Kate’s Review: “Inspection”

41058632Book: “Inspection” by Josh Malerman

Publishing Info: Del Rey Books, March 2019

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

Book Description: Boys are being trained at one school for geniuses, girls at another. And neither knows the other exists–until now. The innovative author of Bird Box invites you into a tantalizing world of secrets and lies.

J is a student at a school deep in a forest far away from the rest of the world.

J is one of only twenty-six students, who think of their enigmatic school’s founder as their father. And his fellow peers are the only family J has ever had. The students are being trained to be prodigies of art, science, and athletics, but their life at the school is all they know–and all they are allowed to know.

But J is beginning to suspect that there is something out there, beyond the pines, that the founder does not want him to see, and he’s beginning to ask questions. What is the real purpose of this place? Why can the students never leave? And what secrets is their father hiding from them?

Meanwhile, on the other side of the forest, in a school very much like J’s, a girl named K is asking the same questions. J has never seen a girl, and K has never seen a boy. As K and J work to investigate the secrets of their two strange schools, they come to discover something even more mysterious: each other.

In Inspection, the masterful author of Bird Box crafts a sinister and evocative gender equality anthem that will have readers guessing until the final page.

Review: Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel!

I am going to sound like an insufferable hipster for a moment, so bear with me; I liked “Bird Box” before it was cool. A few years before Netflix dropped their thriller hit, I read the book it was based on, written by Josh Malerman. I know the reception of the film was hit or miss, but I legitimately think that the book is terrifying. It kept me on the edge of my seat, and I could barely put it down even as it stressed me out. So when I saw the new book by Malerman was available for request on NetGalley, it caught my eye. And when I found out it took place at a boarding school with malevolent intentions… Well….

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(source)

While evil or mysterious boarding schools have been done before, Malerman leans into the concept and makes it feel wholly original. We first see it from the perspective of an experiment that involves all boys, in which the man heading the experiment, who refers to himself as D.A.D., has taken twenty four boys at birth and raised them isolated from modern society with no knowledge of the female gender. The hypothesis (and trust me, I will absoLUTEly be addressing this later) is that if they are not distracted by women/sexuality/attraction, they can reach their full potential as the next great thinkers and scientists of the world. Malerman covers pretty much all of his bases in this regard, accounting for the need for space, control, and isolation, and did it in ways that felt as realistic as they could be in a story like this. We follow one of the subjects, J, as he and the others start to reach puberty, and we see how he is starting to question his place at this school, and the world that is being presented to them. I liked J quite a bit, and appreciated that Malerman gave him the right amount of rebellious nuance and a believable curiosity, along with a fear and anxiety about his questions, and his fear of being ‘spoiled rotten’ and sent to The Corner, a place where two boys who questions, A and Z, never returned from. I also appreciated that Malerman took into account other aspects of this experiment that I never would have thought of, specifically the role that propaganda would have to play. I thought it was genius to have a specific propagandist on staff, a failed writer named Warren who writes morality tales for the boys that will help keep them in line and under control. It never occurred to me that propaganda would need to play a role in this kind of situation, but this subplot was so, so intriguing, especially as the propagandist starts to question his own culpability.

It’s at the halfway point that “Inspection” really grabbed me. That was when we switched to another boarding school, this one with twenty four girls. This is where Malerman made this story truly all his own. D.A.D.’s wife, who calls herself M.O.M., naturally, is running the same experiment, this time with girls, in hopes of unlocking creative potential. In this part of the story we meet K, the girl who is at the top of the class, but has potentially seen something that she shouldn’t have. Her journey is far less hesitant than J’s, and I loved seeing her creative thinking, as opposed to J’s more rigid thinking, help bring her to conclusions about her situation in a different way. And by the time the two stories converge (though I don’t want to spoil anything here), that is when this story shifts from a vaguely dystopic thriller into a full blown horror novel. While in some ways it felt a little late for the horror elements to arrive, I was so enthralled by the rest of it that I didn’t mind it.

There was one aspect of this story that I couldn’t quite swallow, and that is based within the premise that D.A.D. and M.O.M. have for their awful experiment. They both believe that by isolating the genders, they will be able to unlock the full potential of their subjects, as to them sexuality and attraction are the distractors that keep humans from the highest intellectual levels. This story takes place in a modern-ish time or perhaps a very near future. As two scientists, I don’t understand how they didn’t think about as to whether, within twenty four boys and twenty four girls, there may be the possibility of subjects who were attracted to the same gender. Given the odds, you’d think you’d get at least one, if we’re being conservative in our estimates. I wasn’t sure if Malerman was trying to say that D.A.D. and M.O.M. were so corrupted by their devious and unethical thinking that they would also be biased against LGBTQIA+ people as part of their experiment, or if such a development would immediately call for The Corner, or whether he just didn’t think of it at all. Because it doesn’t come up. And to me, it’s a pretty big question that probably should have been addressed.

That aside, I quite enjoyed “Inspection” in all of it’s creepy and unsettling glory. Malerman continues to surprise and shock me in the best ways, and my hope is that he just keeps getting more attention as time goes on.

Rating 8: A propulsive and then eerie thriller/horror novel, “Inspection” is another triumph from Josh Malerman.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Inspection” is a new book and isn’t on any Goodreads lists yet, but I think that it would fit in on “Evil Schools – Public, Private, and University”.

Find “Inspection” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Internment”

38167114Book: “Internment” by Samira Ahmed

Publishing Info: Little, Brown. March 2019

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

Book Description: Rebellions are built on hope.

Set in a horrifying near-future United States, seventeen-year-old Layla Amin and her parents are forced into an internment camp for Muslim American citizens.

