Publishing Info: Bloomsbury USA Childrens, July 2015
Where Did I Get this Book: audiobook from the library!
Book Description: Society girls from New York City circa 1890, Dacia and Lou never desired to know more about their lineage, instead preferring to gossip about the mysterious Romanian family that they barely knew. But upon turning seventeen, the girls must return to their homeland to meet their relatives, find proper husbands, and—most terrifyingly—learn the deep family secrets of The Claw, The Wing, and The Smoke. The Florescus, after all, are shape-shifters, and it is time for Dacia and Lou to fulfill the prophecy that demands their acceptance of this fate… or fight against this cruel inheritance with all their might.
Review: I’ve read a few of Jessica Day George’s books, mostly her fairytale retellings. I’ve enjoyed them for the most part, even if the middle grade tone read as a bit simplistic for my taste. But when I stumbled upon this original fairytale type story featuring some of my favorite things (sisters/cousins! shapeshifters! Romania!), I knew I’d need to dive right in.
The story alternates perspectives between two American-born heiresses, Dacia and Lou. Their mothers both emigrated to New York from Romania, and now it is time for the girls to travel back to this homeland and meet their maternal family, a family that is old and has many secrets. The chapters are broken up with short interludes, either letters written between the two characters when they are separated, journal entries, or news entries.
While not everything worked for me in this book, Dacia and Lou as characters were a definite highlight. Both girls have distinct story arcs, and I appreciated the fact that neither was allowed to wallow in the stereotypes of the characters type they are originally introduced as. Dacia starts the story as a confident, independent young woman, constantly testing the boundaries that are set upon her and fearless in the face of others’ disapproval. Lou, however, is more thoughtful, reserved, and cautious with the route she takes through life. Through the story Dacia’s confidence, or over confidence, is shaken and she must confront who she believes she is and make serious adjustments. Lou, on the other hand, comes into her own, discovery her own inner strength.
And, importantly, each girl takes turns supporting or being supported by the other. In the beginning I worried that this was going to follow a typical path where Lou would be “brought out of her shell” by her brilliant, shining cousin. But I was pleased to see their roles swapped, and by the end, each girl has learned more about herself and come to see the value in the others’ original approach to life.
I also very much enjoyed the setting. While we don’t get a lot of detail about the city and countryside of Romania, there was enough to highlight its cultural differences to Paris and New York, the girls’ other points of reference. The family history, hierarchy, and creativity of the actual shapeshifter types was also a pleasant surprise. We don’t only have wolf shifters, but bats and another mysterious type that we discover halfway through. It was refreshing to find a shapeshifter story that expanded upon many of teh tropes we are used to seeing. George introduces a complicated history for the Florescus family, one that is intimately connected with another ancient family, the Draculs. And before you guess, I will say that this second part doesn’t necessarily play out the way you would expect!
For all of these pros, there were a few points of this story I found myself struggling with. One was, again, the writing style. While Dacia and Lou are interesting, their narrating voices often read as younger than they were presented to be. The general tone of the book, again, read as very middle grade. This would be fine if it weren’t for the fact that in other ways the story is very adult. There are some very serious scenes dealing with sexual violence, battles, and straight up murder. This gruesomeness and darker tone jarred with the light and rather simplistic style of writing that surrounded it and often through me off balance as I was reading.
I also struggled with the villain of the story. He was just evil. And crazy. And while yes, this is what we expect from villains, his sheer and utter madness often left me unable to take him seriously. Many of his plans dealt with inflicting harm or reigning in the power of people who were much stronger than him. Some of his threats didn’t make any logical sense if you thought about it. So, yes, he was meant to be a crazy character. But the fact that everyone around him reacted to his madness seriously at times read as very strange. His threats were so completely empty and the solution to the whole problem so easy that it very much undercut any actual urgency for the final act.
The ending was also a bit unclear. There seemed to be several loose ends that were left hanging, and I can’t find anywhere that this was ever meant to read as more than just a standalone. The storylines that we did get wrapped up were closed all too quickly and easily. And I felt that there were many important scenes that were only referenced but left off the page, which was very disappointing.
So, while I did enjoy the main characters and the unique take on shapeshifter mythology, I was left a bit disappointed by this read. At this point, I think it is probably best to just admit that George’s writing style is not to my taste and leave it at that. However, if you enjoy light (for the most part??) historical fantasy that is set in a unique locale and features two awesome ladies, this still might be the book for you!
Rating 6: Two strong characters and an interesting magic system weren’t enough for me to get past some of the strange plot choices in the end and an off-putting writing style.
Book: “The Cheater” (Fear Street #18) by R.L. Stine
Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, April 1993
Book Description:Carter Phillips is under a lot of pressure to ace her math achievement exam – so much pressure that she gets Adam Messner to take the test for her . . . in exchange for one date. But Adam wants more than a date – much more. Carter has no choice. She has to do whatever he asks. If not, he’ll tell hers secret and ruin life. Adam’s control over her gets more and more unbearable. Carter is desperate to get rid of him – but how? Is murder the only way?
Had I Read This Before: Yes.
The Plot: Our main gal Friday this time is Carter Phillips, a spoiled little rich girl who is the daughter of a Judge and has his high expectations thrust upon her. Also, her mother is one of those wealthy do gooder ladies who probably raises money for the less fortunate but her definition of ‘less fortunate’ smacks of racism. The most recent issue for Carter is that, while she is great at most academic subjects, math is just not her thing. I FEEL YA, CARTER. She has an upcoming math achievement exam (which I just assume is supposed to be the SAT or ACT in this parallel universe in which Shadyside resides), and she’s very stressed about it. If she doesn’t score 700, Princeton will surely tell her to take a hike. Given that she’s terrible at math, she’s certain that a 700 is not in the cards, and she’s terrified that she’ll disappoint her father, as she laments to her bestie Jill. While on a date at a local burger joint with her boyfriend Dan, who is honest and kind and totally devoted to her, she asks that maybe he could take the test for her? He tut tuts her for even suggesting such a thing, and in her shame she back tracks and says ‘nah, jokes!’. They part ways amicably, as Dan leaves and she remains, stressing about the upcoming test. This is when Carter is approached by Adam Messner, burger hawker, classmate, and goth/grunge weirdo. Carter doesn’t know Adam very well, but does know that 1) he’s strange, and 2) he has a girlfriend named Sheila who sounds like Courtney Love during the ‘unfortunate years’. Adam admits that he was eavesdropping, and offers to take the test for her. After all, it’s at a different school, and her name is like a boy’s name. Carter is hesitant, thinking that the proctor would ask for ID, but Adam assures her that it won’t be a problem. She asks why he’s offering, and he says that she needs his math skills, and he would like her to go on a date with him. One date. And that will be that. Even though Carter already has a boyfriend, she accepts the offer, because how could ONE SINGLE DATE possible hurt?
