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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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!

A Revisit to Fear Street: “The Best Friend 2”

176601Book: “Best Friend 2” (Fear Street #50) by R.L. Stine

Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, 1997

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

Book Description: Becka is relieved. She’s finally ready to forget all the horrible things her “best friend” Honey did to her real friends. She can even forget the way she was blamed for it all. So why does she keep seeing Honey everywhere she goes? At first she thinks it’s her imagination. But then the threats begin. Honey is back. And this time she won’t stop–until Becka is dead.

Dear Reader: A few years ago, I wrote a book called The Best Friend. And hundreds of you wrote to tell me how unhappy you were with the ending. You thought Honey Perkins should pay for her crimes.

But I needed your help. I wasn’t sure exactly what should happen to Honey. So we held a contest to let you decide. I got thousands of great ideas. It was hard to choose, but I finally picked my favorite. A girl named Sara Bikman from Grafton, Wisconsin, sent in the winning entry. Thanks, Sara!

So here is the book you’ve all been waiting for. Honey is back–and she’s after Becka Norwood. But this time, Honey will get what she deserves. Won’t she?

Had I Read This Before: No

The Plot: Okay gang, I have been both anticipating and dreading getting to “Best Friend 2”. As I mentioned in “Best Friend 1”, the reception to that ending was so bad that R.L. Stine pitched a bit of a fit and pretty much said ‘okay, children, if you think that you can do better, I challenge YOU to write a sequel!’ So a contest for “Best Friend 2” was held, and the winner’s story was turned into an honest to God “Fear Street” book. I imagine that Stine took the plot and made it his own, but who knows, maybe this is the complete product of an unsatisfied fan. Whatever it may be, on we go.

Becka is trying to move on from the traumatic events of “The Best Friend”. She has moved to Waynesbridge, the lame unofficial sister city of Shadyside which seems to cultivate a lot of the “Fear Street” Bad Boys. This is her first day at her new school and she’s nervous and thinking about all the terrible things that happened with Honey Perkins, the girl who stalked her and tried to kill her friends Trish and Lilah, and killed her boyfriend Bill. Becka has to meet with Mrs. Englund the guidance counselor to check in, and we get the run down of everything that happened in Book 1 (Lilah’s bike accident, Trish’s fall down the steps, Bill’s stabbing). After Becka leaves the office she thinks that she sees Bill, and she calls out to him, but it’s not Bill. His name is Steve, and he helps her find her way to her first class. In this class she meets a girl named Glynis, and they seem to hit it off and Becka thinks that Glynis not only has cool nails (chocolate brown! How unique!), but that she could be a real best friend, unlike Honey. Unfortunately, she doesn’t realize that she’s written Bill’s name over and over again in her book.

After class Glynis meets up with Becka at her locker and introduces her to a boy named Frankie. Becka is instantly smitten because not only does he have rebellious long hair, he plays guitar! He tells Becka that her nails are so short she could be a good guitar player, an then he invites her to go with him and Glynis to get some pizza. Becka is convinced that this polite gesture of inclusivity translates to him having the hots for her. They walk to Pizzaz Pizza (you are NO Pete’s Pizza!), and all sit down together. Becka is feeling relaxed and okay, but then who should walk in, but Eric, her ex boyfriend (the guy she was with before Bill). Was Eric mentioned in “The Best Friend”? I honestly don’t remember. She runs to him and says hello, but he seems not so happy to see her. He reminds her that she dumped him, but she swears that she has changed, and asks if he wants to go join her, Glynis, and Frankie? When he balks she says that they can go driving around instead, and says goodbye to her new friends who were kind enough to invite her out after school, and instead goes with a guy who doesn’t seem to want to even be near her. They walk to his car, and Becka suddenly kisses Eric, even though she’s thinking about Frankie. Eric says that she’s change, and they kiss again and make an arrangement to see each other again. When Becka gets home she thinks about how excited she is for this new life, and then decides that she’s going to get herself some of that chocolate nail polish that Glynis has. In fact, if she changed her hair a bit, she would look a lot like Glynis….

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Oh, okay. I know what we’re doing here and I don’t know what to think. (source)

The next day Becka buys the nail polish and after she applies it she fantasizes about Frankie calling her and confessing his feelings for her. At first she think that the conversation actually happened, but when she realizes that no, it didn’t, she starts to worry that she’s acting crazy, just like Honey was. We get another recap of the bad things that Honey did, and Becka tries to get ahold of herself… But the realizes that she used the nail polish to write Bill’s name all over her face.

Some time passes and Becka checks in with Mrs. Englund. She says that she’s feeling really good, and Mrs. Englund compliments her on her new hairstyle. After school Becka goes to Glynis’s house and they hang out while Becka tries on some of her clothes. Glynis suggests that they should go shopping together, and tells her that she usually drives to Shadyside’s Mall on Division Street. Glynis’s mom comments on how alike the two of them look, and Glynis laughs, which makes Becka feel insulted, because after all they’re BEST FRIENDS RIGHT?! When Glynis goes to help her mother with a task, Becka does the very friendly and rational thing of taking Glynis’s clothes and putting them in her own bag because best friends always borrow each other’s clothes.

The next day Becka accompanies Glynis and Frankie to the Division Street Mall, and when Frankie comments that she’s wearing Glynis’s outfit Glynis starts to look a bit concerned. Becka says she wants to wear them on her date with Eric, and asks if there is a problem. Glynis, probably terrified that this girl will boil a rabbit if she protests, says no, and just to give them back after her date. They get to the Mall and Becka is suddenly nervous about being back in Shadyside. What if people from her past see her? And just as she’s worrying about that she runs into Eric in one of the stores! He tells her that he works there. They have some okay small talk, and when Glynis and Frankie join them it seems to be going okay. Glynis and Frankie tell Becka they’ll meet her at the food court, and when they leave Eric is suddenly on edge. He asks Becka why they called her ‘Becka’. Because, as if you haven’t guessed it yet, BECKA IS ACTUALLY HONEY!

Side note and pause: I don’t know who this Sara Bikman, the winner of the writing contest is, but if this is a plot point she came up with on her own, I have to give her some serious snaps. Even though I saw it coming from a mile away, I’m not certain I could say the same had I read it in 1997 when I was still within the target demographic.

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Honey says that she IS Becka now, and starts to freak out and throw a fit. To make matters worse, she sees the ACTUAL Becka, and in a last ditch effort to try and keep her new name and new life, grabs a string of glass beads from a display in the shop and, for no clear reason, proceeds to STRANGLE ERIC TO DEATH WITH THEM. She tells Becka that SHE’S the one who did it, first she killed Bill and now she’s added Honey’s new life to the ol’ notches on the kill belt, and then makes a break for it with people chasing her.

