A Revisit to Fear Street: “Fear Hall: The Beginning”

809538Book: “Fear Hall: The Beginning” (Fear Hall #1) by R.L. Stine

Publishing Info: Turtleback books, January 1997

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Dear Readers:

Come with me to Fear Hall. That’s the creepy college dorm built years ago by the cursed Fear family.

Hope and her roommates live in Fear Hall. Hope’s boyfriend lives there, too. They’re all good students and best friends. Everything is going great…until one of them becomes a murderer!

Now Hope is about to find out that life at Fear Hall can be a real scream!

I hope you’ll join me for Fear Hall. This story has so many scares, it took me two books to tell it all!

P.S. You’ll never believe what I came up with for the next book…

Had I Read This Before: No

The Plot: I first want to note that I was taken aback by the sudden design change in the cover. At first I thought it was just because of the new location of Fear Hall, thinking that a college off shoot story may need to stand out from the usual Shadyside malarky. However, the last two books in the Original “Fear Street” series have the same design, even though right after the Fear Hall books the next two go back to the original, better known template. What was the purpose here? What was the motivation? Why the switch up, then rescinded switch up, back to a switch up?

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I am possibly overthinking this. (source)

Regardless, we find ourselves not in Shadyside, but at Ivy State. We haven’t heard of Ivy State yet, at least to to my recollection, but this is a college with big enough connections to Shadyside that the Fear Family gave enough money to get a dorm named after them. And that is where Hope, our first narrator, lives, on the 13th Floor of Fear Hall with her roommates Angel, Eden, and Jasmine. Here is the run down about all of the roommates. Hope is plain and ‘chubby’, Angel is thin and a boy magnet, Eden wears plaid and isn’t interested in things Other Girls™ are (but is loud and likes letter writing to her Mom), and Jasmine is shy and intelligent. Hope says that they are all super close because they’ve known each other for a few years even before this, their freshman year. They are a happy rag tag bunch in 13-B, which is why Hope is sad to tell us about the night that the ‘troubles started’.

Hope is awakened in the middle of the night by her boyfriend Darryl. He has beer of his breath, natch, and Hope asks him what he’s doing because boys aren’t allowed on this floor at this time of night. He tells her that he’s in trouble and that he did something terrible. Seems that he followed Hope earlier that night and saw her out with some guy named Brendan. She tells him that it wasn’t her out with Brendan, it was Angel, and he proceeds to grab her and scream at her about lying to him. Oh. He’s one of those guys. She keeps insisting that it was Angel who was out with Brendan, but Darryl continues to shake her and yell at her that she’s lying. Hope also lets the readers know that she LOVES Darryl so much and is so happy he’s at Ivy State with her, and that he saved her from a real creep named Mark. The only downside is that he’s just a little possessive. And by a little I mean he doesn’t even like other guys looking at her. He tells her that he ‘carved’ Brendan. Hope screams, and Angel, Eden, and Jasmine wake up. They demand to know why Darryl is there and he tells them what he saw. But Angel confirms that she was out with Brendan and had borrowed Hope’s outfit. Darryl has the gall to not only tell them that he’s pretty sure he killed Brendan, but that THEY HAVE TO HELP HIM COVER IT UP. Angel tells him that they’re going to call the motherfucking cops on his ass and Eden says that they aren’t going to help him.

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Eden and Angel, probably. I’m gonna like them, I think. (source)

Darryl shoves Angel and threatens her, and before she can scream there’s a knocking on the door. Hope thinks that it’s the police already (in spite of the fact no one has called yet) and she shoves Darryl in her closet. She answers the door, but it’s not the fuzz, it’s Melanie from across the hallway. She is one of the ‘3 M’s’ that lives across the hall, the others being Margie and Mary, and Hope hates them because they’re preppy and went to private schools and is convinced that they hate the girls in 13-B because they are all public school girls. This seems like it may be projecting. Melanie says she heard some loud noises and wanted to make sure that everything was okay, and Hope says that it’s just her and her friends having way too much fun. And Melanie, being the bitch that she is, is hesitant and concerned and asks Hope if she’s sure that everything is okay. Oh wait, that’s actually a really nice and considerate thing to do, isn’t it? She says that Mary is still out and was waiting up for her, and is about to go back to her dorm when there’s a scream. Mary comes tearing down the hallway, saying she saw a dead boy outside. Basically everyone in the dorm hear the commotion  and runs outside, and indeed it’s Brendan, his body all cut up/’carved’ (what an awkward phrase!). Melanie asks Hope if she was out with Brendan that night, and Hope gets REALLY defensive and says NO and maybe Melanie needs to get her eyes checked!!! Zing. As everyone else freaks out the sound of sirens start up, and Hope rushes back to her dorm room. She finds Darryl still in her room, and he tells her not to go out with another guy or he may kill someone again. He stumbles out.

Now it’s from Jasmine’s POV! We see her at her diner job at the Campus Corner. It’s a tough job but she likes it, and for some reason this segues into the fact her mother was always mean to her and gave her the nickname ‘fish’ because of her personality being like a cold fish. Sheesh. She wishes she could be as outgoing and cool as her roommates. She also notices the 3 M’s in a booth, talking in low tones and looking at her. She can hear them talking about Brendan, and how sad they all are, and by the time Jasmine does approach them she outright asks them why they’re all staring at her. I have a feeling this probably reflects worse on Jasmine than it does them, but the 3 M’s are gracious enough to say that they just hoped Jasmine would notice them and come take their orders. Shortly thereafter Eden and Angel walk in and take a seat, and Jasmine joins them on her break. They all agree that Darryl needs to be locked up, but that Hope isn’t going to let them call the police, as if they can’t just call the police of their own volition. As they discuss what the should do, the 3 M’s stare at them. Jasmine feels self conscious and says they can talk about it at home. At the end of her shift her boss Marty asks her if she’s okay, and she says yes, and heads for home. But on the way home she’s surprised by Darryl (gross). He asks her if she’s going to keep her mouth shut and she says yes, but tells him that he needs to get help. He in turn tells her that he’s not going to kill anyone again, ‘unless [he] has to’. I, for one, do not find this comforting.

