Publishing Info: Crown Publishing Group, June 2017
Where Did I Get This Book: The library!
Book Description:Here and Gone is a gripping, wonderfully tense suspense thriller about a mother’s desperate fight to recover her stolen children from corrupt authorities.
It begins with a woman fleeing through Arizona with her kids in tow, trying to escape an abusive marriage. When she’s pulled over by an unsettling local sheriff, things soon go awry and she is taken into custody. Only when she gets to the station, her kids are gone. And then the cops start saying they never saw any kids with her, that if they’re gone than she must have done something with them…
Meanwhile, halfway across the country a man hears the frenzied news reports about the missing kids, which are eerily similar to events in his own past. As the clock ticks down on the search for the lost children, he too is drawn into the desperate fight for their return.
Review: Though I never saw the movie “Flightplan”, the concept of it caught my interest. A woman and her daughter get on a plane, her daughter disappears, and then when she reports it the flight crew tell her that she never had a daughter with her. I would assume that part of the movie is spent making the viewer question whether Jodie Foster is insane or not (if I am wrong, tell me!). It’s a trope that has been used before, sometimes very effectively and other times…. not. But while I was thinking that “Here and Gone” was going to be this trope all over again, effectiveness to be determined, it’s established pretty early on that this is not one of those stories. And frankly, I was relieved. Instead of wondering whether Audra was going to end up being yet another unstable and messed up protagonist in a “Girl on the Train”-esque mystery, we get corruption in a small town and the dark web. And to that I say ‘hell YES’.
What I really liked about “Here and Gone” is that since right away we know that Audra’s children, Sean and Louise, do exist, we don’t have to worry about trying to solve a mystery on top of another mystery. In fact, I was really just along for the ride of trying to see how Audra was going to escape custody of a corrupt sheriff, and how she was going to save her children from being sold into sex trafficking (yes, it went there). I wasn’t worried about some crazy reveal about Audra’s mental state, and while there were still a couple questions that had to be definitively answered I pretty much was able to sit back, relax, and let it all play out. Because of this, I found myself incredibly engrossed in this book, picking it up one night and then finishing it up the very next night in a marathon reading session. Beck knows how to sustain the tension in this book, even when jumping from character to character, time period to time period.
While none of his characters are super intricate and complex, they all have just enough defining characteristics that I always believed the choices that they made. Audra as a protagonist was especially fun to follow, as she is a scrappy dame who has completely pulled herself from victimization to empowerment, and not in a way that seemed cheesy or laid on too thick. We get the past with her husband and we see how it all happened, but we also saw that she believably has made a new life for herself, and left the despair of abuse and addiction behind her. Not once are we manipulated into thinking that oh, she may slip up in her sobriety, or oh, she may have to be victimized again to get her children back. In her steadfastness she was fun to follow. The secondary protagonist is Danny, a man whose daughter was taken under similar circumstances. When he sees the news reports of a woman who may have murdered her children but insists they were with her when the cops pulled her over, he thinks of his wife, and how their daughter disappeared in similar fashion. His wife committed suicide shortly thereafter. His backstory was a nice juxtaposition to Audra’s showing just how grave this situation really is. Beck also made a point to show cause and effect of the slow death of small town America, built up with promises of an American Dream only to find themselves in poverty when industry has left them. The town filled with a corrupt police force is dying because of a now defunct mining community, and as poverty sets in, greed and entitlement (as well as tragedy) drives our antagonists to do the unthinkable. It was far more interesting than the scenario I thought we were going into, and I think that because it was so straight forward, I was more hooked than I would have been had I been waiting for a twist. I should also note that Haylen Beck is a pen name for Irish writer Stuart Neville, and while he may be based in Northern Ireland I think he did a bang up job of writing about Small Town Americana.
Sure, it’s not a perfect book. There are some things that seem to fit together a little to perfectly, and sometimes I had to suspend some of my disbelief in how some scenarios shook out, or how lucky some things ended up being. But as far as fun thrillers go, this one was very engaging and would be a great pick for a plane or a beach read as summer starts to wind down.
Rating 8: A fast paced and suspenseful thriller that was hard to put down.
“Here and Gone” is new and isn’t featured on any Goodreads lists, but I think that it would fit in on “Child Abduction”.
Book: “The Secret Bedroom” (Fear Street #13) by R.L. Stine
Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, September 1991
Where Did I Get This Book: ILL from the library!
Book Description:Lea Carson can’t believe it when her family moves into the creepy, old house on Fear Street. Most creepy of all is the secret room up in the attic.
The room has been locked and boarded up for at least a hundred years. A murder was committed in that room, the story goes, and it has been closed up ever since.
Lea knows she should stay away. But she thinks she hears footsteps inside the secret room. And voices.
Someone—or something—is waiting for Lea in there.
Should she open the door?
Can she resist?
Had I Read It Before: Yes
The Plot: Once again, we are introduced to a new student at Shadyside High. This time it’s a girl named Lea, and I have to wonder about enrollment policy at this school. Are kids just joining willy nilly at any time, or are all these things supposed to be happening on the same timeline? Regardless, Lea makes a splash at her new school in week two where she spills chili on the white sweater of class megabitch Marci Hendryx. After getting a severe tongue lashing from Marci, who goes to clean up, Lea gets in help cleaning up her tray from a cute boy. He says his name is Don, and she says that she’s Lea and she just moved to Fear Street. When Don is, of course, shocked, she explains her parents are the predecessors to “Flip This House” and are going to focus on Fear Street. After some more chit chat, Don asks her out, and Lea is excited and says yes! But when she returns to her seat, her new friend Deena (from “The Wrong Number”!) tells her that Don is Marci’s boyfriend and Lea will catch hell if she goes out with him. Don, you’re a creep.
