A Revisit to Fear Street: “Secret Admirer”

308672Book: “Secret Admirer” (Fear Street #36) by R.L. Stine

Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, 1996

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Selena is on top of the world. Her acting career at Shadyside High is blossoming—everyone admires her. So when she starts receiving bouquets of dead flowers from a person called “The Sun,” she treats them as a joke.

But Selena soon realizes that this is no laughing matter. Her understudy is injured in a suspicious accident. Then a speeding car nearly kills her. Selena knows “The Sun” is responsible.

And that her number-one fan has become her number-one nightmare.

Had I Read This Before: No (I think we’re getting to the point where I aged up from “Fear Street” and dove head first into adult books).

The Plot: Another “Fear Street” book, another ominous prologue. This time it’s a bad and threatening poem directed at our protagonist, Selena, signed by “The Sun”. Then we jump into our story, where we find out that Selena is the star of the Shadyside drama department, and has just finished up the last night of the most recent play. Everyone loves Selena! She and her theater friends gather back stage, and they all congratulate her on a job well done. Alison, the second best, says she’ll NEVER be as good as Selena, and Jake, one of her best friends from her childhood, calls her ‘Moon’ (as Selena means ‘moon’), but says he’s not feeling up to going to the cast party. Mr. Riordan, the drama club director, says that the next show they are going to do is “Romeo and Juliet”, and Selena is thrilled because she would LOVE to do Shakespeare. She is then approached by her ex boyfriend Danny, who wants to congratulate her as well, though she’s not so keen on talking to him. Luckily for her her bestie Katy, a stagehand, comes up and pulls her away. She says that Selena will almost assuredly be Juliet, and Selena plays coy and says that there’s no guarantee she’ll get it. But she’s pretty and think and has been the lead multiple times before this, so…. yeah, she’ll probably get it. Mr. Riordan says that “Romeo and Juliet” will be an especially important production because theater scouts from colleges are going to be in the audience, including Northwestern, the school that Selena would love to go to. When Selena goes for her backpack, she finds a wrapped bouquet, but when she opens it it’s a bunch of dead roses, and a threatening note with a sticker of a Sun on it (hilariously, Stine decrees that these dead flowers ‘smell of decay’, and I wonder if he knows that’s not really how flowers work). Katy thinks that is’s scary but Selena brushes it off as a dumb joke, probably pulled by Jake, who has pulled jokes since they were kids. Katy says that Jake has been acting weird lately, but Selena hasn’t noticed.

They go back to Selena’s house, and Selena is already excited for the spring play. Katy laments the fact that she’s ‘too big’ to be in theater, as she’s about twenty pounds overweight, and Selena suggests that she could play Juliet’s nurse! Oh my God. Katy asks Selena if she ever thought she would be so popular, as Selena also used to be overweight, but then got thin because she loved theater SO MUCH and she knew she couldn’t get lead roles if she was fat. Jesus Christ this isn’t really body positive, is it? Selena also notes that she got the lead in a play sophomore year because the original lead actress had to leave the school (and later we find out this is a shout out to “The Prom Queen” when Simone went crazy and killed all those people). There’s a tapping at the window and then a crash. The girls rush to see what the commotion was, but don’t see anything… until they leave the house to go to the party. A metal ladder is on the ground beneath Selena’s window. Katy thinks that someone is stalking Selena, but Selena thinks her mother was probably working on something outside and didn’t put it away. Except there’s a sun sticker on the bottom rung…

As they are driving to the party Katy is practically begging Selena to take this seriously. Selena says she isn’t famous so why would someone stalk HER, but Katy rightfully points out that she doesn’t have to be Rebecca Schaeffer to have a predator target you. Selena thinks that it’s probably just Danny wanting to get back together. Just then a car starts following them and drives up super close to them. Katy starts to panic, but Selena keeps her cool and tells her to just drive to Mr. Riordan’s house, whoever this person is wouldn’t dare follow them into a crowded home. Yes and no, maybe a police station is better. When they park at Mr. Riordan’s, the person following them does too, and it turns out it’s Danny, who was ‘just playing a joke’. Well ha fucking ha, Danny. Mr. Riordan calls everyone around, and introduces them to Eddy, a handsome (as noticed by Selena) second year drama student from Waynesbridge Junior College, who is going to assist with the spring play. Selena feels like she’s seen him before, and goes to introduce herself. Eddy says that he’s seen her in a number of plays and that he thinks she’s a natural. He also says that he thinks it’s great that she can balance her grades and her acting, and when Selena asks HOW EXACTLY he knows this he claims it’s part of the job of being an intern, knowing everything about your actors. He then gets called away, and Selena is more flattered than freaked. She then goes to talk to Jake, who seems bummed as hell. When she asks him why he freaks out at her, and she asks him if he left her the dead flowers. He denies it, and says that it sounds like more than just a joke and that she should tell Mr. Riordan, or maybe the police. Selena does go over to talk to Mr. Riordan, but before she can Danny stumbles out of no where, covered in blood, and collapses in front of Selena! But, turns out, he’s pulling another prank, as it’s fake blood. No one is amused. When Selena goes out to get some air, Eddy is there. He says that he can’t believe she used to date Danny, and when she asks how he knew about THAT, he says he must have just overheard it, and then excuses himself.

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(source)

Alison comes out to inform Selena that she, too, is trying out for Juliet, but Selena says that’s fine. Katy says that she can take Selena home if she’s ready to go, and Selena is, but before they can go Danny says that HE will take Selena home. Selena says she’s not interested, and then JAKE comes out and starts to knock Danny away, saying that if ANYONE is going to take Selena home HE will. He and Danny fight, and Mr. Riordan, you have OFFICIALLY lost control of this cast party. Selena breaks it up, and when Jake tries to apologize she won’t hear it. He then says he wants to see Danny dead. Then, to make matters worse, as Selena is trying to fall asleep that night her phone rings. When she answers it’s a weird voice saying that they are watching her before hanging up.

At school the next week, Danny tries to apologize to Selena, and she confronts him about the dead flowers, the note, and the phone call. He denies it all. Then we must jump ahead by a few WEEKS because we’re already at Spring play auditions! I did theater in high school, there was usually a month or two AT LEAST between productions. Regardless, Selena, Katy, and Jake are sitting around waiting for their turns to audition. Jake asks Selena if she still thinks it’s Danny, and she says maybe, and he says that she should tell Mr. Riordan. Selena says she doesn’t want to, because if she does he may not cast her in the play out of fear for her safety. My guy reaction was to say ‘OH COME ON’, but then I realized that she’s probably right, and instead of going after the stalker, it would be seen as easier to limit the victim. Fucking patriarchy. Regardless, Jake admits that he understands wanting something that he can’t have. Selena and Alison go to practice for their auditions, and Alison claims the usual area that Selena takes, which is by the wardrobes, so Selena goes somewhere else…. And then a horrible crash is heard! Everyone rushes to the wardrobe area, and Alison has been crunched by a heavy wardrobe cabinet that fell on her! Luckily she’s alive, and paramedics are called. Jake points out that usually that spot is where Selena practices, and when Selena inspects the cabinet there is a sun sticker on it.

A little time later Selena is practicing her Juliet lines at home (given that Alison is still hospitalized) when Danny calls her, asking if she wants to go grab a bite to eat. Selena goes off on him, telling him she doesn’t want to go out with him and that he needs to stop harassing her and/or trying to crush her with a wardrobe. Danny continues to deny his involvement, and Selena hangs up. The phone rings again, and this time it’s Eddy, who is calling to tell her that Alison will be back the next week and not to worry. They start talking, and he mentions that he is so impressed with how confident she has become, given that she used to be so introverted and used to wear baggy clothing. Selena asks how he knew that, and he claims that he must have seen an old yearbook, and then asks her out to a movie. She says yes, and he tells her that they shouldn’t talk about it since it’s probably totally unethical for this boy who is assisting with drama club to be dating the girl who is part of the club. She promises she won’t tell ANYONE, and I gotta say, this is some kinda power dynamic that’s not ethical AT ALL. After hanging up it starts to rain, so Selena decides to make sure all the windows in the house are closed. When she gets to the window by the front door, she sees a bundle on the porch. When she opens the door, she finds a dead, mutilated rat, and a note from The Sun telling her quit the play or else. She calls Katy and tells her about the dead rat, and Katy says that it must be someone in drama club…. And asks if maybe Selena should quit the play for her safety. Selena refuses, saying she needs the scouts to see her if she wants a scholarship. Katy asks her to at least tell Mr. Riordan, and Selena says that she will. Katy then reminds her about the sleepover they’re having that Friday, but OOPS, that’s the day that Selena made a date with Eddy, so she tells Katy she can’t make it after all and tells her about the date with Eddy, EVEN THOUGH she promised not to tell anyone. Katy is skeptical of this, given the ethical implications, but Selena is insistent that it’s all fine. She hangs up, and then tries to sleep. But she can’t stop thinking about her stalker. Her Mom comes home from her night shift (Dad died a few years ago so her Mom has a busy work schedule), and Selena considers telling her about the stalker, but doesn’t want to worry her, so doesn’t.

The next day the official cast list is posted, and Jake is upset that Danny got the part of Romeo over him. When Selena can’t even muster a fake ‘yeah fuck that guy’ for Jake and opts to say that Danny was good, Jake gets mad and says that Danny won’t get everything he wants THIS time. Katy tells Selena that Jake’s parents are splitting up and that’s why he’s been so moody lately. Selena had NO idea that her best friend’s parents were having problems, I guess. Katy asks Selena if she’s going to tell Mr. Riordan about the stalker, and Selena says that she will, soon. She and Danny talk and he asks if they can just try and get along since they’re starring opposite each other, and she agrees. As Mr. Riordan blocks a scene with Selena and Jake (who is Juliet’s father), suddenly a set of lights fall from the ceiling! Katy knocks Selena out of the way, undoubtedly saving her from grievous injury/death. Katy hurts her arm, and Selena feels awful since the lights were obviously sabotaged by her stalker.

After the movie that Friday, Selena and Eddy decide to get some burgers at a place called Sam’s. Eddy continues to praise Selena about how good she is, and is convinced that she will get the scholarship, but offers to give her private acting feedback if she wants it. Selena is wary, and wonders to herself why she is so SUSPICIOUS of him, and gee, Selena, perhaps it’s the fact that he is oddly interested in YOU and is in his twenties and you are still a teenager? When he asks why she’s so reluctant, she tells him about her stalker, and tells him that Mr. Riordan didn’t take it seriously, so the police probably won’t either. To that I say fuck you, Mr. Riordan. When Eddy goes to pay for the check, Selena sees Danny in the doorway! She goes to chew him out for following her, but then realizes that he’s there on a date with a girl named Susie. Embarrassed by her reaction, Selena meets Eddy outside (who is relieved that Danny didn’t see them there, UGH). Selena is now certain Danny isn’t her stalker since he has a new lady friend. As she and Eddy are walking back to the car in the parking ramp of the building (down a narrow tunnel), Eddy admits that he went to Shadyside High, and that he had a crush on her when he was a senior and she was a sophomore. So THAT is why he knows her. Selena finally feels safe with him (I wouldn’t go THAT far, Selena), but as they are going down the tunnel suddenly a squeal of tires gets their attention. A car comes ZOOMING down the tunnel with no headlights, and Eddy pushes Selena! IN FRONT OF THE CAR? No, past it so that the car doesn’t hit her. The car speeds off, and Eddy says that they were walking down the wrong side of the ramp so that must be why this happened. Selena isn’t so sure…. And wonders WHY they were walking on the wrong side….

