Kate’s Review: “Riding the Bullet”

11605Book: “Riding the Bullet” by Stephen King

Publishing Info: Simon and Schuster, January 2000

Where Did I Get This Book: Audiobook download from the library!

Book Description: A Stephen King ghost story in the grand tradition, Riding the Bullet is the ultimate warning about the dangers of hitchhiking.

A college student’s mother is dying in a Maine hospital. When he hitches a ride to see her, the driver is not who he appears to be. Soon the journey veers off into a dark landscape that could only be drawn by Stephen King.

Review: As a longtime Stephen King fan, I have read a lot, and I mean a LOT, of his books. But given how prolific of an author he is, and given how long he’s been at it, there are still plenty of King books, novellas, short stories, et all that I haven’t read yet. And while I’ve hit most of his more popular and famous works, it’s the ones that I’ve never heard of that continuously surprise me on my reading adventures. Be it “The Long Walk” (written under his Richard Bachman pen name) or “Charlie the Choo-Choo” (a children’s book based on the book within his “Dark Tower” series), King has popped up and shown me new things in the past couple of years. So when I was looking for something to listen to in the car, I just punched King’s name into the search bar to see what was available. It was then that I saw a title I had never heard of before: “Riding the Bullet”. Seeing that it was short and that I’m always trying to expand my King repertoire, I downloaded it.

Even in a novella such as this one, King has created a cast of characters who feel so well explored and real that I got a sense for who they were and what motivated them. Specifically Alan Parker, our narrator and protagonist who is picked up by a ghost on the night his mother is sick in the hospital. As you read the story you get the sense that Alan has a strained relationship with his mother; though they are really all the other one has, Alan also notes moments in their past that could be seen as abusive. You understand the love he has for his mother and why he would drop everything to try and hitchhike down to see her when she has a minor stroke and ends up in the hospital. But taking this into account, even without King saying how deep this tension and complexity to their relationship goes, it makes things down the line seem believable in the face of incredulity.

I really enjoyed how king took the old urban legend/ghost story of the Phantom Hitchhiker and turned it on it’s head, with the hitchhiker being the one who is potentially in the presence of a ghost who leaves a trinket behind. In the usual story a person picks up a hitchhiker on the side of the road on a dark night. Usually it’s a man picking up a young woman. They talk and connect, telling each other their names and about their lives, and the driver drops the hitchhiker off to wherever she wants to go. They part on friendly terms, but as the driver is driving away he realizes that she left a sweater, or a scarf, or something behind. He tracks down where she lives based on her name, and when he brings the object back to the house, a family member will ultimately tell the driver that “She died ten years ago” or something to that effect. It’s a classic. In this case the ghost is George Staub, the ghost of a man whose grave Alan had seen in a cemetery on his journey south. While on the short but terrifying ride with George, Alan notices the button that the ghost is wearing: “I Rode The Bullet At Thrill Village, Laconia”, a rollercoaster that Alan once had the chance to ride when he was a child. But when he and his mother got to the front of the line, he chickened out. Now instead of trying to return the forgotten object (as there is no question that Staub is a ghost from the get go), it serves as a reminder for what happened that night, and the consequences to what happened in the car between Alan and Staub.

What I liked most about this story is that there is a certain ambiguity to it. The ambiguity isn’t whether or not Alan was picked up by a ghost that night, as that much is clear. But the ambiguity is placed within the choice that Alan makes (which I don’t want to reveal), and whether he ultimately has any culpability in the potential consequences that may, or may not, come because of it. It kind of digs into philosophy about what children owe to their parents, and what parents want from their children. As the story carries on beyond the encounter with the ghost, Alan has to grapple with these questions. He’s convinced that because of his actions, something bad will happen to his mother…. And the tension of this, of finding out whether or not this is the case, definitely had me on the edge of my seat in the car. I think that there wasn’t really a good release for the tension I was feeling, and that I could have used more story to really unwind from all of it. As it was, it just kind of tapered off, and I was left wanting a bit more.

I should also mention that Josh Hamilton was the narrator for this audiobook, and I thought that he did a great job. I know him best from when he played Serge on “Absolutely Fabulous” and also from a driver’s ed video I watched when I was a teenager (I WISH I COULD FIND THIS VIDEO). It’s so important to have a person who really dives into the story they are reading, and I was totally immersed in his narration.

Overall, I enjoyed “Riding The Bullet”, both for it’s effective suspense and for the bittersweet pathos that it had. Stephen King is so good at both horror and humanity, and “Riding the Bullet” is a solid example of both.

Rating 7: A solid ghost story with some fun references to various urban legends. King is so good with characterization that while I felt more could have gone into this book, I got a feel for Alan and George Staub alike.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Riding the Bullet” is included on the Goodreads lists “Riders Up!”, and “Theological Weird Fiction”.

Find “Riding the Bullet” at your library using WorldCat!

A Revisit to Fear Street: “The Stepsister”

842704Book: “The Stepsister” (Fear Street #9) by R.L. Stine

Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, October 1990

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

Book Description: Emily wants to like her stepsister, but it hasn’t been easy. As soon as Jessie moves in, she takes over Emily’s room, starts wearing Emily’s clothes, makes secret late-night calls on Emily’s phone – and that’s just the beginning!

Before long, Emily is living in total fear of her stepsister. Emily tries complaining to her parents. But Jessie is such a good liar, no one will believe Emily!

Emily’s terror mounts when she picks up Jessie’s diary and learns a horrifying secret from Jessie’s past. Did Jessie really murder someone? Does she plan to murder again? Emily knows she must find out the rest of her stepsister’s dark secret. Her own life depends on it!

Had I Read It Before: No.

The Plot: So this is the story of Emily Casey and her newly cobbled together blended family. While she and her sister Nancy have been the only siblings in the house for awhile, their mother just married a man named Hugh Wallner and he has two kids, Jessie and Rich. Now that Hugh and Mom (because why should she have a name?) are married, they’re finally moving in together. There’s talk of Jessie and Rich’s mom being an absent parent, but it isn’t really harped on too much. Jessie and Emily are going to share a room, and when they both go up there Jessie establishes herself as a total cooze. First she says the room is too small, then she says that it’s a ‘dump’. It then turns into making fun of Emily’s Mom for being ‘enthusiastic’ and Nancy for having red hair, and bitching about lack of closet space. Then she says she’s sorry because she’s so ‘nervous’ and worried about the changes of becoming a blended family. Yeah, okay, because that makes it alright to be such a bitch. To make matters worse, Tiger the terrier runs in, and Jessie freaks out and shoves him away lest he get fur all over her sweater. Then, as the coup de grace, she ‘accidentally’ rips the head off of Emily’s teddy bear. JESUS. Nancy comes in and tries to quell the tension by talking about Rich and his love for Stephen King (You’re a good man, Rich), and slips in the plot exposition that Emily is now dating Nancy’s ex Josh. Yeah, I don’t think that’s so cool, Emily.

Over cake and ice cream we get to see what a dick Mr. Wallner is.  He makes fun of Jessie’s anxieties, makes fun of Rich for reading and for his cracking voice, and acts indignant when his abuse isn’t seen as funny. He also likes to brag about not reading books. Emily is reminded that her Dad loved to read books. But on a camping trip to Fear Island, when he and little girl Emily were out on a boat on Fear Lake, a wind kicked up and her father fell overboard, drowning. Oof.