Lea walks home and thinks about the first time she and her parents entered the house. Their realtor, Mrs. Thomas (Suki’s Mom! I love Suki, so this bitch is tops in my book), told them about a boarded up room in the attic after Lea stumbled upon the locked door. Apparently it was a bedroom, but someone was murdered in their and it’s been shuttered ever since. Um, that should probably have been disclosed before they closed on the house, Mrs. Thomas, but perhaps when selling homes of Fear Street you’re encouraged to leave stuff out. Lea’s parents say they’ll just leave it alone. I bet not.
So now it’s Saturday night and Lea is on the phone with Deena, waiting for Don to pick her up. While giving Lea advice, Deena then has to hang up because her friend Jade has arrived (no word on whether or not she’s still dating her rotten half brother). So Lea waits, and waits, and waits… And Don doesn’t show. She calls his house, and Don’s mom says that he’s out with Marci. Ouch, girl. But instead of accepting that she’s been stood up, Lea decides that the thing to do is… CALL MARCI?????
Monday at school Don approaches her and says he’s really sorry about the date thing and that Marci is jealous. While trying to explain himself, Marci shows up, and he runs off to her like the spineless jellyfish that he is. After lunch, Marci approaches Lea at her locker and tells her that she’s sorry. It was a joke that went too far, and to make it up to her she wants Lea to join the school sorority! How nice! She tells Lea that the next meeting is the next day in room 409. But Lea isn’t a dummy, and tells her that the school only has three floors so there ISN’T a room 409!! Boy, she sure was spared some kind of douchey prank a golf pro might pull off.
That next Saturday after a night of watching movies by herself (as even her parents have a social life), Lea decides to go to bed. But again, she hears footsteps above her in the attic. She goes up to investigate, but finds nothing up there. Yet as soon as she turns out the light, the footsteps start again… in the secret bedroom! She presses her ear against the door and calls inside, but then hears a new sound… the sound of blood flowing from the doorway!!! She freaks out and calls Deena (instead of her parents? I know this is before cell phones but did they not leave an emergency number?) and asks her to come over. Then she calls the police. When Deena arrives they go up to investigate, but they find nothing. So have fun explaining THAT to the cops who show up a few moments later. Lea apologizes, saying she thought she heard something, and after both cop and Deena leave, she tries to go back to sleep… But the sounds start again, louder this time.
At breakfast the next day her parents brush off her concerns. That night Lea is thinking about Don, for some reason that I can’t fathom… Yes I can, I was a teenage girl once. But the noises start up again. This continues for the next few nights, and then it even evolves into a voice! Lea dreams that she goes into the attic, and into the bedroom… and finds Marci in there, right before waking up. Marci is truly a jerk so the stress dreams are understandable.
The next weekend Lea, having been blown off by Deena, is all by her lonesome at home again, and when she hears the sounds this time she’s going to investigate. She hears a voice on the other side of the door, but this time she decides she wants to open the damn thing up. Of course, when she tries, a bunch of iron spikes slam through the wood and almost gore her. I just….. WHAT. They pull back into the secret bedroom, and Lea is left dazed. When the phone rings she almost misses it, but she answers, and it’s DON!! Who wants her to meet him at the mall right away!!! Lea, foolishly, thinks that her time has come, and she rushes in the rain to her car and drives over to meet him. I have no idea where her parents are. When she gets to the mall and to good ol’ Pete’s Pizza, she sees Don… and that he’s sitting across from Marci. Lea, the definition of insanity is to repeat an action expecting a different result. This is you to a t. Don says she should sit with them, but Marci shuts that shit down. Lea, after accidentally knocking into a waitress and making a scene, returns home.
Given that the house is still empty but the sounds are still happening, Lea storms up the steps to settle this once and for all. This time when she calls through the door, she hear’s a girl’s voice asking her to open it up. Lea complies, prying the boards off with a hammer, and finds a key in the lock. When she walks in, she finds an ornate bedroom with an old fashioned looking girl sitting on the bed. The girl says that she ‘lives’ there, so that means she’s haunting the place because she’s clearly a ghost. A ghost who wants to touch Lea’s hair. Which is a bit too much, and Lea runs out of the room, slamming and locking the door behind her.
The next day Lea convinces herself that it was all a dream, and goes to play tennis with Deena. Deena agrees that it must have been a dream and then tells her that Marci is spreading rumors about her being a floozy. Fun. That night, while her parents are engrossed in a nature show, Lea tries to go to bed early. But the noises start again, and Lea goes upstairs to investigate. She finds the room and the girl again, and realizes that it wasn’t a dream. The ghost says that her name is Catherine, and that while she knows she’s dead it took her awhile to believe and understand it. She says that she was locked in this room because her parents didn’t want the world to know about her, as she was born out of wedlock. When she tried to escape one day, they killed her, and kept her body up there to rot. Lea isn’t convinced, and Catherine gets angry with her AND wants to touch her hair again. Lea runs out and slams her bedroom door, but doesn’t remember if she closed the door to the secret bedroom. She goes back to look, and all seems locked up and okay… But then in her own room Lea’s stuffed tiger’s eyes start to glow red.
At school the next week, Lea overhears Marci spreading more lies about her, and wonders just why Marci keeps doing this even though she clearly has her beaten into submission. Well, Lea, it’s because girls like Marci are like a dog with a bone and can’t get enough of torturing you because you have been seen as weak, and weakness is easy to exploit and fun too, if you’re a total sociopath. No, I don’t have personal experience. Lea, however, gets the bright idea to use her new ghost friend (?) to teach Marci a lesson (and I am convinced that Ryan Murphy lifted this for “AHS: Murder House”). When she gets home she goes up the secret bedroom and formally introduces herself. Catherine tells her how much she loves her hair, and that she wishes her blonde tresses were dark like hers. Lea, undaunted, asks Catherine if she will help her scare Marci. Catherine agrees, but starts to press her ghostly essence into Lea, explaining that she’d use all her energy if she traveled on her own, and that she should really just hitch a ride in Lea’s body. Lea is a little weirded out, but convinces herself that it’s a legit request.