The next day Selena gets a flower delivery! She thinks that it must be from Eddy, as it’s a pretty bouquet and not a bunch of dead ones. As she’s practically rubbing her face with the flowers and the greens, her mother comes in and points out WAIT THOSE LEAVES AS POISON IVY!!!! And Selena is VERY allergic. She’s still dealing with the rash a week later, and wonders how the stalker knew that she was so allergic. As she is sitting in the library with Katy and Jake, her friends say that they think she should quit the play, but Selena refuses. So Jake says he’ll do some snooping and try to figure out who is doing this to her. Later at rehearsal Selena sees Jake snooping around Danny, and Selena thinks that he’s too biased to investigate properly, so she goes to the theater lockers. She goes to Danny’s locker and opens it up… AND FINDS A SHEET OF STICKERS!! She double checks the locker numbers, but realizes to her horror that she didn’t open Danny’s locker… she opened JAKE’S LOCKER!!!!

That afternoon Selena and Katy are talking on the phone, and Selena tells Katy that she found the stickers in Jake’s locker! Katy doesn’t want to believe it, but says that Selena needs to talk to Mr. Riordan. Selena doesn’t want to get Jake in trouble because she feels so bad since he’s having such a hard time, but Katy says that if he needs mental help SElena needs to tell people anyway! Then there’s a call waiting click, and Selena answers, and it’s Jake! He says that he needs to talk to her, and asks that she meet him at the school ASAP. She tells him that she found the stickers in his locker, and he says he can explain it but it has to be in person, so PLEASE meet him at the school. She agrees, then goes back to Katy and tells her what’s up, and asks Katy if she can drive her. Katy says sure and they hang up, but then Katy calls right back and her Mom took the car so she can’t take her after all. So Selena goes by herself by taking the bus. When she gets to the school she goes to the auditorium, but doesn’t see Jake anywhere… until she finds him crumpled in a heap at the bottom of the ladder to the catwalk, DEAD!!!

Selena gets home after talking to the police and she tells Katy what happened, the theory being that he must have been hiding in the catwalk and then fell to his death after slipping. Both are very upset, but Selena is convinced that her stalker is dead, and wonders why Jake was doing it. After staying home for a few days and rehearsals being postponed, they start up again and everyone is bummed. Selena has decided to drop out of they play because she’s so upset, but Mr. Riordan is in SUCH a hurry he says that she can tell him whatever it is she needs to tell him the next day, and rushes off.

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In that moment I kind of really loved Mr. Riordan. (source)

Katy tells Selena that she thinks that she’s doing the right thing, and Danny asks what they are talking about. Selena tells him that she’s quitting the play because it’s ‘what Jake would have wanted’. And Danny finally, FINALLY, tells Selena what a self centered little jerk she is. And it may be harsh, but I am with Danny on this one. As far as Selena knows, her stalker is dead, so it’s not a matter of her safety that’s in question here, it’s her feeling sad about Jake and not wanting to do the play because of that. WE’VE ALL HAD DISAPPOINTMENT, SELENA. After Danny’s smackdown, Selena realizes that he’s right, and that the show must go on. So despite Katy’s skepticism, Selena says that she’s still in. That night, Selena isn’t able to sleep, so she goes down to the kitchen for a glass of water….. AND SEES A NOTE ON THE FRIDGE WITH A SUN STICKER! It basically says that Jake wasn’t the stalker and had to die because he knew too much, and that the stalker will be in the audience at the dress rehearsal.

Okay, now you could totally quit, Selena. But does she? NOPE! Unfortunately Mr. Riordan invited the entire football team and then some tot he dress rehearsal, so Selena won’t be able to notice any lone stalker in the audience. Eddy has to go to class that afternoon but wishes her luck, and Selena knows that the show must go on. The dress rehearsal goes well, and Selena is riding such a high she almost forgets her backpack in her locker, but retrieves it at the last moment, shoving all the locker contents inside in a rush. That night after dinner she opens her backpack, and finds another letter from the stalker! This one says that THEY KILLED SOMEONE THAT NIGHT!!! Selena panics a moment, but then remembers that, oh wait, NO ONE DIED AT REHEARSAL. She deduces that the stalker must not have meant for her to find it until the next day…. which meant that the stalker was going to kill someone TONIGHT!!! And Selena is convinced that Katy is going to be the next victim! She tries to call Katy, but there’s no answer at her house. She knows she has to go to the school. Before she can, though, the phone rings, and it’s Eddy, asking her out for later that night, but she says that there’s something that she has to take care of first. When he asks if she needs help, she says that only SHE can do it, and hangs up.

Selena gets to the school, and tries to find Katy in the auditorium. It seems like no one is there, but then she hears the soft voice of someone calling for help… and it’s coming from the catwalk. Selena, who is desperately afraid of heights, steels herself and climbs up to the catwalk, calling for Katy. But she doesn’t find Katy, she finds Danny in the prop room up top…. and he’s been beaten up and tied up. In his daze he tells her that she called him, telling him to come to  the school. She starts to look for something to cut his ropes, but hears a noise. Katy suddenly pops up, and Selena says that they have to untie Danny and go. Katy asks why they should untie Danny, as since he’s tied up he can’t cause any more trouble. Selena explains that he isn’t the stalker, that she thought the stalker was going to hurt Katy but it was Danny instead, and they need to help him. But Katy, instead, HITS HIM IN THE HEAD WITH HER FLASHLIGHT. She then tells Selena that she wants to talk about their friendship, and how she misses the time that it was just the two of them. And then she shows Selena the sticker sheet. YUP, YOU GUESSED IT, Katy is the Sun. Katy says that she knew Selena would assume it was a boy in love with her because she’s so vain and selfish now that she’s so thin and popular and obsessed with drama. Katy didn’t even WANT to join drama club, but wouldn’t see Selena anymore if she hadn’t joined!!! Katy was mad that she was losing her friend to drama and college, and that was why she stalked her, to try and scare her to drop out of the play and not get the scholarship. Jake found the stickers in Katy’s locker and was going to tell Selena, so Katy killed him by pushing him off the cat walk. Katy then attacks Selena, who runs out of the prop room and onto the catwalk. They scuffle and Selena ends up dangling from the catwalk, with Katy about to hit her with the flashlight, but then Eddy shows up at the top of the ladder, and so Katy’s attentions turn to him. But HE TOO ends up stumbling and then dangling from the catwalk as well! Katy starts to smash his fingers with her flashlight, and Selena pulls herself up and knocks her away. They wrestle a bit more (gawd they wrestle forever) and Eddy FINALLY gets Katy subdued. He drags her to the prop room and somehow keeps her subdued WHILE untying Danny (two sets of arms?), and ties Katy up. Selena asks how he knew that she was here, and he tells her that he had a hunch she’d come here. They kiss, and he asks if she’s acting. She tells him no, she’s not, she’s happy the show is over (no it isn’t, opening night is the next night). And he says, as he pulls her close, “Hey don’t say that, this may only be Act One!”. The End.

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Not the time for romance, guys. (source)

Body Count: 2, one for Jake, one for the rat.

Romance Rating: 3ish? Eddy was really just there to be a red herring, but hey, at least he wasn’t completely toxic (outside of the ethical issues of being the assistant director guy).

Bonkers Rating: 4. A fight on the catwalk is always going to be stellar, but everything else was kinda pedestrian.

Fear Street Relevance: 3. Selena lives on Fear Street and the woods cast a lot of long shadows in her room. But otherwise, all the action elsewhere.

Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:

“Selena didn’t even see the bank of the spotlights fall. But she heard the crash. Felt the stage rock. Heard the shatter of glass. The crunch of metal. Heard the high screams of horror all around. And knew that she was dead.”

…. But she isn’t dead, of course. In the words of Trixie Mattel….

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(source)

That’s So Dated! Moments: Not as many as I would have thought! Though I got an edition that was clearly updated. Outside of a reference to a tape player in Eddy’s car, it was fairly neutral in terms of dating itself.

Best Quote:

“Actually, she thought that if Eddy had suggested going to a place that served baked worms, she’d probably agree to it!”

… Oh.

Conclusion: “Secret Admirer” had the potential to be over the top ridiculous, but it just kind of limped home. Up next is “The Perfect Date”. 

A Revisit to Fear Street: “The Face”

176604Book: “The Face” (Fear Street #35) by R.L. Stine

Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, 1996

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

Book Description: Why can’t she remember?

They say something horrible happened that day. But Martha can’t remember any of it—not the smallest detail. They say it will come back to her in time.

But someone wants her to remember now. She draws his face, over and over—the face of a dead boy. She can’t control her hand. And she can’t remember how he died.

But she’s going to find the answer. Even if it lies with the dead.

Had I Read This Before: No.

The Plot: We start with a strange dream about drawing silver lines on a piece of paper and then the paper becoming soaked in blood or something. I don’t care for these prologues because they’re just nonsense. But then we meet Martha. Martha was in some kind of accident before the story began that has robbed her of huge chunks of her memory. Her besties Adriana and Justine don’t really know how to interact with her now that she’s an amnesiac, but her boyfriend Aaron is still loyal and loving (though Justine has a blatant crush on him, as is demonstrated during a wrestling match he’s in that they are both attending). We also find out that her friends MAY have been in the accident too but Martha was the only one who went into shock? It’s a confusing and clunky first chapter of exposition. We pick up after that inside Aaron’s den, where he and Martha are watching “Lethal Weapon”, and Martha tells the reader that Aaron kind of looks like Mel Gibson. I’m hoping she’s talking about The Mel Gibson “Thunderdome” era and not The Mel Gibson “He’s A Misogynistic Bigoted Abuser” era.

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Remember, Hollywood welcomed him back with open arms. (source)

Martha confides that she’s worried about Adriana, who has been looking super skinny and tired and whose grades have been slipping. Aaron asks if she’s talked to Adriana, but no, they haven’t spoken about the accident or anything. Martha wonders why it has affected Adriana so much but not the rest of them (excluding herself, I would imagine, since she CANNOT REMEMBER ANYTHING).

