Kate’s Review: “Final Girls”

32994321Book: “Final Girls” by Mira Grant

Publishing Info: Subterranean Press, April 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Also…. Zombies.

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

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

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

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

Reader’s Advisory:

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

Find “Final Girls” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “The Beast is an Animal”

29522966Book: “The Beast is an Animal” by Peternelle van Arsdale

Publishing Info: Margaret K. McElderry Books, February 2017

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: A girl with a secret talent must save her village from the encroaching darkness in this haunting and deeply satisfying tale.

Alys was seven when the soul eaters came to her village.

These soul eaters, twin sisters who were abandoned by their father and slowly morphed into something not quite human, devour human souls. Alys, and all the other children, were spared—and they were sent to live in a neighboring village. There the devout people created a strict world where good and evil are as fundamental as the nursery rhymes children sing. Fear of the soul eaters—and of the Beast they believe guides them—rule village life. But the Beast is not what they think it is. And neither is Alys.

Inside, Alys feels connected to the soul eaters, and maybe even to the Beast itself. As she grows from a child to a teenager, she longs for the freedom of the forest. And she has a gift she can tell no one, for fear they will call her a witch. When disaster strikes, Alys finds herself on a journey to heal herself and her world. A journey that will take her through the darkest parts of the forest, where danger threatens her from the outside—and from within her own heart and soul.

Review: I am going to start this review by talking about the cover, because it is rare that I see a cover that so perfectly sets up the atmosphere of the book. Dark, yet beautiful. Indistinct, yet you feel drawn in, almost against your will. The tall dark trees, shadows, and bright red flowers all spark instinctive warning symbols in your head and that looming shape in the middle….is it a person? A creature? Or simply a strangely shaped tree stump? Whoever came up with this art design in the publishing house should be awarded major points for exactly matching book art to its source. Like this cover, “The Beast is an Animal” was beautiful, and terrifying, and I couldn’t look away.

At its core, this is a book about fear and about the horrors that a simple emotion can inflict on an individual, a family, and an entire community. Neighbors, always on the look out for witches to blame for poor weather, poor crops, posed almost a greater danger than the dark, looming forest around which many small communities exist. It is into this world that Angelina and Benedicta are born, twin sisters whose looks, down to unique birthmarks, exactly mirror the other. After a poor farming season, they, and their mother, are blamed and banished to live in the woods, and a husband/father who should have been their protector slinks away to begin his life again with a new, fresh-faced woman. Their mother doesn’t flourish. Angelina and Benedicta do, slowly being eaten away with bitterness and anger at the fear that lead to their banishment. And thus, two monsters are born.

After all of this set up, we meet Alys, our main character who throughout the book also struggles with the fear of “otherness” that floats around her. After her whole town is destroyed by the souleaters, excepting all of the children under 15, she and her fellow orphans go to live in a new town. While they do take the children in, this new community is even more stifled, building walls around their small town and forcing the children to guard it every night, all night.

We watch this story unfold over three periods of Alys’s life. First, when she is 7 and her town falls to the souleaters. Second, when she is 12 and begins to suspect that she has more in common with the souleaters and the mysterious Beast that haunts the woods. And finally, at age 15 when she must confront both the truth about herself, and the darkness that is growing in the heart of the woods.

What I loved about this book was how it plays with the topic of fear and bad/good. Are Angelina/Benedicta evil? Or were the “normal folk” who banished them? Where does the Beast fall on this spectrum? What about the community that takes in the children? While the supernatural elements were scary in their own right, it was the oppressive fear of the people themselves that made the book truly creepy. Alys, and the medicine woman who adopts her in the new town, are constantly on the look out for any hint that they are beginning to fall under suspicion for being different. The devices and tortures used against these supposed “witches” were more terrifying than the supernatural souleaters if only because we know from history that these things existed.