We now move on to Part 2, and the perspective has shifted to the Real Becka, home in Shadyside and totally shaken up by this turn of events. She, Lilah, and Trish are attending Eric’s funeral, and talking about how Honey pulled off the great con of pretending to be Becka (she forged some transcripts and a letter from Becka’s parents). Evidently Honey escaped from her hospital that past summer and her father had no idea where she was, and she’s gone missing again. Becka thinks that she sees Honey, but it’s just someone else with the same hair color. As Trish and Lilah walk Becka home from the funeral they tell her that they’re worried about her. She’s been seeing Honey everywhere ever since Bill was stabbed, and to that I say uh YEAH, IT WAS A TRAUMATIC EVENT IN HER LIFE. And then, shock and awe, BILL shows up! Apparently he didn’t die from his stab wound, though he now only has one lung. Becka feels so guilty about what happened to him that she can’t even look at him anymore (but weird side note again: Trish ‘pecked’ Bill on the cheek when he came up to them. It seems like something a couple may do, but it doesn’t appear that they ARE a couple? Are they just really friendly and affectionate?). Bill wants to talk with Becka but she says she can’t, and he says that he knows she’s seeing some chump named Larry now (my words, not his), but he just wants to talk some things out. Becka refuses, and Bill leaves dejected. Trish and Lilah ask her why she doesn’t want to be with him anymore, and Becka says that her memories are just too awful, and frankly, I get it. Trish tries to lay on the guilt by saying that Bill was by her side while she was in the hospital with her broken neck, and Becka apologizes that she wasn’t there for her as much as Bill was. They all hug. Becka gets home and her mom asks her if she’s feeling stressed, as her doctor, one Doctor Perlman, says that she should avoid that, but Becka claims that she’s fine. Her phone rings, but when she picks up, there’s no one on the line, and Becka wonders if it’s Honey. Why isn’t she in any kind of protective custody right now? CAN THE POLICE AT LEAST SEND A SQUAD CAR TO HER HOUSE?! I don’t think this is unreasonable given that Honey just killed someone and has an obsession with Becka.

At work the next afternoon Becka is visited by her new boyfriend Larry, whom she describes as looking like Bugs Bunny. Not exactly high praise in the looks department, but you know, Bugs glamours up REAL nice.

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I guess what I’m trying to say is one could do worse. (source)

Larry keeps pestering her but she tells him that he has to order something or get out. He obeys and leaves. When her shift is done she goes to her car, and hears footsteps. She worries that it’s Honey again, but no, it’s just Bill. He begs her to speak to him, and she once again says no, and he says that he tried calling her yesterday bot lost her nerve. She feels stupid for blaming Honey, but she’s not out of the woods yet because he won’t take her ‘no’ for an answer and tells her that he still cares about her. He grabs her, and she tells him to let go. And who should come to the rescue? Larry! Larry asks if there are any problems here, and Bill insists no before skulking away. Becka tells Larry she’s okay, but then when she looks at her car things go from bad to worse. Someone has slashed up the seats and left a gutted dead rat on the passenger side. Becka just starts screaming ‘HONEY!’ over and over, even as Larry drives her home. Paging Dr. Perlberg…

After taking some of her sedatives Becka has calmed down, and she tries to watch the news, but they keep talking about Eric’s death and how Honey is still at large. She turns it off and wonders if Honey is hiding out next door. She considers going outside to do some investigating, when her phone rings. She answers it, and it’s Trish, telling her that she just saw Bill and he was SUPER messed up. That isn’t Becka’s fault, I’d argue, but Trish seems to think it is. She tells Becka that Bill pulled off his shirt and showed off his scar, and told Trish that Becka’s cruelty hurt more than the knife, and to that I say HA!! Manipulation, much? Becka rightfully says that isn’t fair, and asks Trisha whose side she is on anyway, not as rightfully. Trish says that Becka is being unfair, and Becka hangs up on her, thinking that she’s a traitor. The phone rings again, and Becka answers, immediately apologizing to Trish, but, big shock, it isn’t Trish. It’s a raspy voice saying “YOU KILLED BILL”.

Becka proceeds to go outside to sneak around Mr. Perkins’s house to see if she can see Honey. She looks in the window but just sees Mr. Perkins, asleep in front of the TV. She is startled by someone coming up behind her, but it’s just Lilah. Becka screams, but then wonders if she was too loud, expecting to see Mr. Perkins now staring out at them but he’s not. Becka asks Lilah what she’s doing there, and Lilah says she came to show her something, but before she can clarify Mr. Perkins HAS shown up at the window and starts yelling at them, saying that somehow all of this is Becka’s fault and asks where Honey is. Becka says she doesn’t know, and Mr. Perkins says he’ll call the cops on her if he catchers her prowling around his property. He closes the window and Becka and Lilah scamper away. They go up to Becka’s room, and Lilah says that she has to show her something. She pulls a newspaper clipping from her pocket, and shows it to her. It’s about a family annihilator named Kevin Paulson who murdered his wife Deidre and his son Harold, while Harold’s twin Hannah hid in the closet. Kevin then shot himself to death. Lilah reminds Becka that Harold and Hannah were in their grade, and that after the murder suicide Hannah went to live with an Uncle. Becka remembers how weird the twins were, and how badly Hannah wanted to be their friend. So much so that she followed them around and was a general nuisance. One day Becka was so sick of Hannah she tricked her. She asked Hannah if she wanted to join the Cool Club, and Hannah said yes. Becka told her the way to join was to get down on all fours and bark like a dog during a school assembly. So Hannah did so, crawling up on stage and barking like a dog. The school laughed and laughed. And then when she went to Becka’s house in triumph, Becka informed her that THERE WAS NO COOL CLUB. Hannah as crushed, and Becka never saw her again. Becka realizes that Hannah IS Honey. And THAT is why Honey hates her so much.

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That…. seems like a PISS POOR excuse for any of this. (source)

The phone rings and it’s the same voice. This time it tells Becka that it’s her best friend and that they’re coming to see her with something sharp. Fine. Whatever. BUT MAY I JUST SAY that there was absolutely NO reason to give this kind of backstory to Honey WHATSOEVER. Bitch, you are not Carrie White! This isn’t a legitimate moment that would lead to some kind of mental break! And also, which is it? Is Honey psychotic, or hell bent on psychopathic revenge?! It can’t realistically be both!

Becka meets with Dr. Perlberg asking for more sedatives. He lackadaisically gives them to her, and also encourages her to call the police. Becka says she will, and leaves her appointment with her prescription. She is then attacked by Honey in the parking lot! Honey keeps screaming that she’s Becka and slams Becka’s head on the ground over and over until Becka passes out. She comes to, and realizes that Honey must have thought she was dead.

She is later telling Trish about all of this. She went to the ER and called the police, but all the cops will do is up the regular patrol on her block (SERIOUSLY?). That Sunday Becka goes to a movie with Larry, but is on edge the whole time. After mistaking someone bumping into her as an attack, Larry offers to take her out for coffee and Becka says that it may help her calm down (coffee is, as we know, totally known for being a calming beverage). She says that Honey keeps calling her every night with her disguised voice. They get to the diner, and Becka once again freaks out when she thinks she sees Honey, but it’s just a waitress. Becka has a full on melt down and Larry takes her home. He asks her if she wants him to come in, but she declines. Unfortunately when she gets to her room, someone has smeared red stuff all over her things and has written on the wall THIS IS U.

The next evening Becka is hanging out with Trish and Lilah. The police are worthless, I guess, and for some reason Becka is still staying at her house. Lilah offers up her home, but Becka declines. The friends leave, and Becka tries to concentrate on homework while she waits for her Dad to come home. But of course, the phone rings, and when Becka answers it it’s the caller saying that they are coming tonight, so Becka should wait for her best friend. Becka is terrified and decides to make a break for it, but there’s someone on the other side of the door. But it’s just Bill. She says that Honey is coming to kill her, and he says that they can go hide in his uncle’s cabin in Fear Woods. The phone rings again, and this time it’s Lilah, Becka says she can’t talk, she’s going to Bill’s uncle’s cabin, and hangs up, and the two make a break for it.