We THEN jump to the next day where Martha is out and about in Shadyside buying art supplies and she runs into Ivan, Adriana’s older brother who has adopted a new ‘bad boy’ look, with an earring and a goatee. He’s also been getting into trouble and drinking more, so you know that I am smelling a love triangle here because Stine LOVES his ladies to be into misunderstood bad boys. After teasing her about her ‘doodles’, he offers to give her a ride home. While they’re driving he asks if she wants to just keep on going and leave Shadyside for good, and Martha asks if he’s joking, to which he says ‘of COURSE’, but we know better, don’t we? She asks him if he knows what’s up with Adriana and he seems less than interested/sympathetic to his own sister, but does say that she’s been taught some kind of self hypnosis. Also the atmosphere at home is awful with his parents fighting and literally throwing dishware at each other, and Ivan is so upset about it he starts driving erratically and the car drives off the road and heads for a tree! But it seems that it stops right before impact, and both Ivan and Martha hug and cry and he apologizes that he almost took her out in his impromptu suicide attempt that he couldn’t follow through with. He drives her home.

The next day Martha and Adriana are hanging out at Martha’s house and Martha brings up the murder suicide kinda thing that almost happened. Adriana doesn’t seem too worried and seems more interested in her make up, but confirms that she has been taught self hypnosis to try and help her fall asleep. Adriana says that Ivan is messed up because his girlfriend Laura (the most BEAUTIFUL girl in Shadyside, I guess) dumped him. Given that no one got why they were going on in the first place the only person caught off guard was Ivan himself. Martha thinks that someone should talk to him, but Adriana says that Martha should focus on herself and her own well being before leaving the house. Martha decides to draw a self portrait. But as she’s drawing, her hand starts to act of it’s own volition and draws on it’s own, as if a ghostly presence is controlling it!

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So you’re saying it’s a Kanderian Demon problem? (source)

When the hand stops, there is the face of a boy on the page. Martha thinks that it’s too detailed to be made up in her head, and notices that the face has a scar on the eyebrow. She freaks out and crumples it up, and decides to try again. She thinks maybe she should call Laura and ask her to work as a model, but apparently Laura isn’t cooperative and is always critical of the final product, so tries to draw herself again. But, once again, she draws the boy. She then rips but the drawings, and thinks she’s going nuts.

Later that night Martha is meeting Aaron at the mall for a movie. She’s running a little late, and when she arrives she sees Aaron and Justine are both there, with Justine flirting with Aaron. Martha is okay with Justine flirting with him when she is present, but when she’s NOT around and Justine is flirting? Could Justine possibly be a, dare I say it, BAD FRIEND? But since Martha doesn’t want to ‘start having evil thoughts’ about Justine, she just joins them and says hello, Justine backing off right away, claiming she happened to run into him, and he invited her to come to the movie too. Martha thinks that she sees Justine brushing up against Aaron the whole show.

Later that night, Martha is back home trying to sleep, when Justine calls. She wants to talk about the movie they saw and how much Aaron liked it, but then it turns into a ‘my life sucks’ kind of thing and she tells Martha straight up that she’s jealous of her because Aaron is so great. Justine doesn’t have a boyfriend AND she can’t afford to go to college next year AND Martha is such a good artist with good parents. When Martha says that her life isn’t actually perfect, Justine, oddly, agrees, and says that Martha’s life ‘isn’t as perfect’ as Martha thinks. Then she hangs up with a lame excuse.

That Sunday evening Martha is on the couch watching TV, when there’s a flash of a cabin on the TV. Which instigates a flash of memory for Martha! She remembers being at two cabins, with Justine, Adriana, Laura, and herself inside one of them. There’s a knocking at the door, and when Adriana answers it’s Aaron and two other boys whose faces she can’t remember. And then it’s all gone. And when Martha looks down she sees that she drew the face again.

The next morning there is no school because of teacher conferences, and when Martha goes downstairs into the kitchen Laura is there, reminding her that Martha was accompanying her to a photo shoot for her aspiring acting/modeling/whatevering career. Martha drives them, and wishes that she could ask Laura if she recognized the face, but her doctor told her friends not to tell Martha anything or give her any hints, because her memory has to come back on it’s own. That sounds like nonsense, but I’m not a medical professional. After the shoot is over, Martha is driving Laura back home, and Laura says that she was at a party the night before and Ivan showed up, acting a fool. Martha says that Ivan is a mess because of her dumping him, and Laura doesn’t give a rip. Laura then tells Martha to watch out for Justine, and declines to elaborate.

The next day Martha goes to meet with Dr. Sayles, the man in charge of her case and recovery. She tells him about the cabin memories, and he doesn’t betray any sort of emotion. But when she shows him the drawings she’s done, he looks genuinely shocked. Do we get to learn more about this? NOPE, we jump forward to that next weekend. Martha is still wondering WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN, when Adriana and Laura burst into her room and tell her to get inside, bitch, we’re going SLEDDING!, or something very close to it. So they go to Miller Hill and Martha resolves to have a little bit of FUN for once. Once they are at the top of the hill, Laura and Adriana take off, leaving Martha at the top. When Martha starts down, she starts to scream, and then doesn’t stop screaming, even when she gets to the bottom. She doesn’t remember how she got home, just that Laura and Adriana brought her back, and she wonders what triggered her. But apparently, she had another memory. Now she, Aaron, Justine, Laura, Adriana and IVAN are there, having a snowball fight. Then Justine takes it way too far and starts hurling them at Martha, hitting her hard and starting a huge fight between them. Then she remembers kissing someone in the cabin, but it wasn’t Aaron. It was the boy in the drawings!!

Martha decides to ask Aaron about everything the next day. She goes to his house, and his little brother Jake lets her in, albeit reluctantly. Then Aaron meets her in the hall and doesn’t want her to come in much further…. Because JUSTINE is there! They claim that she was just picking up a graphic calculator because hers broke, and that she only hid because they didn’t want Martha to get the wrong idea, especially after she had a freak out at Miller Hill. Justine leaves, and Martha wonders if she should believe them. She asks Aaron about the cabin trip, and he says that he isn’t supposed to tell her, doctor’s orders, and that she’s lucky that she doesn’t remember because something TERRIBLE happened on the cabin trip. She shows him the drawings, and he begs her to stop asking him. When she asks if he knows the boy he tells her that the boy is DEAD!

With Aaron not speaking to her and more questions than answers, Martha is at home on Tuesday evening and Adriana comes to visit. She tells Martha that things at home are bad. Her Dad has finally moved out but Ivan has a new tape player and a new Discman and she doesn’t know how he paid for it, so she thinks that he’s been stealing. After all, he’s been hanging out with some tough characters! She then notices that Martha’s been drawing the whole time, and that it’s the dead guy’s face. And after swallowing down whatever she MUST have been thinking in that moment. Adriana invites Martha to the basketball game that Friday. Not that the sudden change in topic is at ALL strange, right?

So Martha, Laura, and Adriana go to the basketball game. All is going well for a bit, but then Martha starts hallucinating that every player on the opposing team has the dead boy’s face! She starts to freak out, and so Laura and Adriana drag her out of the gym. While Laura goes to find her a drink (most likely just water even though Martha could PROBABLY use a nice hard whiskey), Adriana pulls out a coin and starts to use hypnosis on Martha, claiming that it’s to calm her down. Martha says she’s feeling better, and when Laura comes back they start to leave. Martha asks if they will tell her anything about this boy, but they refuse and say they’re going to take her home. But who does Martha see making out by the lockers???? AARON AND JUSTINE! Since the graphing calculator excuse is no longer viable, he starts to say something, but Adriana and Laura tell him to back the hell off, and Justine too, and they take Martha home.

Back at home Martha tries to calm down by drawing. But then another memory surfaces! She remembers kissing the strange boy, but this time it becomes clear that she doesn’t want him to be kissing her. She asks him to stop, and then calls him Sean, and the memory ends with them shoving each other and her slapping him. As she’s pulled from the memory she wonders why they were fighting (maybe because he was sexually assaulting you, Martha?), and then she notices that she has a message on her answering machine. The message is a low raspy woman’s voice saying ‘You keep drawing him because you killed him’. Martha thinks that it sounds like Laura, but why would Laura do this?!

Martha decides to go visit Adriana’s doctor, Dr. Corben, to see if hypnosis can help her. My first thought goes to planted false memories and Satanic Panic, but let’s see how this all plays out before I start ranting about the irresponsibility of this kind of therapy. So anyway, Martha asks if Dr. Corben will help her, because Adriana hypnotized her and Martha thought it might help. Dr. Corben is aghast that Adriana did that because it’s very dangerous since the girl has no training, and she says that she would need to get permission from both Martha’s parents AND her doctor before she would do anything. Martha decides that she needs to split because this woman isn’t helping her at all. Outside of the office, Aaron appears, and he tells Martha he isn’t going to sneak around anymore and that he and Justine have been going out for months, and that is what Martha and Justine were fighting about at the cabin. She asks him what happened to Sean, and he is shocked she remembers him. But he still won’t tell her because it is ‘too horrible’!

That Wednesday at school, Ivan gets into a huge fight with another kid and gets suspended. Laura and Martha are on the phone talking about it, and another memory comes back to Martha: Laura was going to dump Ivan for Sean! When she confronts Laura, Laura clams up and says she doesn’t want to talk about it before hanging up. But now the memories have recovered pretty much completely, and as they say on “Monk” here’s what happened!: After a day of sledding and Ivan and Laura fighting outside the cabin, Adriana suggests that the group go skiing! Ivan and Aaron bicker a bit, and Adriana suggests that Martha should go first because she was the sledding winner, and Sean says he’ll go second. Martha realizes that her ski straps are messed up, and says that Sean should go before her so he doesn’t have to wait. So he does. And then Martha realizes that there is a weird silver line between to trees that Sean is skiing right towards…. a silver wire. Before Martha can yell to warn him, he skis into it, and it cuts his FRIGGIN HEAD OFF!!!!!!

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(source)

So she calls Adriana and tells her she remembers everything, and Adriana starts to cry as well, saying that she can’t sleep and can’t concentrate because she’s been so traumatized. The police couldn’t figure out who set up the wire, and Martha asks if Adriana thinks that one of their friends killed him. Adriana says she doesn’t know, but no one else was up there so who else could it have been? Then she says she’s coming over so they can commiserate or something. Martha goes to find a change of clothes, wondering why she was the only one to lose her memory when all of her friends saw it. Then she finds her unpacked back from the trip, and when she opens it up, she finds SILVER WIRE!! She must have lost her memory because SHE killed Sean!!! She wonders if everyone has stopped talking to her because they know that she killed Sean! Adriana arrives and Martha tells her about the wire, saying that she must have killed him. Adriana asks why, and Martha admits she doesn’t know but says she’s going to tell her parents. But then IVAN comes in and says that Martha can’t turn herself in because HE KILLED SEAN!! Adriana understandably freaks out, and Ivan tells them what happened: he had stolen a car and felt so guilty about it he had to tell someone, so he told Sean. And then Sean, the asshole that he was, decided to start blackmailing Ivan. So Ivan took the wire and tied it up between the trees! But oddly, he remembers tying it up much lower, around ankle height, thinking it would trip Sean and rough him up a bit (yes, because THAT would absolutely stop a blackmailer). He saw the wire had moved, but only once it was too late to do anything. Ivan says that he’s going to  turn himself in so Martha doesn’t admit to something she didn’t do. But then Adriana freaks out at him, saying that he KNOWS that Martha did it, and that he can’t ruin this for her!