Lea goes to Marci’s house to confront her, and Marci tries to slam the door in her face but Catherine (who did leave Lea’s body) prevents that from happening. Lea gets into the house and starts to read Marci the riot act, but then Catherine lifts Marci up in the air and drops her. Marci, now freaked out, runs up the stairs in a panic… and runs right through the railing and plunges to the floor. Oops. Lea calls 911 as Marci’s Mom is screaming and sobbing (this was actually way upsetting, thanks Stine), and when the cops arrive Marci is pronounced dead. An officer drives Lea home, and she feels Catherine re-enter her body. When they get home Catherine returns to her attic room and Lea tries to eat dinner, but just has to confront Catherine about how things went down at Marci’s house. She asks Catherine if she pushed Marci, and Catherine just smiles at her, saying that she did Lea a favor and now Lea has to do one for her. Catherine wants to be inside Lea’s body PERMANENTLY. She tries to possess Lea, but Lea fights her off and runs out of the room screaming for her parents. When she tells them everything, they think that she’s suffering from PTSD because she saw Marci fall. Lea tries to show them the attic door she broke into, but it looks all boarded up, as if never touched. Huh?
A doctor recommends bedrest to Lea. As she’s trying to rest up, suddenly Catherine appears and REALLY flips things on its’ head: she says that she’s been messing with Lea the whole time! Lea never actually went into the secret bedroom, that Catherine was ALWAYS in THIS room and that she just planted those memories. When asked why, Catherine says that that secret bedroom is evil and Catherine boarded it up herself one hundred years prior, and the blood and the spikes were to keep Lea out before she just started planting memories. And now they’re going to share this room AND LEA’S BODY!!! Catherine succeeds in possessing her this time. Holy shit, this is getting real.
A few days later Catherine tells Lea that they have some stuff to take care of. I have a feeling it isn’t running to get paper towels from the store. CLea (as I will be referring to them) pulls a long rope out of the closet, and Catherine tells Lea that they’re going to go make Don Jacobs pay. They end up at Don’s house, and right before CLea can strangle him in cold blood, his friends arrive. Lea is able to fend off the control for a bit, and they make a hasty exit. But Catherine tells her that soon Don will be dead and so will his stupid friends. WHAT DID CORY AND GARY DO? The next day Lea realizes that Catherine has left her body for a bit, and thinks that perhaps the key to her salvation is opening up the secret bedroom. She grabs a hammer and gets to work on the boards, but then Catherine shows up to try and stop her. Lea tells her that she won’t be stopped, and she manages to get into the bedroom…. AND FINDS THE LONG DRIED OUT CORPSES OF CATHERINE’S PARENTS ON THE BED!!!! Catherine manages to possess Lea just then, and then the BODIES GET UP AND START SHUFFLING TOWARDS CLEA! ZombieDad wraps his hands around CLea’s neck, and Catherine leaves her body saying they killed her once and now they want to do it again…. But ZombieMom says that it was CATHERINE who was the murderer, who killed THEM and locked them in the bedroom. Suffice to say, the corpse parents start to circle Catherine faster and faster, and when Catherine reaches to Lea for help (ha, yeah right), one of the corpses LITERALLY rips her hand off and tosses it away. I AM LIVING!!! They ghostly family spins and disappears into nothingness, and Lea, presumably, passes out.
She wakes in the hospital some time later and is told she’s been battling a fever that’s left her in and out of consciousness. But Don has been calling to check on her and Deena has been bringing her school work for her to work on when she gets better. So maybe it was all a dream? When she gets home, she does find the attic door all boarded up, and is thinking that yes, it was all a dream. But the she sees one of Catherine’s hair ribbons on her dresser, and she thinks of Marci and the ghost in the secret bedroom. The end.
Body Count: 2. Well, technically one with Marci falling to her doom. But I think that I may count Catherine too, since she was kind of taken out again.
Romance Rating: 3. Don is a total wimp when it comes to his girlfriend, but he and Lea could have some potential now that she’s out of the way (sorry, Marci).
Bonkers Rating: 10. This one has a secret bedroom, a ghost, possession, mind alterations, murder, AND skeletons just drying out in an attic. Seriously, it’s crazy.
Fear Street Relevance: 9! Lea living on Fear Street and the ghosts living in an attic in a Fear Street house are exactly the kind of setting these books need to be as good as they can be.
Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:
“Lea was the first to break the silence. “I don’t believe it,” she said, her hands pressed tightly against her face.”
… and then there’s literally nothing there. Though I have to say, this book had some really SOLID cliffhangers.
That’s So Dated! Moments: Lea is watching “Ghost” on her parents VCR. Also, many descriptions of Lea’s bangs. Also, see below….
“Patrick Swayze is a real babe, she thought, stretching sleepily. He can come haunt me any time.”
YEP, this one was a really fun and great read. It’s right up there with “Missing” in terms of “Fear Street” faves. The next one up is “The Knife”, and the cover alone makes me think it’s going to be a journey.
Book: “Everything Is Teeth” by Evie Wyle and Joe Sumner (Ill.)
Publishing Info: Johnathan Cape, August 2015
Where Did I Get This Book: The library!
Book Description:From the award-winning author of All The Birds, Singing, a deeply moving graphic memoir about family, love, loss, and the irresistible forces that, like sharks, course through life unseen, ready to emerge at any moment.
Ever since she was a little girl, passing her summers in the brutal heat of coastal New South Wales, Evie Wyld has been captivated by sharks—by their innate ruthlessness, stealth, and immeasurable power. Young Evie would listen intently as farmers and fishermen told stories about being alone on the water at dusk; she would lose herself in books about legendary shark attacks, mesmerized by the photos of the victims. And even though she returned to London at the end of each summer, Australia’s sharks never released their hold on her imagination. Now, in this quietly penetrating narrative of personal memories, beautifully rendered by illustrator Joe Sumner, Evie Wyld lends her exceptional voice to the telling of a story all her own.
