Kate’s Review: “The Missing Season”

39937609Book: “The Missing Season” by Gillian French

Publishing Info: HarperTeen, May 2019

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from Edelweiss+

Book Description: Whenever another kid goes missing in October, the Pender kids know what is really behind it: a horrific monster out in the marshes they have named the Mumbler.

That’s what Clara’s new crew tells her when she moves to town: Bree and Sage, who take her under their wing; spirited Trace, who has taken the lead on this year’s Halloween prank war; and magnetic Kincaid, whose devil-may-care attitude and air of mystery are impossible for Clara to resist.

Clara doesn’t actually believe in the Mumbler. But as Halloween gets closer and tensions build in the town, it’s hard to shake the feeling that there really is something dark and dangerous in Pender, lurking in the shadows, waiting to bring the stories to life.

Review: Thank you to Edelweiss+ for sending me an eARC of this novel!

I’ve been racking my brain, but given that I lived in a fairly large metro area when I was a kid (and still do for that matter) I can’t think of any ‘urban legends’ that were prevalent in my hometown during my childhood. The closest I can come is when two mean girls in first grade tried to convince me that at midnight if you looked up at the sky you’d see a star that would automatically kill you and everyone you loved, and yes, I totally fell for it. But in terms of rumors turned folklore, I can’t recall any. But I’ve always been fascinated with localized urban legends, even back then, so finding books that have those themes are always going to grab my interest. That’s why I was so eager to read “The Missing Season” by Gillian French, a YA mystery thriller that includes tales of a mysterious figure called “The Mumbler” that supposedly snatches teens up during Halloween season. I went in expecting a mystery thriller with ambiguous horror elements. But instead, I got… a mishmash of themes that didn’t work for me.

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Me as I was reading this book and I still wasn’t clear in regards to its intent… (source)

“The Missing Season” takes place in the smallish town of Pender, and our protagonist Clara has just moved there due to her father’s somewhat nomadic career in construction. As our main character, I will say right off the bat that I liked Clara and I liked following her story and point of view. She lacks the luxury of being able to make connections because of the chance she might be moving again, so when she does make these connections there is a palpable fear of losing them, even if it isn’t outright said. The biggest conflict of this kind is the friendship between her and a girl named Bree. Bree, along with another girl named Sage, takes an immediate shine to Clara, and their friendship is a mix of the rush of having a girl pal, and the angst of competing with that girl pal in ways that were unanticipated. I know this familiar feeling all too well from my adolescent years, and I thought that French did a great job of showing it instead of telling it. The conflict in this case is the competing affections for local mysterious outsider Kincaid, who is the deepest in The Mumbler mythology of all the friends that Clara makes. The underlying tension and hurt between the two friends was the strongest aspect of this book, and the ways that Clara did, or in some cases didn’t, deal with that conflict felt very realistic.

But here is the problem with “The Missing Season”: it is very much marketed as a mystery thriller, and the description makes it sound like a new missing kid case is the center of the novel. But it’s very much not. The center of the novel is Clara’s relationships with the kids in town, and how she navigates her friendship with Bree and her need to fit in as those things come in conflict with the relationship she wants with Kincaid. Sure, another kid goes missing, and sure, there’s a question of what happened to her, but it wasn’t focused on nearly as much as I thought it was going to be. Instead, most of the conflict was Clara worrying about what Kincaid’s deal was, and what was going to happen to her new friendship with Bree if Clara and Kincaid did pursue their mutual feelings for each other. It wasn’t until the last fifth of the book that a full conflict with another child kidnapping raised the tension and thriller stakes, and even by then it was wrapped up VERY quickly, so quickly it almost felt like the author realized that oh yes, this was supposed to be a mystery thriller, better toss in a climax and wrap it up as quickly as possible. Even the ultimate solution felt tossed in there, with a couple of hints and clues scattered early on in the book, but not in a way that felt cohesive to a mystery. I kept waiting for the mystery and tension to build, but it plateaued very early at a level that wasn’t terribly high. I would be more inclined to call this book a contemporary realistic YA fiction book with some mysterious elements, but not enough for it to be considered an actual ‘thriller’. And because of that, I was totally let down by “The Missing Season”. If I had gone in with the expectations of this  being about a teenage girl’s bildungsroman I think I would have enjoyed it much more than I actually did, but as it was I couldn’t enjoy the story. I felt too duped.

I hesitate to write off “The Missing Season” for everyone, because my expectations were in a completely different place than they should have been. If you go in without the supposition that it’s a thriller, it may be more appealing. But, given that it’s trying to portray itself that way, I don’t feel comfortable recommending it as it’s presented.

Rating 5: While I liked the protagonist, the description of this being a ‘thriller’ did not fit the content of the story, and because of that I was pretty disappointed with “The Missing Season”.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Missing Season” is included on the Goodreads lists “Halloween in YA and Middle Grade Fiction”.

Find “The Missing Season” at your library using WorldCat!

Spring Giveaway: “Heroine” by Mindy McGinnis

40536342Book: “Heroine” by Mindy McGinnis

Publishing Info: Katherine Tegan Books, March 2019

Book Description: An Amazon Best Book of the Month! A captivating and powerful exploration of the opioid crisis—the deadliest drug epidemic in American history—through the eyes of a college-bound softball star. Edgar Award-winning author Mindy McGinnis delivers a visceral and necessary novel about addiction, family, friendship, and hope. 