The next night after Emily and Josh arrange a time for him to come over, she goes down to eat dinner with the family. And then Jessie comes down wearing Emily’s sweater, but insists that it’s hers. An argument ensues, but no one believes Emily. Mr. Wallner says that he’s glad that he has ‘four women’ in the house to clean up. (SO, not only is he applying antiquated gender roles, he’s also picking on his young and shy son by calling him ‘womanly’. This fucking guy.). After dinner Emily goes to work on her big paper for school. She leaves the room to get an apple, and when she comes back Jessie is at the computer. Emily tells her she isn’t done, but when she tries to pull up her paper again, it’s been erased. As someone who has been there to some degree, I legitimately feel for her in this moment. Emily pitches a fit and attacks Jessie. Everyone runs into the room and believes Jessie when she says she didn’t do it. After they leave Jessie snarls at Emily to not embarrass her in front of her father, and then kicks at the poor dog Tiger. Emily grabs her dog and runs to Nancy’s room. Nancy tells her that Jessie is seeing a therapist a couple of times a week and that she has emotional problems.

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Josh comes over. As he and Emily make out, Jessie spies on them. Emily ignores it. That night Emily wakes up and hears Jessie on the phone saying ‘I really could kill her!’

A few days later, things seem better, as Emily and Jessie are going to make a cake. Their playful natures come out and they spray whipped cream all over each other, and Nancy too. Emily goes to take a shower. But when she gets out, she sees her hair has become patchy and miscolored. Someone put peroxide in her shampoo! And this time, no one believes that Jessie didn’t do it, because Nancy says Jessie spent a lot of time in the bathroom earlier in the day. Jessie runs off crying, and Emily’s hair is somehow saved by a home haircut that Nancy performs.

Not to be outdone by his sisters, Rich is escorted home by the police for shoplifting.

A few nights later is the homecoming dance. While Emily and Josh have a great time dancing and then making out in the car afterwards, the fun is short lived. Because when Emily gets to her room, she finds that someone has killed Tiger! While Emily accuses Jessie because she always hated Tiger, Nancy accuses RICH because HE LIKES TO READ STEPHEN KING AND IS READING “PET SEMATARY”!! Rich denies it because OF COURSE HE DIDN’T DO IT BECAUSE OF STEPHEN KING, and Jessie offers to run a bath for Emily she she can relax. Emily is interested at first, but as Jessie is in the bathroom Emily decides to read her diary! In it Jessie talks about how in her old town people think that she was involved a murder! She hides the diary before Jessie can see that she was reading it, and balks at the bath because the water looks like Jessie put some kind of crazy chemicals in it! But then Jessie takes the bath instead, because water conservation, and proves that Emily is succumbing to paranoia.

Emily is awakened from a nightmare by Rich, who really wants to tell her that he didn’t kill her dog. She believes him. Later she wakes up again, and sees that Jessie’s bed is empty! She discerns that Jessie must have snuck out because the window is open, and decides to read more in her stepsister’s diary. Seems that Jessie’s friend Jolie died in some kind of awful accident and everyone assumed that Jessie had something to do with it because she was the one who found the body. I think that’s pretty flimsy, but her reputation was ruined. The next day Emily wants to get away from the house and says that she’s going to a computer lab at school. And when she opens her backpack, Tiger’s corpse is inside.

At dinner that next week, talk goes from talking about Rich getting into fights at school to Jessie talking on the phone at late hours (which she denies of course). After dinner she’s upstairs expecting Josh, and hears voices downstairs. Josh is down there, having a VERY in depth conversation with Jessie! Emily pulls Josh outside and chews him out for talking with Jessie. Josh thinks she’s acting silly.

At school, Emily is trying to enjoy a lunch of suspect macaroni when Jessie’s friend Krysta confronts her about being so mean to Jessie. Emily spills food on her shirt and goes to the girls’ room, only to find Jessie. They rehash the usual fight, accusing each other of being awful, and Jessie leaves. Emily dawdles, and while she’s in there she hears footsteps come and go. And then she smells smoke. Someone has set the bathroom on fire! And when she tries to escape, the door won’t budge and the windows have been painted shut! Luckily the teacher Mrs. Hoffler opens the door and Emily is freed. The school is evacuated and Emily can slowly breathe again after nearly choking to death on all the smoke. Nancy takes Emily home, and it seems like she finally believes her now about Jessie.

Though a bit later they’re all going to a concert together. Emily and Nancy hadn’t wanted to take her, but their parents insisted. Jessie has been very nice to Emily since the fire, but Emily isn’t buying it. At the concert they are up in the nosebleed section, with very steep cement stairs. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that someone shoves Emily when the lights drop of the concert to start. She falls down the steps a few seconds, but someone stops her before too much damage is done. Must have been Jessie! A few weeks later it’s cold out and Emily is walking home, when she sees Josh’s car in the driveway. Did he come to surprise her? NOPE! He’s making out with someone else! JESSIE! Emily starts to run off, but then decides to go home and confront Jessie once and for all (but apparently not Josh for kissing someone else. Typical)!! She doesn’t find them anywhere, but does find a knife in Jessie’s drawer! The one that must have killed Tiger! It’s all coming together.

And now the family is going on a camping trip together. Because Mr. Wallner wants them to act like a family for once. I would argue that he’s one of the main tension factors in the house, but it’s nothing a little wilderness can’t fix. Nancy and Emily are frustrated because they were trying to organize their evidence (and Nancy has SO MUCH HOMEWORK) but now they have to go camping in South Carolina, boo hoo hoo. Once on the trip Mr. Wallner refers to his family as a harem and I think he should seriously be reported to the police, guys. Emily, Nancy, and Jessie are recruited to go get wood. Emily gets separated from Nancy, and in a paranoid moment runs away, convinced Jessie is going to kill her. She runs into an old cemetery, and falls into an open grave!!!! She screams at Jessie to let her out, and she can’t climb out herself, and thinks that she’s going to die in there as Jessie leaves her to rot. But when she looks up, she sees it isn’t Jessie… It’s NANCY!!!! IT WAS NANCY THE WHOLE TIME! Everything that Emily thought was Jessie was Nancy, the dog, the peroxide, the fire, the JOSH! Nancy blames her for their father dying, and for stealing Josh, as they were the two most important men in her life!!!!

But luckily Jessie is there, as she hits Nancy with a shovel to knock her out, and helps Emily out of the grave. I still can’t get over that there’s just a random open grave in an old timey woods cemetery. They go get the rest of the family, because there’s no way this camping trip is continuing.

So we end with assurance that Nancy is getting the help she needs, and Jessie and Emily are finally sorting out their differences. Jessie didn’t kill Jolie, of course, and would disappear at night or be up late on the phone because of her mystery boyfriend that she is seeing. Emily apologizes for blaming her for everything. Rich comes into the room with a new book. But when they ask if it’s another Stephen King story he reveals that it’s, in fact, The Hardy Boys! And the book ends with the three of them laughing and saying “Wow! Things really ARE changing around here!”

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This is how we react to your sister having a psychotic break, eh? (source)

Body Count: One, in the form of poor poor Tiger. We had a good run of not killing any animals in these books, but that ended.

Romance Rating: 1. First of all, I still contend that Emily never should have hooked up with her sister’s ex, and then Josh just happily makes out with Nancy again? Terrible boyfriend. Also, Mr. Wallner is a total prick and his wife can do much better.