How indeed, Carter.
Adam takes the test for her, and while he maliciously tricks her at first saying that they did ask for ID (they didn’t, funny joke, Messner), he assures her that all went well and that he’s pretty sure he crushed it. In fact, he scored a 730, as the results come back, and Carter is thrilled, even if she is a little uneasy. But her father, The Judge, is so happy, he gives her a pair of diamond earrings as a congratulations, because that’s how the wealthy are. Carter and Adam go on their date that Friday, and it actually isn’t so bad. They even do a little kissing and gentle petting, as while Carter does really care about Dan, Adam is just so EXCITING and FORBIDDEN. When he drives her home, Carter, being the stuck up snoot she is at the heart of her, asks if he would please drop her off at the curb instead of up at her house. Lest someone see them together. While it’s probably prudent given that she has a boyfriend, it also smacks of elitism. He asks her what she’s doing the next day, and she says she’s going to play tennis at the country club with her BFF Jill. Adam says that he’ll meet her there, and speeds off. As if that wasn’t stupid enough, as Carter walks the rest of the way home, she is ambushed by Sheila, who jumps out of the bushes, angry that Carter was on a date with her boyfriend. Carter assures her that nothing happened (not true), and Sheila storms off.
At the country club the next day, Carter arrives to find Adam arguing with the guard. The guard isn’t convinced that this boy dressed in a black tee shirt and black jeans is here to play tennis with Shadyside’s Vanderbilt Equivalents, but Carter says that yes, he is. They go to the courts and play doubles against Jill and her flavor of the month, a real top drawer boy named Richard. Adam is actually pretty good, and once again Carter is a bit aroused by him. Thank God he knows his way around a racket. After they are done, he asks her on another date. This time she tries to be firm in her refusal, but he tells her that if she doesn’t go out with him, she’ll be sorry. Girl, this is ALWAYS how these things go! And where does poor Sheila enter into this? In the locker room, she opens her gym bag and finds an ANIMAL HEART. Sheila’s doing?
So the next weekend, Carter and Adam go to a movie, and then they go back to his house on, you guessed it, Fear Street. It’s one of the dilapidated ones, as you either have slum houses on Fear Street or gorgeous and perfectly okay ones, depending on whether a protagonist or antagonist lives in it. They go into the kitchen, and Carter tries to leave, but Adam shoves her into the wall and starts kissing her against her will. She tells him that she’s leaving, and he lets her, but tells her that he wants another favor: his friend Ray has a huge boner for Jill, and he wants them all to go on a double date the next night. Carter doesn’t want to, but feels like she has no choice because, you know, blackmail. Carter calls Jill and asks her to do this for her (rudely interrupting a mauling sesh with Gary Brandt), and Jill is rightfully perplexed and horrified. Ray is a creep, you can tell because he has tattoos! But she agrees because she’s too good a friend.
So they go on the date to some seedy club that country club girls probably wouldn’t be caught dead in usually. Unfortunately, Carter and Jill are basically fresh meat to the thugs in this bar who sound like they’re hot off a spitting session in a Sex Pistols pogo pit, as they are well dressed AND underage girls. Ray starts grinding up on Jill, who is repulsed and terrified, and when Carter tries to help the punks surround them and grab at them and to be frank, this felt like it was one big sexual assault and I was very uncomfortable. Carter grabs Jill and barrels through them, running to her car and speeding them far far away. Once they’re safe at Carter’s house back in North Hills (I assume? That is the fancy part of Shadyside), Jill weeps as Carter begs for forgiveness.
At school the following week, Carter basically rips Adam a new one and tells him that they are done with this bullshit. He counters her offer by demanding she give him one thousand dollars, unless she wants him to spill his guts. I call bullshit on this, because he too would be held accountable as HE WOULD ALSO BE A CHEATER. I think Adam Messner doesn’t have the balls, but Carter seems to think he does, so she pawns those earrings that The Judge gave her. At dinner that night The Judge asks her where her earrings are (I guess she’s supposed to wear them at all times), and she lies saying that the backing fell off one so she’s getting them repaired. How bittersweet.
After the heat seems to be off her, as she has paid Adam off and he’s leaving her alone, Carter FINALLY goes on a date with Dan. You remember Dan! Her actual boyfriend! They watch movies on the couch at his house and probably mess around a bit, and eventually she leaves for home. While she’s driving, some crazy person tries to run her off the road! Given that she has some enemies now, she thinks it must be either Adam or Sheila. She gets home, and Adam is there, waiting for her. He demands another cool grand, saying that he’ll tell if she doesn’t fork it over.
Later, Carter’s parents go out of town for a family wedding, and Carter stays behind. That night Dan comes over and confronts her about how weird she’s been acting, saying that he AND Jill have noticed it. Carter breaks down, confessing everything to him, the cheating, the blackmail, maaaaybe not the vague excitement she felt around Adam at first. She then grabs her Dad’s handgun out of a drawer, and says that she wants to KILL ADAM!! Dan tells her that that’s a terrible idea, and then, not at ALL suspiciously, leaves. Carter gathers up more jewelry to pawn, and once she gets the cash she drops it off at Adam’s house without going to find him, driving around afterwards aimlessly. She gets home to find Dan waiting for her, and before they can have any kind of reunion, the police show up. ADAM MESSNER HAS BEEN SHOT AND KILLED. And they have reason to believe that Carter may have been connected to him because of evidence they found at his house. She tells the police that no way, she hadn’t been to his house that night. The cops leave, and Dan points out her lie, as hadn’t she gone to Adam’s house? She says she doesn’t want to get the cops involved in her life. Dan leaves, suddenly acting strange. A short while later, the phone rings, and Carter answers, hoping it’s Dan. But instead, it’s someone who just whispers “I know what you did.”