Now it’s an Eden section! I’m excited for this because I feel like Eden is the one I am going to relate to the most! She’s writing a letter home to her Mom, and Hope makes a snarky comment about it. She then asks Eden and Jasmine if she ever told them what her nickname was, bestowed upon her by her mother. Jasmine takes this as a Bad Mom Pissing Contest and brings up ‘fish’ again, but Hope says that her mom used to call her ‘buttertubs’, and then goes on to tell a story of how her mom once made her eat four bowls of ice cream in front of some of Hope’s school friends, and then smashed her face into the ice cream carton afterwards. I think Hope wins. She then says she wants to go out, and Eden, leaving her letter to her nurturing and well adjusted mom behind, accompanies her to the Blue Tavern for pizza.

And when we arrive Stine emphasizes not once, not twice, but thrice times that YOU CAN GET BEER HERE. This is NOT Pete’s Pizza, esteemed readers! Eden and Hope order a pie before sitting down, and two guys in a booth across from them start making eyes at them. Eden is into it, but Hope is clearly uncomfortable and says they should leave. Eden asks her what the issue is, and Hope tells her Darryl is the issue. Eden asks if he’s followed them here, and Hope says he’s close by. Eden feels a hand on her shoulder, but when she turns around it’s just the cute guys from the table across from them. They ask if they can join, and Eden hesitates, mentioning that her friend may not be comfortable. They ask ‘what friend?’, and when Eden looks over she sees Hope is gone! She’s at first worried Darryl came in and grabbed her, but then assures herself she would have noticed such a commotion, and decides Hope must have just slipped off. She invites the guys to eat her pizza with her, and they introduce themselves as Dave and Gideon. They all chat and eat pizza, and when she tells them that she lives in Fear Hall, and they think that’s so cool since it’s rumored to be haunted. They ask her if she knew anything about the recent murder there, and Eden takes that as he cue to leave and to check on Hope.

Eden gets back to 13-B, but unfortunately Darryl is there, and he holds up the letter Eden was writing to her Mom, where she mentioned the murder. He demands to know if she was going to tell on him, and she tries to snatch it away but he grabs her and violently holds her in his grasp. There’s a knocking on the door again, and Darryl lets Eden go and runs into the bathroom, Hope right behind him, and they slam the door to hide. Angel wakes up briefly, and Jasmine sleeps through it all (I don’t see how!), and Eden goes to the door, opening it a crack. It’s Melanie and Mary of the 3 M’s, checking to see if everything is okay again. Hope is so catty about them, but they seem like concerned neighbors more than anything else. Eden says that it was the radio, and when it’s pointed out that the radio isn’t on she says she turned it off when they knocked. Melanie and Mary say that they’re all really freaked out, and Eden agrees that she and her roommates are freaked out too, and a moment of awkward silence happens before they tell Eden they are trying to organize a safety meeting for the dorm so they can figure out how to keep themselves safe. I have a suggestion that’s pretty proactive, and that is for Eden to just call the damn cops already! She says that she and her roommates will come to the meeting, and the 2 of 3 M’s give her another look and then say goodnight. Eden thinks that they are strange.

On the way to class the next day Eden runs into Dave from the pizza parlor, and he asks her out for coffee after her class. She says yes! But when she gets to class something weird happens. The professor doesn’t have her name on his class roster, but he does have Hope’s, even though Hope isn’t in that class. He says that she has to suss it out with the Dean, and MY question is how this just became a problem now?

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Unless….? I think I’ve cracked the code. (source)

Eden has to leave the class, and she wonders if she’s going crazy because of all this Darryl stress. She goes back into the building from whence she came and goes to a pay phone bank, intent on calling the cops, but before she can Hope taps her on the shoulder. Eden asks her if she’s taking any history classes that semester, and Hope says no, so Eden is definitely convinced the professor had the wrong class roster. Hope asks her who she was calling, and Eden tells her that she was going to call the police because Darryl is a straight up violent criminal. Hope begs Eden to wait a little bit longer, as if Hope could possibly do ANYTHING to quell that psychotic goon of a boyfriend of hers, and Eden agrees.

That night Eden goes on a date with Dave. She’s wearing one of Hope’s outfits since her closest is usually more Seattle Grunge couture, and the date is going well. She and Dave are walking around campus and the 3 M’s see them from across the courtyard, and mistake her for Hope. Eden says she’s just wearing Hope’s clothes, but she’s Eden, and asks Dave if she and Hope even look alike. He says he’s never met Hope, so how would be know? Gideon sneaks up on them and nearly gives Eden a heart attack, and then Dave suggests that he and Eden go to the driving range for the end of their date. Oh, how romantic. But Eden is game. They go to the driving range right before closing, and they are the only two there, the area lit up by big lights. But just as Dave’s about to show Eden how to do the perfect drive, Darryl shows up, grabs a club, and BEATS HIM TO DEATH RIGHT OUT IN THE OPEN. Eden, covered in blood, runs away, screaming.

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Damn, that really escalated. (source)

Now it’s back to Hope’s POV. She is comforting Eden, who is reeling and sobbing about the horrific trauma she just experienced, and Hope says that she wants to tell Eden a story. She goes on to tell her about how when she was still living at home her mother deliberately bought her clothes that were far too small for her, because she liked watching Hope try to squeeze into them and end up humiliated about the bad fit. But Darryl never cared that she was overweight, and that is why she could NEVER turn in the guy who has violently murdered two innocent people. Because she doesn’t think that anyone else will see past her weight.

ARE. YOU. FUCKING. KIDDING. ME.

First of all, the highest size that Stine ever puts Hope at is a ten, which isn’t considered plus size at all. And even if she WAS overweight what the hell kind of fucked up message is it to give the readers that overweight people should be glad to get whatever kind of love they can, even if it’s from abusive, violent psychopaths? It would be one thing if this kind of mindset was at all pushed back against, but instead of that Eden instead falls asleep as Hope comforts her, which in turn leads to Darryl showing up and saying that now Hope can ‘strangle’ Eden. Hope is shocked, and he back paddles really fast but tells her that he can explain what happened. Hope gives him the platform to do so, but then he says that there is no explanation, but that Eden saw everything and what if she tells? Well GEE, ASSHOLE, maybe you shouldn’t have slaughtered her date right in front of her!!! Hope tells him that he has to leave, but before he does he throws a few good threats toward Eden for good measure.