Review: When I was four years old, I discovered sharks. We were on a family trip out to California to visit my aunt, uncle, and cousin. They lived in San Jose, but we would take many family trips to the ocean up and down the coastline between San Francisco and Monterey. This meant that there was a lot of driving to be had, and ya gotta find ways to spend the time. My parents bought my cousin, who is a few years older than me, a cassette tape and accompanying book about sharks. It was short and informational, but it did have some kind of creepy music to go with it. Because “Jaws”, probably. Turns out, it was too much for my cousin, who thought that it was way too scary to listen to. My parents, not wanting to waste the thing, gave it to me, four year old Kate, thinking that maybe I’d be able to handle it. And I guess I pulled a full Raffi on them, insisting they play it over, and over, and OVER again the entire trip… And then more when we got back home to Minnesota. And thus, my lifelong love of sharks was born.
So the graphic memoir “Everything is Teeth” by Evie Wyld is so incredibly relatable for me that it was kind of uncanny. Evie Wyld grew up in England and spent family trips in Australia, and she first found her love for sharks when her older brother was given a set of shark jaws for the holidays. She then started reading books about sharks, and shark attacks, her first celebrity crush being Rodney Fox, famed shark attack survivor and conservationist (another thing I can relate to, because I TOO loved Rodney Fox during my most fevered obsession time). But this memoir is a bit different from other graphic memoirs that I’ve read in the past, as instead of having a full linear narrative it’s more a collection of snapshots into her childhood, framed through the shark obsession. But the shark obsession and the anxieties that go with it, of course, speak to deeper childhood fears and worries, from isolation to familial loss. The irrational fear of sharks served as a tangible fear to stand in for the ones that Wyld couldn’t quite articulate at the time, and as a child who was also riddled with anxieties about just about everything, this, too, was a familiar thing to me as I read it.
You don’t get the events in her childhood spoon-fed to you, you have to surmise what is going on. During a viewing of “Jaws”, she recounts how her loving yet somewhat detached father drank glass after glass of wine. After being unable to sleep one Australian night, she and her mother go for a night swim in the pool, as her mother was dealing with one of her regular bouts of insomnia. When her older brother would come home from school bloodied and beaten up, he would come to Evie and ask her to tell him shark stories. We learn about Evie’s family and their pretty common issues, but always with the context of the love of, and fear of, sharks. It’s a quiet story that ultimately unwinds to show how these intangible fears ultimately become tangible as time goes on, and that a fear of sharks disguises a fear of loss that eventually most everyone will experience in their life. It is ultimately a sweet, and sad, story about a girl who comes of age like many do, and her childhood interest in sharks that shapes her along the way, and I found it just as powerful as some of the graphic memoirs I’ve read that deal with childhood trauma or tragedy. There is no specific trauma or tragedy here; it’s just bits of her life, some parts sad, some parts not, all parts incredibly real.
I also liked that even the bits that were sad or upsetting were still muted, letting the reader figure out why. There is a scene where Evie’s Dad takes her to a shark attack museum, thinking that she will enjoy it. What they find is a spectacle, with graphic photos of shark attack victims with no context (just showing Rodney Fox’s wounds, not his calm demeanor or how he persevered), broad brush strokes painting sharks as mindless man eaters, and a stuffed and shabby white pointer, which is Australian terminology for great white, that is decaying on it’s platform. Child Evie is awash with nausea and discomfort, and while it’s never explained why, the reader is as well. Wyld never has to tell you it’s wrong; you just know that it is.
Joe Sumner did the illustrations for this graphic novel, and I really loved his style. He has a huge range from the flat out cartoonish (Evie and her family members), to the more realistic (stills from “Jaws” and pictures of shark attack survivors in the aftermath), to the hyperrealistic that I could have sworn were photographs (almost all the sharks in this book).
I was completely struck by this art style and how effective it was.
“Everything Is Teeth” is a very subdued read, but it’s one that struck a chord with me. If you are looking for a graphic memoir that isn’t necessarily steeped in tragedy and trauma, but still packs an emotional punch, it may be the one for you.
Rating 9: A quiet, resonant, and somewhat haunting graphic memoir about growing up, loss, and sharks. The illustrations are great and the story is compelling and relatable.
Book Description:Despite — or perhaps with the aid of — drugs, drinking, and paranoia, Spider Jerusalem and his filthy assistants are hot on the trail of the horrifying truth behind the newly-elected President’s campaign. Features three stand-alone stories: “Nobody Loves me, “The Walk” and “Dancing in the Here and Now,” and also includes the three-part “Gouge Away” storyline.
Review: I bet some of you were wondering if I had just given up on “Transmetropolitan”. Well guess what? NOPE!! I just took a break from it because, as much as I love it and have really enjoyed re-reading it, it’s both a bit manic and a bit too real for me at the moment, a theme I’ve noted a few times during my re-read. So I just needed some space from Spider, his Filthy Assistants Channon and Yelena, and the ugly world that they live in.
But I have achieved that space and I decided that I was ready to tackle it again. When we left off, Spider had just found out that his story and voice had been squashed thanks to White House interference, and a story about police brutality got swept under the rug. When we join him, Channon, and Yelena again, we see that Spider is still without a voice, and has become something of a joke to the world thanks to propaganda run thanks to The Smiler and the Administration. But is that the kind of thing that’s going to keep a good journalist down? Hell no. So Spider starts to figure out how to get his voice heard again, and starts to hop from source to source and scumbag to scumbag to try and get another strike at The Smiler and the White House. If the last collection left us with despair and fear, “Gouge Away” comes back with a whole lot of hope and tenacity that acts as a catharsis to the nonsense going down in the world today. I liked that we went back and revisited a number of characters that we’ve seen previously, and that they managed to come together and make a pretty satisfying counterstrike that Spider could use in the fight for truth and journalism. I had mentioned that a couple of the previous issues felt like “The Empire Strikes Back”, and this one kind of feels like “Return of the Jedi” at the end. It could have been final. It could have been the end of the series altogether. I don’t know how I feel about how final it felt, knowing that it’s going to go on. But, that said, there are still stories to tell, and maybe there isn’t room for ambiguity in Spider’s world.
