Kate’s Review: “New Super-Man (Vol.2): Coming to America”

34690722Book: “New Super-Man (Vol.2): Coming to America” by Gene Luen Yang, Viktor Bogdanovic (Ill.)

Publishing Info: DC Comics, October 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: The #1 New York Times best-selling author and National Book Award nominee Gene Luen Yang continues his first original series at DC with NEW SUPER-MAN VOL. 2!  To uncover the truth behind his mother’s murder, the New Super-Man must reawaken his full power under the tutelage of the mysterious I-Ching! But as training begins, Kong Kenan’s ego isn’t the only thing taking a beating! Plus, a shocking and deadly betrayal lurks in the shadows of the school that trained the New Bat-Man of China! Award-winning writer Gene Luen Yang (AMERICAN BORN CHINESE, SUPERMAN) and on-the-rise art star Viktor Bogdanovic (BATMAN: ARKHAM KNIGHT) continue their celebrated run on the hit new series NEW SUPER-MAN. Collects issues #7-12.

Review: It’s been awhile, but we’re diving back into graphic novels. I neglected to check back in on the “New Super-Man” stories by Gene Luen Yang for a long time, and by the time I did there were two volumes out, much to my excitement (and guilt that I’d waited so long). I know that while I am a DC Fan Girl I tend to come down on them when it comes to their Rebirth on going series, but “New Super-Man” is one that I’ve greatly enjoyed with little to no complaints. I chalk that up to Gene Luen Yang being excellent, but also to DC being willing to give him the room and trust to tell the story he wants to tell in the way he wants to tell it. When we last saw our flawed but intrepid hero Kong Kenan, China’s answer to Superman in the Justice League of China, has lost his father, and wants to know who killed his parents (as he was told his mother died in a plane crash years before). I was definitely anxious to see where Yang was going to take his characters, as not only are we following Kenan, but also Wang Baixi (Bat-Man), and Peng Delian (Wonder-Woman), both of whom I had grown QUITE fond of.

I don’t know what took me so damn long to get back to this series, because the moment I picked up “New Super-Man (Vol.2): Coming to America” I was yanked right back into this creative and deeply engrossing world that Yang has created. Kenan remains incredibly flawed, which is a really intriguing counterpart to the original Superman, as Clark is basically a boy scout. Now he’s driven by grief and  the need to find out who has destroyed his family, and his impulsiveness is more understandable, but also amped up. What I think is MOST interesting about Kenan as a protagonist is that he isn’t terribly likable, but you root for him anyway, and you get to see him evolve into a better person. In this series he has to tamper down his impulsiveness and start to train to try and tap into all of his powers, and his impatience is in direct conflict with that training. It’s going to be quite the journey for him. Especially since he’s going to learn some disturbing and hard truths about what ACTUALLY happened to his mother, and then later his father. We ended on a HUGE cliffhanger in this regard, and it will be VERY interesting to see where this is going to go from here.

We also get to see some new information about Baixi and how he became Bat-Man. Turns out, he was part of an extensive training program, as he was picked the best choice from a number of candidates who were also training. Going back to that group proves to be a bit more confrontational that Baixi anticipated. I really enjoyed learning more about his home life, especially about his relationship with his little sister Jiali, who serves as a foil that I am REALLY hoping we see more of. But it’s Delian’s story that reiterates the uniqueness of this series. A fair amount of Delian’s background, like Diana’s, is based in folklore and mythology (though this time Chinese as opposed to Greek). I don’t really want to spoil it, but what I will say is that it takes influence from the Legend of the White Snake. The parallels of origins for Delian to her counterpart was a really neat surprise, given that Kenan and Baixi have very different origins to theirs, and it made her feel all the more special as a character. Using this myth is just one of the ways that Yang brings forth and showcases the Chinese culture, bringing a voice and representation to readers who have grown up within it. At the same time he makes this culture and experience accessible and relatable to those who have not grown up within it, and does it by blending it in with a somewhat familiar superhero story. That is why to me “New Super-Man” is one of the most important titles that DC has going on right now, because lord knows comics need more representation.

On top of the original content, in this collection The Justice League of China finds itself intermingling with familiar faces and places. That’s right, mega businessman and always shady Lex Luthor has entered into the picture, cozying up to The Justice League of China and taking advantage of Kenan’s vulnerable emotional state. God that Lex is such a bastard but I’m always SO happy to see him. And not only that. We go to Metropolis, which means we get a cameo from Superman himself!!! Seeing Clark and Kenan interact was such a joy, as Kenan is a total fan boy and Clark is ever so kind and patient.

supers
(Source: DC Comics)

“New Super-Man: Coming to America” keeps this unique and compelling series on a steady and satisfying path, and if you haven’t already checked it out I implore you to do so. Gene Luen Yang is a treasure and this series needs to be spared from hasty decisions that DC tends to make with the titles that I find most important.

