A Revisit to Fear Street: “The New Girl”

9851339Book: “The New Girl” (Fear Street #1) by R.L. Stine

Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, August 1989

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

Book Description: Welcome to Fear Street.

Don’t listen to the stories they tell you about Fear Street. Wouldn’t you rather explore it yourself…and see if its dark terrors and unexplained mysteries are true? You’re not afraid, are you?

Dying for a Kiss

She’s pale as a ghost, blond, and eerily beautiful—and she seems to need him as much as he wants her. Cory Brooks hungers for Anna Corwin’s kisses, drowns in her light blue eyes. He can’t get her out of his mind. And the trouble has only begun: Shadyside High’s star gymnast is losing sleep, skipping practice, and acting weird. All the guys have noticed, but only Cory’s friend Lisa knows the truth: Anna Corwin is dead and living on Fear Street. Now Cory must explore its menacing darkness to discover the truth. He has already been warned: come to Fear Street and you’re dead!

Had I Read This Before: No

The Plot: Sweet baby Jesus, jumping back into this series right at the beginning and I have learned that it didn’t slowly turn into a batshit bananasfest, it was ALWAYS this way. We first visit Fear Street because of high school gymnast and lovesick puppy Cory, a boy who sees a beautiful new girl in the cafeteria one day and just has to find out who she is. He’s oblivious to the fact that his best friend Lisa is in love with him, and would rather cuddle up next to this blonde who ‘haunts’ him and practically ‘floats’ down the hallway. All Lisa knows is that girl is named Anna Corwin. After asking around and getting a phone operator complicit in his stalking (she gives him Anna’s address even though she isn’t supposed to, because he ‘seems nice enough’ and ‘it’s [her] last night anyway’), Cory calls the number only to be told there is no Anna there.

Not to be deterred in his obsession, Cory asks Anna if the number he has is right, to which she says yes. But when he calls, a woman answers and says that Anna isn’t there, despite the fact he can hear her screeching in the background. So, deciding that this is obviously a messed up situation, he ventures off to Fear Street, the street that Anna lives on. And this is where it starts to get crazy. A man answers the door and tells Cory that Anna isn’t there, because Anna is DEAD!!!!!!

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Cory in that moment. (source)

Still undeterred, Cory refuses to believe that she’s dead in spite of the fact that he’s presented with newspaper articles, testimony, and an obituary that Anna Corwin is dead and buried. By all accounts, she’s no more, ceased to be, etc. He even breaks some pretty serious privacy ethics when he looks for her file in school and cannot find one for her. Signs are pointing to ghost. So how come whenever he kisses her (and boy does Anna REALLY like to kiss him, like all the time), she feels alive, warm, and supple? And why is it that she’s always asking him to save her and take her away and be with her FOREVER AND EVER AND EVER? Nothing fishy about that. Everything must be on the up and up.

Well, after a few too many meetings, Cory finds out that Anna’s brother Brad wants to keep him away from her, so much so that she’s taken out of school for a bit. Though Cory continues to pine, when Lisa asks him to the Turnaround Dance, he accepts, only to find out that Anna has returned, saw the whole exchange, and also wants to go with him. By complete coincidence, Lisa later opens her locker to find that someone has thrown a dead and gutted cat inside of it, with a note that says she is up next for the killing. Cory is convinced that it MUST be Brad, Anna’s deranged brother!

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Totally. (source)

Come the night of the dance, Cory goes with Lisa even though he really wishes he was there with Anna, and then Brad shows up and shoves Lisa down some steps, though he claims it’s a mistake. But, mistake or not, dude, that’s uncool. Luckily Lisa gets away with just a swollen ankle. The harassing phone calls up until this point seem like cake now.

Cory eventually confronts Anna about her crazy brother over pizza, and Anna tells him that she and Brad had a sister named Willa, who fell down the basement stairs. It broke the Mom, and Brad as well, and now they moved to Shadyside as a family to start over. Anna says that Brad, sad about Willa and dealing with a recently dead girlfriend named Emily (who died in a plane crash, what the HELL?!), got the names mixed up when he sent the obit to the newspaper. Hence why everyone thinks Anna is dead. It’s not Anna, it’s Willa who’s dead. Because of course. Not strange at all. But then Brad is outside the pizza parlor, staring in at them, Anna runs off.