At school people seem to have heard the rumors about Carter and Adam, as everyone is avoiding her, including Jill. Dan is even saying he doesn’t know what to say to her anymore. That night her parents have gone off to one of her mother’s charity drives , so Carter is alone. And then, of course, the power goes out. No go on the phone, as it’s dead too! And then she hears footsteps in the basement. A STRANGE MAN emerges and attacks her, saying that he was the one who tried to run her off the road. As he tries to strangle her, the police come in, in the nick of time! Thank god for rich people and their alarms! Carter’s parents come home in the middle of this, and The Judge recognizes this guy as a hired muscle for a guy whose case he is presiding over. Huh! That was actually a pretty okay twist! If not a bit superfluous.
A few nights later, Carter is feeling like maybe things are going to go her way, but then Sheila calls. Now SHE wants money, because Adam told her everything, and Sheila is convinced that Carter is the one who killed him because she somehow has ‘proof’. She asks for five hundred smackaroos, and Carter pawns her fancy stereo system. She meets Sheila in the woods, and they do an exchange. Carter gives Sheila the money, and Sheila gives her the proof…. a necklace that says ‘Carter’ on the back of it. It was by Adam’s body. Hmmmmmmm….
Carter calls Dad and says she’s going to confess everything to her father, and she wants him to be there when she does. He says that he will. They go into The Judge’s office, and Carter confesses to cheating, and then she confesses to killing Adam as well!!! The Judge seems totally disappointed in his little girl. Dan asks if The Judge can get her off the hook, but The Judge isn’t totally sure, and says he’s going to call the police…. And this is when DAN ADMITS TO KILLING ADAM!! He accidentally shot him, he went to confront him about blackmailing Carter and Adam pulled a gun on him. They tussled, and Dan accidentally pulled the trigger….. And then Carter says ‘See Daddy? I told you he’d confess!’
Yes, the necklace was one that Dan had bought for her. When she saw it, she knew, and she knew that he would eventually own up if she tried to take the fall. Though he almost didn’t! Anyway, The Judge says that he can probably pull some strings, but that Carter does have to own up for cheating in the first place. Her mother is more concerned about how scandalous this is than anything else, but it does seem like The Judge is using his connections to not only get Carter a pass, but to get Dan some really great lawyers who can get him kind of deal, or no charges whatsoever, etc etc. The book ends with Carter and Dan playing chess together, and it sure makes it seem like there will be no consequences for these two privileged white kids from North Hills. And of course, while they’re playing, Dan says to Carter ‘no cheating!’, and then beats her because she doesn’t cheat anymore. The End.
Body Count: 1. That piece of crap Adam Messner. Good riddance.
Romance Rating: 7. I don’t know, Dan is a pretty okay guy who really cares for Carter, and while accidentally shooting Adam wasn’t great, he did own up to it. Though, he was willing to let Carter take the fall for a bit, so….. Maybe let’s bump it down to a 6.
Bonkers Rating: 3. It’s actually not that crazy, but it does get some points for the red herring of the hired goon from Judge Phillips’s case trying to hurt Carter.
Fear Street Relevance: 3. Carter doesn’t live on Fear Street. Adam does, but only a little of the plot takes place at his house.
Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:
“Desperately, she struggled to straighten the wheel. Too late! She screamed – closed her eyes – and waited for the crash.”
…. And then she just brakes the car.
That’s So Dated! Moments: Well first of all, just look at the cover. Look at that phone. But what made me cackle (and gave me pangs of nostalgia to my grade school years) was that the choices of hot movies from the video store were “Batman Returns” and “Waynes World”.
“Mrs. Phillips was horrified, of course, at having her daughter mixed up in such a scandal. ‘They’ll be dragging our name through the mud in the papers!’ she cried tearfully at the dinner table that night. ‘I just hope they don’t kick us out of the club!'”
Conclusion: As silly as it was, I pretty much enjoyed “The Cheater”. There’s a reason I remember it so vividly from my childhood. Next up is “Sunburn”! And let me tell you, the cover alone is glorious.
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 a “Dewey Call Number” theme. This book comes from a Dewey Decimal Call Number range, and has to fit the theme of that range.
For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for bookclub. We’ll also post the next book coming up in bookclub. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own bookclub!
Book: “Eliza and Her Monsters” by Francesca Zappia
Book Description:Her story is a phenomenon. Her life is a disaster.
In the real world, Eliza Mirk is shy, weird, and friendless. Online, she’s LadyConstellation, the anonymous creator of the wildly popular webcomic Monstrous Sea. Eliza can’t imagine enjoying the real world as much as she loves the online one, and she has no desire to try.
Then Wallace Warland, Monstrous Sea’s biggest fanfiction writer, transfers to her school. Wallace thinks Eliza is just another fan, and as he draws her out of her shell, she begins to wonder if a life offline might be worthwhile.
But when Eliza’s secret is accidentally shared with the world, everything she’s built—her story, her relationship with Wallace, and even her sanity—begins to fall apart.
My high school years were during the time before social media really became a huge thing. My parents had Internet, but it was a dial up connection that we could only use if we weren’t expecting or planning to make any pertinent phone calls. And honestly, I’m so relieved that the Internet wasn’t the big social zone that it is now, for regular people as well as celebrities. I think that teenage Kate would have both loved living a lot of her life online, but I also think that it would have been isolating in its own way (and given that I was bullied a fair amount, it probably would have opened up a huge target on my back from my peers). And that is where “Eliza and Her Monsters” comes in. As a teenager who suffered from social anxiety and depression, I saw a bit of me in Eliza, our main character who has found the online world to be more comforting than the real world. And as someone who has written some fanfiction in her life (and was a vaguely well known author in a niche fandom at one point, though I’m not telling which), the ups and downs of online artistry also spoke to me. But the core of Eliza herself, and how she interacted with those around her, didn’t do as much for me as one might think that it would.