Rating 8: This series continues to combine similar themes from Superman with a new take on the superhero.

Reader’s Advisory:

“New Super-Man (Vol. 2): Coming to America” is not on any Goodreads lists (FOR SHAME), but I think that it would fit in on “Asian Fantasy and Science Fiction”, and “Comic Creators of Color”.

Find “New Super-Man (Vol.2): Coming to America” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously Reviewed: “New Super-Man (Vol.1): Made in China”

Kate’s Review and Giveaway: “Someone Like Me”

Woman wearing a red hoodie by a riverBook: “Someone Like Me” by M.R. Carey

Publishing Info: Orbit, November 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: I was sent a copy by the publisher and received an eARC by NetGalley.

Book Description: SHE LOOKS LIKE ME. SHE SOUNDS LIKE ME. NOW SHE’S TRYING TO TAKE MY PLACE.

Liz Kendall wouldn’t hurt a fly. She’s a gentle woman devoted to bringing up her kids in the right way, no matter how hard times get.

But there’s another side to Liz—one which is dark and malicious. A version of her who will do anything to get her way, no matter how extreme or violent.

And when this other side of her takes control, the consequences are devastating.

The only way Liz can save herself and her family is if she can find out where this new alter-ego has come from, and how she can stop it.

Review: Thank you to Orbit for sending me a copy of this book, and to NetGalley for sending me an eARC!

M.R. Carey has taken some of the most beloved, and therefore most overdone, tropes in the horror genre and breathed new life into them. In “The Girl With All The Gifts” and “The Boy on the Bridge” he took the idea of a zombie apocalypse and gave it a unique and fresh perspective (zombies because of fungus? Totally awesome!). In “Fellside” he took a gothic haunted house story and set it in a women’s prison, therein bringing isolation to a whole new level. So of course when I found out that he’d written a new book called “Someone Like Me”, and that it sounded like a new take on a possession tale, I was in. If I’m going to like a possession story you basically have to do something new with it, and I knew that M.R. Carey was up to the task. And not only did Carey bring a new and fresh perspective to a well worn trope, he also brought in very real life horrors into the thematics, like trauma and domestic abuse. And because of this, “Someone Like Me” is his best work yet.

The summary focuses on Liz Kendall, so I will start with her and who she is as a character. Liz is meek and demure, a woman who suffered at the hands of her now ex-husband Marc. Liz had been a vibrant young punk singer, but when she got together with Marc his years of abuse and cruelty wore her down. So while one might think that she just snapped one night, and fought back after he was attacking her, Liz is horrified to realize that she had absolutely no control over herself in that moment. It was as if someone else was controlling her actions. So what could have been a story about a run of the mill demonic possession is more of a psychological terror: is Liz possessed, or is she traumatized to the point where she’s disassociating? Both options are completely plausible, and while it becomes clear that there is an outside force that is working within her, Carey STILL brings in enough unreliability and unanswered questions that I was kept completely gripped and enthralled. Seeing Liz battle with an angrier, more violent, and yet just as tragic, version of herself was unnerving and unsettling, and I loved seeing this Thing slowly overtake her life and personality.

But Liz is only half the story. Well, a fourth of the story, really. Because there is another primary character in this book whom I wasn’t expecting, but loved just as much, and that is Fran. Fran is a teenage girl who goes to school with Liz’s son Zac, and she has experienced her own traumatic incident. After this incident, she began hallucinating things around her, seeing things that others couldn’t see, seeing details shift just a little bit. She has also gained an ‘imaginary friend’ named Jinx, who has taken the form of a fox character from a children’s show. Fran sees Jinx as a protector and a burden, as while Fran wants to get better and get closer to others, Jinx is wary of anyone who comes near them. I really enjoyed seeing Fran get closer to Zac, and how her own unique psychological (or not) situation compared to Liz’s. It was also really interesting to see Carey slowly start to connect them, and to build a whole new mythology that I didn’t see coming at all. I’m not going to go into the specifics of it, because I think that it’s best to go in without knowing, but I will say that it went in directions that I couldn’t have anticipated and did so successfully.

I also really liked how Carey framed this story through the idea of trauma and tragedy. All of our main players who have perspective chapters (and there are four in total) are well rounded and well written, and all function through various horrific things that happened to them and made them who they are. I really appreciate Carey pointing out that sometimes things and people we perceive as monsters or monstrous are that way because of the horrible things that have happened to them. But he also makes sure to point out that just because horrible things did happen to them, and that it IS awful that these things did happen, that it doesn’t give anyone license to do horrible things to other people.