With the help of newly made friends also trapped within the internment camp, her boyfriend on the outside, and an unexpected alliance, Layla begins a journey to fight for freedom, leading a revolution against the internment camp’s Director and his guards.

Heart-racing and emotional, Internment challenges readers to fight complicit silence that exists in our society today.

Review: I want to extend a thanks to NetGalley for sending me an eARC of this book!

One of the vivid horrible memories I have in the wake of the Trump election (and there are many, believe me) is that one of Trump’s PAC supporters, Carl Higbie, said that Trump’s idea to create a registry for immigrants from Muslim countries had a ‘precedent’ because of Japanese American citizen registries during WWII. Given that those registries led to the unconstitutional and horrific internment of American Citizens, this statement was quite frightening (and given the detention of families at the border and how horrific that practice is, in some ways internment is already present on our soil). Fast forward to a couple years later, when a controversy surrounded the upcoming release of a novel called “American Heart”. The author, Laura Moriarty, had wanted to write a ‘what if’ book that was about Muslim Internment camps in America during a Trump-esque executive administration. But it was from the perspective of a white teenage girl who basically has to be taught why it’s wrong to imprison people for their beliefs and culture, and to be shown the humanity and worth of their lives. It’s a story structure that is pretty problematic in that it dehumanizes a marginalized group so that a non-marginalized group an learn a lesson. And that is where “Internment” by Samira Ahmed comes in. The premise is similar: it is a what if scenario in which Muslim Americans have been put on lists and had laws passed to limit their rights in the wake of a far right administration taking power. But this one is from the perspective of a teenage Muslim American girl named Layla, whose life is uprooted when she and her family are taken to an internment camp.

The power and resonance within “Internment” is the timeliness of it all. From the Muslim Travel Ban in this country to the rise in hate crimes against Muslims, the future that Ahmed is painting doesn’t necessarily feel farfetched. While Ahmed doesn’t use specific names, it is very clear that this takes place a couple years after the 2016 election, and she paints a picture of how these policies could easily turn into the policies that we seen within this story. The escalation that is set up, both before Mobius Camp itself comes into play and during the time spent there, is chilling and real, and Ahmed does a good job of drawing comparisons to different internment policies of the past. Not only is the escalation seem based in a probable truth, the power structure of the camp itself also feels very true to life. The camp director abuses his power and uses power plays to harass, intimidate, and commit violence against the inmates. There are Muslim families who have been appointed as leaders of blocks, whose compliance wtih the policy gives them benefits at the expense of other prisoners. And the actions and conditions of the camp has been suppressed from the outside world, so the public doesn’t know just what is going on inside the walls. This all felt VERY real and familiar.

Layla herself is a bit of a mixed bag. For the most part I really liked her as our main character. She feels like a very typical teenage girl in a lot of ways; she is trying to assert her independence from her parents, she is very committed to her Jewish boyfriend David, and is interested in geek culture. Her rebelliousness feels very true to her character, and I completely believe her as a young person who wants to fight back against her oppression while her parents are more investing in using silence and compliance in hopes of keeping her safe. My frustrations of her more had to do with her motivations sometimes feeling like they shifted depending on what they needed to be for the plot at the moment. She would rail against her parents for their complacency one moment, then seem to understand their point of view another moment, only to rail against them again. Her tentative trust of one of the guards, Jake, felt like it grew too quickly for her character as we’d seen her up until that point. To me her motivations were muddled. It very well could be that this is trying to show how a traumatic period can affect a person’s psyche and the way they think, so I can’t completely tear Layla down for seeming inconsistent within her characterization.

And as we sometimes tend to see in YA fiction that hopes to make pertinent points within a broader social and political context, sometimes the messages felt a little too spoon fed to the audience. Be it a speech awkwardly plunked down in a conversational setting, or an offhand remark that doesn’t quite fit the greater conversation at hand but has a point to make, we occasionally see these moments within the narrative. I realize that this book is for a young adult audience, and that sometimes people tend to think that teens need to have things spelled out for them. But I wish that authors would trust their audiences more, in that they are able to read between the lines and parse out the lessons in more ‘show rather than tell’ fashions. Trust teens to get nuance!

All in all, I thought “Internment” was an effective and charged read. It paints a grim picture of where our current political climate could possibly lead, and what could happen if we don’t speak out and rise up against it.

Rating 7: With relevant and pertinent themes but a sometimes clunky execution, “Internment” is a frightening read that asks ‘what if’ when it comes to our current political climate.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Internment” is included on the Goodreads lists “Lady Lit-Female Authors”, and “2019 Books by Authors of Color”.

Find “Internment” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Will Haunt You”

42175979Book: “Will Haunt You” by Brian Kirk

Publishing Info: Flame Tree Press, March 2019

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

Book Description: You don’t read the book. It reads you.

Rumors of a deadly book have been floating around the dark corners of the deep web. A disturbing tale about a mysterious figure who preys on those who read the book and subjects them to a world of personalized terror. Jesse Wheeler–former guitarist of the heavy metal group The Rising Dead–was quick to discount the ominous folklore associated with the book. It takes more than some urban legend to frighten him. Hell, reality is scary enough. Seven years ago his greatest responsibility was the nightly guitar solo. Then one night when Jesse was blackout drunk, he accidentally injured his son, leaving him permanently disabled. Dreams of being a rock star died when he destroyed his son’s future. Now he cuts radio jingles and fights to stay clean. But Jesse is wrong.

The legend is real–and tonight he will become the protagonist in an elaborate scheme specifically tailored to prey on his fears and resurrect the ghosts from his past. Jesse is not the only one in danger, however.

