Kate’s Review: “Final Girls”

32994321Book: “Final Girls” by Mira Grant

Publishing Info: Subterranean Press, April 2017

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

Book Description: What if you could fix the worst parts of yourself by confronting your worst fears?

Dr. Jennifer Webb has invented proprietary virtual reality technology that purports to heal psychological wounds by running clients through scenarios straight out of horror movies and nightmares. In a carefully controlled environment, with a medical cocktail running through their veins, sisters might develop a bond they’ve been missing their whole lives—while running from the bogeyman through a simulated forest. But…can real change come so easily?

Esther Hoffman doubts it. Esther has spent her entire journalism career debunking pseudoscience, after phony regression therapy ruined her father’s life. She’s determined to unearth the truth about Dr. Webb’s budding company. Dr. Webb’s willing to let her, of course, for reasons of her own. What better advertisement could she get than that of a convinced skeptic? But Esther’s not the only one curious about how this technology works. Enter real-world threats just as frightening as those created in the lab. Dr. Webb and Esther are at odds, but they may also be each other’s only hope of survival.

Review: First and foremost, I want to extend a thank you to NetGalley for giving me an ARC of this in exchange for an honest review!

I quite enjoy the “Newsflesh” Trilogy by Mira Grant. For one, it has zombies, which is almost always going to be something of a plus for me when it comes to my horror novels. But it’s also a pretty unique and tech based take of life after the zombie plague. So when Serena sent me some information about a new short story of Grant’s, called “Final Girls”, I was immediately intrigued. Grant likes to take common tropes and give them a tech-y spin. While sometimes I’m a little skeptical of short stories, just because so much has to be crammed into them in a smaller amount of pages to really pull them off, I had faith that Grant could do it. And she didn’t disappoint.

Even though this is a shorter piece, Grant did a really good job of describing the place and time without any of it feeling rushed. The time frame is kind of vague, but we do know that technology allows us to fall into a holodeck-like virtual reality where we can work through various emotional hang ups or relationships. The science is kept nondescript enough not to be bogged down by the science that may or may not ever come to fruition in this world, but it is detailed enough that it seems like it could feasibly happen in the nearish future. She also did a good job of establishing the main characters and their motivations, so I was never questioning why they did the things that they did. I could understand why Dr. Webb is so invested in her invention, and why she would have her whole faith in it and never question how it could go wrong. She is both brilliant and arrogant, cold yet empathetic. Esther, too, is someone whose motivations we can understand, even if her background is presented quickly and never hammered at over and over again. I think that the weakest characterization was that of the mysterious ‘assassin’ character, who drives the conflict of the story with her dangerous meddling. I understand why she would be doing the things she’s doing, but I think that had we explored more about the people who hired her, maybe I would have been more fully invested in her. As she was, she was just kind of the cold badass character. It works well in this story, though, so I can’t really complain about it too much.

I also liked the moral and ethical implications and questions this book raised. There are so many grey areas within the scientific world, and how far we can push experiments without treading on the rights of human and animal subjects. Even if there wasn’t a psychopathic assassin messing up a program and making it super dangerous (due to the stress levels and possibility to be scared to death), how ethical is it to put people in a terribly stressful situation in the name of therapy and relationship healing?

Also…. Zombies.

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My reaction to a well done zombie story. (source)

While sure, it may seem a bit old hat to bring zombies into this story given the “Newsflesh” series and everything, Grant is just so good at it that I don’t really mind. I’m not sick of zombies yet, so when this was the simulation I just grinned and leaned back, ready to enjoy it.

It’s a bit more than the usual zombie story, and “Final Girls” was a quick and engaging story that built up the suspense and delivered on the chills. But it also goes beyond the usual fare, and brings up good points about the responsibilities of science. It was a fun little read and I recommend it to zombie fans to be certain!

Rating 8: A quick paced and creepy little horror novella that raises questions about ethics and professional responsibility.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Final Girls” is a fairly new novella and isn’t on many lists yet. But I think that it would fit in on “Awesome Technothrillers and Sci-Fi”, and “Zombies Plus: Unconventional Zombie Novels”.

Find “Final Girls” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Ill Will”

30687788Book: “Ill Will” by Dan Chaon

Publishing Info: Ballantine Books, March 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: “We are always telling a story to ourselves, about ourselves,” Dustin Tillman likes to say. It’s one of the little mantras he shares with his patients, and it’s meant to be reassuring. But what if that story is a lie?

A psychologist in suburban Cleveland, Dustin is drifting through his forties when he hears the news: His adopted brother, Rusty, is being released from prison. Thirty years ago, Rusty received a life sentence for the massacre of Dustin’s parents, aunt, and uncle. The trial came to symbolize the 1980s hysteria over Satanic cults; despite the lack of physical evidence, the jury believed the outlandish accusations Dustin and his cousin made against Rusty. Now, after DNA analysis has overturned the conviction, Dustin braces for a reckoning.

Meanwhile, one of Dustin’s patients gets him deeply engaged in a string of drowning deaths involving drunk college boys. At first Dustin dismisses talk of a serial killer as paranoid thinking, but as he gets wrapped up in their amateur investigation, Dustin starts to believe that there’s more to the deaths than coincidence. Soon he becomes obsessed, crossing all professional boundaries—and putting his own family in harm’s way.

From one of today’s most renowned practitioners of literary suspense, Ill Will is an intimate thriller about the failures of memory and the perils of self-deception. In Dan Chaon’s nimble, chilling prose, the past looms over the present, turning each into a haunted place.