They get to the cabin, Becka feeling a new affection for Bill as he is now her knight in shining armor, and he says he’ll go get firewood. While he’s gone, the phone rings, and Becka answers. It’s Lilah again, and she says that Becka didn’t give her a chance to tell her the good news! Honey’s been caught! She was captured two days ago, and it’s just coming out now because she hadn’t given the cops her name. They must have caught her right after she attacked Becka. But Becka realizes something very bad: if Honey was caught two days ago, who called her that night, and who wrecked her room? Then, Bill walks into the cabin with a strange look on his face, and he tells Becka to hang up the phone. Becka, realizing the danger, tries to dial 911, but Bill lunges at her. He rips the phone out of the wall. She asks him why he’s doing this, and he says that she should know why. She says he’s been calling her and he snuck into her room, and he says it wasn’t him… And then TRISH walks into the cabin. She’s been doing this because they’re supposed to be best friends, and Becka never came to visit her at the hospital when she broke her neck because Becka is SELF CENTERED AND SELFISH. Trish says that Becka dumped her and Bill, and real best friends don’t do that to each other. She then reveals a knife she’s been hiding behind her back, and Bill looks totally caught off guard because THAT wasn’t part of the plan! But Trish raises the knife and lunges for Becka. But stupid, creepy Bill throws himself between them, and Trish stabs him in the chest!! That’s two for two, Bill!!! Trish says that Becka stabbed him again (?????), and she lunges for Becka. They struggle, but Becka manages to get the upper hand. Becka manages to cut Trish’s throat (but it’s made VERY clear that it hasn’t been done fatally), and as police sirens start to wail Trish retreats to a corner and cowers while Becka cradles Bill and says that she promises to be a good friend to him as he takes her hand. The End.

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Body Count: 1, but maybe 2? I’m not sure about Bill’s survival this time around.

Romance Rating: 4? Becka seems to have a legitimate affection for Larry, but everyone else who has any kind of romantic feeling expresses their affection in unhealthy ways.

Bonkers Rating: 5, just because the first big twist was pretty good, even if I figured it out pretty fast. And then there was the big bonkers reveal about Honey’s origins, but that was so out there I was more frustrated than anything else.

Fear Street Relevance: 7. Becka still lives on Fear Street, and the final fight takes place in Fear Woods.

Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:

“‘Oh!’ I cried out as a sharp blade poked into my back.

‘No!’ Then the pain shot through by body, and I began to scream.”

… And it was some woman’s umbrella bumping into her.

That’s So Dated! Moments: The big one was that we once again used an actress as a visual description for a character, and this time around it was Claire Danes, fresh off her turn in “Romeo+Juliet”! A reference was also made to a volcano movie, and that could have either been “Dante’s Peak” OR “Volcano”!! And speaking of dated….

Best Quote:

“So I work as a waitress three evenings a week and every other Saturday at a place on Canyon Drive called The Hackers Cafe. It’s actually just a coffeehouse. But Mr. Arnold, the owner, put computers at the counter so that customers could surf the internet and send emails while they drink their coffee and eat their muffins and pastries.”

This description of an Internet Cafe is so perfectly of this time that I was chuckling like an idiot as I read it.

Conclusion: “Best Friend 2” wasn’t the shit show that I was anticipating, and even though the ending felt like things we’d seen before, at least it felt more satisfying than the end of the first book. Up next is “Trapped”, which also happens to be the final book in the original “Fear Street” Series! We will have a couple books left with a final special trilogy arc, but we’re nearing the end of our time with this classic series.

Kate’s Review: “Come Again”

36710841Book: “Come Again” by Nate Powell

Publishing Info: Top Shelf Productions, July 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: The first and only comic book artist ever to win a National Book Award returns with a haunting tale of intimacy, guilt, and collective amnesia.

As the sun sets on the 1970s, the spirit of the Love Generation still lingers among the aging hippies of one “intentional community” high in the Ozarks. But what’s missing?

Under impossibly close scrutiny, two families wrestle with long-repressed secrets… while deep within those Arkansas hills, something monstrous stirs, ready to feast on village whispers.

Nate Powell, artist of the National Book Award-winning March trilogy returns with a new creator-owned graphic novel.

Review: I have read a couple of graphic novels that Nate Powell did the artwork on, and given that one of those was the stupendous “March” Trilogy I hold him in high regard. I first heard about his new graphic novel, “Come Again”, at work, when a coworker had requested it and couldn’t remember why. When she told me what it was about and who wrote it, I requested it myself. Not only was I interested in a supernatural story that takes place on a commune in the fading days of communes, I was also curious to see what Nate Powell would do as a writer as well as an illustrator.

“Come Again” has a number of themes that it addresses, and some of these themes work better than others. I will start with the aspects that I liked, because I liked them a lot. Our main character, Haluska, has lived in an Ozark based ‘intentional community’ (or as some laymen may call it, a commune) with her close friends and son Jake for the greater part of the 1970s. The idealistic 1960s are long over, though when Hal, her ex Gus, and their friends Adrian and Whitney first started living there it was 1971, and the world seemed filled with possibility. Now we are at the end of the decade, and though the community remains it has shrunk considerably, and Hal has been carrying on an affair with Adrian that is based in an underground cave they found in the forest. Their affair doesn’t seem to have much joy or passion to it, though neither seem willing to give it up, even though they have to take it literally underground. Haluska certainly feels guilt, but not enough to end it, and her attachment to a comfortable relationship that may not be what it used to be resonates within the greater storyline. The ideals of the Love movement, and the commune itself, are fading away, and with that change comes uncertainty and the impulse to cling harder to something that may not be there anymore. There was a moment that I found to be quite powerful, when Hal and Adrian go into town to sell goods at a farmer’s market. Their somewhat strained relationship with the ‘traditional’ town has been buoyed by the give and take system they have with each other. But on this specific day, a local band has been booked to perform. They happen to be a punk band, and their angry song of rebellion angers the townsfolk, but connects with Hal in ways she may not totally understand in that moment. Knowing that the 80s are coming, and the cynical and predatory social changes that are in store, it feels like a greater reflection of what’s to come, though Hal may not know it. These aspects of this book, of isolation, and guilt, and the secrets we keep from even the ones we love most, worked supremely well for me.

It was the dark fantasy and supernatural elements that fell a bit flat. There is something living in the cave that Hal and Adrian use, a disembodied voice that sinks into the various pages. After Hal’s son Justin and Adrian’s son Shane find the cave, Shane is lost within the depths, depths that may not be there all the time. This, of course, helps feed into Hal’s guilt about her affair with his father, but then it becomes clear that something supernatural is going on that only Hal can see. While I usually really like strange supernatural elements (and am enough of a ghoul that missing people is a theme that I like), I didn’t feel that this part of the book was as strong as it could have been. We don’t know what it is that is living in this cave, we don’t know why the spell it casts manifests in the way that it does, and as we see the consequences of the disappearance and spell start to unfold, we don’t really get answers as to why or how it’s happening. I understand that ambiguity is a key component of a story like this, and I can appreciate it to a point, but in this story I was left more confused than anything else. It ultimately leads to a sacrifice that Hal has to make, and though I understood the resonance of the sacrifice it also felt a bit like a cop out when it came to her having to own up to some of her past mistakes (and the mistakes that others have made as well). I think if the story had leaned in more to the magical or supernatural system I would have liked that part more, but it could have easily functioned as a historical fiction meditation on self, secrets, and guilt.

But Nate Powell’s style is still very unique and stands out in my mind. I liked seeing how he used shades, shadows, and a semi-realistic stylization to tell this story. I especially liked how the disembodied voice of the monster/whatever was written, in ways that made it seem like it was literally floating on the wind.

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“Come Again” was a book that didn’t quite give me what I want from the premise and author. It certainly had strong moments, but overall it didn’t have to ghostly oomph I expected.

Rating 6: While I enjoyed the broader themes of isolation, secrets, and guilt, the supernatural elements left much to be desired.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Come Again” isn’t on many Goodreads lists, but it is included on “NPR’s Best Books of 2018”.