By reading the book, you have volunteered to participate in the author’s deadly game, with every page drawing you closer to your own personalized nightmare.

The real horror doesn’t begin until you reach the end. That’s when the evil comes for you.

Review: I want to extend a thank you to NetGalley for sending me an eARC of this book!

“Weird” horror is a genre that, when done right, I find completely engrossing and effective. The best example of this that comes to mind is, of course, the classic “House of Leaves” by Mark Z. Danielewski, in which a haunted house story is told through multiple layers of narration and formats. Weird horror ought to unsettle the reader in the same way the situation should be unsettling the protagonist, but it’s a fine line to walk. If you go too weird it can be confusing and frustrating. If you don’t go weird enough you may not have the intended impact. When I read about “Will Haunt You” by Brian Kirk, I was especially intrigued by the idea of a cursed Internet book that brings pain and suffering to those who read it. Frankly it sounds like a mix of “The Ring” and the amazing Creepypasta “Ben Drowned”, and with that amalgamation solidly in my mind I was every excited to read “Will Haunt You”. I wasn’t thinking about the trappings that can come with Weird horror, and perhaps I should have been.

The premise and ideas are absolutely solid. Jesse Wheeler is our main character, and his backstory and present are ripe for the picking when it comes to conflict. Once a metal musician on the rise, he is now married and has a son who is disabled. It was Jesse’s actions that led to the accident that caused the disability, and so Jesse’s guilt, mixed with the longing for his younger years, has turned him into a tormented former shell of himself. He is the perfect person to become victim to a devious book; he’s struggling to keep it together and has nothing to lose, so of course he isn’t daunted by internet folklore. That in and of itself is a solid premise to a novel, and Jesse’s flaws and strengths are on full display throughout the story to be explored and picked apart. As a character study, “Will Haunt You” is well done and interesting. If this was a book that was solely about an aging man who has to face his guilt and his culpability towards his family’s various struggles, I would be down.

But, as this is, it is a horror novel, and for me “Will Haunt You” fell squarely in the first of the two problems Weird horror can run into: It was very confusing for me and hard to follow. We are thrown into various scenarios and situations with very visceral and graphic moments, and we are introduced to characters who may or may not be reliable, but instead of feeling tight and on point it always felt like it never quite came together. I do wonder if this disorienting narrative was meant to make the reader feel the disorientation that Jesse felt, and therein made the reading experience all the more three dimensional, but instead of feeling scared in my confusion I just felt frustrated. Eventually I think I was able to get my mind wrapped around all of the pieces of the puzzle, but it took so long that it felt like it was too little, too late. I am considering going back and reading the tie in ‘haunted book’, “Obsidio”, because I feel like part of the fun of these ‘cursed media’ stories is the cursed media itself, and we didn’t really get that here, just the fallout from it. And yes, you can find it online. Given that I haven’t read it yet, I can’t say as to whether or not it’s inclusion would have made “Will Haunt You” more satisfying, but I can’t imagine that it would hurt.

All in all, “Will Haunt You” had some very well done moments when it came to character study, but the horror aspects didn’t do anything for me. As Weird fiction it didn’t work the way I wanted it to.

Rating 5: While the characterization was spot on and the protagonist was complex and interesting, the horror aspect of “Will Haunt You” didn’t work for me and left me confused and frustrated.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Will Haunt You” is new and not included on many Goodreads lists, but I think it would have a place on “Surreal Horror”.

Find “Will Haunt You” at your library using WorldCat (but as of now it appears limited).

A Revisit to Fear Street: “Fear Hall: The Conclusion”

325564Book: “Fear Hall: The Conclusion” (Fear Hall #2/Fear Street #47) by R.L. Stine

Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, 1997

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Having fled her dorm room, college freshman Hope hides out in an abandoned sorority house on campus where she discovers that the evil she is trying to escape has become a part of her.

Had I Read This Before: No.

The Plot: When we last saw Hope, resident of Fear Hall and purveyor of multiple personalities, she was sitting on the fire escape outside her dorm, hiding from the police. And that is basically where we jump back in, with Hope and her two roommates/delusions “Angel” and “Jasmine” hiding out and listening to Melanie, Margie, and Mary (aka the 3 M’s) telling the police about Hope and how she may have committed the two previous murders in Book 1 (though Hope thinks that it’s “Darryl” that did it). We’re reminded that Hope loves Darryl SO MUCH even though he’s a violent looney toon, as she still doesn’t realize that Darryl, Jasmine, and Angel are figments of her imagination. The police then spot Hope on the fire escape, and one of the policemen grab her and yank her back through the window. Then Darryl suddenly appears and chokes the cop enough for Hope to get away. She jumps off the fire escape and lands funny, but still manages to take off into the night. She runs for aways until “Jasmine” and “Angel” tell her they need to stop, and once they do they ask Hope why she ran and didn’t tell the police about Darryl. Hope says that they HAD to run because the police think she’s crazy and believe the 3 M’s over her! She decides that they have to hide out. They walk around fraternity/sorority row, and eventually find an abandoned sorority house to hide out in. They make their way inside, and find a stray black cat the Hope names Lucky. She is also still pissed at the 3 M’s, thinking that everything that’s happened in their fault. Then Darryl shows up and says that he’s going to live there too, but Hope says no can do, buckaroo. Darryl, a dominant personality if there ever was one, tells her that he has a better idea: he’s going to kill the 3 M’s because Melanie has ruined Hope’s life! Hope tells him to get out and never come back, and man, can you imagine what Lucky the Cat must be seeing right now? Darryl gets very mad and kicks poor Lucky, and before storming out he says that she won’t be able to get rid of him that easily.