SO WE ARE BACK AT THE CORWIN HOUSE, and Cory comes to take Anna away with him to keep her safe from Brad. But as he’s confronting Brad, suddenly Anna starts to turn exceedingly violent with a letter opener. She takes a few swings at Brad, and then turns on Cory when he tells her to maybe knock it off. And it is then (after an asinine moment with a window) that we find out that Anna is NOT Anna, she is WILLA. Willa, jealous of Anna, killed her sister, and Brad covered up for her, but never got her the help she needed, thinking he could keep her safe. Good one, Dr. Frasier Crane.

Our story concludes with Willa possibly getting the help she needs, and Cory and Lisa finally coming together as a man and his silver medal. And that, guys, is how the very first “Fear Street” book ends.

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(source)

Okay, let’s unpack it all, shall we?

Body Count: One, being Anna before the events of the actual story. Well, and a cat. So I guess two. Poor cat.  A pretty low number for a Fear Street book, really.

Romance Rating: 5. Anna was far too creepy from the beginning and Cory was so heartless to/oblivious about Lisa until basically the end. But ultimately I was happy that Lisa was happy because she was pretty decent.

Bonkers Rating: A solid 9. I expected this kind of craziness from later books, but apparently it was there from the get go.

Fear Street Relevance: This book introduced Fear Street as a concept and a lot of the important plot points took place on it, so I will give it a 9 in this category as well.

Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:

“The passenger door swung open. He started to scream.”

….. And then we find out it’s just Anna opening the car door. Stine is known for these kinds of things. Sometimes you gotta improvise when every chapter needs to end with suspense!

That’s So Dated! Moments: So the copy I found of this book was actually an updated version, trying to make “Fear Street” hip and relevant to the youth of the early 2000s. But it was done in an incredibly lazy way, such as replacing a Walkman with an iPod and Phil Collins songs with Missy Elliott songs (I did my research), and yet leaving in references to video stores, records, and actual human phone operators. PET PEEVE! Will be looking for the originals from now on.

Best Quote:

“Go get more paper towels,” Lisa said. “Ucccch, I think I’m going to be sick. It’s a good thing I hate cats.”

That’s Lisa after she finds the dead cat in her locker. I swear, they’re all psychos in Shadyside .

So “The New Girl” really gets things going with the Revisit to Fear Street! Next up is “The Prom Queen”, Fear Street #15 (I’m jumping ahead just this once because I had access to that one right away, I’ll be trying to go in order after that).

 

 

Kate’s Review: “Cold Calling”

33837691Book: “Cold Calling” by Hadyn Wilks

Publishing Info: Dead Bird Press, February 2017

Where Did I Get This Book: An ARC provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.

Book Description: You spend your days staring into a computer screen, trying to sell life insurance to young couples with new babies.

You spend your nights staring into a computer screen, extracting filth from and injecting bile into the internet.

You still live with the same dickhead housemate you went to university with.
Your only respite from computer screens are nights spent getting smashed with him at student bars, watching him prance around, trying to pull much younger girls.

Your life sucks and you suck at it.

One drunken night, you try something new.
Something terrible.
But something that brings you new energy, new drive, new desires.

You start eating the young.

Note: THERE WILL BE MANY SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW.

Review: Oh, hey, hi! What’s up? Uh huh, uh huhhhhh, yeah, that’s cool. Oh, how did I spend my night, you ask? Oh you know. Watching ‘Top Model’… Eating some cake…

Reading a novella about a guy who eats babies…

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You read that right. Also, spoiler alert. (source)

Terrible etiquette, I apologize. But yeah. “Cold Calling”‘s main character eats babies. Okay, just hold on, hear me out here. I felt a need to get that spoiler out there because 1) I had no idea it was coming and I could have used something to soften THAT blow, and 2) I think that if you read the description you can kind of maybe guess that’s the end game. Even if you didn’t really want to believe that’s what was happening. Me getting this out there was not out of malevolence or spite, even if I was pretty well put off by it when I was reading this book. But, in spite of the fact that is just a reprehensible reality of this story, I do believe that there was a point to it. And once I kind of came around to that point, well, I was more willing to think about what the baby eating was kind of really about.

