Book Description:This is the story of three best friends: one who was murdered, one who went to prison, and one who’s been searching for the truth all these years . . .
When she was sixteen years old, Angela Wong—one of the most popular girls in school—disappeared without a trace. Nobody ever suspected that her best friend, Georgina Shaw, now an executive and rising star at her Seattle pharmaceutical company, was involved in any way. Certainly not Kaiser Brody, who was close with both girls back in high school.
But fourteen years later, Angela Wong’s remains are discovered in the woods near Geo’s childhood home. And Kaiser—now a detective with Seattle PD—finally learns the truth: Angela was a victim of Calvin James. The same Calvin James who murdered at least three other women.
To the authorities, Calvin is a serial killer. But to Geo, he’s something else entirely. Back in high school, Calvin was Geo’s first love. Turbulent and often volatile, their relationship bordered on obsession from the moment they met right up until the night Angela was killed.
For fourteen years, Geo knew what happened to Angela and told no one. For fourteen years, she carried the secret of Angela’s death until Geo was arrested and sent to prison.
While everyone thinks they finally know the truth, there are dark secrets buried deep. And what happened that fateful night is more complex and more chilling than anyone really knows. Now the obsessive past catches up with the deadly present when new bodies begin to turn up, killed in the exact same manner as Angela Wong.
How far will someone go to bury her secrets and hide her grief? How long can you get away with a lie? How long can you live with it?
Review:Sometimes I get carried away in my request lists for library books. On my personal Instagram I have repeatedly posted pictures of book piles that are overflowing and busting at the seams, fifteen books high and not showing the books on my kindle OR the pile of ARCs in my home office library. And when this happens, I occasionally have to make sacrifices and send books back into the library pool. I did this with “Jar of Hearts” by Jennifer Hellier, thinking that it was probably going to be a book I liked, but one that could wait, like so many middle of the road thrillers ultimately can. But when I did eventually pick it up again (after sleeping on it AGAIN; I didn’t pick it up until a week before it was due), I was angry with myself for letting it go that first time. Especially since Caroline Kepnes, ONE OF MY FAVORITE AUTHORS, wrote the blurb on the cover, and I didn’t even notice! “Jar of Hearts” is one of the best thrillers I’ve read this year, and one of the reasons for that is that it is so dark in some ways it treads towards horror.
The story is laid out through a few different perspectives. The first is from Geo’s perspective, the woman who went to prison for helping her boyfriend Calvin James cover up the murder of Angela Wong, her best friend. We get to see Geo’s present day timeline, from her arrest to her trial to her stint in prison to her time out of prison, as well as moments from her high school days, when Angela was still alive and Geo was just getting involved with Calvin. Seeing how Geo changes over time because of the various experiences she’s had really gives the reader a feel for the character, and it allows her to become multidimensional in an organic way. To go from awkward and shy high schooler to world weary felon is heartbreaking to see, and you really see how much of a monster Calvin James is while also seeing why Geo would have fallen under his spell. Hillier does a very good job of showing the reader why Geo is the way that she is, and simultaneously doesn’t excuse her mistakes, but helps you understand them, and her. I really liked Geo, and while she had EVERY opportunity to fall into the tried and true ‘hot mess’ stereotype for this kind of thriller, I feel like she never did.
Geo and Angela’s high school friend Kaiser is our second perspective, and his is set firmly in the present. Kaiser was the sweet best friend who held a torch for Geo, who then ended up being the detective who solved the murder and then arrested Geo. While is isn’t as compelling as Geo is, I did like seeing this man with his own haunted past have to come to terms with his feelings for his old friend as he investigates a new spate of crimes that she may have a tie in, be it directly or not. While he DID fall into familiar traps of the genre (the cynical detective who is responsible on the clock but makes reckless decisions in his personal life), I really did like Kaiser and liked following him. He was also our main connection to the mystery at hand, while Geo was the connection to what happened to Angela.
And let’s talk about that mystery. Because “Jar of Hearts” is dark as hell. Kaiser is trying to figure out if Calvin James is back to killing women after years of being off the grid, as bodies start showing up that are similar to Angela’s murder scene. But along with the dead women, there are also dead children. This doesn’t match James’s original M.O., and as Kaiser digs deeper and does more investigating, things do start to fall into place because of the various perspectives we are getting. And not only is it suspenseful, there were moments in this book that I was completely unsettled. Hellier did a great job of slowly giving the reader the clues just when she deemed it necessary, and while I had an inkling as to where some things were going, I never got there too soon before Hellier wanted me to. The content was bleak and very upsetting at times, and while I greatly enjoyed this book, it is not for the faint of heart. It feels like it treads more towards “The Silence of the Lambs” than “The Girl on the Train”. Which is a SUPER positive in my book.
But before I wrap things up completely, I do need to give a serious, SERIOUS content warning. This book has multiple depictions of rape in it, and while it doesn’t feel titillating or exploitative in how it’s done or portrayed, it absolutely could be triggering for those who are going into it. So just be aware that it is there.
“Jar of Hearts” is a fantastic thriller and an incredibly impressive debut novel. I truly cannot wait to see what Jennifer Hillier comes out with next. Do not let this one go, thriller fans! Don’t make the same mistake I did!
Rating 9: Suspenseful and disturbing, “Jar of Hearts” was a fantastic thriller that hit every bingo box for my dark thriller needs!
Book: “Killer’s Kiss ” (Fear Street #42) by R.L. Stine
Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, 1997
Where Did I Get This Book: The library!
Book Description:Rivals throughout their whole lives for the best grades, friends, and boys, Delia and Karina both set their sights on the attractive Vincent, and Karina decides that if she cannot have him, no one will.
Had I Read This Before: No.
The Plot: We start out with Delia Easton and Vincent Milano making out on his couch. Delia pauses to apply some dark purple lipstick, described in full detail as well as her botting method which doesn’t make sense because it seems she just kisses a tissue instead of putting it between her lips? She also gives him a big ol’ smackola on his cheek, leaving a purple mark. She says that they have to plan for his birthday, but it’s getting late and she should go before his parents get home. He tells her it’s not THAT late, but does check on the clock because this scumbag is waiting on his OTHER girlfriend Karina Frye, who is supposed to come at 9. He’s miffed that the two girls he’s using are going to probably expect to spend his birthday with him or something (the NERVE), and acknowledges that while Delia isn’t a hottie like Karina, she’s still noticeable. Delia asks if he’ll ever forgive her for being ‘dumb enough’ to think that he was going with Karina (since she and Karina are rivals in every way), and he is SO GRACIOUS and forgives her. Vincent then realizes with horror that the clock has stopped, and that it’s really close to nine! He tells Delia that she has to leave because his parents will be home soon. He shoos her out and she kisses him goodbye, leaving. She gets out of sight JUST as Karina drives up. When Karina comes in he gives her the “Vincent Milano Trade-Mark Smile” (which is mentioned numerous times in this book, whatever that means), but she sees the lipstick stains on his cheek. Since that purple is a style Delia has the market cornered on, Karina accuses him of cheating on her with Delia, and Vincent deflects saying that SHE kissed HIM and he wasn’t even into it. Karina says she’s sick of Delia trying to get everything that belongs to her, and she goes to her car and drives off like a lunatic.