Yeah, as it turns out, Adriana had moved the wire to the height that it was! And she had done it because she wanted it to catch Martha in the wire and kill her!!! She was jealous because she liked Sean, and Sean liked Martha, and Adriana saw Sean kissing Martha and lost it. Martha tries to explain that she did NOT want to kiss Sean, but Adriana doesn’t believe her, of course. And apparently she hid the wire in the bag AND she used hypnotism on Martha to make her memories stay repressed!! And then she grabs the wire from the bag, kicks Ivan in the stomach, and wraps the wire around Martha’s neck, trying to strangle her and/or decapitate her. But as they struggle, Adriana suddenly stops. Because she sees Sean’s face drawn on the piece of paper that is on Martha’s desk. So Ivan disarms her and grabs her arms, subduing her. She then goes into a catatonic state, and Ivan and Martha hug as she just keeps staring at the portrait, the portrait of the face that ‘saved [Martha’s] life.’. The End.

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I mean, okay? (source)

Body Count: 1, and what a badass death it was!

Romance Rating: 2. Everyone was cheating on each other and it was a huge mess!

Bonkers Rating: 5. The story itself was kind of standard, but the misuse of hypnotism AND a ski death involving decapitation was excellent.

Fear Street Relevance: 0. There is NO mention of Fear Street in this book. Not even an off handed mention of one of the characters living there. I’m done with that kind of thing in these books, if Fear Street isn’t even mentioned, it’s a zero for me.

Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:

“To my surprise, he was staring at the drawings with bulging eyes. His mouth wide open. No longer the blank faced professional. He was staring at my drawings in total shock.”

…. And then we don’t get any kind of follow up as to how the rest of the appointment went. Like, as if that was that. I hate it when Stine ends a chapter on a cliffhanger that doesn’t have any resolution.

That’s So Dated! Moments: Well outside of Mel Gibson still being an acceptable sex symbol, Martha, Justine, and Aaron went to see a Jim Carrey movie with mentions of lots of gross out humor. OH, and Martha compares her doctor to a surfer on “Baywatch”. And he wears Bass Wejun loafers?? What are those?

Best Quote:

“Why do cats always have to act like cats?”

I ask myself that every single day.

Conclusion: “The Face” was pretty lack luster. I wish that it had been a recreation of the A Ha video for “Take On Me”, but instead we got something meh and not even trying to be a part of the Fear Street mythos. Up next is “Secret Admirer”! 

Kate’s Review: “The Invasion”

35292343Book: “The Invasion” by Peadar Ó Guilín

Publishing Info: David Pickling Books, March 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: After so much danger, Nessa and Anto can finally dream of a happy life. But the terrible attack on their school has created a witch-hunt for traitors — boys and girls who survived the Call only by making deals with the enemy. To the authorities, Nessa’s guilt is obvious. Her punishment is to be sent back to the nightmare of the Grey Land for the rest of her life. The Sídhe are waiting, and they have a very special fate planned for her.
 
Meanwhile, with the help of a real traitor, the enemy come pouring into Ireland at the head of a terrifying army. Every human they capture becomes a weapon. Anto and the last students of his old school must find a way to strike a blow at the invaders before they lose their lives, or even worse, their minds. But with every moment Anto is confronted with more evidence of Nessa’s guilt.

For Nessa, the thought of seeing Anto again is the only thing keeping her alive. But if she escapes, and if she can find him, surely he is duty-bound to kill her…

Review: I was so very pleasantly surprised by Peadar Ó Guilín’s novel “The Call” that when I found out that it was getting a sequel I was on pins and needles for it to be released. His take on a malevolent and violent faerie world was something that I hadn’t seen before in such brutal and disturbing fashions, and it definitely took the concept of faerie worlds and put it in a dark reality, all while making their rage somewhat understandable. I also loved our protagonists Nessa and Anto, friends and would be boyfriend and girlfriend who beat the odds when they were ‘called’, Anto being a pacifist and Nessa having a disability because of childhood polio. Plus, the concept of humans being the actual monsters at the heart of that book (in the form of violent misogynist Conor) is a theme that I always enjoy. It combined into one of my favorite reads of that year. So when “The Invasion” showed up in my holds, I waited a little bit to savor the anticipation of revisiting Nessa, Anto, and the Sídhe of the Grey World.

Perhaps I put too much anticipation into it, because ultimately, I was kinda disappointed with “The Invasion”.

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Why have your forsaken me? (source)

I do want to give “The Invasion” credit where credit is due. Ó Guilín is relentless in his portrayal of war and violence, and the price of war for those who are part of it. While Nessa and Anto think that perhaps they can live their lives out together and have a happy ending, the Irish Government has other ideas for both of them. Anto is recruited to fight against the invading Sídhe (against his will), even though he has survived the Call with a disfigured, giant arm and is a pacifist at his heart. And Nessa is assumed to be a traitor, because they don’t believe that a girl whose legs were weakened because of childhood polio could have POSSIBLY survived The Call without making a deal with the enemy, and so she is carted off to a life in prison, and then to be sent to the Grey Land as punishment. While it was a super bummer to see that these two are probably not going to get their happy ending together, I appreciated that Ó Guilín doesn’t try to sugarcoat how a reality these two are living in would actually be. He still keeps the violence and disturbing imagery and themes up to a solid eleven, and there were many times that I pretty much squirmed in my seat while reading this book. I also liked seeing Aoife have more of a role in this book. In “The Call” she is merely the mourning girlfriend to Nessa’s best friend Emma. In “The Invasion”, she is with Anto and other classmates of their old school, and she is becoming a warrior out of necessity, even though she is questioning so much. Her character arc was very satisfying to see. We also get to see more of the flora and fauna of The Grey Land itself, beyond the evil faeries. I liked Ó Guilín’s world building here and found it to be as creative as it was messed up.

But there were so many things about this book that didn’t make it feel as satisfying as I wanted it to be. As much as I appreciate that realistically Nessa and Anto are going to have obstacles, I wanted to see them together. I wanted to see them adjusting to life after The Call, but they really didn’t have much interaction outside of the two of them pining for each other. And I found myself frustrated with Anto’s storyline, Aoife aside. Yes, I appreciate Ó Guilín portraying war the way that it should be portrayed, I just didn’t care about Anto and his compatriots fighting on the front lines. ESPECIALLY since some things happen with Liz Sweeney, the mean girl from the first book who is still pretty much awful. And Nessa herself didn’t get as much credit this time around. She got some cool accolades and I did like her new adventure in The Grey Land, but I felt like she didn’t really get much to do. And she deserved so much more than she got.

Overall, “The Invasion” probably ended Nessa’s and Anto’s story realistically, wrapping it up and pretty much tying all the loose ends up as well. But it felt abrupt, and I wanted more, and not in a good way. I appreciate choosing the end that he did, but wish it had felt more like a worthy successor to “The Call”. I’ll definitely give another book by Peadar Ó Guilín a try, but I had wanted more from this.

Rating 6: A sequel that focuses on the price of war and how it tears people apart, “The Invasion” is a not as satisfying conclusion to “The Call”. While it didn’t live up to the first of the two, it was a realistic follow up.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Invasion” isn’t VERY new but isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists for some reason. But I think it would fit in on “Books About Faery”, and “Best YA Fantasy Series About The Fae”.

Find “The Invasion” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously reviewed: “The Call”

A Revisit to Fear Street: “What Holly Heard”

89810Book: “What Holly Heard” (Fear Street #34) by R.L. Stine

Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, 1996

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Holly Silva not only has a big mouth, but ears like satellite dishes. If there’s a rumor, juicy piece of gossip, or scandal anywhere in Shadyside High, Holly can and will dig it up and spread it like peanut butter on bananas. New inklings of romance, BFFs on the outs, cheating, fights…Holly hears it all. Once she does, it’s a short trip from her brain to the brains of Miriam and Ruth, her closest friends.

Usually Holly’s gossip doesn’t amount to anything exciting, but this time is different. Rumor has it Mei Kamata’s involved in an on-going feud…with her own mother. The cause of strife is long-haired bad boy senior Noah Brennan, the guy Mei will no longer be dating if her parents have anything to say about it. When Holly walks by the pair in the parking lot after school one day, she hears the unimaginable: Mei tells Noah she’s going to kill her mother.

Ruth and Miriam don’t exactly see this as the jaw-droppingly incredible insight into teenage female psychology that Holly does. After all, how often to kids threaten to unleash exaggerated bodily harm on their parental units? It isn’t until Mei’s mom takes a fatal tumble down the stairs of her home that the three girls realize they might know more than they should. Somebody knows what Holly heard and is taking steps to ensure none of the girls hear the wrong thing again. Steps up to and including murder.

Had I Read This Before: Yes.

The Plot: Okay, first of all, that plot description above HAS to be updated. It doesn’t read like an old school “Fear Street” summary at all. And I am not totally clear on whether or not this Holly is the same Holly from “College Weekend”, as the descriptions sound similar but I don’t remember if the last times line up. But anyway, Holly Silva runs down the hallway to her friends Miriam and Ruth with some serious hot goss. This is what she’s known for, spreading gossip and feeding off of it like an emotional vampire (and as someone who loves a great gossip sesh over brunch, I feel her on that, though I like to think that I don’t spread so much as I ‘converse’). So maybe I’m more like Miriam, as she evidently lives for this while Ruth isn’t so down. Holly’s latest dish is that Miriam’s old friend and local rich girl Mei Kamata has been having bad fights with her mother all because Mei has been dating Shadyside’s newest bad boy, Noah Brennan. Holly is especially living for this gossip because she has a serious thing for Noah and this may mean trouble in paradise. Ruth is concerned about this, reminding Holly that she does have a boyfriend, a very cool and nice guy named Gary (Ruth and Gary are neighbors and BFFs), but Holly’s eye is wandering. Just then Noah walks up to them and Holly puts on her best flirtation display. Unfortunately, Mei walks up and sees the whole thing. Miriam, trying to diffuse the tension, asks Mei if her party is still on that night (it is), and Noah is immediately drawn back to her and they leave together and she tells him that her parents won’t be home until 6 (woo woo!). Holly is immediately petulant, and when Ruth says that she has Gary Holly gets crabby and heavily implies that she’s going to try and break them up. This girl is awful. Ruth storms off, and Holly tries to say that she can’t help herself because she loves Noah so much. They then run into Miriam’s boyfriend Jed, who is on the basketball team. We are told that Jed has always been Miriam’s dream guy, but he’s been acting strange the past few weeks. He’s been moody ever since the playoff season began. When she asks him if he’s still up for the party, he says he forgot about it, and asks if they REALLY have to go. They fight and he storms off saying he’ll pick her up at eight. Holly wonders what he was putting in his bag, and Miriam is at a loss. Holly says that she’ll dig up some dirt on him for her to find out what his deal is.