The next day the news breaks the story about Dave, and when Eden wakes up she wants to call the police. Hope begs her not to, but Eden, rightfully so, tells her that she’s not protecting Darryl anymore no matter WHAT Hope wants. So Hope, in a moment of panic, smashes her in the head with Angel’s hair dryer. She doesn’t kill her, but she does stun her, and while Eden is in a daze Hope ties her up, gags her, and throws her in the clothes closet. After she takes in a few breaths, she turns and sees Melanie in the doorway. She thinks she’s been caught and tries to calculate if she could do the same thing to Melanie, but luckily Melanie is just there to remind her about the campus safety meeting. After she leaves Hope’s paranoia gets the best of her, and she decides to has to tell Darryl he has to run away. But when she gets to the quad, she sees police officers taking Darryl away! She thinks that maybe she could make up an alibi for him, but remembers she still has to get dressed. She runs back to her room, and remembers as well that she threw Eden in her closet. But then, maybe she didn’t, because Eden suddenly sits up in her bed, with no memory of what Hope did! Hope is thrown for a moment, but then remembers Darryl, and goes to the window to see if she can see if he and the cops are still there. The cops are gone, but Darryl is standing below, glaring up at her.

Back to Jasmine’s POV. She is running to work, as she’s very late and doesn’t want to get in trouble. WHen she arrives, twenty minutes past her start time, her boss Marty asks to speak with her. He tells her that he needs someone who is more responsible, and that he has to let her go. She says that she won’t be late again, and he says that it’s one thing to be late, it’s quite another to not show up like she did yesterday. Jasmine is confused, she doesn’t think that she was working yesterday, and when he asks her where she was she doesn’t remember. He gives her her last paycheck, and she leaves, distraught that she can’t remember anything about the day before. And yes, this clinches my suspicions. Jasmine goes to the cafeteria to try and remember what happened the day before, but alas and alack she runs into Darryl. He tells her that Hope said he should leave, but he REFUSES to go! He also tells Jasmine that he was so mad at Hope for suggesting it, and he ‘hurt’ her.

And now we’re back to HOPE’S POV. Jasmine returns to the room to find Hope sobbing on her bed. Jasmine asks her what Darryl did, if he hit her or anything like that, but Hope informs her it’s worse, MUCH worse. He called her a fat cow, and that she’d rather be beat up than called that. Okay, I’m not going touch any of that with a ten foot pole. She tells Jasmine that she should go to the safety meeting and tell everyone what Darryl has done, and as she spirals out of mental control she suddenly screams her head off, and runs out of their room and down the hall, with Melanie calling after her. HOO boy.

Now it’s ANGEL’S POV? We haven’t gotten this yet! Angel is making out with a boy named B.J. in a car, because YAS GIRL. Apparently she just saw in at the coffee shop and one thing led to another and now they’re here. They are suddenly interrupted by, you guessed it, Darryl, and as she starts to scream at Darryl to leave them alone, Darryl throws out the usual generic threats. B.J. gets freaked out and leaves Angel alone with Darryl…

Now it’s Hope’s POV again. She’s returning to the dorm around 11 after her ‘moment’, and runs into Melanie in the elevator. Melanie says she’s sorry she missed her at the meeting, and Melanie says that they still have no leads. They part ways, and Hope goes into her dorm. Eventually Angel, Eden, and Jasmine return, and they tell Hope that they NEED to do something about Darryl, and HALLELUJAH, Hope finally, FINALLY, agrees with them! Eden calls the police and tells them everything, and they tell her they will arrive in ten minutes. Which will be ten minutes too late, because DARRYL CLIMBS THROUGH THE FIRE ESCAPE! And he heard everything, of course, and he takes it about as well as one might expect. So he attacks Eden, pulls a Bane Breaking the Bat move, and then throws her out the window! Hope screams in shock that Darryl killed her friend, as if this wasn’t a completely foreseeable conclusion given his past behavior, and Darryl nods and jumps back onto the fire escape and scampers off into the night. Jasmine and Angel are screaming, and then there’s a pounding on the door as the police announce their presence. The three remaining roommates climb onto the fire escape as well, hiding from the cops as they come in, but Hope overhears them talking to Melanie as she comes to investigate. They tell her that a girl named Eden called them, and Melanie says that no girl named Eden lives in this room. It’s just one girl named Hope, no roommates besides her! Hope listens to the 3 M’s talk to the police, and apparently not only does she live alone, but there is no boy’s floor that Darryl lives in in Fear Hall. It’s an all girls dorm! The police say that it sounds like a dangerous ‘looney’ (real professional guys) may be on the loose. Hope is offended by all of this, and she says to Angel and Jasmine that the 3 M’s won’t get away with saying all this bad shit about her. They agree. Then Darryl appears at Hope’s beck and call as well, and they agree that the 3 M’s have to die. So this whole time this was a quasi split personality psychosis kind of deal, but it wouldn’t be ACTUAL dissociative identity disorder because for that to be the case there would have to be a main personality that didn’t know that there were other personalities! We are left with the cops seeing Hope on the fire escape! TO BE CONTINUED!!

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Me, realizing there is a WHOLE OTHER BOOKS WORTH OF THIS MESS. (source)

Body Count: 2. And I’m still not over the use of ‘carved’ as a descriptor in the first instance.

Romance Rating: 0. Darryl is literally killing any boy that he sees Hope interact with, and if that doesn’t say unromantic I don’t know what does. Of course, given that Darryl doesn’t even exist it kind of makes it a non-relevant category.

Bonkers Rating: 5, just because the GIANT TWIST is so old hat and lazy that I’m not impressed by it.

Fear Street Relevance: 7, as Fear Hall is named after the Fear Family.

Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:

“A grin spread over his face. A grin of triumph. And that’s when I decided to kill him.”

…. Except she instantly clarifies that she didn’t REALLY want to kill him, just get him out of her life. I wouldn’t blame Eden if she did kill Darryl though.

That’s So Dated! Moments: Hope refers to J. Crew as ‘preppy’ clothes, and I don’t think that that label is REALLY seen as a status symbol anymore, at least not among young preps.

