Kate’s Review: “The Missing Season”

39937609Book: “The Missing Season” by Gillian French

Publishing Info: HarperTeen, May 2019

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from Edelweiss+

Book Description: Whenever another kid goes missing in October, the Pender kids know what is really behind it: a horrific monster out in the marshes they have named the Mumbler.

That’s what Clara’s new crew tells her when she moves to town: Bree and Sage, who take her under their wing; spirited Trace, who has taken the lead on this year’s Halloween prank war; and magnetic Kincaid, whose devil-may-care attitude and air of mystery are impossible for Clara to resist.

Clara doesn’t actually believe in the Mumbler. But as Halloween gets closer and tensions build in the town, it’s hard to shake the feeling that there really is something dark and dangerous in Pender, lurking in the shadows, waiting to bring the stories to life.

Review: Thank you to Edelweiss+ for sending me an eARC of this novel!

I’ve been racking my brain, but given that I lived in a fairly large metro area when I was a kid (and still do for that matter) I can’t think of any ‘urban legends’ that were prevalent in my hometown during my childhood. The closest I can come is when two mean girls in first grade tried to convince me that at midnight if you looked up at the sky you’d see a star that would automatically kill you and everyone you loved, and yes, I totally fell for it. But in terms of rumors turned folklore, I can’t recall any. But I’ve always been fascinated with localized urban legends, even back then, so finding books that have those themes are always going to grab my interest. That’s why I was so eager to read “The Missing Season” by Gillian French, a YA mystery thriller that includes tales of a mysterious figure called “The Mumbler” that supposedly snatches teens up during Halloween season. I went in expecting a mystery thriller with ambiguous horror elements. But instead, I got… a mishmash of themes that didn’t work for me.

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Me as I was reading this book and I still wasn’t clear in regards to its intent… (source)

“The Missing Season” takes place in the smallish town of Pender, and our protagonist Clara has just moved there due to her father’s somewhat nomadic career in construction. As our main character, I will say right off the bat that I liked Clara and I liked following her story and point of view. She lacks the luxury of being able to make connections because of the chance she might be moving again, so when she does make these connections there is a palpable fear of losing them, even if it isn’t outright said. The biggest conflict of this kind is the friendship between her and a girl named Bree. Bree, along with another girl named Sage, takes an immediate shine to Clara, and their friendship is a mix of the rush of having a girl pal, and the angst of competing with that girl pal in ways that were unanticipated. I know this familiar feeling all too well from my adolescent years, and I thought that French did a great job of showing it instead of telling it. The conflict in this case is the competing affections for local mysterious outsider Kincaid, who is the deepest in The Mumbler mythology of all the friends that Clara makes. The underlying tension and hurt between the two friends was the strongest aspect of this book, and the ways that Clara did, or in some cases didn’t, deal with that conflict felt very realistic.

But here is the problem with “The Missing Season”: it is very much marketed as a mystery thriller, and the description makes it sound like a new missing kid case is the center of the novel. But it’s very much not. The center of the novel is Clara’s relationships with the kids in town, and how she navigates her friendship with Bree and her need to fit in as those things come in conflict with the relationship she wants with Kincaid. Sure, another kid goes missing, and sure, there’s a question of what happened to her, but it wasn’t focused on nearly as much as I thought it was going to be. Instead, most of the conflict was Clara worrying about what Kincaid’s deal was, and what was going to happen to her new friendship with Bree if Clara and Kincaid did pursue their mutual feelings for each other. It wasn’t until the last fifth of the book that a full conflict with another child kidnapping raised the tension and thriller stakes, and even by then it was wrapped up VERY quickly, so quickly it almost felt like the author realized that oh yes, this was supposed to be a mystery thriller, better toss in a climax and wrap it up as quickly as possible. Even the ultimate solution felt tossed in there, with a couple of hints and clues scattered early on in the book, but not in a way that felt cohesive to a mystery. I kept waiting for the mystery and tension to build, but it plateaued very early at a level that wasn’t terribly high. I would be more inclined to call this book a contemporary realistic YA fiction book with some mysterious elements, but not enough for it to be considered an actual ‘thriller’. And because of that, I was totally let down by “The Missing Season”. If I had gone in with the expectations of this  being about a teenage girl’s bildungsroman I think I would have enjoyed it much more than I actually did, but as it was I couldn’t enjoy the story. I felt too duped.

I hesitate to write off “The Missing Season” for everyone, because my expectations were in a completely different place than they should have been. If you go in without the supposition that it’s a thriller, it may be more appealing. But, given that it’s trying to portray itself that way, I don’t feel comfortable recommending it as it’s presented.

Rating 5: While I liked the protagonist, the description of this being a ‘thriller’ did not fit the content of the story, and because of that I was pretty disappointed with “The Missing Season”.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Missing Season” is included on the Goodreads lists “Halloween in YA and Middle Grade Fiction”.

Find “The Missing Season” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Before She Knew Him”

40390756Book: “Before She Knew Him” by Peter Swanson

Publishing Info: William Morrow, March 2019

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: Catching a killer is dangerous—especially if he lives next door

Hen and her husband Lloyd have settled into a quiet life in a new house outside of Boston, Massachusetts. Hen (short for Henrietta) is an illustrator and works out of a studio nearby, and has found the right meds to control her bipolar disorder. Finally, she’s found some stability and peace.

But when they meet the neighbors next door, that calm begins to erode as she spots a familiar object displayed on the husband’s office shelf. The sports trophy looks exactly like one that went missing from the home of a young man who was killed two years ago. Hen knows because she’s long had a fascination with this unsolved murder—an obsession she doesn’t talk about anymore, but can’t fully shake either.

Could her neighbor, Matthew, be a killer? Or is this the beginning of another psychotic episode like the one she suffered back in college, when she became so consumed with proving a fellow student guilty that she ended up hurting a classmate?