As I said in the beginning, what makes this story truly compelling is the atmospheric tone of the writing. It feels like a new fairytale, containing not only the darker elements that are typical to original fairytales, but also reads with a lyrical flow, combining beautiful imagery with poignant insights into the deep tragedy at the heart of the story.

Alys is a strong protagonist around which to center this story. However, Mother, the woman who adopts Alys in the new community, was the breakout character for me. She doesn’t have a lot of page time, but she provides a window into a world, and life, that Alys is trying to avoid. Mother is a midwife whose skills are depended on, but who must also constantly hide what she is doing and how she is doing it for fear that she would be labeled a witch. Her own personal tragedies, as well, must be similarly hidden. When Alys first meets her, she dislikes her, noting that she is cold and unemotional. But as the story goes on, we see that this is a coping mechanism and self-preservation tactic from a woman who has devoted herself to aiding a community of people who would as soon see her burned at the slightest sign of strangeness.

Like I said, the supernatural elements were very creepy (much more than I expected and in some ways this might have been a more “Kate book” than mine), but the descriptions of life in these walled up and fearful communities was almost unbearable to read. I was just so angry at these people! And it is this aspect that really marks this book as a success. The reader falls into the same trap as Angelina/Benedicta, and even Alys, thus making these characters all the more sympathetic, for all of their evil deeds. Fear leads to anger. And anger leads to…

I can’t say enough good things about this book! If you enjoy original fairytales and can handle a healthy dose of creepiness, this book is definitely worth checking out!

Rating 9: A beautiful, standalone dark fantasy novel. I absolutely loved it!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Beast is an Animal” is newer and thus not many relevant Goodreads lists, but it should be on “Popular Dark Fairy Tales”  and “Twin Thrillers.”

Find “The Beast is an Animal” at your library using Worldcat!

Kate’s Review: “Ill Will”

30687788Book: “Ill Will” by Dan Chaon

Publishing Info: Ballantine Books, March 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reader’s Advisory:

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

Find “Ill Will” at your library using WorldCat!

A Revisit to Fear Street: “The Wrong Number”

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

Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, March 1990

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

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

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

Had I Read This Before: No

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

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

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

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

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(source)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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THIS IS FINALLY INTERESTING! (source)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:

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

… And he’s faking it. Jerk.

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

Best Quote:

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

“He doesn’t even know you.”

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

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EYEAAHHHHHHH!!!!!! (source)

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

Kate’s Review: “Survivors’ Club”

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

Publishing Info: Vertigo, September 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

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

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

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(source)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reader’s Advisory:

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

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

A Revisit to Fear Street: “Missing”

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

Publishing Info: POCKET BOOKS, 1990

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

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

Had I Read This Before: Yes.

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

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

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

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

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The plot thickens. (source)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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(source)

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

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

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Jesus this was a doozie. (source)

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

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

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

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

Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:

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

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

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

Best Quote:

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

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

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

A Revisit to Fear Street: “The Overnight” (Fear Street #3)

656729Book: “The Overnight” (Fear Street #3) by R.L. Stine

Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, 1989

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

Book Description: “Nothing bad will happen,” Della O’Connor assures her friends in the Outdoors Club. So what if their advisor can’t go on the overnight to Fear Island—won’t it be more fun with no adults around?

But it’s no fun at all when Della gets lost in the woods, and the dangerous stranger appears, whispering threats, driving her to a violent act.

Suddenly all of her friends are involved, prisoners in a conspiracy of silence, trying to conceal the terrible truth. But someone saw what Della did. And he’s threatening them all, forcing them back to Fear Island to find the evidence they forgot to bury…

Had I Read This Before: No (I’m starting to wonder if I read more standalones and “Super Chillers” rather than the original “Fear Street” series).