But along with the main storyline that we got, I felt that the best part of this collection was the story that was devoted to Channon and Yelena, Spider’s assistants. I think that it could be tempting to give Spider two lady assistants, one of whom he is sleeping with and the other of whom is a walking sex pot, and to just leave them as unexplored characters. But Ellis gives Channon and Yelena their own thing to do that isn’t only about Spider (even if they realize, to their dismay, they ran away from him for a spree but are now talking mostly about him). I love that the two of them have a friendship that exists outside of Spider, and that they play off of each other while acting as each others’ confidants. And really, a girls night with them that involves running away in a taxi, a shopping spree, a gun range, and then stopping a government agent from following them via force, now THAT is the kind of thing I like to see in comic books when it comes to the ladies.
It’s also welcome and/or upsetting to see The Smiler back on the pages of this story, in his full sociopathic glory. We are given reminders throughout this collection of what he has done in the past, not only to his enemies, but also to his supposed allies. We are reminded of Vita, who was a spin doctor for The Smiler, and was murdered by his campaign just to give him higher approval ratings in the wake of tragedy. Her folk saint status has almost completely exploded with a full on permanent shrine in her memory, and honestly, seeing it made me smile, albeit sadly. Vita is still one of the few people in this series who Spider had a complete reverence for, and it’s very satisfying seeing him slowly but surely take revenge on the man and the campaign who murdered her for votes.
I know that with four more issues there are still parts to be played and conflicts to happen, even if I don’t remember all of them. But it was really nice seeing Spider finally declare all out war against The Smiler, via journalism, integrity, and being a psychotic pain in the ass. Ya can’t help but cheer for him. I am thinking that I may not wait four months to pick up the next collection of “Transmetropolitan”, because I missed it so much.
Rating 8: Though it’s sometimes exhausting to read this series, “Transmetropolitan: Gouge Away” continues a strong and incredibly relevant meditation on the freedom of the press and the signs of fascism in a corrupt system.
Book: “When I Am Through With You” by Stephanie Kuehn
Publishing Info: Dutton Books for Young Readers, August 1st, 2017
Where Did I Get This Book: I received an ARC at ALA thanks to the publisher.
Book Description:“This isn’t meant to be a confession. Not in any spiritual sense of the word. Yes, I’m in jail at the moment. I imagine I’ll be here for a long time, considering. But I’m not writing this down for absolution and I’m not seeking forgiveness, not even from myself. Because I’m not sorry for what I did to Rose. I’m just not. Not for any of it.”
Ben Gibson is many things, but he’s not sorry and he’s not a liar. He will tell you exactly about what happened on what started as a simple school camping trip in the mountains. About who lived and who died. About who killed and who had the best of intentions. But he’s going to tell you in his own time. Because after what happened on that mountain, time is the one thing he has plenty of.
Review: I am always on the lookout for well done and legitimately suspenseful YA thriller fiction. While sometimes it’s well written and holds my attention, there are other times that the characters are too trope-ridden and the plot is too spoonfed to the reader, as if teens couldn’t possibly stomach a bit of nuance once in awhile. This is why I thank my lucky stars for Stephanie Kuehn, as she is one of the consistently shining stars of the genre when it comes to writing it for teens. I have loved her ever since I read her book “Charm and Strange”, and every book she’s written since has pleased me and sated my need for cerebral and dark themes with complex and damaged characters. Because boy, do I LOVE complex and damaged characters, and no I’m not sorry about it.
Our complex and damaged character this time is Ben Gibson, a migraine-riddled teen who lives with an addict mother who resents him and has no hope of ever leaving his small California town. True, he has a girlfriend named Rose, but she is a bit manipulative and has big dreams of college, and a life that’s on the other side of the tracks. Ben is our narrator, and while he does sort of fit the mold of unreliable, he also is incredibly honest, so the reader is left not sure if what he’s saying is true, but knows he believes that it is. While Ben has accepted that his life is pretty much going to be stuck park and not deviate from it’s current path, he still tries to make those around him happy, even if it’s to his detriment. Be it trying to please Rose, or striking a deal with his teacher Mr. Howe to become a wilderness guide for a modest fee so that he can support his mother, Ben is both a doormat and a knight in shining armor for those who don’t want saving. Kuehn slowly peels back the layers to show just why Ben is like this, and his added dimensions and complexity make him all the more interesting, and yet slightly uncomfortable, to follow.
The wilderness survival story also went above and beyond expectations. I had expected one way that it was going to go, but then it went in a whole different way than I anticipated. I don’t want to give much away, but I will say that Kuehn doesn’t pull her punches when it comes to portraying a bunch of multi-faceted, and pretty realistic, teenagers who make trouble for themselves and don’t know how to react when it blows up in their faces. The group is filled with a few different tropes, the artsy and mysterious girl, the troublemakers, the emo snob (who also happens to be Rose’s twin brother), the sporty girl, but while they all have their niches to fill, Kuehn gives all of them their due and fleshes most of them out. It would be easy to keep them in the lines of their various stereotypes, but instead we kind of get to see the perspectives of a good number of them and that makes them a bit messier and also sympathetic to a degree. Along with being unafraid to try and draw complexity from these kids, Kuehn is also unafraid to be frank and honest in depictions of violence and sexuality. The violence and the consequences of the violence are upsetting and appropriately gory, but it never feels like it’s being written just for the sake of shocking the reader. She seamlessly walks the line between exploitative and realistic, and while some of it made me cringe, it wasn’t because I felt like a voyeur to something gross. She also does a good job of portraying sex and sexuality in a number of ways, from a couple of momentary sex scenes to brief portrayals of fleeting intimacy between lovers. I know that some people would probably be uncomfortable with the sex in this book, and while even I was like ‘whoa’ during one scene in particular, I think that Kuehn clearly gives her readers credit and thinks that they can handle it. If they can handle the violence, they can certainly handle the sex.