At school that next day Delia and her friends Britty and Gabe are discussing The Conklin Award, a scholarship that Delia is hoping to win (and that shares a name with the family in “One Evil Summer”, and I’m trying to discern if that’s a coincidence or if the terribly negligent journalist mother got an award named after her). The winner has to have high grades, and has to be an accomplished performer and artist. Delia is also thinking about Vincent, wondering why he was so eager to shoo her away. Delia also thinks about how Gabe has a crush on her, but she’s not interested even though he’s very nice. She applies more purple lipstick (which is called “Midnight Wine”), and does that weird botting method but this time with Britty’s notebook paper (INCONSIDERATE MUCH?). Delia says she’s nervous about the Conklin because if she won it would be the first step in achieving all of her dreams. And the problem is that KARINA is also trying out for it, and Karina is just as accomplished and talented as she is. Britty is sick of them fighting over everything, as she is Delia’s best friend but she liks Karina too, and Delia says it’s because Karina is TRYING to seduce Vincent away from her! Just then Karina rushes into the gym, and lunges at Delia, trying to strangle her! They struggle, and Karina manages to RIP DELIA’S EARRING OUT OF HER EAR before they’re separated. Karina says that Delia can’t steal Vincent and that she can’t win everything, and that Vincent is HERS. She is pulled away from Delia and taken to the office, and Delia says that Karina must be crazy because she actually believes that she’s going with Vincent and that’s the only explanation. She is shaken up, but reapplies her lipstick perfectly.
That evening Vincent is at Delia’s house as she’s asking him if he thinks her drawings are good enough for the Conklin Award. Vincent isn’t terribly invested in anything outside of the basketball game, and yet Delia still muses that she can’t draw him well because NO artist could capture how gorgeous he is, which is nauseating. She tells him about Karina and that she thinks that Karina is legit delusional about him and her supposedly non existent relationship, and Vincent gets mad that they’re talking about Karina so much. Then her younger sister Sarah walks in and teases the two of them. Delia thinks about how dumpy Sarah is, and then essentially tells her that no boys want to fuck her, which sends Sarah into a rage spiral and kicks a bunch of Delia’s artwork before stealing one portrait and rushing for her room. Delia yells at her not to spy on them anymore, and Sarah promises she’ll do something even worse.
At school the next day Delia is still miffed that her sister took the best picture from the bunch, but she’s also determined to still win. As she’s searching her locker for a notebook, another Conklin nominee(?) named Stewart comes up to her and asks her if she’d like to hang out that weekend, since the talent competition is on Monday and he could use some time to think about something else. She is tempted to say yes, but then sees Vincent in the hallway and declines the invitation. I HAVE QUESTIONS. How is Vincent maintaining this charade of dating two different girls if he isn’t telling them to keep their dating on the down low AND they all go to school together?! Anyway, Stewart takes in in stride and goes on his way. But as Delia walks down the hallway she hears someone say her name. She stops by the storage room she hears voices, and sees Stewart and Karina having a heated discussion! She goes into the science lab wondering what she saw, and when Britty shows up she tells her everything. Britty isn’t really convinced that she saw anything of note, but she does to the door to look out into the hallway Stewart leaves the room, but Karina isn’t anywhere to be seen until a little while later when she leaves too. Delia suggests that Britty talk to her since they’re still friends, and Britty eventually agrees, and rushes to catch up with her. Britty asks of Karina wants to go to the mall to talk about everything going on, and Karina says no, she’s just fine, and Britty reminds her that she tried to strangle someone so maybe she isn’t. Karina balks and shouts that Delia won’t win the Conklin and she won’t be able to take Vincent away from her! Delia is still of the belief that Karina is delusional.
That night Delia has a bad dream about Karina smearing purple lipstick all over her. Maybe it’s time to lay off the lipstick. That Monday it’s the talent portion of the Conklin Award, and Delia is nervous because she was put as seventh to perform and now all she can do is worry about it. Stewart has some amazing magic show with his dog and Karina has a lovely voice, but DELIA is not only singing, she’s playing the guitar, AND it’s a song she wrote herself. She’s bummed that Vincent can’t be there, as he gave the excuse that he had to take his mom to an appointment, but at least Britty is there, as is Gabe! Karina’s song is amazing, of course, and as Delia scans the crowd she sees Sarah there for some reason. Britty says that she’s probably there to cheer Delia on, but given that Sarah is giving her an unsettling smile I wouldn’t put money on THAT pony. Eventually Delia goes backstage to get her guitar, Gabe wishing her luck, and she goes on the stage… But finds that someone has cut all of her guitar strings, a dead rat is stuffed in the hole, and someone wrote “HA HA” on the guitar’s body.
Delia accuses Karina of doing this, but Karina, who is oddly calm about the whole thing, says that she doesn’t need abusive stalker methods tricks to beat her. Then she and SARAH leave the auditorium together. Gabe and Britty assure her that she will he allowed to redo the talent portion, and that they are her bodyguards from now on.
When Delia gets home that night she finds a note from Vincent on her front door that suggests they go to Red Heat to celebrate her what he assumes was awesome performance. She remembers that Britty borrowed the skirt she wants to wear, so she goes to Britty’s house to find her and Gabe making chocolate chip cookies for Delia to cheer her up. That’s some good friendship there! They tell her to just stay away from Karina from now on, since she’s gone off her rocker. Unfortunately while driving home, Delia spots Karina and VINCENT kissing on the street corner. Delia is so distraught she crashes her car. Karina runs to her aid while Vincent runs to call for help (or more likely runs to avoid any kind of consequences), and Delia says she’s fine. She tells Karina she saw them kissing, and Karina says that she knows he’s been seeing the two of them behind their backs. She also says that she’s sorry she lost her shit about the whole thing, but she swears that she didn’t do the rat thing, really! Delia believes her, and they both agree that they no longer have to fight over that creep, just the Conklin. But as Karina heads off, Delia tells herself that SHE isn’t going to give Vincent up that easily.
Later that evening Vincent and Delia are talking on the phone and he tells Delia that he can’t go dancing that night after all. But he ALSO tells her that he saw her and Karina talking and wouldn’t you know it, Karina just ran up and KISSED HIM AND HE WASN’T INTERESTED AT ALL. And the worst part is that Delia believes him. But he tells her that they’ll go dancing this weekend, and when he hangs up he turns to DELIA’S SISTER SARAH AND THEY START KISSING. This guy is a straight up creep.
That next week Delia is waiting for the judges of the art competition of the Conklin to finish up with Karina so she can show them her drawings. She applies more Midnight Wine to her lips, and then runs into Stewart. He tells her not to worry, the judges seemed fair, and that he’s sure she’ll do great. He asks her out to Pete’s Pizza afterwards to celebrate being done with the judging parts of the Conklin, but she declines because VINCENT. As Karina leaves the art room she smiles at Delia, who fakes a smile back and also notices how great her oil paintings are. Delia walks to the classroom and opens her portfolio…. and someone has smeared purple lipstick over all of her art work!! As well as the note ‘HA HA, COULDN’T YOU JUST DIE??” Delia runs out of the room in a panic, and then sees Karina and Vincent cuddling up with Karina bragging about how she’s going to win, so they’re BOTH idiots!!!!
Delia tells Britty that she thinks she has to drop out of the competition. Britty thinks that they need to rat out Karina, but Delia points out that Karina’s already attacked her once and that she doesn’t want to face her wrath a second time. Britty jokes that they could kill Karina, but it doesn’t quite land that way she wants it to and Delia for a moment thinks she’s serious. Britty says that Delia never used to take her morbid sense of humor that seriously before, and Delia says that without the Conklin her dreams of getting out of Shadyside will be finished. She says that she has to go talk to Vincent so he can explain himself, and Britty VERY ASTUTELY points out that he’s a complete jerk and that there are LOTS of guys (like Gabe and Stewart) who would be better boyfriends, but Delia chalks it up to Britty just not understanding love. Unfortunately, when she gets to Vincent’s house she finds him making out with Sarah. When she confronts them she notices that Sarah has used her Midnight Wine lipstick and stolen her clothes, but Delia pulls a fatality by telling her that even in her clothes and lipstick she’s ‘nothing special’. YA BURNT. Sarah runs out of the house, and Vincent ACTUALLY TELLS HER THAT HE WAS GIVING SARAH KISSING POINTERS!!!! He then tells Delia that he was snuggling up with Karina because she’s delusional, and he’ll talk to her. AND DELIA FORGIVES HIM.