Bonkers Rating: 5. Sure, the fact that it was Nancy the whole time was kind of crazy, but it was clear that there was going to be some twist from the start because no way Jessie was doing these horrible things.

Fear Street Relevance: 7. Once again, our characters live on Fear Street, so that’s a given. And the initial ill fated camping trip was on  Fear Island, so I’ll rate it higher than average.

Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger: 

“Struggling to free herself from Jessie’s emotional grip, Emily realized she had never been so afraid in her life.”

…. And then the next scene is them going to a concert together. Doesn’t seem very resonant.

That’s So Dated! Moments: At a school dance, Emily is dancing a song that has the lyrics ‘pump it up pump it up’ and a description of synthesizers in it, and while it wasn’t expressly said I’m thinking it was supposed to be “Pump Up The Jam” by Technotronic? The timing may be off, but it sure seems to line up. Also talk of floppy discs.

Best Quote: 

“She’s totally crazy about him, Emily thought with some dismay. What on EARTH does she see in him? He really IS a sexist pig!”

I like that Emily seems to be hip to feminism.

“The Stepsister” was predictable and kind of flat, and I don’t really know how it warranted a second one, “The Stepsister 2”. But that’s a long ways off in this re-read. Next up is “Ski Weekend” .

Kate’s Review: “The Devil Crept In”

29430798Book: “The Devil Crept In” by Ania Ahlborn

Publishing Info: Simon & Schuster, March 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Young Jude Brighton has been missing for three days, and while the search for him is in full swing in the small town of Deer Valley, Oregon, the locals are starting to lose hope. They’re well aware that the first forty-eight hours are critical and after that, the odds usually point to a worst-case scenario. And despite Stevie Clark’s youth, he knows that, too; he’s seen the cop shows. He knows what each ticking moment may mean for Jude, his cousin and best friend.

That, and there was that boy, Max Larsen…the one from years ago, found dead after also disappearing under mysterious circumstances. And then there were the animals: pets gone missing out of yards. For years, the residents of Deer Valley have murmured about these unsolved crimes…and that a killer may still be lurking around their quiet town. Now, fear is reborn—and for Stevie, who is determined to find out what really happened to Jude, the awful truth may be too horrifying to imagine.

Review: Summer is here and my summer childhood memories have a lot of ‘wandering through the woods’ in them. My childhood home was near a wooded area along the Mississippi River, and my sister and I would wander down to a secret waterfall and to the banks of the river. So there is something a bit familiar about a story that involves children spending their time exploring in the woods. I’m thankful that nothing bad ever happened to us while on our adventures, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy reading about bad things happening to other people in the woods! So I was very interested when I heard about “The Devil Crept In” by Ania Ahlborn. Kids disappearing in a forest that holds many secrets? Oh hell yeah, I’ll read that, I’ll read the HELL out of that!

But I think that the ultimate problem I had with this book was that it kind of had two stories going on, and though they sort of connected, there were too many questions left behind for both of them. To really review this, I’m going to go into spoilers for this book, so that’s a warning to you all who may want to read it. And for posterity…

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Our first story is the one that is put in the description of the book. You have Stevie, an awkward and lonely ten year old in a fraught home life. His older brother Duncan is a bully, his Mom doesn’t really understand him, and his stepfather Terry is abusive and cruel. His only friend is his cousin Jude, who has problems and behavioral issues of his own, as he’s carried quite a bit of rage in him since his father died. When Jude disappears, Stevie is obsessed with finding him, even if he’s heard stories and rumors about the woods and those who have disappeared before. Specifically a young boy named Max, who disappeared and whose body was found weeks later. While those around him want to believe that Jude just ran away, Stevie thinks that the weird shadow he’s seen in the woods, especially around an old abandoned house, is the real answer to Jude’s disappearance.

The second story involves that house. A woman named Rosie lives there. Years before she was married to a doctor, and she desperately wanted children, but couldn’t carry a pregnancy to term. After a traumatic miscarriage, she drove down to Big Sur in a tizzy, and met a strange biker hippie named Ras. He asked her what she would do to have a baby. And she said “Anything.”

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Hasn’t anyone ever read “Faust”?!?! (source)

After she goes home, shortly thereafter her husband dies in a car accident. Shortly thereafter, she discovers she’s pregnant. For whatever reason that I didn’t think was properly fleshed out or explored beyond “I already am anxious around people and how mortifying to be a pregnant widow!”, she stays isolated in her cabin the woods and basically gives birth to a monster, who likes to eat flesh and blood. She names him Otto, and is perfectly fine with the fact he grows up eating cats, dogs, stray animals, and then….. Max Larsen.

So you see where this is all going. Jude disappears because he falls into the thrall of Rosie and Otto. But he isn’t killed by Otto, and when he gets home, he keeps hearing the siren’s call to go back and be with them. So there is a connection between story one and story two. And I loved that I could see the woods and the atmosphere, as well as the creepy shadows out in the trees or on the porch or through the window. That is the kind of creep that I live for. But boy oh boy, do I have so many questions that are never explained or answered. Sometimes this is okay. But in this case, t’s done in a way that comes off as less ambiguous and more forgotten about. My biggest issue is that Ras storyline. Ras plays such an important role in this book for obvious reasons, but he we don’t get any answers about him. What is he? What are his motivations? Is he the Devil? Is he a servant of the Devil? How does he keep track and tabs on Otto and Rosie (because it is implied near the end that he does), is it because he’s magic? I don’t necessarily need all the answers about this guy, but I would like a little more to him as opposed to just being a super convenient plot device! There is also some ambiguity at the end, which I WILL keep under wraps because it’s relevant to the endgame, that didn’t quite sit well with me. I had a hard time figuring out if it was the case of an unreliable narrator, or a magical system that was at play, or people unable to believe or accept the things they see. And also, WHY is it that Jude seems to be able to be possessed by Otto all of a sudden? So now Otto can astral project? It was a lot of mythos that didn’t have much rhyme or reason, and only worked because it needed to work for the story to progress.

Also, I had a hard time with the characters and their personalities. I understand that our protagonist and his family are flawed and have all had hard lives, but for a horror story to be very effective you need to care about the characters to some extent. If you don’t, you won’t be afraid for them. I was afraid for Stevie, because he was pretty sympathetic, but everyone else was pretty cardboard cut out antagonistic (always fun to see the evil stepdad knocking kids around, or the mean older brother hurling anti-Semitic comments here and there) or simpering (Stevie’s Mom and Aunt Mandy are understandably passive, but it was hard to deal with when their passivity leads to their kids being hurt). I basically was just waiting for them all to have horrible things happen to them so I could move onto the next moment, and then onto the next story. Which isn’t how I want to feel when getting to the end of a horror novel.

“The Devil Crept In” had promise, but it didn’t live up to my expectations. I’m not looking at the woods I can see through my kitchen window and feeling afraid, so you know it didn’t bring the scares. I’ll stick to “Disappearance at Devil’s Rock” if I want lost child and scary nature fiction.

Rating 5: Definitely had some creepy moments and imagery, but there were too many threads that were left untied. Plus I couldn’t find much to like about the characters.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Devil Crept In” is new, and isn’t on many Goodreads lists. But I think that it would fit in on “Books To Avoid While Pregnant”, and “The Devil Made Me Do It”.

Find “The Devil Crept In” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Feedback” by Mira Grant

22359662Book: “Feedback” by Mira Grant

Publishing Info: Orbit Books, October 2016

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

Book Description: FEEDBACK is a full-length Newsflesh novel which overlaps the events of New York Times bestseller Mira Grant’s classic Feed and follows a group of reporters covering the Democratic side of the Presidential campaign.