The Plot: As if the teens of Shadyside didn’t have enough problems and woes on their plates, we now have to factor in the possibility of leaving the more populated parts of the town and go straight into a remote location where mischief and mayhem (and in all probability MURDER) can wreak havoc. That’s right guys, “The Overnight” doesn’t just take us into Fear Woods! It takes us to the not until just now mentioned Fear Island, which is in the middle of the lake within Fear Woods! That is where the Shadyside High Outdoor Club is planning on taking their overnight this year. Our protagonist is Della, one of the members of the aforementioned club, along with her innocent and sheltered bestie Maia, her (as of very recently) ex-boyfriend Gary, the preppy and awkward Pete, the obnoxious class clown Ricky, and the town bicycle Suki (who is my favorite character in the “Fear Street” series because her physical description makes it sound like R.L. Stine has watched “Return of the Living Dead” a few too many times). At their meeting (where Della is moping about Gary and Suki being so close now), their faculty advisor, Mr. Abner, tells them that he won’t be able to escort them to Fear Island that weekend, as he has just heard of a family emergency and has to leave RIGHT NOW. The Outdoors club is disappointed, until Suki suggests that they all go anyway, just unsupervised. Maia is SHOCKED that she would even suggest such a thing, but Della thinks it will be fun and convinces her to go, because what could possibly happen?

While Della is packing that Saturday, we get some exposition about Fear Island. It’s either an old research facility that is now inhabited by mutants, or the site of an Indian Burial ground (ugh, goddammit, this friggin’ trope). Obviously a destination for camping fun. Pete picks Della up, his obvious crush flying over her head, and they meet the others at the lake, where Gary and Suki are already chumming up pretty heavily. After a close call involving Maia’s parents and Ricky acting like a moron in the boats, they get to the island and decide to play a round of ZAP tag. Which pretty much sounds like paint ball, but the guns spray liquid paint instead of pellets. Girls vs Boys, of course. After Suki (and her punk rocky boy crazy attitude) pisses Della off, Della goes off on her own. And suddenly, a strange man approaches her. Her first thought, instead of ‘hm, strange man acting funny in the woods, I should be careful’, is ‘ooh, hottie alert!’, and she starts to flirt with him. He tells her that he’s studying the trees in the woods, but can’t keep his story straight, and yet no warning bells are going off for Della yet. After she prods him a bit more he attacks her. He says some gobbledy gook about communication and something about an old man, and Della gets herself free from his grasp long enough that she can shoot him with the ZAP gun. A chase begins, he catches her at the top of a ravine, and she shoves him down it. And then she realizes that it looks like he’s dead. So while trying to cover him up with leaves, the others find her and the mass freak out begins. Mostly by Maia, who isn’t as concerned that a crazy man tried to murder and do God knows what else to her best friend, but that her parents will find out that she was on an unsupervised trip!! Really, bitch? They decide that instead of going to the police (when it’s pretty clearly self defense here!), they should just leave him there to rot because who will find him? They complete their camping trip so as not to raise suspicions, and outside of some weird noises in the night they sleep fine.

The next day they leave the island and go back to their lives. The day after that Maia is freaking out that her parents are going to find out about all this (still not about the dead guy), so Della goes to reassure her and suffer some guilt tripping from her friend. This is just too much. For being best friends Maia is pretty much the goddamn worst. When Della returns home, however, she finds a note in her mailbox, which contains some jewelry that the dead man was wearing, and a note that says ‘I KNOW WHAT YOU DID’.

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Hm, I’ve seen this movie… (source)

The Outdoors club meets to discuss this turn of events (as Gary also got a note). Both Dell and Gary are missing their wallets, so that’s how whoever this is must have found them. Pete arrives fashionably late, and shows them a newspaper clipping about a recent burglary and murder, where an old man was murdered, possibly for money that he may have had, and there are pictures of the suspects (I guess? I don’t know how they would have figured that out, but okay). ONE OF THE SUSPECTS IS THE DEAD GUY! So maybe the person stalking them is his partner! Maia freaks out about her parents again, Della FINALLY tells her to SHUT THE HELL UP, and they are all surprised when Della’s mom comes home with a gentleman caller, which pretty much breaks up the meeting. Though Pete has time to ask Della on a date. Which she accepts.