The more Hen observes Matthew, the more she suspects he’s planning something truly terrifying. Yet no one will believe her. Then one night, when she comes face to face with Matthew in a dark parking lot, she realizes that he knows she’s been watching him, that she’s really on to him. And that this is the beginning of a horrifying nightmare she may not live to escape. . .

Review: GodDAMN do I look forward to any and every Peter Swanson book. Unfortunately, I missed the library hold boat on this one, as by the time I realized it was happening both systems I use had long hold lists on them. So what’s a girl to do but go and buy it. I’m usually loathe to buy books given that I work at a library and use its services exhaustively, but with authors I love I’m willing to make exceptions, and so I went out and purchased “Before She Knew Him”.

Also, this review is going to have some spoilers in it, as I feel like it’s the only way that I can truly discuss what I liked about it. SO, that means

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If you want to read this book completely ignorant, stop here. (source)

Like other good Peter Swanson books, “Before She Knew Him” sucked me in with it’s fascinating characters, and legitimately surprising twists and turns. Our main two perspectives are that of Hen, an artist who has struggled with bipolar disorder in the past, and Matthew, Hen’s neighbor whom she is convinced is a murderer. And guess what: he totally is. This is made quite clear very early on. Hen’s suspicions are right, and therefore we aren’t going to see the tired ‘is she right or is she just having an episode’ trope that feels so common in stories like this. Matthew is indeed a killer, but he is incredibly compelling in his motivations. He targets men that he sees as predatory, his ethos being that if they hurt women, be it through mental abuse, cheating, sexual assault, what have you, they don’t deserve to live. It stems back to childhood trauma, which still haunts him due to his brother Richard, who seems to be escalating in his own violent tendencies, which disturbs Matthew because he doesn’t want to face his brother. In the same vein, Matthew isn’t exactly a Madonna/Whore savior complex killer either. I don’t even really know how to describe him, and his complex nature is one of the things I greatly liked about this book. Swanson doesn’t make him totally evil, but he certainly isn’t totally good either. Swanson also does a great job with Hen and her characterization. I’m always a little afraid of how thriller writers address mental illness, as more of then than I’d like it’s used as a way to make a character seem unreliable or unstable in a stigmatizing kind of way. With Hen I felt like while her struggles with mental illness do play a large role in the story, she never seemed to be stigmatized by them in the reader’s eyes. If anything when people would throw them back at her, particularly her husband Lloyd, you didn’t question her, you sympathized with her. Perhaps this had to do with the fact that we KNEW Matthew was a killer almost from the jump, but even so I thought it was a welcome change from books where she might have been portrayed as ‘crazy’ to keep the ‘is he or isn’t he?’ going. And when these two are on page together, it’s incredibly satisfying, if only because it’s less cat and mouse and more two people on equal footing trying to figure the other one out.

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And yes, I’m back on my bullshit of shipping couples that probably shouldn’t be shipped. Because man, even though it was (rightfully) never really addressed as a possibility, I SHIP IT. (source)

The plot, too was incredibly satisfying, with other mysteries sprinkled in along the way. These I won’t address, because that would be a true crime to spoil things. All that being said, I kind of guessed one of the reveals a bit early on. But I say kind of because it was a fleeting thought I had that soon flitted away, and by the time that reveal happened I was legitimately caught by surprise, even though I HAD thought of it. Swanson slowly lays out the various clues as to what things are going to happen, but you keep reading not necessarily because you want to know about these things, but because you want to know just what is going to happen to both Hen AND Matthew, especially since Hen knows the truth about him. It was a real journey finding out how things all shook out, and I greatly enjoying accompanying these two on said journey.

“Before She Knew Him” was a fun and satisfying read. If you haven’t gotten on the Peter Swanson train yet, do yourself a favor and check him out. This would be a good place to start.

Rating 8: With intriguing characters and some pretty well laid out surprises, “Before She Knew Him” is another fun and twisty thriller from Peter Swanson.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Before She Knew Him” is included on the Goodreads lists “The Girl Who Didn’t See Her Husband’s Wife When She Disappeared Twice from the Train”, and “Mystery and Thriller 2019”.

Find “Before She Knew Him” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Bombshells United: Taps”

40996636Book: “Bombshells United (Vol.3): Taps” by Marguerite Bennett, Sandy Jarrell (Ill.), David Hahn (Ill.), and Aneke (Ill.)

Publishing Info: DC Comics, March 2019

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: The Batgirls are back…but some will be called to leave Gotham City behind. Alysia and Felicity head for Hawaii to investigate the mysterious radio signals causing trouble across the world, but they find a new voice for the revolution!

However, their findings leave the Bombshells divided! The Batgirls are determined to track down the source of their friends’ misfortunes, and their investigation leads to an eerie spit of land, where a lone radio tower projects a deadly signal that curses all who hear it.

Spinning off of the hit DC Collectibles statue line, Marguerite Bennett (Earth 2: World’s End) concludes this alternate reality where super-powered women are on the front lines fighting for justice!

Review: We’ve come to the point that I have been dreading basically since I first picked up the “Bombshells” books: the end. At first I dreaded the end because I loved the stories so very much. I remember the absolute joy I felt when reading the very first collection, “Enlisted”. I was blown away by the creativity, the feminism, the diversity, and the optimistic spunkiness, all being showcased in an alternate WWII universe. But once we got into “Bombshells: United”, and the series was abruptly cancelled by DC, my dread became less about missing the stories, and more about how much they had to wrap up in a short amount of time. And, unfortunately, my fears were not unfounded. “Bombshells United: Taps” was an unfocused and rushed mess of an ending.