Review: So I grew up in Minnesota and went to college at the University of Minnesota. Around the time that I was in late high school and about to start college, there were whisperings and rumors about a spate of seemingly accidental drownings of college students across the country. One of these students was a U of MN student named Chris Jenkins, who was last seen drunk and kicked out of a bar, before his drowned body was discovered in the Mississippi River. This drowning has been cited in the “Smiley Face Murder” Conspiracy. It’s a theory that these seemingly random drownings of male white co-eds are actually connected to a killer or killers who target them, and then leave Smiley Faced graffiti near the bodies. So when “Ill Will” was coming out and I found out that one aspect of it was this farfetched (but kind of fun) crime theory, I was totally interested. And, even better, the other big theme of this book is the concept of 1980s Satanic Panic. Aka, the conspiracy theory that was red hot in the 80s and speculated that there were millions of Satanists hiding out in America who were sacrificing and abusing children all in the name of the Dark Lord Lucifer. So you get two paranoid and ridiculous conspiracies for the price of one!!!!

“Ill Will” touches on these themes, but it is far more literary and cerebral than I thought it was going to be. We follow the perspectives of a number of people within this damaged family. The first, and foremost, is Dustin, a man who was the star witness against his older, adopted brother Rusty, who was accused of murdering their parents and aunt and uncle in a Satanic rage. Dustin has become a psychologist, who has tried to keep his life together since that horrible night and the trail that followed it. But when his wife is diagnosed with cancer and begins to deteriorate, he becomes fixated on a wild serial killer theory one of his patients presents to him. Next is that of Aaron, the son of Dustin, who, after his mother dies, has found himself left alone with an obsessive and broken father, and he finds solace in drugs and risky behavior. There is Kate, the cousin of Dustin who is feeling guilt for her part in what happened that night and at the trial, and also terrified now that Rusty is out of prison. And then there’s Rusty himself, someone who was a messed up and dangerous teen who then was sent to prison for something he may not have committed. I was expecting a lot of straight forward and linear plot lines, with maybe the two conspiracies coming together. But instead I got an experimental, time and perspective jumping, format changing, meditation on loss, grief, guilt, and mental illness.

Which, in a lot of ways, is a pretty good thing. I think that horror far too often is relegated or expected to fit within straight forward genre fiction. Horror is expected to be mindless, maybe easy, and while not necessarily poorly written (on the contrary, there are lots of horror authors who know how to create wonderful stories and worlds) it is expected to be straight forward and perhaps a bit formulaic. So I like seeing very cerebral and deep works of horror. Chaon unsettles the reader through all of his tricks and devices, from time jumps to strange writing outlines to odd grammatical choices. It was incredibly effective, as the oddness of it all just kind of set me on edge. I think that the problem, however, is that I did sometimes find it a bit confusing, and was more inclined to have to go back and retrace my steps instead of being pulled forward in the story. It’s good to want to have everything straight. But when you have to go back and reread a number of things to totally piece it all together, it can be a bit of a distraction. I found myself vaguely irritated as I jumped back a few times, and while it didn’t stop me from reading it, it definitely felt more like work than leisurely reading.

I think that “Ill Will” is a very thoughtful and detailed read, and I definitely would recommend it to horror fans who like their books intricate and deep. But casual horror fans, you may have a hard time with it. Because I kind of did at times. All that said, I like that it dares to go to those strange and complex places.

Rating 7: Ambitious and unsettling, though at times muddled down by it’s vision, “Ill Will” is a literary horror story that makes us question memory, reality, and hysteria.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Ill Will” is a fairly new book and isn’t really on many on topic book lists yet. But, I think that it would fit in on “I Like Serial Killers”, and “Satanic Panic”.

Find “Ill Will” at your library using WorldCat!

A Revisit to Fear Street: “The Wrong Number”

176340Book: “The Wrong Number” (Fear Street #5) by R.L. Stine

Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, March 1990

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

Book Description: It begins as an innocent prank, when Deena Martinson and her best friend Jade Smith make sexy phone calls to the boys from school. But Deena’s half-brother Chuck catches them in the act and threatens to tell their parents, unless the girls let him in on the fun. Chuck begins making random calls, threatening anyone who answers. It’s dangerous and exciting. They’re even enjoying the publicity, and the uproar they’ve caused. Until Chuck calls a number on Fear Street.

To his horror, Chuck realizes he has called THE WRONG NUMBER. The jokes are over when murder is on the line. The murderer knows who they are and where they live — and they have nowhere to call for help.

Had I Read This Before: No

The Plot: I pity any “Fear Street” book that had to follow “Missing”. But I hoped that “The Wrong Number” would maintain some of the zany thrills that the one before it had. It starts with Deena and Jade, best friends who are quickly getting bored at Deena’s house. Deena mentions that her half brother Chuck is coming to live with her and her parents, as he’s a serious troublemaker and got kicked out of his school, so his mother has had it. Jade hopes he’s cute, when she should probably be hoping he’s stable. Still bored, Jade suggests that they start prank phone calling people! They start with her sister Cathy, who sees right through the ruse. Then they call Deena’s crush Rob. Deena flirts and then hangs up.