I think that for me the one problem I was was a final twist that didn’t feel like it really fit in too well. I understood the thought behind it and while it was set up pretty well, ultimately I didn’t really feel that it added much to the story overall. But given that everything else was so well done I wasn’t too upset about it, and was far more willing to accept it.
And it wouldn’t be a Stephanie Kuehn book if there wasn’t a whole lot of tragedy. I just want to put that out there because 1) fair warning, and 2) I love that Kuehn is more than willing to pile it on, and does so in a way that never feels melodramatic. I love melodrama, but the fact that this ISN’T melodrama makes it all the more tragic.
If you haven’t already picked up books by Stephanie Kuehn, “When I Am Through With You” would be a good place to start. If you like dark and suspenseful, and super honest, thrillers, I implore you to check out her entire body of work. You will not be disappointed.
Rating 8: Kuehn once again delivers a dark and suspenseful book that takes the YA genre above and beyond the usual expectations.
Book: “Lights Out” (Fear Street #12) by R.L. Stine
Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, June 1991
Where Did I Get This Book: ILL from the library!
Book Description:Who killed the counselor?
“I could kill you!” screamed Geri Marcus.
Could she? Would she? something is very wrong at Camp Nightwing, and junior counselor Holly Flynn is determined to solve the mystery before it destroys the camp!
The trouble begins with frightening acts of vandalism. After each, a red feather is left behind—signature of the culprit.
Suddenly, one of the counselors is dead. “An accident,” say the police. But Holly knows better—and she knows she’s next. Holly can’t trust anyone now, not even her best friend, as she stalks the camp killer—and hopes that it soon won’t be “lights out” for her!
Had I Read It Before: No.
The Plot: Just so everyone is aware, y’all are getting gifs and images from my favorite camp movies “Wet Hot American Summer” and “Sleepaway Camp” for this one.
Holly Flynn has been conscripted to be a counselor at her Uncle Bill’s summer camp, Camp Nightwing, for the summer. She doesn’t want to be there, as is made clear by her terrible interaction with a spider that wanders into her bunk. But her Mom made her, because she can’t just spend the whole summer on Fear Street, now can she, especially since her summer job at the Dairy Freeze was a bust. And besides, poor Uncle Bill has been having a rough go of it while running this camp. The first year, lightning burnt down the rec hall. Year two, both a flood AND a measles outbreak struck the camp (vaccinate your kids, folks). Year three, a camper was LITERALLY KILLED IN A BOATING ACCIDENT. So this year is kind of it for Uncle Bill, though honestly it sounds like he’s not so good at his job and maybe this just isn’t for him. Holly’s friend Thea is a counselor at the camp as well, but has her main goal for the summer to hook up with fellow counselor John Hardesty. While they talk about Holly’s not so outdoorsy nature, they hear someone call for help. Turns out Uncle Bill managed to overturn a cabinet full of sports equipment upon himself. After Holly and Thea help him out from under it all he comments that it seems like it was oddly loose. As Thea and Holly start to clean it all up, Holly finds a red feather in the bolt hole of the cabinet.
But she can’t dwell too long on it, as she soon finds out that Geri Marcus is one of the counselors at this camp!!! Geri Marcus, who had been Holly’s best friend before Holly moved to Shadyside, but they had a falling out. Geri had been dating at eighteen year old at age fifteen, and Holly had tried to keep it a secret but was caught in a lie. Geri’s parents found out, broke them up, and Geri blames Holly. You know this because of the not so kind look and demeanor she has around Holly. She also meets Debra, the senior counselor in her cabin who is also the arts and crafts and sailing instructor. She also takes an instant disliking to Holly for reasons unknown. But the Holly meets Mick, a handsome counselor who she takes an instant liking to, even though she’s sworn off boys this summer. When she gets back to her cabin, nature rears it’s ugly head as a brown bat is in the room. Holly freaks out, and Debra and Geri walk in and make her feel bad for freaking out.
They go to the counselor campfire that evening. Holly and Mick flirt a little bit more. Uncle Bill reads them the rules of the camp that they need to abide by, but is interrupted by a maniac in a hockey mask, who ends up being another counselor named Kit, a nerdy dude who has a crush on Geri. We also meet a softspoken boy named Sandy who wears polo shirts and Porsche sunglasses, and get a glimpse of the famed John Hardesty, who is antisocial to the max. Uncle Bill reads the rest of the rules, the last one being ‘counselors cannot date campers’. Seems like a no brainer, Bill. Holly and Mick flirt a bit more, and then Holly catches Geri glaring at her from across the bonfire.
The first morning of camp Holly goes for a walk. She meets up with Sandy, who warns her about leeches and to be careful in the water. She then runs into Mick, and they go walking by the lake to look at the canoes… Which have sunk. They pull them out and see that someone has punched holes in them, and Holly finds another red feather. No time to investigate further, though, as the campers are arriving. Holly is late and Debra chews her out for her tardiness. After they round the campers up and take them to their cabin, two of the girls get in a fight about the top bunk. When they both jump on the bed, it collapses. Neither girl is hurt, but Debra still reams Holly out for some reason, just as Geri and Uncle Bill walk in. Uncle Bill commends Debra on her ‘quick thinking’, and it leaves Holly alone to try and figure out what happened. She finds the broken slat, and along with that another red feather.