Our protagonist (“You” as he is referred mostly, as this is written in the second person, but Rhys by everyone else) is living a monotonous life in modern day Britain, working a cold calling job that is utterly thankless. Then he goes home and exists in the same sphere as his roommates, masturbates a bit to web cam porn, occasionally goes to the pub with his mates who aren’t really that good of mates if we’re being honest. His mates and those around him barb and bitch about the problems of society, usually pinning it all on immigrants, and then Rhys goes back and repeats it all over again, and again, and again. Until in a drunken blackout he finds the home of someone he’d cold called, murders the entire family, and brings the corpse of the baby home. And then he cooks it and eats it. And decides that yeah, he could do it again. It actually kind of smacked of an old school Ketchum novel, with balls to the wall violence and depravity that is meant to make the reader squirm and shake and question whether or not they could continue. I could also see the undertones of Chuck Palahniuk at his most disgusting and wretched (looking at YOU, “Guts”). I mean, horrific imagery and themes aside, I have to admit that Wilks can write, can craft words and sentences and soliloquies that leapt off the page as I was reading this book, my jaw fully agape in abject horror. Sometime the second person didn’t quite work or came off as scattered, but I do understand the choice behind it. And I think that I do see where Wilks was going. For me, the point is that for some people, the more deplorable realities of society crushes them and twists them into monsters that do absolutely horrible things. And then in turn, that same society refuses to see just what it was that really happened, or the role that it played, and then instead focuses on scapegoats that fit a narrative that are far more comfortable (i.e. everyone assuming that it had to be some ‘immigrant’ that had kidnapped these missing babies). Just to let the cycle start over again. It was as if ‘you’ were the symbol or product of an apathetic, cynical society that chewed people up and spit them out as mutants, which eventually led to the sacrifice and violent consumption of the innocent and innocence in itself. Which I really appreciated in these times.

And THAT, my friends, is why I really have no idea what to do with this story when it comes to saying what the HELL I thought about it!!!

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(source)

I guess I will say this. I definitely appreciated the underlying metaphor here that lots of innocent people get caught in the crossfire of awfulness that could have been prevented if perhaps an overarching selfishness or apathy was done away with or combated by those who have the power to do so. Yes, by having our protagonist devolve to a point and literally eat babies it was hitting the reader over the head. But I can’t say that it’s untrue. So fine, “Cold Calling”. Ultimately I jive with what you had to say. But DAMN if it wasn’t an absolutely nasty ass read and NOT for the faint of heart. It was too much even for me.

Rating 6: The writing is pretty good and the ultimate metaphor was one that I got and found pretty powerful. But I personally had a hard time with the implementation of said metaphor.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Cold Calling” is new and hasn’t found it’s way onto any Goodreads lists yet. But it would fit in on “Maneaters”, and “Cannibal Books”.

“Cold Calling” isn’t available of WorldCat as of now, but you can find it on Kindle Unlimited at Amazon.

 

A Brief History and Introduction to “Fear Street”

Call me inspired or call me unoriginal, but when Serena said that she was going to do a re-read of the “Animorphs” series, I began thinking about my own favorite childhood books. As you may recall in our “Childhood Favorites” post, the “Fear Street” series was one of the most influential reads of my girlhood. I have the fondest of memories of being in fourth grade and reading these books in our classroom during free time before the school bell rang to send us all home.

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(source)

Now let me tell you, on and off I’ve been hunting for copies of these books, as mine have either disappeared into my parents’ attic never to be found again, or were long given to Half Price Books or thrown in the trash by my Mom. And now that I’ve fully embraced the goodness of eBooks and InterLibrary Loans, I can finally go back and re-read this series that meant so much to me when I was a girl, and no doubt helped kick off my lifelong obsession with the horror genre. Not long after I outgrew these books was I moving on to Stephen King.

So for the uninitiated, “Fear Street” was a series that R.L. Stine wrote in the late 80s and early 90s, which takes place in the small town of Shadyside. Within Shadyside is a street known as Fear Street, a neighborhood that is said to be cursed. There is a cemetery, a burnt out manor (that originally belonged to wealthy resident Simon Fear), and a creepy old woods. The stories in this series don’t necessarily all take place on Fear Street, but there is almost always something that will bring the revolving characters back there for one reason or another. There were many spin off series from “Fear Street”, but I mainly stuck to the original series outside of an occasional “Super Chiller”, and the first book in the “Cheerleaders” spin off series, called “The First Evil”. The plots usually revolve around a first person protagonist, a series of murders, teenage hormones, and a mystery that will almost always be twisted and looney, supernatural elements or not.