But I want to start with what I liked here. I thought that Eliza’s social anxieties were pretty spot on in terms of characterization. Without really outwardly saying that she was suffering from it, you get a slow and well painted picture of what Eliza’s insecurities are like, how they hinder her, and how she tries to cope with them. It was refreshing to see this character portrayed in a realistic and honest way, and that while it was understandable that she would act in various ways, she wasn’t totally let off the hook when she was being a jerk to those around her. I also really liked that this book brings up the philosophical question of ‘what do artists owe their fans?’. Sure, this is something that has been going on for a long time, but with the advent of social media, now fans can not only interact with each other, but they now have the opportunity to address and interact with their favorite creators in a more direct way. And while this is great in lots of ways, in other ways, sometimes lines are crossed and fan entitlement gets a bit out of hand. From the “Song of Ice and Fire” fandom to the “Harry Potter” fandom to the wonderful world of comics across the board, sometimes healthy and relevant critiques of topics turn into “YOU OWE US THIS.” This book allows us to see that from the creator’s POV through Eliza and one of her favorite authors, and it’s a great way to raise these questions and get the reader to think about them.
But there were other things about this book that frustrated me. Mainly, I didn’t really care for Eliza, as relatable and realistic as she was. I think that seeing it from the perspective of an adult who had to tramp through that swamp of teen angst and came out on the other side, a lot of me was saying “goddammit, suck it up.” Teen Kate would have TOTALLY loved Eliza though, and given that this is, ultimately, written with teens in mind, I think that she probably works well. I also was a bit frustrated with her relationship with Wallace, if only because I felt like there were some things that she did that were SO manipulative and she never really was taken to task for it. I didn’t really like what it said about acceptable things in teen relationships.
Overall, I liked how “Eliza and Her Monsters” approached fandom, artistry, and teenage mental illness. I wish that I had liked the protagonist more, but hey, you can’t have everything.
As Kate has lain out so nicely, my evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of this book is pretty similar. I don’t have the personal experience of existing as a creator on an online platform, but I follow various fandoms online fairly avidly and have witnessed first hand the strength in community that these groups can bring, as well as the viscous cycle of entitlement and possession that can also be on display at times. In these ways, I think this book is very much speaking to an ongoing struggle in today’s teens’ lives that I, like Kate, never had to deal with.
Like Kate, I was never part of the popular crowd in highschool. I wasn’t the most bullied either, and instead existed somewhere in the probably lucky “no one cares” zone of being unnoticed. I also had no other “version” of life or a representation of my life that I had to maintain, like today’s teens who must carefully navigate and manage not only their day-to-day activities, but also the version of themselves that exists online. Eliza, uncomfortable and shy in real life, has found a niche for herself online. But no social sphere comes without its own strings.
I very much enjoyed the exploration of creativity on an online platform. Eliza is both safely at a distance from those who interact with her online (one of the appeals of her online persona), but is also exposed and at the mercy of those same fans. No longer do fans need to write a letter and mail it in to an author who may or may not even look at their fan mail. Creators online are exposed across so many formats to the visceral reactions of the same fans whose admiration and appreciation they are hoping to garner. I think one of the best representations of the push/pull relationship of this kind is Bo Burnham’s raw, and almost tragic, song “Can’t Handle This.”
But, in general, I read books for the characters, so as much as I loved the themes that were tackled in this story, I had a similar hang up with Eliza as Kate did. I think Kate hit it on the nose when she mentioned the fact that she and I are reading this having come out on the other side of that hellish tunnel called “highschool.” Many years (yikes!) distanced from these same struggles, they begin to lose their edge. This is good, but it also presents a reality check when reading books like these. I don’t want to dismiss these problems as “just highschool stuff, get ready for REAL life, kids!” But…I’m still a 30 something woman reading this and that’s what I felt. So with that perspective, maybe there’s nothing wrong with this character for highschoolers themselves, and it’s probably touching on many relatable challenges. But there are many YA stories out there that present the challenges of their young protagonists in ways that are more approachable and sympathetic to their adult readers as well than this one did, which is a legitimate mark against it.
Kate’s Rating 7: This book brings up a lot of good questions about artistry and creativity, the relationship artists have with their fans, and mental illness, but I was put off by Eliza, as relatable as she could be at times.
Serena’s Rating 6: Many great themes are discussed, but the protagonist wasn’t as widely relatable as she could be to readers beyond highschool themselves. And as a reader who goes in mostly for characters, this put a pretty big dent in my enjoyment of the book.
Book Club Questions
What did you think of Eliza as a main character? Did you find her to be relatable and/or likable?
Have you ever had a friend you met online, or know solely from online interaction? What do you think about the claim that online friends aren’t ‘real’ friends?
Eliza has a complex relationship with the fans of her work. What do you think an artist owes their fans when it comes to content production, or characterization? Do they owe their fans anything?
Eliza has a contentious relationship with her parents. What did you think of how they all interacted with each other? What could they have done differently?
Have you ever followed an online work that is posted occasionally like “Monstrous Sea”? What was it? Is it still going on? If not, how did it end?
Book: “The Town Built on Sorrow” by David Oppegaard
Publishing Info: Flux, September 2017
Where Did I Get This Book: I received an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Book Description:Welcome to the strange mountain foothills town of Hawthorn, where sixteen-year-old Harper Spurling finds herself increasingly obsessed with the diary of a local 1860s pioneer girl while a serial killer runs unchecked through the area, dumping his victims into the town’s dark river. As Harper’s curiosity leads her closer and closer to the killer, she’ll have to think fast or join the killer’s growing list of victims. Because in Hawthorn, a town built on sorrow, the barrier between life and death is as fragile as an old, forgotten skull.
Review: First and foremost I’d like to give a huge thank you to both NetGalley, for providing me with this book, and David Oppegaard, whose FB post pointed me towards the book on NetGalley in the first place.
We are officially kicking off Horrorpalooza, in which I try and keep my focus (mostly) on horror/scary stories for the month of October! October is my very favorite month because of Halloween, and I intend to honor it with tales to chill your bones and give you nightmares! So let’s begin!