There are two sides to every story…

Mira Grant creates a chilling portrait of an America paralyzed with fear. No street is safe and entire swaths of the country have been abandoned. And only the brave, the determined, or the very stupid, venture out into the wild. Step inside a world a half-step from our own in this novel of geeks, zombies, politics and social media.

Review: And we get another zombie story! The zombie story is one that is still riding pretty high, thanks to “The Walking Dead” and it’s continued (though perhaps wavering) popularity. I’ve been into the zombie genre ever since high school when me and my sister (I was sixteen, she was twelve) sat down and watched the original “Night of the Living Dead”. Though she was absolutely horrified by the disgusting cannibalistic violence on the screen, I was completely into it, finding it to be scary and unsettling and super fun. Now I’m in the thirties and I still can’t get enough, though I’m more interested in unique takes on the genre as a whole. I’ve mentioned Mira Grant’s “Newsflesh” Series here before, and while I really do enjoy it for it’s creativity and the badass blogging main character Georgia “George” Mason, I felt that the rest of her team of bloggers (including hot headed brother Shaun) to be not as endearing. However, a world where zombies came about due to the cure for the common cold and the cure for cancer merging and mutating is SO enjoyable that I love the universe that she has created.

So enter “Feedback”. While “Feed” and it’s sequels “Deadline” and “Blackout” follow the Masons and their turn from political bloggers to targets of government ire, “Feedback” is something totally new within the same timeline. This time we’re following another blogging team, this one a bit more scrappy and independent. You have Aislinn “Ash” North, an Irish Irwin (aka blogger who goes into the thick of zombie danger for clicks and likes) who has attitude and snark for days. You have her husband Ben, a Newsie (news blogger) who married Ash to give her U.S. citizenship (as being a lesbian in post Rising, incredibly zealous Ireland was a bad spot) who is loyal and determined to get the truth out there. You have Audrey, a fiction blogger who is hiding from her past. And you have Mat, a techie/make up blogger who is genderfluid and hoping to end up as a make up artist to the powerful of this world. So when they are approached by Susan Kilburn, Democratic Governor of Oregon and Presidential Hopeful, to follower her on the campaign trail, much as the Masons are doing with the Republican front runner, this team is thrilled. And of course, much like in “Feed”, all does not go well.

While my love for George Mason will never be replaced by anyone else, I have to say that “Feedback” was super enjoyable and Ash was a great protagonist! She has a little more attitude and is a little rougher around the edges than George, and she wears her heart on her sleeve, which made her very easy to connect with. You get the sense from the get go that she and her team have had to fight tooth and nail to get where they are, and while sometimes she could be a little precious in her toughness, she always had her vulnerabilities laid out. As a whole I enjoyed this team more than the bloggers at After the End Times because in one book you got a sense for each and every single one of them, even with it being filtered through a First Person Perspective. I also liked that in this book there was far from societal speculation in regards to how different countries would react to the zombie plague, specifically Ash’s home country of Ireland. Ash, a lesbian who has no interest in fitting into societal norms, was highly oppressed in Ireland, which became a far more conservative and patriarchal state after the rising. It felt very dour and yet realistic to address the fact that in reaction to something as awful as a zombie apocalypse, some countries would put stake into zealous and restrictive morals such as forced breeding and the debasement of those who don’t wish to lead that kind of life. Grant tackles a lot of social issues in this book in regards to sexuality, race, and gender, and it was nice to see these things cropping up as important matters to address.

The plot itself was pretty good too. The intrigue and cloak and dagger issues of someone deliberately planting zombies at various political gatherings is something that we might remember from the original “Newsflesh” series, and to what ends this all will shake out. But seeing this group of journalists stumble into it quicker and more accidentally was fun, because it made for a lot more action as the consequences came to a head. I will keep it vague here, because you may want to read “Feed” and it’s sequels first, but let’s just say that Ash and her team are a bit more aware and have more time to make some decisions in regards to how to proceed. But that also kind of leads to the problem I had with this book, which I am going to talk about in it’s full spoilery glory. So yep, that means you get a

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Ash and her team eventually end up running away from the (redacted) threat, hoping to make it into the wilds of Canada. But as they are moving their way through the Pacific Northwest, they are kidnapped by a group of survivors run by a cruel and misogynistic despot who intends on creating a new society literally underground. His name is Clive, and he decides that Ash is going to be one of his many companions who he will eventually use to have an array of children to keep the human species going. Mind you, this happens about two thirds of the way into the book. This storyline is something that 1) we have seen many times before in our zombie fiction, from “28 Days Later” to “The Walking Dead”, and 2) is far too large of a plot point to introduce so far into a narrative. It honestly could have taken up an entire book of it’s own, so to try and shoehorn it in felt rushed and disingenuous. I really did not see a point to it. HAD this book ended with them being taken by this group, and HAD that story been saved for a second book in a series, it would have made more sense. Even if it would have been a bit old hat, it still could have been fleshed out enough that I would have been able to give it something of a pass. As it was, it just kind of felt like Grant wanted one more hurdle for this group and this was tossed in and rushed through. That was pretty aggravating.

I should also mention that I really liked Georgia Dolenz, the woman who did the narration for this audiobook! She was great at varying her voices for each character, and held consistent accents for the characters who had them.

So while “Feedback” isn’t necessarily as strong as “Feed”, overall I liked this team more than the team in that series (Georgia Mason aside), and would SO read more about them. The book kind of ended on a note of finality, but I could easily see Grant picking them up again and telling us more. I hope that she does, because I am still hungry for more stories about the Kellis-Amberlee Zombie Universe!

Rating 8: A fun and new group of bloggers are a great addition to the “Newsflesh” series. Had it not been for a random detour too far into the plot, this could have lived up to the greatness that was the original “Feed”.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Feedback” isn’t on many Goodreads lists as of now (can’t understand why not),  but I think that it would fit in on “Awesome Zombie Books for Girls/Women”, and “Are YOU Ready for the Zombie Attack?”.

Find “Feedback” at your library using WorldCat!

A Revisit to Fear Street: “Halloween Party”

176271Book: “Halloween Party (Fear Street # 8)” by R.L. Stine

Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, 1990

Where Did I Get This Book: Interlibrary Loan from the library!

Book Description: The invitation arrived in a black-bordered envelope. Inside, the card showed a coffin with the inscription “Reserved For You.” It was perfectly fitting for an all-night Halloween party on Fear Street. But Terry and his girlfriend Niki wondered why they had been invited. They barely knew Justine Cameron, the beautiful and mysterious transfer student who was throwing the party.

The party was well under way when the lights went out. That’s to be expected at a spooky Halloween party. But when the lights come back on, there was that boy on the floor with the knife in his back. Just a Halloween prank? Maybe. Maybe not.

For Terry and Niki the trick-or-treating has turned to terror. To their horror, they realize that someone at the costume party is dressed to kill!

Had I Read This Before: Yes.

The Plot: We start in the Fear Street Cemetery, where Terry and Niki are going for a leisurely walk before going to a Halloween party. It is Halloween night after all. Niki, who is almost totally deaf but can read lips, remarks that she forgot her mask behind at a tombstone they were looking at, and goes to retrieve it. Terry follows because he worries about her or something, but as he catches up he hears a horrible scream. Deciding they need to book it, but now, Terry and Niki run for the gate… and are confronted by a zombie!! Except it’s not a zombie, it’s a dumb jock named Murphy who is also attending the party. He implies that it’s going to be a wild night, and I have a feeling they don’t know the half of it.