Fast forward to Vincent’s birthday party, which he is throwing at an abandoned mansion on Fear Street. Everyone is having a good time but Gabe is wondering where Delia is. Karina shows up a little after Gabe, and she and Vincent start dancing. Britty pulls him aside, sick of his bullshit, and asks him if he’s seen Delia. He says no but brushes is off, and Britty says that something must be wrong because there’s no way she’d be this late to his party. Vincent is more relieved because now he can just be with Karina and not worry about the two girls fighting. But another couple of hours pass and Delia still isn’t there… Until she shows up, bloody and bruised and looking a mess. She tells the whole party that Karina invited her over before the party under pretense of talking, but then knocked her out and tied her to a bed! Karina insists upon her innocence, but everyone remembers that she was late to the party. Delia says that her blood is all over the bedroom floor at Karina’s house, and Karina says no they can’t go to her house to check. When Vincent tells her that they need to get her help, she screams and runs into the night. Vincent says he’ll take Delia home, but she says she needs to rest a bit, and that she’s in shock over what Karina did.
The next day Britty picks up a newly lipsticked Delia so they can go help clean up the house on Fear Street. Delia seems to be doing much better, and Britty is relieved. They get to the house along with Gabe, expecting to find Vincent already cleaning, but he’s nowhere to be found. But then they do find him, facedown on the floor, DEAD!
Gabe pulls back the body’s shoulder for a moment, and sees he’s been stabbed. They call the police, who arrive shortly thereafter. They start questioning the three teens, but then they all go inside. The police turn Vincent over, and he has indeed been stabbed… But on one of his cheeks are two purple lip prints!!!! Delia insists that she didn’t do it, the last time she saw Vincent was after he drove her home and he was alive when he left. She tells Gabe and Britty that it has to be Karina, but they tell her she’ll sound guilty if she just starts accusing the girl. Eventually she goes to the police station with the cops, and they look at the photos of the lip prints and a photo of Delia’s lips and they someone determine that it’s a perfect match? Delia freaks out for a moment and takes a look, but then realizes that they shouldn’t be a perfect match because if SHE had kissed his cheek they’d be reversed (I guess?)! Which means that someone must have lifted her lip prints from something and then pressed them to his face in an attempt to frame her, and THAT IS WHY YOU DON’T BOT YOUR LIPS IN A STRANGE WAY, DELIA! She tells them about Karina, and they say they will go question her but she has to stay away while they do.
But Delia doesn’t stay away, and decides to go spy on Karina’s house while they search it. And what do you know, when they go into Karina’s dresser drawer they find a pieces of paper with Delia’s lip prints all over it. Delia bursts in, screaming at Karina for murdering Vincent, and the girls fight. Karina scratches Delia’s face, and the police separate them, saying they are taking Karina to the station.
Fast forward a few months to prom night! Gabe and Delia are attending together. But before they do, Delia wanted to visit Karina at the Shadyside Psychiatric Hospital. As they’re led into a waiting room, they snuggle up together, and Delia muses about how she won the Conklin Award. But she also admits that this isn’t how she wanted to win, but then, Karina just didn’t appreciate everything she had. Delia says that she would have won both Vincent and the award…. if Delia had let her. SURPRISE, JERKS!! DELIA WAS BEHIND IT ALL! She sabotaged her performance and art pieces hoping she could get sympathy from the judges. And then when she caught Vincent and Sarah making out, she knew that he had to die, and she could blame it all on Karina and that way she’d get her revenge on BOTH of them! She faked the kidnapping by bruising and bloodying herself, killed Vincent at the house AFTER everyone had left, and planted the lip prints in Karina’s room. She starts to kiss Gabe all over his face, asking him if he’s going to tell on her…. And then a doctor walks in and says that he conveniently heard the whole thing and has called the police so justice has been haphazardly restored. THE END.
Body Count: 1. And frankly, he deserved it, so I’m not really torn up about it.
Romance Rating: 1. Vincent is a gross cheater and Karina and Delia were far too obsessed with his selfish stupid ass.
Bonkers Rating: 6. Because the ending is COMPLETELY out of the blue, so out of the blue it doesn’t make sense, so this is NOT a positive thing.
Fear Street Relevance: 4. Only because the party that ends with Vincent dead is in an abandoned Fear Street mansion but it felt like a ‘oh shit, where does Fear Street come in?’ kinda moment.
Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:
“Delia saw the tree loom in the windshield,
Then she felt the hard jolt.
Heard the crunch of glass and metal.
And everything went black.”
… And it went black because the AIR BAG deployed and blocked her vision!
That’s So Dated! Moments: Karina is described as looking like Michele Pfieffer, and while she is still smoking hot and excellent, she doesn’t exactly evoke a teenage girl vibe anymore. And honestly, Karina fucking wishes.
” ‘Oh come on.’ Britty patted Delia’s arm, smearing flour on her blouse. ‘Chocolate chips help everything.'”
FINALLY, something in this book makes some sense!
Conclusion: “Killer’s Kiss” was boring and tedious, and even though the end was a crazy solution it was stupidly random. Up next is “All Night Party”!
We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing bookclub running for the last several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is ‘genre mash-ups’, where we pick two random genres and try to find a book that fits both.
For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for book club. We’ll also post the next book coming up in book club. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own book club!
Book: “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” by Seth Grahame-Smith
Publishing Info: Grand Central Publishing, March 2010
Where Did We Get This Book: Kate owns it,
Genre Mash-up: True Crime and Speculative Fiction (a doozy to be sure)
Book Description:Indiana, 1818. Moonlight falls through the dense woods that surround a one-room cabin, where a nine-year-old Abraham Lincoln kneels at his suffering mother’s bedside. She’s been stricken with something the old-timers call “Milk Sickness.”
“My baby boy…” she whispers before dying.
Only later will the grieving Abe learn that his mother’s fatal affliction was actually the work of a vampire.
When the truth becomes known to young Lincoln, he writes in his journal, “henceforth my life shall be one of rigorous study and devotion. I shall become a master of mind and body. And this mastery shall have but one purpose…” Gifted with his legendary height, strength, and skill with an ax, Abe sets out on a path of vengeance that will lead him all the way to the White House.
While Abraham Lincoln is widely lauded for saving a Union and freeing millions of slaves, his valiant fight against the forces of the undead has remained in the shadows for hundreds of years. That is, until Seth Grahame-Smith stumbled upon The Secret Journal of Abraham Lincoln, and became the first living person to lay eyes on it in more than 140 years.
Using the journal as his guide and writing in the grand biographical style of Doris Kearns Goodwin and David McCullough, Seth has reconstructed the true life story of our greatest president for the first time-all while revealing the hidden history behind the Civil War and uncovering the role vampires played in the birth, growth, and near-death of our nation.
I first read this book when it came out in 2010, having been taken in by the concept of taking one of the country’s past and most beloved Presidents and making him a vampire hunter. I mean, it sounds ridiculous, and yet I was so enamored with the idea that I got my hands on this book and then spent almost all of my free time devouring it. I was very much into vampire mythology in my younger years, and I had grown weary of vampires as love interests and yearned for them to be scary again. And while “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” didn’t make them scary, per se, at least they were antagonistic to a degree. So I read it, loved it, and it had been sitting on my shelf ever since.