Find “Come Again” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “She Was The Quiet One”

36476218Book: “She Was The Quiet One” by Michele Campbell

Publishing Info: St Martin’s Press, July 2018

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

Book Description: From the author of It’s Always the Husband comes a riveting new suspense audiobook about privilege, power, and what happens when we let ambition take control. 

For Rose Enright, enrolling in a prestigious New England boarding school is the opportunity of a lifetime. But for Rose’s vulnerable twin sister Bel, Odell Academy is a place of temptation and danger. When Bel falls in with a crowd of wild rich kids who pressure her into hazing Rose, the sisters’ relationship is shattered. Rose turns to her dorm mother, Sarah Donovan, for advice. But Bel turns to Sarah’s husband Heath, a charismatic and ambitious teacher. Is Heath trying to help Bel or take advantage of her? In a world of privilege, seduction, and manipulation, only one sister will live to tell the truth.

In an audiobook full of twists, turns, and dark secrets, Michele Campbell once again proves her skill at crafting intricately spun and completely compelling plots.

Review: Michele Campbell was an author who came out of nowhere for me. I saw the book title “It’s Always the Husband” on my twitter feed, and such a bold statement (that, sadly, feels all to true sometimes) as a book title absolutely caught my eye. I requested it on audiobook, and when I was finished with it I was, for the most part, happy with it, and therefore chomping at the bit for whatever story Campbell would come out with next. So when I saw “She Was The Quiet One” pop up on my Goodreads feed, I had to request the audiobook post haste! Not only was it a new book by a promising thriller author, it also took place at a BOARDING SCHOOL! A BOARDING SCHOOL FILLED WITH SCANDAL AND AWFUL PEOPLE!

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Love those rotten rich high school kids! (source)

I had to wait since I opted for an eAudiobook, but when “She Was The Quiet One” finally came in, I started it, expecting to have the same interest as I did to the previous novel. That is, a nice listen while driving from Point A to Point B, or while at the gym. What I didn’t anticipate was not turning my phone off when I was done with those fleeting moments, and continuing to listen while in the walls of my home. That kind of devotion is usually reserved for podcasts, but the likes of “My Favorite Murder” and “Last Podcast on the Left” took backseat to an audiobook. Yes, “She Was The Quiet One” was that addictive.

The structure of this novel is told from a few different perspectives. The first two are of Rose and Bel Enright, the twin sisters whose mother’s death has sent them to live with an estranged grandmother, and then be shipped off to an elite boarding school. These fraternal twins are not only different in appearance, but also personality, as Rose is driven and ambitious and Bel is sullen and rebellious. We know from the jump that one of them is dead, and it’s through their flashbacks that we start to get the story of what happened. The next perspective is that of Sarah, a math teacher at the exclusive boarding school Odell Academy, and the wife of Heath, an English teacher there. They are also the heads of the Moreland dorm, the building where Rose and Bel are housed, and the ‘problem’ dorm because of the most spoiled students living there. The final perspective is that of police interviews in the wake of the death of one of the twins. As these four perspectives come through the pieces of the expansive mystery fall into place at a compelling pace, and they each revealed themselves precisely when needed. More often than not I can see various twists and turns coming from a mile away, but in “She Was The Quiet One” I felt as though I was kept guessing, for the most part. Sure, here or there I was able to guess, but not to the point where I was bored. On the contrary, even if I did guess right I loved the journey of getting to the solution so I didn’t feel short changed.

All of the perspective characters had their distinct voices and personalities, and while none of the perspective characters were ‘likable’ per se, I did find all of them to be realistic, and had empathy for all of them and was invested in their various outcomes. And Campbell did a good job of capturing the various hardships that both Rose and Bel faced, and while they were on completely different ends of the conflict at hand, I understood both of their perspectives and sympathized for both of them. Even when I wanted to shake them. Sarah, too, was a character that I had complete sympathy for, even when she sometimes drove me mad with her decisions and her inability to see stark truths in front of her face. While the twins had a more compelling story, hers was also an important one to the ultimate narrative. The supporting characters felt more two dimensional to me. From the wretched popular girls Bel was hanging out with to the ambiguous (for awhile) Heath, none of them showed much depth beyond the plot points that they needed to fill. What Heath had going for him was that we got to see multiple perceptions of him depending on who the perspective was from, but in the end he has a very specific characterization that falls into familiar tropes of the thriller genre of this ilk.

January LaVoy was the audiobook narrator for “She Was The Quiet One”, and I thought that she did a superb job with the cast of characters and the tone. She had very distinct voices for each person, and her emotions really came through during the highest moments of tension.

And I also need to mention a content warning: there is a scene in this book that depicts a rape. It isn’t very long and it isn’t terribly graphic, but it was uncomfortable and hard to listen to.

“She Was The Quiet One” is another addictive and compelling thriller mystery from an author that thriller fans really ought to be familiar with. If you haven’t picked up Michele Campbell yet, this is the book to read.

Rating 8: An addictive and immersive thriller that hit all of my reading guilty pleasures, “She Was The Quiet One” was a book that I almost couldn’t put down.

Reader’s Advisory:

“She Was The Quiet One” is included on the Goodreads lists “Twin Thrillers”, and “The Best of Prep”.

Find “She Was The Quiet One” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Wet Hot American Summer”

38749157Book: “Wet Hot American Summer” by Christopher Hastings and Noah Hayes (Ill.)

Publishing Info: BOOM!Studios, November 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: It’s time to shut up and return to Camp Firewood in the first-ever, all-new original graphic novel for the beloved, cult classic, Wet Hot American Summer. To tell you all about it, here’s Camp Director Beth.
 
“Well guys, we made it through the first week of camp in one piece . . . except for a few campers who now are lepers. Anyway, so I gave the Camp Firewood counselors the night off to head into town to do whatever it is teenagers do and some old coot—excuse me, old sea hag whore face—called the fuzz, which led to a surprise camp inspection! Not only did they find out that we have a kid who doesn’t shower but apparently the entire camp isn’t up to code! Now we have 24 hours to clean up our act or they’re going to shut down Camp Firewood. Luckily, I have the best counselors in the whole wide world…wait, where are those little jackasses…in town still?! We are so screwed…”

There you go! Join Beth, Coop, Katie, Andy, Susie, Gene, Nancy, Victor, Ben, McKinley, J.J., Gary, Gail, and probably some other people in this unforgettably tender story of camp spirit and spreading mud on your ass written by the hilarious, deliciously irreverent Christopher Hastings (Deadpool) and illustrated by artistic dungeon master Noah Hayes (Goldie Vance). What are you waiting for? Go read it.

Review: If you were to ask me what my favorite movie was, I would immediately say “Wet Hot American Summer”. This wacky ensemble camp comedy is a cult classic, and has so many people in it who either were comedic favorites at the time (Janeane Garofalo and David Hyde Pierce) , or became comedic favorites as time went on (Paul Rudd, Amy Poehler, Bradley Cooper, the list goes ON). In 2015 Netflix produced a prequel miniseries called “First Day of Camp” in which almost the entire original cast came back to reprise their roles, and I loved every minute of it. They somehow managed to recapture the charm, irreverence, heart, and humor of the cult classic in spite of the fifteen year gap. Then in 2017 they tried again with a sequel series called “Ten Years Later”… And I wasn’t terribly impressed. At that point it felt forced, and like it was beating a dead horse. So when I heard about a graphic novel story about “Wet Hot American Summer”, with a whole new plot but familiar characters during the same 1981 summer, I was stoked, but hesitant. While I welcome new WHAS content, it wasn’t the original writers. Would it go the way of “First Day of Camp”, or “Ten Years Later”?

I’m happy to report my fears were for nothing. Because “Wet Hot American Summer”, the graphic novel, was mostly a delight.