“Someone Like Me” was a tense and emotional read, and if you are a fan of M.R. Carey you should absolutely go grab this. If you haven’t read anything by Carey yet, this is the perfect place to start.

And I have good news! I’m giving away a hardcover copy of this book! The giveaway ends November 20th, and is open to U.S. residents only.

Click Here To Enter The Giveaway!

Rating 8: A smart and tense psychological thriller, “Someone Like Me” not only brings the creeps, but also brings emotions with themes such as trauma and abuse.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Someone Like Me” isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists right now, but I think that it would fit in on “Fictional Multiple Personalities”.

Find “Someone Like Me” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Gazelle in the Shadows”

39978906Book: “Gazelle in the Shadows” by Michelle Peach

Publishing Info: Michelle Peach, April 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: I was given a copy by Book Publicity Services

Book Description: In the mid 90s, Elizabeth Booth is a young British college student studying Arabic at Durham University. With some travel and work already under her belt, she excels at her studies and is sent to Damascus to immerse herself in the language. Taken aback by the generosity and kindness of the people there, she easy slips into a life in the ancient city. She has friends, her studies, and even a handsome boyfriend. But things aren’t always what they seem. Soon, in a world where mistrust and disloyalty are commonplace, Elizabeth finds herself navigating a web of lies, betrayals, and even murder involving MI6, deadly terrorist factions, and the shadowy Syrian secret police.

Review: Thank you to Book Publicity Services for sending me a copy of this book!

I have a distinct memory of being a child and my parents watching “The Hunt for Red October” in the family room. While I normally liked to try and watch whatever movie my parents were watching at the time (which led to them chasing me out of the room on more than one occasion), I remember feeling one distinct thing as they watched that movie: “This is boring”. And I can tell you, with a couple exceptions to this rule, in general I am not a huge fan of spy and espionage fiction and non-fiction. But I can be convinced to be a bit more open and to try new things, and that is why I said ‘yes’ to reading and reviewing “Gazelle in the Shadows”. For one, Syria has been at the center of many world conflicts and current events as of late, so I figured that reading up on it, albeit a fictionalized account set a couple decades ago, may do me some good. It definitely helped that the author, Michelle Peach, has experience as a diplomat and writer in this part of the world, as I figured that she knew what she would be talking about. So I dove in, hoping that I’d be able to break my apathy towards novels like this at least a little bit. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite work.

But first I want to start with what I did like about “Gazelle in the Shadows”. I found our protagonist, Elizabeth, to be a pretty relatable character throughout the narrative. I completely bought her passion for her studies in Arabic language and cultures, and I totally believed that she would want to pursue furthering her education in Syria in spite of the hesitations that her family had. I also found her character development to be pretty interesting and realistic, and thought that her change from wide eyed student to hardened survivor to be a narrative that was compelling. I also very much enjoyed Peach’s descriptions of various aspects of life in Syria, be it the bustling market squares, or the kind and strong people that Elizabeth met along the way (I particularly liked Fatima, a friend that Elizabeth confided in for a share of the story). I did get the sense that Peach had knowledge about the culture and the time frame that the story was working within, which makes sense given her background.

But there were also things in this story that didn’t quite work for me. First was the writing. At times the dialogue felt a little bit stilted, and while there were absolutely moments where descriptions and imagery flowed and worked, there were other moments that felt choppy. It wasn’t something that completely took me out of the story as I read it, but it did give me moments of pause before moving on. I also had a hard time with some of the characterizations of the non-Western characters within the narrative. Outside of Fatima, the Arab and Syrian characters ended up being either unexplored, or devious and untrustworthy in their intentions. Some ended up being flat out demonized, and while I understand that within the time and location that this story was taking place there certainly would be people who had ban intentions, I wasn’t comfortable with the theme of ‘Western People Saving Other Western People From The Dysfunctional Middle East”. It’s the same hesitations I’ve had with movies like “Argo” and “Zero Dark Thirty” (in spite of enjoying them for the most part), and why I haven’t been able to watch “Homeland”. And at the end of the day, it has the same issue that I had with “Hunt for Red October”: this really isn’t my genre. I think that people who do like espionage thrillers would have more things to like about “Gazelle in the Shadows”, but for someone like me it’s not really my cup of tea.

“Gazelle in the Shadows” had it’s ups and downs for me, but I think that people who like espionage thrillers would find a fair amount to like about it. I would tell people to be mindful about the optics of it, but Elizabeth is an interesting protagonist that may stand out from others in the genre.

Rating 6: While the descriptions were beautiful and the author has clear knowledge on the subject, the writing was a little clunky, espionage stories and I don’t mesh well, and some of the portrayals of the various characters made me uneasy.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Gazelle in the Shadows” is not on any Goodreads lists, but I think that it would fit in with the “Jack Ryan” books and books by John Le Carre.