When a car crash sidelines Mickey just before softball season, she has to find a way to hold on to her spot as the catcher for a team expected to make a historic tournament run. Behind the plate is the only place she’s ever felt comfortable, and the painkillers she’s been prescribed can help her get there.

The pills do more than take away pain; they make her feel good.

With a new circle of friends—fellow injured athletes, others with just time to kill—Mickey finds peaceful acceptance, and people with whom words come easily, even if it is just the pills loosening her tongue.

But as the pressure to be Mickey Catalan heightens, her need increases, and it becomes less about pain and more about want, something that could send her spiraling out of control.

Giveaway Details/Mini Review: I read “Heroine” after purchasing it on a whim while on a book store run, and it blew me away. It didn’t quite make the cut for a review on this site for various reasons, but I can tell you that it’s good. It’s dark. It’s raw and difficult and a gut punch. But it’s also an honest look at the opioid epidemic in our country, and how it can affect just about anyone. I was emotionally wrung out after I read it, but I thought that it was a very important, if not heartbreaking, read. And on top of that, it’s absolutely riveting. Mindy McGinnis is a strong and gritty voice in YA fiction, and her stories will suck you in. So because of that, I wanted to give one of you a chance to see for yourself, so I’m running a giveaway of a hardcover, mostly brand new copy of it.

This Giveaway is open to U.S. Entrants only, and will run until April 29th. Good luck and happy reading!

Enter the Giveaway HERE

Serena’s Review: “Wicked Saints”

36118682Book: “Wicked Saints” by Emily A. Duncan

Publishing Info: Wednesday Books, April 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley

Book Description: A girl who can speak to gods must save her people without destroying herself.

A prince in danger must decide who to trust.

A boy with a monstrous secret waits in the wings. 

Together, they must assassinate the king and stop the war.

In a centuries-long war where beauty and brutality meet, their three paths entwine in a shadowy world of spilled blood and mysterious saints, where a forbidden romance threatens to tip the scales between dark and light.

Review: This was book-cover love through and through. Sure, the description sounds good enough, but there were also some warning signs there (love triangle??) that would typically make me a bit wary. But I love the simplicity of this cover and the way the colorization is used. Alas, by the end of the book, the cover was still probably my favorite part.

Nadya can speak to the gods, an entire pantheon of them. But for most of her life, she has been hiding and training in a remote monastery, a secret weapon that hasn’t been used yet in a growing political war. One day, that war arrives on her doorstep, quite literally, and everything changes. Now caught up in events moving in ways she barely understands, Nadya finds herself working a boy she’s not sure she can trust but who might also be the key to it all.

Honestly, there wasn’t much I loved about this book. That’s not to say I hated a lot of it either, but more like, I felt like I had read much of it before and read it better. Russian-based fantasy stories have been the rage for a few years it seems, and as such, there have been a million and one entries into the sub-genre with a wide range of quality, as far as I’m concerned. There have definitely been worse ones than this, but when I just finished up the last book in the “Winternight” trilogy, it’s hard to look at this one and not be a bit disappointed.

Aside from that trilogy, the more direct comparison for this book would be Bardugo’s “Grisha” trilogy. I’m pretty sure there have been quite a few comparisons already floated around between the two and I can definitely see it.

The biggest similarity comes with the romance and the enemies-to-lovers trope that is at the heart of both (sort of). On its own, I think this is one of the harder love arcs to right and I would say its this aspect specifically that sunk Bardugo’s series for me as I could never buy this part of the story. So, here, too, I struggled. I could never understand the “whys” behind any emotion our two romantic interests had for each other. Why did they really hate each other in the first place? Patriotic prejudices can only go so far as an explanation. And then, worse, why do they fall for each other? The motivation behind either emotion wasn’t fully fleshed out in any way, and when you’re dealing with some of the strongest emotions out there, love and hate, you need a pretty darn good reason to have your character feel them, and even more so, change from one to another. Throughout the story, the male love interest lied repeatedly to Nadya, and yet somehow, we’re meant to buy her continued interest in him. By about halfway through the book, I started to give up on getting the strong character I wanted from Nadya and was resigned to the fact that she was mostly a love interest in her own story.

I also struggled with the magic system. Again, as it was incorporated in the story, it felt very similar to other Russian-based fantasies I’ve read, but here it only skimmed the surface. The end of the story in particular seemed to really highlight this struggle as aspects of the magic system seemed to come out of nowhere or operate in ways that didn’t really make sense all of a sudden.

On top of that all, I was just bored throughout most of this. Other than the frenetic last few chapters of the story, I just felt like I was following the predictable footsteps of a well-worn path. There wasn’t anything new here, and in a subgenre that has so many offerings, I’d say if you’re looking for Slavic fantasy, you can find better. Just this year there was the final book in the “Winternight” trilogy, “The Winter of the Witch” by Katherine Arden and “Spinning Silver” by Naomi Novik. And if you want a better “enemies to lovers” story, you can check out “Sherwood” by Meagan Spooner.

Rating 6: Nothing terribly bad, but also not really holding its own in a pretty packed subgenre of YA fantasy.

Reader’s Advisory: 

“Wicked Saints” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Villain as Romantic Love Interests” and “Creepy, Dark YA and MG Books.”