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And there was much rejoicing. (source)

The plot is pretty simple, even if it’s outlandish. Which, as a WHAS story, it needs to be. A night on the town from the teenage counselors leaves a local woman scandalized, which leads to a camp inspection. Camp Firewood has one day to fix all of the problems of the camp will be shut down for good. Is there any suspense about whether or not this will happen? Of course not. Is it fun seeing various characters have a week’s worth of nonsensical misadventures in one day’s time? Hell yes. Christopher Hastings, the writer, does a fantastic job of creating ludicrous situations and tidbits that feel like any of the random non sequiturs that the original creators and writers would have done. From a long forgotten boy’s wash house of spa like proportions to a number of campers who go feral, the antics are at a very outlandish, and therefore WHAS level. And while the stakes in terms of the eventual outcome of the camp’s survival aren’t exactly high, Hastings still built suspense regarding friendships and interactions, which did keep me a little nervous and on edge. My dear sweet sweethearts Ben and McKinley are fighting?! NOOOO!

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I am far too invested in these precious, precious cuties. (source)

In terms of the characterizations of the cast, Hastings overall did a pretty good job of writing them the way they are supposed to be. Coop is still a hopeless idealistic, Susie is still a theater obsessed control freak, Andy is still a bad boy doofus, and Gene, well… is Gene. It felt like David Wain and Michael Showalter themselves brought us a whole new story, they were all so spot on. If I did have an issue with this book, it would be that the distribution of character focus was a little unbalanced. While we would get a lot of focus on Andy, or Ben and Susie, or Beth and Gene, we barely saw anything from other characters, and sadly it was mostly women, like Katie and Lindsay and Abby Bernstein. I know that you can only do so much with a huge swath of characters, all of them amazing, and only so many pages, but it was still a little disappointing that it was women who were more likely to fall to the wayside. Especially since Lindsay played such an important role in “First Day of Camp” (whether this followed the canon of “FDOC” isn’t very clear; there are some hints but nothing is said outright in reference to it).

I also should probably mention that if you have no working knowledge of WHAS and what it tries to do, this will probably seem nonsensical and insane. It is definitely written for fans of the movie and various shows, and while it nails it for the fans, if there is no familiarity of it from the reader they will almost assuredly be lost, and perhaps frustrated. There are tiny throwbacks and Easter eggs within the narrative that make it extra fun for people like me, but I can’t imagine that the completely ridiculous plot and exaggerated characters will resonate for those who have never seen the movie. And along with that, if the wackiness of the movie didn’t appeal to you, there is no way that this graphic novel would.

The illustrations, done by Noah Hayes, are the perfect design for the tone of the story. They feel like a mix of YA favorites such as Raina Telgemeier and the over exaggerated emotions of manga or manga inspired narratives that Bryan Lee O’Malley might make.

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Coop continues to be adorable, even in comic form. (source)

“Wet Hot American Summer” was a funny and heart filled revisit to my favorite summer camp. I would love it if Hastings and Hayes teamed up to bring us more stories from Camp Firewood, but even if this was it, I’d be happy with what we have.

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Show me the fever, into the fire, taking it hiiigher and hiiiiighter.. (source)

Rating 8: A fun romp of new content for my favorite movie, “Wet Hot American Summer” does a pretty great job of capturing the humor and irreverence of Camp Firewood and its staff!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Wet Hot American Summer” isn’t included on any Goodreads lists, but I think that it would fit in on “Books Set During the Summer”.

Find “Wet Hot American Summer” at your library using WorldCat!

A Revisit to Fear Street: “Into the Dark”

176586Book: “Into the Dark” (Fear Street #49) by R.L. Stine

Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, 1997

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

Book Description: Paulette Fox refuses to let her blindness stop her from living a full life. But one thing she’s never done is fall in love – until now. Paulette knows Brad Jones is the only guy for her. Even when her friends see Brad commit a horrible crime, Paulette is sure that he’s innocent. Her friends tell her he’s out of control, that she will be his next victim. But Paulette is sure he would never hurt her.

Is Paulette right about Brad? Or has her love put her in terrible danger?

Had I Read This Before: No.

The Plot: Before I go into this, I just want to say that if you want to experience some actually suspenseful thrillers with blind women in peril, just go watch “Wait Until Dark” or “Jennifer 8”. I do think that necessary conversations should be had about casting actors without disabilities as characters who have disabilities, just as there should also be conversations about who should be writing stories about disabled characters. But since these conversations weren’t getting attention in 1997, let’s continue with the break down of this late series “Fear Street” book.

First there is a prologue section in which the third person narrator alerts us that there is a mysterious guy who likes ‘spying on the blind girl’. Then we meet said blind girl, Paulette Fox, who is being dropped off at her music lesson by her friend Jonathan. Paulette likes that Jonathan doesn’t treat her like she’s fragile because she’s blind, and wishes that everyone could be like him. He asks her what gym class she’s going to sign up for, and she says self defense, and Mr. Doesn’t Treat Her Like She’s Fragile is worried when she says self defense because it’s ‘dangerous’. Paulette has been blind since she was a baby, dude, I’m pretty sure that she has adapted and adjusted to the world enough that she can take self defense classes, but I get the feeling this is going to be a theme of the book. Jonathan drops her off so he can go find a parking spot, and Paulette starts to walk up the slope towards the doors, when someone suddenly knocks her to the ground. Caught off guard she asks what happened, and the person tells her that a car was just about to hit her so he pushed her aside (we get our first inconsistency here; Stine just spent time describing how Paulette could hear the sounds of distant music from inside the school because her other senses are so adept, but she couldn’t hear a car on pavement that was about to hit her?). Another guy says that the emergency brake must have broken because there was no driver and the car just haphazardly crashed. Guy number 1 offers to take her to the ER (she’s FINE, dude!), but she declines, and he tells her that he’s happy he got to her in time, and addresses her by name. She says she doesn’t recognize his voice, and he says he knows her because EVERYONE knows Paulette at Shadyside High, and he’s a senior named Brad Jones, who’s a new student. She asks if he also takes lessons at the music academy, but he says that while he plays, he can’t afford it and is a part time janitor there instead. Jonathan joins them, and he knows Brad from English class. Paulette explains what happened, and Jonathan offers to take her home, but she says she’d prefer to go to her lesson. Once that’s over, Brad catches up with her and asks for her phone number. Paulette is over the moon and gives it to him, but Jonathan is skeptical. Once Brad heads off, Jonathan tells Paulette that there are rumors swirling at school about Brad and his old town of Springfield. People are saying he was involved with a robbery and that’s why he had to move! Paulette doesn’t believe it one bit because he was nice to her! So how could he possibly be a bad guy?

That night as Paulette gets ready for bed we get a pretty thorough and from what I can tell realistic portrayal of how Paulette’s life is around her house. There are mentions of Braille coded hangers, consistent placements of furniture and objects, and what can happen if things are left out of place. The phone rings and it’s Cindy, Paulette’s other best friend. Cindy asks Paulette about Brad (as Jonathan has a big fat mouth), and Paulette says that she’s hot to trot. Cindy isn’t sure that it’s sure a good idea given the rumors, but Paulette just says that Jonathan is way too overprotective of her (SO WHICH IS IT? Is he overprotective, or one of the few people who doesn’t treat her like she could break?). They say their goodbyes and hang up. After Paulette daydreams about Bran awhile, the phone rings again, and when she answers the caller says it’s Brad giving her a call! She’s surprised and asks why he’s talking so lowly, and he says he’s at a friend’s house, and then says he can’t stop thinking about her and says that she’s the one he’s been looking for, and wants to know if she feels the same way about him? Paulette is a little put off, and says they JUST met, but he says he has to know if she feels the same way about him. When she doesn’t answer, he hangs up.