The next day Deena goes with her folks to pick up Chuck.She fixates a bit too much on how handsome he is, though he is ‘snowling’ (that’s scowling and sneering at once). But on the way home they see an accident, and Chuck runs to the scene and saves a dog from a burning car. See, he’s not so bad after all!!! Except he is, because the next morning Deena pours him some cereal for breakfast and he dumps it down the sink. So complicated. A true riddle. At lunch Deena tells Jade that Chuck’s a jerk, and as if to confirm this statement Chuck gets into a fight with local bad boy Bobby and pulls a knife on him!! Jesus.

We find out that post knife incident, Chuck almost got in trouble but their Dad was able to sweet talk the school. But Chuck’s on thin ice! Being that it’s Saturday, their parents go out, and Jade comes after her date cancels on her, which means more prank phone calls! Jade convinces Deena to call Rob again, and it continues to go well. Deena is too shy to reveal herself, and hangs up after hearing some weird clicks. Chuck comes into the room and introduces himself to Jade (who is immediately turned on). Then he says that he was listening in and wants to do his own prank calls in exchange for not telling. ASSHOLE. Deena and Jade agree. He immediately calls the bowling alley and declares a BOMB THREAT (this kid is insane!), then decides he wants to call someone on Fear Street. Because SPOOOOOOKY! He decides on Bobby, calls him, says that it’s the ‘Phantom of Fear Street’ calling. Dumbass. After scaring the girls, Jade decides to call it a night. He then offers to help Deena with her homework. Cuz remember. Enigma.

The bomb threat makes the news and Deena wants to stop with the calls. But Jade, wanting to get closer to Chuck, says that if Deena doesn’t keep it up she’ll tell Rob who’s been calling him. Friends like these. That weekend they are hanging out and grilling, and Deena tries to convince them to stop calling. They agree… until Chuck decides that he wants to prove that Fear Street is just a silly place that isn’t scary. So how does he want to prove this? By prank calling a random Fear Street number.

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(source)

So he puts the phone on speaker and calls… Only to have a woman screaming about how she’s being murdered. They are shocked, and a man takes the phone from the woman, and tells them they have the wrong number. Instead of calling the cops (because HOW would Chuck explain that he called this number?…. SAY YOU CALLED THE WRONG NUMBER), Chuck says they need to go to this house and investigate. GREAT. They arrive at the house and find a DEAD WOMAN! She’s been stabbed! Before they can call the cops a man in a ski mask confronts them. Chuck grabs the knife as a defense, but then they run out of the house and for their car. A chase ensues, but they lose the guy. They get back home and call the police. Chuck tries to be anonymous (once again cites the Phantom character he created). But of course the cops show up later that night. Turns out that Stanley Farberson, the man who is married to the dead woman, ID’d their plates and accuses Chuck of killing his wife!!!

So Chuck is arrested because his prints are on the knife and Mr. Farberson identified him in a lineup. Deena and Jade are distraught! But sexy Rob is there to distract Deena a little bit. Until that night, when Jade calls her and tells her to turn on the news. Mr. Farberson is speaking, and HE HAS THE SAME VOICE AS SKI MASK MAN!!! HE KILLED HIS WIFE!

After Deena’s theory is rebuffed by the cops, Jade says that they can totally solve this and the first step is to go to his restaurant and snoop around. They disguise themselves and Jade pretends that she’s looking for a job. While Farberson has them fill out applications he steps away, and the girls snoop. They find a plane ticket to Argentina, one way! Farberson returns and says he knows that the agency didn’t send them. Jade worms them out of it, and they leave. They decide that maybe the next person to see is his former assistant, Linda. As apparently there are actually two tickets to Argentina…

Deena and Jade go to Linda’s house and pretend they’re doing a door to door survey. While they are inside they overhear Linda talking to someone on the phone… It’s Farberson! And it sounds like they’re pretty cozy. She talks about him needing to come get something because she can’t have it in her house anymore. Deena and Jade make a hasty exit, and lie in wait. They see Farberson pick up this strange package, and follow him in hopes he’ll dispose of it. They think it’s gotta be the ski mask and some bloody clothing. But after he trashes it, they come back later that night open it up…. and find a dead cat. UGH, NO MORE DEAD ANIMALS!!

Lucky for them when they climb back in the car, masked man his hiding in the back seat. He tells them to drop it or else. When Deena visits Chuck at the detention facility she tells him that she and Jade are on the case. He’s pissed because he’s afraid she’s going to get killed, but this doesn’t sway Deena. She and Jade decide to go back to the scene of the crime.

They sneak into the Farberson house, in a very Grace Kelly-esque move, and snoop. They find evidence that Mrs. Farberson was the rich one, and was sick of her bum husband spending all her money. She planned to leave him. The girls decide they can go now, but Mr. Farberson is in the house! They wait for him to fall asleep on the couch and plan to sneak out, but they balk and hide in the office when he gets restless. Then they make too much noise and he finds them. He confesses to everything, and locks them in the office saying he’ll be right back, no doubt to kill them. Deena and Jade decide they can climb out the window and jump to the tree that’s right outside it. Just as they get outside, Farberson busts into the room. Deena and Jade are a bit high up with no where to go, so Mr. Farberson leaves the room….

AND REAPPEARS OUTSIDE WITH A CHAINSAW!!!! HE INTENDS TO CHAINSAW THEM DOWN AND THEN MAYBE CHAINSAW THEM TO DEATH???

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THIS IS FINALLY INTERESTING! (source)

But luckily,  the police arrive JUST IN TIME because Chuck told the authorities everything. And I guess they had a hunch themselves but just didn’t have enough evidence, and this was the perfect way to get evidence: to let two teenagers put themselves in danger while a third rots in a jail cell unnecessarily. Though Deena’s Dad thinks that it’s fine because the experience scared Chuck straight or something. Yeesh.