Later that night Miriam, Jed, Ruth, and Miriam’s cousin Patrick (who Miriam is trying to hook up with Ruth, who seems not at all interested) are driving to the party. Jed seems back to himself, and says that the playoffs are just stressing him out since college scouts are attending. They arrive at the party at Mei’s house, and Miriam laments the friendship she had with Mei before Mei and Noah started going out. They find Holly, who is wearing a dress that doesn’t sound at all age appropriate. Jed and Gary are basketball teammates so they start talking shop, and Holly tells Miriam that her dress is ‘working’ and that Noah’s been staring at her all night. When Miriam calls her out on it, Holly claims that she feels SO BAD about it now because Mei seems SO MAD at her. Miriam lays the blame squarely on Noah, and I’m not sure THAT’S totally correct. They go find their boyfriends and start dancing with them, but the music the live bad is playing is SO POWERFUL they blow the power in the house and the lights go out. Once the breakers get flipped, the lights come back on and Holly is clinging to Noah. Mei is PISSED, even though Noah seems totally not interested in Holly at all. Miriam asks Holly what she was doing, and Holly says that she was ‘afraid’, and that she wasn’t flirting, she swears, but now Noah has ‘something to think about’.

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Mei should be throwing her ass out. (source)

The next night Ruth and Miriam are in Ruth’s bedroom waiting for Holly to pick them up from the basketball game. Ruth is infuriated at Holly for acting the fool, and thinks that she’s jealous of Mei. Miriam says that no, she just really likes Noah, but I think that it’s VERY possible for those two things to go hand in hand. Ruth also says that she and Patrick didn’t really click as she tends to her two hamsters Lizzy and Tilly. She then says she likes staying at home better than parties, especially since a group of rough necks were pulling up just as they were leaving. Ruth then takes her backpack out and dumps it’s contents on the bed. One item inside it is a hammer, which she says belonged to her Dad, who died a year earlier. She is apparently using it in art class to build a loom. Miriam thinks that Ruth doesn’t like dating because she has Daddy issues, essentially. She also is still mad about how Holly treats Gary, and honestly she isn’t wrong. It’s then that Holly bursts into the room and says that she has AWESOMELY HOT GOSS! After Miriam and Ruth left the party, the roughnecks who showed up were Noah’s drunk friends! After Mei’s Mom kicked them out, the two of them got into a huge fight about Noah, and Mei was told that she’s not allowed to see him anymore. Holly, of course, is ECSTATIC. Ruth calls her out on her bullshit, and Holly says that Gary is boring (SO DUMP HIM), and Miriam begs them to stop fighting and says they should get to the game. Ruth opts to stay home because she’s obviously sick of Holly and her crap.

At the game, Jed is doing awfully. After a Waynesbridge player accidentally elbows Jed in the face, Jed full on attacks him, punching him in the face and then putting him in a choke hold! After he’s pulled off he’s thrown out of the game, and Miriam rightfully freaked out. Holly says she’ll talk to Gary about Jed to see what the scoop is. Once the game is over (the Tigers DO win, by the way, so they’re still in the playoffs), Miriam waits for Jed outside the locker room. She asks if he’s okay and he starts railing about almost getting kicked off the team (um, he probably SHOULD have been kicked off, so count your lucky stars, bucko), and how the other player meant to elbow him. Miriam says he’s been elbowed before and never did anything like that, and he asks how SHE’D like it if SHE was pushed around, and starts pushing her and twisting her fingers, and holy SHIT this is messed up. He then stops, as if pulled from a trance, and deeply and profusely apologizes to her, and she says that if he EVER lays a hand on her again they are DONE. But then they have a ‘cute’ exchange and I could just barf. When Miriam goes to find Holly in the parking lot, she finds her hiding between some parked cars, and she has some news that has actually spooked her: she overheard Mei and Noah talking, and Mei said that she could just KILL her mother, and that Noah says that he would do ‘whatever it took’ for them to be together. So OBVIOUSLY, since Holly has never heard of hyperbole in a fit of emotion, this means that Mei and Noah are going to kill Mei’s Mom! Miriam tells her she’s being ridiculous, and Holly seems to come to her senses. When Holly asks Miriam about Jed, Miriam tells her everything. And for once Holly is a GOOD person because she tells Miriam that Jed is abusive and that he’s not worth being with.

That Monday Ruth and Miriam are hanging out, when Holly comes up to them with not so hot goss, but sad news. Mei’s mother died that weekend. She was found at the bottom of the steps with a broken neck. Holly is convinced that it was murder, and no matter how much Miriam proclaims that Mei wouldn’t do that, Holly and Ruth won’t hear it. Holly thinks they should go to the police, and then when Noah walks up to them and says that Mei’s Mom is dead, and that he saw Holly at the game….. then he walks off. Okay, yeah, that’s admittedly a weird thing to say. Now Holly is convinced that he knows that she heard them and she is in danger! Seems to me that she’s REALLY making a tragedy all about her, but hey, at least she doesn’t seem into Noah anymore. She promises that she’s not going to say anything to anyone about this, and to THAT I say HA. Miriam asks if she can get a ride home from her that night, but Holly says she’s staying late to hang decorations for the victory rally post-basketball game. Miriam wonders if Noah is someone that she should be afraid of. Because you know, Noah wears leather, drinks occasionally, and has long hair, which means he’s gotta be a serial killer.

Later that night Miriam gets a phone call from Holly. She’s still at school but feeling jumpy, and she wonders if Miriam will come keep her company because she thinks she’s seeing Mei EVERYWHERE. Also, she has some news about Jed that she wants to tell her in person. Miriam says she’ll ask her Mom if she can take the car, but when she gets back on the line Holly isn’t answering her. She drives to the school, and when she goes into the gym Holly is nowhere to be seen. She goes by the door to the locker rooms thinking that maybe she went home… until she sees Holly’s scarf. When Miriam looks behind a pep rally sign, she finds Holly, dead. She freaks out and runs for the doors, but then someone grabs her. Luckily it’s just Jed, and when Miriam tells him what she saw, he goes to see for himself. He then takes her hand and says they need to go call the police. After he calls they sit in the parking lot, and he suddenly freaks out, kicking and punching Holly’s car in a fury. Miriam wonders why he’s doing this, but in his defense I don’t know how I’D react if I found the dead body of one of my friends. As they wait for the police, she realizes that it’s weird that he’s here, and she asks him why he’s at the school this late. He says that he and Gary were working out and Gary left just before Miriam started screaming. Miriam starts to suspect that maybe Mei DID do this.

The next day Ruth is dropping school work off for Miriam, who has been in bed basically since it happened. Ruth tells her that Gary is a wreck and wasn’t at school either, and neither was Mei. But Noah was, and Ruth says that he looked completely nuts. Miriam doesn’t want to talk about any of them, and Ruth says that she’s sad too even if she has a hard time showing it. There’s going to be a memorial at school the next day, and since Miriam’s Mom thinks that one day of mourning/processing time is perfectly adequate for a girl who found her best friend brutally murdered, Miriam will be there. Now Ruth is convinced that Mei and Noah killed her, but Miriam says they have no proof. And she says that if Mei DID do it, the police will be able to find proof that she did and will catch her.

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Tell that to John Walsh, honey. (source)

Ruth opens up her backpack to give Miriam her homework, but when she pulls her hand out both it and the notebook are covered in a red, sticky liquid. A message in blood is written on the cover: “We know you know, that’s why you die next!” Ruth says that Holly must not have kept her big mouth shut, and Miriam finally concedes that perhaps the police should be involved.

After dropping the notebook off at the police (and it wasn’t blood, of course, just paint), Miriam is feeling better now that she’s home. The police say they’ll look into Mei and Noah, and Miriam calls Jed. He says he’ll come right over, and when he arrives they start to talk about all the horrible things that have happened. Miriam says that she never thanked him for being there for her the night before,  he has a ‘murderous glare’ (as Miriam categorizes it, anyway). She decides not to tell him about Mei and Noah, lest he lose it. But then he says he doesn’t want to talk about Holly anymore because everyone is treating her like a saint but she was a bad person who treated his best friend like shit, AND he was trying to dig up dirt on HIM! She asks how he can be so cruel, and he says that it’s Holly’s fault that she was killed, and YUCK. She says that SHE was the one who asked Holly to go on a recon mission because he’s been acting different and being, you know, VIOLENT, and she’s worried about him. He says that it’s just pressure because of the playoffs, and he hasn’t talked to her and Holly about it because excuse HIM if he doesn’t want to gossip about Mei Kamata all the time. Ding ding ding, points for everybody I feel. But Miriam asks what he meant when he said that Holly was at fault for her own murder. He storms off, and she wonders what HE knows.

At school the next day Miriam doesn’t want to go to the memorial, so she ditches off to the bathroom. She’s confronted by Mei and Noah after she leaves it, and Mei asks her how she could spread the lies about her mother that Holly started, and how she could go to the police. Mei’s mother sprained her ankle the week before and it spasmed while she was at the top of the steps, that’s all. Miriam says that she doesn’t believe them, and if they didn’t kill Mei’s Mom then Miriam is being a grade A asshole right now. They also say that they didn’t kill Holly, and that Holly had a LOT of enemies because she got the dirt and spread it around the school. Miriam says that she and Mei used to be friends before NOAH came into the picture, and Mei says that while she WOULD kill for Noah, she DIDN’T. By the end of the day Miriam is totally over everything, and she sees Jed and Gary arguing, with Gary saying that he’s not covering for Jed anymore and that he knows everything that Holly knew. She waits for Gary to leave before she approaches Jed, and he apologizes again. So she asks what his problem is again, and here we go again as he gets defensive. She says that Holly knew something, and then she asks why he was at school the night she was murdered. He says that he was weight lifting, and that Gary was there, but she doesn’t believe him. He says that she can think what she wants, but he has a game to go play, and he looks less angry and more tired. They do their apology dance again.

Miriam asks Ruth to go to the game with her that night while they’re hanging out in Ruth’s room. Ruth says she’s not going anywhere where Mei and Noah are, and when Miriam expresses her doubts that Mei killed her mother, let alone Holly, Ruth says she thinks that it’s Noah who did everything. Miriam says she’s going to the game regardless because Jed needs her. When she gets to the school she sees Jed taking some kind of pill before the game, and when she asks what it was he says it’s a vitamin. They apologize to each other again, and he goes to play. While watching the game Miriam sees Noah watching her, but tries to focus on Jed. But then on the court Jed loses it again, and attacks another player, and now Miriam is convinced that HE is the one who killed Holly. She runs out, and Jed follows her. He tries to stop her from going, but she hits him in the stomach and bolts all the way to Ruth’s house.

