A Revisit to Fear Street: “The Secret Bedroom”

176577Book: “The Secret Bedroom” (Fear Street #13) by R.L. Stine

Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, September 1991

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

Book Description: Lea Carson can’t believe it when her family moves into the creepy, old house on Fear Street. Most creepy of all is the secret room up in the attic.

The room has been locked and boarded up for at least a hundred years. A murder was committed in that room, the story goes, and it has been closed up ever since.

Lea knows she should stay away. But she thinks she hears footsteps inside the secret room. And voices.

Someone—or something—is waiting for Lea in there.

Should she open the door?

Can she resist?

Had I Read It Before: Yes

The Plot: Once again, we are introduced to a new student at Shadyside High. This time it’s a girl named Lea, and I have to wonder about enrollment policy at this school. Are kids just joining willy nilly at any time, or are all these things supposed to be happening on the same timeline? Regardless, Lea makes a splash at her new school in week two where she spills chili on the white sweater of class megabitch Marci Hendryx. After getting a severe tongue lashing from Marci, who goes to clean up, Lea gets in help cleaning up her tray from a cute boy. He says his name is Don, and she says that she’s Lea and she just moved to Fear Street. When Don is, of course, shocked, she explains her parents are the predecessors to “Flip This House” and are going to focus on Fear Street. After some more chit chat, Don asks her out, and Lea is excited and says yes! But when she returns to her seat, her new friend Deena (from “The Wrong Number”!) tells her that Don is Marci’s boyfriend and Lea will catch hell if she goes out with him. Don, you’re a creep.

Lea walks home and thinks about the first time she and her parents entered the house. Their realtor, Mrs. Thomas (Suki’s Mom! I love Suki, so this bitch is tops in my book), told them about a boarded up room in the attic after Lea stumbled upon the locked door. Apparently it was a bedroom, but someone was murdered in their and it’s been shuttered ever since. Um, that should probably have been disclosed before they closed on the house, Mrs. Thomas, but perhaps when selling homes of Fear Street you’re encouraged to leave stuff out. Lea’s parents say they’ll just leave it alone. I bet not.

So now it’s Saturday night and Lea is on the phone with Deena, waiting for Don to pick her up. While giving Lea advice, Deena then has to hang up because her friend Jade has arrived (no word on whether or not she’s still dating her rotten half brother). So Lea waits, and waits, and waits… And Don doesn’t show. She calls his house, and Don’s mom says that he’s out with Marci. Ouch, girl. But instead of accepting that she’s been stood up, Lea decides that the thing to do is… CALL MARCI?????

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(source)

Predictably, it doesn’t go well. Marci tells Lea she dared Don to ask her out, and that Don would NEVER go out with her, and that Lea deserves it for hitting on her boyfriend. Yikes. Lea goes to sleep that night convincing herself that Don really DID ask her out, but then chickened out because Marci found out and that he does really like her. As she falls asleep she thinks she hears footsteps in the secret bedroom in the attic.

Monday at school Don approaches her and says he’s really sorry about the date thing and that Marci is jealous. While trying to explain himself, Marci shows up, and he runs off to her like the spineless jellyfish that he is. After lunch, Marci approaches Lea at her locker and tells her that she’s sorry. It was a joke that went too far, and to make it up to her she wants Lea to join the school sorority! How nice! She tells Lea that the next meeting is the next day in room 409. But Lea isn’t a dummy, and tells her that the school only has three floors so there ISN’T a room 409!! Boy, she sure was spared some kind of douchey prank a golf pro might pull off.

That next Saturday after a night of watching movies by herself (as even her parents have a social life), Lea decides to go to bed. But again, she hears footsteps above her in the attic. She goes up to investigate, but finds nothing up there. Yet as soon as she turns out the light, the footsteps start again… in the secret bedroom! She presses her ear against the door and calls inside, but then hears a new sound… the sound of blood flowing from the doorway!!! She freaks out and calls Deena (instead of her parents? I know this is before cell phones but did they not leave an emergency number?) and asks her to come over. Then she calls the police. When Deena arrives they go up to investigate, but they find nothing. So have fun explaining THAT to the cops who show up a few moments later. Lea apologizes, saying she thought she heard something, and after both cop and Deena leave, she tries to go back to sleep… But the sounds start again, louder this time.

At breakfast the next day her parents brush off her concerns. That night Lea is thinking about Don, for some reason that I can’t fathom… Yes I can, I was a teenage girl once. But the noises start up again. This continues for the next few nights, and then it even evolves into a voice! Lea dreams that she goes into the attic, and into the bedroom… and finds Marci in there, right before waking up. Marci is truly a jerk so the stress dreams are understandable.

The next weekend Lea, having been blown off by Deena, is all by her lonesome at home again, and when she hears the sounds this time she’s going to investigate. She hears a voice on the other side of the door, but this time she decides she wants to open the damn thing up. Of course, when she tries, a bunch of iron spikes slam through the wood and almost gore her. I just….. WHAT. They pull back into the secret bedroom, and Lea is left dazed. When the phone rings she almost misses it, but she answers, and it’s DON!! Who wants her to meet him at the mall right away!!! Lea, foolishly, thinks that her time has come, and she rushes in the rain to her car and drives over to meet him. I have no idea where her parents are. When she gets to the mall and to good ol’ Pete’s Pizza, she sees Don… and that he’s sitting across from Marci. Lea, the definition of insanity is to repeat an action expecting a different result. This is you to a t. Don says she should sit with them, but Marci shuts that shit down. Lea, after accidentally knocking into a waitress and making  a scene, returns home.

Given that the house is still empty but the sounds are still happening, Lea storms up the steps to settle this once and for all. This time when she calls through the door, she hear’s a girl’s voice asking her to open it up. Lea complies, prying the boards off with a hammer, and finds a key in the lock. When she walks in, she finds an ornate bedroom with an old fashioned looking girl sitting on the bed. The girl says that she ‘lives’ there, so that means she’s haunting the place because she’s clearly a ghost. A ghost who wants to touch Lea’s hair. Which is a bit too much, and Lea runs out of the room, slamming and locking the door behind her.

The next day Lea convinces herself that it was all a dream, and goes to play tennis with Deena. Deena agrees that it must have been a dream and then tells her that Marci is spreading rumors about her being a floozy. Fun. That night, while her parents are engrossed in a nature show, Lea tries to go to bed early. But the noises start again, and Lea goes upstairs to investigate. She finds the room and the girl again, and realizes that it wasn’t a dream. The ghost says that her name is Catherine, and that while she knows she’s dead it took her awhile to believe and understand it. She says that she was locked in this room because her parents didn’t want the world to know about her, as she was born out of wedlock. When she tried to escape one day, they killed her, and kept her body up there to rot. Lea isn’t convinced, and Catherine gets angry with her AND wants to touch her hair again. Lea runs out and slams her bedroom door, but doesn’t remember if she closed the door to the secret bedroom. She goes back to look, and all seems locked up and okay… But then in her own room Lea’s stuffed tiger’s eyes start to glow red.