So now they’re all famous at school. Jade and Chuck are officially a couple. And Rob and Deena finally set a date. ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL, I GUESS.

Body Count: 2. Mrs. Farberson and one dead cat. Stine needs to stop killing animals.

Romance Rating: 3. Deena gets to go out with Rob at the end, but their meet cute wasn’t very cute. And Chuck and Jade? Dude’s unstable.

Bonkers Rating: 4. Only because of the chainsaw. The rest was pretty dull.

Fear Street Relevance: 5. The Farbersons lived on Fear Street, after all. I guess.

Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:

“Rain slanted in, and another flash of lightning illuminated Chuck, his limp body curled up on the floor.”

… And he’s faking it. Jerk.

That’s So Dated! Moments: Well I would have to say that the obvious one is that THEY ARE MAKING PRANK PHONE CALLS. That’s just so hard to do these days with caller ID. But the other is that Chuck pulls a knife at school and isn’t immediately suspended/expelled.

Best Quote:

“Be sure to tell him hello for me,” said Jade.

“He doesn’t even know you.”

Jade turned her full smile on. “Not now he doesn’t. But I have a feeling….. he will soon.”

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EYEAAHHHHHHH!!!!!! (source)

This was a sad follow up to the absolute batshit absurdity that was “Missing”. If I wanted a story like this I’d just watch “Rear Window”. Hell, even “Disturbia” would be better. Next up is “The Sleepwalker”, and I hope that one’s a step up.

Kate’s Review: “Survivors’ Club”

29429582Book: “Survivors’ Club” by Lauren Beukes, Dale Halverson, Ryan Kelly (Ill.), and Inaki Miranda (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Vertigo, September 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: One was possessed by a poltergeist. Another was trapped in a haunted house. A third had a killer doll. Ever wonder what happened to these children of the 1980s? Find out in Survivors’ Club, a new series co-written by renowned horror novelist Lauren Beukes and award-winning cover designer and illustrator Dale Halverson, with art by Ryan Kelly (Northlanders).
Having found each other over the internet, six grown-up survivors are drawn together by the horrors they experienced in 1987 when a rash of occult events occurred around the world–with fatal results. Now, there are indications that it may be happening all over again. Is it possible that these six aren’t just survivors–but were chosen for their fates?

Review: The 1980s were a very solid time for the horror movie genre. I mean, you had the release of “Friday the 13th”, “A Nightmare on Elm Street”, “Poltergeist”, “The Shining”, “The Evil Dead” (1 and 2!), and “The Thing”. That’s just to name a few. There were many, many more. It comes as a surprise to no one that I am a HUGE horror movie buff, and I have a special place in my heart for a lot of the films from that era. I am also a fan of the book “The Shining Girls” by Lauren Beukes, the story of a time traveling serial killer who targets women with special gifts. So when I heard that she has helped write a comic series that plays homage to the horror tropes of 1980s scary movies? Well….

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(source)

I do think that for the most part, Beukes and Halverson do a good job of deconstructing and dissecting some of the best tropes from horror movies. The haunted house, the evil doll, the vengeance ghost, all of these are pretty well word territory these days. But it’s hard to deny that in a lot of these movies we are there more for the monster, and less for the victims of the monster. “Survivors’ Club” makes us focus on the victims, and how these traumatic events can irreversibly mess up their and change their lives. Deconstructing the horror genre has kind of become a popular past time in pop culture as of late, with movies such as “Behind The Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon”, “The Final Girls”, and “Tucker and Dale VS Evil” taking apart the tropes and making them into something funny as well as sinister. But while “Survivors’ Club” does do that to an extent, it is far darker and quite a bit less tongue in cheek about it. It definitely asksthe questions about the actual consequences of such things, and while it was assuredly enjoyable and a cool take on it, damn was it bleak at times.

Beukes has always done a good job of creating characters that have many sides and facets, with three dimensions and flaws and strengths. My favorites in this story were Chenzira, Kiri, and Simon. Chenzira grew up as a black girl in Apartheid Era South Africa, whose activist mother was murdered for her politics. In 1987, Chenzira was playing a video game at a local arcade that eventually became malevolent and nearly destroyed everything around it. Chenzira is haunted by this incident, but is also constantly followed by the spectre of her mother. Kiri is a process server who grew up in Japan. While in school her best friend was brutally murdered…. an that is where Auntie comes in. Auntie is the vengeance ghost that has been following Kiri ever since, and Kiri feeds bad people to. She is scared of Auntie, but can’t bear to part with her. And then there’s Simon, by far the most interesting character to me. When he was a boy he lived in a famous haunted house, and he has been cruising on that fame for years, especially since he was possessed inside that house…. But there are questions as to how much of that is true. Simon is the most outwardly brash and arrogant, but he also shows the most vulnerability when it comes to his insecurities and his own personal, non demonic demons. I liked seeing the real world relevance, the interest in a monster’s humanity, and the empathy shown towards damaged souls.