But first, as always, let’s look at the positive. And there is a good amount of positive before I get to the negative, specifically the entire first half of this collection. The second to last arc of the series not only brings back The Bat Girls, but it also ropes in The Suicide Squad, Black Canary, and introduces Bumblebee! When a mysterious signal is going out over a pirate radio station, it turns listeners into violent, hypnotized automatons. The Batgirls, specifically Alyssa and Felicity, just want to know who has incapacitated their friends. The Suicide Squad has orders to take out Black Canary, as it’s her radio station AND her lover Oliver Queen has gone missing. Two scrappy side teams with very different ethos converging in Hawai’i was a very fun and suspenseful storyline, and anything that is going to showcase Dinah Lance is going to get positive snaps from me. Both the Batgirls and The Suicide Squad have different approaches on how to handle this situation, but as they all start to lose friends to the mysterious radio waves they have to find a way to work together to try and take it down. This side story was a fun one, and the solution harkened back to an older storyline, which I quite enjoyed seeing wrapped up in such a way. It felt like an appropriate send off for The Suicide Squad and The Bat Girls before this series has it’s final farewell, and a nice arc for Dinah Lance that fits her at times morally ambiguous personality.

But the last half, which is the final wrap up of the entire series, was confounding. I want to make clear that I do NOT completely fault Bennett and the other creative minds behind “Bombshells: United” for how this all went down. After all, to be cancelled so suddenly with so many open storylines and brand new ideas had to be not only devastating, but daunting. How could they properly wrap up so many things with such limited time left? It’s a monumental task no matter how you slice it. But instead of perhaps focusing on the core group of women and characters who started out the story, and giving them proper, well thought out send offs, instead it was decided that EVERYONE needs to be addressed, and that we need to wrap up the ENTIRE WAR in spite of the fact we left off in 1944, and we’ve barely addressed much outside of the Western Front! So the final wrap up jumps from Wonder Woman and her gang in one place, to Harley and Ivy in another, to Supergirl and her gang in another, AND YET STILL FEELS A NEED TO INTRODUCE NEW CHARACTERS AND THREATS, in the forms of Parademons, The Black Lanterns, and Lena Luther who happens to be an ALIEN (oh and so is LEX). Oh, and guess who else decides to show up? THE JOKER. As if it wasn’t already a bit nuts that Joker’s Daughter, whom we haven’t seen since the original Bombshells series, pops back in in hopes of snatching up Zatanna AGAIN. No, we also have to throw in THE JOKER, just so Harley can have her ‘I REJECT YOU, YOU BAD BOYFRIEND!’ moment that didn’t feel at all necessary, especially since her relationship with him was barely touched upon AND didn’t seem to have any kind of baggage remaining until this very moment. Why are you wasting time with this when there are so many Bombshells that need addressing? Oh, and The Flash even shows up for a couple of frames, and gets her own wrap up at the end for some reason in spite of the fact she for real pops in, and pops out, and everyone is like ‘who was that?’ So we are STILL introducing new Bombshells when I feel like the focus really ought to be on trying to do justice to the ones you already had, especially when you only have a couple issues to wrap up an entire war and a plethora of storylines. And so unfortunately, when you have a lot of characters and a lot of storylines that need to be wrapped up, none of them feel like they get their due, and a number of them get killed off in unceremonious berserker ways like Family FREAKIN’ Tyrell in “Game of Thrones”. But even there at least they got a send off; for some of our Bombshells that we’ve been following since the first arcs, it happens off page and barely gets a note of acknowledgement.

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This is one page. The next page does the same thing. Constant action. (source: DC Comics)

And then we get an “American Graffiti’ style wrap up with a ‘here is how they all ended up’ montage. It’s fine, but it’s a bit twee, and it is another reminder that there was so much going on, and so many characters who were barely given anything to do in the last story. It’s Selina who wraps everything up for us as she’s prepping Bruce Wayne to become a ‘space age’ superhero, while reminding him that, essentially, he ain’t shit compared to the ladies she’s seen in her day (oh and since his parents aren’t dead  he was raised with hope and love, because remember, there is nothing more powerful in this universe than the power of LOVE).

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It was too much. (source)

Look, ultimately I am going to have fond, fond memories of “Bombshells” as a whole, because while the ending was rough, I can’t place all blame on the creators. And the entire first series was so inspirational and important. Hell, the “United” series has some solid moments as well, some of which are in this issue. I think that the unbridled ambition came back to bite it in the ass, as nothing is guaranteed in this very unfair world where you can keep rebooting tired male superheroes/villains over and over, and women characters need to be ten times more interesting to be even given a shot to keep going. It’s unfair. It’s frustrating. But it doesn’t change that the ending to this series was lackluster, and that isn’t just on the injustice of it being cancelled too soon. Goodbye, Bombshells. You will definitely be missed.

Rating 5: A muddled and frenzied end to a series that I will legitimately miss, “Bombshells United: Taps” was a bit of a mess. I can’t fault it completely, but I was very disappointed that this is how we left my beloved Bombshells.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Bombshells United: Taps” is included on the Goodreads lists “2019 Queer SFF”, and “Upcoming 2019 SFF With Female Leads/Co-Leads”.

Find “Bombshells United: Taps” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously Reviewed:

A Revisit to Fear Street: “Trapped”

176552Book: “Trapped” (Fear Street #51) by R.L. Stine

Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, 1997

Where Did I Get This Book: ILL from the library!

Book Description: Some kids in the sixties used to party in the tunnels under Shadyside High, until something left a bunch of people dead. But that’s just a story, right? Besides, exploring the tunnels is more fun than being stuck in Saturday detention. Too bad there’s no turning back–because in the tunnels there’s no one around to hear your screams.

Had I Read This Before: No.

The Plot: First I REALLY need to talk about that cover. What IS that cover? It looks like it’s trying to be the sleeve for the 1980s remake of “The Blob”, which served as serious nightmare fuel whenever we’d go to the local convenience store to rent a movie and it was RIGHT. THERE. Also, much like last time, the font has totally changed and it’s a weird time to change font when we’re at the end of the original series. But anyway. Our protagonist is Elaine. She’s usually a GREAT student, but after having forgotten to turn in a third assignment in a row for trigonometry she’s found herself at Saturday detention. And it occurs to me that I don’t think we’ve had any substantial “Fear Street” storylines that involve detention? At least not the I can remember. Anyway, it made me nostalgic for my detention days. Elaine arrives and speaks with the new principal, Mr. Savage, who says that he hopes such a good student like her won’t be making a habit of this. He also mysteriously says that he’s learned hard lessons in his life, and tells her where to go. She arrives to the classroom and finds a motley crew of detention kids. You have goody goody Elaine, graffiti aficionado Max, nerd Jerry, tough girl Darlene, and bad boy Bo, who may or may not have stolen a car. I think we’ve found our Bender, ladies and gentlemen, which means I will no doubt have a serious affection for him by the time this book is done.

