Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.
Book Description:It’s been eighteen months since the Raxter School for Girls was put under quarantine. Since the Tox hit and pulled Hetty’s life out from under her.
It started slow. First the teachers died one by one. Then it began to infect the students, turning their bodies strange and foreign. Now, cut off from the rest of the world and left to fend for themselves on their island home, the girls don’t dare wander outside the school’s fence, where the Tox has made the woods wild and dangerous. They wait for the cure they were promised as the Tox seeps into everything.
But when Byatt goes missing, Hetty will do anything to find her, even if it means breaking quarantine and braving the horrors that lie beyond the fence. And when she does, Hetty learns that there’s more to their story, to their life at Raxter, than she could have ever thought true.
Review: Thanks to NetGalley for sending me an eARC of this novel!
Oh boy, look what we have here. Another boarding school book! And on top of a boarding school book, we got some plague horror, some vague cosmic horror, and some queer representation thrown in for good measure. Suffice to say, when I read about “Wilder Girls”, I was interested enough to request an eARC from NetGalley.
What makes “Wilder Girls” by Rory Powers a bit different from other plague horror that I’ve seen lately is that we don’t know WHAT the Tox is. The students at Raxter School for Girls just know that they have been stricken with this disease, which causes body disfigurement, severe aggression, and in many cases (such as that of most of the faculty members and huge portion of the student body) death. They are cut off from the outside world immediately, and those who do have the tenuous connection to the outside world that sends supplies their way aren’t saying much. In many plague horror stories we will ultimately get at least some information as to what happened, be it a government made virus run amok a la “The Stand” or a supermutated flu a la “Station Eleven”. But in “Wilder Girls” it is largely unknown, and that fear of the unknown (both in origin of The Tox and what it has done to the woods outside the school) is what takes this towards Cosmic Horror territory, and makes it feel a bit more unique than similar tales that I’ve read. And, hooray but also YIKES, along with cosmic horror comes body horror, and “Wilder Girls” has that AND THEN SOME. From descriptions of mutated wildlife to body mutilation to other moments of supreme yuck, Powers knows how to up the gross factor in ways that would make David Cronenberg proud.
Plus, when you combine plague and the unknown you have a volatile situation in terms of how the social structures have changed, and Raxter School for Girls has DEFINITELY degraded as they try to wait for their rescue, even as supplies dwindle more and more and desperation starts to cloud the judgments and actions of those who are supposed to be friends. Powers doesn’t shy away from some really brutal moments that are set off by these moments of desperation, be it those in power abusing those below, or those who are friendly towards each other suddenly attacking each other verbally AND physically. There are connections to the outside world, sure, but it becomes clearer and clearer that the outside world, in whatever state it may be in, is forgetting about these girls, and it may be intentional.
I also really enjoyed the slow growing and complicated relationship between Hetty, our main protagonist, and Reese, a sometimes friend but mostly roommate to Hetty and their friend Byatt. Byatt is the main connector between the three girls, as both Hetty and Reese have their affections for her. But when Byatt disappears, the two girls left, who have had rocky at best interactions as of late, have to learn to trust each other, and also deal with how they may actually feel for each other. The romance isn’t really at the forefront of this story, and it doesn’t end up defining either character, but it is always a bit below the surface, and I found it realistic that these two girls in a horrifying situation would have a lot of complex feelings towards each other. Especially when they had been vying for the attention of the bright and friendly Byatt.
But for me, and for reasons I can’t really figure out, the broader plot of “Wilder Girls” really didn’t interest me as much as I had hoped it would. While the parts about The Tox and the dwindling hope of rescue were absolutely right up my alley, for the life of me I couldn’t bring myself to care about Byatt’s disappearance. Sure, I usually like the conspiratorial themes that this book was filled with (why did Byatt disappear? Who knows more than they’re telling?), but I think that I was more interested in The Tox itself. Since we jumped in AFTER the Tox has already ravaged this school and it’s inhabitants, and since the school has adjusted, albeit poorly as it turns out, I wish we had a little more information about the build up and fall out of that initial infection. To me that seemed like a better story than that of a missing friend. That said, I can understand why the emphasis on that might be more interesting to other people. As it was, I wasn’t into it. On top of that, we got a clunker of an ending that felt like it was trying too hard to tread between ‘we definitely could end this story here if we needed to’, and ‘promises of more secrets and perhaps a sequel is the only thing to be done’. It felt too obvious as to what it was trying to do.
“Wilder Girls” was a bit of a disappointment to me, but that doesn’t mean it will be disappointing to all fans of plague and cosmic horror. If you want more focus on The Tox, it may not give you what you need, but if you are fine dealing with the fallout alone, it could be a good fit.
Rating 6: While it had a good premise and some interesting female characters, I didn’t find myself as invested in “Wilder Girls” as I had hoped I would be.
Book: “The Secret” (The Fear Street Saga #2) by R.L. Stine
Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, 1993
Where Did I Get This Book: An eBook from the library!
Book Description:Buried Evil
What is the secret of Fear Street?
Why has its horror lasted so long?
Ezra Fier wants to find out. He searches for the answer among the rotting bones in the ghostly town of Wickham. But he find only betrayal and death.
Elizabeth and Kate are in love with the same boy. How can they know that they too are caught by the evil that will haunt this family forever?
Had I Read This Before: No
The Plot: Moving on to part 2 of “The Fear Street Saga”! We join Nora Goode again, who is writing the long, dramatic, and violent history of the Goode family and the Fear Family. We still don’t know why she knows it, or why she as a Goode has the Fear amulet, or her back story with the now presumably deceased Daniel Fear.