However, I was disappointed by a few things in this story. The first is that while we do have some very well rounded characters, others were not as well thought out. I think the one that I was most disappointed in was Alice, the prototypical British “Bad Seed” kind of character who has a killer doll doppelgänger. She didn’t really do much in terms of growth or character development, and as one of the characters who is supposed to be more ‘grey’ in terms of her morality, I didn’t find her very interesting or intriguing, and was most frustrated with her out of all of the Survivors’ Club. I also had a hard time with how it all wrapped up. I should preface this, though: originally this comic was supposed to have twentysome issues, enough to draw out a pretty complex and fulfilling story while remaining a limited series. Unfortunately, it was cancelled after only nine issues. So I would imagine that this meant, if they were given warning, that they needed wrap things up pretty quickly. And because of this, the story ends not only with some unresolved hints of a future plotline that never came to fruition, but also a quick and haphazard end that just left me feeling a bit hollow. While I don’t think there are any plans as of now for this series to be revisited, I hope that eventually something like that comes to fruition. Because as it stands now, “Survivors’ Club” is glaring in what pieces it’s missing, and how much story is left to be told.

The artwork in this book is perfect for the story at hand. The colors are both vibrant and evocative, but can also be muted and shadowy when the tone calls for it. And the detail put into the various villainous beings, especially the vengeful Auntie, is completely stunning and eye catching.

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Forgive the blatant picture from a comic. The page is creasing, I know… (source: vertigo comics)

I’m pleased I was finally able to get my hands on “Survivors’ Club”. While it didn’t quite live up to all my expectations, it was still a ball to read. Fans of 1980s horror really need to do themselves a favor and check this comic out. Though it’s sort of incomplete, it’s still a hoot and a pretty freaky read.

Rating 7: A pretty unique and fun story for horror movie fans, but it is wrapped up far too quickly and haphazardly.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Survivors’ Club” isn’t on any Goodreads lists, but I think that it would fit in on “Best Retro YA Horror Books”, and “Slasher Horror” (given the time period their torments happened).

Find “Survivors’ Club” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur (Vol.1): BFF”

27415869Book: “Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur (Vol.1): BFF” by Amy Reeder, Brandon Montclare (Ill.), and Natacha Bustos (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Marvel Comics, July 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: LUNELLA LAFAYETTE IS AN INHUMAN PRETEEN GENIUS WHO WANTS TO CHANGE THE WORLD!

That job would be a lot easier if she wasn’t living in mortal fear of her latent Inhuman gene. There’s no telling what she’ll turn into – but Luna’s got a plan. All she needs is an Omni-Wave Projector. Easy, right? That is, until a red-scaled beast is teleported from the prehistoric past to a far-flung future we call…today! Together they’re the most Marvelous Team-Up of all – the Inhuman Moon Girl and time-tossed Devil Dinosaur! But will they be BFFs forever, or just until DD’s dinner time? And Lunella soon learns that there are other problems with a having a titanic T. Rex as a pet in the modern-day Marvel Universe. School, for one. Monster hunters are another – especially when they’re the Totally Awesome Hulk! Then there’s the fact that everyone’s favorite dino didn’t journey through time alone. Beware the prehistoric savages known as the Killer-Folk – New York City’s deadliest tourists! Can Lunella handle all this turmoil… and keep herself from transforming into an Inhuman monster?

Review: So it’s been since, oh, last July since I’ve picked up and reviewed a Marvel Comic collection, which means I’m probably about due to do so. As you all know, Marvel isn’t really my scene, though I don’t begrudge people who like it (sure wish that some people would extend me the same courtesy when I say I’m a DC Fan, but oh well, no matter…). But I do have to say that I applaud Marvel in it’s quest to be more inclusive in it’s stories, even if a number of those stories don’t quite gel with me. However, I couldn’t pass up “Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur” when I laid my eyes on it at work recently. I had heard of it in passing, but kind of forgot about it… Until “Vol 2” was on our new Teen display. I of course had to grab “Vol.1” in that moment. Because hey, a story about a genius, African American little girl who teams up with a friggin’ DINOSAUR has got to be something special!!

And for the most part it was! It’s a pretty genius idea to take an old title like “Moon Boy and Devil Dinosaur” and reframe it in a way that can introduce a new character like Lunella, a character that adds a new and needed perspective and representation. Lunella is clever and precocious, and while sometimes it teeters towards a little on the twee side she is supremely charming and very three dimensional. It was refreshing to see a character who doesn’t strive to be special when it comes to supernatural super powers, and in fact shies away from them. Lunella knows that she has the potential to transform into something inhuman because of her genetics should the Terrigen Cloud (that has transformed others) come in contact with her. And unlike some of those others, she does not want that, so she is trying her best to stop it. So I liked that she is super great and smart and clever, and in this story that’s considered enough for the reader to look up to. Which isn’t to say she doesn’t have her troubles. She is isolated from her peers, isn’t stimulated enough at school, and has frustrations that no one takes her seriously because she’s a little girl, even though she is quite possibly the most intelligent character in the Marvel Universe. So seeing her try and prove herself was one of the main cruxes of this story, and definitely had a lot of emotion to it.

And then there’s Devil Dinosaur, a character from Marvel’s past that makes a ROARING COMEBACK. GET IT? In spite of the fact that this guy is an honest to God dinosaur, and has no spoken dialogue outside of noises, the illustrators did a really good job of portraying exactly what he’s feeling in any given moment through his facial expressions and body language. I LOVE me some dinosaurs, and Devil Dinosaur is absolutely delightful, and surprisingly nuanced as well. Well, sometimes. One of the appeals of this book was seeing a cute little girl interact with a giant theropod, and seeing them build a genuine affection for each other. While I think there’s still some room to grow for them in their friendship (boy is Lunetta impatient with him much of the time), you can tell it’s the start of something that is going to be very adorable and filled with a lot of heart.