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Oh GAAHHHD he’s such a PRICK but I JUST LOVE HIM SO MUCH. (source)

Elaine asks if this is detention and Bo tells her that it’s dissection class (so… biology), and when Darlene throws a piece of paper at him in a flirtation ritual he takes out a lighter and sets it ablaze. Jerry is afraid he’ll set off the sprinkler system, and listen, narc, Bo doesn’t give a shit about your RULES. Jerry is there because he refused to dissect a frog in biology class and gee, that seems a bit harsh, being punished for having a conviction about animal mutilation… Bo keeps lighting things on fire and Mr. Savage comes in and tells him to put it out, which Bo does. Elaine is shocked and disgusted but probably also intrigued. Mr. Savage lets us know Darlene is here for cutting class and Max is here for graffiti-ing a school bus. He tells them that if they stay in their seats and focus on their punishment and police themselves they can leave at 3 and that will be that. As he’s leaving, Bo throws a switch blade. But it of course isn’t aimed at him, but at a cork board, and Mr. Savage doesn’t notice. Bo asks Elaine what she’s in for and she tells him it’s for not turning in homework, and Bo is amused. Darlene, unable to stand that he’s paying attention to Elaine (because girls are ALWAYS fighting over boys, right?), plants herself in front of him and says she’s bored. Bo suggests that they all go look for snacks in the cafeteria, and Jerry says he’s not getting in trouble by leaving. Bo specifically asks Elaine if she’s coming, and wanting to prove she’s not a goody goody she says she is. So they head out and down the hallway, and of COURSE Jerry runs to catch up with them. Elaine notices how not nervous Bo is, and given that she’s so responsible she envies his irresponsibility and finds it sexy.

They go to the kitchen and raid the fridge, but after pigging out a bit Elaine notices that Bo has gone missing, and so has one of the big knives. They go looking for Bo, and find him splayed out with a cut throat. It is, of course, a dumb practical joke, and this kid, I swear… They don’t stay mad at him long, however, because they hear Mr. Savage walking down the hallway. They lose track of his movement, but know he could cut them off back to the classroom, and Elaine suggests that they cut through the auditorium. So they get to the auditorium, and dick around on stage a bit. Max destroys some sets, Bo plays with a prop fiddle (as the drama club is doing “Fiddler”!), and Elaine goes exploring backstage. There she finds a strange black curtain hanging in a far off corner. When she pulls it, it reveals a corridor. Which she, of course, has to explore! So she starts down the hallway in the dark but chickens out. Unfortunately, as she’s heading back the floor gives way and she falls through it, plummeting down! She lands hard, and has no idea how far down she is. It’s dark and she feels broken glass and paint cans, and when she tries to stand her ankle hurts like the dickens. Also, a rat drops on her. She screams and it runs away, and she fumbles in the dark, able to find a ladder but unable to put enough weight on her ankle to actually climb it. Luckily her scream is heard by the others. Bo lights his lighter and looks down, telling her she fell through a trap door. She says she can’t climb because of her ankle, and Bo says he’ll come down to get her. Perplexingly they all climb down with him, though Bo is now suddenly quite protective of Elaine. He lights up his lighter again, and they see they’re in a space with LET’S PARTY written on the wall, and multiple hallways to pick from. Bo and Max tell them that it must be the Labyrinth, a tunnel system built to be a bomb shelter like tunnel system during the Cold War. It spreads across all of Shadyside. For years it was used as a party spot for teens, but the tunnels were all closed up after a number of teens died. So NATURALLY Bo and Max want to explore. Darlene and Jerry aren’t convinced and want to go, and Bo tells Elaine she’s the tie breaker. And now that she wants to impress Bo, she says they should explore.

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What indeed. (source)

Bo scrounges up some sticks and some rags from the trash and makes some torches they can use, and they venture into the tunnel on the right. They find a school newspaper from 1972 reviewing ‘the new Doors album’ (bitch, Morrison was long dead by that time, that album wasn’t going to be too great), and head deeper into the tunnels even though now Elaine is losing her nerve. The reach a dead end when they find a big pool of dirty water and trash, and decide to turn back. But it becomes quite clear that they are lost. Bo suggests that they go back across the water, as the tunnels are all over town and there HAS to be an exit somewhere. They manage to find a narrow ledge around the water, but while trying to cross it Elaine slips and falls into the dirty pool. Oh GOD, think of the germs. Bo pulls her out because he’s her protector now, obviously, and lets her wear his army jacket so she doesn’t get a chill. IS SHE GOING TO GIVE HIM HER DIAMOND EARRING BY THE END OF ALL THIS?

They keep going forward, and find a weird bricked up section that looks different from the other walls they’ve seen. The bricks are red instead of cinderblocks. Bo begins poking the mortar with a stick and it falls away, and the one of the bricks pops out about an inch, without any of them touching it. Bo hesitantly tries to push it back in, and then suddenly the wall EXPLODES! Elaine is thrown back into a wall, and as she sits up she notices that only one torch is still lit at this point. Everyone gathers their wits, and Bo relights his torch. Red dust hangs in the air, and they decide to keep going, but before they can, the separate red dust clouds suddenly gather together and surround Max. He says that something is wrong, and then the red mist envelops him and lifts him up! Bo tries to pull him back down, but the mist throws him away and starts BREAKING MAX’S BONES! It pulls Max up more and pretty much just snaps all of his bones IN GREAT DETAIL ON THE PAGE, killing him and flying down one of the tunnels with his corpse.