Holly goes to find Uncle Bill to tell him about the feathers and how she thinks that perhaps it’s a sabotage , but he isn’t interested in listening to her about it and snaps at her to leave him alone to deal with other things. Holly confronts Debra about chewing her out like that in front of other people, and Debra blows her off, saying that Holly won’t get any special treatment, even if Bill is her uncle. Things go from bad to worse at dinner, when Kit runs in and throws a rubber snake on the table. Holly is so scared she hesitates at first, but then is AGAIN chewed out by Debra for just sitting there while the campers are upset. I can’t even with this girl. Thea tells Holly to meet her by the lake that night, because she has some information that could explain some things. When they meet Thea tells her that Geri and Debra are tight, and that is probably why Debra is making Holly’s life a living hell. Also, Mick and Geri had something last summer, but now it seems that Mick may be into Holly. UH OH!! I smell a Judy and Meg situation a la “Sleepaway Camp!”
Thea also says that she’s meeting John there, and Holly rightfully leaves before Thea gets into another pathetic John loop. Holly runs into Mick on her walk back, and when he asks her if they can spend more time together she says no. Why she doesn’t tell him that Geri is the goddamn worst, I couldn’t say. Mick gets mad and GRABS HER ARM? I was rooting for you, Mick, but not anymore. He lets her go quickly and stalks off, ego bruised no doubt. As she gets back to her cabin, she thinks she sees someone sneaking out of it. Before she can investigate further, Sandy shows up. They talk for a bit and he seems like a far nicer guy than Mick at this point, as he tells her he’s sorry she’s having a hard time. When she goes back into her cabin, she finds an actual snake on her bed. She screams and wakes everyone up, including Debra, who chews her out AGAIN, calling her ‘worse than useless’. Calm down, Debra.
The next day Holly goes to try and talk to Uncle Bill about the feathers and the snake. But, so concerned with a mixed up order that has left a supply delivery AWOL, Bill, once again, has other things on his mind and downplays her concerns. He asks Holly to just be supportive of him, saying that those feathers are all over the camp. Holly decides that if he won’t listen to her, she’ll have to save the camp herself. She starts to observe the fellow counselors at a camp baseball game, and Mick puts the moves on her since she’s been ‘staring at him all day’. She agrees to meet him that night (WHY?), but when she does he puts the moves on a bit too strong and she demures. Which makes him storm off because HEAVEN FORBID SHE NOT WANT TO KISS HIM YET. And, of course, Geri saw the whole thing, and confronts Holly about trying to steal Mick away.
The next day Holly meets up with Sandy, and when he’s super nice to her she tells him her theory about the feathers, the camp, and the sabotage. He isn’t really convinced, and tells her that maybe she’ll be more comfortable when they co-lead that wilderness hike the next week. Holly isn’t thrilled to be co-leading a hike, but at least Sandy is nice. She runs into Thea, who is having more John Hardesty woes, as he just doesn’t seem interested. THEN she goes to the arts and crafts building to help Debra teach pottery… and one of the campers breaks a pot, which is clearly Holly’s fault. As she’s walking back to her cabin after this terrible day, she is confronted by Kit, who says that since she’s so awful to Geri, he’s going to be awful to her. He then GRABS HER AND PINS HER ARMS BEHIND HER BACK, as Geri and MICK of all people show up with a BUCKET OF LEECHES. They knock her in the creek and toss the leeches on her. After they leave she peels the leeches off and then runs afoul someone yelling ‘no please!’, and finds JOHN by himself. When she questions him, he says she better mind her own business or she’ll be sorry. JESUS CHRIST this camp is filled with sociopaths! She sees Sandy again and he gives her the finalized counselor list for their wilderness trip. Joy of joys, it’s them, Geri, Mick, and Kit.
At dinner that night Holly and Thea are hanging out and Holly realizes that John and Debra aren’t anywhere to be seen. Holly decides to go find Debra so they can eat with their campers together. She isn’t in their bunk, so Holly goes to the arts and crafts building…. AND FINDS DEBRA SLUMPED OVER DEAD ON THE POTTERY WHEEL, HER FACE A BLOODY PULP FROM THE CONSTANT WHIRLING OF SAID WHEEL. Now THIS is good shit, Stine!!! Her necklace is caught in the wheel, so obviously it must have been a horrible accident.
But then of course Holly finds another red feather.
Okay, this is so long and we have so much more ground to cover, and frankly this book isn’t good enough to dwell. So let’s just bullet point it down.
Geri thinks that Holly did it.
Uncle Bill assigns Geri to be the new senior counselor over Holly.
Holly thinks John did it but then maybe it was Mick because she finds feathers in his room.
Uncle Bill says the camp is going to close if one more thing goes wrong. Rebuffs Holly’s theories for the umpteenth time.
The wilderness trip begins.
Turns out John is just being weird because he’s messing around with a fifteen year old camper.
Sandy asks Holly to go canoeing with him.
And it turns out that the whole time it was SANDY because it was his little brother who drowned at the camp on Debra’s watch the previous year!!!!
There’s a showdown in a canoe on the rapids. Holly hits Sandy with a paddle but he perseveres.
There’s a second showdown in a cave involving snakes and Sandy falling down a hill.
Mick helps get her out of the woods and the police come and take Sandy away.
Holly isn’t scared of snakes anymore. THE END.
Body Count: 1, though I have to reiterate that this is by far one of the most gruesome and coolest deaths in this series yet!
Romance Rating: 2. Mick is a friggin’ weirdo and Sandy is murderous. Not to mention John Hardesty is an eighteen year old messing around with a fifteen year old. Look, I have lots of complicated opinions about statutory laws when it comes to applying to mid to late teenagers, but that’s the kind of gap that is a bit too much.