A few years ago I took a horror writing class at a local writing workshop in downtown Minneapolis. My teacher was a man named David Oppegaard, who also happened to be a friend of a friend. Not only did I enjoy his class immensely, I still see David at Halloween and Christmas parties each year, in which we stand over various punch bowls and talk about any and all things. David has written a few books, his previous book “The Firebug of Balrog County” a Minnesota Book Award Nominee (and one that I quite enjoyed). While that one was more realistic/contemporary teen fiction, his newest book “The Town Built on Sorrow” is straight up horror/thriller, with a little historical fiction thrown in for good measure. It’s a combination that works pretty well, and sets up for a dreamy and atmospheric setting.
We follow the storylines of three characters. The first is Harper, an ambitious and driven high school girl living in the small town of Hawthorn. She has been obsessing over the diary of a pioneer girl who was part of the settling party of the town in the 1800s, named Sofie Helle. Right off the bat I thought this was pretty unique, as what YA novels as of late have shown their lady protagonists having a healthy interest in history? Perhaps there are some, but I haven’t read them. The second is Olav, an outsider from his peers at the high school is is also, spoiler alert but not really, a serial killer. The third is Sofie Helle herself, through not only her diary, but also flashbacks to see what the diary never did. Of the three, I probably liked Harper’s the most, just because she did feel like a pretty typical teenage girl, and her interests were of interest to me. And since we know that Olav is bad news, it was rife with tension when we saw her slowly getting to know him and becoming attracted to him. I really liked that aspect of the story, as the suspense about her wellbeing would teeter towards unbearable. I also liked the Sofie story, as the dangers and horrors of the prairie to the untrained interloper can have dire consequences. Right out of the gate a baby is taken and eaten by a wolf, which really got my attention. You know from the get go that Hawthorn is going to have a dark pall over it, and darkness is indeed oozing off the page. It’s definitely a dark, dark book, as death is always just within striking distance, and watching it slowly circle Harper in the form of Olav is distressing. And then when a strange dark form appears in a dark room part way through the book, well, the gothic tension just shuddered and oozed off of the page, and damn was it effective. The blend of real life horror and supernatural horror works well here, and I almost always imagined Hawthorn with a dense fog because of how Oppegaard builds it in the reader’s mind.
But while the atmospheric notes are tight and on point, the characters themselves, likable as some were, kind of fell a bit flat for me. I liked Harper enough but she didn’t really stand out too much outside of her interest in history. Olav gave me the creeps to be sure, but it was definitely rooted in his actions and not in who he was as a person. Sofie, too, is likable enough, but there was little connection to her for me and little investment in what exactly did happen to her. I suppose that I was worried for Harper as I read the book, but only because you are supposed to be.
So while the characters themselves didn’t do much for me, Hawthorn the town was enough of a character in and of itself that the chills there made up for it. I think that “The Town Built on Sorrow” would be the perfect read for a chilly autumn night this Halloween season. So wrap yourself in a blanket, pick it up, and if you live in small town setting or in a place with forest and nature surrounding you, maybe try not to get too freaked out as you read it. I’m sure come Halloween I will get to talk to David about this story, and I know that I will definitely give him props for Hawthorn and it’s demons.
Rating 7: Tense and atmospheric, “The Town Built on Sorrow” weaves three stories together over two time periods. While the characters were kind of flat, the setting was eerie and unsettling.
While I make an effort to complete most books I read, every once in a while I come upon one that I just can’t get through. When I find myself repeatedly putting down a book to the point that attempting to finish it is taking up weeks of my time, I sometimes come to the conclusion that a book is a book, not a life and death contract to read until completion. There are too many books in the world that I will never get to to spends days on end trying to finish a book that I already know will not be my cup of tea.
Book: “The Sweet, Far Thing” by Libba Bray
Publishing Info: Delacorte Press, December 2007
Where Did I Get this Book: audiobook from the library!
Book Description:It has been a year of change since Gemma Doyle arrived at the foreboding Spence Academy. Her mother murdered, her father a laudanum addict, Gemma has relied on an unsuspected strength and has discovered an ability to travel to an enchanted world called the realms, where dark magic runs wild. Despite certain peril, Gemma has bound the magic to herself and forged unlikely new alliances.
Now, as Gemma approaches her London debut, the time has come to test these bonds. The Order – the mysterious group her mother was once part of – is grappling for control of the realms, as is the Rakshana. Spence’s burned East Wing is being rebuilt, but why now? Gemma and her friends see Pippa, but she is not the same. And their friendship faces its gravest trial as Gemma must decide once and for all what role she is meant for.
Review: As I said above, I try to push through most books, and those I can’t, I often choose not to review on this blog. After all, I rarely have much positive to say about the experience (and we do try to include positives in most of our reviews, even for lower rated ones), and…I didn’t finish the book! Can I really accurately speak to the book as a whole in a review? But since I’ve reviewed the previous two books in this trilogy, I didn’t want to leave the series hanging without a conclusion to my thoughts. So here they are.
The thing I most enjoyed about the first book was the juxtaposition of these young girls growing up in a very prim, restrained Victorian boarding school against a wild and mysterious magical backdrop made up of an organization of powerful women who have operated behind the scenes throughout history. Gemma and her friends are challenged to re-think their position in society, their own abilities, and the way they relate to each other and those around them. The magical world was unique and by no means “fluffy,” full of lurking danger and unknowns. By the end of the story, our main characters had learned that they did know all that much in the grand scheme of things, and perhaps there were more important things out there than petty, girl fights. They had lost a friend, discovered a new enemy, and seemingly grown closer, knowing that together they must face the challenges ahead.
The second book squandered all of this excellent set up, dialing back any growth the characters had gone through in the first book, making their decisions and thought processes confusing and frustrating. They still focused on the silly, bickered as if they had learned nothing, casually dismissed warnings, knowing full well the major consequences this type of behavior had lead to before, and generally behaved as if the first book had not happened, other than knowing that magic existed. Beyond this, the author introduced a terrible love triangle and some truly problematic scenes about consent.
So, with this second book as an example, I did not have high hopes going into the third. My only reassurance was that, after the events of the second book which were even more dire and traumatic than the first, there was no way that the author couldn’t address the growth and new outlook on the world that Gemma, Felicity and Anne must now have gained. How wrong I was.