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This bodes well. (source)

At school the next week, Lea overhears Marci spreading more lies about her, and wonders just why Marci keeps doing this even though she clearly has her beaten into submission. Well, Lea, it’s because girls like Marci are like a dog with a bone and can’t get enough of torturing you because you have been seen as weak, and weakness is easy to exploit and fun too, if you’re a total sociopath. No, I don’t have personal experience. Lea, however, gets the bright idea to use her new ghost friend (?) to teach Marci a lesson (and I am convinced that Ryan Murphy lifted this for “AHS: Murder House”). When she gets home she goes up the secret bedroom and formally introduces herself. Catherine tells her how much she loves her hair, and that she wishes her blonde tresses were dark like hers. Lea, undaunted, asks Catherine if she will help her scare Marci. Catherine agrees, but starts to press her ghostly essence into Lea, explaining that she’d use all her energy if she traveled on her own, and that she should really just hitch a ride in Lea’s body. Lea is a little weirded out, but convinces herself that it’s a legit request.

Lea goes to Marci’s house to confront her, and Marci tries to slam the door in her face but Catherine (who did leave Lea’s body) prevents that from happening. Lea gets into the house and starts to read Marci the riot act, but then Catherine lifts Marci up in the air and drops her. Marci, now freaked out, runs up the stairs in a panic… and runs right through the railing and plunges to the floor. Oops. Lea calls 911 as Marci’s Mom is screaming and sobbing (this was actually way upsetting, thanks Stine), and when the cops arrive Marci is pronounced dead. An officer drives Lea home, and she feels Catherine re-enter her body. When they get home Catherine returns to her attic room and Lea tries to eat dinner, but just has to confront Catherine about how things went down at Marci’s house. She asks Catherine if she pushed Marci, and Catherine just smiles at her, saying that she did Lea a favor and now Lea has to do one for her. Catherine wants to be inside Lea’s body PERMANENTLY. She tries to possess Lea, but Lea fights her off and runs out of the room screaming for her parents. When she tells them everything, they think that she’s suffering from PTSD because she saw Marci fall. Lea tries to show them the attic door she broke into, but it looks all boarded up, as if never touched. Huh?

A doctor recommends bedrest to Lea. As she’s trying to rest up, suddenly Catherine appears and REALLY flips things on its’ head: she says that she’s been messing with Lea the whole time! Lea never actually went into the secret bedroom, that Catherine was ALWAYS in THIS room and that she just planted those memories. When asked why, Catherine says that that secret bedroom is evil and Catherine boarded it up herself one hundred years prior, and the blood and the spikes were to keep Lea out before she just started planting memories. And now they’re going to share this room AND LEA’S BODY!!! Catherine succeeds in possessing her this time. Holy shit, this is getting real.

A few days later Catherine tells Lea that they have some stuff to take care of. I have a feeling it isn’t running to get paper towels from the store. CLea (as I will be referring to them) pulls a long rope out of the closet, and Catherine tells Lea that they’re going to go make Don Jacobs pay. They end up at Don’s house, and right before CLea can strangle him in cold blood, his friends arrive. Lea is able to fend off the control for a bit, and they make a hasty exit. But Catherine tells her that soon Don will be dead and so will his stupid friends. WHAT DID CORY AND GARY DO? The next day Lea realizes that Catherine has left her body for a bit, and thinks that perhaps the key to her salvation is opening up the secret bedroom. She grabs a hammer and gets to work on the boards, but then Catherine shows up to try and stop her. Lea tells her that she won’t be stopped, and she manages to get into the bedroom…. AND FINDS THE LONG DRIED OUT CORPSES OF CATHERINE’S PARENTS ON THE BED!!!! Catherine manages to possess Lea just then, and then the BODIES GET UP AND START SHUFFLING TOWARDS CLEA! ZombieDad wraps his hands around CLea’s neck, and Catherine leaves her body saying they killed her once and now they want to do it again…. But ZombieMom says that it was CATHERINE who was the murderer, who killed THEM and locked them in the bedroom. Suffice to say, the corpse parents start to circle Catherine faster and faster, and when Catherine reaches to Lea for help (ha, yeah right), one of the corpses LITERALLY rips her hand off and tosses it away. I AM LIVING!!! They ghostly family spins and disappears into nothingness, and Lea, presumably, passes out.

She wakes in the hospital some time later and is told she’s been battling a fever that’s left her in and out of consciousness. But Don has been calling to check on her and Deena has been bringing her school work for her to work on when she gets better. So maybe it was all a dream? When she gets home, she does find the attic door all boarded up, and is thinking that yes, it was all a dream. But the she sees one of Catherine’s hair ribbons on her dresser, and she thinks of Marci and the ghost in the secret bedroom. The end.

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(source)

 

Body Count: 2. Well, technically one with Marci falling to her doom. But I think that I may count Catherine too, since she was kind of taken out again.

Romance Rating: 3. Don is a total wimp when it comes to his girlfriend, but he and Lea could have some potential now that she’s out of the way (sorry, Marci).

Bonkers Rating: 10. This one has a secret bedroom, a ghost, possession, mind alterations, murder, AND skeletons just drying out in an attic. Seriously, it’s crazy.

Fear Street Relevance: 9! Lea living on Fear Street and the ghosts living in an attic in a Fear Street house are exactly the kind of setting these books need to be as good as they can be.

Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:

“Lea was the first to break the silence. “I don’t believe it,” she said, her hands pressed tightly against her face.”

… and then there’s literally nothing there. Though I have to say, this book had some really SOLID cliffhangers.

That’s So Dated! Moments: Lea is watching “Ghost” on her parents VCR. Also, many descriptions of Lea’s bangs. Also, see below….

Best Quote:

“Patrick Swayze is a real babe, she thought, stretching sleepily. He can come haunt me any time.”

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Ditto, Lea. Ditto. (source)

YEP, this one was a really fun and great read. It’s right up there with “Missing” in terms of “Fear Street” faves. The next one up is “The Knife”, and the cover alone makes me think it’s going to be a journey.

A Revisit to Fear Street: “Lights Out”

176474Book: “Lights Out” (Fear Street #12) by R.L. Stine

Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, June 1991

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

Book Description: Who killed the counselor?

“I could kill you!” screamed Geri Marcus.

