit “Transmetropolitan”, the more I see and deeply feel parallels to our current legal situation, and in turn the more I mourn the lack of a Spider Jerusalem to jump in and start speaking ten kinds of truth. This re-read is both cathartic and upsetting, but the good news is that at least I’m finding myself laughing hysterically at many points of these comics. Because Spider, Yelena, and Channon are all so perfect and filled with snark.

We pick up where Volume 3 left off. Spider (and the world, really) is mourning the assassination of Vita Severn. She’s become a martyr and a symbol for the Callahan campaign. Spider, however, isn’t convinced that Callahan (aka The Smiler) is actually in mourning for Vita. In fact, he has a pretty good hunch that murdering Vita was a political move on the Callahan’s part. And with the election coming up, Spider wants to get the truth out in the only way he knows how. The problem is, there’s no way to win. Because the choices are The Beast, or The Smiler. And either way, Spider, and the country, is screwed….

And along with that we get a Christmas story and a story about the joys of Winter!

Ellis continues his masterful and deft political satire that continues to feel just as relevant today as it felt back when it was first written. While this collection does have a few off shoots and off story vignettes (more on that in a bit), the meat of it is about The Campaign, and Spider’s not so slow realization that there is no good solution. You either get stuck with The Beast, who has driven the country into the ground with oppressive and totalitarian policies, or you end up with The Smiler… Who has managed to prove himself far, far deadlier and menacing than his opponent behind closed doors. There are two moments in this book where Spider confronts both candidates. We get a swift reminder that The Beast is still basically the worst (and he even kind of looks like a certain presidential advisor), but at the same time you see the portrait of a man who is less beastly, and more pathetic and complacent. It was a truly unsettling moment for me as a reader, because it shows that what’s coming is going to somehow be WORSE than the worst. It was a very interesting and kind of pathos ridden final confrontation between Spider and President Beast.

And then there’s The Smiler. It is here that we get full confirmation that he is a full blown psychopath who just kind of wants to watch the world burn. So while The Beast may look like that certain Presidential Advisor, The Smiler shares ethos with him. And it is in this volume that we see Spider, wily, truth pursuing and clever Spider, is bested. Spider had an enemy in The Beast, for sure. But The Smiler is full on intent of annihilating him and wiping him from the Earth. “The New Scum” kind of feels like an “Empire Strikes Back” moment, where almost all hope has been lost and the Empire has won (even more so than Vol. 3, which ended with Vita being assassinated on live TV, and THAT was pretty dismal). Finishing that arc before the next left me feeling drained and in need of chocolate cake.

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(source)

But along with these painful and ‘oh no it’s far too true to life’ moments, there were small moments of pure hope and joy in this collection. In one of our offshoot stories, Spider finds himself meeting up with Mary, his friend who was frozen from the 20th Century and woke up in a scary and completely different future. As she talks about how different it all is, there are still the little joys that make her happy, even if the world is overwhelming and sometimes scares the crap out of her (and then Spider gives her a camera, as she was a photographer in her old life, and that just made my heart sing). In this same story Spider meets a little girl whose Mom had to pawn her favorite doll…. So Spider buys it back for her. Because he recognizes that “… all we’ve actually got is each other. You decide what that means.” And the other story that really affected me is Spider’s rumination on Winter. Winter means change. Winter means a rebirth is coming. Winter means that we can always look forward to the next one, and maybe next Winter will be better. It was a poignant and stunning one off that, true, feels a little harder to swallow these days. I don’t feel like I’m better off this Winter than I was last Winter. But the point is that Ellis knows that even when there’s all this garbage and terribleness, you can always depend on a couple things: the small joys and kindnesses that you will encounter, and that hope for change and rebirth is always there. In these moments, I was able to feel at least a little calmer.

Thanks for the hope, Spider. And thanks for staying inspirational when it comes to truth and journalism.

Rating 9: “Transmetropolitan (Vol.4): The New Scum” is one of the most hopeless and hopeful collections of this series yet. Definitely hard to read, but impossible to put down.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Transmetropolitan (Vol.4): The New Scum”is included on these Goodreads lists: “Great Non-Superhero Graphic Novels”, and “Bibles for the Revolution”.

Find “Transmetropolitan (Vol.4): The New Scum” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously Reviewed:“Transmetropolitan (Vol.1): Back on the Street”, “Transmetropolitan (Vol.2): Lust for Life”, “Transmetropolitan (Vol.3): Year of the Bastard”.