Re-reading it for book club was something that excited and scared me. I had such happy memories of this book, and I was afraid that revisiting it eight years later was going to be disillusioning. I’m pleased to say that my fond memories weren’t totally tainted by the re-read, but going back and looking at it critically was something that, while necessary, was a bit bittersweet. But I’ll start with the things that did still work for me. As a person who really likes American History, especially during the Victorian Era (as yes, much of Lincoln’s life was during the Victorian Era), I love how Seth Grahame-Smith uses diary entries, letters, historical documents, and footnotes to tell this alternate history where Lincoln fought and killed vampires. I greatly enjoy the various connections that he makes between world events that have enough ambiguity that they could have a vampiric element, one of my favorite examples being the Colony of Roanoke. I always had a fun time seeing various other historic figures, from Edgar Allan Poe to Marie Laveau, play into the story. Easter Eggs like this are my bread and butter.
But the biggest problem that I had with it this time around that I wasn’t really thinking about the first time I read it was that one of the biggest plot devices in this book is the Civil War. Namely, the practice of chattel slavery. In this book, one of the big plot points is that vampires were working directly with the Southern elites in order to keep slavery around, as it directly benefited both of them (the humans in terms of money, the vampires in terms of food). When I first read this book I thought that it was a clever way to show an evil and yet symbiotic relationship, but looking at it again now it just makes me uncomfortable. Slavery in this country was an evil practice, and the repercussions of it are still seen and felt today because of generational trauma, lingering systemic racism, and marginalization towards African Americans in this country. To flippantly say ‘and also, VAMPIRES!’ just feel uncomfortable, and a little too cheeky at the expense of very real pain and injustice.
That said, “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” is overall a bit of crazy stupid fun, and it’s written in a way that history buffs and vampire fans alike will probably find it enjoyable. It didn’t fully stand the test of time, but there were still plenty of moments that made me grin.
I had not read this book before, but I’m pretty sure I saw the movie at some point (though my super vague memories of it or what I even thought of it at the time might say more than anything). I think at the time I was still in a huff about “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” and mentally sorted this book into the same category and wrote it off. That said, I was pleased when it was picked for bookclub as I generally try to avoid tendencies like the one I used for this book: judging it without reading it. I was even more pleased to find that I enjoyed it! (Though, it must be acknolwedged that this was always going to be an easier sell then trying to convince me that Elizabeth Bennett killing zombies is something I should take seriously).
What I enjoyed most about the book what its historical aspects and the stylization of the way the story is told through letter and other historical documents. These were all used to great affect and very much sold the concept of telling a story that could be wedged in alongside the version of true history that we are more or less familiar with. One’s own knowledge of the actual history of the time period also goes along way as, like Kate mentioned, there were nice references to other happenings of the time that would reward diligent readers. Not an extreme history buff myself, I can’t even be sure I knew exactly where some of these lines between fiction and true history were being drawn.
The story itself was also the kind of semi-campy fun that simply makes for an enjoyable read, and I think if approached in this way, it is best appreciated. As Kate also referred to, a closer examination of the work can lead to potential discomfort with superimposing layers of vampire nonsense over a truly challenging time in American history. I, for one, was generally ok with this aspect of the story as I think the point of the book was to do just that: make up a nonsensical version of a traumatic period of history and essentially make a satire out of it by highlighting just how truly horrible it was! The addition of vampires merely underscores the fact that, while they are fantasy creations, the true human players in this existed. Plus, the Civil War has, deservedly, garnered a huge wealth of books that cover its history in a more serious, thoughtful tone. And I don’t expect every book set in this time period to do the same thing, which I think does a disservice to the creativity of tactics that can used in criticizing events such as these.
Overall, I enjoyed this read. It wasn’t the type of book that I likely would have picked up on my own, and while fun enough, it also didn’t neatly fit into my wheelhouse and I came away with it pleased, but not feeling as if I had been really missing anything by not reading it before now.
Kate’s Rating 8: While it didn’t hold up as well from when I first read it, “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” is still a bit of silly fun that entertained me as person who likes horror and history.
Serena’s Rating 7: I liked it; I didn’t love it.
Book Club Questions
What did you expect from a book that brings a vampire and supernatural spin to an actual person and an actual time in history? Did you feel that the author integrated the two ideas well?
Were there any characters or moments from history you especially liked seeing in this book? Were there any that you could have done without, or felt didn’t work as well?
What were your thoughts on the character of Henry? Did you feel that you got a good impression of him as a character?
What did you think of the theme of vampires and slavery in this book? Did you think that it was a good metaphor, or do you think that it was inappropriate to use it as a plot point?
What did you think of the ending? Did you fee like the revelation at the end fit with the rest of the story and the themes given Lincoln’s relationship and opinions towards vampires?
Where Did I Get This Book: I was sent a copy by the publisher and received an eARC by NetGalley.
Book Description:SHE LOOKS LIKE ME. SHE SOUNDS LIKE ME. NOW SHE’S TRYING TO TAKE MY PLACE.
Liz Kendall wouldn’t hurt a fly. She’s a gentle woman devoted to bringing up her kids in the right way, no matter how hard times get.
But there’s another side to Liz—one which is dark and malicious. A version of her who will do anything to get her way, no matter how extreme or violent.
And when this other side of her takes control, the consequences are devastating.
The only way Liz can save herself and her family is if she can find out where this new alter-ego has come from, and how she can stop it.
Review: Thank you to Orbit for sending me a copy of this book, and to NetGalley for sending me an eARC!
M.R. Carey has taken some of the most beloved, and therefore most overdone, tropes in the horror genre and breathed new life into them. In “The Girl With All The Gifts” and “The Boy on the Bridge” he took the idea of a zombie apocalypse and gave it a unique and fresh perspective (zombies because of fungus? Totally awesome!). In “Fellside” he took a gothic haunted house story and set it in a women’s prison, therein bringing isolation to a whole new level. So of course when I found out that he’d written a new book called “Someone Like Me”, and that it sounded like a new take on a possession tale, I was in. If I’m going to like a possession story you basically have to do something new with it, and I knew that M.R. Carey was up to the task. And not only did Carey bring a new and fresh perspective to a well worn trope, he also brought in very real life horrors into the thematics, like trauma and domestic abuse. And because of this, “Someone Like Me” is his best work yet.
The summary focuses on Liz Kendall, so I will start with her and who she is as a character. Liz is meek and demure, a woman who suffered at the hands of her now ex-husband Marc. Liz had been a vibrant young punk singer, but when she got together with Marc his years of abuse and cruelty wore her down. So while one might think that she just snapped one night, and fought back after he was attacking her, Liz is horrified to realize that she had absolutely no control over herself in that moment. It was as if someone else was controlling her actions. So what could have been a story about a run of the mill demonic possession is more of a psychological terror: is Liz possessed, or is she traumatized to the point where she’s disassociating? Both options are completely plausible, and while it becomes clear that there is an outside force that is working within her, Carey STILL brings in enough unreliability and unanswered questions that I was kept completely gripped and enthralled. Seeing Liz battle with an angrier, more violent, and yet just as tragic, version of herself was unnerving and unsettling, and I loved seeing this Thing slowly overtake her life and personality.
But Liz is only half the story. Well, a fourth of the story, really. Because there is another primary character in this book whom I wasn’t expecting, but loved just as much, and that is Fran. Fran is a teenage girl who goes to school with Liz’s son Zac, and she has experienced her own traumatic incident. After this incident, she began hallucinating things around her, seeing things that others couldn’t see, seeing details shift just a little bit. She has also gained an ‘imaginary friend’ named Jinx, who has taken the form of a fox character from a children’s show. Fran sees Jinx as a protector and a burden, as while Fran wants to get better and get closer to others, Jinx is wary of anyone who comes near them. I really enjoyed seeing Fran get closer to Zac, and how her own unique psychological (or not) situation compared to Liz’s. It was also really interesting to see Carey slowly start to connect them, and to build a whole new mythology that I didn’t see coming at all. I’m not going to go into the specifics of it, because I think that it’s best to go in without knowing, but I will say that it went in directions that I couldn’t have anticipated and did so successfully.