We go back in time two weeks when this mismatched group of teens at Shadyside High get their invites to popular new girl Justine’s upcoming Halloween party. Terry’s invited, as is Niki, as is his friend Trish. Terry thinks that maybe Niki won’t have a fun time since it sounds like none of her friends are invited, but Niki, being super kind, says she wants to get to know Justine better. And oh boy, Justine lives on Fear Street in the old Cameron Mansion, whose owners had been killed in an accident years before which sounds super intriguing and the perfect place for a Halloween party! Lisa, school newspaper girl, tells them that apparently Justine and her uncle have been traveling the world and have now settled down there. In biology class Terry is talking with Ricky Schorr (of “The Overnight” fame!) who says he’s been invited too, and when the rest of the guests has been revealed (only nine? Seems quaint) Terry is dismayed to find out his ex-best friend Alex is on the list. Alex dated Niki before she dumped him and hooked up with Terry. Seems like bad form, but what do I know? When the guests find out about each other, they, for whatever reason, decide to divide into a Geeks vs Jocks kind of scenario, though Justine claims she just wants to get to know all of them better. Resident bullies Bobby and Marty ask why they aren’t invited, and Justine blow them off. They jump on their motorcycles (preferred mode of transport for bullies in Shadyside) and drive away. Justine reiterates that only those on the list can come, no dates, no one else. Jocks vs Geeks/Wimps is reiterated, and Alex and Terry find themselves on opposing teams (poor Terry is a wimp I guess). Niki is upset that they’re fighting over her.

A prank war between Jocks vs Wimps starts at school, as a warm up I guess. Terry is mad that Niki still talks to Alex, saying it’s because they’re on ‘different teams’ but we all know better and Niki is no fool and won’t be told who she can and can’t talk to. Terry finds Bobby and Marty harassing Justine about not being invited to her party, and scares them off. Justine is pretty flirty with Terry, saying she’s glad that he and Niki are coming. WHen he gets back to Niki’s locker, there’s a note inside that says ‘You’ll Wish You Were Blind Too’. Terry is convinced it’s Alex, but Niki doesn’t want him to start anything. Instead they go out for pizza. They see Justine there, on a pay phone. Niki, able to read her lips, says that she’s saying that she’s going to ‘make them all pay’.

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(source)

Not to be swayed by possible threats upon their lives, it’s now Halloween and they are still going to the party. They get to the front of the house with Murphy (who scares Terry again, this time with a fake spider), and then are let into the Cameron Mansion. And it is DECKED OUT, as Justine, dressed like what can only be Elvira based on the description, is playing an impeccable hostess. There’s food from all over the world, all places she and her uncle Phillip have lived (he is there as the chaperone and dressed like a clown. Choices, Phillip). As the guests all arrive and the dancing begins, Justine encourages them to dance really fast. They do, but then the music stops and the lights go out. Phillip goes to investigate, as Justine says that she didn’t plan this. When the power comes back on, one of the partygoers, Les, is on the floor with a knife in his back!!

But it’s just another joke, of course. Score one for Team Wimp! Terry and Alex exchange some words and Niki, wanting to be friends with everyone, agrees to dance with Alex, much to Terry’s chagrin. So Terry dances with Justine. But the dancing only lasts so long, because Bobby and Marty, ON THEIR MOTORCYCLES, crash into the party. They rough up Alex and Terry a bit, throw their weight around, but then the party guests come together to force them to leave. It all seems so pointless. Justine isn’t down with calling the police, and insists that they just keep partying, because the treasure hunt is going to start soon! Each guest is given a list of items hidden in the mansion. Niki takes this opportunity to do some snooping, because she just doesn’t quite trust Justine. She goes into Justine’s room, and finds some things that strike her as odd. First of all, there’s no desk. HOW IS SHE SUPPOSED TO STUDY WITHOUT A DESK? There’s also a picture of a couple from the 1950s. What’s more intriguing is that inside the closet there is a release that reveals an even LARGER closet, with lots of clothing that Justine has never worn to school before, such as evening gowns, stoles, and fur coats. Niki goes into the bathroom and finds prescriptions for a woman named Enid Cameron. She decides to find Terry. Presumably because she’s a teen and just found a serious score of pills they can experiment with?

Terry, on the other hand is really cleaning up on the treasure hunt. But when he opens a closet, he finds ALEX HANGING FROM THE CEILING, BLOOD DRIPPING ONTO THE FLOOR! He gathers up his team and Justine and brings them back to the closet, but the body is gone!! Turns out, and I’m sure you guessed it, the body is now on the bed and it’s just Alex’s Halloween costume stuffed to look like a real person, with fake blood and everything. Alex scores one for the Jocks. This all seems so sociopathic. Terry realizes that he still cares about Alex, because why else would he have been so upset? I mean, you thought a body was hanging in the closet, dude, anyone would be upset. Niki tells Terry what she found and her suspicions that Justine isn’t what she seems, but Terry blows her off. Justine announces that the Jocks Team wins the treasure hunt, and as she’s giving Alex a box of Parisian Chocolates, the banister she was leaning against GIVES WAY AND SHE FALLS TO THE STORY BELOW!! Luckily she lands on a couch and is unharmed outside of a sore wrist. Phillip says that someone sawed through the railing!!! Still wanting to just be the best hostess ever, Justine wants to forget about it and continue the party. Terry is jealous when Alex and she share a moment.

Niki still doesn’t trust Justine, and she and Terry fight. He accuses her of being jealous of Justine because she still has feelings for Alex, so she decides to go sleuthing on her own. The lights go out again, and when they come back on Justine says they’re going to play ‘tell us the worst thing you’ve ever done’, a true corker of a party game. Terry worries about Niki and goes to find her, but instead FINDS LES’S BODY IN A CLOSET WITH A KNIFE IN HIS CHEST!! And this time there’s no prank!!! He gets partygoer David to come with him, and when they return to the scene of the crime the body is gone! Someone threw poor Les on the roof! They pull the body back into the house, and cover him with a blanket. They try to call the police, but the phone lines are cut . They try to find Phillip but he’s nowhere to be seen. Someone in the house is a murderer. They look out the window and see a bloody clown costume. The other party guests start to panic, but they can’t leave because Angela sprained her ankle and Niki is nowhere to be found. David volunteers to go to get help, while Terry and Alex go looking for Niki. David finds that their cars tires have been slashed, and while on the road runs afoul a drunken Bobby and Marty. While scuffling he slips and hits his head, and Bobby and Marty decide they have to hide his body.

Terry and Alex find Niki, who has been knocked out and left in the basement. She wakes up and tells them she went back to the secret closet and did more snooping, and found a newspaper clipping about a couple who died thirty years prior, 26 year old Edmund and 20(?!) year old Cissy. They were killed in a car accident where teenagers were drag racing and hit their car. The teens survived, and they all happen to be the parents of the party guests one way or another! The couple left behind a baby girl named Enid. Niki is convinced that Justine in Enid, and also almost thirty, WHICH IS THE MOST HORRIFYING THING OF ALL. They confront her in front of the other guests, but she plays if off like all part of the joke…. Until she locks them all in a room. She confesses to them through a security gated window that yes, her parents were killed in a car crash, and she and her Uncle Phillip have come back for revenge. She then plays a tape of a car accident and sets the house on fire. Like ya do.