Could she? Would she? something is very wrong at Camp Nightwing, and junior counselor Holly Flynn is determined to solve the mystery before it destroys the camp!

The trouble begins with frightening acts of vandalism. After each, a red feather is left behind—signature of the culprit.

Suddenly, one of the counselors is dead. “An accident,” say the police. But Holly knows better—and she knows she’s next. Holly can’t trust anyone now, not even her best friend, as she stalks the camp killer—and hopes that it soon won’t be “lights out” for her!

Had I Read It Before: No.

The Plot: Just so everyone is aware, y’all are getting gifs and images from my favorite camp movies “Wet Hot American Summer” and “Sleepaway Camp” for this one.

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(source)

Holly Flynn has been conscripted to be a counselor at her Uncle Bill’s summer camp, Camp Nightwing, for the summer. She doesn’t want to be there, as is made clear by her terrible interaction with a spider that wanders into her bunk. But her Mom made her, because she can’t just spend the whole summer on Fear Street, now can she, especially since her summer job at the Dairy Freeze was a bust. And besides, poor Uncle Bill has been having a rough go of it while running this camp. The first year, lightning burnt down the rec hall. Year two, both a flood AND a measles outbreak struck the camp (vaccinate your kids, folks). Year three, a camper was LITERALLY KILLED IN A BOATING ACCIDENT. So this year is kind of it for Uncle Bill, though honestly it sounds like he’s not so good at his job and maybe this just isn’t for him. Holly’s friend Thea is a counselor at the camp as well, but has her main goal for the summer to hook up with fellow counselor John Hardesty. While they talk about Holly’s not so outdoorsy nature, they hear someone call for help. Turns out Uncle Bill managed to overturn a cabinet full of sports equipment upon himself. After Holly and Thea help him out from under it all he comments that it seems like it was oddly loose. As Thea and Holly start to clean it all up, Holly finds a red feather in the bolt hole of the cabinet.

But she can’t dwell too long on it, as she soon finds out that Geri Marcus is one of the counselors at this camp!!! Geri Marcus, who had been Holly’s best friend before Holly moved to Shadyside, but they had a falling out. Geri had been dating at eighteen year old at age fifteen, and Holly had tried to keep it a secret but was caught in a lie. Geri’s parents found out, broke them up, and Geri blames Holly. You know this because of the not so kind look and demeanor she has around Holly. She also meets Debra, the senior counselor in her cabin who is also the arts and crafts and sailing instructor. She also takes an instant disliking to Holly for reasons unknown. But the Holly meets Mick, a handsome counselor who she takes an instant liking to, even though she’s sworn off boys this summer. When she gets back to her cabin, nature rears it’s ugly head as a brown bat is in the room. Holly freaks out, and Debra and Geri walk in and make her feel bad for freaking out.

They go to the counselor campfire that evening. Holly and Mick flirt a little bit more. Uncle Bill reads them the rules of the camp that they need to abide by, but is interrupted by a maniac in a hockey mask, who ends up being another counselor named Kit, a nerdy dude who has a crush on Geri. We also meet a softspoken boy named Sandy who wears polo shirts and Porsche sunglasses, and get a glimpse of the famed John Hardesty, who is antisocial to the max. Uncle Bill reads the rest of the rules, the last one being ‘counselors cannot date campers’. Seems like a no brainer, Bill. Holly and Mick flirt a bit more, and then Holly catches Geri glaring at her from across the bonfire.

The first morning of camp Holly goes for a walk. She meets up with Sandy, who warns her about leeches and to be careful in the water. She then runs into Mick, and they go walking by the lake to look at the canoes… Which have sunk. They pull them out and see that someone has punched holes in them, and Holly finds another red feather. No time to investigate further, though, as the campers are arriving. Holly is late and Debra chews her out for her tardiness. After they round the campers up and take them to their cabin, two of the girls get in a fight about the top bunk. When they both jump on the bed, it collapses. Neither girl is hurt, but Debra still reams Holly out for some reason, just as Geri and Uncle Bill walk in. Uncle Bill commends Debra on her ‘quick thinking’, and it leaves Holly alone to try and figure out what happened. She finds the broken slat, and along with that another red feather.

Holly goes to find Uncle Bill to tell him about the feathers and how she thinks that perhaps it’s a sabotage , but he isn’t interested in listening to her about it and snaps at her to leave him alone to deal with other things. Holly confronts Debra about chewing her out like that in front of other people, and Debra blows her off, saying that Holly won’t get any special treatment, even if Bill is her uncle. Things go from bad to worse at dinner, when Kit runs in and throws a rubber snake on the table. Holly is so scared she hesitates at first, but then is AGAIN chewed out by Debra for just sitting there while the campers are upset. I can’t even with this girl. Thea tells Holly to meet her by the lake that night, because she has some information that could explain some things. When they meet Thea tells her that Geri and Debra are tight, and that is probably why Debra is making Holly’s life a living hell. Also, Mick and Geri had something last summer, but now it seems that Mick may be into Holly. UH OH!! I smell a Judy and Meg situation a la “Sleepaway Camp!”

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Nothing says summer camp mean girls like Judy and Meg. (source)

Thea also says that she’s meeting John there, and Holly rightfully leaves before Thea gets into another pathetic John loop. Holly runs into Mick on her walk back, and when he asks her if they can spend more time together she says no. Why she doesn’t tell him that Geri is the goddamn worst, I couldn’t say. Mick gets mad and GRABS HER ARM? I was rooting for you, Mick, but not anymore. He lets her go quickly and stalks off, ego bruised no doubt. As she gets back to her cabin, she thinks she sees someone sneaking out of it. Before she can investigate further, Sandy shows up. They talk for a bit and he seems like a far nicer guy than Mick at this point, as he tells her he’s sorry she’s having a hard time. When she goes back into her cabin, she finds an actual snake on her bed. She screams and wakes everyone up, including Debra, who chews her out AGAIN, calling her ‘worse than useless’. Calm down, Debra.

The next day Holly goes to try and talk to Uncle Bill about the feathers and the snake. But, so concerned with a mixed up order that has left a supply delivery AWOL, Bill, once again, has other things on his mind and downplays her concerns. He asks Holly to just be supportive of him, saying that those feathers are all over the camp. Holly decides that if he won’t listen to her, she’ll have to save the camp herself. She starts to observe the fellow counselors at a camp baseball game, and Mick puts the moves on her since she’s been ‘staring at him all day’. She agrees to meet him that night (WHY?), but when she does he puts the moves on a bit too strong and she demures. Which makes him storm off because HEAVEN FORBID SHE NOT WANT TO KISS HIM YET. And, of course, Geri saw the whole thing, and confronts Holly about trying to steal Mick away.