Find “Wicked Saints” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Serena’s Review: “The Sword and the Dagger”

39863306Book: “The Sword and the Dagger” by Robert Cochran

Publishing Info: Tor Teen, April 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley

Book Description: During the time of the Crusades, an unlikely trio—a Christian princess, her affianced prince, and a Muslim assassin—embarks on a quest to the court of the most fearsome warrior the world has ever known, Genghis Khan.

A rousing tale of adventure and romance about three young people who must grapple with fundamental issues of loyalty, friendship, faith, honor, and courage against the backdrop of conflicts that still resonate today.

Review:  I placed a request for this book based on the strength of its plot description and the beautiful cover. Even though there was a massive red flag telegraphed to me with the love triangle set up, I thought “Sure, why the heck not? Who doesn’t like a good ole fun trip into the time of the Crusades?” Alas, right off the bat I struggled to get into this book, and by the last page I was more confused by the editing (or lack thereof?) of this book than anything else.

The story follows our three intrepid adventureres: Princess Elaine, her betrothed Conrad, and Rashid, an assassin sent to kill Elaine. All three are made up of a complicated mixture of the best and worst aspects of their respective belief systems, be those religious or cultural, as well as a myriad of other aspects that go to prove that no person can be defined so simply. While journeying together through various trials and tribulations, they all must learn that their fellow travelling companions are just as complex as they themselves.

As I said, I didn’t love this book. But before I get into its challenges for me, I want to highlight some aspects of the book that I did enjoy. Firstly, I liked the historical setting and the way that was tied into the book. I also really liked a lot of the broader concepts about prejudice and tolerance that our three main characters explored throughout the story. There were the obvious debates about religious disagreements came to by the Christian Conrad and the Muslim Rashid, but the story also explored gender roles with the limitations placed on Elaine as a woman growing up in a time where very little was expected, or permitted, of women. Overall, there was a nice combination of action and adventure mixed in with these larger debates in a way that allowed the book to explore some pretty big topics without coming across as overly preaching. The fast pace of the story also helped in this regard.

So those are my pros. But mixed within some of those same things that I enjoyed were also the parts of this book that I struggled with. As I said, I liked the historical setting of this book and the fast paced nature of the adventure made for a snappy read. But mixed together, it also left the book feeling oddly light and surface-level as far as its world. Our main characters jump from place to place and action piece to action piece so quickly that I never really felt like I had time to really sit back and examine the intricacies of the setting in which these events were taking place. For a book that covers of settings and ground, I never felt like I was really given any time to appreciate that fact. The plot was too busy getting from point A to point B to allow for this.

The fast paced nature of the story was also fun, but it also felt like it undercut some of the more somber moments in the story and restricted some of the character development. While overall I did like the three main characters, I also never really felt overly attached to any one of them. They often felt like the standard, expected characters for a story like this. So, too, the story they were travelling through also felt pretty expected. There weren’t any big surprises, and the few twists that there were, were exactly the ones you’d come to expect. I don’t need huge surprises around any corner, but at a certain point a sense of newness does help.

But my biggest problem came down to the writing itself and one very specific thing: the POVs would change without any indication or warning. Even in the middle of paragraphs! Even to characters who weren’t one of the main three. In the very first chapter, we’re introduced to Elaine, but then random sentences come through from the perspective of those around her commenting on Elaine herself. There’s no explanation for why we’re suddenly in this new character’s mind and then just as suddenly, we’re back to Elaine. It was incredibly distracting and quickly started to drive me crazy as we went on. I’m not sure what was going on there, but this specific aspect is where I think a good editor was needed. This is the kind of writing tic/flaw that a good editor will flag and help an author work through during the revision process. For some reason that didn’t happen and what could have been a better story suffered for it.

Ultimately, this writing issue was really the nail in the coffin of my enjoyment of this book. There are some good bones here, but for me, I couldn’t get past the distraction of this. That, plus the light descriptions of setting and sometimes too-fast nature of the story, ended up outweighing the parts of the story that I did enjoy. This could be good for fans of historical fiction, especially those interested in this time period. But we warned that if you’re sensitive to writing quirks, this one might be a struggle.

Rating 5: It had some good things to say about prejudices and tolerance, but the weird POV issue was too much for me.

Reader’s Advisory: 

“The Sword and the Dagger” is a newer title so it isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists, but it is on “2019 YA Historical Fiction.”

Find “The Sword and the Dagger” at your library using WorldCat!

 

 

 

A Revisit to Fear Street: “Trapped”

176552Book: “Trapped” (Fear Street #51) by R.L. Stine

Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, 1997

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

Book Description: Some kids in the sixties used to party in the tunnels under Shadyside High, until something left a bunch of people dead. But that’s just a story, right? Besides, exploring the tunnels is more fun than being stuck in Saturday detention. Too bad there’s no turning back–because in the tunnels there’s no one around to hear your screams.

Had I Read This Before: No.

The Plot: First I REALLY need to talk about that cover. What IS that cover? It looks like it’s trying to be the sleeve for the 1980s remake of “The Blob”, which served as serious nightmare fuel whenever we’d go to the local convenience store to rent a movie and it was RIGHT. THERE. Also, much like last time, the font has totally changed and it’s a weird time to change font when we’re at the end of the original series. But anyway. Our protagonist is Elaine. She’s usually a GREAT student, but after having forgotten to turn in a third assignment in a row for trigonometry she’s found herself at Saturday detention. And it occurs to me that I don’t think we’ve had any substantial “Fear Street” storylines that involve detention? At least not the I can remember. Anyway, it made me nostalgic for my detention days. Elaine arrives and speaks with the new principal, Mr. Savage, who says that he hopes such a good student like her won’t be making a habit of this. He also mysteriously says that he’s learned hard lessons in his life, and tells her where to go. She arrives to the classroom and finds a motley crew of detention kids. You have goody goody Elaine, graffiti aficionado Max, nerd Jerry, tough girl Darlene, and bad boy Bo, who may or may not have stolen a car. I think we’ve found our Bender, ladies and gentlemen, which means I will no doubt have a serious affection for him by the time this book is done.