After the initial run and success (over 80 Million copies are in print, guys), Stine took some time off from “Fear Street” until 2014. Until then, he’d been under the impression that no one wanted books like these anymore. After all, these books were at their most popular when publishers thought that kids and teens couldn’t handle more than 100some pages, and needed a tried and true formula they could keep coming back to. And we all know what changed that perception. But then St. Martin’s Press asked him to revive it. So now teens have a whole new generation of “Fear Street” they can enjoy, though the new books have been lengthened and made more violent and sexier to better match the sensibilities of modern YA fiction. And I guess there is talk of a potential movie adaptation of the series, which both intrigues and worries me. I just don’t think that any movie adaptation could capture as much of the heart of these books as the covers already have.

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She soon found herself in an A Ha video… (source)

So here is my plan. I am going to try and re-read as many of the original “Fear Street” books (and perhaps the occasional “Super-Chiller”) that I can get my hands on, and then review them here, much like Serena is doing with “Animorphs.” There will be snark. There won’t be much critical thinking or deconstruction, though hey, if something tickles my fancy in that regard, I’ll give it a whirl. And I will definitely be pointing out the funnier things, as well as the quirks that really jump out at me. Starting in February, these will be alternating on Tuesdays every other week, until I run out of “Fear Street” books (be it by finishing or unavailability), or my sanity snaps. Whichever comes first!

So join me if you will, and let’s take a walk down that one street in Shadyside that has all the kids talking. Revisiting “Fear Street” could be fun for everyone.

Kate’s Review: “The Call”

30292413Book: “The Call” by Peadar Ó Guilín

Publishing Info: Scholastic Inc, August 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: The Hunger Games meets horror in this unforgettable thriller where only one thing is certain . . . you will be Called.

Thousands of years ago, humans banished the Sidhe fairy race to another dimension. The beautiful, terrible Sidhe have stewed in a land of horrors ever since, plotting their revenge . . . and now their day has come.

Fourteen-year-old Nessa lives in a world where every teen will be “Called.” It could come in the middle of the day, it could come deep in the night. But one instant she will be here, and the next she will wake up naked and alone in the Sidhe land. She will be spotted, hunted down, and brutally murdered. And she will be sent back in pieces by the Sidhe to the human world . . . unless she joins the rare few who survive for twenty-four hours and escape unscathed.

Nessa trains with her friends at an academy designed to maximize her chances at survival. But as the days tick by and her classmates go one by one, the threat of her Call lurks ever closer . . . and with it the threat of an even more insidious danger closer to home.

Review: I think that a lot of people have started associating YA science fiction with the idea of the dystopian society, and that the plot is a group of teenagers who have decided to fight back against it. With books like “The Hunger Games”, “Divergent”, “The Testing”, and “Matched” all being hits in their own rights, I think that if a plot has any smatterings of their themes, it will automatically be lumped in with them. I know that I almost made the mistake of doing this with “The Call” by Peadar Ó Guilín. After all, it takes place at a school where teenagers are being trained for the fight of their life, a test that will in all likelihood leave them dead and mangled. “Oh how ‘Hunger Games'” I thought to myself. But man, was I wrong. And I’m ashamed that I was willing to be even slightly dismissive of it.

On paper, sure, it sounds like a familiar trope. But “The Call” is one of the most original YA novels I’ve read in a long time, for a number of reasons. The first is that our main character, Nessa, is a polio survivor, and has to walk with the aid of crutches as one of her legs has been permanently damaged by it. Diversity in YA literature is important, and that includes people with disabilities. From what I know about Polio (having read about it and knowing someone who is a Polio survivor), Ó Guilín did a really good job of portraying Nessa and her strengths and limitations, and while he never used her disability in a ‘let’s all feel sorry for her’ kind of way, he also was honest with how hard it would be, especially in a situation where you have to be able to run and fight. Nessa is a very well rounded character beyond that as well, as she is headstrong and stubborn, but has insecurities that could apply to not just her and her situation, but many teenage girls from lots of backgrounds. She has her problems with her friends, she has her problems with love and relationships, and she has her problems with her family (though they are pretty removed from this story in general). She is a seriously great female protagonist for a YA fantasy novel, always rooted in realism and never treading towards some superhuman and unrealistic ideal. I especially loved her friendship with her best friend Megan, a sarcastic and snide girl who is the perfect foil to her, but very clearly and fiercely has her back. And huzzah and hurray, there is no love triangle to be found here, as Nessa only has eyes for one guy, the pacifist and quiet Anto. Anto as a character isn’t as interesting as Nessa or even Megan, but the arc that he does go on is a pretty good one, and luckily he isn’t there just to be the ‘boy who sees her for what she’s worth isn’t it sweet’ kind of gig. Given that this is supposedly the start of a series, I would be very curious to see where Anto goes, both for himself and with Nessa.