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Barely two scenes in and I’m already so tired. (source)

Hope plunks down in a chair and stares up at two portrait paintings on the wall. The woman reminds her of her terrible mother who called her Buttertubs, and we get some new anecdotes about her abusive nature. The first one takes place at a summer camp Hope attended. Her mother would address her camp mail as “Buttertubs’. The second is how in front of Hope’s crush Mark her mother said ‘let’s play the game of counting Hope’s chins!’ The third is when she found out that Hope was going to sneak out, so she handcuffed herself to Hope and wouldn’t let her leave, and then locked her in her room for two more weeks. This is the moment that Angel, Jasmine, and Eden showed up, by the way. Hope jumps up in the present and claws at the portrait on the wall.

Flash forward a week or two to Melanie’s dorm room. Melanie is studying for a French test while Mary’s getting ready for swim practice. Normally Melanie would be getting ready for that too but she has to miss to take this make up test. She had to see a therapist three times that past week because of the whole thing with Hope, who still hasn’t been caught. The two girls talk about how scary it all is and how nuts that they could hear Hope talking to herself. Melanie offers to talk Mary to swim practice, but Mary says that she’s fine. Of course, then we cut to “Darryl” and his POV, as he’s stalking the locker rooms after swim practice, waiting for Mary. And honestly, I don’t want to dwell too much on his inner monologue because it’s a whole lot of repetitive nonsense about violence towards women and how nothing is his fault and that kinda garbage. So let’s just cut to the chase. While the swimmers are practicing he finds all the chlorine, dumps gallons upon gallons of it into the therapy Jacuzzi, and then lies in wait. NEVER MIND that it’s a public therapy pool and that ANYONE could use it, but whatever. So yes, poor Mary lingers behind her teammates and gets into the Jacuzzi, and the pH levels are so basic that she gets horrible chemical burns all over her body. She screams bloody murder and staggers out of the pool, and the swim coach runs to her aid but doesn’t know what to do. And then said swim coach sees “Darryl”.

Cut to Hope in her squatter’s shack, waking up to a pounding on the door. She goes to it and it’s Darryl outside. She lets him in and he tells her with glee that he killed Mary, for Hope. Oh, and he shoved the swim coach into the Jacuzzi too because OOPS, she saw him! When Hope asks if she was dead too he says ‘who knows?’ Hope is horrified but he says he did this because the 3 M’s ruined Hope’s life and he’s doing this to show how much he cares.

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You know, at least when J.D. pulls this shit he has a moral philosophy regarding the banal evil of society and his unhingedness has purpose and reason. (source)

Hope tells him that he has to stop killing and he tells her that she doesn’t actually want him to stop. She says goodbye and closes the door behind him, and stomps back into the main room. She then finds a note addressed to her, that says ‘I’m coming for you, Hope. You can’t run away from me.’ The handwriting is familiar, but Hope doesn’t know how they could have gotten in without her noticing.

Now the perspective is from Chris! Wait, Chris? Who the hell is CHRIS? Well, Chris is a boy who has to move into Fear Hall because his apartment building burnt down and the school opened up the second floor to guys for supplemental student housing. Chris is kind of shy and not very athletic, and gee, I wonder what purpose HE is going to serve? He had talked with his former roommate Big Al, who asked him about the fact that a murderous co-ed used to live in Fear Hall, and Chris laughed it off. So now he’s moving in, and his new roommates Will and Matt greet him and help him move his stuff into their room. Chris reiterates his shyness to the reader for some reason, and then once he’s unpacked Will and Matt ask him what he knows about Fear Hall’s reputation. Chris admits not much, and they proceed to tell him about howls at night, missing students, blood in a bathtub, and a girl who keeps seeing a ghostly reflection in her dorm room mirror. Frankly, I’d read the HELL out of ANY of those stories over this lame excuse for a “Fear Street” novel! Chris tells them that he doesn’t believe in that stuff, and goes to take a shower. Of course, once he’s in the shower the water starts to turn red! Into BLOOD!! He starts to scream his head off, and then Matt and Will burst into the room, laughing at him. They put Jello in the shower head! Chris is horribly embarrassed, and you’d think he just lived the opening scene of “Carrie” he’s so humiliated.

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Come talk to me when this happens to you, buddy. (source)

Chris goes to a dorm mixer, which I imagine is a way for the new dude residents to meet the ladies they COULD be banging. He’s shy and afraid of going there alone, but has no choice. He then meets Melanie and Margie, and is immediately struck by how pretty Melanie is. They introduce themselves, and try to make small talk, but inevitably Melanie and Margie bring up the fact that their roommate Mary was murdered. Chris, having heard about it, sticks his foot in his mouth when he says he saw the footage of her body on TV (the FUCK does local news have THAT footage for?!), and Margie and Melanie get very upset. They say that with three murders and a grievously injured swim coach on their minds, they shouldn’t have come to the party, and graciously part ways from Chris. He hangs out at the party a little longer, but then leaves, opting to go get a coffee at Java Jim’s. And while he’s at Java Jim’s eating his cookie and drinking is 9pm coffee, he meets another girl! They start to talk, and he tells her that he lives in Fear Hall. She looks surprised, and he compliments her straight dark hair. She says that he probably shouldn’t talk to her because she just broke up with a jealous boyfriend. He asks if maybe he could call her sometime, and she says no and gets up to leave. But before she does, she says that she could meet him the day after the next at Java Jim’s, and he says sure! He says his name is Chris, and she introduces herself as Karen. Yeah. Sure. ‘Karen’.