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That visual is actually horrific!!! (source)

Bo screams and chases the mist down the hallway, and Elaine and the others look on in horror. Jerry says they have to get out of there, and Elaine says that they can’t leave without Bo. Jerry tries to take the torch from her but she says no, and Darlene says that she and Jerry are leaving and they are taking the torch with them whether Elaine likes it or not. After some sniping, Elaine eventually sees reason and agrees to go with them. But, of course, those two book it and Elaine has a bad ankle! She follows the flicker of the torch, and eventually catches up with them, but only because they’ve stopped. Jerry says he thought the water was this way, but it’s nowhere to be seen. Darlene starts to panic, and Elaine grabs the torch back and says that they have to keep moving to get away from the mist. She’s still thinking about Bo, but agrees that they should keep going on their own.

Unfortunately, they almost immediately stumble over a corpse and drop the torch, leaving them in the dark. Darlene thinks it was Bo, which means the mist may be in the dark with them. Elaine says that Bo had the lighter, so if they can find it on his body they can relight the torch. Darlene and Jerry are both too big of wusses to touch the body, so Elaine says she will. But she doesn’t find the lighter, and realizes that these clothes are ragged and old. That wasn’t Bo’s body. Soon they see another light coming, and wonder if the mist can glow. But nope, it’s Bo! He’s alive! Darlene hugs him and he tells them that he tried to get Max’s body back, but wasn’t successful. And whatever that mist was, it’s probably coming for them next. Elaine notes that he doesn’t seem like the cocky prick he was earlier, but a scared boy who saw his best friend killed. Very Bender in his ‘FUCK YOU’ monologue if I do say so myself. Bo makes new torches but says his lighter is out so this is it. As they walk Elaine wonders what this mist could possibly be (GOOD QUESTION). Jerry thinks that if they can figure out where they are under the city they could figure out where the school is, but Bo rightfully points out that that might be hard. They stumble into a room full of garbage and LET’S PARTY written all over the walls, and find ANOTHER tunnel, but oh dear! THE RED MIST IS BACK! Thus a crazy chase begins wtih them running through God knows how many tunnels, and Elaine falls because HER ANKLE and Bo isn’t leaving her behind (even when Darlene insists that he do he does NOT!), and somehow they stumble into the first LET’S PARTY room which is below the stage at the school!! Darlene launches herself up the ladder first, and I can’t blame her, and Bo wants Elaine to go next but she tells him to go because of her ankle, so he does. And as Elaine starts to climb up too the ladder starts to give way!!! But Elaine is convinced they’re all going to make it, but guess what, Jerry does NOT make it. Because the Red Mist surrounds him and starts to squeeze him. Elaine grabs his hand, determined to hold on, and he keeps crying out ‘help me!’ (oh God, this is actually brutal), but the Mist keeps pulling on him and starts to envelop Elaine’s hand. Bo screams at her to let go… And Elaine knows she has to. So she does. The mist grabs Jerry, crumples him up into a BALL, and then flies down into the darkness. I’m honestly upset by all of this. Elaine feels horrible that she let go. But no time to feel bad, because the ladder breaks, sending her and Bo falling into the darkness. They land on the ground below, and Elaine asks Bo to hold her. Which he does. That diamond earring is going to be yours, Judd Nelson! Darlene is dangling from the top rung, unable to hold on much longer. Bo and Elaine tell her to just let go, that Bo will catch her, and she does. She suggests that they could keep calling for help, that Mr. Savage could be around, but Bo is convinced that he’s long gone now. And school won’t open again until Monday, and they probably don’t have time to wait. They have to find another exit. Elaine points out that the only tunnel they haven’t for sure tried is the tunnel the Red Mist came from.

They find the water pool again and continue past it, and find the chamber behind the red bricks. What they find isn’t another tunnel, but a giant pile of dirt and rubble that looks like a cave in. But at the top of the pile there is a hole that could be an exit. Bo starts to climb, but it isn’t easy going because the dirt pile is loose. But he gets up and crawls up through the hole. Elaine and Darlene call up to him, and he assures them he’s okay but that the tunnel is ‘wild’. WHATEVER THAT MEANS, BO. Darlene tells Elaine to go first, and Elaine does. She makes her way up, and into the hole, and it’s a small tunnel that she barely fits in, and oh GOD I’m going to have a panic attack. Elaine feels the same and has a panic attack, convinced she’s going to get stuck, but manages to get through. She finds that the dirt tunnel ends in another chamber, where Bo is waiting for her at the bottom of another dirt pile, and it smells aged and isolated. She slides down to join him, and Darlene comes down behind, and informs them that the tunnel partially collapsed behind her. Bo says that this isn’t where they want to be, and points out six skeletons! Bo says that the cave in must have trapped them, and points out that there are no rats. Darlene says that the Red Mist must have killed them and someone must have put the bricks up to keep the Red Mist in. But Elaine points out that the small garbage in this room was neatly stacked and it was less haphazard. These people weren’t killed by the Red Mist, they must have been trapped inside and starved to death or died of thirst. They look on the wall and see six names written in red paint, which must be the skeletons. But there is also one name carved into the wall with rock: “Scott Savage Knows”. Mr. Savage must have something to do with all of this! Before the can ruminate too long, however, the Red Mist comes out through the dirt tunnel!! Bo makes it focus on him so Elaine and Darlene can make their way back through the dirt tunnel! So noble! But soon the Red Mist has instead poured over the skeletons… BRINGING THEM TO LIFE. That’s fucking badass. Darlene starts to panic and Elaine yells at her to run through them and back up to the tunnel. Elaine beats the skeletons off of her as she runs, and manages to get up to the top of the dirt pile. But she looks down and sees that Darlene has frozen in her tracks. Bo tries to distract the skeletons, and Elaine books it, crawling through the dirt tunnel and coming out the other side. She hears Darlene’s horrible screams, and then silence.