I also really liked how Carey framed this story through the idea of trauma and tragedy. All of our main players who have perspective chapters (and there are four in total) are well rounded and well written, and all function through various horrific things that happened to them and made them who they are. I really appreciate Carey pointing out that sometimes things and people we perceive as monsters or monstrous are that way because of the horrible things that have happened to them. But he also makes sure to point out that just because horrible things did happen to them, and that it IS awful that these things did happen, that it doesn’t give anyone license to do horrible things to other people.
“Someone Like Me” was a tense and emotional read, and if you are a fan of M.R. Carey you should absolutely go grab this. If you haven’t read anything by Carey yet, this is the perfect place to start.
And I have good news! I’m giving away a hardcover copy of this book! The giveaway ends November 20th, and is open to U.S. residents only.
Where Did I Get This Book: An eBook from the library!
Book Description:Hoping to start her life over at Shadyside, where nobody knows about her secret dark powers, runaway Felicia becomes terrified that she will lose control of herself again when someone discovers the truth about her.
Had I Read This Before: No.
The Plot: Meet Felicia Fletcher. She’s a hitchhiker just getting towards Shadyside, hoping to start a new life and leave her past in Ridgely behind. And since this time around Stine doesn’t feel like drawing out what that past may be, we get a flashback to see that Felicia has telekinetic powers, and was being used as a test subject at a college by a guy named Dr. Shanks. She thinks about the time he was giving her a test to see what her powers could do, but instead of being vaguely scummy but mostly harmless a la Dr. Venkman in “Ghostbusters”, Dr. Shanks is yelling at her to show off her powers, so much so that she gets upset and shoots a pencil at his eye. She misses, and he is so stoked that she was able to do that he doesn’t even care that she almost gouged his eye out. Felicia, however, is not stoked, and she thinks that her power is evil (and thinks fleetingly about how her father was ‘proof’ of that). Back in the present, she is so lost in thought she is almost run over by a car! The driver pulls over, and from his description all I’m getting is serial killer. He says that she clearly needs a ride and to get in. For whatever reason, Felicia does. He tells her his name is Lloyd, but his friends call him “Homicide”. Seems legit. He tells her it’s because he’s a killer, and when she looks appropriately terrified he says he was just joking. Felicia isn’t into his humor, and asks that he let her out. He then gets SUPER mad at her for being probably far more reasonable than she should have been. He pulls out a switch blade and speeds the car up, so she can’t jump out to safety, and tells her that he’ll let her out if she gives him her wallet. When she tells him he has no money, he continues to threaten her, and Felicia feels ‘the power’ building up in her. This power makes Lloyd’s car crash into a tree! Felicia is okay, but Lloyd is in a daze (but not dead. Pity), and she’s relieved because she already killed someone at that lab. I imagine we’ll learn more later. Felicia gets herself out of the car as he’s coming to, and she flags down another car. Lloyd keeps saying he’s going to kill her, and the other car driver lets her in and they drive away. The driver is a boy named Nick who proceeds to scold Felicia for hitchhiking because look what almost happened to her, and NO SHIT, NICK. He suggests that they go to the cops but Felicia is adamant that they not, but lo and behold, suddenly a cop car is zooming up behind them! Felicia freaks because she’s CERTAIN they’ve come for her to take her away for the deaths she’s responsible for (OH REALLY NOW), but they just keep going. She insists that Nick pull over, and says that she’s fine getting out at the Donut Hole. He’s skeptical, but she kisses him for his troubles, and leaves him behind.
After changing in the bathroom, Felicia orders some food and eaves drops on two college boys, one of whom is bitching about the house and cat sitting gig the other is doing for his professor, Dr. Jones. Seeing an opportunity, Felicia approaches them saying that her father is friends with Dr. Jones, so SHE can do the house and cat sitting job. The college guys, not at all interested in confirming that she is a family friend, take her up on the offer (though she also demands half of the hundred bucks, and good for her I say). The house is, of course, on Fear Street. She gets there and finds that cat, whose name is Miss Quiz, and thinks that she has it made.
The next day, in a move that I find COMPLETELY inexplicable, Felicia goes to Shadyside High and ENROLLS IN CLASSES. My first question is WHY WOULD YOU EVEN DO THIS? If the police are looking for a teenage runaway, don’t you think they’d be asking other teenagers, who would be localized at a school? And my second question is why on EARTH the school enrolled her without a parent present or any kind of record of her existence (and no, her transcripts being ‘in the mail’ SURE doesn’t count)? I call malarkey, but on we go. At the end of her first day of school, Felicia tapes a photo of her Dad up in her locker (this seems odd, as my locker was covered head to toe in pictures of James Marsters, but whatever), and then runs into Nick. He’s happy to see that she’s staying in Shadyside, and they walk out of the school together. She tells him she’s off to Fear Street, and he says that Fear Street is bad new, but Felicia has seen things and isn’t too concerned about a haunted street. He invites her to go to the Burger Basket with him, as he’s a line cook there, and she agrees. They arrive at the restaurant and meet Barry, the manager. Felicia asks him if there are any job openings, as she knows she can’t squat in Dr. Jones’s house forever. Barry pretty much hires her on the spot, and Nick is happy to hear that she’ll be working with him now. But do you know who isn’t happy? Some girl named Zan, who also works there (and apparently “Zen” is short for “Alexandria”, because of course it is). When Nick and Barry go off on their way on shift, Zan pulls out a knife and presses it against Felicia’s chest!!! She tells her that she’s going with Nick and Felicia better not forget that! Felicia’s power is about to go off, but then Nick comes in and Zan tries to play it off like a joke. The power still goes off, making a fry vat overflow and the lights flicker. Zan apologizes, assuring her she was just joking. Felicia leaves, more concerned about her power than the crazed girl with a knife.
At school the next week Felicia is settling in. She’s friendly with Nick and Zan and enjoying her job at Burger Basket. As they all eat lunch together she’s feeling pretty good. But then when she goes to her locker at the end of the day she finds and envelope taped inside. Within the envelope is a note that says I KNOW ALL ABOUT YOU!, along with a photocopy of her driver’s license with her real name and her Ridgely address! Also, her face has been burned away on it. Her fear makes her power start to go off, and she is able to keep it in check. She rushes out of the school and retreats to the Donut Hole. She calls Nick while at work, though worries that Zan may be jealous of she found out she was calling him. But Nick is a good friend and takes his break so he can meet her and they can talk. She balks at telling him everything, and says that he and Zan are the first friends she’s had in a long time, and that she’s afraid she’s going to have to run away again. He says that he and Zan don’t want her to leave (I believe half of that sentiment), but she thinks to herself he’d feel differently if he knew what she did. She tells him she feels better now, and he goes back to work. She vows that she won’t let anything happen to him and Zan, unlike Andy and Kristy….
And now it’s a flashback!! Back in Ridgely, Felicia and her friend/fellow subject Debbie are walking along the beach. Felicia is complaining about the tests that Dr. Shanks made them do, while Debbie is complaining about how she didn’t have any powers (and Felicia doesn’t really know why Debbie signed up if she wasn’t telekinetic in the first place). Felicia says that it’s not all that great, and they stumble upon an old ugly beach house Felicia says that it’s so ugly, and Debbie says that she should tear it down with her powers. Felicia hesitates, but then Debbie goads her on, saying she bets that Felicia’s power couldn’t do it. So Felicia, properly goaded, uses all of her concentration, and the house comes apart and falls down. Unfortunately, once the house is down they see two cars parked behind the rubble, cars that belong to their friends Andy and Kristy! They run into the house’s skeleton/rubble, Felicia praying that their friends weren’t inside, but alas and alack, they were! They are DEAD, and Kristy’s arm has been cut off by a beam, and Andy’s face has been torn off by bricks!