I made it about a third of the way into the book before realizing that nothing had changed. Absolutely nothing. The girls were still caught up in petty nonsense, made decisions that made no sense, and behaved as if nothing had happened in the previous two books now that would influence the choices they made going forward. The author actively walked back on all progress that had been made in book two. I quickly realized that I was simply reading the same book over again.
Pippa was turning to the dark side? Nope, she’s still just there in the Realms, hanging out and making Gemma feel guilty for a decision that Pippa made herself back in book one. Gemma had decided to share the magic with everyone in the Realms? Nope, best to re-debate that decision AGAIN for huge chucks of this book,too. Kartik had decided to support Gemma and the girls? Nope, he’s distancing himself again and, of course, won’t tell Gemma why. Learned that when others much more experienced with the Realms warn you about something then you should really listen? Nope, Gemma will stop listening to others (when did she ever??) and maker her own choices!
It was truly incredible how neatly and quickly the author pulled back any and all progress that had been made in the last book and quickly seemed to start re-writing that book all over again. It was inexplicable to me. That last point, where Gemma once again refused to listen to warnings given to her by those in the Realms, was the point where I put down the book. Gemma does not read as a real person, or at least not one whom I could have any respect for at that point. Somehow she had learned nothing, and I’m not interested in reading another 700 pages about a character who is nothing more than a device for the author to indulge herself in a writing exercise that badly needed an editor.
I can’t speak to the end of the novel, but I’ve read a few reviews that further justify my decision to set it down. I won’t speak to these ending issues, as I didn’t technically get to them myself, but it doesn’t surprise me that the author ended up scrambling to pull things together and then missed the mark. How can you end a story when you haven’t really told a story? A story involves characters who learn, grown, and come out the other side as different people than they went in. That just didn’t happen in this trilogy.
Bray is an author with ideas, but she couldn’t write a single character arc for any of these girls. In a stand alone book (or the first in a series, like in this case), limited abilities with characterization might be passable. But it’s unacceptable for a trilogy. I’m having a hard time thinking of another trilogy that started as promising and then plummeted so steadily over the next two books.
Kate read only the first book in this series and liked it, as did I. For those out there in the same boat? Just stop there. Turns out you’ve already read books two and three as well in one go! Why waste the time re-reading that one again for another 1400 pages?
“The Sweet, Far Thing” is included on these Goodreads lists “Thickest Books Ever” and “Worst Ending.” Yes, I know those are negative lists, but that’s how I feel about this book and others seem to agree.
Book: “There’s Someone Inside Your House” by Stephanie Perkins
Publishing Info: Dutton Books for Young Readers, September 2017
Where Did I Get This Book: I received an ARC of it from the publisher at ALA.
Book Description:Scream meets YA in this hotly-anticipated new novel from the bestselling author of Anna and the French Kiss.
One-by-one, the students of Osborne High are dying in a series of gruesome murders, each with increasing and grotesque flair. As the terror grows closer and the hunt intensifies for the killer, the dark secrets among them must finally be confronted.
International bestselling author Stephanie Perkins returns with a fresh take on the classic teen slasher story that’s fun, quick-witted, and completely impossible to put down.
Review: We’re nearing the end of September, guys, which means that October is just around the corner! For me, that means HORRORPALOOZA is on the way, in which my reading tastes gravitate towards all horror, all the time. I had to get a little taste of that before the calendar turned over, though, as I just couldn’t wait to pick up “There’s Someone Inside Your House” any longer. So I don’t know if it was the waiting and the hype that I built up in my head for it, but I’m wondering if waiting was a mistake. because while there were definitely things I enjoyed about this book, it was something of a let down.
I’ll start with what I did like, though. “There’s Someone Inside Your House” has had comparisons to “Scream”, one of my favorite slasher movies of all time because of how it cheekily deconstructs the tropes and tricks of the slasher genre. While I was reading this book, I one hundred percent could see it in my mind’s eye as a film. It has the right amount of characters, it has the right dynamic for the group that we follow, and it has so many visual moments in it that would translate very well to a movie screen. I also enjoyed Makani, our protagonist and surmised ‘final girl’, as of course this book would need one to play to genre type. She is a fish out of water, but not in the ways we may be used to seeing. Not only has she moved to small town Nebraska from freakin’ Hawai’i (I can totally get her bitterness), she is also a biracial girl living in a town with a majority of white people. Being half black and half native Hawaiian means she gets a lot of ‘but where are you from really?’ questions, and this book deals with that openly and frankly, which is very important. She does, of course, have a dark secret in her past that she fears getting out, and while I was rolling my eyes at this cliche when it was revealed what had happened, I was actually at peace with it, as it wasn’t too melodramatic, yet she also did have legitimate things to be sorry for while having reason to be hurting and traumatized. From characters who are POC to LGBTQIA to socioeconomically different, I feel like Perkins was committed to exploring diversity for this story when other authors may have not bothered.
The slasher killer plot line (so, the main plot line) had some issues that I couldn’t quite wrap my head around. I give props in that while Perkins starts out making us wonder who the killer is (mainly is it Ollie, Makani’s brooding but sensitive love interest), once it is revealed who they are, there are no more questions or twists, or suppositions of coming twists. It was who it was, and that was that. But once it was revealed WHY the killer was doing what they were doing, this book kind of lost me. It’s one thing if you are doing it because you’re a supernatural being that is taking revenge for your deserved but untimely murder (“Nightmare on Elm Street”), or because camp counselors weren’t paying attention and you drowned (“Friday the 13th), or because you’re just one big metaphor for Evil (“Halloween”). Even in “Scream” the trauma of parental abandonment mixed with the need to be famous/notorious worked out as a solid motive. But in this one it’s just so…. not that, and without more background to the killer I couldn’t and wouldn’t swallow it so easily. On top of that, each teenager killed by this person has something cut off and taken away, and it seemed like it was going to build up to one big gross reveal of just what was happening with these absconded body parts…… But then nah, the pomp and dramatics were all for naught, it was maybe just because reasons (note, I will admit that perhaps I’m wrong on this, as when I start getting near the end of a tense book I sometimes inadvertently skim in my anxiety).