Not totally certain about how I felt about The Hulk (I guess the Amadeus Cho version? I didn’t know, I had to do some research) showing up and beating up on Devil Dinosaur, even if it was to further the plot along. I know that Marvel really likes to keep their characters integrated and constantly making appearances in each others stories as of late, but that doesn’t sit well with me. I’m not here for the nods to other characters in the Marvel franchise, and hey, maybe I’ve figured out one of my problems with Marvel in this moment as I type this out. Bottom line, let Lunella and Devil Dinosaur shine on their own!

The art is also pretty cute, as the colors jump off the page and both Lunella and Devil Dinosaur are totally adorable.

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BFF carved in a tree! (source)

So I’m fairly certain that I will probably keep going in this series, because it’s pretty adorable and a fun read. And it ends on something of a cliffhanger for Lunella and Devil Dinosaur. Enough so that I want to know what happens next. Lunella and Devil Dinosaur have charmed me completely! I just hope that the next one doesn’t have any pesky cameos.

Rating 7: A pretty cute comic series that brings back an old cult favorite and introduces a cute and compelling new character. But the Marvel habit of cameos does not work for me.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur (Vol.1): BFF” is included on the Goodreads lists “Ladies of Marvel”, and “Kickass Women in Superhero Comics”.

Find “Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur (Vol.1): BFF” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Good As Gone”

29975458Book: “Good As Gone” by Amy Gentry

Publishing Info: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, July 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Thirteen-year-old Julie Whitaker was kidnapped from her bedroom in the middle of the night, witnessed only by her younger sister. Her family was shattered, but managed to stick together, hoping against hope that Julie is still alive. And then one night: the doorbell rings. A young woman who appears to be Julie is finally, miraculously, home safe. The family is ecstatic—but Anna, Julie’s mother, has whispers of doubts.  She hates to face them. She cannot avoid them. When she is contacted by a former detective turned private eye, she begins a torturous search for the truth about the woman she desperately hopes is her daughter.

Propulsive and suspenseful, Good as Gone will appeal to fans of Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train, and keep readers guessing until the final pages.

Review: So back in the day there was a “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit” episode called “Stranger” in which a girl who disappeared a number of years prior came back to her family, but it turned out that she wasn’t actually the girl who had disappeared. She was an imposter, and it turned out that the reason the sister was so skeptical and cruel towards her was because SHE HERSELF HAD KILLED THE MISSING GIRL ALL THOSE YEARS AGO. WHAT A TWIST.  God I love “SVU”. This is run of the mill nonsense on that show and I come back for it seventeen years in.

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I can’t even deny this. (source)

This episode is based on the real life case of Nicholas Barclay, a Texas boy who disappeared at age 13 in 1994. His family was reunited with a man saying that he was Barclay years later… But it turned out he was a fraud named Frédéric Bourdin, a French man who conned many people using false identities. If I’m being honest, when I picked up the book “Good As Gone”, I half expected that to be the case (well maybe not so far as the sister doing the deed in the first place. That’s Grade A SVU malarky right there). But instead of detached and procedural methodical Benson/Stabler realness, I got a book that was actually a bit more twisty and turny, and one that attempts at genuine emotional connection along with the mystery it puts forth.

It’s established right away that Julie may or may not actually be who she says she is. We see these mysterious deceptions through the eyes of Anna, the mother, and through ‘Julie’ herself. I kind of liked that the mystery itself wasn’t based on whether Julie was actually Julie, and that the mystery was whether or not Anna was going to figure it all out. And really, this book is more about the tragedy and trauma that a family has to endure when one of their children disappears, and how everyone copes should they suddenly come back. I think that a lot of the time we only hear about the family being reunited, but rarely do we hear about how hard it can be for everyone to readjust when so much has changed. “Room” certainly takes that theme on, and honestly, “Room” does it better. While it’s good that Gentry did make it clear that the damage is far reaching in this family, and that a potential reappearance isn’t going to just fix everything, I think that the problem for me is that, outside of younger sister Jane, I didn’t really connect to any of the characters in this book. Anna, while I have no doubt her actions are in step with how a person would react in her situation, was so cold and cruel to Jane and sometimes Tom, her husband, I just couldn’t quite get behind her completely. While I don’t doubt that the emotional trauma of losing a child is going to make anyone act in ways that aren’t always healthy, Anna didn’t grab at my sympathy heartstrings so much as put me completely off.

‘Julie”s sections were interesting, going backwards from her ending up on the family doorstep and marching back through time, showing how she got there and the experiences she had to go through. While I know this was done to humanize her and to better understand her psyche, I found myself tempted to skim through these parts. It was a neat way to explain who she was, I will fully admit that, but since she herself didn’t do much for me I wasn’t as invested as others may be. We’re meant to have a lot of mixed feelings about her, and unfortunately it was hard to recover from deep suspicion. And like Anna, I just didn’t quite feel myself attaching to her as a character, even when I saw her going through really horrible and terrible things. Ultimately, it didn’t matter to me if she was who she said she was. The moments I liked best were between her and Jane, the younger sister who always blamed herself for letting a man walk out the door with her older sister as she hid in the closet. Jane was by far the character who intrigued me most, as she has basically been emotionally neglected by her parents because she’s the child who was left behind. Her own guilt festers and manifests in self imposed isolation, and her mother’s veiled resentment throws a wall between them that neither really can push through. It really did make me think about what it must be like for the kids who are left behind in stories like this, and how they handle it.I think that had this book had some perspective chapters from Jane I probably would have enjoyed it quite a bit more.