Ruth answers the door and Miriam tells her that Jed is the killer, not Mei and Noah, and Ruth says that it couldn’t be him because there were two more murders tonight: LIZZY AND TILLY!!!!! DAMN YOU AND YOUR PET KILLING FETISH, STINE!!!! Ruth says that her Mom is working late and she was asleep on the couch when she heard a noise upstairs. When she got to her room, the hamsters were crushed to death, and they left a note: “Dead hamsters today, dead girls tomorrow.” Ruth goes to call the police, and when she comes back Miriam comforts her and asks if she wants to get dressed out of her pjs, but Ruth says that she can’t go back in her room with the dead hamsters. Miriam says that she’ll go cover them up. She can’t find anyhting to cover them with, so she goes to Ruth’s closet for a shirt, but when she opens the door, a bloody hammer falls out. The hammer that Ruth had in her backpack. Then Ruth walks into the room, and it’s clear from the look on her face that SHE KILLED THE HAMSTERS!! Ruth dives for the hammer and they start wrestling on the ground for it. Ruth wins and pulls an Annie Wilkes (kind of) and smashes Miriam in the knee cap with it. It was Ruth the whole time! Ruth killed Holly! When Miriam asks why, Ruth says it’s because Holly treated Gary like garbage and that Ruth has been in love with Gary this whole time. She had gone to the school that night to tell Holly to just dump Gary and stop leading him on, and Holly LAUGHED at her and said that once she had Noah she’d happily give Ruth Gary but not a moment sooner. In a fury she strangled her. Miriam says that Holly was a good person (I WOULDN’T GO THAT FAR. While this is certainly NOT a capital offense, and while murdering her isn’t the answer or the right thing to do, Holly really was just awful.) and that she didn’t deserve to die, and Ruth says that Holly’s endless hard on for gossip provided the perfect motive to frame Noah and Mei, and that it helped her manipulate Miriam because she, too, took the gossip very seriously. Miriam says that Jed is going to come in here any minute and Ruth says she’ll just kill him too, because he’s been acting like a loon and she will say that he killed Miriam and the hamsters, and then claim self defense. Jed does enter, and Ruth immediately cracks him with the hammer. But before Ruth can kill her, Miriam grabs the hamster cage and smashes it over her head, knocking her out.

Jed comes to and has his own confession to make. He says that it is his fault that Holly is dead, because he told Holly to wait for him in the gym that day so they could talk. See, this whole time Jed has been acting weird because he’s on STEROIDS!!! The anger, the anxiety, the mood swings, ALL steroids. The pressure for a scholarship was too much, and he started the roids in hopes it would improve her performance. Gary knew and told Holly, and Jed wanted to talk to her before she talked to Miriam. But then he got in a weird ambiguous steroid fog, and he was late meeting her. If he’d just been on time, maybe Holly wouldn’t be dead! Miriam tells him it’s not his fault, and they make up. SHe says they need to call the police, and he asks her if she is will stay with him if he promises to get off the roids. She says ‘that’s the latest gossip’. The End.

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This is my brain on this book. (source)

Body Count: 4, if you include the hamsters. And you know that I do. Godspeed, Lizzy and Tilly.

Romance Rating: 3. Holly is hoping to cheat on Gary with Noah, Jed is lost in a roid rage and may in the future pull a Chris Benoit on Miriam, and Ruth killed Holly because she loves Gary. But that said, Mei and Noah seem like they’re a pretty good fit!

Bonkers Rating: 5. The Roid Rage subplot was totally nutso to me, but otherwise it’s not much to write home about, craziness wise.

Fear Street Relevance: 2. Miriam and Holly both live on Fear Street, but none of the action actually occurs there.

Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:

“They walked away from me now, Miriam thought. But will they come back?”

…. And nope. They won’t. Outside of a moment in the gym with Noah, that was it for them in this book.

That’s So Dated! Moments: I liked that Holly’s stylish hairstyle was very much a 1990s perm.

Best Quote:

“‘I’m sorry. So sorry,’ Ruth murmured. ‘I won’t have any friends left after tonight- will I? Not even my two hamsters. My two real friends.'”

Girllllll….. that was kind of on you.

Conclusion: “What Holly Heard” was a lame duck with a strange Nancy Reagan style anti-drug subplot, and I am kind of flummoxed by it. Do better, Stine. Next up is “The Face”. 

Kate’s Review: “Dread Nation”

30223025Book: “Dread Nation” by Justina Ireland

Publishing Info: Balzer + Bray, April 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Jane McKeene was born two days before the dead began to walk the battlefields of Gettysburg and Chancellorsville—derailing the War Between the States and changing America forever. In this new nation, safety for all depends on the work of a few, and laws like the Native and Negro Reeducation Act require certain children attend combat schools to learn to put down the dead. But there are also opportunities—and Jane is studying to become an Attendant, trained in both weaponry and etiquette to protect the well-to-do. It’s a chance for a better life for Negro girls like Jane. After all, not even being the daughter of a wealthy white Southern woman could save her from society’s expectations.

But that’s not a life Jane wants. Almost finished with her education at Miss Preston’s School of Combat in Baltimore, Jane is set on returning to her Kentucky home and doesn’t pay much mind to the politics of the eastern cities, with their talk of returning America to the glory of its days before the dead rose. But when families around Baltimore County begin to go missing, Jane is caught in the middle of a conspiracy, one that finds her in a desperate fight for her life against some powerful enemies. And the restless dead, it would seem, are the least of her problems.

Review: Zombies have been a genre trope of choice for awhile now in horror fiction. They are usually used to show that in a world of zombies, humans are still the real monsters, and that’s a theme that I enjoy no matter how often it is invoked. But the thing is, zombies are starting to feel a bit stale. With “The Walking Dead” hemorrhaging viewers and post apocalyptic horror movies choosing to go other routes, the zombie story has needed a jolt for awhile now to, uh, revive it. So that is probably why I enjoyed “Dread Nation” so much. “Dread Nation” definitely breathes new life into the zombie story, quite possibly because the zombies are not the focus, nor are they the ultimate bringer of the end of the world. Zombies pale in face of the true enemy in this book, and that enemy is racism in American society. So that means fans of “Lovecraft Country”, this might be the next  book you should add to your list.

Justina Ireland has created an alternate timeline history of America, the divergence happening during the Civil War when the Undead (or Shamblers, as they are called in this) suddenly rose from the ground. The alternate history is so rich and new, and yet so familiar, that it definitely feels like this how things would have worked out had this occurrence actually happened in American History. Jane is our protagonist, and she is a true delight as a YA historical fiction/horror/thriller heroine. She has some character similarities to other greats in the genre (Katniss Everdeen comes to mind), mainly because Jane doesn’t necessarily seek out being a leader or a rabblerouser and just wants to live life by her own rules. But unlike books like “The Hunger Games” series, which have a vague and malleable version of oppression and dystopia, the one in “Dread Nation” is right out of the history books: Jane is a black girl living in a racist society, and the injustices that she deals with are still relevant in real world American in 2018, not limited to an alternate history of this nation. Jane, like other kids of color her age, has been sent to a school to learn how to fight the zombie hordes so the white people in society don’t have to, and while she is learning to be an Attendant (a more prestigious position in some ways, as she learns not only to fight but also trains in etiquette to serve a rich white woman) it’s still a subservient place in society. Much like the modern wars of Vietnam and the Gulf Wars, it’s the minorities who are on the front lines giving up their bodies while the white elite sit by and live their lives blissfully unaffected. Jane faces systemic racism and oppression from positions of authority because of her skin, but those aren’t the only themes that still apply today. Jane’s classmate/frenemy Katherine is a white passing black girl, and while her skin means she can shield herself from racism, she doesn’t feel like she has a place in the black community or the white community. Ireland does a great job of bringing these themes (and more) to the forefront, and making them feel relevant today even though the story takes place two centuries ago.

(Note: There has been some criticism of “Dread Nation” regarding how it discusses and portrays the Native characters and themes, most prominently from Debbie Reese. While I did like the book for the most part and think that it does a good job with its portrayal of racism in America, these criticisms are important to see and think about.)

But what about the zombies, you may be asking. As a zombie aficionado (even as they start to feel a bit played out), I can say that I really liked Ireland’s take on them. The action scenes with them never failed to disappoint, and the mythology that Ireland has built around them feels fresh because this isn’t a fallen society, but a society that is trying to coexist with these things. That is a narrative that you don’t see often, and given that I’ve always wanted to see it explored more I was so happy that Ireland went in that direction with the Undead world building. I also felt like she integrated it enough into actual events in American History and changed some of the outcomes or paths in response to it that it felt believable that this is how society would have reacted. Because of this, it always does feel like Civil War Era America, even with a zombie uprising. The Undead storyline, too, finds ways to  bring forward social justice topics on race that still concern society today and back then, with science, medicine, and research being done at the expense of black lives and bodies.

“Dread Nation” was a great read that has re-energized my love for the zombie genre. Ireland has given it so much more meat, and I hope that people who read it will think about all of the things she’s trying to say, even if they just came in for the Undead.

Rating 8: A tense and unique historical fiction/horror novel, “Dread Nation” not only tinkers with the zombie story, it also uses it to examine modern issues of race and racism in America.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Dread Nation” is included on the Goodreads lists “Black Lives Matter Library Ideas”, and “Zombie Apocalypse by Black Authors or w/ Black Main Characters”.

Find “Dread Nation” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “The Cabin at the End of the World”

36381091Book: “The Cabin at the End of the World” by Paul Tremblay

Publishing Info: William Morrow, June 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: A friend let me borrow it!

Book Description: The Bram Stoker Award-winning author of A Head Full of Ghosts adds an inventive twist to the home invasion horror story in a heart-palpitating novel of psychological suspense that recalls Stephen King’s Misery, Ruth Ware’s In a Dark, Dark Wood, and Jack Ketchum’s cult hit The Girl Next Door.

Seven-year-old Wen and her parents, Eric and Andrew, are vacationing at a remote cabin on a quiet New Hampshire lake. Their closest neighbors are more than two miles in either direction along a rutted dirt road.

One afternoon, as Wen catches grasshoppers in the front yard, a stranger unexpectedly appears in the driveway. Leonard is the largest man Wen has ever seen but he is young, friendly, and he wins her over almost instantly. Leonard and Wen talk and play until Leonard abruptly apologizes and tells Wen, “None of what’s going to happen is your fault”. Three more strangers then arrive at the cabin carrying unidentifiable, menacing objects. As Wen sprints inside to warn her parents, Leonard calls out: “Your dads won’t want to let us in, Wen. But they have to. We need your help to save the world.”

Thus begins an unbearably tense, gripping tale of paranoia, sacrifice, apocalypse, and survival that escalates to a shattering conclusion, one in which the fate of a loving family and quite possibly all of humanity are entwined. The Cabin at the End of the World is a masterpiece of terror and suspense from the fantastically fertile imagination of Paul Tremblay.