The world itself is also very, very original. While I can understand that the militarized training for teens smacks of “Hunger Games” and “Divergent”, this world is far more creative than that. For one, this isn’t a totalitarian regime that is oppressing these kids by using violence and isolation to control them. This is another outside force, in this case the Sidhé, or fairies. And these fairies are not the kind of fairies we think of in sanitized fairy tales. These fairies were banished from Ireland to another world, and they are taking their revenge by sucking up Ireland’s teenagers and trying to kill them. And succeeding most of the time. These are the kinds of violent fairies that original folklore spoke of, the kind that would put a death curse on a baby just because they weren’t invited to said baby’s Christening.

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And I mean the REAL Maleficent, not that Angelina Jolie bullshit. (source)

I think that modern fantasy needs more evil and menacing fairies, and “The Call” really delivered on that. Not only are the Sidhé mysterious and vengeful, they are very, VERY violent. Like, to the point where I was getting pretty disturbed by the kind of stuff that they would inflict upon the teens who were taken by The Call. From skinning them, to mutilating them, to transforming them into hideous creatures out of Giger-esque nightmares, these Sidhé were not screwing around, and it made the stakes feel very, very high. Which in turn made me terrified to see what happened next, but also unable to put the book down whenever a poor, hapless teen was taken by The Call.  I also appreciated how Ó Guilín has changed Ireland in subtle ways to reflect how this situation would affect society, with the people knowing English, Old Irish, and Sidhé out of tradition, pride, and necessity, just as I liked how he made it clear that the Sidhé are not the only villains in this story, and in some ways are understandably upset. The best example of this is that by far the scariest villain is not the evil fairies, but a human teenager named Conor. His misogyny and violent obsession with Nessa was just as off putting as the sadistic fairies that chase down teenagers, and the fact that Conor is a very realistic villain in his sociopathy and entitlement made him the most skin crawling of all the antagonists in this book.

I really, really enjoyed “The Call” and I am actually pretty pumped that it sounds like Ó Guilín is going to write more stories in it’s world. Definitely give this a try if you like books like “The Hunger Games”, but know that it stands quite well on it’s own.

Rating 9: A very intense and original fantasy, “The Call” is a refreshing new take on YA survival thrillers, with a fabulous protagonist and deliciously evil fairies.

Reader’s Advisory

“The Call” is not on any Goodreads lists at the moment, but I think that fans of “The Hunger Games” would find a lot to like, and I would put it on “Best YA Fairy Books”.

Find “The Call” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review “In the After”

12157407Book: “In the After” by Demitria Lunetta

Publishing Info: HarperTeen, June 2013

Where Did I Get this Book: audiobook from the library!

Book Description: They hear the most silent of footsteps.
They are faster than anything you’ve ever seen.
And They won’t stop chasing you…until you are dead.

Amy is watching TV when it happens, when the world is attacked by Them. These vile creatures are rapidly devouring mankind. Most of the population is overtaken, but Amy manages to escape—and even rescue “Baby,” a toddler left behind in the chaos. Marooned in Amy’s house, the girls do everything they can to survive—and avoid Them at all costs.

After years of hiding, they are miraculously rescued and taken to New Hope, a colony of survivors living in a former government research compound. While at first the colony seems like a dream with plenty of food, safety, and shelter, New Hope slowly reveals that it is far from ideal. And Amy soon realizes that unless things change, she’ll lose Baby—and much more.

Review: This is the kind of book that walks the line between Kate’s preferred genres and mine. There is definitely horror and suspense, but it’s also a post-apocalyptic story, the type which, especially in YA fiction, often falls under the all-encompassing “speculative fiction” category. Either way, it was a nice change from my usual reading, and while I can’t say that it was necessarily a “fun” read, its very lack of “fun” is what lends me to rating it more highly.