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Oh GAAHHHD he’s such a PRICK but I JUST LOVE HIM SO MUCH. (source)

Elaine asks if this is detention and Bo tells her that it’s dissection class (so… biology), and when Darlene throws a piece of paper at him in a flirtation ritual he takes out a lighter and sets it ablaze. Jerry is afraid he’ll set off the sprinkler system, and listen, narc, Bo doesn’t give a shit about your RULES. Jerry is there because he refused to dissect a frog in biology class and gee, that seems a bit harsh, being punished for having a conviction about animal mutilation… Bo keeps lighting things on fire and Mr. Savage comes in and tells him to put it out, which Bo does. Elaine is shocked and disgusted but probably also intrigued. Mr. Savage lets us know Darlene is here for cutting class and Max is here for graffiti-ing a school bus. He tells them that if they stay in their seats and focus on their punishment and police themselves they can leave at 3 and that will be that. As he’s leaving, Bo throws a switch blade. But it of course isn’t aimed at him, but at a cork board, and Mr. Savage doesn’t notice. Bo asks Elaine what she’s in for and she tells him it’s for not turning in homework, and Bo is amused. Darlene, unable to stand that he’s paying attention to Elaine (because girls are ALWAYS fighting over boys, right?), plants herself in front of him and says she’s bored. Bo suggests that they all go look for snacks in the cafeteria, and Jerry says he’s not getting in trouble by leaving. Bo specifically asks Elaine if she’s coming, and wanting to prove she’s not a goody goody she says she is. So they head out and down the hallway, and of COURSE Jerry runs to catch up with them. Elaine notices how not nervous Bo is, and given that she’s so responsible she envies his irresponsibility and finds it sexy.

They go to the kitchen and raid the fridge, but after pigging out a bit Elaine notices that Bo has gone missing, and so has one of the big knives. They go looking for Bo, and find him splayed out with a cut throat. It is, of course, a dumb practical joke, and this kid, I swear… They don’t stay mad at him long, however, because they hear Mr. Savage walking down the hallway. They lose track of his movement, but know he could cut them off back to the classroom, and Elaine suggests that they cut through the auditorium. So they get to the auditorium, and dick around on stage a bit. Max destroys some sets, Bo plays with a prop fiddle (as the drama club is doing “Fiddler”!), and Elaine goes exploring backstage. There she finds a strange black curtain hanging in a far off corner. When she pulls it, it reveals a corridor. Which she, of course, has to explore! So she starts down the hallway in the dark but chickens out. Unfortunately, as she’s heading back the floor gives way and she falls through it, plummeting down! She lands hard, and has no idea how far down she is. It’s dark and she feels broken glass and paint cans, and when she tries to stand her ankle hurts like the dickens. Also, a rat drops on her. She screams and it runs away, and she fumbles in the dark, able to find a ladder but unable to put enough weight on her ankle to actually climb it. Luckily her scream is heard by the others. Bo lights his lighter and looks down, telling her she fell through a trap door. She says she can’t climb because of her ankle, and Bo says he’ll come down to get her. Perplexingly they all climb down with him, though Bo is now suddenly quite protective of Elaine. He lights up his lighter again, and they see they’re in a space with LET’S PARTY written on the wall, and multiple hallways to pick from. Bo and Max tell them that it must be the Labyrinth, a tunnel system built to be a bomb shelter like tunnel system during the Cold War. It spreads across all of Shadyside. For years it was used as a party spot for teens, but the tunnels were all closed up after a number of teens died. So NATURALLY Bo and Max want to explore. Darlene and Jerry aren’t convinced and want to go, and Bo tells Elaine she’s the tie breaker. And now that she wants to impress Bo, she says they should explore.

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What indeed. (source)

Bo scrounges up some sticks and some rags from the trash and makes some torches they can use, and they venture into the tunnel on the right. They find a school newspaper from 1972 reviewing ‘the new Doors album’ (bitch, Morrison was long dead by that time, that album wasn’t going to be too great), and head deeper into the tunnels even though now Elaine is losing her nerve. The reach a dead end when they find a big pool of dirty water and trash, and decide to turn back. But it becomes quite clear that they are lost. Bo suggests that they go back across the water, as the tunnels are all over town and there HAS to be an exit somewhere. They manage to find a narrow ledge around the water, but while trying to cross it Elaine slips and falls into the dirty pool. Oh GOD, think of the germs. Bo pulls her out because he’s her protector now, obviously, and lets her wear his army jacket so she doesn’t get a chill. IS SHE GOING TO GIVE HIM HER DIAMOND EARRING BY THE END OF ALL THIS?