Review: Paul Tremblay, you fucked me up again.

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Though I don’t know what I expected because it always comes to this. (source)

I knew that this was going to happen, because he has done this twice before. First with “A Head Full of Ghosts”, a book about a family dealing with a teenage girl’s possible possession, and then with “Disappearance at Devil’s Rock”, a book about a family dealing with a boy’s disappearance. Now he came for me and his readers with “The Cabin at the End of the World”, a book about a family dealing with the threat of a home invasion and an impossible choice they may have to make. As you can see, Paul Tremblay likes to put families through the ringer, and that makes his books not only all the more scary, but it also makes them deeply emotional reads with characters whose pain you feel in the very pits of your stomach. The emotional connection to the characters is one of the things that sets Tremblay above many other horror authors today, and has him up there with Joe Hill, Stephen King, and Caroline Kepnes when it comes to horror and thriller fiction. CLAIM YOUR RIGHTFUL PLACE ON THE THRONE OF AGONY, YOU MAGNIFICENT BASTARD.

This time our family is comprised of Wen and her fathers Eric and Andrew. Wen is an eight year old trans-racial adoptee who is generally happy with her two dads, but has a nagging identity crisis that she can’t quite shake. Eric is an anxious person who has a healthy but somewhat hidden Catholic Faith, and he loves his husband and daughter even though he’s always worrying about her. Andrew is the more easy going of the pair, though a past trauma is always in the back of his mind even as he tries to be as pragmatic and logical as possible. So when they are cornered by a doomsday cult during their cabin weekend, a group of people who all came together by shared visions of the end of the world, they are suddenly forced into a dangerous situation that none of them are at all equipped for. The intruders believe that to prevent the end of days, this family needs to sacrifice one of it’s own. Eric, Andrew, and Wen are all complex characters who make realistic decisions based on who they are as people, from an eight year old child to a man consumed by nerves to a man trying to keep complete zen control of himself. I liked that while we didn’t see much interaction in the present outside of the home invasion, we are told through flashbacks and little hints and interactions just how much they mean to each other. I also appreciated that Tremblay did address the complex intricacies for families with transracial adoptees. While Eric and Andrew definitely do their very best to help Wen connect to her heritage (as she was adopted from China), there are still hints and references to her feeling out of place in her surroundings. It’s a narrative that isn’t seen much in adoption stories, and it was refreshing to show her multilayered feelings on her adoption and life with Eric and Andrew. Eric and Andrew were also well explored in their relationship and their own anxieties about parenting and living as gay men in a world where there is still stigma, no matter how much progress has been made. It was especially interesting exploring Andrew, who encourages Eric to be more relaxed but is still affected by a hate crime that was committed against him years before.

And the antagonistic group itself has some depth and complexity. Leonard, the leader of the doomsday group, takes no joy in the task he thinks he is sent to do. You can tell that he is pained by his ‘mission’, but he is also blinded by his own zealotry and it means that he can’t see the pain that he is causing. There is certainly an ambiguity there with him and his followers/fellow members; Tremblay makes sure to leave a lot of ambiguity about whether the world is actually coming to an end or not, and lets the reader decide if the signs that Leonard is seeing are real, or just coincidences as Andrew believes. But in the same token, it’s hard to know what the greater horror would be: that the end of the world may be coming, and only a terrible sacrifice can stop it…. Or that Leonard and his followers are just out of their minds, and that all of the suffering and torment that falls upon Eric, Andrew, and Wen is just for nothing. The story line and plot is tense as hell, and it wound me up as each new development happened. The brutality that Leonard and his group brings is unrelenting, but never feels tasteless of exploitative. You can see the motivations and fears on both sides, and as some characters begin to question what they are  believing on both sides, the reader also begins to wonder just what is real and what is not. I loved that. Even if it messed me up. Don’t go into this book looking for straight up answers and conclusions: it is more a meditation on faith, family, and zealotry than your run of the mill end of the world tale. And I closed the book and just had to stare at the ceiling for a bit.

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And I mean this in the BEST way possible. (source)

Paul Tremblay is one of our best horror writers out there because he can find the horror in the extreme, and the horror in the all too ordinary. He taps into fears of loss and injustice, and the unknown, and his words will linger with you long after you close the book. He can terrify and devastate you, and if you are anything like me you will look forward to it every single time. “The Cabin at the End of the World” was well worth the wait.

Rating 9: Paul Tremblay has created another disturbing and heart wrenching tale of family, faith, paranoia, and love that scared me and made me cry. “The Cabin at the End of the World” is another winner from a horror maestro.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Cabin at the End of the World” is new and not included on many Goodreads lists yet, but I think it would fit in on “This Is The End….”, and “A Walk in the Woods”.

Find “The Cabin at the End of the World” at your library using WorldCat!

A Revisit to Fear Street: “The Stepsister 2”

176476Book: “The Stepsister 2” (Fear Street #33) by R.L. Stine

Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, 2005

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

Book Description: The doctor says Nancy is cured…

She’s over the murderous rage that made her try to kill her sister Emily last year. Now she’s home for good…

Or evil. Emily wants to forgive and forget, but the nightmare has started all over again. Someone wants to hurt her. Is it Nancy? Or is there someone else who wants Emily dead?

Had I Read This Before: No.

The Plot: For whatever reason, R.L. Stine has decided to write another sequel to one of his more lackluster early books. While part of me is relieved that he didn’t feel a need to revisit “Missing” or “The Secret Bedroom”, why oh WHY does he pick wet blankets like “Wrong Number” to follow up on? This time we’re revisiting “The Stepsister”, which means that Emily, Jessie, and good ol’ crazy pants Nancy are back at it again. We jump into Emily and Jessie, first sworn enemies now thick as thieves step sisters, waiting for Nancy to come home from her stint at the mental institution. If you remember she was there because she tried to kill Emily because she blamed Emily for their father’s death. We are also reminded that Jessie carries her own baggage, as her friend Jolie died and everyone thought she murdered her. As Jessie is putting her favorite crystal swan (a gift from her no longer around mother) on a shelf, screams startle her and she drops it. Rich, the third musketeer in this blended family recipe, storms into the room yelling at Emily. Apparently they were at the same party and Rich drank some beer. His Dad (remember Hugh? GOD he’s awful) found out and grounded him, and Rich thinks that Emily must have ratted him out. Emily denies it, but Rich says that he’ll get her back and leaves. Jessie and Emily talk about how WEIRD he is, with his love for Clive Barker and weird splatterpunk horror novels, and he doesn’t sound so bad to me. This is that time before Columbine and after the West Memphis Three where everyone thought violent horror media was what was driving kids to violence, so perhaps we’re foreshadowing. Then we get an appearance from Butch, the family’s new dog, and oh Butch, I’m not getting attached to you.

The doorbell rings, and Emily and Jessie go to answer it, assuming it’s Nancy… But it’s not, it’s Jessie’s friend Cora-Ann! Cora-Ann lives in a house where her parents are constantly physically fighting, so she’s spending time at Emily and Jessie’s house a lot. They retreat up to the girls shared bedroom (which is a new thing, and they are both getting used to it as they snipe on and off). Cora-Ann has some gossip about the party the night before, but just before it gets intolerably boring they hear the car doors. Nancy is home for real now. The girls go to the steps and Mrs Wallner greets them SUPER politely, which we are told means that she’s nervous. But then Nancy walks in, and she’s HOLDING A KNIFE!! But not to fear, it’s a prop knife that she found in the bushes, one that Rich must have left while filming a horror movie with his friends, and frankly THAT IS SO COOL. At first Nancy is a bit quiet as everyone bustles around her, but the moment that she says hi to Emily, Emily is super happy to see her. Mr Wallner yells at Rich to come down and say hi (using the phrase ‘insane’ in the process, way to be sensitive you fucking prick), and Rich does so while still showing his anger at Emily by bumping past her. Cora-Ann breaks the ice by telling him she likes horror movies, and then Rich acts like a fucking gatekeeper and tests her on what her favorite horror movie is and I don’t like him anymore. The family scatters, Nancy goes to her room, Cora-Ann and Jessie go to play with make up, and Emily assures her mother that she’s happy that Nancy is home….. But when she goes upstairs to her room she sees that the perfume that her boyfriend Josh gave her, all the way from PARIS, FRANCE, has been shattered on the floor. Emily is immediately convinced it was Nancy. Jessie convinces her not to confront her, and then Rich appears in the doorway and mocks the mess, which makes Emily think that maybe he did it. I find it very hard to give a hoot.

The next day the entire family (sans grounded Rich) goes out for waffles in celebration. Mr. Wallner makes an ass of himself, and Emily thinks about what a boor he is, but then we also find out that she’s been calling him ‘Dad’ now and I can’t comprehend why on Earth she would do that. Nancy says that she wants to talk with Emily when they get home, and after a nice long breakfast they return to the house. Nancy leads Emily into the living room, and then WRAPS HER HANDS AROUND HER NECK! Emily freaks out, and Nancy says that she did it to ‘prove a point’, that Emily is still afraid of her. Emily astutely points out that Nancy just tried to strangle her, but Nancy says that no, she just put her hands on her neck but didn’t squeeze, which is not threatening at all.

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Is this actually an argument? (source)

Lucky for Nancy, this is Shadyside so Emily mostly concedes the point. They got to Nancy’s room and Emily comments on how it’s starting to look like it used to, sans a big sheet on the wall. Nancy says that’s the mural she’s working on, but no peeking until it’s finished. They chat about Emily’s life and Emily asks about the hospital Nancy was staying in, and Nancy says that it was okay. They have a heart to heart and Nancy says that she’s sorry. All seems well between the sisters, and Emily leaves to go on a date with Josh.

Josh and Emily as ice skating on Fear Lake as their date, and while that may seem like a bad idea given how cursed it is it actually sounds like a pretty tranquil evening. As they wrap up and take off their skates they suddenly hear the sound of dirt bikes, which then turns into actual dirt bikes driving very fast right at them. The bikes stop right before hitting them, and one of them is Rich (okay where did he get a dirt bike?). When Emily reminds him that he’s grounded, Rich threatens her not to tell, but then totally backs down when Josh steps in, and oh God did R.L. Stine predict the Incel movement? Is Josh a Chad and Emily a Becky? Rich rides away and Josh makes like the New York Times and tells Emily that they should feel sorry for Rich. They get back to Emily’s house and start to make out on the couch, but Emily notices someone watching them from the door. She thinks it’s Nancy, but it’s actually Cora-Ann, who gets all flustered and runs off. Emily tells Josh that she likes Cora-Ann and feels bad for her, and Josh suggests that they go out that next Saturday for a dancing date at Red Heat. It ‘takes him awhile to leave’, and what kind of metaphor is Stine throwing our way this time? Emily goes upstairs and chats with Jessie, is thinks that Emily and Josh are too gross and that Emily should try dating other guys, and mind your own beeswax Jessie. Then Emily naps, but when she wakes up to get some water she is tempted to look at the mural on Nancy’s wall. She decides not to, but when she runs into Nancy on the steps her sister must be able to smell the guilt because she tells her that she wants the mural to be a surprise and no one can look until it’s finished. Emily promises her that she won’t, and they seem to be okay. But as Emily starts to descend the staircase, Nancy’s foot shoots out and Emily tumbles down the steps after tripping on it. Emily wakes up to Nancy freaking out over her, and Emily accuses her of tripping her on purpose. Nancy tearfully insists that it’s her anti-psychotic medications make her muscle control completely non-existent. She apologizes profusely, and since Emily is somehow not a bundle of broken matter they don’t call an ambulance. Apparently in Shadyside concussions aren’t a thing.