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Perfectly acceptable behavior, no red flags or anything. (source)

Now we’re at school, and Paulette is doing awesome at her first self defense class. The teacher isn’t going easy on her and is telling her it’s about anticipating and concentrating, and once they’re done she tells Paulette that she still needs the signed permission slip from her parents. Paulette isn’t sure her parents will sign off, but says she will bring it in ASAP. After she gets all cleaned up it’s lunch time, and Paulette heads to the cafeteria. She’s always had a great sense of smell, so she knows what lunch is going to be just by the scent. She finds an empty table by listening to the noise levels, and waits for her friends to arrive. Cindy is first, who has the hot gossip like usual, and Paulette admits that her mind is elsewhere because she’s been thinking about Brad. She confides in Cindy about the strange phone call and how he sounded different in both voice and what he said. But before they can explore this more, Brad shows up, and Cindy, being a true wingman, makes her exit. Paulette decides not to bring up the weird phone call, and they have a nice chat. He then puts her hands on his face so that she can get a feel for how he looks, and she notices that he has a scar on his eyebrow but is otherwise pretty handsome. He says that no one can see the scar, so her senses are very well tuned. They talk about piano and he says that he doesn’t own one but is trying to practice. She invites him over to practice on hers, but he gets quiet and declines, saying that he found a piano he can use at any time. It’s in an abandoned house on Fear Street! WELCOME BACK, FEAR STREET! I feel like it’s been far too long since we’ve had any kind of mention of you!

Walking home that day Paulette thinks about the abandoned piano and the weird phone call. She gets home and remembers that her parents are going to be out late that night, and settles in to handle the house herself. She gets to her room, and runs into her waste basket. Figuring she bumped it without knowing, she goes back downstairs to practice piano. Cindy arrives soon after to work on a school project, and Paulette says they can go work in her room. But when they enter it, Cindy suddenly freaks out. She tells Paulette that someone has written all over the walls with red paint, and the phrase is ‘You Will Be Dead, Blind Girl’!!!! Paulette asks Cindy if anything else looks out of place, but Cindy says no. Paulette goes to where Cindy says it is written, and feels the paint with her hands. Cindy says that the person who did this might still be here, and Paulette says that they should investigate! They arm themselves and start looking. I would get sanctimonious about how they should call the cops, but back in college I was living in a house with some roommates and one day a roommate and I were convinced we saw someone in our kitchen (we had all the doors and windows open due to an oven cleaning mishap). Instead of calling the police on the potential intruder we grabbed knives and went to flush them out. We didn’t find anyone (a strange outcome, as there was definitely someone in the kitchen and there was no where to escape without us seeing), but it was foolish of us to do that. Anyway, Paulette and Cindy also come up empty, and Cindy thinks they need to tell someone. But Paulette says that her parents are SOOOO overprotective they will surely blow this whole thing out of proportion. But Paulette, this isn’t them maybe being worried about you taking self defense, this is a LITERAL THREAT AGAINST YOUR PERSON AND A BREAKING AND ENTERING SITUATION. But Cindy agrees, and they start to cover up the entire thing.

The next morning over breakfast Paulette gives her parents the permission slip for her self defense class. They predictably waffle on whether or not she can handle it, but she convinces them that she can, so they sign. As she’s walking to school she thinks that she better not tell them about Brad yet, given that there are those pesky rumors about him being a criminal. As she’s walking she suddenly hears shoes running up behind her. She calls out a greeting, but gets no answer. Then she’s suddenly shoved into oncoming traffic. She isn’t hit, but a car does spin out trying to avoid her. The woman in the car asks Paulette if she’s okay, and Paulette says yes. The woman offers to drive her home, but before Paulette can undoubtedly decline because her parents are SO overprotective, she’s helped up by Brad, who sounds like he has a cold. Brad says that he can take her to school, and says that he was across the street and saw the whole thing. He says he saw Paulette trip. When Paulette tells him that someone pushed her, he says no, he didn’t see anyone, she pretty clearly tripped. He then pulls her into a creepy hug, and asks if she thinks about him as much as he thinks about her. She shoves him away and asks what’s wrong with him, but he just gives her back her cane and runs off.

At the library that afternoon Paulette is thinking about the strange encounter with Brad. Jonathan and Cindy ask her why she’s so spacey, and she doesn’t tell them about what happened that morning. Brad then comes up to them and asks Paulette if they can talk. She agrees, warily, and he asks her if she would come hear him play the abandoned piano on Fear Street that night. She isn’t certain, but now Brad seems perfectly normal, so she says sure. He says that he was happy he saw her because he was thinking about her, and she said that they saw each other that morning. He soundss confused, and has to go back to class before they can discuss it more.

Cut to Paulette getting off at the Fear Street bus stop. Brad is there to pick her up and walk with her to the abandoned house, and Paulette notes to herself that Fear Street even has a different smell from the other streets in town, and I personally really like that tidbit. They get to the house, and the door is easy to open. Not only that, in a convenient twist of fate, while the electricity is out, the gas was never turned off, so it’s nice and warm! He tells her that there’s rumors that the person who owned the house was a music teacher whose family was murdered, and the piano was left behind. We get new tidbits about other hauntings in the area, and man, I missed this aspect of these books, it’s been too long. They start to play, but then they hear noises upstairs. Brad says he’ll go check it out, and she can hear him moving around upstairs. Then there’s a slam, and shouting, and footsteps running down the steps, and a door slamming. And then that’s it. Paulette calsl out for Brad, but gets no answer. She decides to try and find him in this house that she’s never been to, and uses her cane to explore the space. She eventually finds a staircase, and is about to climb it, but then someone grabs her from behind! It’s Jonathan! He tells her the staircase is rotted out and it could collapse, and she asks what he’s doing there. He admits that he followed her there, and started to get worried when the flashlight they were using stopped moving around. Jonathan says he’ll go check the house, but doesn’t find Brad. Brad’s gone. She says that he wouldn’t have ditched her in an abandoned house, and yet… that’s exactly what he did. When she and Jonathan get to his car she demands to know why he followed her. He says that he thought it was weird she was getting on a bus, and then when he saw she was meeting Brad he wanted to be sure she was safe because of the rumors about him. She says she can hang out with whomever she wants and he says he can worry about his friends, and Paulette wonders if Jonathan is hiding something. And I mean, sure, he has serious boundary issues and a hero complex, but the fact that she’s questioning HIM over the guy who has been a total weirdo the entire time she’s known him, that seems misguided to me. Once she gets home she waits for Brad to call with an explanation as to why he ditched her in an unfamiliar place, but no such phone call is to be had.

At lunch the next day Paulette and Brad finally meet up, and he says that he was ‘really sorry’ about the night before and didn’t mean for it to end up like that. She calls him out on it, but he doesn’t have any better explanation of reasoning. He also tells her that he can’t see her anymore. She asks him to tell her what is going on, but he balks and says that he ‘can’t let this happen again!’, and runs out of the cafeteria.

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Frankly this is how the story should end, but we still have half of the book left. (source)

That evening Paulette is moping and her friends ask her why. She tells them about Brad, and they both agree that it’s probably better this way, and Paulette doesn’t like that one bit. She tells them about how weird he acted after the car incident, and they both say that he is BAD NEWS, but Paulette doesn’t want to believe it. She goes home and her mom tells her that her grandmother fell and broke some bones, and so for the next few nights her parents are going to have to be out late taking care of her. They ask if she wants to stay and her aunt’s house, but Paulette says no. She waits for Brad to call, but he doesn’t. As she’s trying to fall asleep, she hears a scratching at the window. She gets up the shut it, but then someone grabs her! She begins to scream, calling for her parents for help, but of course whoever it is lets her go and by the time her parents arrive she’s alone. But instead of coming clean about everything (and this would be the perfect time to do so), she just says she had a BAD DREAM and that everything is okay. Her Dad goes to check the window anyway, and then finds a ring on the floor. It says ‘B.J.’, and those are Brad’s initials! Paulette lies and says she was holding the ring for a friend of hers and just forgot to give it back, and they believe her. Paulette doesn’t understand! How can Brad be so sweet and thoughtful one moment, and then trying to hurt her the next?!