And on top of everything, the ending (which I’ll leave a mystery for everyone so as not to spoil anything) felt so haphazardly thrown together, with a number of things tied up neatly in a number of bows, that I had a hard time swallowing it. Some things were just too conveniently explained away, and other things were not really addressed as much as I wanted them to be.

“Good As Gone” has all the elements that it needs to make a great book, but the execution left a little to be desired for me. So instead of a great read, it was a fine one. I think that it’s worth your time if you like this genre, but it may leave readers as satisfied as they wish to be.

Rating 6: Yeah, it surprised me a bit here and there, and I liked the overall focus. But I didn’t really connect with any of the characters. I wasn’t really invested in whether the girl claiming to be Julie was actually Julie, and I wasn’t completely satisfied with how it all shook out.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Good As Gone” is included on the Goodreads lists “Female Psychological Thrillers/Suspense”, and “Thrillers You Must Read!”.

Find “Good As Gone” at your library using WorldCat!

A Revisit to Fear Street: “Missing”

176576Book: “Missing” (Fear Street #4) by R.L. Stine

Publishing Info: POCKET BOOKS, 1990

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

Book Description: “Please help…Our parents are missing!”
What would you do if your parents didn’t come home, didn’t call, left no note? At first, Mark and Cara Burroughs aren’t terribly alarmed. Their parents have stayed out late before. But then other things start to go wrong. Mark’s girlfriend Gena breaks up with him and suddenly disappears. The police don’t seem at all interested in finding Mark and Cara’s parents. And their mysterious cousin who boards with them seems to be spying on their every move!
When murder strikes, Mark and Cara learn their terror is only beginning. Someone wants them to disappear too! But why? The answer lies deep in the Fear Street Woods. But will they live long enough to find it?

Had I Read This Before: Yes.

The Plot: Okay, I have VIVID memories of reading this one at the clothing store where we would get my grade school uniforms. I totally hid in a sales rack while my mother tried to find some pants that maybe wouldn’t completely wear out in the knees (this is still a curse that I have to bear when it comes to my pants).

Cara and Mark Burroughs have just moved to Shadyside with their parents, and have taken up residence on Fear Street. Their new friends find that weird, and Cara and Mark don’t exactly disagree, but it’s not strange enough that they can’t throw a rocking party because no one will come. Mark is the innocent and popular one, Cara is the cynical one who is 2edgy4you. One of the people at this aforementioned party is Gena, Mark’s new girlfriend who is, by all accounts, super sexy. His parents aren’t thrilled about him dating her for some reason, but Cara thinks she’s fine…. Outside of the fact she takes Mark’s attention away from her (once again, getting a Lannister Vibe from this sibling pair). Cara has noticed that even though it’s pretty late at night, their parents have yet to come home. A policeman knocks on their door, and while at first Cara thinks he’s there to tell them something awful has happened to their folks, he says his name is Captain Farraday and is just there asking around about a burglary. He gives her his card in case they think of anything. After he leaves, the party starts to wind down, as cops are total buzzkills. As Cara and Mark clean up they start to worry more about their parents, and try to call them. But the house phone is dead.

Cara and Mark are surprised by their distant cousin Roger, who apparently lives in the attic. He also is wondering where the folks are, but says he’s retiring for the night. Cara and Mark decide to see if they can find a note in their parents’ room. The rumpled bedding makes Cara think something terrible must have happened, but Mark dispels her of that notion pretty quickly. Roger pops up, saying he’s looking for a note, but acts strange enough to make Cara and Mark suspicious. The sudden appearance of a parked grey van outside doesn’t help matters. And then Cara finds a white stone monkey head in the sheets of the bed. How odd. What’s even odder is after they go to bed, they’re awakened by legit howling outside, and see Roger going to that strange van and climbing inside, but not leaving (why he is howling is never explained, by the way). Mark tries to find something of relevance in Roger’s room, but is caught and slinks off to bed. The monkey head continues to haunt him.

The next day, still no Mom and Dad. Mark and Cara decide to look around Roger’s room, and find a gun! Totally spooked, they decide that maybe they could call their parents at work, but the phone is still dead. They go to a neighbor, who says her phone is working just fine. When they call the phone company, they are told there shouldn’t be a problem. So now they decide to cut school and go to their parents’ office. They think they may need to catch a ride, since their folks have the car…. But when they get to the garage they find the car! Their folks never took it! So they drive to their parents’ present employers (after confronting the people in the van. Who act casual. And by casual I mean not at all casual). They get to this firm (which apparently makes stuff for the military but just lets two strangers in willy nilly), but no one seems to have heard of their parents. However, the CEO, Mr. Burroughs, will happily speak with them! Huh. He tells them that no one by their parents names have ever worked there.

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The plot thickens. (source)

Cara and Mark regroup. They go to school to try and have a normal day. Mark calls Roger, and the phones are working again. Roger says not to worry and he’ll see him at home. But Gena wasn’t at school, which is odd to Mark. He goes hom  and calls her…. and then she promptly dumps him. When Cara gets home they talk about this (Mark more weeps about it), and Cara thinks it’s weird since they were so close and cuddly the night before. Cara tells him to pull himself together because she’s calling Farraday to see if he can help them find their parents. He says that he’ll see if he can hunt them down, but on the line Cara hears a click. Roger must have been listening in on them! She and Mark go up to confront him. But he confronts them about their snooping in his room, and says that of COURSE he has a pistol, it was a gift from his father! Cara and Mark are suspicious, but drop it.