They keep going forward, and find a weird bricked up section that looks different from the other walls they’ve seen. The bricks are red instead of cinderblocks. Bo begins poking the mortar with a stick and it falls away, and the one of the bricks pops out about an inch, without any of them touching it. Bo hesitantly tries to push it back in, and then suddenly the wall EXPLODES! Elaine is thrown back into a wall, and as she sits up she notices that only one torch is still lit at this point. Everyone gathers their wits, and Bo relights his torch. Red dust hangs in the air, and they decide to keep going, but before they can, the separate red dust clouds suddenly gather together and surround Max. He says that something is wrong, and then the red mist envelops him and lifts him up! Bo tries to pull him back down, but the mist throws him away and starts BREAKING MAX’S BONES! It pulls Max up more and pretty much just snaps all of his bones IN GREAT DETAIL ON THE PAGE, killing him and flying down one of the tunnels with his corpse.

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That visual is actually horrific!!! (source)

Bo screams and chases the mist down the hallway, and Elaine and the others look on in horror. Jerry says they have to get out of there, and Elaine says that they can’t leave without Bo. Jerry tries to take the torch from her but she says no, and Darlene says that she and Jerry are leaving and they are taking the torch with them whether Elaine likes it or not. After some sniping, Elaine eventually sees reason and agrees to go with them. But, of course, those two book it and Elaine has a bad ankle! She follows the flicker of the torch, and eventually catches up with them, but only because they’ve stopped. Jerry says he thought the water was this way, but it’s nowhere to be seen. Darlene starts to panic, and Elaine grabs the torch back and says that they have to keep moving to get away from the mist. She’s still thinking about Bo, but agrees that they should keep going on their own.

Unfortunately, they almost immediately stumble over a corpse and drop the torch, leaving them in the dark. Darlene thinks it was Bo, which means the mist may be in the dark with them. Elaine says that Bo had the lighter, so if they can find it on his body they can relight the torch. Darlene and Jerry are both too big of wusses to touch the body, so Elaine says she will. But she doesn’t find the lighter, and realizes that these clothes are ragged and old. That wasn’t Bo’s body. Soon they see another light coming, and wonder if the mist can glow. But nope, it’s Bo! He’s alive! Darlene hugs him and he tells them that he tried to get Max’s body back, but wasn’t successful. And whatever that mist was, it’s probably coming for them next. Elaine notes that he doesn’t seem like the cocky prick he was earlier, but a scared boy who saw his best friend killed. Very Bender in his ‘FUCK YOU’ monologue if I do say so myself. Bo makes new torches but says his lighter is out so this is it. As they walk Elaine wonders what this mist could possibly be (GOOD QUESTION). Jerry thinks that if they can figure out where they are under the city they could figure out where the school is, but Bo rightfully points out that that might be hard. They stumble into a room full of garbage and LET’S PARTY written all over the walls, and find ANOTHER tunnel, but oh dear! THE RED MIST IS BACK! Thus a crazy chase begins wtih them running through God knows how many tunnels, and Elaine falls because HER ANKLE and Bo isn’t leaving her behind (even when Darlene insists that he do he does NOT!), and somehow they stumble into the first LET’S PARTY room which is below the stage at the school!! Darlene launches herself up the ladder first, and I can’t blame her, and Bo wants Elaine to go next but she tells him to go because of her ankle, so he does. And as Elaine starts to climb up too the ladder starts to give way!!! But Elaine is convinced they’re all going to make it, but guess what, Jerry does NOT make it. Because the Red Mist surrounds him and starts to squeeze him. Elaine grabs his hand, determined to hold on, and he keeps crying out ‘help me!’ (oh God, this is actually brutal), but the Mist keeps pulling on him and starts to envelop Elaine’s hand. Bo screams at her to let go… And Elaine knows she has to. So she does. The mist grabs Jerry, crumples him up into a BALL, and then flies down into the darkness. I’m honestly upset by all of this. Elaine feels horrible that she let go. But no time to feel bad, because the ladder breaks, sending her and Bo falling into the darkness. They land on the ground below, and Elaine asks Bo to hold her. Which he does. That diamond earring is going to be yours, Judd Nelson! Darlene is dangling from the top rung, unable to hold on much longer. Bo and Elaine tell her to just let go, that Bo will catch her, and she does. She suggests that they could keep calling for help, that Mr. Savage could be around, but Bo is convinced that he’s long gone now. And school won’t open again until Monday, and they probably don’t have time to wait. They have to find another exit. Elaine points out that the only tunnel they haven’t for sure tried is the tunnel the Red Mist came from.