Elaine calls for Bo, and hears footsteps and sees a light coming through the entrance to the chamber that had been bricked up. It’s Mr. Savage! He says that she has to get out of here and asks where the others are, and Elaine tells him that they’re dead. Mr. Savage is upset by this news, and Bo bursts through the dirt tunnel as it collapses behind him. They all tumble into the dirt, but Elaine thinks that the Red Mist is trapped now. Bo says that Mr. Savage is at fault, and they tell him everything they found. Mr. Savage confesses what it is he knows. He went to Shadyside High back in the day and he and his friends went into the tunnels. There was a cave in, and Bo says that’s pretty OBVIOUS and that he wants to get out of here now. Mr. Savage says he’s been carrying this secret for years and NOW he’s going to tell it. I think that’s misguided at best, but whatever. Mr. Savage was on the other side of the collapse, and he called for them but they never answered. Assuming they were dead and wanting to cover his tracks, he bricked up the tunnel. Unfortunately, his friends WEREN’T dead, and they were able to dig their way out… until they ran into his brick wall. Elaine and Bo blame Mr. Savage for everything that happened… but one COULD argue that if they hadn’t ditched out on their detention none of this would have happend either… BUT WHATEVER, potato, po-tah-to. They ask him about the Red Mist and he says he has no clue what they’re talking about and thinks they’re lying about what happened to their classmates. But before they can debate, the Red Mist BURSTS out of the ceiling. And NOW Mr. Savage believes them, and he knows what it is. It’s the VENGEFUL SPIRITS OF HIS DEAD FRIENDS!! The Red Mist didn’t kill those students, it IS those students! Knowing his time has come, Mr. Savage tells Elaine to take six consecutive left turns and that’s the way out. Then the Red Mist envelops him, crunches his bones, and squishes him into a tiny ball. Then the Red Mist and the Savage Ball disappear. Bo and Elaine make six consecutive lefts and make their way out of the tunnels. He asks what they’re going to tell people, and she says she doesn’t know. And they climb up the ladder. The End.

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Wow. What a way to end the series. (source)

Body Count: 4! A little higher than we’ve seen lately, but at this point I think Stine was like “It’s the last one in the series! LET’S DANCE!”

Romance Rating: 2. Elaine and Bo clearly have a thing for each other, but they don’t really act upon it at all.

Bonkers Rating: 9! From endless underground tunnels to a ravenous red mist to moving skeletons, this one was up there for craziness! Again, Stine didn’t give a fuck.

Fear Street Relevance: 2. It took place in Shadyside, but I really don’t think that Fear Street came up.

Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger: 

“Elaine stared at his shirt. His neck. His face.

Soaked with blood.

‘Nooo!’ She let out a moan. Bo’s throat. His throat had been cut.”

… Except no, he just played a trick on them.

That’s So Dated! Moments: Darlene refers to Elaine as ‘Miss Yuppie’ at one point, and who even says ‘yuppie’ anymore?

Best Quote:

” ‘What’s the lighter fluid for?’ Jerry demanded. ‘Are you some kind of pyromaniac?’

‘What I do with my spare time is none of your business,’ Bo replied.”

HA, I knew I liked this kid.

Conclusion: “Trapped” was a super bizarre and oddly violent final book for the “Fear Street” original series!! I enjoyed it for the most part because it was so bananas! I can’t believe that we got through it all! And we aren’t done yet. I am going to slowly bring it on home with a few more books: one ‘Super Chiller’ that a friend of mine remembers vividly, one ‘Super Chiller’ that I remember vividly, and then one last trilogy. So up next is “Bad Moonlight”.

Kate’s Review: “Assignment”

42956158Book: “Assignment” by Angela Howes

Publishing Info: Fine Tuned Editing, December 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The author provided me with a PDF copy.

Book Description: In a city divided between the workers who keep the economy going and the families who bolster the population, eighteen-year-old graduate Phoebe Ray is assigned to a solitary life as a newspaper delivery girl, forbidden from marrying, seeing her family more than twice a year, or ever having children.

But when childhood flame Noah and charming neighbor Sky enter the picture, Phoebe must decide whether a chance at love is worth risking imprisonment, banishment from society, and ultimately, death. And when a city-wide strike breaks out leaving everyone vulnerable, Phoebe has an even greater decision to make.

Should she turn her back on the fight to save her friends and family, or is it finally time to make a stand?

Review: First I want to extend a special thank you to Angela Howes for reaching out and sending me a copy of this book!

For better or for worse, my extensive list of not-so-guilty-reading-pleasures includes dystopic YA fiction. While I admittedly haven’t read the entire gamut, I’m always looking out for new titles. So when Angela Howes approached us and asked if we would be interesting in reading and featuring her book “Assignment” on the blog, I jumped at the chance.

The premise of “Assignment” is a fairly familiar one. A teenage girl named Phoebe lives in a society where people can be assigned to two facets of the community: you can be a One, who works and creates and keeps society and the economy going, or a Two, who doesn’t work but marries and reproduces to bolster the population. But what I liked about “Assignment” was that while the set up is familiar, I enjoyed the path that was taken for most of the narrative. Phoebe, who didn’t expect/ want to end up as a One, has to learn to adjust to a life she never saw coming. While you get the sense that things aren’t right in Cerenia, with the hints of corruption and strict, oppressive rules, most of this book is watching Phoebe start to find self-actualization, and how that eventually puts her in a place where she starts asking questions. I liked seeing her work her way up in her career, seeing her learn to take care of herself, and liked seeing her have to interact with people she wouldn’t necessarily interact with. Watching her character change and grow was a real fun treat, and I really liked how her path took her and where she ended up. Seeing the world she was in grow around her as the story went on was also enjoyable. The focus right now in the books is building the world, and I felt like we got a really good sense of why Cerenia has become the society that it is, and in turn how conflicts are handled within the society because of its core ethos. This is seen in a couple of ways. The first is the ‘strike’ that the Ones partake in, and how Phoebe and her fellow Ones become targets of violence, intimidation, and raids. This was a creative plot device, and it not only made the suspense fly high, it also laid out the stakes. But the second is far more personal to Phoebe, as her brother Milo became a One before she did, and now she’s having a hard time getting a hold of him. The question of where her brother is, and what it means that he’s seemingly disappeared, is every present and effective.