Cara decides to follow Roger when he goes out, and Mark says he’ll hang out at home in case Mom and Dad come back. But then Gena calls! And she sounds like she’s in trouble! So Mark decides to cut through the Fear Street woods to find her!…. and then promptly falls into a man made ditch trap thing. Meanwhile, Cara follows Roger to a diner, and sees him talking to the man in the van!!! Roger, however, catches her and says this is his faculty advisor, but no one really believes that. Cara leaves, and realizes a car is following her. BACK IN THE WOODS, Mark is in a pit, and a crazy dog jumps in and attacks him. Mark snaps it’s neck (holy SHIT), and sees that on it’s collar there’s a white monkey head!! So someone trained this dog to attack people, and it has the same monkey head he found at home. But Gena comes first, and he runs to her house. Instead of knocking on the door he decides to climb a trellis…. And falls. Good one, Mark.

Cara realizes that it was Captain Farraday following her, saying he’s following up, and he drives her home. On the way she tells him everything about Roger, and he says he’ll figure out what’s going on. When she gets home she finds Mark missing and no note. Mark is still trying to see Gena, and he does manage to get into her window, but is then confronted by her Dad, Dr. Rawlings. He tells Mark Gena was so upset she took off to visit a cousin upstate. After a quick study sesh, Cara decides to see if Roger’s gun is still there. It isn’t.

The next day after school they catch up with everything they found out the night before (and find out the phone is dead again). Conveniently, they remember that their parents had a friend named Wally at work, and they decide to go visit him. He says that he hasn’t seen them either, but in the work directory their parents names ARE LISTED! Which means Mr. Marcus lied to them! BUT WHY?!?! They race back to the house, hoping Farraday will have contacted them, but instead they find Roger DEAD!!!! BY BOW AND ARROW (oh yeah, Mark is an archer)!! AND FARRADAY IS THERE AND THINKS MARK DID IT!! And THEN they Guy from the Van comes in waving his gun around, and Farraday shoots HIM!! He says he’s going to go call for backup, and they see him talk to someone on the phone. Mark and Cara go to get some water But then… Cara remembers!! THE PHONE IS DEAD!! THERE IS NO WAY FARRADAY CALLED FOR BACKUP.

They try to play it cool but Mark bungles it, and Farraday pulls Roger’s missing gun on them. Farraday tells them that he isn’t a cop. He USED to be a cop, and is now looking for their folks, and where are they? Cara and Mark don’t know, and Farraday is going to shoot them. But then GENA ARRIVES WITH HER OWN GUN!! She gets Cara and Mark away from Farraday and takes them into the woods, saying that her Dad tried to get her out of the way, and that there’s a ‘meeting’ that they have to stop. She gets them some robes from her house so they can fit in to whatever it is they are about to experience. In her house there are people in robes and white monkey masks. They follow the group and come to a clearing in Fear Street Woods, and see A MILITIA/CULT MEETING IN WHICH THEIR PARENTS ARE ABOUT TO BE MURDERED BY MARCUS, WHO IS THE LEADER.

Yup, now THIS is the batshit “Fear Street” malarkey I wanted to share with you all. Just think of how fun this entire re-read is going to be.

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(source)

Mark throws his own little monkey head and disrupts the murdering. Their Dad gets free and pulls a gun on Marcus, identifying himself as FBI, and they are all under arrest. Yes, this whole time Cara and Mark’s parents have been undercover FBI agents. Marcus and Gena’s Dad were part of this group they’d been tracking. Farraday is just a crooked cop they put away on a previous case. Now their cover is blown and they will have to move again.

Gena comes to see Mark one last time before she moves to live with her mother. They promise they will write each other. She gives him a note with her new address, and a the words ‘can you keep a secret? I love you.’

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Jesus this was a doozie. (source)

Body Count: 3, being poor poor rookie Agent Roger, his van friend, and a guard dog.

Romance Rating: 7. Hear me out. Mark’s and Gena’s relationship was admittedly silly, but unlike other romances in these books it also seemed pretty genuine. That note at the end actually made me smile. And she saved his butt!!!

Bonkers Rating: 9! A crazy cult/militia group in the woods?! AH-mazing.

Fear Street Relevance: 10! Not only do Cara and Mark live on Fear Street, but the showdown is in the woods behind their house. Ya earned this, R.L.

Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:

“Then I saw their beds and cried out again. It was obvious that something terrible had happened….”

… And it turns out their parents’ bed was just unmade. Jesus, Cara.

That’s So Dated! Moment: Cara and Mark’s parents are described as ‘computer mainframe specialists’, who travel from place to place installing computer systems for companies. And it can take weeks, or months, or even YEARS. Boy it just REEKS of late 80s techno babble to me.

Best Quote:

“We were both feeling pretty miserable. She found a box of cornflakes in the cabinet, but there was no milk. So we poured a bottle of Coke on it instead.”

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You can’t call a friend for a ride to the store? (source)

So there’s clearly a reason that this book stuck with me from all those years ago. It was nuts, and genuinely creepy at parts. I know that the thought of my parents just up and disappearing is still upsetting to me to this day. Next up is “The Wrong Number!”.