Niki continues to be awesome. Being deaf she isn’t distracted by the sounds of car crashes, and remembers that Justine mentioned a dumbwaiter system. She finds the system, and gets Terry and Alex to operate it and lower her down, hoping to find a way out through the basement. She finds a boarded up window, and starts to kick it out. A hand grabs her, but it’s just Mr. Complicity himself, Uncle Phillip, who has been tied up and left to die as well. She unties him, and he grabs a crowbar and they get the boards off the window. They scurry out, and then go to the security grate. Phillip pries it off and the teens are free! He tells them that he wanted revenge for his brother’s death, but then changed his mind. But poor Justine/Enid was hellbent. David comes out of the woods, not dead, just suffering a konk to the head, and the police are on the way. Justine tries to kill herself by jumping into the fiery blaze, but Terry and Alex stop her, nearly getting themselves killed like IDIOTS. But their combined stupid selfless act helps them bury the hatchet once and for all, just as the cops arrive with an ambulance. Niki asks what will happen to Justine, and Phillip says she’ll get the help she needs. Niki ends the book with “It’s always Halloween on Fear Street”.

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We’re letting it slide because she’s too wonderful (source)

Body Count: 1. Les never saw it coming.

Romance Rating: 4. Niki and Terry are happy enough and he calls her ‘Funny Face’ which is cute. But he sure likes to dismiss her and she’s WAY too good for him.

Bonkers Rating: 6. The twist was fine but after the whole time traveling ghost plot of “Haunted” it’s not really jumping off the page.

Fear Street Relevance: 7. I mean it takes place in a mansion of Fear Street and the cemetery is the way to get into said mansion.

Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:

“Then, as everyone watched in shock, two gleaming motorcycles bombed right into the living room!”

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(source)

That’s So Dated! Moments: This was yet another one of those ‘updated’ versions of a “Fear Street” book. But we still get references to tape players (in spite of the fact the song ‘Get UR Freak On’ is playing). It’s weird seeing the blatant ‘gotta relate to the youths’ changes, as at one point Ricky is described as being ‘punk’d’. ALSO, I just want to say that they never bothered to change the time period for Justine/Enid’s parents’ deaths, still saying that the photo of them was a 1950s couple which would have made her QUITE A BIT OLDER THAN THIRTY when this new ‘revamped’ version was published in the mid 2000s.

Best Quote:

“Niki wasn’t the prettiest girl in Shadyside, or the smartest, but she as definitely the most special.”

Wow. Just…… WOW. And yet she ends up being probably the most likable “Fear Street” heroine we’ve gotten yet, so EAT ME, STINE.

“Halloween Party” was pretty middle of the road bordering on mediocre. Niki was the only thing I liked. Next time we’re tackling “The Stepsister”.

Kate’s Review: “The Boy on the Bridge”

31554413Book: “The Boy on the Bridge” by. M.R. Carey

Publishing Info: Orbit, May 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: I received a review copy from the publisher.

Book Description: Once upon a time, in a land blighted by terror, there was a very clever boy.

The people thought the boy could save them, so they opened their gates and sent him out into the world.

To where the monsters lived.

Review: First and foremost, I want to thank Orbit/Hachette for providing me with a review copy of this book. In exchange for you generosity I will provide an honest review.

A couple of years ago I picked up the much hyped and much loved novel “The Girl With All The Gifts”. I had heard nothing but praise about it from those around me who like zombie fiction, and given that I like zombie fiction so much I had high hopes for it. While I did like aspects of it, overall I was kind of underwhelmed by it. But I made a note to keep reading Carey’s stuff, as plot aside I really loved the writing style and how Carey explores his characters so deeply. “Fellside” proved to be a win for me (as seen on this blog). And that brings us to Carey’s newest novel, “The Boy on the Bridge”. Though it’s not a sequel to “The Girl With All The Gifts”, it is a companion piece that takes place in the same world, where a fungal zombie infection has ravaged mankind.

Since our book description doesn’t really give us much of an idea what this book is about, I’ll give you a rundown. “The Boy on the Bridge” takes place about tenish years before “The Girl With All The Gifts”, with a combination military and scientific research team heading out into the world of the ‘hungries’ to try and gather samples and specimens that could potentially lead to a better understanding of the infection, and perhaps a cure. If you remember from the first book, that group of protagonists stumbled upon a mobile lab called the “Rosalind Frank”, which seems to be stopped in it’s tracks without succeeding in it’s mission. Well guess which mobile team we’re following! Yep, The Rosalind Frank team! So there are some foregone conclusions that could be drawn from this…..

But that doesn’t stop Carey from drawing many emotions and facets to his characters. The team has a number of interesting characters. There’s Samrina Khan, a scientist who has recently discovered herself pregnant by another member of the team, John. She is now more than ever determined to find some hope for the sake of her baby. There’s Dr. Fournier, the leader of the science part of the team, who is singleminded and determined to throw his weight around as one of those in command (who is also trying to figure out who the father of Khan’s baby is, as he sees it as a breach of protocol). There’s Colonel Carlisle, who is the head of the military team, and who is haunted by his past during the early days of the infection. And then there’s Stephen Greaves. He’s a teenage boy and science prodigy who invented the e-blockers that people use to hide their scents from the hungries, who may be able to find a cure as well. He is on the spectrum, and Dr. Khan is the only person that he trusts, and the only person who really understands him. With a few other people in their team, they are traveling up towards Scotland, trying to gather as much info as they can. But they soon discover that something is following them, something that none of them have ever seen before. These things look like children, but are definitely not ‘human’, nor at they fully ‘hungries’ either. They could be the key to a cure, but they could also be the team’s downfall.

So there were the same issues in this one that I had with “The Girl With All The Gifts”. I did find myself a bit bored sometimes with how the story is told. It’s definitely a writing style choice that focuses more on the literary and less on the pulpy thriller, and that can encourage my mind and attention wander sometimes. I don’t think that it’s through any fault of Carey’s, mind you. I just found myself skimming a bit, and would have to go back and re-read sections because of it. I found myself wanting to get to the point faster than we did at times. But like in “The Girl With All The Gifts” I did find the characters in “The Boy on the Bridge” interesting, and in this one I was more interested in the overall story arc than I was in the previous book. There is just something about an official mission that goes horribly wrong that will always, ALWAYS suck me in. It’s a plot point that you don’t see too much in modern zombie fiction, which tends to focus more on the chaos of living in the zombie zone. I liked how the tension between the science side and the military side was built up in this story. It’s a trope that is old as time itself, but when it’s done well it can feel fresh and unique. In this book we get it not only through the encounters with the hungries (like we did in the first book), but also through the character of Greaves, who few people care to understand because he’s Autistic. Many of the military people call him “The Robot”, and their lack of understanding is frustrating to Dr. Khan. It’s not wholly unrealistic either, given how people on the spectrum are viewed and treated in modern society. I thought that Carey did a good job with Greaves as a character overall. It felt like he did a lot of research and took great care to make him an accurate and sensitive representation of  a neurodivergent person. Greaves had many moments that I found incredibly bittersweet, and humorous, and yes, frustrating, but he always felt very real, and worked as a great dual protagonist along with Dr. Khan, whose determination to survive is noble and perhaps heartbreaking in it’s likely futility. While the other characters kind of treaded towards two dimensions at times, these two always felt fully realized with clear motivations and personalities.