Back in the present, Felicia is angsting about her involvement in this awful thing, and gets back to Dr. Jones’s house. But wait, the door is unlocked! Since she’s sure that she locked it, she wanders inside, carefully. I, myself, would cut my losses, as this isn’t even her house and she could just run off, but oh well. Once she determines that she’s alone, she exhales…. but then… THEN… she sees someone has written in red paint RUNAWAY! GET OUT NOW! I KNOW EVERYTHING! Felicia is convinced this mystery person must know about Andy and Kristy! Not ready to give up, she just cleans it up.
The next night, Felicia and Nick are eating dinner on their break, sitting behind the restaurant. Felicia is so on edge, and Nick asks her what’s wrong. She decides to tell him part of it, and tells him that she used to live in Ridgely with her Aunt Margaret. Her parents are dead, and while there she was part of an experiment. She doesn’t tell him the natures of the experiments, but does tell him that she got sick of it, and that’s why she ran away. Nick then kisses her, and she is surprised, and relieved that Zan didn’t see. At closing, Zan picks up Nick, and Felicia and he share a look. After she gets her things, she leaves, but overhears Zan and Nick arguing about her. She starts to panic, her power starting to rise up, but she calms down and gets it under control. She wonders if it’s Zan who has been leaving her notes, but how could it be? She couldn’t know about Andy and Kristy; only the police know about that.
The next day at school Felicia confronts Nick at his locker about the argument. He says that Zan has a jealous streak, and that he doesn’t blame her because she’s had a very hard time as of late. When Felicia asks if he can tell her what that means, he says no, and she’d have to ask Zan herself. But he does ask her to be nice to Zan. And Felicia agrees. Are we still just ignoring the fact she threatened you with a knife, Felicia?!
That Friday, Zan invites Felicia to a sleep over at her house. Felicia doesn’t really want to go, but remembers she said she’d be nice to Zan, and that doesn’t mean a slumber party, Felicia, that means letting her borrow a pencil every once in awhile or some shit! But Felicia misses Debbie, so thinks this could be good. She goes to Zan’s that night, noticing a sharp iron fence with very sharp points on it. Think this will come back later to haunt her? Zan leads her inside and they watch “The Birds” and eat popcorn and have a fun time. When Zan goes to make nachos, Felicia starts snooping. She pulls down a Shadyside year book, and starts paging through just for fun. She finds a cute picture of Nick, but when she turns the page she sees a picture of Zan, with the other half of the picture being crossed out with brown marker. The caption that is legible says THE COUPLE MOST. Felicia can’t tell who the other person is, and when she rubs at the ink she realizes that it isn’t ink…. IT’S DRIED BLOOD. She shoves the yearbook away when she hears Zan coming back up the steps, and tries to play it cool. She asks Zan how long she and Nick have been going out, and Zan says since they were freshmen. but Felicia knows that can’t be true, and wonders what she’s hiding.
At school that next week Felicia goes to the library to find the year book. She finds the picture, and with Zan is a handsome guy. The caption says ALEXANDRIA MCCONNELL AND DOUG GAYNOR, THE COUPLE MOST LIKELY TO LAST FOREVER. Felicia’s heard the name Doug Gaynor before, but where. She slams the yearbook shut, and then runs to a memorial bench. A MEMORIAL BENCH OF DOUG! HE’S DEAD!
On the way to work that night Felicia and Nick are talking in his car. Felicia is jumpy, and Nick asks why. She decides to hold her cars to her vest and only tells him about the fact she’s squatting in a professor’s house. Nick thinks that’s totally okay, a victimless crime, if you will. But Felicia also tells him that she thinks someone from Ridgely followed her, or someone in Shadyside found out about her. He parks the car at work, and she tells him about the notes. He tells her that she’s not going to let anything happen to her, and they kiss again. But then he pulls away, and tells her that he loves Zan. When she asks him if he really does, he kind of balks, but tells her that he can’t break up with her because she needs him and couldn’t take it. She asks him if this has to do with Doug, and he says it does, and that Zan ‘accidentally’ killed Doug.
Long story short, Zan and Doug had been going out since 7th grade, then junior year he took another girl on a date, Zan found out and they fought on Zan’s balcony at her house. He shoved her, she shoved him, he fell off the balcony and was impaled in FOUR. PLACES on the iron fence!! IT TOOK HIM A LONG TIME TO DIE, GUYS. YIKES! So that’s why Nick can’t break up with her. Oh, because she’s violent and her actions killed a guy? No, because she’s SO SAD ABOUT IT. Zan is more afraid about what Zan could do to her if she found out about their kisses, and then says that Zan must have written the notes to try and scare her away. Nick doesn’t believe it, and while they argue suddenly Zan shows up, as Barry called her in early. Nick and Felicia make up a cover story about Nick asking Felicia for advice about where he can take Zan on a date. She seems to buy it, and they all go inside.
While on shift Zan asks Felicia if she can go change a light bulb. She agrees, and sets up a metal stepladder underneath it, noticing that someone spilled water on the floor like a n00b. As she bumps the light, a spark shoots out from it. Felicia notices that the wire is frayed… and that she’s standing in a puddle on a metal step ladder! She runs for the circuit breaker, hoping to shut off the power, but then BARRY comes in and reaches for the light, electrocuting himself!! The jolt is so powerful is fries the wiring in the entire building, setting the place on fire!!! She yells for everyone to get out, as a chain reaction courses through the wiring, making things explode and the oil spreading and HOLY SHIT THIS IS KIND OF AWESOME. Nick helps her move Barry for a bit, but then says that he’s going to try and get people out at the front. She pulls Barry out the back, but realizes that Nick and other people are still inside! So what does this awesome bitch do?! SHE RUNS BACK AROUND THE FRONT AND RUNS INSIDE, DETERMINED TO USE HER POWERS TO PUSH THE FIRE BACK!!! And damn if she doesn’t succeed, getting the fire back as most of the people get out! Soon it’s just her and Nick, and she’s running out of strength, but she manages to use the last of it to make a chair crash through a window, and they both get to the window…. but then Felicia collapses….
But she wakes up outside!! Nick got her through the window. He tells her that Barry is okay and everyone got out. He asks her how she did it, and she asks him not to ask her that. Then the goddamn press show up and they want to see the hero girl, but she freaks out, afraid the police will see her. Nick gives her his car keys and she somehow sprints away in spite of the logical smoke inhalation that must be inside her lungs. She hears a guy telling the news about how she pushed the fire away with her mind, but before she can be too concerned about that, ZAN attacks her, asking her why she couldn’t have just changed the light bulb?!?! Zan tries to strangle her, since her electrocution plan LITERALLY backfired, but Nick pulls her off, telling her that Felicia means nothing to him! Felicia, convinced that no one cares about her and that Zan won’t stop trying to kill her (especially since Nick is just enabling her apparently), leaves his keys in his car, and decides to pack up and leave town. BUT WAIT! Her dad’s photo is in her locker at school! She can’t just leave it behind. So she decides to go get it the next morning.