Hope runs home, and tells Angel and Jasmine that she has awesome news. And yes, she has changed her hair so as not to be recognized. She tells them that she met a boy named Chris and that he’s the boy of her DREAMS! Based on the five minute conversation they had she knows that he’s perfect and she really likes him and she never expected to love again, not with the bad luck they’ve been having. Angel asks her about Darryl, and Hope says that he still wants to kill Melanie and Margie. Jasmine says that Hope isn’t ever going to be safe with Chris if Darryl is around. Before she can protest, there are suddenly voices outside the house. Turns out this house is for sale because she hears a couple say that this is the house for them and they totally want to buy it. Oh yeah, because you two random people want to buy an abandoned house, sight unseen, that is in the middle of a college campus?! They then leave, and I guess that was just there to show that Hope can’t stay forever. Then the phone rings (and by the phone rings I mean Hope’s delusions ratchet up a bit because no, there’s no phone in this house), and when Hope answers it’s Darryl. He tells her not to worry, he’s still going to kill Margie and Melanie!

So now we’re  back in Darryl’s head, so once again I’m going to skim this because I really, really hate his POVs. He stalks Margie to where she works, a dry cleaner shop, and then kills her by putting her in the steam press. Creative? Absolutely. But I hate this. The “Fear Street” books that have an actual mystery and whodunnit are far more interesting than the ones where we know who the killer is for a majority of the novel, and I have to say I’m having a VERY hard time with following this stupid prick around as much as we are as he picks people off. It’s repetitive and stupid, and it feels more gratuitous to have to see the actual deaths over and over instead of just a goofy aftermath. I don’t know. I’m getting burnt out, I think.

Hope and Chris meet at Java Jim’s for coffee the next day and Chris is upset about Margie’s death. Hope tries to play it cool even though she knows ‘Darryl’ did it. They have a nice date, and after they do a little kissing her offers to walk her home so she feels safe. She declines, as she doesn’t want him to become suspicious of the fact she’s squatting in an abandoned sorority house (whyever not, Hope?), but he gives her his number and she promises to call him. She practically skips back to her hideout, but who is on the front lawn. DARRYL. She tells him to stop killing people and he says ‘nah, I’m good’, and then says that he saw her with Chris and that he can’t ‘allow’ that. And in a moment of actual spine, Hope tells him that he has no right to ‘allow’ her to do ANYTHING, channelling her inner Diane Keaton, Bette Midler, and Goldie Hawn or some shit! He tells her that Chris will only hurt her, and she tells him to go away and leave Chris alone. Darryl then reminds her about MARK and what he did to her, and we get a new flashback! Seems that Mark had asked Hope out and she was quite smitten with him. But then she found out that the only reason Mark asked her out was because he lost a bet, and it was all a joke. Hope was so humiliated, but that was around the time that Darryl showed up and swept her off her feet…. oh, and ran Mark over with a car, over and over and over again. After the memory fades, Hope realizes that Darryl has disappeared, and laments that she can’t control him.

Cut to Chris and Will playing pool at the student union. They run into Big Al, who makes a tasteless joke about the kids in their dorm dropping like flies. Chris and Will part ways with him, and while they’re walking back towards their dorm Will asks Chris about Karen and what Chris knows about her. Chris admits not much, that she doesn’t want him to know where she lives nor does she want to give him her phone number, but Will says that maybe she just wants some action. And that’s a legitimate theory. As they’re walking, though, a car suddenly revs up and speeds towards them!! THey jump out of the way just in time. Is it Darryl? Psych! It’s actually Matt! This was his idea of a joke, and to that I say YIKES. He offers to give them a ride back to the dorm, and they agree, with Chris telling the reader that he had no idea who scary the next few days were going to be.

And now it’s Darryl again. So we’re skimming again. He sneaks into Fear Hall, planning to finish off Melanie and solve all of Hope’s problems. So he creeps into the dorm she lived in with Margie and Mary, and in the dark puts a pillow over her face… But oops, she groans and rolls over… and it’s not Melanie! It’s some random other girl!!! She screams, and wakes up the other girls in the room!! YOU FUCKED UP, DARRYL!!! Darryl makes a break for it, and while the girls try to grab him he is able to get away. He’s also VERY confused that they keep referring to him as a ‘her’! He runs and runs, and then eventually fades away…. into Hope! Hope finds herself running in the middle of campus and has no idea how she got there, and no memories of leaving her squatter shack that she is still squatting in even though those two people were going to make a bid on it? Maybe they went inside and saw that it was a disgusting hovel and balked, who knows. She gets back to the sorority house, but finds the door open. And when she looks inside the place has been trashed, and there’s a note that says ‘You cannot escape from me’.

The next day Hope wanders aimlessly around campus trying to think of a plan. Then she sees Chris and Melanie talking, and jealous mode kicks in. Why is he talking with Melanie? Is she telling him about her? Are they together now? Why aren’t she and Chris together? She goes to Java Jim’s to wallow and stew, but her paranoid thoughts start to be too much and she bolts. When she gets back to the sorority house, she is shocked to see Chris leaving the property. When she confronts him, he says that he was looking for her. She points out that she never told him where she lived, and he admits that he followed her home one night after a date because he was curious where she lived. This is framed as sweet, but frankly, it’s not. Even if she is a murderer, there are boundaries! He asks her why she lives in an abandoned house, and then, wouldn’t ya know it, Darryl takes over and starts to strangle Chris. Hope begs Darryl to stop, and Chris is able to pull away. He asks Karen what the HELL that was, and she says that she can tell Darryl to go away. Chris, realizing that he’s in WAAAAY over his head, says

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(source)

and peaces the hell out. Hope, devastated that he’s skedaddled, rushes into the house looking for Darryl, but finds another note instead. But then she realizes that the handwriting is HERS!