While there were a few hang ups I had with “There’s Someone Inside Your House”, I do think that it’s a quick, simple, and totally appropriate book for the upcoming Halloween season. Teens that are craving horror but maybe aren’t feeling something a but denser and darker will probably find a lot to like here, and anything that nurtures kids and teens loves of horror gets props from me.
Rating 6: The characters were fine and I liked the diversity. While the identity of the killer wasn’t drawn out or too twisty turny, the motivation and MO felt flimsy at best.
Book: “The Best Friend” (Fear Street #17) by R.L. Stine
Publishing Info: Pocket Books, 1992
Where Did I Get This Book: ILL fromhe library!
Book Description:Best friends…to the end!
Who is Honey Perkins? She’s been telling everyone in Shadyside that she’s Becka Norwood’s best friend. But Becka’s sure she’s never met Honey before.
Honey systematically moves in on Becka’s life, copying her in every way. But when Becka presumes to have more than one “best friend,” the horrible accidents begin.
Does Honey just want a friend? Becka wonders. Or does she want more—much more!
Had I Read It Before: No
The Plot: The Fear Street Protagonist in this book is Becka, whom we meet while she’s on a date with her snooze of a boyfriend Eric. They’re sitting in his car and she’s working up the nerve to dump him because he’s such a dud, and because he’s really handsy and she’s not too comfortable with it. She finally tells him it’s over, and he says that it’s okay as he tries to keep it together. He takes her home, and says that he’ll see her in school. Becka decides to drive around for a bit to clear her head, and then proceeds to crash into another car.
The next day she’s hanging out in her room with her BFFs Lilah and Trish, telling her about the very minor car accident she was in. Why that even happened, I couldn’t say, because soon they’ve moved their talk to Bill Planter, Becka’s ex whom Becka is still hung up on. Her parents never approved and so she and Bill broke up (I think it was because of that?), but now it’s the holiday season and she’s LONGING for him. As they talk, suddenly a strange girl runs into the room, and starts freaking out in a good way about Becka, throwing her arms around her. Becka is rightfully confused and put off, and the girl says that it’s her former BFF from childhood Honey, who moved away but is now back in town and right next door! Honey and Becka, Becka and Honey, the gruesome twosome who were always together. But Becka has no clue who this girl is, as she remembers Honey, but was never friends with her, and I feel like I’m reliving a scene in “Drop Dead Gorgeous”. Becka and pals decide to play along, but whenever Trish and Lilah try to talk to Honey she ignores them and continues to talk about how much she missed Becka. She even puts off Becka’s mom, Mrs. Norwood, but hugging her and saying how much she missed her. After Honey leaves, Becka, Lilah, and Trish find their fourth grade year book and spot Honey, who they now all remember, but also remember as having no friends. Becka realizes that the parrot pin that Bill gave her is missing from her dresser, the dresser Honey was futzing with. Trish suggests to go ask Honey if she forgot to take if off, and Becka says she will. After her friends leave she’s about to head next door, but then Bill calls asking her if she will meet him at the mall. She says no because her parents will kill her, but you can tell she wants to. She goes next door to confront Honey… But the house appears to be empty! She knocks on the door and looks inside, and sees nothing but darkness.
Some time later, Becka and Lilah are walking home together talking about the Christmas party that Trish is throwing soon. Bill is going to be there, and Becka plans to wear a sexy catsuit just for the occasion. When she gets home she hears a voice in her room, and sees HONEY is in there trying on her clothes. Becka storms in and rightfully asks what the HELL she’s doing, and Honey says that Mrs. Norwood let her in, and that she left but said Honey could wait in Becka’s room. Also, she loves Becka’s clothes and remember how they used to share clothes when they were besties? Becka does not. She asks Honey why the house next door is empty. Honey says that the furnace croaked and they’re in a hotel until it’s fixed. She asks Honey what happened to her parrot pin. Honey…. REACHES OUT TO CHOKE HER TO DEATH??? Or not, she just chokes her for a bit, and then says ‘don’t you remember the gotcha game?’ I’m appalled, as is Becka. Before leaving (FINALLY) Honey says that Becka GAVE her the parrot pin, don’t you remember? Then she leaves and Becka is quite shaken. So she calls Bill, suggesting that maybe they could start seeing each other again, like old times. He says they should sneak off, and she balks at that. Becka hangs up when her Mom returns home with groceries, and Becka asks why she let Honey into the house. Mom has no clue what Becka’s talking about, she hasn’t been home all afternoon.
At school, Becka and Lilah are preparing to go home when Honey rushes up saying she and Honey should walk home together. Becka says no, she and Lilah are riding their bikes home (in December? In “Ski Weekend” it’s implied Shadyside is a days-ish drive from a snowy part of Vermont, how are they biking?). Honey ignores Lilah again and says she should get a bike so she and Becka can ride. Whatever, crazy. As Becka and Lilah are biking they start down a hill…. And Lilah’s brakes don’t work!!! As she’s flying towards a busy intersection!! She’s hit by a truck and flies over the handlebars!! She’s (kind of) alive, taken away in an ambulance, and the police tell Becka that someone cut the brake cable away from her bike. OH WHO COULD IT BE? When Becka gets home she calls Bill, saying she WILL sneak out with him because, honestly, she may not be alive much longer with Honey going full Robert John Bardo on her. She turns around and sees HONEY in the doorway!! SHe hangs up and demands how she got in, but Honey just goes into how sorry she is about Lilah before giving her a literally suffocating hug. Becka says she wants to be alone, and Honey doesn’t leave. Becka starts crying, and Trish comes in, to which Honey whisks her away saying “Becka wants to be alone”. Luckily she leaves too.
On Saturday Bill and Becka are gettin BIZAY in his car with some make outs and heavy petting. After they break for air, Becka complains about Honey, saying that Honey will NOT leave her alone. She doesn’t want to be mean, though, because she thinks that Honey means well (COUGH COUGH). But now that she thinks of it, Honey was asking her about Lilah’s bike, specifically how the brakes worked. ANd she was at the bike rack. She looks out the window and freaks out because she thinks she sees Honey hiding behind a tree. Closer inspection implies otherwise, and Bill thinks Becka’s losing her mind.