The next day Holly meets up with Sandy, and when he’s super nice to her she tells him her theory about the feathers, the camp, and the sabotage. He isn’t really convinced, and tells her that maybe she’ll be more comfortable when they co-lead that wilderness hike the next week. Holly isn’t thrilled to be co-leading a hike, but at least Sandy is nice. She runs into Thea, who is having more John Hardesty woes, as he just doesn’t seem interested. THEN she goes to the arts and crafts building to help Debra teach pottery… and one of the campers breaks a pot, which is clearly Holly’s fault. As she’s walking back to her cabin after this terrible day, she is confronted by Kit, who says that since she’s so awful to Geri, he’s going to be awful to her. He then GRABS HER AND PINS HER ARMS BEHIND HER BACK, as Geri and MICK of all people show up with a BUCKET OF LEECHES. They knock her in the creek and toss the leeches on her. After they leave she peels the leeches off and then runs afoul someone yelling ‘no please!’, and finds JOHN by himself. When she questions him, he says she better mind her own business or she’ll be sorry. JESUS CHRIST this camp is filled with sociopaths! She sees Sandy again and he gives her the finalized counselor list for their wilderness trip. Joy of joys, it’s them, Geri, Mick, and Kit.

At dinner that night Holly and Thea are hanging out and Holly realizes that John and Debra aren’t anywhere to be seen. Holly decides to go find Debra so they can eat with their campers together. She isn’t in their bunk, so Holly goes to the arts and crafts building…. AND FINDS DEBRA SLUMPED OVER DEAD ON THE POTTERY WHEEL, HER FACE A BLOODY PULP FROM THE CONSTANT WHIRLING OF SAID WHEEL. Now THIS is good shit, Stine!!! Her necklace is caught in the wheel, so obviously it must have been a horrible accident.

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(source)

But then of course Holly finds another red feather.

Okay, this is so long and we have so much more ground to cover, and frankly this book isn’t good enough to dwell. So let’s just bullet point it down.

  • Geri thinks that Holly did it.
  • Uncle Bill assigns Geri to be the new senior counselor over Holly.
  • Holly thinks John did it but then maybe it was Mick because she finds feathers in his room.
  • Uncle Bill says the camp is going to close if one more thing goes wrong. Rebuffs Holly’s theories for the umpteenth time.
  • The wilderness trip begins.
  • Turns out John is just being weird because he’s messing around with a fifteen year old camper.
  • Sandy asks Holly to go canoeing with him.
  • And it turns out that the whole time it was SANDY because it was his little brother who drowned at the camp on Debra’s watch the previous year!!!!
  • There’s a showdown in a canoe on the rapids. Holly hits Sandy with a paddle but he perseveres.
  • There’s a second showdown in a cave involving snakes and Sandy falling down a hill.
  • Mick helps get her out of the woods and the police come and take Sandy away.
  • Holly isn’t scared of snakes anymore. THE END.

Body Count: 1, though I have to reiterate that this is by far one of the most gruesome and coolest deaths in this series yet!

Romance Rating: 2. Mick is a friggin’ weirdo and Sandy is murderous. Not to mention John Hardesty is an eighteen year old messing around with a fifteen year old. Look, I have lots of complicated opinions about statutory laws when it comes to applying to mid to late teenagers, but that’s the kind of gap that is a bit too much.

Bonkers Rating: 3. The pottery wheel death was nuts, but everything else was pretty uninspired, filled with “Friday the 13th” and “Sleepaway Camp” rip offs.

Fear Street Relevance: 2. Once again, our main character lives on Fear Street, but none of the action takes place there! This isn’t even on Fear Island or by Fear Lake.

Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:

“The footsteps stopped, then all at once the started again, faster, running. Who could be in the woods at this time of night? Whoever it was was just behind her and getting closer.”

… And it turns out it’s just two campers late for getting back to their bunks.

That’s So Dated! Moments: Amazingly enough, the fact this book takes place at a summer camp means that the usual pop culture and technological references were few and far between. I didn’t find much that was dated at all! Outside of saying that there are only eight “Friday the 13th” movies. “Jason X”, anyone? Oh, and Mick being described as looking like ‘actor Kevin Bacon’. That’s a blatant “Friday the 13th” reference too.

Best Quote:

“What was it about him that was so attractive? Was it that he seemed somehow…. dangerous?”

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The OG Bad Boy of summer camp (source)

This one was pretty mediocre and forgettable. Up next is “The Secret Bedroom”, another one from my childhood and one I have fond memories of. Will those memories hold up?

A Revisit to Fear Street: “The Fire Game”

176636Book: “The Fire Game” (Fear Street #11) by R.L. Stine

Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, 1991

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

Book Description: It was just a game…

The first fire started almost by accident. A wastebasket fire in the school library. Jill Franks and her friends found it exciting. And it got them out of school for a few hours.

Who could have guessed that the fire game would quickly spread? That one fire would lead to another? What Jill, and Andrea, and Diane, and the three boys they hung around with would find themselves caught up in the most dangerous—and deadly—game of all?

When one of their fires ends in murder, the game ends—and the real terror begins. All of them realize that someone is playing the game for keeps. Now Jill has no choice. She knows she must find the murderer—before her life goes up in flames!

Had I Read It Before: No.

The Plot: We find ourselves back in Shadyside, after a field trip up to the mountains of Vermont. We join Jill, Andrea, and Diane, three teenagers going to Shadyside High. Diane is new, but Jill thinks that she fits in with her and Andrea because 1) they’re all gymnasts, and 2) Diane is sweet and serious, whereas Jill is flakey and Andrea is a mythic bitch. They’re all lamenting the upcoming geography quiz as they sit in the library, though Andrea is trying to think of a good song for her gymnastics routine instead of studying. Diane mentions that her old friend Gabe is not only a songwriter, he also is moving to Shadyside! And apparently he’s super handsome too. Before they can get more info out of Diane, Max and Nick stroll in. These boys both have crushes on Jill, which pisses Andrea off. Jill, however, isn’t interested. Max and Nick talk about horror movies they watched, and start horsing around. Nick pulls out a lighter and starts playing with it, which makes Diane freak out for reasons unknown to everyone else. A folder accidentally catches fire, and Diane runs away. Andrea snuffs the fire out and drops the folder in a waste basket. They meet up with Diane on the way to math and she apologizes for freaking out…. But then, in math class, smoke wafts into the hallway. Of course the fire wasn’t out, and they set the library on fire! Though no one gets hurt, the geography quiz is cancelled.