This book could easily be split into two separate books. The first is a fairly typical survival story. Strange creatures have invaded the earth and swiftly killed off the majority of the population. Our heroine, Amy, survives purely due to lucky circumstances (a fact that is refreshingly not glossed over), but over the course of years, she grows to become an expert at living in this new “After” world. There were several portions of this first part that I really enjoyed.

First is the inclusion of Baby, a toddler that Amy finds and adopts after the first month of devastation. These two’s relationship is key to the plot and it was so refreshingly new. All too often the primary relationships in these types of YA books are romantic. This, a sisterhood/parental relationship between a teenage girl who raises a toddler for several years alone, is completely unique. Further, I was very impressed with the author’s ability to portray Baby so completely. As a small child, it would have been very easy to simply gloss over her as an actual person while instead simply relying on general child attributes as fill-ins.

Second, the use of a substantial time jump is well executed. Through clever positioning of flashbacks, we see Amy’s journey through this new world and the events at each step that directed her ability to survive the many challenges of this new world, from how to survive the creatures themselves to how she evolved her approach to interacting with other survivors. Amy doesn’t just become a badass survivor out of nowhere. We see her mistakes and understand what lessons she had to learn to become who she is in the present day.

The second half of the book is a complete switch to what living in a community built in this post-apocalyptic world would be like. The horror, too, takes a sharp turn away from the monsters-in-the-night to what monsters humans can be. This part, while maybe slower than the first half, was even more horrifying to me. It was a strange reading experience because I was so frustrated, angry, and uncomfortable on Amy and Baby’s behalf throughout it all that I had a hard time enjoying reading it. In this section, you know that something awful is coming and you’re just watching these beloved characters walk towards their doom. (I wish I had read this book before we did our “Walking Dead Read Alikes” list as this would definitely have been included based purely on its similar exploration of the different ways that communities of people find to live in a world where society has fallen away.)

In the later half, there were a few twists that I felt were a bit expected. It’s definitely not a unique set up, but I don’t think that lessens the overall effect. It’s also a bit jarring to suddenly have many other characters introduced halfway through the story, and while I enjoyed many of them, I was sad to see Baby fading into the background a bit. However, I did enjoy most of these characters. I also appreciated the fact that what little romance is introduced in this part of the book is very light and never overpowers both the action/horror of the story or the primary relationship between Baby and Amy.

I also listened to this as an audiobook and I thought the reader did a very good job. Especially in the second half of the book, she made some clever choices with her general reading style that allows listeners to immediately identify flashback sequences from the other portions.

Ultimately, I very much enjoyed this book and will be checking out the final book in the duology. I might need to give myself a break between the two as they are definitely not light reading, but I’ll be getting there soon, I hope. This book does end on a cliffhanger, fo sorts, so for anyone going into it, beware of that.

Rating 7: An intense ride with a unique primary relationship, though it did get a bit predictable towards the end.

Reader’s Advisory:

“In the After” is included on these Goodreads lists: :Less Known Doulogies/Trilogies I Might Check Out” and “Strong Womances In YA.”

Find “In the After” at your library using Worldcat!

Kate’s Review: “Only the Dead Know Burbank”

28694501Book: “Only the Dead Know Burbank” by Bradford Tatum

Publishing Info: Harper Perennial, October 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: With Lon Cheney and Boris Karloff among its characters, this sweeping and stylish love letter to the golden age of horror cinema tells the wonderful, tragic story of Maddy Ulm. It takes readers through her rise from the complicated shadows of Berlin’s first experiments with expressionist cinema to the glamorous deserts of Hollywood. For Maddy has a secret. A secret that has given her incredible insight into the soul of horror. A secret that has a terrible price as well.

A young girl awakens in a hastily dug grave—vague memories of blood and fever, her mother performing a mysterious ceremony before the world went away. Germany has lost the first great war and Europe has lost millions more to the Spanish Flu epidemic. But Maddy has not only survived, she has changed. No longer does she eat, sleep, or age. No longer can she die. After taking up with a pair of street performers, she shocks and fascinates the crowds with her ability to survive outrageous traumas. But at a studio in Berlin, Maddy discovers her true calling: film.

With her intimate knowledge of fear, death, and realms beyond the living, she practically invents the modern horror genre on the spot. Before long, she travels to California and insinuates herself in Hollywood as the genius secretly behind The Phantom of the Opera, Dracula, and Frankenstein. And yet she must remain in the shadows—a chilling apparition suspended eternally between worlds.