Hope sits for hours, angsting about the note, and when Darryl finally shows up she confronts  him about it. This leads to a Yalta-esque summit of ALL of Hope’s personalities, and Angle and Jasmine agree that he needs to turn himself in. He says that if they cared about him they wouldn’t ask him to do that, and that he’s going to kill Chris tonight! And in a case of terrible timing but obvious exposition, Chris is suddenly at the door, asking to be let in. Darryl says that this is perfect, and lets him in. Chris is there, but he isn’t alone! He has MELANIE with him! And not only Melanie, but FOUR POLICE OFFICERS! Chris and Melanie NARCED HER OUT! Melanie confirms that Hope is Karen, and Chris says that he had hoped it wasn’t true, but when Melanie described Hope to him he knew it was. Hope and her personalities run up the steps, determined to get away from the police. The police follow saying that they want to help, but Hope, Jasmine, Angel, and Darryl are not to be stopped, and they gather on the balcony, say their goodbyes, and all hug each other. WHen the cops do enter the tiny porch, the railing breaks, and Hope falls to her death. Chris and Melanie see the whole thing, and she buries her face in his chest and cries. The police go check on Hope, and confirm that she’s dead. They tell Chris and Melanie that they don’t have to stick around, and that they can follow up with them at a later date. They tell the cops they live in Fear Hall, and the cops say don’t seem surprised by this. As Chris and Melanie leave, he finds a piece of paper. It’s a note that Hope wrote, that says ‘There is no escape, Hope. No escape from yourself.’ THE END.

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It’s finally done. (source)

Body Count: 4 if we count Mark in the past.

Romance Rating: 2. And that’s only a two because I feel like Chris and Melanie could have some potential. Everything else was decidedly not romantic.

Bonkers Rating: 5. It didn’t really do anything too nuts, though a couple of the deaths were wacky.

Fear Street Relevance: 6 this time, as a lot of the action was in Fear Hall again AND we find out that Hope was from Shadyside the whole time.

Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:

“I fell for a lifetime. Or a second or two. And I died before I hit the ground.”

… But no she didn’t. She was fine.

That’s So Dated! Moments: Honestly, nothing really stuck out! Stine didn’t put anything in that dates this thing, which was surprising and just another layer of disappointment to this reading experience.

Best Quote:

” ‘You don’t own me!’ I cried. ‘You can’t say what you’ll allow and what you won’t allow! Do you really think you can control my life? Do you really think you can control who I seen and who I don’t see?'”

This is EXACTLY right when it comes to relationships!

Conclusion: “Fear Hall: The Conclusion” was a lame end to a lame start, and it also just isn’t how dissociative identity disorder works. Definitely a hard pass and a clear sign that “Fear Street” had started to run out of steam as it neared the end of the original run. Next up is “Who Killed The Homecoming Queen?”

Kate’s Review: “Cross Her Heart”

37486235Book: “Cross Her Heart” by Sarah Pinborough

Publishing Info: William Morrow, September 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Lisa lives for her daughter Ava, her job, and her best friend Marilyn, but when a handsome client shows an interest in her, Lisa starts daydreaming about sharing her life with him too. Maybe she’s ready now. Maybe she can trust again. Maybe it’s time to let her terrifying secret past go. Then her daughter rescues a boy from drowning and their pictures are all over the news for everyone to see. Lisa’s world explodes, and she finds everything she has built threatened. Not knowing whom she can trust, it’s up to her to face her past to save what she holds dear.

Review: After being burned so badly by “Behind Her Eyes”, I will admit that I was shocked to find myself picking up the newest Sarah Pinborough novel “Cross Her Heart”. But I so enjoyed “13 Minutes” I wanted to give her books another chance, in case “Behind Her Eyes” was a fluke. So it’s good news, bad news time. The bad news is that “Cross Her Heart” didn’t live up to “13 Minutes”. But the good news is that it blew “Behind Her Eyes” out of the freaking water!

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I knew my instincts about Pinborough were right! (source)

The story is laid out in a couple of different view points over a couple of different time frames. Pinborough keeps the ultimate plot pretty close to the vest until we get about half way through, and since that’s part of the mystery I’m going to do my very best to review without giving anything away. If I DO have to give a spoiler, though, I will make it very clear. Our main perspectives are Lisa, a nervous single mother who does her best to blend in as she hides from a traumatic past; Ava, Lisa’s teenage daughter who is corresponding with a mysterious older man online; and Marilyn, Lisa’s colleague and close friend who has some secrets of her own. While Ava and Marilyn’s issues are pretty clear cut from the get go, it’s Lisa’s who brings in the most intrigue. Pinborough slowly lays out the pieces of a mystery with a very well constructed conclusion, and she did it in such a way that she kept this reader guessing up until the first big reveal. Going back and looking at the set up confirmed that Pinborough knows how to set up a magic trick of a reveal, with deceptions and distractions. I was pretty well invested in how it all turned out by the time we got to that moment, wanting to see what was going to happen next. The characters themselves are pretty standard fare for this kind of book, and the story itself doesn’t really reinvent any wheels or break any either. It was just a fun and solid mystery overall that kept me guessing.