They friends all go out after the fire, and they run into Gabe! Boy is he handsome, if not super aloof and elitist about having to move to this small town. But his ears perk up when they mention the fire at school, especially when Andrea takes the blame/credit for it. When Max and Nick ask if he’s ever set a fire before, Gabe doesn’t really answer them, but smiles creepily. It becomes even creepier when at school the next day, he suggests that they set another fire so that they can take the rest of the day off, deliberately this time. Though the friends think that he’s joking at first, he makes it clear that he’s DEAD serious. Diane gets visibly upset and makes an excuse to leave, and when Jill calls after her Gabe dismisses her, saying she’s ‘always been jumpy’. Yeah, Gabe, JUMPY. Andrea, on the other hand, is practically flooding her basement at the concept of setting a fire, and Max grabs the lighter and rushes off. As the others leave the cafeteria, there’s an explosion from the boy’s bathroom.

At this moment it’s solidified that I’m really just reading a book about a bunch of teenage pyromaniacs.

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(source)

After the attempt of deliberate arson, the friends all meet on the soccer field. Max made it out just in time, and explains that there was a bottle of cleaning solution in the bathroom next to the wastebasket. Diane isn’t pleased, but Andrea is elated. School is cancelled for the rest of the day (that’s it?) and they all go for a picnic and swimming at the cabin that Diane’s parents bought on Fear Island. The boys all have a swim race, and Gabe wins. Andrea makes her interest known, and Diane says she doesn’t care if they date, though doesn’t seem convinced anything will come of it. The friends eat hotdogs and then Diane surprises Gabe with one of his old guitars he gave Diane. As he plays (and is perfect, of course), Jill thinks about how much has changed since he got to Shadyside (a day ago?) and that things have really changed for the better. IIIIIII’M SORRY, he’s a psychopath, Jill! He then holds the lighter under his hand, mesmerized by the flames.

Soon after Jill, Diane, and Andrea are shopping. Andrea keeps grilling Diane for information on Gabe, and Diane talks about how she’s known him since Kindergarten. They pass a pet shop and Jill notices that the cats in the window look like her cat, Mittsy. Oh boy, does this mean Mittsy will be relevant later? Don’t you kill another cat, Stine! The girls go to try on new clothes, but when Andrea tries to go into Diane’s dressing room, Diane freaks out and starts screaming at her. Andrea is shocked. She knew that Diane was modest, but this is nuts! Andrea goes home and after having a pointless conversation with her Mom, she gets a call from Gabe, who asks her out. Even though she thinks that he’s kind of a wackadoo, she also thinks he’s cute, so she says yes. Because bad boys, right?

Sometime after, the group of friends are driving around Shadyside showing Gabe the sights. He’s not too impressed, but when they get to Fear Street his ears perk up enough to only make SOME disparaging comments about it. I assume it’s because he’s evil and feels at home there. They tell him about the time a crazy guy tried to kill people with a chainsaw (“The Wrong Number”), when an old house burnt down after a Halloween party gone awry (“Halloween Party”), and how two kids parents just vanished without a trace (“Missing”, though to be honest they were found pretty quickly…). Gabe thinks that they should go look at the cemetery. He then suggests that it’s time to start another fire, and it’s Nick’s turn. Gabe suggests an abandoned shack in the cemetery, and Nick refuses. Gabe tries to call his bluff, but then decides ‘ah, fuck it’, and sets it ablaze himself. They run off and watch the fire department come at a distance. When they get back to the car, Andrea, pushed to her sexual limits, starts making out with Gabe in the backseat of the car.

Later, Jill, Diane, and Andrea are hanging out watching videos at Andrea’s house. She shows off her new computer, lamenting that the ink in the printer is blue instead of black, but still writes a poem about how horny fires make her. The police are starting to think that there’s a pattern here, and while Jill and Diane are nervous, Andrea is still aroused. Diane says they should stop playing this game, but Andrea refuses to stop saying that it’s way too fun to commit arson. The phone rings, so Jill answers (even though it’s Andrea’s house?) and though the person on the other end says they’re from the fire department, it turns out it’s really just Max playing a trick. Jill hangs up, and demands that they stop the fire game. Andrea finally concedes that they can ‘slow down’ at least. While Diane is in the bathroom (totally happy that the game is going to maybe end), Jill tells Andrea that she has a date with Gabe the next night. Andrea sees it as a challenge.

On the date, Gabe is actually acting like a pretty nice and romantic guy towards Jill. He plays the guitar, opens up about some of his past, and they have a heartfelt conversation. Though when Jill brings up the fact that the girls want to stop the game, he’s dismissive of her and her feelings…. Until they get to Pete’s Pizza and they find that someone has set his father’s car on fire!!!

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NOT SO FUNNY NOW, HUH? (source)

He and Jill think that Nick must have done it out of jealousy. She calls Nick later that night to ask him why he did it, but he denies it and hangs up on her. Then she calls Andrea to tell her what happened. Andrea is more concerned that the date ended without getting anywhere, but concedes that maybe the game will be done now. That night Jill wakes up to smell smoke, and then finds her cat Mittsy burnt to a crisp!!.. But then it’s just a nightmare, thank GOD, I’m glad no cats had to die for a plot twist this time.

The next day Jill and Nick talk a bit, and he asks her over that night to study together. When she goes to his house, she sees him and Max getting into a car and driving away. Suspicious (And miffed he’s breaking their study date), Jill follows them. They drive to Fear Street, and of course as soon as she turns down the street, her car lurches to a stop and dies. She starts to panic, but is helped by a kind policeman who saw her stranded. He gets her car going again, and she continues to drive. She parks near the cemetery, and gets out to walk on foot… And then sees their car by an old abandoned house… WHICH SOON BURSTS INTO FLAMES!! Jill sees Max and NIck running away from it! She drives to a fire box to alert the authorities, but then drives home. After trying to calm down with yoga and “Three’s Company” re runs, she turns on the news… and finds out that there was a homeless man in the house that burnt down!! Nick and Max are murderers!!

Jill calls Nick to confront him. He balks at first, but then admits that he DID ditch her that night to go to Fear Street with Max, but that they didn’t set the fire! Someone left a note on his doorstep (and Max’s too) telling them to go to Fear Street, and when they got there the fire started. Jill thinks that then it must be Gabe who did it! She calls Diane to go with her to get the note from Nick. But when they get the note, they see that it’s printed in BLUE INK!!!!! LIKE ANDREA’S PRINTER!

SO, Cagney and Lacey go to confront Andrea. Andrea says she didn’t do it and that Jill is only accusing her because her date with Gabe went sour. When they don’t believe her she yells at them to get out and never come back! But then in the middle of the night she calls Jill to ask her to meet her at the gym before school the next morning, because she thinks she may be close to figuring out what’s happening… and that it may involve Gabe! Jill agrees, and the next day she goes to the gym to find Diane there, who says Andrea called her too… BUT THEN THEY FIND ANDREA, AND SHE’S DEAD! Wait, not dead, knocked out. So an ambulance comes to get her. The gym teacher thinks she fell of the balance beam to have hit her head, but they can’t know until she comes to. Jill wonders if Gabe found out that Andrea was on to him, however….