Pete and Della go dancing at some teenage dance club, but while they’re driving home they are nearly run off the road by a strange car. They maneuver their way out of it, and see the strange car crash into a tree. When they look to see who was driving, the driver has already skedaddled. AT WHAT POINT DO YOU JUST GO TO THE POLICE?! They go back to school on Monday and at Outdoors Club tell the others about this (Maia is still freaking out. She’s clearly the weak link, guys). Mr. Abner returns and has great news!! The family crisis is over and he can finally take them all to Fear Island THIS COMING WEEKEND!! Della and Ricky try to play it cool by feigning interest, but everyone else tries to make excuses. Mr. Abner, acting less like a teacher and more like a child, guilts them about how he’s made special time to do this. Dude, really? They say they will let him know in a couple days. Most of them want to bail… But then Ricky tells them he’s missing a ZAP gun, which must still be on the island with the body. Somehow this could tie him to the crime, I guess, and he says that if it does he’s taking all of them down with him. So they agree that they will go back to Fear Island this weekend to get the evidence.

The Outdoors Club doesn’t even try to pretend that they are having a good time, so poor Mr. Abner must really be feeling like he’s stuck with a bunch of ingrates as he leads them across the lake and to the camp. Once they’re settled Pete and Della try to go get the gun, but Abner, convinced they’re going to go bang, says they can’t leave his sight. He says he’ll go get it (because at camp they won’t get into shenanigans I guess), but is soon knocked out by the CREEPY GUY, who runs off into the night. The Club makes a decision: Ricky, Gary, and Suki go for help,Della goes to get the gun, and Pete and Maia will stay with Abner (because Maia would rather have someone with her instead of letting Pete go with Della, the little wretch). Della goes to get the gun, but finds that the body is missing! And in a scene very reminiscent of “Robocop”, Della finds herself face to face with the man she thought she killed. Turns out she hadn’t. Apparently he has a ‘very faint pulse’ and that’s why she thought he was dead. He is then mad that she left him for dead, and tries to kill her again, as unlike her fake gun, he has a real one!…. But then Pete shows up and shoots him with the ZAP gun, getting paint in his eyes. They run back to camp with the guy chasing them, but the others have arrived with the police, who have also nabbed his partner.

The book ends with Pete picking Della up for a date, and in an attempt at comedy he brings a folded up tent in his car. Good one, Pete. Let’s remind her of all the trauma she’s gone through. But then they opt to eat marshmallows and watch movies all night instead. The end.

Body Count: Zero! Can you believe it?! I feel ripped off, in all honesty.

Romance Rating: 6. Not much, but okay, I admit it, I liked Pete! He and Della worked and made sense. And I was happy that there wasn’t any kind of love triangle either between them and Gary.

Bonkers Rating: 3. The twists were pretty standard, and felt like a run of the mill thriller. I was hoping that it would be MR. ABNER THE WHOLE TIME, but then it wasn’t. Meh.

Fear Street Relevance: 4. I am calling a cheat on this because while it took place on Fear Island, Fear Island wasn’t established as a place within this universe until it was convenient!!

Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:

“The canoes!” Della said. They were gone. “Oh no!” Maia cried. “We’re trapped here!”

…. And then it was just that Ricky hid them like a douche.

That’s So Dated! Moment: Sadly there were few and far between super dated moments in this book! Though at one point Della’s shoes were described as white Reebok hightops, and I totally had a pair of those!

Best Quote:

“Knock it off, Suki,” Gary warned. “Stop picking on Ricky.” “Ricky’s picking on ME by existing,” Suki muttered.

I freaking love Suki Thomas.

I expected more from you, “Fear Street”. This just felt like “I Know What You Did Last Summer”. So maybe Kevin Williamson stole that idea from this. Regardless, it wasn’t one of the better stories in the series. Hopefully “Missing”, the next on the list, will be better.