They find the water pool again and continue past it, and find the chamber behind the red bricks. What they find isn’t another tunnel, but a giant pile of dirt and rubble that looks like a cave in. But at the top of the pile there is a hole that could be an exit. Bo starts to climb, but it isn’t easy going because the dirt pile is loose. But he gets up and crawls up through the hole. Elaine and Darlene call up to him, and he assures them he’s okay but that the tunnel is ‘wild’. WHATEVER THAT MEANS, BO. Darlene tells Elaine to go first, and Elaine does. She makes her way up, and into the hole, and it’s a small tunnel that she barely fits in, and oh GOD I’m going to have a panic attack. Elaine feels the same and has a panic attack, convinced she’s going to get stuck, but manages to get through. She finds that the dirt tunnel ends in another chamber, where Bo is waiting for her at the bottom of another dirt pile, and it smells aged and isolated. She slides down to join him, and Darlene comes down behind, and informs them that the tunnel partially collapsed behind her. Bo says that this isn’t where they want to be, and points out six skeletons! Bo says that the cave in must have trapped them, and points out that there are no rats. Darlene says that the Red Mist must have killed them and someone must have put the bricks up to keep the Red Mist in. But Elaine points out that the small garbage in this room was neatly stacked and it was less haphazard. These people weren’t killed by the Red Mist, they must have been trapped inside and starved to death or died of thirst. They look on the wall and see six names written in red paint, which must be the skeletons. But there is also one name carved into the wall with rock: “Scott Savage Knows”. Mr. Savage must have something to do with all of this! Before the can ruminate too long, however, the Red Mist comes out through the dirt tunnel!! Bo makes it focus on him so Elaine and Darlene can make their way back through the dirt tunnel! So noble! But soon the Red Mist has instead poured over the skeletons… BRINGING THEM TO LIFE. That’s fucking badass. Darlene starts to panic and Elaine yells at her to run through them and back up to the tunnel. Elaine beats the skeletons off of her as she runs, and manages to get up to the top of the dirt pile. But she looks down and sees that Darlene has frozen in her tracks. Bo tries to distract the skeletons, and Elaine books it, crawling through the dirt tunnel and coming out the other side. She hears Darlene’s horrible screams, and then silence.

Elaine calls for Bo, and hears footsteps and sees a light coming through the entrance to the chamber that had been bricked up. It’s Mr. Savage! He says that she has to get out of here and asks where the others are, and Elaine tells him that they’re dead. Mr. Savage is upset by this news, and Bo bursts through the dirt tunnel as it collapses behind him. They all tumble into the dirt, but Elaine thinks that the Red Mist is trapped now. Bo says that Mr. Savage is at fault, and they tell him everything they found. Mr. Savage confesses what it is he knows. He went to Shadyside High back in the day and he and his friends went into the tunnels. There was a cave in, and Bo says that’s pretty OBVIOUS and that he wants to get out of here now. Mr. Savage says he’s been carrying this secret for years and NOW he’s going to tell it. I think that’s misguided at best, but whatever. Mr. Savage was on the other side of the collapse, and he called for them but they never answered. Assuming they were dead and wanting to cover his tracks, he bricked up the tunnel. Unfortunately, his friends WEREN’T dead, and they were able to dig their way out… until they ran into his brick wall. Elaine and Bo blame Mr. Savage for everything that happened… but one COULD argue that if they hadn’t ditched out on their detention none of this would have happend either… BUT WHATEVER, potato, po-tah-to. They ask him about the Red Mist and he says he has no clue what they’re talking about and thinks they’re lying about what happened to their classmates. But before they can debate, the Red Mist BURSTS out of the ceiling. And NOW Mr. Savage believes them, and he knows what it is. It’s the VENGEFUL SPIRITS OF HIS DEAD FRIENDS!! The Red Mist didn’t kill those students, it IS those students! Knowing his time has come, Mr. Savage tells Elaine to take six consecutive left turns and that’s the way out. Then the Red Mist envelops him, crunches his bones, and squishes him into a tiny ball. Then the Red Mist and the Savage Ball disappear. Bo and Elaine make six consecutive lefts and make their way out of the tunnels. He asks what they’re going to tell people, and she says she doesn’t know. And they climb up the ladder. The End.

giphy-18
Wow. What a way to end the series. (source)

Body Count: 4! A little higher than we’ve seen lately, but at this point I think Stine was like “It’s the last one in the series! LET’S DANCE!”

Romance Rating: 2. Elaine and Bo clearly have a thing for each other, but they don’t really act upon it at all.

Bonkers Rating: 9! From endless underground tunnels to a ravenous red mist to moving skeletons, this one was up there for craziness! Again, Stine didn’t give a fuck.

Fear Street Relevance: 2. It took place in Shadyside, but I really don’t think that Fear Street came up.

Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger: 

“Elaine stared at his shirt. His neck. His face.

Soaked with blood.

‘Nooo!’ She let out a moan. Bo’s throat. His throat had been cut.”

… Except no, he just played a trick on them.

That’s So Dated! Moments: Darlene refers to Elaine as ‘Miss Yuppie’ at one point, and who even says ‘yuppie’ anymore?

Best Quote:

” ‘What’s the lighter fluid for?’ Jerry demanded. ‘Are you some kind of pyromaniac?’

‘What I do with my spare time is none of your business,’ Bo replied.”

HA, I knew I liked this kid.

Conclusion: “Trapped” was a super bizarre and oddly violent final book for the “Fear Street” original series!! I enjoyed it for the most part because it was so bananas! I can’t believe that we got through it all! And we aren’t done yet. I am going to slowly bring it on home with a few more books: one ‘Super Chiller’ that a friend of mine remembers vividly, one ‘Super Chiller’ that I remember vividly, and then one last trilogy. So up next is “Bad Moonlight”.

Serena’s Review: “The Shadowglass”

38504533Book: “The Shadowglass” by Rin Chupeco

Publishing Info: Sourcebooks Fire, March 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+

Book Description: Tea is a bone witch with the dark magic needed to raise the dead. She has used this magic to breathe life into those she has loved and lost…and those who would join her army against the deceitful royals. But Tea’s quest to conjure a shadowglass—to achieve immortality for the one person she loves most in the world—threatens to consume her heart.