Jill insists that the rest of the group come together, and suggests that perhaps it’s a stranger setting the fires to get to them (though Gabe is still a contender in her mind). It doesn’t go well, as they all start accusing each other of setting the fire and trying to kill Andrea. As Jill is walking home Gabe catches up to her and gives her a ride home. She’s convinced that he’s the one who did it, but doesn’t want him to catch on. He says he has a feeling the fires are done, and that he never should have come to Shadyside or none of this would have happened. I have to agree. Jill, unable to resist his charms in spite of the fact he’s a creep, agrees to go out with him again, especially after he assures her that he’s not interested in Andrea. Jill’s questionable happiness is short lived, as the police show up that night, asking her if she saw anything the night of the fire, since she was in the vicinity. She lies and says no.

Diane invites Jill to her family cabin on Fear Island to unwind. Jill breaks her date with Gabe, and is having a great girls weekend with Diane… Until Andrea calls. Andrea starts to threaten Jill, saying that she knows that it was HER who tried to kill her and that SHE was the one who wrote the note by using her computer!!! But then she says ‘Diane’. SHE THOUGHT JILL WAS DIANE!!! DIANE IS THE ARSONIST/MURDERER! Andrea tells Jill to leave, but after she hangs up Jill can’t find her keys!! So she runs into the woods, but of course gets lost, and of COURSE Diane finds her. When she acts perfectly normal, for whatever reason Jill goes back with her… But yeah, Diane is indeed nutty, and is the one behind all of this. Her motive, of course, is because of Gabe. She tried to take out Andrea for going on a date with him, and set Gabe’s car on fire because she saw him and Jill at a distance. Oh, and also, she is obsessed with fire because, shock and awe, her body is covered in burn scars after she was in a fire when a kerosene lamp exploded when she was a girl. Gabe was so sweet to her when she was recovering, she fell in love with him and has been obsessed with him since. But because of her scars, THEY CAN NEVER BE. Good God. Diane then starts setting the cabin on fire. She is about to set Jill ablaze, but Gabe bursts in, as Andrea told him where he could find them. They all get out of the cabin, and Gabe apologizes for setting off Diane’s psychotic break with his ‘fire game’. The end.

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(source)

Body Count: 1. I always find it a bit cheap when a homeless person is used as a convenient dead body. Let’s just dehumanize them a bit more, why don’t we?

Romance Rating: 3. I gotta admit that Gabe playing the guitar for Jill was pretty romantic, but then again, he’s also happily stringing along Andrea and Diane to an extent. Also, he’s a complete psychopath.

Bonkers Rating: 2. This was just about a bunch of arsonists being the goddamn worst. Nothing bonkers about that outside of the sheer despicableness of it all.

Fear Street Relevance: 8. The biggest fire with the most dire consequences took place on Fear Street, but more importantly we got a nice little run down of previous “Fear Street” plots in this one! That walk down memory lane easily bumps the number up!

Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:

“‘I don’t believe it!’ Diane cried. ‘She’s dead!'”

… And then, she isn’t dead. She’s very much alive. Wishful thinking, Diane.

That’s So Dated! Moments: There is a whole scene in which Andrea is showing off her new computer. It’s so amazing it can do calculations, has games, and even a ‘word processor’ on it. It was so quaint and cute. And there is also a scene in which a lime green shirt is the pinnacle of fashion.

Best Quote:

“‘Well I’m not sure about the Undead,’ Jill admitted, ‘but there is something very creepy about Fear Street.'”

It was as if R.L. had to remind us of the premise of this entire series.

“The Fire Game” was really just about a bunch of arsonists with far too much privilege for their own good. I’m hoping that our next book, “Lights Out”, has more responsible (and less sociopathic) protagonists.

Kate’s Reviews: “Final Girls”

32796253Book: “Final Girls” by Riley Sager

Publishing Info: Dutton, July 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: A free ARC provided by Net Galley.

Book Description: Ten years ago, college student Quincy Carpenter went on vacation with five friends and came back alone, the only survivor of a horror movie–scale massacre. In an instant, she became a member of a club no one wants to belong to—a group of similar survivors known in the press as the Final Girls. Lisa, who lost nine sorority sisters to a college dropout’s knife; Sam, who went up against the Sack Man during her shift at the Nightlight Inn; and now Quincy, who ran bleeding through the woods to escape Pine Cottage and the man she refers to only as Him. The three girls are all attempting to put their nightmares behind them, and, with that, one another. Despite the media’s attempts, they never meet.

Now, Quincy is doing well—maybe even great, thanks to her Xanax prescription. She has a caring almost-fiancé, Jeff; a popular baking blog; a beautiful apartment; and a therapeutic presence in Coop, the police officer who saved her life all those years ago. Her memory won’t even allow her to recall the events of that night; the past is in the past. 

That is, until Lisa, the first Final Girl, is found dead in her bathtub, wrists slit, and Sam, the second, appears on Quincy’s doorstep. Blowing through Quincy’s life like a whirlwind, Sam seems intent on making Quincy relive the past, with increasingly dire consequences, all of which makes Quincy question why Sam is really seeking her out. And when new details about Lisa’s death come to light, Quincy’s life becomes a race against time as she tries to unravel Sam’s truths from her lies, evade the police and hungry reporters, and, most crucially, remember what really happened at Pine Cottage, before what was started ten years ago is finished.

Review: First and foremost, I want to extend a sincere thank you to NetGalley for providing me with a free ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. It means a lot and I greatly appreciate the generosity,

You all know my deep deep love for horror movies, and that I have a serious guilty-ish pleasure for the slasher film genre. There are so many things about it that are kind of grotesque and trite, but I really do enjoy a slash ’em up kind of flick like “Halloween”, “Friday the 13th”, or “Scream”. I think that my love for that subgenre stems from my time as an awkward teenager who was a bit more cautious and shy than some of her lady friends. Because of this, I really related to the “Final Girl” trope that those movies almost always trot out: the virginal good girl who triumphs over evil and is the only one who can vanquish the bloodthirsty villain. The movie “Behind The Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon” did a great job of deconstructing the concept of the Final Girl, as did the movie “Final Girls”, and I’ve been aching to read a book about it as well. When Lauren Beukes “Survivors’ Club” didn’t quite get there, my only hope left was “Final Girls” by Riley Sager, and BOY am I THRILLED to say that this book nailed it and gave me everything I needed.