Best Quote:

“‘Someone told me a story about Ollie [the night guard at Fear Hall]. They said he died thirty years ago. But his ghost refused to leave Fear Hall. He takes his guard post every night, even though he’s dead!'”

… Honestly I’d rather read that book that the conclusion to this.

Conclusion: “Fear Hall: The Beginning” was lazy and paint by numbers, and the big reveal at the end didn’t get me very hyped to move on in the series. And yet, in spite of that, next up is “Fear Hall: The Conclusion”. 

Kate’s Double Review: “The Real Lolita” and “Rust & Stardust”

Books: “The Real Lolita: The Kidnapping of Sally Horner and the Novel that Scandalized The World” by Sarah Weinman; “Rust & Stardust” by T. Greenwood

Publishing Info: Ecco, September 2018; St. Martin’s Press, August 2018

Where Did I Get These Books: The library; I was sent an ARC from the publisher

Book Descriptions: Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita is one of the most beloved and notorious novels of all time. And yet very few of its readers know that the subject of the novel was inspired by a real-life case: the 1948 abduction of eleven-year-old Sally Horner.

Weaving together suspenseful crime narrative, cultural and social history, and literary investigation, The Real Lolita tells Sally Horner’s full story for the very first time. Drawing upon extensive investigations, legal documents, public records, and interviews with remaining relatives, Sarah Weinman uncovers how much Nabokov knew of the Sally Horner case and the efforts he took to disguise that knowledge during the process of writing and publishing Lolita.

Sally Horner’s story echoes the stories of countless girls and women who never had the chance to speak for themselves. By diving deeper in the publication history of Lolita and restoring Sally to her rightful place in the lore of the novel’s creation, The Real Lolita casts a new light on the dark inspiration for a modern classic.


When 11 year-old Sally Horner steals a notebook from the local Woolworth’s, she has no way of knowing that 52 year-old Frank LaSalle, fresh out of prison, is watching her, preparing to make his move. Accosting her outside the store, Frank convinces Sally that he’s an FBI agent who can have her arrested in a minute—unless she does as he says. 

This chilling novel traces the next two harrowing years as Frank mentally and physically assaults Sally while the two of them travel westward from Camden to San Jose, forever altering not only her life, but the lives of her family, friends, and those she meets along the way.

Review: I want to extend a special thank you to St. Martin’s Press for sending me an ARC of “Rust & Stardust”.

For someone who reads a whole lot for her profession and her pleasure, I have a pretty gaping hole in my literary experience when it comes to ‘the classics’. Between taking not so typical literature classes in high school and majoring in psychology, my exposure to classic books was limited, and while I’ve tried to pick up the pieces here and there I still have many left on the ‘theoretically to read’ list. So no, I have not read “Lolita” by Vladimir Nabokov, though the notoriety of the story means that I am pretty familiar with it as a whole. I’m in no rush to read it, not for any other reason than there are so many other books out there that interest me more. But when I got an ARC of the book “Rust & Stardust” by T. Greenwood, the fact that it was based on the very real story of Sally Horner, the girl who served as inspiration to Dolores Haze in Nabokov’s book, caught my attention. And then I heard that a nonfiction book about Sally Horner, called “The Real Lolita” by Sarah Weinman, was also soon to be available. So I decided to bide my time, and to read the two as a pair so that I could compare and contrast the two, which each tell the same story in very different ways.

And perhaps it’s implied, but just in case, I need to give some serious content warnings for both of these books. They do, after all, involve the kidnapping, rape, and abuse of a little girl.

“The Real Lolita” is a non fiction work that juxtaposes Sally Horner’s kidnapping at the hands of Frank La Salle with Vladimir Nabokov trying to write “Lolita”. Weinman surmises that Nabokov, who had been having stumbling block after literary stumbling block as he tried to write what would become his most famous work, heard the sensationalized news stories surrounding the case and used it in his work. Nabokov denied this again and again, but Weinman lays out the similarities between the two cases, and the timeline that he was working within and how it wa well within the highest media furor surrounding the case. It isn’t really a criticism of Nabokov’s decision to use this story as inspiration so much as it’s an indictment of him lifting a girl’s very real pain to profit from it without giving her any credit. I appreciated that she wasn’t going after the inspiration piece, because it isn’t uncommon for creatives to take inspiration from real life horrors and to make them into a fictional work. The issue is that Nabokov was too proud to admit that he in all probability did find inspiration in this trauma victim, which is deeply problematic in and of itself, and couldn’t be bothered to even acknowledge her pain and how successful of a novel it was. Her evidence is well researched and carefully laid out, and the details that she found regarding the Horner case and what her life was like before, during, and after the ordeal gives voice to a girl whose trauma was appropriated for a novel with the subject of her inspiration twisted and misinterpreted  into a nymph-like seductress (even if that wasn’t Nabokov’s intention). It’s a book that I had a hard time reading because of the awful manipulations and abuses La Salle did to Horner, though I appreciated how frank and ‘just the facts’ Weinman was because of the horrors of the case. I also liked that she wasn’t particularly fiery in her critiques of Nabokov, but that she simply presented the evidence as it was and let it speak for itself. Weinman’s book gives this girl a voice, a voice that wasn’t afforded to her in the moment, and that has been drowned out because of time and a novel that overshadowed it.

“Rust & Stardust” is also the Sally Horner story, but it has been adapted into a work of fiction. T. Greenwood  makes it very clear in a long author’s note that she approached this story through the eyes of a fiction author, but tried to keep a good number of the details, especially in regards to Sally’s experience, realistic and plausible. The prose flows neatly and succinctly, and while it is a longer book than “The Real Lolita” I found that it felt like a quicker read just because Greenwood paced it so well. The story is pretty much what you’d expect; Sally Horner is caught by Frank LaSalle as she’s stealing a notebook from the store, and what follows is the story of Sally’s kidnapping, captivity, and return, as well as the perspectives of those in her life during her absence. While it was definitely hard to read at times, Greenwood never made it feel lurid or exploitative. The emotions were there, but were able to remain untangled from bad taste. Greenwood also gave herself some creative plot leeway (though not in regards to Sally, which was good) so that she could highlight the problematic attitudes of the post-War American culture, specifically when it comes to abuse towards girls and women. Whenever someone would raise doubts about Sally’s relationship to Frank, almost every time they were told to be quiet because the very notion of bad intentions was disgusting and inappropriate. Frank is able to get away with his predation because the people around him and Sally don’t want to face that it’s happening. Which brings me back to the criticisms of “Lolita”, in that some people, be it Nabokov’s intent or not, have romanticized the story of Humbert Humbert and the ‘nymph’ he fixates on. Greenwood doesn’t give any leeway for that because the story is Sally’s, and those who care about her.