The scenes with the hungries were also pretty tense, as I found myself holding my breath when they were fully interacting, wondering if logic would prevail over fear. I appreciate the concept of humankind evolving to adjust and adapt to the ‘Cordyceps’ pathogen, as we as humans sometimes tend to think that we are the end of an evolutionary line, as if our present selves are the goal. But really, evolution doesn’t have an end point, it keeps on moving and changing and adapting. So I LOVE that Carey has introduced that aspect of the theory into his stories, and postulates that perhaps this kind of catastrophic event wouldn’t necessarily lead to our extinction, but to a transformation. Perhaps we wouldn’t be the same as we are now, but we wouldn’t necessarily be wiped away from the world.

Do you have to read “The Girl With All The Gifts” to appreciate “The Boy on the Bridge”? That’s kind of a hard question to answer. I think that it does work as a standalone for the most part, at least up until the epilogue (which I won’t spoil here, because it’s a great nod to the first book). But even then I think that you would be on solid footing, perhaps just not as able to appreciate the revelations and scenes that come right at the end of the book. I also think that I enjoyed it more than “The Girl With All The Gifts” just because the plot felt like a new take within this already new take, and I don’t know if that would be as clear if you hadn’t read the previous book. But that said, you won’t be lost at all. You just may not see the easter eggs that are laid out.

“The Boy on the Bridge” does stand on it’s own two feet, and I did enjoy going back into this world. I definitely recommend that those who loved the first book should get their hands on this one as soon as possible. And if you were like me and wasn’t as caught up in “The Girl With All The Gifts”, this book may still be worth the read.

Rating 8: With a couple well explored characters and some tense zombie moments, “The Boy on the Bridge” was a good companion piece to “The Girl With All The Gifts”. It may be richer by having read the previous book, but it isn’t a requirement.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Boy on the Bridge” is included on the Goodreads lists “Waterstones Recommends”, and “Most Anticipated Novels of 2017”.

Find “The Boy on the Bridge” at your library using WorldCat!

A Revisit to Fear Street: “Haunted”

176339Book: “Haunted” (Fear Street #7) by R.L. Stine

Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, 1990

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

Book Description: Melissa woke up screaming. The prowler was at her window…or was he? The recent headlines about a Fear Street prowler had everyone on edge. Her father now kept a loaded pistol in his bedroom. That made it even more frightening—and real.

Then the haunting began: her new car driving as if someone else had taken control; her birthday presents ripped open by unseen hands; an invisible force trying to push her out the bedroom window.

Out of the shadows of her bedroom came a menacing figure. Who was he? Did he really come from beyond the grave? And why had he come to kill her? If Melissa doesn’t solve the mystery fast, these questions will haunt her—to death!

Had I Read This Before: No

The Plot: Melissa Dryden is awakened in the middle of the night by a scratching at her bedroom window. She screams her head off, and her loving (and actually pretty functional) father come running. When she tells him that she’s convinced it’s certain death outside, he discerns that it is, in fact, a tree branch tapping at the glass. Mrs. Dryden comes in next, more irritated than concerned. Melissa says she thought it was the Fear Street Prowler (oh Fear Street!), and Mrs. Dryden says that’s silly because they’ve lived here for so long and nothing bad has ever happened to THEM, so why would badness happen now? Solid reasoning. She also points out that Melissa’s hair is super tangly (to denote that it’s ‘wild and blonde’), and Mr. Dryden asks why she’s wearing one of his pajama tops to bed (to denote that she is ‘quirky’, I guess?). He then assures her that she shouldn’t be scared because he has a new silver pistol, which he reveals to her after making her come with him to her parents bedroom, and proceeds to spin on his finger, in spite of the fact it’s loaded. I take it back, Mr. Dryden isn’t as functional as I said before. Before falling asleep she reminisces about her boyfriend Buddy, who got a little handsy and wasn’t really down with taking ‘no’ for an answer. So there’s that.

The next day we find out that Melissa’s birthday is coming up. This is made further evident by her father giving her a brand new Pontiac Firebird. Whoa damn. This, of course, also let’s us know that her family is SUPER wealthy, but we find out that her father didn’t start that way and pulled himself up by the bootstraps to get there. I could go into a lecture about the GI Bill and various other Homestead Acts making this a nonsense argument, but I won’t. Melissa takes it out for a spin, thinking about how envious her friends are going to be… But then the steering wheel starts to spin out of control of it’s own volition and she almost runs into an oil truck.

At her birthday party we are introduced to Melissa’s friends. One of whom is Della, from “The Overnight”! And since it seems that Melissa is now Della’s BFF, we can surmise that Della finally dumped that histrionic and selfish bitch Maia. Good for her! Buddy eventually shows up and some of the boys at they party start making innuendoes about their sex life, and I felt more uncomfortable than Melissa did. After some dancing and some cake, Melissa goes to open her gifts… but they’ve been ripped open and strewn about! How odd. After her friends leave and her parents come home, Melissa feels secure enough to go to bed, wondering who could have possibly ripped her gifts apart. As she’s falling asleep, a strange looking young man steps out of the shadows!! Thinking it’s the prowler, Melissa starts to scream. When her parents bursts in, the Shadow Guy has disappeared, and they can’t find him anywhere. Melissa is convinced she saw something, and while Dad is willing to coddle her Mom isn’t having any of it. They tell her to go back to sleep, and she says she will. While gazing out the window, strong hands try to push her, and while she pulls herself back in, when she turns around there’s no one there.

The next day Melissa goes to tell Buddy what happened. Predictably, he thinks that she’s just imagining everything. So she decides to go hang out at the mall with Della and some rich bitch named Krissie who has fun poking fun at people who aren’t as stylish as she is. Melissa actually has a pretty compassionate moment where she tells Krissie that they, as wealthy girls, have no right to feel superior because they just lucked into their wealth and didn’t earn it. Damn, girl. As she’s driving home in the non-Firebird car (still in the shop), it gets really cold, and suddenly in the front seat, from the description given, Ralph Macchio’s Johnny from “The Outsiders” is there!

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Sans french fries, though. (source)

Melissa, so surprised, rear ends the car in front of her. When the angry businessman in the vehicle confronts her, she realizes that she’s alone again. The man, thinking that she’s stoned, decides to just let it go because their cars are pretty much fine, and he must be able to tell that she is a little off.

At dinner that night, Melissa doesn’t bring up the accident but does tell her parents that she’s being haunted by a ghost. They brush it off, chalking it up to a need for attention, and invite her to go with them to their ‘lawyer convention’ in Las Vegas. Okay, as a daughter of two lawyers, I can tell you that they never went to ‘lawyer conventions’. This is indeed a strange universe. Melissa doesn’t want to go, and they say that she needs to get out more. Luckily she has a date with the sexual predator Buddy, so she can throw that at them. When she’s getting ready, Ralph Macchio shows up again, and this time he actually talks to her through a sneer. When she says he made her dent her parents’ car, he basically says ‘So what, you can just buy a new one, right?!’ Oh. I see. This really is the greasers vs the socs and Melissa is going to be Diane Lane’s Cherry. Ralph Macchio tells Melissa that his actual name is Paul, and he is here for a reason: HE’S HERE TO KILL HER BECAUSE SHE KILLED HIM. Honestly he’s less Johnny and more Dally because of this. Melissa has no idea what he’s talking about, as she thinks she’d remember if she killed someone, and Paul admits that, yeah, his memory is kind of fuzzy. But she’s rich, and rich people are liars, so she must be lying! Melissa strikes a deal, saying that if he doesn’t kill her she’ll help him find out who did, and he grudgingly accepts.