The very scenarios given in this book as the mass killings that the Final Girls endured are so textbook 80s slasher film that I was living a Dayglow glittered fever dream. You have the college kids in a cabin in the woods, the sorority house massacre, and the isolated motel ambush with a killer who is wearing a sack on his head! PERFECTION. But even beyond setting up the perfect slasher scenarios, Sager also painted pictures of how an actual ‘Final Girl’ might endure after the trauma. As much as we love the idea of Nancy Thmpson or Laurie Strode going on to live happy lives, in the real world the consequences would be far more long lasting. Quincy is a complete mess whose outward appearance is a lie to the pain underneath. She has her baking blog and her true blue fiance, but she is addicted to Xanax and unable to let go of Coop, the cop who saved her all those years ago from a killer in the woods. She has distanced herself from other survivors of violent massacres, Lisa and Sam, because while the media loves to lump them together, she just wants to be herself and to live her life. I really loved Quincy for her full damaged self.

The thing that surprised me the most about this book was that it wasn’t the meta and self referential homage that I was expecting it to be, even though it’s set up was one hundred percent spot on for such a novel. Instead there was a serious mystery here, specifically involving Sam. After Lisa, the original and perhaps most ‘with it’ Final Girl is found dead of an apparent suicide, Quincy is approached by the second, Sam, who had been off the grid for years. The mystery at the heart of this book is about Sam’s experiences, as well as Quincy’s. Though I went in thinking that it would be about the two of them teaming up to find a killer, it turned out to be something much different. And then it superseded my expectations AGAIN when it also became a question about Quincy and her experience at a cabin in the woods. The movies like to portray these Final Girl types as innocents caught up in a whirlwind of circumstance, the ultimate Madonnas who are better than the Whores that surround them and therefore they get to live. But Sager poses that perhaps it’s more interesting if they are just complex, well rounded people instead of just a trope, and questions whether being innocent is the absolute only thing you can be to deserve to survive something as brutal as a slasher killer.

I truly enjoyed this book as a fan of the slasher genre, even if it wasn’t the self satisfied wink fest I thought it was going to be. Fans of this genre really need to go out and get their hands on “Final Girls”. Quincy has every right to stand with Laurie Strode, Nancy Thompson, and all those other badass women who take out those who wish them ill, and she can do it while still being damaged.

Rating 9: A great mystery with some excellent character studies, “Final Girls” goes beyond a meta romp for slasher horror fans and is a fabulous and suspenseful summer read.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Final Girls” is new and isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists as of yet. But I think that it would fit in on “Best Female Driven Mysteries”, and “Popular Slasher Books”.

Find “Final Girls” at your library using WorldCat!

A Revisit to Fear Street: “Ski Weekend”

176588Book: “Ski Weekend” (Fear Street #10) by R.L. Stine

Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, 1991

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

Book Description: Snowbound!

“Red” Porter was a stranger they’d met on their ski weekend. But Ariel Munroe, Doug Mahr and his girlfriend Shannon Harper were grateful he was there when they set out for home on the icy roads. Thank heaven for Red! He spotted the hilltop lodge when they were stranded by the blizzard. He took charge when they stumbled into strange surroundings, scared, tired and looking for refuge. But can he save them when their refuge becomes a trap? Suddenly their hosts are acting very sinisterly. Doug’s car is gone. The phones are dead. And the house is full of guns. If they steal one, maybe they can escape! Until a shot is fired and the real terror begins…

Had I Read This Before: Yes.

The Plot: We start out in a car with a group of friends from Shadyside who are coming home from vacation. We have Ariel, a science minded girl who is also our protagonist. There’s Doug, Ariel’s oldest friend who is kind of a tough guy who makes bad choices. There’s Shannon, Doug’s girlfriend who is pretty bland but very pretty. And then there’s Red. Red is NOT part of this group. You see, the fourth is supposed to be Randy, Ariel’s boyfriend. But they got in a fight over the fact that he wanted to cut the ski weekend short so he could go play basketball. After a blow out argument they had in public (which led to Randy leaving with his car), Red approached Ariel to see if she was okay. After he got along with her and her friends, he asked if they could drop him off in Brockton. I don’t know, but an older guy swooping in on a teenage girl who is vulnerable after a fight isn’t someone I would trust, but here we are. Doug is driving like a maniac in spite of the fact there’s a snow storm falling on them, Red suggests that they turn down a country road, because according to him the plows clear those out before the highways. Horseshit, Red! But these city kids don’t know up from down, so Doug turns down the road, and doesn’t get far before his car dies. Red says he’s overheating the engine, and they should ask one of these farm houses to give them shelter for the night. So they grab their gear and go to ask if they can crash.

The door is opened by a guy straight out of a backwoods horror movie, at least in mannerism and stereotypical personality. He says his name is Lou, and introduces them to his wife, Eva, who sounds like she’s a mouse of a woman to his boonies son of the soil demeanor. He says that they can stay overnight, and tells them to make themselves at home. He also blatantly lusts after Shannon, and let me tell you it’s disgusting. He also tells stories about misfortune that his acquaintances have met in the past, and laughs about it. Amazingly, their phone works, so Doug calls his parents, and when Ariel tries it’s very hard to hear anything. She asks Eva for a cup of tea, and notices that Eva is very quiet and kind of jumpy. Back out in the living room, Lou opens the door and sees that a branch has crashed through the porch roof. The men go outside to move it, and Lou is mad that Doug doesn’t listen very well. I sense the start of a rivalry.

After dinner, Ariel, hoping to escape Lou and his awful stories, asks Eva where she can sleep. After being led to a room, she tries to sleep… But wakes up to the noise of the front door opening and closing. She sees no one has gone outside, but hears footsteps downstairs, though everyone seems to be in bed. She goes to investigate, but chickens out when she hears a lamp crash to the floor. She runs into Red, who tells her he thought he heard Lou and Eva fighting, and Lou hitting Eva. Ariel votes that they should try and bail, but then they start kissing a bit. Which is pretty gross, R.L. It sounds like Red is definitely older than 18. They eventually stop and go back to their separate rooms. No thought as to whether Eva could be hurt. Oh the 90s.

The next morning Ariel wakes up to the smell of bacon. She goes downstairs and finds her friends at the kitchen table, and Lou making them breakfast. When asked where Eva is, he says he’s letting her ‘sleep in’, and I’m suspicious because I don’t remember Eva from my time as a kid reading this book. Doug announces his intentions to check on the car, though Lou berates him for thinking about that because there’s no point until the road crews come. Red and Ariel opt to go with him (WHY SHANNON STAYS BEHIND WITH PREDATORY LOU IS BEYOND ME). They find that the car is gone, and when they do find it it’s been pushed into a ditch. When they return Lou offers to call for a tow, but NOW the phone is dead. Lou freaks out about the phone, and says that while he does have four wheel drive he’s not going to take them anywhere because the snow is too deep. After they beg, he says that he’ll give it a go and tells them to get their things.