Tea’s black heartsglass only grows darker with each new betrayal. And when she is left with new blood on her hands, Tea must answer to a power greater than the elder asha or even her conscience…

Previously Reviewed: “The Bone Witch” and “The Heart Forger”

Review: Given the timing of when I started reading this series, I was able to get through the first two books quite close together. Which meant I had a long wait ahead of me getting to this one. And, since the storytelling presented in this book is broken into two portions, there were quite a number of cliffhangers and unresolved plotlines left dangling after the second book. All the more nerve wracking as I waited for this, the final book in the trilogy. And, well, I’m not sure that the extra time between reads worked in this book’s favor. Or perhaps I was already on a downward trajectory overall. Either way, unfortunately, I felt like this was a frustrating end to the series.

Things are finally starting to come ahead for both Teas, past and present. The past version of our main character is beginning to feel the walls close around her as one disaster after another seems to strike. Surrounded by a small band of loyal followers, she finds herself on the run from not only the elder Asha but entire nations. Driven by the knowledge that secrets about shadowglass and bone witches are being kept from her and the world, Tea goes on a path of discovery that will lead ultimately to her banishment and the death of many of her loved ones. Present Tea, on the other hand, has come fully into her own, surrounded by her powerful beasts and on a rampage throughout nations. Her plans are not fully clear, but it’s clear that those who stand in her way are not coming out of things on the winning side. Is Tea’s mission one of justice or is it simply the darkness inside of her fully taking control?

I’ve always found these books a bit confusing. The world-building is incredibly unique, and that’s a huge pro for the series. But there is something about its execution that doesn’t read clearly. The writing style, perhaps, leaves something wanting in the clarity department, and the choice to alternate between two story lines, each with its own complications and mysteries, doesn’t help matters. There are aspects of past Tea’s life that are referenced way back in book one, but aren’t answered until this, book three. That’s simply too long for me to have kept track of everything involved in the timeline, especially when all references made in the “present” timeline are obscured through the strange way that present-Tea is made to speak.

This has annoyed me from the start: Tea’s sudden tendency to rattle of pert little phrases of wisdom and mystery. It’s not a natural way to talk and reads in stark contrast to the past Tea who reads and speaks more like a typical person. The mode of present-Tea’s speech added extra layers of confusion to all of the references she made to events from the past. This being the case, as I was reading this book, I constantly felt like I was missing things. And then when I referenced back to the first book, I would fine that present-Tea has entirely misrepresented the situation, usually, again, with some type of unnecessarily cryptic remark. This made for an incredibly frustrating reading experience. I was lucky that I still had copies of the first two books on hand, but even so, I found this need to refer back very annoying.

I also had had some concerns from the very start about how well these two storylines would merge, and I was right to worry. Again, Tea’s sudden transformation from the past version of the character to the cryptic, almost all-powerful Tea of the present didn’t read as natural. Had the chapters been laid out in order, the jump would have been sudden and strange, and the fact that it was broken up over three books didn’t do enough to obfuscate the matter.

I was also unsatisfied with the reveals themselves. Like I said, there were about a million and one referenced mysteries that had been dropped throughout the first two books that needed resolutions here. But as these resolutions appeared, I found them increasingly annoying. Several of the referenced events don’t really make much sense and require characters to be willfully blind to some pretty basic facts to pull off. Tea’s own regrets and feelings of guilt also don’t make sense, now seeing some of these events play out. Everything just felt a bit off.

This feeling of being offkilter was all the worse because the bones (pardon the pun) of the story are still good. Like I said, the worldbuilding is incredibly unique, and I’m always going to applaud an author for creating a complicated world, magic system, and arc for her story. But the slight “offness” of everything, be it the writing itself  or the way the storyline actually unfurled, became increasingly hard to read as the series progressed.

Like I said, maybe the fact that I was able to read the first two books more closely together played in their favor. I definitely had to spent a lot more time reminding myself of a lot of details of this world, character, and story as I got into this book which made it hard to simply sink in and enjoy it. I also feel like the time away left me freed up to think more critically about the story and character arc itself, as well as be a bit more put off by the writing style.

This was a disappointing return to the series. Though, I will say that now that the series is complete, readers might have more luck and enjoyment if they are able to read all three books back to back. That mode of reading could play highly in the series’ favor, reducing the confusion of a returning reader and retaining the interest of readers across books. If you do like dark fantasies, I still recommend checking this series out, but definitely plan on reading them all at once. As for returning readers, your experience may be different than mine, but I was left disappointed by this conclusion, not because of the ending itself, but by basic mechanics of the storytelling that seemed to stand out in a more negative light in this book than they had in the first two.

Rating 6: For me, a disappointing end. The writing felt more strained and the storylines didn’t feel like they ultimately linked up together naturally.

Reader’s Advisory: 

“The Shadowglass” is on these Goodreads lists: “Asian Fantasy & Science Fiction” and “Speculative Fiction by Women of Color.”

Find “The Shadowglass” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “The Loneliest Girl in the Universe”

36039614Book: “The Loneliest Girl in the Universe” by Lauren James

Publishing Info: HarperTeen, July 2018

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

Book Description: The daughter of two astronauts, Romy Silvers is no stranger to life in space. But she never knew how isolating the universe could be until her parents’ tragic deaths left her alone on the Infinity, a spaceship speeding away from Earth.

Romy tries to make the best of her lonely situation, but with only brief messages from her therapist on Earth to keep her company, she can’t help but feel like something is missing. It seems like a dream come true when NASA alerts her that another ship, the Eternity, will be joining the Infinity.