At Pete’s Pizza the next day Paulette, Cindy, and Jonathan are talking about Student Council, but Paulette is so sulky the others discern that she’s still upset about Brad. Jonathan tells her that Brad dropped out of school (how Paulette didn’t hear this is beyond me). Paulette is upset, but Cindy says that this is probably a good thing because Brad turned out to be such an unstable creep. Then, someone in a mask bursts into Pete’s Pizza and holds up the place!! He also says that everyone has to hand over their cash! Paulette’s backpack slipped to the floor, and as she’s trying to find it the gunman gets antsy about her movements. Jonathan stands up to try to explain that she can’t see where her backpack is, and then the gunman shoots him! He then tells a girl (Ann Johnson, Paulette recognizes her voice) to gather up the valuables as Cindy and Paulette try to stop the blood from pouring out of Jonathan’s body. They hear police sirens, and a scuffle ensues, and Cindy tells Paulette that two guys unmasked the gunman… And it’s Brad!! The police arrive and an ambulance crew hauls Jonathan away, and the police say that they need to ask some questions. A number of people say that Brad was the gunman, but Paulette realizes that it wasn’t Brad’s voice that was yelling at everyone, and she remembers that the gunman’s scent wasn’t like Brad’s scent. Paulette decides to pipe in and says that it wasn’t Brad, but the police officers are…. skeptical to say the least. Paulette tries to explain that voices are like faces to her and that she knew that Ann Johnson was there just by her voice, which Ann confirms. The police still don’t listen, and radio out a request for a warrant for his arrest.

As Paulette and Cindy wait at Cindy’s house for news about Jonathan, they argue about whether or not it was Brad. But they get the call that Jonathan is going to be okay, and they both are too relieved to be too mad at each other about their differing opinions. Cindy asks if Paulette is going to tell her parents about all of this, and Paulette says she’ll tell them about the robbery but nothing about her and Brad. Paulette also says that she has to warn Brad that the police are looking for him, and the argument is back on. Paulette asks Cindy to drive her to the Music Academy since Brad works there, but Cindy refuses at first, but then agrees once Paulette says she will just walk then. They get to the school and ask if Brad is there, but one of the music teachers says that Brad never showed up for work. Paulette suggests that they check the locker room, and Cindy reluctantly agrees. They go to the locker room, and Cindy narrates what she finds in the locker that says ‘Jones’, and let me tell ya, it’s incriminating AF. There are a bunch of newspaper clippings about robberies in Springfield, Brad’s old town, of businesses and homes, and it names Brad as the number one suspect. Paulette laments how she could have been so wrong about him.

As Paulette is trying to fall asleep that night she pretends not to hear her mother ask if she’s okay. Then her phone rings, and it’s Brad. He tells her that he knows that it looks bad, but he’s innocent! And he can’t tell her why or how, but he just wants her to know that he didn’t do it. Oh, and that things are going to get pretty bad in the next few days….

The next evening after her parents have left to go check on grandma, Paulette is sitting in the backyard trying to do homework. She’s having a hard time concentrating, as she can’t stop thinking about Brad, but she she hears an out of place noise. She turns off her recording, and listens. She hears footsteps. She calls out, hoping it’s a neighbor or a stray animal, but we know better, don’t we? She then hears heavy breathing right next to her ear, and when she tries to get up to grab one of the handrails that should be there, they’re gone! Without any sort of marker for where she is in the backyard, she becomes completely disoriented. She knows that someone is watching her as she tries to find her way to something familiar, and this is actually a very effective scene and one of the better done moments of suspense in a long time within this series. She eventually gets hold of a landscaping stone she recognizes, and can get back into the house handily once she’s oriented again. She locks all the doors and windows and calls Cindy. Cindy rushes right over, and when Paulette asks her if the backyard looks different she says no, which means whoever was stalking her put everything back. Cindy suggests that Paulette call the police (YES, CALL THE POLICE), but Paulette doesn’t see the point. Cindy asks if she wants to stay at her house at least, and Paulette says no. Then Cindy gasps, and turns up the TV. Someone just robbed a store that is two blocks from Paulette’s house, and the description matches that of Brad Jones! The address he gave the school isn’t a real address and he’s considered armed and dangerous. Cindy practically begs Paulette to come stay with her, but Paulette still refuses. Cindy says she will at least call the check in later, and leaves.

Paulette is playing the piano to calm her nerves when the phone rings. It’s Brad! He says that he called to apologize, and his voice is so weak that Paulette can barely hear him. He tells her that he needs to tell her the truth: he has a twin brother named Ed! And Ed has been jealous of him his entire life and made things really hard to Brad wherever they lived!

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I feel like this was published the same year that “The Simpsons” Tree House of Horror also did an evil twin episode. Justice for Hugo! (source)

He says that the police are after him for things Ed did, and that’s why he moved to Shadyside. And he arrived the same time that Brad did, and saw Paulette and decided that she was his girlfriend. Ed’s the one who’s been stalking her and committing the crimes. He says that he and Ed fought and Ed hurt him, and he needs a doctor. Paulette says she can call the cops but he says he’ll be arrested. He needs to get to Ed first, then they can call the cops. He asks for her help and says he’s at the house on Fear Street, and then hangs up.

Paulette arrives at Fear Street and gets off the bus. She remembered the step count from the last time she was there, and makes her way to the house. She calls for Brad and hears him upstairs. She remembers what Jonathan said about the staircase, and slowly climbs it. When she finds Brad he tells her she has to help him trap his brother, who will be back soon. He says that when they hear the door open she should call to him, and he will come to her because he’s so obsessed. She agrees. When they hear him call for her, Brad says that he will knock him out as soon as he walks through the door. So Paulette calls for him. And indeed, as soon as he calls for her, she calls back, and she hears him run up the steps and into the room, followed by a thwack and a thud. Brad asks her to help tie him up, and she does. Soon Ed comes to, and he starts to freak out, but not for the reasons you’d expect. It’s because he’s claiming that HE is Brad, and that the guy Paulette just helped is Ed!! The twins argue both claiming to be Brad, but Paulette knows how she’ll figure it out! THE SCAR! She walks up to the standing twin and asks to touch his face. And whoops, wouldn’t you know it. No scar. Ed confirms he was the intruder at the window, he was the one who pushed her into traffic, who moved things in her backyard, who painted the message in her room. All because she was falling for BRAD, like they always do! And now she smells the cinnamon on him like she did at Pete’s Pizza (though I would have thought that she would have smelled it on a number of occasions when there was confusion given that her sense of smell has been so hyped up). Ed ties Paulette up because now she knows too much, and we get some lame thrown together reasoning for why there are no parents (both are dead) in this entire kerfuffle. Ed turns on the gas valve. He says once they’re both unconscious he’ll untie Brad to frame him for this whole thing. He’s going to take the money and skedaddle. Paulette decides to make a gambit of a move, and asks Ed to take her with him because she’s been in love with him the whole time! After some convincing he agrees, and tells her to hold up this flashlight while he pulls the fireplace apart to grab the stash. She does for a bit, but then smashes the flashlight against the hearth, making the room go black. Then we get a “Wait Until Dark” rip off moment as they play cat and mouse in the dark, and all you have to know is Audrey Hepburn and Alan Arkin did it better. Eventually at the top of the steps Ed grabs her, but her self defense skills kick in, and she waits until he’s off guard and slams into him. He pushes her towards the steps, and she pulls him with her. She swings him around and then tosses him down the steps as she flies back and lands on the top floor landing. Ed is not as lucky. She crawls back to where Brad is based on her memory, and helps him up, using his eyes to get them down the steps and past Ed’s broken dead body. They get outside just as the police arrive. The policeman asks if they’re okay, and Brad says that he feels like he’s ‘finally coming out of the dark.’ The End.