WHile they wait for him they have a snowball fight, and when Lou pulls up Ariel notices his plates are from Alabama and not Vermont. Red says that there are lots of cars with out of state plates and it doesn’t mean anything. Lou smells of beer (SO GREAT that he’s driving), and tells Shannon to sit next to him. But the the Jeep also sputters and dies. Lou freaks again and storms into the house, and the gang is getting more worried. That afternoon while Red works on the Jeep and Lou gets more drunk, Ariel goes to find Eva. Eva is NOT dead, but she’s pretty beat up and says that Ariel and her friends shouldn’t be there. Seemingly not so concerned, Ariel goes downstairs just in time for Lou to yank the phone out of the wall. So stable, this Lou. Ariel, Doug, and Shannon play cards, and when Ariel looks out the window SHE SEES A STRANGE MAN IN A SKI MASK! She screams, and Doug and Shannon see him too just before he vanishes. They tell Lou, but Lou is too drunk to care. Red comes in and says he doesn’t know what they’re talking about. Then Lou asks Doug if he works out. I have to assume this is the kind of thing those self proclaimed Alpha guys do. Instead of calling Doug a cuck, he challenges him to a wrestling match. Doug is on the school wrestling team so he agrees, and I’m just flabbergasted. They fight, and Lou smashes Doug in the knee and hits his head against the floor a bunch, until Red pulls him off. Doug is convinced his leg is broken, but Ariel, who wants to be a doctor, reminds him that she did a school project on the knee, and after examining it says it’s just sprained. Lou shrugs it all off.

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Seriously, Lou. (source)

The gang gathers in Ariel’s room and tries to plot an escape. Red tells them that he heard Lou and Eva conspire to rob them and make it so they can’t leave, and that he found some photos in a drawer of a couple that isn’t Lou and Eva. Come to think of it, Eva doesn’t know the kitchen and Lou’s clothes don’t fit. So this must not be their house!!! Red says that he lied when he said the Jeep was still dead, he just wanted to wait for the right moment to get in it and leave. So they decide to wait Lou out. So after Lou goes to bed around midnight, they wait another hour to sneak out of the house with their things, Doug grabbing a gun. THey go into the barn, ready to go, but then are surprised by a strange man standing in the doorway in the dark. They assume it’s Lou, and Doug fires the gun, shooting him… BUt it’s not Lou!! It’s some random guy! Ski mask guy?? It’s at the very least the man in the photos Red showed them! Lou runs in and says that they just killed Eva’s brother JAKE?!?! Who must have been coming to save them in the storm?! They find a ski mask in Jake’s coat, so he was the guy looking in the window. Which makes NO sense, but everyone buys it. Lou tells them they have to help him hide the body in the basement.

While Lou is telling Eva that her brother is dead, Ariel feels like something is off. She goes into the basement to check out the body. She examines poor dead Jake, and notices that not only is there not a lot of blood, but the body is completely frozen even though he’s only been dead for a short while. Red interrupts her examination, and she says they need to find Doug and Shannon! They find their friends, and Ariel says that she thinks Jake was already dead when Doug shot him. If he’d been alive he would have bled a lot, which he didn’t. And his body wouldn’t be frozen solid yet! I like how brainy Ariel is! Red isn’t convinced, and thinks they should confront Lou. The others outvote him and opt to leave. They run outside, and Ariel tells Red that he doesn’t need the pistol he’s carrying… But he tells them that HE DOES. AND HE POINTS THE GUN AT THEM.

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Oh wow, the older guy macking on a teenage girl turns out to be a creep, I’m so shocked. (source)

Red takes them back to the porch and he and Lou tell them the whole scheme: Red was the one in the ski mask (the cover of this book is officially wrong then), the phones have worked the whole time, and not only are Eva and Jake siblings, Red is the THIRD sibling! Apparently Jake stole the inheritance from his siblings, and Lou killed him because of it. Eva, however, tells them that she never wanted this, and JUST CALLED THE COPS ON LOU! While Lou is processing this, Ariel hocks a snowball at him. He drops the gun and Doug tosses it (why he didn’t hold onto it is beyond me). The teens run back to the barn, but realize that Red has the keys to the Jeep! Ariel, always thinking, jumps on a snowmobile and just as Red and Lou are running in, she plows through them and towards the lake. She falls off the snowmobile and skids onto the ice. The guys catch up with her and grab her, but with the police sirens blaring they argue about how to proceed. Lou wants to give up, but Red wants to take her as a hostage. While they fight Ariel runs onto the ice, and Red follows her. But then the ice starts to crack, and Red falls through, as his sister screams on the banks (this is actually way sad). Ariel almost falls through, but Doug saves her. Lou gives himself up. Eva’s life is ruined.

A tow truck comes and is able to get Doug’s car out of the ditch, and it runs just fine now. They’re driving home and Ariel jokes that they should go on another ski weekend next weekend. Doug, as if predicting her bullshit joking in lieu of a trauma, pulls a snowball out of the glove compartment and smashes it in her face. The end.

Body Count: 2. Luke didn’t deserve that, but Red sure did!

Romance Rating: Gotta be 1. Domestic abuse, statutory make outs, attempted murder, and basketball being prioritized over a ski weekend. At least Doug seems to care about Shannon.

Bonkers Rating: 3. I’ll give some credit for the Red twist, but otherwise it’s pretty milquetoast.

Fear Street Relevance: 1! It has nothing to do with Fear Street besides Ariel living there, but she lives there off page! It probably should have been a standalone like “The Babysitter” or “The Snowman”.

Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:

“I started to say something else – but stopped. Doug and I both cried out in surprise when we heard the snap of a gunshot right behind us!”

…. And it’s a mousetrap. PLEASE.

That’s So Dated! Moments: Well besides Red on the cover looking like David Hasselhoff (seriously, look at him), when Lou and Doug are having their awkward and stupid wrestling contest Lou keeps calling Doug ‘Hulkster’. As in Hulk friggin’ Hogan.

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(source)

Best Quote:

“Be a scientist, Ariel, I told myself. Examine the corpse… scientifically.”

Okay, Ariel’s determination to be STEM-y is kind of adorable.

SO, it doesn’t fit in on the “Fear Street” roster at all, but I remember that child me was totally blown away by the Red revelation. “Ski Weekend” is pretty okay, and at least it was memorable all these years later, unlike others I’ve read. Next up is “The Fire Game”!

 

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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(source)

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” .