At school that week Emily and Cora-Ann talk about their home lives. Cora-Ann confides that her father left potentially for good the week before, and when Emily tries to make it about herself by saying she too is having a bad time at home Cora-Ann shuts her down. After their heartfelt talk Emily feels SO bad for Cora-Ann, but when she tells Jessie about it Jessie snaps that Cora-Ann is HER friend. Then we fast forward to the weekend where the three of them are hanging out before Emily’s date with Josh. As Jessie and Cora-Ann lament that they haven’t had dates in a long while, I lament the fact that this book isn’t promoting the idea that a girls night of dancing could be just as fulfilling. But then it was 1995, and the Spice Girls “Wannabe” is two years away from changing all girls lives. When Emily goes to check on her perfect sexy dancing dress, she finds that it has been cut in half, which makes her scream. Jessie, Cora-Ann, and Nancy come running, and Emily accuses Nancy of cutting it. Cora-Ann thinks that it’s actually the press at the dry cleaners that does it, and Nancy runs off to her room. As Emily goes to apologize, she passes Rich’s room. He holds up a pair of scissors and says ‘snip snip’. HE’S ESCALATING!!! I’ve been watching enough “Criminal Minds” to know what escalation looks like!

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Emily Prentiss, save me from this book of cliches. (source)

The next morning Emily is talking to her mother about Rich and his ‘shenanigans’, but her mom brushes it off saying that they’re looking for a therapist for him and that until that happens Emily should ‘stay out of his way’. Christ, I can’t even with this. THEN when Emily confides that she is still kind of scared of Nancy (as she watches Nancy tool around outside), the person who tried to kill her, her mother scolds her and reminds her that she needs to be extra sensitive about this whole thing. And I get it. Nancy has problems, no doubt. But to ask her VICTIM to be a little braver and understanding is just wrong. Emily does wonder if she should be more understanding, and goes outside to talk to Nancy. They end up building a snowman to rival the one that Cora-Ann and Jessie made, and it turns into a lovely afternoon. But as Emily is driving to Josh’s house that night, the brakes give out on the car! She crashes into a tree, and wakes up in the hospital. Mr. Wallner, or “DAD”, is there, and Emily tries to tell him that she thinks that Nancy tampered with the breaks. He tells her that no, he knew that the breaks were feeling a bit loose but didn’t take the car in, and besides, how could NANCY possibly know how to tinker with a car? Even when Emily says that Nancy studied car repair during her psych ward stay, Hugh waves off this theory, most likely because Emily is a girl and what does she know?

A few nights later Emily wakes up to Jessie sobbing. She had a bad dream about Jolie again. The sisters bond over their mutual nightmares about the people they lost in their past, and reaffirm that they are good sisters to each other. Jolie realizes that Emily has never seen a picture of Jolie, and so she digs out a memory box and shows her a picture. Emily  point s out that Jolie and Cora-Ann are strikingly similar. Jessie wonders if she’s been having nightmares because she’s been hanging out with Cora-Ann so much….. The next day (maybe?) Emily is trying to write a paper about what would happen to Holden Caulfield after “The Catcher in the Rye” (I have a theory: he grows up and becomes a phony). She attempts to call Josh but when she picks up the phone Rich is on the line with a friend who is encouraging him to sneak out. Emily listens in a bit but then hangs up, but Rich knew it was happening and comes into her room to yell at her a bit asking what he has to ‘do to her’ to get her out of his life.

Later, Emily and Jessie are watching a movie when there is a knocking on the door. They go to the door and find Cora-Ann with a white canvas bag. She says her Dad is back and wonders if she can sleep over. They say sure. The next morning Emily wakes up and brushes her teeth, but then can’t get her jaws to open. Then she sees a bottle of super glue in the garbage!!! Okay, this is straight up assault at this point!! She rushes out of the bathroom and demonstrates what has happened to Jessie and Cora-Ann, and Cora-Ann calls 911. She is told that they should take Emily to the ER, and as they are leaving Emily accuses Nancy through her glued teeth, who then bursts into tears, and Mr. Wallner says that they need to act like a family, dammit. But I put forth that it’s hard to act like a family when you are being assaulted by your sibling or stepsibling or WHOMEVER. After she gets fixed up and they are leaving the ER, Cora-Ann says that this is still better than HER family (not the time, Cora-Ann), and says that her Mom may be moving them back to Parkerstown. Jessie stops short, and says that Jolie was born in Parkerstown. Cora-Ann asks if Jolie was the girl who died, and Jessie asks how she knows about Jolie, because she has never mentioned her. Cora-Ann balks and doesn’t answer.

In French class later that week Jessie and Emily whisper about Jessie’s new suspicions about Cora-Ann. Jessie thinks it’s weird that she knew about Jolie, but Emily says that in Shadyside EVERYONE gossips and that must be how she knows. When Emily gets home that day she sees Rich and Nancy up in the second floor window, perhaps arguing. It’s very strange. We THEN jump ahead to Saturday night, as Emily is returning from a movie she saw with Josh. She’s thinking a lot about all the stuff that’s happened, but when she walks into the living room the worst thing that I KNEW was coming has happened: Butch the dog is dead. Emily freaks out, and starts screaming for Nancy. When the family comes down the steps to see what happened, Rich mutters ‘another dog bites the dust’ (prick), and Emily attacks him.

We cut to Jessie driving Emily down the driveway as Hugh digs a hole for Butch the next morning. That night Hugh and Mrs. Wallner are leaving their kids alone (?!?!??!!?!) because of a sick relative (do they BOTH have to go though?!), and Emily is scared that she’s going to be killed next. They drive up to Cora-Ann’s house, but then Jessie freaks out because she sees two people walking out of her house… and they are Jolie’s parents! Jessie wants to hide but they are spotted, so they get out to talk to them. After awkward pleasantries, Jolie’s parents tell them that Cora-Ann is Jolie’s cousin!!! Jessie insists that they have to leave now, and as they’re driving SHE thinks that it was Cora-Ann who did these thints!! When Jolie died Cora-Ann was devastated. Jessie had told Cora-Ann that she was going out the night that the brakes gave out, she may have thought that the dress was hers, and Jessie was always borrowing the perfume. AND Butch was always jumping on Jessie, AND she was there for a sleepover when the glue was put in the toothpaste!! Emily now feels TERRIBLE for accusing Nancy of these things!!! Because obviously it was Cora-Ann, right?

When they get home Emily runs up to Nancy’s room and knocks on the door. She apologizes through the door when Nancy won’t open it. Emily says she’ll come back later, and goes to find Jessie, who can’t get a hold of their parents. The phone rings, and Jessie picks it up. And since it’s Cora-Ann, she loses her cool and yells at her to NEVER COME BACK AGAIN EVER! Then the power goes out because of a poorly timed thunderstorm during a time of year where it’s usually snowing. The girls go to grab candles, when there’s a knocking on the door. When Emily looks out the window, she sees Cora-Ann on the porch, and she’s HOLDING A KNIFE!!! Jessie tries the phone, but the line is dead. Did the storm do it, or did Cora-Ann do it?! They look out the window again and Cora-Ann is gone, but then they remember that they didn’t check the windows and other doors. And then Cora-Ann bursts through the back door in the kitchen, and comes at Jessie with the knife! But NANCY TO THE RESCUE!! She bolts out of nowhere, grabs a pan, and hits Cora-Ann in the head! Jessie and Emily are stoked, and thank her for saving them…. But when Jessie goes to hug her, Nancy hits HER with the pan as well! Then she turns to Emily and says ‘you’re next’. I guess it was Nancy the whole time, and all the red herrings proved to be nothing and we just get a repeat of the first book.

SO apparently, Cora-Ann took Nancy’s bag by accident when she left, and that bag had a huge ass knife in it. Cora-Ann was coming to warn Jessie and Emily. Nancy has been biding her time and waiting, pretending to be well and better and fooling everyone, including the medical professionals who were tending to her. But now she’s going to kill Emily. She tries to stab her but misses, and Emily goes running. She eventually runs up to Nancy’s room, and pulls the sheet off the mural. The mural just says “HATE HATE HATE HATE” a bunch of times and it doesn’t exactly sound like a Diego Rivera level masterpiece. When Nancy comes into the room and says she’s going to kill her, Emily, remembering her mother’s toxic advice about having to forgive Nancy to truly save their relationship, instead wraps Nancy into a bear hug and tells her that she forgives her, squeezing her tight. At that moment their parents come home, thanks to a washed out road, and all seems to be okay.

And in a neat little wrap up around the dinner table a few weeks later, we find out that Cora-Ann’s parents are in marriage counseling, Cora-Ann and Jessie are friends again (Cora-Ann admits that she was trying to figure out if Jessie killed Jolie but figured out right away she hadn’t), and Emily has been visiting Nancy in the hospital, where she is going to stay for a long time. They tell Rich to turn off the TV and join them at the table, and when he does he tells them that he was watching “Family Feud”. The End.

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I take last time’s declaration back, I hate these bad jokes in light of such tragedy. (source)

Body Count: 1. Poor Butch. I hate it when Stine kills animals.

Romance Rating: I’ll give it a 7! I liked Emily and Josh’s relationship this time around.

Bonkers Rating: 5. Not really crazy, and kind of a rehash of the first one.

Fear Street Relevance: 4? They were ice skating on Fear Lake and there were mentions of Fear Street here and there, but not much of the true action felt Fear Street related.

Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:

“‘No!’ Emily let out a cry as she saw the blood-stained knife in Nancy’s hand.”

… But it was the prop knife. Which wasn’t a prop knife after all??? I wasn’t clear on this.

That’s So Dated! Moments: Well outside of Emily overhearing Rich talk on a shared land line, at one point Emily and Jessie are watching a VHS of “Sleepless in Seattle” but I’m not even mad about it because I straight up love that movie!!

Best Quote:

“‘Pete is such a loser,’ she murmured. ‘I’m surprised I haven’t gone out with him.'”

I applaud your self awareness, Jessie.

Conclusion: “The Stepsister 2” was just a rehash of “The Stepsister” when it all comes down to it, so I wasn’t impressed. Next up is “What Holly Heard”.