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This is dumb on multiple levels. (source)

Body Count: 1. And his twin wasn’t very broken up about it either!

Romance Rating: 5. Brad wasn’t a homicidal maniac, but he sure kept a LOT of secrets from Paulette that could have prevented her from getting hurt…

Bonkers Rating: 7. The sudden evil twin reveal was pretty out there, but I don’t think it was in a good way.

Fear Street Relevance: 7! As if Stine realized that he’d been neglecting Fear Street as of late, we got some good action sequences there AND got some good reminders and new mythologies as to why it’s such a scaaaary place.

Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:

“And it was obvious to Paulette that Brad was in terrible, terrible danger.”

…. And then that’s all she has to say about that in that moment. Even if this was true, Paulette should have been thinking that perhaps Brad was part of the terrible, terrible danger in some way, shape, or form.

That’s So Dated! Moments: Paulette, Cindy, and Jonathan are watching a generic slasher movie on VHS and if that didn’t take me back to high school, I don’t know what would. Also the outdated and offensive term ‘handicapped’ is used to describe Paulette.

Best Quote:

“‘Great film!’ Jonathan said.

‘If you like swimming pools full of blood,’ Cindy commented.”

Ooh! Me! I like swimming pools full of blood!

Conclusion: “Into the Dark” was just kinda boring for the most part, and I did call the big twist pretty early on. But it wasn’t as abysmal as some of the late game “Fear Street” books. You could do worse. Up next is “The Best Friend 2”! We’re nearing the end of the original run!

Kate’s Review: “American Kingpin”

31920777Book: “American Kingpin: The Epic Hunt for the Criminal Mastermind Behind the Silk Road” by Nick Bilton

Publishing Info: Portfolio, May 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: In 2011, a twenty-six-year-old libertarian programmer named Ross Ulbricht launched the ultimate free market: the Silk Road, a clandestine Web site hosted on the Dark Web where anyone could trade anything–drugs, hacking software, forged passports, counterfeit cash, poisons–free of the government’s watchful eye.
It wasn’t long before the media got wind of the new Web site where anyone–not just teenagers and weed dealers but terrorists and black hat hackers–could buy and sell contraband detection-free. Spurred by a public outcry, the federal government launched an epic two-year manhunt for the site’s elusive proprietor, with no leads, no witnesses, and no clear jurisdiction. All the investigators knew was that whoever was running the site called himself the Dread Pirate Roberts.

The Silk Road quickly ballooned into $1.2 billion enterprise, and Ross embraced his new role as kingpin. He enlisted a loyal crew of allies in high and low places, all as addicted to the danger and thrill of running an illegal marketplace as their customers were to the heroin they sold. Through his network he got wind of the target on his back and took drastic steps to protect himself–including ordering a hit on a former employee. As Ross made plans to disappear forever, the Feds raced against the clock to catch a man they weren’t sure even existed, searching for a needle in the haystack of the global Internet.
Drawing on exclusive access to key players and two billion digital words and images Ross left behind, Vanity Fair correspondent and New York Times bestselling author Nick Bilton offers a tale filled with twists and turns, lucky breaks and unbelievable close calls. It’s a story of the boy next door’s ambition gone criminal, spurred on by the clash between the new world of libertarian-leaning, anonymous, decentralized Web advocates and the old world of government control, order, and the rule of law. Filled with unforgettable characters and capped by an astonishing climax, American Kingpin might be dismissed as too outrageous for fiction. But it’s all too real.

Review: There is a misconception about the true crime genre, and that is the thought that there are only books about blood, violence, murder, and serial killers to be had. While those are certainly some of the more popular topics in the scope of the genre, you can find a large number of books about less violent crimes. So for those of you who like the idea of reading up on something salacious and scandalous, but are squeamish when it comes to violence and death, I may have a good true crime fit for you. It involves a whole lot of the scandal and law breaking, and outlandish twists and turns that don’t seem real, but is, for the most part, low on body counts. And you may never look at “The Princess Bride” the same way again after reading it. Let me introduce you to “American Kingpin”.

“American Kingpin” is the story of the rise of The Silk Road, a website that acted as a black market for drugs that was hidden within the Dark Web. It was founded by a man named Ross Ulbricht, who initially saw it as a way for people to have access to illegal drugs, a value that lined up with his Libertarian beliefs. His internet handle was “The Dread Pirate Roberts”, and he remained fairly anonymous for years. As his website and fortune grew, so did his love of power, and his need to hold onto it by any means necessary. Along with his story are the stories of the various law enforcement officers who tracked him, and even got embroiled with him and The Silk Road, in hopes of catching him. And boy, is it a doozy. Nick Bilton does a very good job of keeping all of the complicated character threads straight, and slowly weaves them together to create an all encompassing big picture that reads like a thriller novel. He writes not so much sympathetic, but well laid out backgrounds of the people, and I think that seeing Ulbricht especially in a complex light was important. But it never took away from the fact that this guy was an entitled, privileged, single minded narcissist who thought he was untouchable, and went from drum circle college student to a man who was taking out hits on those who crossed him. While calling himself The Dread Pirate Roberts of all things!

The narrative itself moves at a fast pace, and given that the events are so outlandish that they read like fiction, it has a high entertainment factor. Like the cast of players, I felt like I was reading a thriller novel as opposed to a non fiction account, and it really speaks to how good of a narrative non fiction writer Bilton is. There were multiple moments I shouted out ‘ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!’ Specifically when it was noted that The Silk Road considered dabbling in human organs. HUMAN. ORGANS.

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I had to set the book down and laugh in despondency. (source)

As Ulbricht’s scheming escalated the tension did as well. The book is very well researched, and it’s constructed in a way that gives a pretty evenly distributed amount between the players and the goings on in all of their lives, and how they connected to each other. I had a very hard time putting it down as I was reading, and even though I had a pretty basic working knowledge of the story thanks to the “Casefile” podcast series on it, there was still a lot of information at hand that never got bogged down by the sheer volume of it all. Bilton is also certain to push back against the idea of the Libertarian Utopia of the Silk Road being ‘victimless’ in its drug business, detailing one especially sad story about someone who was an unwitting purveyor of drugs from the site… and then suffered terrible consequences because of it. While Bilton never outright maligns the values that Ulbricht was striving to champion, he definitely makes a very compelling case for debating them. It never feels preachy; just matter of fact.

All in all, “American Kingpin” is a thrilling write up of a truly unbelievable crime. If you’ve been curious about the new true crime interest in our culture, but are wary when it comes to violence and murder, I would absolutely recommend this rollercoaster of a book.

Rating 8: A tense and VERY addictive true crime thriller, “American Kingpin” does a great job chronicling the rise and fall of a black market empire and the man who was behind it all.

Reader’s Advisory:

“American Kingpin” is included on the Goodreads lists “Scary Tech? Big Data, Surveillance, Information Overload, Tech Addiction, Propaganda, Dark Money..”, and “Murderino Reading List!”

Find “American Kingpin” at your library using WorldCat!