Flashback time! Back in Ridgely, Felicia has a bad dream about Andy and Kristy. She wakes up to a tapping on her window. Debbie is outside, and she climbs in with bad news. The police picked her up, asking her about the beach house and the experiments they’re part of! And apparently Dr. Shakes narced on her, saying her power is indeed strong enough to knock a house down! Debbie tells her she has to leave town, that she can take her car and go. Debbie helps her pack, and drives her to the city limits. Felicia doesn’t leave a note for her aunt. They part ways, and Debbie tells her that she police think she’s dangerous, and that she should use her fear to keep herself safe. As Felicia starts to drive away with Debbie, the usual panic makes her power start to go out of control. Felicia smells gas, and panics even more, but is able to get out of the car just in time. The car then explodes, sending Felicia through the air. Convinced that her powers are truly out of control, she ran into the night.
And now she’s about to run again. The next day she wakes up and sees that no one has come for her yet. She gets to school, determined to get the photo and then be off, but Nick takes her aside. She tells him to buzz off, but he tells her that he didn’t mean what he said the night before, that she actually means EVERYTHING to him. But he still hasn’t dumped Zan, and Felicia is pissed about this for about three seconds, because then Zan comes running down the hallway AT THE SCHOOL with a knife in her hands! When Nick tries to intervene she slices his hands, and then tackles Felicia to the floor! They struggle, and Zan admits that she did send the notes to Felicia, and that now she’s going to kill her. But Felicia is able to use her powers to fight her off! Once Zan is subdued, Felicia realizes that she CAN control her powers (so what, the fact you saved all those people at the Burger Basket wasn’t enough for you to realize that?!). With the police on the way, she opens her locker, gets her Dad’s photo, and heads back to Fear Street.
When she gets to the house, she packs up her shit and says goodbye to Miss. Quiz. She locks up and is about to leave, when someone puts their hand on her arm. She thinks it’s Zan, but no, it’s Debbie! She’s happy to see Debbie at first, but then it’s VERY clear that Debbie is NOT happy to see her. Apparently Debbie saw the news where that blabbermouth guy was talking about her moment of heroics at the Burger Basket. And Debbie ALSO wants to kill Felicia!!
So Debbie has powers too, and she is mad that Felicia never noticed it? I guess? She tried to kill her in the car explosion but Felicia’s powers probably saved her from that. And after the Beach House Felicia would be too much of a liability, because it was DEBBIE that made the house collapse because she was in love with Andy but was mad that he wanted to be with Kristy instead! She let Felicia think that it was HER powers that tore down the house, but it was actually Debbie’s powers because she is FAR more powerful than Felicia ever was! Then Felicia slaps her for being such a bitch. They fight with their telekinesis, and honestly, it’s kind of badass. Like, they’re throwing branches and light posts and stuff at each other. Eventually, Nick drives up and jumps out to help Felicia, and Debbie flings a mailbox at him. But before it can connect, Felicia uses her power to target Debbie’s power (somehow?), and it knocks Debbie completely out.
A few days later Nick is driving Felicia back to Ridgely. She’s made up with Aunt Margaret, and that she’s going back to testing but she won’t let the doctors bully her anymore. Debbie and Zan have been institutionalized, and Debbie is in a weird catatonic state. Felicia reminds Nick that he should visit her every weekend, and that if he doesn’t she will break out again and come find him. But he tells her that she’ll ‘never, ever have to run away again’. The End.
Body Count: 3. And pretty gnarly deaths too.
Romance Rating: 6. I think that it’s kinda bullshit that Nick was stringing Zan along (homicidal or not), but admittedly he and Felicia have pretty good chemistry.
Bonkers Rating: 7. If only because of the psychic fight and the fact that Shadyside school has NO rules and regulations re: enrollment and knife play.
Fear Street Relevance: 5. Felicia’s squatting in a house of Fear Street and the final confrontation happens there, but nothing about Fear Street itself drove the plot.
Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:
“Felicia took a deep breath. Now or never. She turned around and leaned into their booth.”
…. And I’m not really invested into whether or not she cons two dumb college boys into letting her squat in a college professor’s house, so why is this a cliffhanger.
That’s So Dated! Moments: Not much that’s too fun, but I did like the reference to the ‘tape’ version of “The Birds”.
“She lashed out at Debbie – and Felicia heard a loud smack. Debbie fell back, holding her cheek.
‘What was that?’ Debbie demanded.
‘The slap in the face you deserve!’ Felicia cried.”
Conclusion: “Runaway” was bland, but it did have some pretty awesome action moments and a pretty likable protagonist. Next up is “Killer’s Kiss”!
Book: “The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein” by Kiersten White
Publishing Info: Delacorte Press, September 2018
Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley
Book Description:Elizabeth Lavenza hasn’t had a proper meal in weeks. Her thin arms are covered with bruises from her “caregiver,” and she is on the verge of being thrown into the streets . . . until she is brought to the home of Victor Frankenstein, an unsmiling, solitary boy who has everything–except a friend.
Victor is her escape from misery. Elizabeth does everything she can to make herself indispensable–and it works. She is taken in by the Frankenstein family and rewarded with a warm bed, delicious food, and dresses of the finest silk. Soon she and Victor are inseparable.
But her new life comes at a price. As the years pass, Elizabeth’s survival depends on managing Victor’s dangerous temper and entertaining his every whim, no matter how depraved. Behind her blue eyes and sweet smile lies the calculating heart of a girl determined to stay alive no matter the cost . . . as the world she knows is consumed by darkness.
Review: A special thanks to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel!
What the hell. Let’s do ONE MORE DAY OF HORRORPALOOZA and call it even. Think of it as a late Halloween surprise. Or a birthday present for “Frankenstein”, which turned 200 this year. I was an ambitious reader as a kid, as I got it in my head in fourth grade that I could totally take on “Frankenstein”. While I know that there are absolutely kids out there who could, I was not one of those kids, and after reading a few pages I set it down and that was that… until college, when I took a class on Monsters, Robots, and Cyborgs in literature. It was then that I finally read “Frankenstein” in it’s original, Mary Shelley goodness. I really enjoyed it, but I will absolutely admit that I found it very ironic that Mary Shelley, the daughter of feminist Mary Wollstonecraft and independent woman in her own right, really only had Elizabeth for female representation in the OG science fiction horror story. So when I heard that Kiersten White had written “The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein”, a retelling of “Frankenstein” from Elizabeth’s perspective, I was stoked. Especially since White has already tackled a gender bent notorious ‘horror’ (sorta) story with her “Conqueror’s Saga”, which follows a female version of Vlad the Impaler (and which Serena adores). And if you like what she did with Lada, you will love to see this version of Elizabeth Lavenza Frankenstein.
“The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein” has carved out space for women from a source material that had very little room for them to begin with. In “Frankenstein” Elizabeth is Victor Frankenstein’s devoted, and doomed, love interest/wife. The Monster strangles her on her wedding night, giving Victor man pain and guilt and more reason to hate his creation. In this book, Elizabeth has fought against being a victim her entire life, even though living during this time period made victimhood an all too familiar existence. In this tale, Elizabeth was taken in by the Frankenstein family to give their odd and antisocial son Victor some companionship, and Elizabeth knew that she would be safer with them than as an orphan or a ward in other circumstances. Her connection to Victor is purely a matter of survival, and she learns how to calculate and manipulate to keep him safe so that she too can be kept safe. It means that this Elizabeth makes some pretty tough, and sometimes nasty, decisions. But given that Elizabeth has no means to survive in this society as an woman, especially as an orphan in spite of her wealthy lineage, the reader can still understand why she makes these decisions. But Elizabeth isn’t the only woman in this book who has a story to tell. Justine is the governess for the Frankensteins, being a live in tutor for Victor’s younger brothers Ernest and William. She is a stand in mother to the boys, and Elizabeth’s closest friend, and like Elizabeth has come up from an abusive home to have a coveted position in a well to do family. But also like Elizabeth, Justine is almost always steps away from disgrace given her lower class upbringing and the inherent distrust in women, especially lower class ones, and unlike Elizabeth she doesn’t have the calculated shrewdness to stay ahead. These two are not only wonderful foils for each other, but also constant reminders that if women step out of line or are accused of such, the consequences can be grave.