Bonkers Rating: 3. The pottery wheel death was nuts, but everything else was pretty uninspired, filled with “Friday the 13th” and “Sleepaway Camp” rip offs.
Fear Street Relevance: 2. Once again, our main character lives on Fear Street, but none of the action takes place there! This isn’t even on Fear Island or by Fear Lake.
Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:
“The footsteps stopped, then all at once the started again, faster, running. Who could be in the woods at this time of night? Whoever it was was just behind her and getting closer.”
… And it turns out it’s just two campers late for getting back to their bunks.
That’s So Dated! Moments: Amazingly enough, the fact this book takes place at a summer camp means that the usual pop culture and technological references were few and far between. I didn’t find much that was dated at all! Outside of saying that there are only eight “Friday the 13th” movies. “Jason X”, anyone? Oh, and Mick being described as looking like ‘actor Kevin Bacon’. That’s a blatant “Friday the 13th” reference too.
“What was it about him that was so attractive? Was it that he seemed somehow…. dangerous?”
This one was pretty mediocre and forgettable. Up next is “The Secret Bedroom”, another one from my childhood and one I have fond memories of. Will those memories hold up?
Book Description:The Breakfast Club meets Pretty Little Liars, One of Us Is Lying is the story of what happens when five strangers walk into detention and only four walk out alive. Everyone is a suspect, and everyone has something to hide. Pay close attention and you might solve this. On Monday afternoon, five students at Bayview High walk into detention: Bronwyn, the brain, is Yale-bound and never breaks a rule; Addy, the beauty, is the picture-perfect homecoming princess; Nate, the criminal, is already on probation for dealing; Cooper, the athlete, is the all-star baseball pitcher; and Simon, the outcast, is the creator of Bayview High’s notorious gossip app. Only, Simon never makes it out of that classroom. Before the end of detention, Simon’s dead. And according to investigators, his death wasn’t an accident. On Monday, he died. But on Tuesday, he’d planned to post juicy reveals about all four of his high-profile classmates, which makes all four of them suspects in his murder. Or are they the perfect patsies for a killer who’s still on the loose? Everyone has secrets, right? What really matters is how far you would go to protect them.
Review: You want to talk about classic high school movies, one of the assured mentions is going to be “The Breakfast Club”. While I really don’t like what happens to Ally Sheedy’s character (as a ‘basket-case’ in high school myself, I didn’t appreciate being told that if I just got a makeover boys would like me), I have to admit that the concept of kids coming from different social circles and getting along for one day is really appealing. ESPECIALLY when one of those kids is Judd Nelson, my GOD. So when I heard about this book, and that it’s basically “The Breakfast Club” with a murder mystery to boot, I was TOTALLY IN!!!!
But we actually got so much more than that. While sure, the Brat Pack in that movie each gets their own little piece of vulnerability, McManus has an entire book to explore each of her characters to their fullest extent, and can paint them in complicated and well rounded ways that gives the reader reasons to be invested in all of them. We get four perspective characters in this book. Bronwyn is the brainiac who is carrying an Ivy League dream not only as a legacy, but as a biracial girl whose Columbian side of the family literally pulled itself up by the bootstraps to start said legacy. Addy is a girl who has been taught that her only strength is her beauty, perpetuated by a vapid mother and a controlling boyfriend. Cooper is a star athlete whose family is riding on the idea of him getting a major league offer because of his pitching arm. And Nate, oh my sweet sweet Nate, is a dealer on probation living in a ramshackle home with a drunken father. And all of them have secrets, which is why all of them are viable suspects when Simon, app creator and provocateur extraordinaire, is murdered while they are all serving detention together.
All of these characters had realistic and believable voices, and I saw the vulnerability and desperation in each of them as their secrets started to come to light. It became pretty clear from the get go that none of them were actually suspects to be taken seriously, and while I don’t know how I feel about that, it was a delight to be able to see them hide other things instead of throwing an entire barrel of red herrings my way. And while some of them had secrets that weren’t that hard to guess, getting to the answers was a heck of a ride, especially since all of them grew and evolved so much as they got there. Addy especially went on a character arc that felt so organic and so heart-wrenching and yet empowering that I was especially happy to get to her perspective chapters. This storyline brings up questions of relationships, romance vs domination, and what sort of value we put on women and girls who are attractive but not encouraged to be much more. I also really liked reading how Nate and Bronwyn’s relationship progressed and evolved. There of course was going to be some romance in this book, and of COURSE the geeky girl and the bad boy is a trope that’s ripe for the picking. But I liked how McManus had these two interact and complement each other without making either feel like they were out of character. I also liked that we got to see Nate’s backstory and how it wasn’t the usual ‘my Dad’s abusive and that’s why I’m a nasty prick’ sob story. It wasn’t much more than that, but it did address the struggles of families with mental illness, especially when resources are limited when it comes to getting help.
The big mystery itself though? Well, while I had a super fun time just going with the flow and following it to it’s conclusion, I did find the final answers to be a bit disappointing. True, I did like that our four main characters were pretty much in the clear from the get go, I still think that had there been some more twists and reveals instead of things being pretty easily explained and neatly finished it could have been a seriously stellar mystery. As it was, I was pretty much satisfied with how it all shook out, but it wasn’t much to write home about. The strengths in this book were definitely in the characters, and the supporting characters that they each had in their lives. I would have been completely content if there was no murder mystery at all and it was just about a bunch of kids from different groups learning that they could, in fact, become friends….. So, basically, “The Breakfast Club”, but without that bullshit makeover scene.
“One of Us Is Lying” was a fun and entertaining read. The side mysteries were fun, the characters were well written, and I would totally read something else from Karen M. McManus down the line. With the right amount of mystery and suds, it’s the perfect read for the dog days of summer.
Rating 8: Though the solution felt a little bit thrown together and convenient, I quite liked learning the various secrets of all the characters in this book, as well as seeing them all grow and change.