Clever, tragic, and thoroughly entertaining, Only the Dead Know Burbank introduces readers to one of the most unique, unforgettable characters in fiction.

Review: This past Halloween weekend, I was attending a bonfire gathering of former coworkers. Me and my friend Scott were the first to arrive, and as we build the bonfire and chatted he told me about a book that he had heard of and was interested in. When he told me it was about a girl in Germany is some kind of immortal state who takes an interest in movie making and moves to Hollywood, having a hand in making the Golden Age of Horror movies that define the time… I too was interested. As someone who likes horror, someone who likes vampire(?) lore, and someone who really likes the Golden Age of Horror Films, this should have been a home run right out of the park.

The bad news is that it didn’t quite even get a double.

The good news is, Boris Karloff is a treasure.

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I spent a majority of this book wanting to keep him safe and loved. (source)

I stand by my assertion that this plot does have a lot of serious potential and promise. Madchen, or Maddy, is a very well rounded and relatable protagonist, a girl who is trapped in stasis and has ambitions that are beyond  a world she does not fit into anymore. She is a tragic figure who never asked for this eternal life, the ‘victim’ of a ritual performed by her negligent and narcissistic mother who, in a rare moment of love for her daughter, tried to save her from the Spanish Flu. Maddy is haunted by her immortality, and also haunted by the spirit of a cruel man named Volker, who may or may not be her father, and fell victim to murder at the hands of her mother. Unfortunately, the tangles and drama in Weimar Germany and Austria really dragged the narrative down, and while I appreciated the references to German Expressionism and the undoubted influence it had on Maddy, and therefore the films she would influence, I just kind of wanted for her to go west, young vampire(?).

By the time we did get to Hollywood, things picked up, and it was lots of fun seeing Maddy interact with familiar icons of the Universal Horror circuit. From Lon Chaney to Tod Browning to a superb and sweet Boris Karloff, Maddy interacts with legends of old and her unique perspective on death and existential crises helps create the masterpieces of cinema that are still heralded today. And yet the song is still the same, as she is influential and instrumental, but as a young woman she gets absolutely no credit and is never taken seriously. These parts were the best parts of the book for me, and her friendships with Chaney and Karloff (especially Karloff, whom she affectionately called “Billy”) gave her that much more heart and rounded out two real life giants who had flaws, dreams, and spirit. Karloff is such a gentle and thoughtful soul in this book, and for whatever reason that just plucked at all my heartstrings.

But Maddy’s greatest relationship is the one she has with Mutter, a gentle giant she meets while still in Europe, who was wounded in WWI and permanently maimed both physically and mentally. Mutter is the other great tragedy of this book, as while he is so unattached from others around him for being different and special needs, his affection for and connection to Maddy is one of those tenuous threads that does connect her to humans. Maddy’s fondness for him is absolutely touching, and it leads to many moments where the two of them, defined and limited by their Otherness, are in this together, and against the world. True, one of his storylines felt awkward and superfluous (he ends up living with a number of the Native American actors who live on the studio lot, on call for roles as disposable extras, and the view and description of them made me uncomfortable because they too were so Othered), but their final bit together really, really hit me right in the gut. Because Maddy and Mutter find themselves being shipped back to Germany, right when Hitler has taken power…

Unfortunately, while I liked these really well done nuggets of characterization and mythology, the pacing was very slow, almost to the point where I was close to giving up on it. Whenever Maddy was back in Germany, the odd storyline with Volker and the baggage that comes with Maddy and her mother weighed down the narrative. It wasn’t as bad the second time, but it definitely hurt the tone to the point where I couldn’t really get past it. I also feel like it probably went on a bit longer than it had to, as the extended adventures with her mother in Hollywood were just not what I was here for. I was here for Boris Karloff. I wanted more Boris Karloff.

There were moments of “Only the Dead Know Burbank” that were absolutely beautiful in their power, tenderness, and despair. I lived for those moments. I just wish that it hadn’t taken so long to get there, and that we didn’t get slogged in parental angst. Overall, Maddy was a lovely and fascinating creature, and I will no doubt think of her whenever I rewatch an old monster movie from the 1930s.

Rating 6: Though it had moments of beautiful pathos and super fun and moving portrayals of classic movie stars, the slow start and disjointed focus in certain plot points made the book a bit harder to swallow than I had hoped for.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Only the Dead Know Burbank” is still relatively new and is on few Goodreads lists. But it would feel right at home on “Best Books on Old Hollywood”, and “Hollywood Historical Fiction”.