Deciding to confide in Buddy (who seems more interested in driving her newly ‘fixed’ car than talking with her), Melissa asks him if he remembers a boy named Paul who died recently. Buddy has no memory of this, so she tells him the whole story, I guess forgetting how condescending he was earlier. He tells her that she straight up needs some therapy. Thinking she can prove it, she takes Buddy back to her house, thinking that Paul will just appear at her beck and call. They get to her house, and Melissa notices that her parents’ car is gone. So they are KIND of alone, except for the live in house keeper, Marta. Melissa pulls Buddy up to her room, and they do hear strange footsteps… But it’s just Marta, telling Melissa her parents are out and that she’s wrapping up the dishes and then going STRAIGHT to bed. Marta basically falls short of tossing Melissa a condom and winking. Eventually Melissa and Buddy do start kissing, but their make out session is interrupted when Paul appears and tries to punch Buddy in the back of the head. Melissa freaks out, but Buddy sees nothing and feels nothing. Thinking his girlfriend is nuts, he leaves. Melissa and Paul argue, and Paul says that he isn’t going to kill her yet. He wants to have some ‘fun’ first. I think this is suppose to be showing he’s a rogue, but it comes off as gross.

The next day Melissa goes to the library to try and do some research, but doesn’t find anything about a dead boy named Paul, and wonders if he went to South instead of their high school. She runs into Della, who says her cousin Tracy goes to South. It’s a dead end, though, as while a boy DID die at South, his name wasn’t Paul, it was Vince.  Melissa goes home and finds Buddy is there, having been let in by her folks, who have left again. They go on a date to a dance club called Red Heat, which apparently was an old machine shed. They talk a bit, but then she brings up Paul again and Buddy is DONE. They get into a fight and Melissa leaves the club, finding a bunch of greasers on some car hoods… INCLUDING PAUL?!?!?! He says that he doesn’t know who she is, and starts to hit on her really aggressively. See, such a Dally, like I said before. Of course, if Melissa is our Cherry for this metaphor….

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Sorry guys, “The Outsiders” analog is here to stay. (source)

But, like Dally, Paul is a real jerk, and grabs her a little to tightly. Something a ghost can’t do. Melissa ends up running back to Buddy and he takes her home. When she gets home Ghost!Paul is there, but she doesn’t ask him why she saw him very alive earlier, and just tells him to buzz off.

Melissa tracks down one of Paul’s friends, Frankie, and starts interrogating him. He tells her that Paul is his best friend, and he is very NOT dead. Melissa sees this for herself again when she runs into Alive!Paul, who continues to act like a total jerk to her. She asks why he’s acting this way when she just wants to help him, and he’s very confused. She leaves.

Jesus this is a long one guys.

She gets home and confronts Ghost!Paul, who says he was NOT at the club nor did they just see each other. So they come up with the theory that Ghost!Paul isn’t from the past, but from the FUTURE, and that Melissa hasn’t killed him yet!! Now things are getting interesting! Melissa says that it’s easy, she just won’t kill him. Girl hasn’t read any Greek tragedies, has she? They decide to go find Alive!Paul and try to warn him. But, shock and awe, Ghost!Paul can’t be seen by Alive!Paul, so she just ends up sounding like a crazy person. Alive!Paul goes to meet up with his friends, and they talk about this hot rich girl who is following him, AND the fact that it is, indeed, Paul who is the FEAR STREET PROWLER!!! Oh man, this just gets better and better. It’s at this point I figure out where this is all going. Ghost!Paul follows Alive!Paul and is horrified by his life choices, making my metaphors work perfectly, because Ghost!Paul is clearly Johnny and Alive!Paul is Dally and now I’m legit going to go watch “The Outsiders” after this is all said and done. Ghost!Paul goes back to Melissa’s house, and she reiterates that she will NOT kill Alive!Paul because she, apparently, cares too much about Ghost!Paul. My heart.

Melissa is now home alone, as her parents are on their Vegas trip for their “CONVENTION”, Marta has gone to visit family, and Della can’t give her a home to sleep in until the next day. So Melissa decides to go find Alive!Paul and tell him to stay away from her. It goes as well as you think it would, as when she confronts him in front of his friends he gets belligerent and tells her he knows where she lives. You all know where this is going. Melissa goes home, a little nervous to be alone with the Fear Street Prowler still on the loose, but knows that Ghost!Paul will be there with her. She tries to sleep in her parents room that night, but then….. someone is crawling through her parents window!! It’s Alive!Paul, and he says ‘see, I told you I knew where you lived’. Realizing he was the prowler the whole time, Melissa thinks of the gun she really doesn’t want to use. She grabs it, but Alive!Paul knocks it away from her. As they wrestle over the gun, Alive!Paul manages to wrestle it away from her, and points it at her saying he’s going to kill her… BUT THEN SOMEHOW, I GUESS THROUGH THE POWER OF LOVE, GHOST!PAUL KNOCKS THE GUN FROM HIS HAND!! And Melissa, devastated to do so but knowing she must, shoots Alive!Paul, killing him instantly. And then Ghost!Paul starts to fade. When she asks why he did that and let her kill him, he says that he’d rather she live, even if it meant he was going to die. He then disappears. As Buddy comes into the room (ugh, he’s the worst), Melissa runs into his arms. When asked who the guy on the floor is, she says, sadly, ‘That’s just some prowler.’

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Stay gold, Ponyboy. (source)

Body Count: 1. Sorry Paul. Nothing gold can stay.

Romance Rating: 5. Buddy is no gentleman, and while I’m a sucker for ghost romances alive!Paul is a bit of a damaged creepazoid. But ghost!Paul does sacrifice himself for Melissa because of his affection for her, which gets automatic romance points.

Bonkers Rating: 8. I MEAN, we got our first actual totally supernatural plot line AND time travel paradoxes in this one. Solidly bonkers!

Fear Street Relevance: 8. With Melissa living on Fear Street and the Fear Street Prowler at large this one definitely felt like a Fear Street relevant book.

Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:

“There was something so frightening about that little silver pistol, lying there is the drawer, just waiting to be used.”

… And that’s it. No follow up in the next chapter, Just Melissa going on about her life. That’s no cliffhanger, that’s just a statement. Just a Chekov’s Gun situation.

That’s So Dated! Moments: Melissa makes references to Walkmans, one of the characters is rocking a Hard Rock Cafe tee shirt again (because there was a time that that was STYLISH, guys), and, of course, Melissa looking at microfiche at the public library. Sure, it does happen still from time to time. But many public libraries don’t even have that option anymore.

Best Quote:

“‘Goodnight, everyone,’ Buddy said, and made a hasty exit.

‘Strange kid,’ Mrs. Dryden muttered.

‘What?’ Melissa asked.

‘Beautiful pendant,’ her mother said, lifting it up and turning it over to read the back.”

Mrs. Dryden is the shadiest Mom I’ve seen yet in a “Fear Street” book and I LOVE her.

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(source)

“Haunted” was a pretty solid story that had me guessing over and over again. I enjoyed it quite a bit and think it’s one of the better “Fear Street” books we’ve tackled so far!! Plus it made me feel. Up next is “The Halloween Party”.