“Gazelle in the Shadows” isn’t listed on WorldCat, but HERE is a link to it’s Amazon page.

A Revisit to Fear Street: “Runaway”

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

Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, 1997

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

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

Had I Read This Before: No.

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

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

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

giphy
(source)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

giphy1
An accident. Of course it was. (source)

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

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

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

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

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

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

giphy2
This seems superfluous. (source)

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

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

giphy3
And with that we’ve made a triumphant return to Fear Street Recaps! (source)

Body Count: 3. And pretty gnarly deaths too.

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

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

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

Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:

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

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

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

Best Quote:

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

‘What was that?’ Debbie demanded.

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

AWESOOOOOOOME.

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

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

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

Publishing Info: Delacorte Press, September 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reader’s Advisory:

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

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

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

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

Publishing Info: HarperTeen, July 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

giphy4
I love feeling in on the joke, sir. (source)

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

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

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

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

Reader’s Advisory:

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

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

Kate’s Review: “Behind You: One-Shot Horror Stories”

34550918Book: “Behind You: One-Shot Horror Stories” by Brian Coldrick

Publishing Info: IDW Publishing, October 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: A twisted figure crawling out of a tunnel. A giggling crowd of masked watchers. A reassembling corpse. What could be behind you, just waiting for you to turn around? Behind You is an illustration series, a comic with no panels, where each piece is essentially a separate story. Each tale is one image and one piece of text; an unsuspecting victim with someone, or something, behind them. Entries range from the amusingly weird to the genuinely unsettling. Inspired by spooky films, books, myths, and internet tall tales, Behind You is full of scary set-ups but leaves lots of blanks for the reader to fill in with their own narrative. Includes an Introduction by New York Times Best-Seller Joe Hill.

Review: Halloween is next week, readers, and that means that this year’s Horrorpalooza will be coming to an end after the next “Fear Street” post. While you’ll still be getting an influx of horror stories in the coming weeks, given that I have plenty of reading I haven’t even addressed yet, I wanted to save one of the most unique and fun horror reads for the week before the highest of high holidays in my mind. And “Behind You: One-Shot Horror Stories” is absolutely unique, and one of the most creative horror reads I’ve read in a long while. Brian Coldrick’s stories got their start on Tumblr, and though I left that platform long ago I will say that you can find some really awesome blogs and websites on there that showcase some really great art and creativity, and “Behind You” is a great example of that.

Coldrick’s stories are minimalist in some ways, and yet very detailed in others. They are one frame and one image (they move on Tumblr, and alas they do not on the pages of this book), and that image tells a story that can range from simply unnerving to full blown nightmare fuel. The image also gives the reader a lot of leeway to create their own context and background. Is this person waiting in an alley meeting a friend? A lover? Family? Who used to live in this house and why is it that there are all these twisted silhouettes on the walls? I like the freedom that this gave me, and it also made it so I would linger on the page a bit longer than I might have were I just reading a single panel that had all the answers. It reminds me of a visual version of the classic Hemingway minimal story “For sale: baby shoes, never worn”, as in such little space you get such vibrant and clear cut stories.

The design of the panels in this book also really elevated the stories, and I liked the wide range of stories that these single panels told. There are numerous protagonists and antagonists, and they all seem pretty original and unique in their designs. The style reminds me of a mix between Edward Gorey and a New Yorker cartoon, and that lends both a creep factor and kind of a cute quirkiness as well. Given that this book is a collection of various narratives, all separate from each other (except for a running panel of a figure being followed by a ghost that pops up occasionally throughout), there isn’t much to say in terms of content. So instead, I will include a few of the panels so they can speak for themselves.

behind-you-17-prints_brian-coldrick
(source)
behind-you-24-prints_brian-coldrick
(source)
behind-you-14-prints_brian-coldrick
This is my personal favorite (source)

I do think that there is something lost when the images don’t move, like a number of them do on the Tumblr blog. There are a few that could work either way, but some really are more effective with slight and uncanny movements. That said, I do think that there is something to be said for just being able to sit down and page through a bound copy of these panels and stories. I think there’s something a little more tactile in that, especially if you are wanting to sit down on a creepy autumn night and give yourself a case of the willies.

“Behind You” was an enjoyable read for an autumn night, and I think that the best way to experience it would be with a cup of cocoa, bundled up in a blanket, and trying not to notice the shadows outside or on the walls of your home.

Rating 8: A quick and creepy read with stories told in a unique way, “Behind You” is a great book to pick up this Halloween!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Behind You” isn’t featured on any Goodreads lists (perhaps due to it’s uniqueness?), but I think that it would fit in on “Best Horror Comics/Graphic Novels”, and “Most Terrifying Short Stories”.

Find “Behind You” at your library using WorldCat!