Romy begins exchanging messages with J, the captain of the Eternity, and their friendship breathes new life into her world. But as the Eternity gets closer, Romy learns there’s more to J’s mission than she could have imagined. And suddenly, there are worse things than being alone….

Review: I had heard great things about this book both from the general online book community, as well as from some of my friends in person. And the fact that when I went to request it from the library list I found myself at the back of a very long waiting list also spoke to the general popularity of this title. So, patiently, I waited. A few weeks ago, my name finally came around and I immediately checked out the audiobook and dove in. Sadly, this entire story ends with the fact that I once again fell victim to a combination of over-hyped books and, probably, my own science fiction snobbery, resulting in me not loving this book.

For the past several years, teenage Romy has lived alone on her spaceshift. Born aboard to the two astronauts originally selected for this first mission to a far off planet, Romy has known nothing but life in space. Her only connections to humanity have been through media and communications with a NASA councelor who has helped her manage her anxiety. With years still ahead of her before she reaches her destination, Romy’s life is one of boredom and loneliness. That is until she hears that another, faster ship is coming. Aboard is J, her first contact with humanity. But their close friendship, developed through messaging back and forth, quickly begins to highlight questions about Romy’s own time on her ship and J’s ultimate mission.

I really, really wanted to love this book. It’s been a while since I’ve read a really good science fiction story, and the premise of this one sounds fantastic. Seriously, full marks to whomever wrote the book description and designed the cover art: this book has serious “hook” value. But then I started reading it and pretty much had immediate problems.

First things first, as I said above, some of this comes down purely to my own science fiction snobbery. I think that perhaps general YA fiction fans would have a lot fewer issues with this book than I did, especially if science fiction isn’t a go-to genre for them. But if I’m going to read a science fiction/space novel, I want that: science fiction. The story starts out with a bang, and after a short action scene, we’re immediately into a character introspection from Romy herself and her thoughts on anxiety. As a discussion on mental health, sure this is good. But there simply wasn’t enough about the science/space angle of things for me. We barely hear anything about the ship itself, or how it was set up to complete its mission, or what specific skills Romy has developed having lived her entire life on this ship. Instead, again, in that very first scene, we see Romy barely avoiding a disaster and then setting out to “read the manual” on the ship so she knows better what to do next time. What? You’re telling me this girl has lived her entire life on this ship, the last several years all alone, and she’s somehow not a complete expert on everything going on here? This starts to get into my character problems, but to summarize this section, this book simply didn’t have enough of the details about life in space and the ship itself to meet my higher expectations for science fiction. There were also a few things that legitimately don’t make any sense for space travel which left me questioning how much research the author really put into this (Romy uses scissors to open food…pretty sure they have tear-off packets of food rather than packing scissors into space for stuff like this).

Now, the characters. As I alluded to in the previous bit, I had some immediate issues with Romy right from the get go. For one thing, I had very mixed feelings about the discussions about Romy’s anxiety and mental health. I get that these are important topics, and it’s great representation to have them included. However, sometimes it starts to feel like these aspects of a character/story are added simply to check some nebulous box, and this works to the detriment of the story. I wanted a science fiction action/thriller story, and instead was getting a lot of character details that were both too much and yet also never quite enough to carry my interest. Beyond that, I found Romy to be very hard to find believable as a character who has grown up in such a unique environment.

We have the weird lack of knowledge of her own ship, yes. But on top of that, she reads just like your average, every day teenage girl. And I just couldn’t get on board with that type of characterization for a protagonist whose entire existence would be shaped by events so out of the ordinary. She hasn’t had human contact in years, and before that, only ever her parents. She’s lived her entire life on a very small ship. And yet she reads like “Jane Doe Teenager” in almost every way. Not only did this not make her interesting, but it actively rubbed wrong against what we know about her life experience. It felt like such a missed opportunity, really.

As for the story itself, I also had a few problems. Romy writes fanfiction as a pastime. Sure, this makes sense for the character. But that doesn’t mean I want to read pages of said fanfiction. It honestly felt like the author was essentially trying to recreate Rainbow Rowell’s “Fangirl” but in space! And that didn’t work for me. Especially when I couldn’t help but mourn the page time devoted to this aspect of the story in place of more science fiction details.

I will say that the twists of the story were interesting. But interesting in the way that they read as exciting, but if you stop and think about them very hard, they also start to fall apart pretty quickly. J’s backstory, motivation, and actions never made much real sense to me, and some of the twists required huge portions of the book to read as strange before the answers are revealed. I spent a good portion of the book questioning the basic premise of the entire mission in a way that was ultimately more distracting than beneficial when the reveal finally put together the pieces in the end.

So, sadly, in the end this book wasn’t for me. I think general YA fiction fans would quite enjoy it (indeed, obviously they  have!). But if you like science fiction in particular, I think there are a lot of elements of this story that will read as more frustrating than intriguing. I also feel like the character work was lacking throughout. It’s no fault of the book’s, but when you have similar titles like “The Martian” hanging around out there, that succeeded so well based on the great scientific aspects and, more importantly, incredible main character at its heart, this book feels even more flat than it would in a vacuum.

Rating 5: Some science fiction snobbery on my part, and I think a legitimately weak main character left this book not quite hitting the mark for me.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Loneliest Girl in the Universe” isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists for some reason, but it is on “YA Space Operas.”

Find “The Loneliest Girl in the Universe” at your library using WorldCat!