All that said, it did find itself close to derailing a couple of times. While the initial twist and some of the curve balls that come after felt pretty well executed, there were some things within the narrative henceforth that I didn’t quite buy. So here is where a big ol SPOILER alert is going to come in, even if I keep it vague. There is a moment where a character is revealed to have been masquerading as two different people, who are two very different ages. While I normally am willing to suspend my disbelief about these kinds of things, I do find it kind of laughable that we are to believe that a person could simultaneously be middle aged, and yet pass for someone who is a teenager, especially if they are interacting on more than a superficial basis with their peers. It was a moment where Pinborough didn’t quite convince me, and because of that i was taken out of the story and just snorted out a ‘yeah SURE’ before going on. Plus, there was one final twist that I saw coming about ten miles away. I am not certain if it was meant to be a big surprise once our characters are made privy to it, or if we were supposed to have figured it out before they did, but with the emphasis on the shocked reactions I’m thinking it’s the former. And it just wasn’t that surprising.

But when comparing it to “Behind Her Eyes”, I enjoyed “Cross Her Heart” far, far more. I don’t know if it’s merely by comparison, but even if it is, it was an altogether enjoyable read. If you were disappointed with Pinborough’s last runaway hit, don’t necessarily pass “Cross Her Heart” by! You may be surprised!

Rating 7: A quick and fast paced read that was quite the improvement over her previous work, “Cross Her Heart” is a standard mystery without too many surprises (and one ridiculous twist). Nonetheless, it’s enjoyable.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Cross Her Heart” is included on the Goodreads list “Mystery & Thriller 2018”.

Find “Cross Her Heart” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “The Everlasting Rose”

39080472Book: “The Everlasting Rose” by Dhonielle Clayton

Publishing Info: Freeform, March 2019

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

Book Description: In this sequel to the instant New York Times bestseller, Camille, her sister Edel, and her guard and new love Remy must race against time to find Princess Charlotte. Sophia’s Imperial forces will stop at nothing to keep the rebels from returning Charlotte to the castle and her rightful place as queen. With the help of an underground resistance movement called The Iron Ladies-a society that rejects beauty treatments entirely-and the backing of alternative newspaper The Spider’s Web, Camille uses her powers, her connections and her cunning to outwit her greatest nemesis, Sophia, and restore peace to Orleans.

Review: I want to extend a big thank you to NetGalley for sending me an eARC of this novel!

Last year you may remember that Serena and I both reviewed the book “The Belles” by Dhonielle Clayton. We both enjoyed it for the most part, it’s fantasy world focused on beauty and opulence a neat new theme to bring to a fantasy story. I was lucky enough to snag a copy an eARC from NetGalley, and while I gave it some time on my Kindle I finally caved and had to read it around the beginning of 2019. Given that it’s kind of rare for me to enjoy fantasy novels, I had really high hopes for “The Everlasting Rose,” the sequel and final installment in this duology. And there will be allusions to plot points of “The Belles” in this review, so tread carefully if you want to remain spoiler free for that book.

When we left off in “The Belles,” Camille, her fellow Belle/sister Amber, and former Imperial Guard Remy had escaped Orleans after the sociopathic Princess Sophia was positioned to take the crown after his mother died. Meeting up with rebellious and escapee Belle Edel, the group now knows that the only way to save Orleans from a cruel and capricious ruler is to find her sister Charlotte, believed dead but possibly only in hiding (and still comatose). So the stakes are high from the get go, with Camille under threat of capture and certain torture, if not death. There is so much action and so many plot points that need to be introduced that there are few moments of quiet and organic exposition. For the most part this wasn’t a bad thing; it made it so the action was fast paced and kept me in its thrall. But I did find it to be too bad that, unlike in “The Belles”, that these points couldn’t slowly unfold at a more ruminative pace. But I did like a good number of these points, from information on what Sophia is doing to The Belles who didn’t escape (sufficiently horrifying!) to how the kingdom is starting to fight back against her upcoming coronation and reign. It just felt a bit stuffed in. On top of that, the ending was a bit rushed, and I ended up wanting more focus and exposition there as well. I know that people are burnt out of YA trilogies, especially in stories of fantasy and dystopic themes, but I think that perhaps this series could have benefited from one more book.

I also was on a higher alert after I read some criticism of “The Belles”, a criticism I feel like I should have seen last time. A number of people were critical that in “The Belles”, the two prominent LGBTQIA+ characters were killed off for plot device and character conflict. The “Bury Your Gays” trope is certainly one that is not only overdone, but can also be damaging and hurtful to LGBTQIA+ readers. It was with that new perspective in my mind that I went into “The Everlasting Rose”. The good news is that there are more LGBTQIA+ characters in this one, and no, not all of them get fridged, but I would warn readers that there may still be some problematic optics regarding these characters. I don’t feel that I can say for sure given that I’m a hetero and cis, but just know that there were still things that I found a bit questionable.

But some of the huge strengths this book does have are the characters and the setting of Orleans. I was once again completely taken in with the descriptions of the world, from the tea cup animals (and YES, there are TEA CUP DRAGONS THIS TIME!!) to the descriptions of the foods and the colors and the beauty treatments. Clayton’s writing makes it so that the reader can really visualize what she sees in her mind’s eye. And I loved seeing more of Edel, my favorite Belle, whose rebellion and questioning personality has made her a formidable member of the Resistance. She and Camille are great foils for each other, as they have both experienced similar things in different ways, which makes them have to see the other’s perspective. Camille herself has changed a lot from the beginning of the first novel, and I still like how developed she is, from her strengths to her flaws. Her relationships all feel real and filled with complexity. Her burgeoning romance with Remy feels very in character with both of them, and while Clayton does tread a bit too much towards love triangle for my tastes, the interactions she does have with Auguste (her initial love interest and now consort of Sophia) aren’t overwrought or too sappy. It, too, felt a little quick to resolve, but ultimately it went in a satisfying way.