That said, there is one big trap that “Assignment” falls into, and this is perhaps based more in personal preference than anything else. We have The Love Triangle, a trope that I cannot stand. Our two players are pretty typical in their roles. There’s Noah, the boy that Phoebe has known since childhood and whom she has loved for a long time. They assumed they would both be Twos and get married and have a family. But since Ones and Twos cannot fraternize, their love in a star crossed one. The other is Sky, a One that Phoebe meets at the assignment ceremony and ends up being her neighbor. Noah is sweet and loyal, whereas Sky is cocky with a heart of gold. I’m just going to put out there I am Team Sky, because Noah not only has a lady friend named Darya he’s been matched up with who is super sweet and understanding, but he is a complete coward who wants to have his cake and eat it too. In this case, that means shacking up with Darya and fulfilling his responsibility with her, but sneaking around with Phoebe when she drops off his newspaper every day. PHOEBE, YOU CAN DO BETTER. I liked Sky because while he did checkbox a number of familiar bad boy tropes, I DID appreciate that he respected Phoebe’s wants and needs, so when she just wanted to be friends, he was satisfied with that. It’s a healthier love triangle moment to be sure. But it’s still going strong by the end of the book. On top of that, we get a very HUGE cliffhanger right at the end. I can handle a cliffhanger ending if it ends with ambiguity, but when it’s a smash cut in the middle of a scene or conversation, that’s a choice I don’t particularly care for.

Those qualms aside, I enjoyed “Assignment”! I will definitely be looking out for the next book in the series, because Phoebe has me fully invested at this point. Fans of dystopia romance should give it a whirl!

Rating 7: While love triangles aren’t my cup of tea and cliffhangers rankle me, “Assignment” was an addictive dystopia with some sound and well done world building, and likable characters!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Assignment” isn’t included on any Goodreads lists, but if you like books like “Divergent”, “Matched”, or “The Testing” you will probably find this one fun as well!

“Assignment” isn’t in very many libraries as of now, but you can find it in WorldCat, and on Amazon.

Kate’s Review: “Carrie”

126459Book: “Carrie” by Stephen King

Publishing Info: Doubleday, April 1974

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: Carrie knew she should not use the terrifying power she possessed… But one night at her senior prom, Carrie was scorned and humiliated just one time too many, and in a fit of uncontrollable fury she turned her clandestine game into a weapon of horror and destruction…

Review: It was the Fall of 1997. I was in eighth grade, and I had just finished “The Stand” by Stephen King. My Dad had handed me his copy after we’d watched the re-broadcast of the miniseries, assuring me I would like it. He was right, and I still consider it one of the best moments I’ve ever had with my father, because he opened me up to the world of Stephen King. And while he didn’t have anymore King to share (he’s not a horror guy at all; “The Stand” is his kind of dystopian dark fantasy thriller), I knew that I needed to get my hands on more. And my next choice was “Carrie”. For a vaguely isolated and bullied eighth grade girl, “Carrie” was exactly the kind of book I needed in that moment. While “The Stand” was the book that introduced me to King, “Carrie” changed my life. And on a whim, I decided to revisit it, twenty one years after having first read it. I had my fears that it wouldn’t be as profound to adult Kate as it was to thirteen year old Kate who needed a catharsis from her awful classmates. But I was wrong.

“Carrie” is still a relatable and unnerving horror story from the master of horror himself, and even 45(!) years after it was published it still tackles issues of bullying, zealotry, social isolation, and teenage angst in believable ways. Carrie White is an unconventional protagonist in that she is a constant victim, and is perpetually beaten down and weakened by her peers, her community, and her own mother. Carrie isn’t particularly two dimensional as a character; true, she finds her telekinetic powers and does find some bouts of self confidence that manifest every so often, but she never achieves what she wants to achieve, which is acceptance. Or at the very least, being left the hell alone. And yet even though she is for the most part mousy and passive except for a few moments, and then Prom night, you still feel for her and ache for her. King does a really good job of creating a lonely teenage girl who we pity and care for, and yet ultimately fear (note: We do have to give some credit to King’s wife Tabitha, an author in her own right and complete bad ass. She helped him with the infamous period scene, and helped him with the viciousness of teenage girls). But it isn’t just Carrie White who King so amply brings off the page. Many of his supporting characters are developed and well thought out, and sometimes it’s the real life horrors in this book that will upset you the most. While the bullying is awful, I’m more put off by Carrie’s zealous Mother, so devout and obsessed with her religion that she perverts it into the physical and emotional abuse of her only child. King makes it very clear that Carrie isn’t the real monster in this novel, or rather, if she is she’s a monster who didn’t stand a chance to become anything else.

But I also need to give kudos for how well King captures teenage life for not just Carrie but for the other teen characters. I knew girls like Chris, the cruel and insecure spoiled princess who is used to getting her way, even when she’s at her most rotten. I knew boys like Tommy Ross, a popular but ultimately sweet guy who was just doing his best (side note: I am still in full belief that if Prom Night hadn’t ended the way it did, Tommy and Carrie would have ended up together. HE WAS FALLING IN LOVE WITH HER, GUYS!). And Sue Snell, the girl whose guilt led to her good deed of getting Carrie a date to the prom, is almost more interesting than even Carrie herself. Sue’s comfort in her conformity is tested at the beginning, and her slow realization that there is life after high school, and that she wants more than people would expect from a pretty, popular girl in a small town. On this re-read from an adult’s eye, I found Sue’s arc to be incredibly compelling and bittersweet.