Reading “The Real Lolita” and “Rust & Stardust” has given me a larger picture of a tale I thought I knew, and in their own ways they tell the side that has been lost to time and literary critique and accolades. If you like “Lolita”, and even if you don’t like it, these books will give it more context, a context that it has probably always needed.

Ratings 8: Though the backstory to “Lolita” has been glossed over and outright ignored by some (and denied by others), “The Real Lolita” and “Rust & Stardust” strive to give Sally Horner the ability to tell her story.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Real Lolita” is included on the Goodreads lists “Women’s Lives”, and “Best Crime Books of 2018”.

“Rust & Stardust” is included on the Goodreads lists “#MeToo”.

Find “The Real Lolita” and “Rust & Stardust” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Kate’s Review: “The Deceivers”

39863259Book: “The Deceivers” by Kristen Simmons

Publishing info: Tor Teen, February 2019

Where Did I Get This Book: The publisher sent me an ARC.

Book Description:Pretty Little Liars meets Ocean’s 11 in this intrigue-filled contemporary drama from acclaimed author Kristen Simmons.

Welcome to Vale Hall, the school for aspiring con artists.

When Brynn Hilder is recruited to Vale, it seems like the elite academy is her chance to start over, away from her mom’s loser boyfriend and her rundown neighborhood. But she soon learns that Vale chooses students not so much for their scholastic talent as for their extracurricular activities, such as her time spent conning rich North Shore kids out of their extravagant allowances.

At first, Brynn jumps at the chance to help the school in its mission to rid the city of corrupt officials–because what could be better than giving entitled jerks what they deserve? But that’s before she meets her mark–a senator’s son–and before she discovers the school’s headmaster has secrets he’ll stop at nothing to protect. As the lines between right and wrong blur, Brynn begins to realize she’s in way over head.

Review: Thank you to Tor Books for sending me an ARC of this novel!

One of my husband’s favorite movies is “The Sting”, the classic grifter feature in which Robert Redford and Paul Newman run an elaborate con job on Robert Shaw. While I am more than happy to indulge the guy on watching an old favorite every once in awhile (lord knows he has to sit through “Purple Rain” every so often), the ‘con artist’ trope isn’t one of my favorites. So when I got an ARC of “The Deceivers” by Kristen Simmons I was a little bit hesitant. But when I saw that it takes place at an ELITE BOARDING SCHOOL for special kids (aka budding con artists), my interest had officially been piqued. Bring on the sudsy drama of boarding school brats compounded with the promise of back stabbing. That’s all in the game when it comes to con artists, right? So while “The Deceivers” was out of my wheelhouse, I was more willing to give it a go.

The first thing that struck a chord with me in this book was our protagonist, Brynn. Brynn is cut from a similar cloth to a number of YA heroines; she’s snarky, she’s scrappy, and she comes from a troubled background that has solidly placed a chip on her shoulder. Her father was murdered while working at his convenience store job, and Brynn’s mother has bounced from lout to lout ever since, leaving Brynn in a precarious, and sometimes outright dangerous, position. But through it all Brynn maintains her composure and never treads into overused plot points of devices. I like that she feels like a realistic teenage girl in a world that isn’t exactly smacking with realism, and her need to escape from this life strikes the right chords. Her motivations are clear, and while she is something of a fish out of water at Vale Academy (aka the boarding school for budding con artists, more on that whole thing in a bit), her character growth is believable and interesting.

And while the plot is based in a theme that isn’t usually my cup of tea, I did find the meat of the plot and the cogs within pretty entertaining. While Vale Academy itself feels little under cooked as of now, this is a series and there is a lot of room to grow and to bring the school history to a closer focus. There were also a good deal of plot twists that did take me by surprise, and I felt like the most important ones worked very well, especially when they changed the game and turned Brynn’s perceptions (as well as the reader’s) on their heads.

But that said, there were a number of moments and devices that didn’t quite come to fruition in satisfactory ways. Brynn went from potentially stumbling into a new educational setting with no guarantee of admission, to having the deal in the bag already without much reasoning beyond ‘because she needs to be here for the story to work’. There were moments and characters who felt like they could have had more focus on them, or at least more exploration and elaboration. On top of that, this book was nearly four hundred pages long, which felt a bit too long for the story in itself. There were repetitive aspects to the plot, mostly regarding whether or not Brynn could trust any given person at any given time, and the ultimate backstabbing that would come of that. I felt like had this been parsed down a bit more and tightened up, the plot wouldn’t have seemed to drag on as much as it did. And as I mentioned above, Vale Academy itself is still a very vague idea by the end of this book. In other books with magical and/or questionable boarding schools that I have enjoyed I’ve gotten a good feel for what the school as an institution stands for, and what the stakes are in regards to that school. But here, Vale Academy feels less like an actual place, but more of an excuse for these teenagers to be trying to trick, con, and manipulate people. Whether or not this will expand in later books, I can’t be sure, but I think that it will have to if it wants to stand out.

Overall, “The Deceivers” had a fun main character and some good twists and turns, but it dragged on a little longer than it could have. People who do like con artist stories may be more receptive to the premise than I was.

Rating 6: With a strong protagonist, “The Deceivers” has a lot of potential, but felt a bit scattered and unfocused, and a little too long.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Deceivers” is new and isn’t on many Goodreads lists as of yet, but I think it would fit in on “Popular Caper Heist Books”.

Find “The Deceivers” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Infidel”

38812871Book: “Infidel” by Pornsak Pichetshote and Aaron Campbell (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Image Comics, September 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: A haunted house story for the 21st century, INFIDEL follows an American Muslim woman and her multi-racial neighbors who move into a building haunted by entities that feed off xenophobia.