Find “Only the Dead Know Burbank” at your library using Worldcat!

Kate’s Review: “Outcast (Vol.3): This Little Light”

29277919Book: “Outcast (Vol.3): This Little Light” by Robert Kirkman and Paul Azaceta (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Image Comics, June 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Kyle is faced with the most emotional exorcism he’s performed yet… as he begins to learn more about his abilities and what’s really happening around him. Secrets are revealed that will change everything.

Review: If Volume 1 was set up and Volume 2 was getting the wheels into motion, “Outcast: This Little Light” is the pay off, and boy does it pay off and then some. Kirkman has always done a good job of taking a well worn trope (be it zombies in “The Walking Dead” or superheroes in “Invincible”) and breathing new, unique life into it, and “Outcast” is doing the same for the demonic possession story. I’ve said it before, I’m not as scared or disconcerted by demonic possession stories, but “Outcast” is exceeding my expectations.

When we left off in “A Vast and Unending Ruin”, Kyle and Anderson had the daunting and heart wrenching task of performing an exorcism on Kyle’s sister Megan. What could have been a frustrating and emotionally manipulative scene was actually done very well, as Megan’s danger didn’t feel like solely a way to get at our male protagonist. Given how these demons work, and given that this plot point is resolved pretty darn quickly and opens up some new plot paths, I was willing to give it a pass. Megan is a character that I am very fond of, as even though this happens to her, she bounces back and remains the tough and awesome sister that I really, really enjoy (yeah yeah, spoiler alert, but it needs to be said). It also opens up more for her to do because of some of the consequences of her temporary possession, especially in regards to her and her husband Mark. Mark is another really well done character, as while he could have easily been the skeptical and cruel brother in law who only serves to doubt Kyle, he’s taking an interesting turn as well. His and Megan’s relationship is one of the more well done and honest portrayals of marriage I’ve seen in a comic, and it serves as a nice counterbalance to the star crossed relationship between Allison and Kyle. While Kyle and Allison may be the couple that you are supposed to root for and invest in, with demons and misconceptions keeping them apart, I am far more invested in the one between Megan and Mark.

We also get a bit more insight into what exactly is going on with the demons regarding their motivations and their weaknesses. Kirkman continues to move the mythology out of the solely Judeo-Christian realm, giving us a bit more to chew on and getting a bit more creative. This, of course, is only adding more tension between Kyle and Anderson, as Kyle is pretty convinced that it has little to do with God, while Anderson is clinging to the belief that it has everything to do with that. It may be easy to say that I’m biased when it comes to this, as yes, I am an agnostic, but I think that by opening up the potential in demonic possession does a few positive things for the narrative. The first is that it makes it unique to other possession narratives. Adding your own spin to a classic story or device is going to make it stand out more, and “Outcast” is definitely standing out against other similar stories that I’ve seen in the past few years. It’s not just the demon mythology either, I am also very interested in what an ‘Outcast’, like Kyle, is, and how it all plays into this mythology. Another is that there’s lots to be said for being inclusive in stories like this, and by opening up more possibilities of explanation, Kirkman is speaking to a wider audience who may be reading this book and hoping for a more relatable evil to vanquish, and a more relatable way to combat it. And finally, at least for me, it’s scarier this way. Without going into specifics, I think that this kind of demonic force is hitting closer to my own personal fears. I like being scared, and this is giving me some serious willies.

“Outcast (Vol.3): This Little Light” left on a pretty hardcore cliffhanger, and now that I have fully succumbed to this comic I am definitely itching to see what happens next. Don’t keep me in suspense too long, Image Comics! When does Vol. 4 come out?

Rating 8: Now that the story is in full swing, “Outcast (Vol.3): This Little Light” is doing new and interesting things with the demonic possession trope. It’s still a bit weak in some areas (Kyle and Allison), but it’s thrilling in most others.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Outcast (Vol.3): This Little Light” is still not on any lists on Goodreads. Again, try “Hellblazer”, “Hellboy”, and “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina”. Oh, and for another intriguing take on possession, give “My Best Friend’s Exorcism” a whirl too!

Find “Outcast (Vol.3): This Little Light” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously reviewed: “Outcast (Vol. 1): A Darkness Surrounds Him”, “Outcast (Vol.2): A Vast and Unending Ruin”.