The narrative of “Carrie” is also a slow burn of suspense, told in a combination of third person and epistolary sequences. The perspective may be from that of Carrie or the various people in her life, or it may be through police interview transcripts, book excerpts, or scientific papers. The jumps sometimes feel a little jarring at first, but once you get in the rhythm of them they flow together in a cohesive way. I feel like we haven’t seen as much epistolary experimentation from King as of late, and this throwback to that style from him was fun to see, especially since it’s used so much in thrillers these days. It also casts a wide net on perspectives, and it gives a very well rounded picture of not only Carrie’s life, but the lives of those around her and how the Prom Night and aftermath affect those who come out of it alive. One of the most fun things that I completely forgot about it in this style was the ‘scientific paper’ excerpts, where a scientist is talking about telekinesis and how it applied in this case. But, in another masterful touch by King, even in these epistolary excerpts many of the adults just don’t get what life is like for the teens involved, and the contrast between the speculations and the realities make the story all the more sad.

I may be looking at this through a biased lens, as “Carrie” was a book that got me through a lot during my darker years of adolescence. But I find it to be so effective and well done that I’ve been known to recommend “Carrie” to teenage girls who are looking for a bit of a challenge beyond the YA shelf, and who don’t mind a good scare or two. King’s first is still one of his very best.

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(source)

Rating 10: This remains one of my favorite books of all time. “Carrie” is not only a suspenseful and truly scary book, it also captures the horrors of being a teenage outcast that still feel timeless and relevant.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Carrie” is included on the Goodreads lists “Best Horror Novels”, and “Bullying”.

Find “Carrie” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Daughters of the Lake”

38927017Book: “Daughters of the Lake” by Wendy Webb

Publishing Info: Lake Union Publishing, November 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: The ghosts of the past come calling in a spellbinding heart-stopper from the “Queen of the Northern Gothic.”

After the end of her marriage, Kate Granger has retreated to her parents’ home on Lake Superior to pull herself together—only to discover the body of a murdered woman washed into the shallows. Tucked in the folds of the woman’s curiously vintage gown is an infant, as cold and at peace as its mother. No one can identify the woman. Except for Kate. She’s seen her before. In her dreams…

One hundred years ago, a love story ended in tragedy, its mysteries left unsolved. It’s time for the lake to give up its secrets. As each mystery unravels, it pulls Kate deeper into the eddy of a haunting folktale that has been handed down in whispers over generations. Now, it’s Kate’s turn to listen.

As the drowned woman reaches out from the grave, Kate reaches back. They must come together, if only in dreams, to right the sinister wrongs of the past.

Review: As someone who grew up in Minnesota, I have fond childhood memories of spending summer trips by Lake Superior. Even in my adult life I try to get up to Duluth and the north shore at least once a year, as the beauty of the lake shore and the north woods is hard to resist. Because of my affection for this part of the state, I am almost always going to give Wendy Webb a shot when it comes to her books. And given that she’s a local author, the wait list at the library is usually pretty long, so unless you’re on top of the publication dates it may be a wait. When “Daughters of the Lake” came out I wasn’t on top of it, but after a few months wait it came in for me, and I was eager to start it.

Webb’s books have always managed to capture the feel and essence of Lake Superior towns and what it’s like to live there. She describes the lake itself just how it is in real life, with the beauty, power, and danger that comes with it. Her descriptions of the lake shore and the towns on it really transported me to a part of this state that I love, and that alone made it so that I was going to finish this book no matter what. The characters were plenty likable as well. Kate, our main character, is a relatable protagonist, and you believe her pain as a woman whose marriage has fallen apart due to her husband’s infidelity and lies, and her need to have a change of scenery. More interesting, still, was her cousin Simon, a sympathetic and supportive bed and breakfast owner who has turned the family estate into a cozy resort. I liked their relationship, though sometimes Simon treaded little close to the ‘supportive gay bestie’ trope, especially since it seemed his sole purpose was to play as her sidekick. I was definitely invested in both of them, though, and the mystery at hand. I also liked the moments in the past, told both through Kate’s strange psychic visions and also perspective chapters. In those sections the focus on on Addy, a young woman whose birth culminated with her literally floating on the waters of the Lake with no harm done. The supernatural aspect of her story is slowly peeled away, and I enjoyed seeing those layers peeled back.

But unfortunately, a promising plot with fairly solid characters gets muddled in the last half of the book. The first issue I had I can’t really go into much detail about, as I don’t want to spoil anything. But some of the supernatural aspects of this book seemed to work without a magical system that was sorely needed to make believable. By the time the book had wrapped up I still wasn’t totally sure that there had been a full explanation of how this twist of fate worked. Secondly, there were small hints of other ghostly elements in this book that implied they were building up to something big, but by the time it was revisited it was rushed and crammed in near the last minute. There were also a number of plot twists that were either a little too obvious, or out of left field without any sort of build up. And one of these twists was the kind that I absolutely cannot abide: the plot twist that happens in the last few pages, which completely changes the outcome of the entire story.

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(source)

I’m occasionally willing to give this kind of thing a pass, mostly if it’s inconsequential in it’s outcome, or if it’s SO well done and so well placed that it takes my breath away. But in this case it just felt like a cheap last moment ‘gotcha’, and I rolled my eyes as it unfolded because it felt totally unnecessary. My fear about this kind of turn of events in thrillers is that authors will start to think that a well plotted story is all about the twists, and will therefore try to add twists for the sake of twists. I don’t recall Webb doing this in her past works (well, not in ALL of them anyway), so I don’t think I need to worry about her future books. But it always makes me wary.

Ultimately, while I liked the setting and the building blocks of the plot and characters to “Daughters of the Lake”, there were a few too many stumbles for me to be able to give it a really high rating. It’s an eerie gothic read to be sure, but I had wanted more from it.

Rating 6: While the plot was fun and the setting kept me interested, “Daughters of the Lake” had a few too many hokey twists and felt disjointed in the story telling.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Daughters of the Lake” isn’t featured on any Goodreads lists, but I think that it would fit in on “Lake Superior Mysteries”.

Find “Daughters of the Lake” at your library using WorldCat!