Bestselling editor Pornsak Pichetshote (Swamp Thing, Daytripper, The Unwritten) makes his comics writing debut alongside artist extraordinaire Aaron Campbell (The Shadow, James Bond: Felix Leiter), award-winning colorist and editor Jose Villarubia (Batman: Year 100, Spider-Man: Reign), and letterer / designer Jeff Powell (SCALES & SCOUNDRELS).

Review: Even though horror has almost always had stories with some kind of hidden themes within their works, I feel like as a genre people are starting to really realize the possibilities of metaphor for greater ills beyond a monster or a ghost. With books like “Lovecraft Country” and movies like “Get Out”, we are starting to see more expansion and room for not only POC characters, but also critiques of racism within our culture and society. “Infidel” by Pornsak Pichetshote is the most recent story of this kind that I have come across, and I can tell you that I was waiting very impatiently for my hold on it to be filled at my library. Given that NPR listed it on their ‘100 Greatest Horror Stories of All Time’ selection, my enthusiasm and anticipation was greater than most other books I request. It was also a lofty claim to make, and while I was open to the claim I wondered how much my own final opinion of it would line up with it.

Our story follows Aisha, a Muslim American woman who has recently moved into an apartment building with a tragedy attached to it. A few years before, a Middle Eastern man’s homemade bombs went off, killing a number of the tenants. Aisha and her friends, most of whom come from non-white backgrounds, are aware of the history, and aware of how the white tenants aren’t as welcoming to them as they are to non POCs. What Aisha and her friends don’t know is that the building is haunted by a very angry and aggressive set of ghosts. It’s Aisha that first sees the twisted and violent entities that haunt the complex, their rage focusing on her. The visual manifestations of these things are truly horrific, as they are warped and filled with rage and able to cause serious physical harm. Much like “Lovecraft Country”, racism and bigotry is the true villain of this book, with the ghosts targeting Aisha because of her Muslim faith and their association that gives them to the man whose bombs were their demise. Aisha isn’t the only one who has nasty encounters with the ghosts, as their ire holds a lot of the other characters hostage and puts them at risk as well. It starts slowly for all of them, noticing it bit by bit and making them wonder if they ACTUALLY saw something, or if it’s just a figment of their imaginations, a direct metaphor for those who are victims of racism in our day to day lives.

But the other kind of racism that Pichetshote shows in this book isn’t just the over the top obvious kind in ghost form; rather, it’s mostly micro-aggressions and fear based on ignorance and paranoia. Aisha is dating a while man named Tom, who has a daughter named Kris from a previous relationship. Kris’s mother is dead, and Kris is very connected to Aisha. Tom’s mother Leslie has just started warming up to Aisha and seems to be trying, though in the past she’s shown discomfort and flat out hostility towards Aisha and her culture. Aisha is more inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt, though Tom and her childhood best friend Medina are not. There are also other tenants in the buildings who are more mistrustful of Aisha because of her faith. From a neighbor who is convinced she saw Aisha committing a crime (though Aisha herself at this point is a clear victim), to a woman who is actually in Aisha’s circle of friends but still doesn’t trust her fully, it’s these interactions that left me a bit more unsettled than the ghosts that pop out of the walls. These moments are based in realism, and show how people can be influenced by fear and prejudice even if they think they are open minded and accepting.

The artwork is stunning. There is a certain jarring atmosphere that the artist, Aaron Campbell, creates, with lots of vibrant colors and use of shadows. The ghosts within the building are especially grotesque, their distorted features harkening to disease and decay. At one point Medina refers to racism as a cancer, and the entities absolutely reflect that.

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Literal nightmare fuel. (source)

I think that one of the few criticisms I did have about this book was that it ended a little too quickly. I realize that this was very much a mini series, as it was only five issues all together, but for it to build slowly and complexly and then to be wrapped up very fast left me a little feeling unsatisfied. There were a couple of plot points that were tossed out into the fold that sounded like it would take a lot of work to get through, only to be resolved quickly, sometimes off page. Because of this, I did close the book wanting more.

“Infidel” is an effective story with some genuine scares. I highly encourage horror fans to pick it up, but know that it may feel a bit rushed by the end. That said, I am very much looking forward to see what Pornsak Pichetshote brings us next.

Rating 8: A unsettling ghost story that takes on racism and xenophobia in our culture, “Infidel” is a graphic novel with as many real world horrors as supernatural ones.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Infidel” is included on the Goodreads lists “Best Horror Comics/Graphic Novels”, and “Against the Fascist Creep”.

Find “Infidel” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Kate’s Review: “My Sister, The Serial Killer”

38819868Book: “My Sister, The Serial Killer” by Oyinkan Braithwaite

Publishing Info: Doubleday Books, November 2019

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Satire meets slasher in this short, darkly funny hand grenade of a novel about a Nigerian woman whose younger sister has a very inconvenient habit of killing her boyfriends.

“Femi makes three, you know. Three and they label you a serial killer.”

Korede is bitter. How could she not be? Her sister, Ayoola, is many things: the favorite child, the beautiful one, possibly sociopathic. And now Ayoola’s third boyfriend in a row is dead. Korede’s practicality is the sisters’ saving grace. She knows the best solutions for cleaning blood, the trunk of her car is big enough for a body, and she keeps Ayoola from posting pictures of her dinner to Instagram when she should be mourning her “missing” boyfriend. Not that she gets any credit.

A kind, handsome doctor at the hospital where Korede works, is the bright spot in her life. She dreams of the day when he will realize they’re perfect for each other. But one day Ayoola shows up to the hospital uninvited and he takes notice. When he asks Korede for Ayoola’s phone number, she must reckon with what her sister has become and what she will do about it.

Sharp as nails and full of deadpan wit, Oyinkan Braithwaite has written a deliciously deadly debut that’s as fun as it is frightening. 

Review: Satire is one of my favorite forms of humor, but I think that you have to be careful in how you implement it. If you aren’t mindful, you could end up being either unfunny or flat out offensive. Some of my favorite satire usually has to deal with dark things like murder and mayhem (hence my love for Caroline Kepnes’s “Joe” books), so that means that I’m usually treading into dangerous territory. Because for every “Joe” book there are a few “Summer Is Ended And We Are Not Yet Saved”: books that try for biting commentary, but just end up with things that make me feel icky.