The adaptation itself is also incredibly strong. This story runs parallel to the original “Frankenstein” tale, with various moments of flashbacks to Elizabeth and Victor’s childhoods with their dynamic of her trying to hide his odd obsession with death and anatomy lest it get him into trouble. She keeps him safe to keep herself safe, no matter what he does, no matter how horrible. You see the obsession that they have with each other, and you see how it grew, and the two narratives weave together seamlessly. Seeing Victor’s unethical journey through Elizabeth’s eyes, and having her own journey centered as the anchor of this tale, was very satisfying for me. We get to see huge events in the original story in a new way, and we also get to see what the fallout might have been like outside of Victor’s own culpability (William’s death, for example, sets off a huge domino effect that feels so unfair and tragic). Like I said, I really like “Frankenstein”, but I LOVE that White wants to give Elizabeth a voice.The original point of “Frankenstein” is to make the reader question what makes a monster and what makes a man, and White portrays Victor in the way that people have pretty much come to view him in modern times. But that said, there were a few choices and plot points where it felt a little too mustache twirly. Just a few! Because of this, Victor felt more two dimensional than he needed to be, and I think that you can still get your point across while maintaining complexity. By the end he just felt like a bit of a cartoon. But that said, this IS Elizabeth’s story, and given that she was wonderful I could easily forgive that. And while I don’t want to spoil anything, I also really like what she did with The Monster, one of the true tragic figures in horror literature. At the end of the day, he too was a victim, and like Elizabeth a new voice is given to him, one that has some empowerment behind it.
“The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein” is a lovely and fantastic take on the “Frankenstein” story. I think that Mary Shelley would be happy to see what Kiersten White has done with her story, and what she has done with Elizabeth.
Rating 9: A gripping and suspenseful retelling of an old classic through a feminist lens, “The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein” is a must for “Frankenstein” fans.
In the wake of a scandal, the Montrose family and their three daughters—Catherine, Lydia, and Emeline—flee Boston for their new country home, Willow Hall. The estate seems sleepy and idyllic. But a subtle menace creeps into the atmosphere, remnants of a dark history that call to Lydia, and to the youngest, Emeline.
All three daughters will be irrevocably changed by what follows, but none more than Lydia, who must draw on a power she never knew she possessed if she wants to protect those she loves. For Willow Hall’s secrets will rise, in the end…
Review: I picked up this book from NetGalley based on a promotional line comparing it to a spooky Jane Austen novel set in the U.S. Well, as we know, about 95% of the time, any comparison to Jane Austen will both A.) lead to me reading the book and B.) leave me massively disappointed. While I’ve definitely read books that fared worse (for one, for all I can tell the only reason this comparison was made was because of the time period and the “manners romance” aspect of it…which, just stop it. It’s a historical romance. There are plenty of those, and they don’t all need to be compared to Austen), this book was a disappointment to me. Maybe not a massive disappointment, but a disappointment all the same.
Lydia, the middle daughter, has always known there is something strange about herself, ever since she mildly blacked out as a child when fighting with a local bully and re-awakened to find him beaten on the street. But at this point, any concerns about scandal she may bring to the family pale in comparison to the mess that her sister, Catherine, has gotten them into. Fleeing to the country, the family now find themselves closed up in a mysterious house with many strange rumors surrounding it. But on the positive side, they have quite a charming neighbor, a gentleman named John.
There were a few strong points of this book that I want to start by highlighting. For one, I’m always going to love a good historical setting. While there were a few anachronisms here and there, nothing was too extreme to really throw me out of the book in any meaningful way. Instead, I still enjoyed the general rhythm of language, emphasis on social callings, and historical setting that were employed. As long as an author doesn’t greatly mess these basic features up, they’re always going to come away with at least a partial win under their belt as far as I’m concerned.
Secondly, as readers of this blog know, Kate is the horror fan. While I’ll read the heck out of dark fantasy novel any day of the week, I tend to steer clear of straight-up horror. And this is probably one of the closest reads to that genre that I’ve wandered into for a while. Don’t get me wrong, horror fans will likely be underwhelmed by this book, since, let’s be real, this is definitely a historical romance at its heart. But I will say that there were elements of the story that legitimately creeped me out. It didn’t help that I was reading this book the one night my husband was out of town. But I think either way, there would have been some shivers.
The other positive note is that, alongside with these legitimately creepy scenes, the book didn’t shy away from going to some pretty grim places with the story. It starts out with a pretty rough scene dealing with animal cruelty and then continues in a story that insists that even main characters aren’t safe from harsh consequences. There was one scene in particular that was lead up to and the entire time I was partially rolling my eyes, expecting the author to pull back at the last minute. Instead, she went full throttle into it and I was honestly surprised and (in a very grim sort of way) pleased that she committed to this particularly story thread.
But, even with these positives in its favor, I still greatly struggled with the story. For one thing, there were a few twists that I found entirely predictable and the story took way too long to finally come out with the “mysterious” truth. And then when this secret does land, it didn’t really seem to have much of an impact. Not only did I already suspects this particular twist, but the revelation doesn’t greatly change the situation. The family is still disgraced; the mystery behind why doesn’t have much impact on the reality of that situation.
I also didn’t particularly enjoy Catherine as a character. As the focal point of said “twisty” family rumor, there was a lot of room to do something interesting with her arc. Instead, she is written as pretty much an awful person with no redeeming qualities. There are a few moments where I thought we would see some growth or some expanded depth of character revealed, but then in only a few short pages, she goes right back to just being plain terrible with very little else in the way of character development to support her. And with this being a fact of her character, many of Lydia’s own struggles are automatically undercut. I couldn’t sympathize with her indecision or naivete when everything that the reader has seen (and we’re only exposed to Catherine for a period of a few short months, when presumably Lydia has a lifetime of experience) would point to a relationship that has been not worth fighting for for quite a while. There were a few moments towards the last third, in particular, where Lydia’s choices are so incredibly stupid that I had to actually put the book down and take a deep breath before continuing.
This same problem, Lydia’s bizarre choices and fixations, lead to my not particularly enjoying the romance at the center of this story. And this is where the Austen comparisons are coming into play, as there is a lot of miscommunication and confusion at the heart of this romance to draw out the moment of happiness until the end. But the thing is, Austen created legitimate stumbling blocks and points of misdirection in her romances. We get why Elizabeth misunderstood Darcy. We understand why Emma didn’t recognize her feelings for Knightly. But here, we have a hero who is actually spelling it out for our heroine and she, instead, is choosing to believe the terrible sister who has mislead her and betrayed her at every turn. Or she simply gives in to crippling indecision and insecurity for no real reason whatsoever.
I have very little patience for these types of heroines or these types of plot points that aren’t based in anything other than an author’s need to follow a typical romance plot storyboard where the main characters can’t get together until the final scene. If you don’t have a legitimate, plot- or story-based reason for keeping your romance in suspense, you might just need to re-think the entire thing. Either flesh out your plot/characters, or just accept that your romance needs to follow a non-traditional path. This type of forced suspense not only kills any real suspense there might be, but also damages the characters at its heart.
In the end, I was ultimately let down by this book. I’m glad I got in at least one sort-of spooky book before Halloween, but it’s too bad that other than the creepiness and general historical setting, this book didn’t have a lot going for it. If you really love historical romances with a dash of creepiness, than you might enjoy this. But if you’re wanting any depth of character from your heroine, hero, and villain, you probably need to look elsewhere.
Rating 5: Some legitimate spooky scenes were let down by a plot and set of characters that were simply too weak to carry the story.