On Monday Becka is home sick. Her Mom brings her breakfast and says that Honey volunteered to bring her homework to her after school. BECKA, FOR GOD’S SAKE, TELL SOMEONE ABOUT THIS GIRL. Trish calls that afternoon and asks Becka why she isn’t in the hospital, since she heard she had a complete mental breakdown because of Lilah. When asked where she heard this, Trish says that Honey is telling EVERYONE. Not only that, there will be no adults at the Christmas party that weekend, ooh la la. After hanging up, Becka is living, and then Honey arrives… And she’s cut and styled her hair just like Becka’s. STINE, YOU’RE LIFTING FROM “SINGLE WHITE FEMALE” NOW?! Later that night Honey calls her to reiterate that she’s always around if needed (WE KNOW), and that Trish was totally lying about Honey spreading rumors about her mental health. Which is totally refuted the next day when another girl outside of the group asks Becka how she is doing, mentally. Then Honey shows up wearing Becka’s clothes and the parrot pin and WE GET IT. Trisha and Becka go for a walk outside, and then they see Honey making out with Becka’s ex Eric, and Becka is disturbed by this. Honey sees them and tries to explain, but Becka isn’t having it. Honey runs off, crying probably. When Becka gets back to her locker, ti’s totally trashed. Thinking it must be Honey’s doing, she confronts the little creeper in the bathroom, accusing her of the locker misdeeds, which Honey denies, saying she’s just saying that because she’s mad about Eric. Becka FINALLY goes off on Honey, telling her to leave her the hell alone, and Honey starts crying that they’re best friends before pulling out a GUN!?! Which is just a water gun, another ‘gotcha’ joke on her part, and Becka runs out screaming.
That night at Bill’s house Becka tells him about all the Honey stuff that happened that day, but before the locker moment he asks her if she heard about the random guys who CONVENIENTLY broke into the school and trashed a bunch of lockers. Oh great. So Becka feels bad that she accused Honey of that now, but really, she shouldn’t because Honey is just the worst. She asks Bill if Honey has ever approached him for anything, and he’s kind of….. mum about it. She goes home, and is confronted by her mother… who somehow found out that Becka was out with Bill that night? GEE, HOW DID THAT HAPPEN?! They have a huge fight, and Mom grounds Becka from Trish’s upcoming party. Becka runs upstairs to her room to sulk, and Honey jumps out of the closet, as if that was a perfectly normal place to wait for her. She says she’s sorry for ratting Becka out to her Mom, but thinks that Bill wasn’t right for her. Becka tells her to get out, they aren’t friends, they never were, they never will be, and the only friends she has are Trish and Lilah. Honey slowly leaves, but not before telling her that she broke up with Eric that day.
Good news! Becka’s Dad, who has never actually shown up on page, caves and lets Becka go to Trish’s Christmas party! While there things are going okay, until Honey shows up in the same outfit as Becka. Becka freaks at her again, and makes a big scene. Honey walks away. Later, Trish is at the top of the steps with a cake. Becka sees Honey there…. who then shoves Trish down the stairs! WHO LANDS ON HER NECK ODDLY. While someone calls for help, Honey sees Becka saw her, and says ‘I tried to stop her from tripping but it was too late!’ Becka turns her attentions to Trish, who is still alive but breathing funny, and Honey says to her (Low enough so no one else can hear, natch) that she’s her only friend now. Becka runs, sees the police, tells them Honey pushed Trish, then faints.
She wakes up the next day in her bed with her Mom and a doctor (No Dad again!). They tell her that Trish is alive but has a broken neck (OH, IS THAT ALL?), and that Becka is having a nervous collapse and she should rest. The doctor leaves, and then Mom says she’s stepping out too. And then, just like clockwork, the phone rings. And it’s Honey, who tells Becka that she should come over right away because she has something Becka should see. Becka is going to not, but then hears a voice in the background… Bill’s voice! She rushes over and looks through the kitchen window. She sees Bill and Honey at the table HOLDING HANDS! Becka’s officially done. She storms into the kitchen, grabs a KNIFE, and LUNGES FOR HONEY! About friggin’ time. But she can’t do much because of her fragile (and vague) physical and mental state, and collapses. Bill says ‘I thought you told her I was here!’, and Honey tells him to stay away because Becka is HER friend!!! They wrestle over the knife, and Honey STABS BILL IN THE CHEST. GOOD FUCKING GOD. And THEN, and I cannot BELIEVE it, she PUTS THE KNIFE IN BECKA’S HAND. As Becka slowly starts coming to, Honey tells her that that she won’t tell the police that Becka murdered Bill, but that it was in self defense, because she’s her best and now only friend. To which Becka….. thanks her. THE FREAKING END.
Body Count: 1??? Bill died but I think that Lilah and Trish are okay???
Romance Rating: 5. Bill has his problems but he seems okay, even if Becka is only willing to sneak around with him.
Bonkers Rating: 9. This is the darkest and most fucked up “Fear Street” ending yet!
Fear Street Relevance: 7. Becka lives on Fear Street and so does Honey, and the final showdown is there.
Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:
“Becka gasped and hit the brakes. Her car slid hard into the other car. She closed her eyes against the crunch of metal and shattering glass.”
… And it turns out she was fine and the most damage was a broken headlight. What’s the point?
That’s So Dated! Moments: At the Christmas party the song on the CD player is Bruce Springsteen’s “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town”, and I think that was kind of dated even for it’s original publication! Unless this is a bunch of hipsters, which it very well could be.
“‘What a night you had,’ Trish said, shaking her head. ‘First you wreck Eric. Then you wreck the car.’ Lilah laughed. ‘You should be a writer, Trish. You have such a way with words.'”
Yeah, that witty banter is sure to win a Pulitzer some day.
Conclusion: “The Best Friend” is truly the most disturbing “Fear Street” book I’ve read so far, and I’m kind of impressed that Stine was willing to do what he did with it. Apparently people were so incensed by this book he offered a contest to write the sequel, in a ‘well if you think you can do better, DO IT!’ kind of play. Up next for us, though, is “The Cheater”.