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Because I don’t see the wit in a book about a religious zealot systematically murdering children in horrific ways, but THAT’S JUST ME. (source)

Luckily, “My Sister, The Serial Killer” is solidly in the first camp, and reading it was a twisted delight! Braithwaite is very skilled when it comes to creating believable, yet comical, plot points and characters that have done pretty terrible things. Our main protagonist and first person is Korede, a woman who is a hardworking nurse and who has constantly had to live in the shadow of her effervescent, and potentially psychopathic, sister Ayoola. When we meet them both, Korede is helping Ayoola dispose of the body of her most recent boyfriend. Korede is written in such a way that you feel super bad for her, but also can find humor and pathos in her exasperation about being put in this position (again). She is the only one who can see what a danger and terrible person her sister is, and while she resents her and berates her, she is also fiercely protective of her. Hence, the assisting in disposing of a body. Korede is a character that is flawed and well rounded, and also super relateable in her plight. And her running, frustrated, commentary about the inconveniences that crop up because of Ayoola’s psychopathic decisions is always amusing, which I think is the reason it works as proper satire. I didn’t find Ayoola as well rounded, but then again, all perspectives we are getting are from Korede, and as such that may be part of the point.

I also really liked the themes about sisterly loyalty, and how complicated it can be. I have a sister, so a fair amount of the feelings and complications that were between Korede and Ayoola felt very real and familiar (outside of the murdering others thing). Be it vying for attention from their mother, who sees Ayoola as the golden child, or romantic affection from Dr. Tade, a colleage of Korede’s who falls hard for Ayoola, the sisters are at odds, even if Korede is the only one who sees it. Korede loves her sister, but is jealous of her sister and scared of her sister, so while she wants to stay quiet about the multiple murders and her involvement, her resentment grows. Her only outlet is talking to a coma patient at the hospital where she is a nurse, as her reasoning is that he’s asleep so it’s not like he can rat her out (as you can imagine, this logic may be a little flawed as the story goes on…). Korede’s stark isolation because of her secrets is constantly on the page, and it simmers throughout the narrative, but it also means that her cynicism makes for some very funny moments in how she reacts to her circumstances. I found myself laughing out loud a few times while reading.

Braithwaite also gives a glimpse into the family history of Korede and Ayoola, and the abuse they and their mother had to suffer at the hands of their father, which gives some insight into how and why Korede feels the way she feels, and perhaps shows an origin of Ayoola’s instability, be it learned or innate. Getting to see their interactions throughout their entire lives really added to this book, and lifted it above just simple satire and made it a little more tragic, at least for Korede.

“My Sister, The Serial Killer” is a very fun and unique thriller that takes on the bonds of sisterhood. It accomplishes walking the line between tension and satirical romp, and I will be very interested to see what Oyinkan Braithwaite comes out with next.

Rating 8: A darkly amusing thriller about murder, rivalries, and sisterly love, “My Sister, The Serial Killer” is a wicked read.

Reader’s Advisory:

“My Sister, The Serial Killer” is included on the Goodreads lists “African Fiction”, and “Books in the Freezer Podcast”.

Find “My Sister, The Serial Killer” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “The Lost Man”

39863488Book: “The Lost Man” by Jane Harper

Publishing Info: Flatiron Press, February 2019

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

Book Description: Two brothers meet at the border of their vast cattle properties under the unrelenting sun of outback Queensland, in this stunning new standalone novel from New York Times bestseller Jane Harper.

They are at the stockman’s grave, a landmark so old, no one can remember who is buried there. But today, the scant shadow it casts was the last hope for their middle brother, Cameron. The Bright family’s quiet existence is thrown into grief and anguish. Something had been troubling Cameron. Did he lose hope and walk to his death? Because if he didn’t, the isolation of the outback leaves few suspects…

Dark, suspenseful, and deeply atmospheric, The Lost Man is the highly anticipated next book from the bestselling and award-winning Jane Harper, author of The Dry and Force of Nature.

Review: I want to extend a thanks to NetGalley for sending me an eARC of this novel!

I was late hopping on the Jane Harper train, but now I like to think of myself as a loyal fan. Her “Aaron Falk” series has had two pretty strong installments, and given that I liked the second one more I feel/hope that the trajectory can only go up as the series goes on. What I didn’t realize was that she has also decided to write standalone novels. So when I saw that her newest book, “The Lost Man”, was available on NetGalley I assumed that I was requesting the newest Aaron Falk adventure. Once I did a little more digging I realized that it was actually a new story with whole new characters, but that was just fine by me. The description fell more in line with the kind of mystery I like anyway, less of a ‘whodunnit’ and more of a ‘dark secrets of family badness coming to light’ kind of story.

Our location is still in Australia, this time in a small outback town in North Queensland, and our story concerns the Bright Family. Three brothers grew up in this small town, Nathan, Cameron, and Bub. Cameron has been found dead, and Nathan, Bub, and the rest of the family are left to wonder why it is that Cameron ventured out into the scorching heat on his own with no supplies or transportation. From the beginning you get the feeling that there is more to the Bright family than meets the eye, and with our focus on Nathan, the oldest and one with a fair amount of baggage in his own right, the secrets start to unfold. His relationships with just about everyone in his life are filled with complications; his late father was abusive, his youngest brother Bub resents him (and he had also resented Cameron), his divorce was acrimonious and it has left his son Xander in the middle. Even his relationship with Cameron’s wife, Ilse, is a bit messy, given that Nathan had been with her first and cared for her very deeply. It hadn’t gone anywhere because of some fallout from an in the moment mistake that Nathan had to pay for dearly. Nathan is kind of a mess, but his complexity, his background, and his eagerness to do the right thing make him easy to root for. The setting is still isolating and sprawling, and the Outback itself feels like its own character. 