It was kind of a bummer that “The Everlasting Rose” was a bit of a disappointment, but I’m glad that we got to go back to Orleans one last time, and that we got to see how Camille’s story ended. If Clayton wanted to revisit this world, I would absolutely go along for the ride.

Rating 6: A bit of a let down from its predecessor, “The Everlasting Rose” was an okay finish to a story filled with beauty and darkness.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Everlasting Rose” is included on the Goodreads lists “#ReadPOC: List of Books by Authors of Color”, and “Most Anticipated 2019 SFF Books”.

Find “The Everlasting Rose” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously Reviewed:

Kate’s Review: “#FashionVictim”

39049255Book: “#FashionVictim” by Amina Akhtar

Publishing Info: Crooked Lane Books, September 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Fashion editor Anya St. Clair is on the verge of greatness. Her wardrobe is to die for. Her social media is killer. And her career path is littered with the bodies of anyone who got in her way. She’s worked hard to get where she is, but she doesn’t have everything.

Not like Sarah Taft. Anya’s obsession sits one desk away. Beautiful, stylish, and rich, she was born to be a fashion world icon. From her beach-wave blonde hair to her on-trend nail art, she’s a walking editorial spread. And Anya wants to be her friend. Her best friend. Her only friend.

But when Sarah becomes her top competition for a promotion, Anya’s plan to win her friendship goes into overdrive. In order to beat Sarah…she’ll have to become her. Friendly competition may turn fatal, but as they say in fashion: One day you’re in, and the next day you’re dead.

ReviewEven though on any given day you will probably find me lounging around my house in leggings and an oversized Sex Pistols tee shirt, I do have a certain pleasure for various aspects of the fashion industry. I used to watch “Project Runway” fairly religiously, loved the fashion shoots on old school “America’s Next Top Model”, and still enjoy seeing whatever nutty campaigns the likes of Gucci, Chanel, and Versace have going on at any given time. But it’s really an acknowledged fact that the fashion industry as a whole can be incredibly toxic and dehumanizing, so my enjoyment is probably fairly problematic. But toxic and dehumanizing means that it is ripe for the picking when it comes to satire, and that is where Amina Akhtar comes in. Akhtar used to be a fashion writer and editor, having been on the staff of such powerhouses and Vogue and Elle, but has now settled into the life of a novel writer. Her experiences I’m sure inspired her to write the deliciously named “#FashionVictim”. Just hearing about this book made me giggle with pleasure. Fashionistas resorting to murder to get ahead? I can’t get on board fast enough.

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File footage of me as I read the description of this novel. (source)

Our main character is Anya St. Clair, a fashion writer and associate editor who is at a prestigious fashion magazine called La Vie, who starts a killing spree in hopes of making it to the top. She’s obsessive and deranged, and her object of obsession is her colleague Sarah, the entirely unlikable poster child of the privileged fashion darling. Anya isn’t likable by any stretch of the imagination, but then, no one in this book is. After all, if you’re going to do a satire of the fashion industry, everyone needs to live up to the highest of stereotypes, so screeching and vapid bitches, both of the female and male persuasion, is the way to go. Anya is outwardly a perfect fit for this world, but in her mind lies a true maniac who idolizes Sarah yet despises her for the praise and accolades she has heaped upon her. Her inner monologue is frenzied and at times very funny, with delusions and intrusive thoughts intermingling with “Law and Order: SVU” trivia. Her drawn out massacre of those around her and those who get between her and what she wants (be it a promotion or the coveted BFF friendship with Sarah) is violent and jarring, but also has moments of gallows humor that you can’t help but laugh at, even if it feels kind of wrong to do so. “#FashionVictim” achieves the satirical levels that I’ve seen other books attempt, yet falter on. It digs its heels into the mess and violence, but at always feels like a nudge and a wink to the reader because the characters are such caricatures. And really, isn’t the fashion industry itself brutal and unforgiving in its own ways, pitting women against other women to do incredibly destructive things? Perhaps not murder. But destructive nonetheless.

But I think that as much as this is satire and a fun read, it doesn’t quite have the teeth that it could have had to really drive the point home. I think that because “#FashionVictim” is so over the top, you can say ‘oh, this is just a book, this could never happen in real life’. And while though the reader is in on the joke, I think that it could have been FAR more effective had it gone for a little bit of realism to go along with the satire. By being so out there and laughably ridiculous, it made it so that by the end I was less unsettled, and more ‘ha, what a romp’. That’s not a bad thing by any means, but it did make to so that it never quite made it to ‘great’ satire levels, and I think that it really could have gotten there had it not limited itself in such a way. I know that you’re all probably sick of my constant comparisons to “You”, but I think that kind of satire is stupendous BECAUSE you can see it happening in real life. While I don’t always need my satire to be based in realism, I do think that “#FashionVictim” could have had that extra oomph if it had stepped back just a little bit.

“#FashionVictim” was definitely a fun read, and I absolutely want to see what Amina Akhtar comes out with next. Go in expecting some bloody satire, but don’t expect to walk away totally creeped out.

Rating 6: Fun and dripping with satire, “#FashionVictim” was a breezy read, though I wish it had a little more creepy bite.

Reader’s Advisory:

“#FashionVictim” isn’t on many Goodreads lists as of yet, but it is included on “2018 Books by Authors of Color/Native Authors”, and I think that if you want “The Devil Wears Prada” with a little more teeth it would be for you.

Find “#FashionVictim” at your library using WorldCat!