The mystery at the heart of “The Lost Man” is less about what happened to Cameron, though it does play a large part, and is more about what kinds of secrets Cameron and the rest of the Brights have been keeping under wraps. Nathan thinks that he knows everything there was to know about his brother, but as he digs deeper and starts to find more pieces about his life, he begins to see truths that he never wanted to see. It brings up a lot of questions and themes about family and the loyalties that we think we owe them, and how cycles and systems of abuse can take their tolls in different ways. It’s because of this focus that I found myself enjoying “The Lost Man” more than I might have enjoyed another mystery with a detective with not as much of a personal stake in the outcome. While it’s true that this isn’t another Aaron Falk story (though if you keep your eyes open you will find a connection that is buried in the narrative to Falk and his past), it’s a more powerful and gripping story because it feels more urgent. It goes to show that Harper can create characters and settings outside the story that put her on the map, and is a testament to her skills.

“The Lost Man” was very enjoyable and suspenseful read. The twists and turns weren’t severe, but they had bite to them. I’m pleased to see that Harper is able to flex beyond what could be trappings of a notable series, and while I’m excited for the next Aaron Falk novel, now I’m also excited to see what her next standalone might be!

Rating 8: A dark and tangled mystery that raises questions about family loyalty, “The Lost Man” is an engrossing and powerful standalone from Jane Harper.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Lost Man” is included on the Goodreads lists “Best New Australian Fiction 2018”, and “Great New Thrillers and Suspense for 2018”.

Find “The Lost Man” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Victor LaValle’s Destroyer”

36100937Book: “Victor LaValle’s Destroyer” by Victor LaValle, Dietrich Smith (Ill.)

Publishing Info: BOOM! Studios, March 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: The legacy of Frankenstein’s monster collides with the sociopolitical tensions of the present-day United States.

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein beseeched his creator for love and companionship, but in 2017, the monster has long discarded any notions of peace or inclusion. He has become the Destroyer, his only goal to eliminate the scourge of humanity from the planet. In this goal, he initially finds a willing partner in Dr. Baker, a descendant of the Frankenstein family who has lost her teenage son after an encounter with the police. While two scientists, Percy and Byron, initially believe they’re brought to protect Dr. Baker from the monster, they soon realize they may have to protect the world from the monster and Dr. Baker’s wrath.

Written by lauded novelist Victor LaValle (The Devil In Silver, The Ballad of Black Tom), Destroyer is a harrowing tale exploring the legacies of love, loss, and vengeance placed firmly in the tense atmosphere and current events of the modern-day United States.

Review: Victor LaValle is an author whom I greatly enjoy, as I don’t think I’ve read one thing by him that underwhelmed me. I really liked his mental institution horror story “The Devil In Silver”, I found “The Ballad of Black Tom” to be a fun deconstruction of a racist Lovecraft tale, and I REALLY liked “The Changeling” and how it made a modern day dark fairy tale out of New York City. So when my friend Tami told me that he had written a graphic novel that decided to take on “Frankenstein”, I absolutely had to read it. It was a long wait at the library, but when “Destroyer” finally came in I sat down and devoured it in one setting. Even if it ran me through the wringer and then some. I guess I never thought about how “Frankenstein” could be combined with present day socio-political themes, and yet LaValle meshed them so well that I was blown away.

The Monster has emerged from the Arctic in modern times, and his former longing of being included and understood has been thrown out the window. He is a beast that is intent on destruction of the human race, as he believes that it has wronged him, as well as everything else around it, and does not deserve to go on. In contrast, we meet a modern day descendent of Victor Frankenstein. Her name is Dr. Baker, and she, too, has her heart set on destroying the society that she has continuously wronged her. For her, though, that is mostly because she lost her son Akai after a witness mistook his little league bat for a gun, and police killed him. Her science experiment has brought Akai back from the dead, though her scientific genius has made him a wonder of modern technology as well as an undead twelve year old. It’s the perfect metaphor for the rage and despair that parents like her have felt over and over again, and her urge to destroy every part of the racist society that destroyed her life. Her rage and plotting is utterly terrifying, but damn does it make sense. I loved Dr. Baker, as you get to see her life before Akai’s death through flashbacks, including her time at a top scientific research organization (that basically fired her when she got pregnant, because heaven forbid a woman in a STEM profession want to start a family). That organization has also stolen her ideas and technology and intends to use it against her, which is another indictment of power structures stealing ideas from groups that it wrongs. LaValle does a very good job of showing how she could go from a bright eyed and enthusiastic young scientist to a revenge intent victim, and while I don’t think he ever makes it seem like her urge to kill everyone in society is correct, he makes you really understand why she’d feel that way.

Dr. Baker a great juxtaposition to The Monster, who has also decided to take a path of destruction because of his grievances. It takes those themes of science gone too far and what makes a monster and applies them to a T. Hell, the other little homages are also on point, like the names of the agents Percy and Byron, named for the two men to whom Mary Shelley first shared her vision of a Modern Prometheus. The Easter eggs are plentiful, and I had a hell of a time finding them. It’s a really fun thought exercise about what The Monster would possibly be like today if it finally left the Arctic, and boy is it bleak. I don’t know if I really like the idea of The Monster being reduced to, well, a monstrous/brainless being, because far too often has Shelley’s vision been misinterpreted from the thinking, and therefore plagued, creature of her intention. But in this case, I think that LaValle does it in a way that would be a potential foregone conclusion, and it does add to the symbolism all the more.

I really enjoyed the art work that Dietrich Smith brought to this story. It felt sufficiently comic book, but it also had bits of depth and darkness and shadow that conveyed various points of tragedy and sadness. I also liked the more abstract design of the cover (done by Micaela Dawn), though the drawing style inside was the design that I preferred. The details from the gore and the violence to the varied facial expressions are very well done.

Destroyer_001_PRESS_6
(source)

“Destroyer” is a superb reinterpretation of a classic story of horror and tragedy, and LaValle has once again shown his talent and retelling stories with a socially conscious lens that reflects today’s ills. It’s another update of “Frankenstein” that I think Mary Shelley would appreciate.

Rating 8: A dark and biting retelling of “Frankenstein”, “Victor LaValle’s Destroyer” takes a classic story and applies it to modern social justice themes with powerful results.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Victor LaValle’s Destroyer” is included on the Goodreads lists “Frankenstein Revisionist Novels”, and “Black Lives Matter Library Ideas”.

Find “Victor LaValle’s Destroyer” at your library using WorldCat!