BUT, before we go into that, we go back in time to Wickham Village in the Massachusetts Colony in 1737! And we catch back up with Ezra Fier, the son of that dunderheaded narc Edward, who let his girlfriend Susannah Goode burn at the stake by orders of his father. Ezra has been nursing his grudge towards the Goodes since Willaim, Susannah’s father, took his revenge which led to the deaths of Ezra’s grandfather, great aunt and uncle, mother, and aunt. His dunderheaded father died too, but probably from idiocy. Ezra has been tracking George Fier, William’s son, for most of his adult life, and has dragged his family around the colonies on his hunt. His son Jonathan thinks that this is a ridiculous situation to be in, but wife Jane goes with it and daughters Abigail and Rachel are too young to be put off. Ezra is convinced that he’s tracked George down to this town, but as their wagon approaches they see a stopped carriage, with two dead horses next to it. When they look in the carriage, there are bloated and decaying dead people. And when they get to town, it’s more of the same. FILLED with dead people! Ezra isn’t swayed, and makes Jonathan go with him to explore, and tells him the whole background of his family. Ezra says they should go to the inn, as innkeepers will know the tea, but they TOO are dead. He tells Jonathan to go to the magistrate’s office to ask HIM what’s up, so it hasn’t really gotten through his dumb skull that EVERYONE IN TOWN IS DEAD, DUDE! Poor Jonathan goes, and once again finds a corpse. Ezra finally takes this for what it is, and they return to the wagon to tell Jane and the girls what they found. Ezra drives the wagon to a farmhouse, and while he doesn’t tell his family why they are there, he says that he wants to see their dead and rotting corpses, so we can assume this is where he decided the Goodes lived. But they aren’t there! Ezra throws a fit, and when Jane says that she doesn’t want their children living in a town full of bodies he pulls the ‘wives should be obedient’ card and says they are staying there for the foreseeable future, and that he’s going to find The Goodes.
The Fier family settles in okay, though Ezra is still a Ahab-esque tyrant. A few weeks after moving in, Ezra says to Jonathan that they are going to visit some farms a few miles away. But instead of exchanging pleasantries, Ezra immediately asks if they know about the Goodes. The first family just tells him to leave, and the second family threatens to cut his throat. Ezra says that this is proof of how evil the Goodes are because EVERYONE hates them, and to me I would say it’s a good sign to just let it the hell go. Ezra thinks these neighbors have to be hiding something.
The next day Abigail tells Jonathan she wants to go to the village. Jonathan says that they aren’t supposed to wander too far (doesn’t bring up the fact that it’s filled with rotting bodies), but Abigail says that he’s chicken. Given that being teased by his little sister will not stand, he agrees and they go. Yep, still filled with a bunch of bodies, but Abigail takes it upon herself to find bodies of animals and give them a proper burial. Super Goth there, Abigail. She keeps insisting that they go back so she can do this, and one day while they’re in town she wants to go so far as to bury the body of a girl. Jonathan says that they’d need a coffin for a person, and instead of being swayed Abigail says that they should look for a box. This girl is giving me Mayhem’s lead singer Dead vibes what with her strange fascination with death and decay. Jonathan inexplicably agrees and goes into the tavern to find a box, and when he returns Abigail is gone. He goes to find her, and then sees her playing with another little girl. When he approaches them the girl runs off, and Abigail says that her name is Hester. He asks where this girl lives, thinking that maybe there are people still alive in town, but Abigail says she doesn’t know. They go back to their house, and Jonathan doesn’t seem at all worried.
The next day Jonathan is in town digging a grave for a baby (this is also thrown out there with the nonchalance of him digging a grave for a hamster or a goldfish, by the way), and he realizes that Abigail hasn’t returned from fetching a grave marker. He eventually finds her and Hester playing in a cemetery. And then Hester grabs Abigail and pulls her into an open grave! Jonathan runs there and sees Abigail pop out of the coffin, and that’s enough death metal shenanigans for one day, and he grabs her by the arm and says they’re going home much to her protestations. The next day Jane says that they aren’t allowed to leave the property because they have to watch Rachel. But Ezra pretty much derails that when he asks Abigail to go for a walk with him, and says that Jonathan can handle it on his own and that he likes Abigail’s company. As Jonathan watches them walk away through the window, he sees Hester meet them in the road. Not trusting this weird coffin hopping kid, Jonathan rushes outside. Hester asks Ezra if Abigail can come to her house, and when Jonathan tells his Dad not to let her go, Ezra blows him off and says that Abigail can go. Jonathan begs him to let him go with, but Ezra says that SOMEONE has to watch Rachel (though gee, Ezra, up until this point you were just going for a meandering walk, maybe YOU could watch your own damn kid!). Jonathan obeys. Big surprise, Abigail isn’t home by suppertime. Ezra insists that she’s fine, but we all know better, don’t we? Ezra goes to look for her, and Jonathan comes too. They hear the sounds of girls’ laughter on the wind, and eventually follow it to a grave… And the headstone says Hester Goode!! And uh oh, next to the grave there is a new grave, with a headstone that says ABIGAIL FIER!! Ezra freaks and uses his hands to dig up the dirt, and there is Abigail, super dead.
Jump forward six years, and Ezra is putting Rachel to bed with the bedtime story of the time he and Jonathan found Abigail in a shallow grave. Wholesome bedtime storytelling at it’s finest. They’ve moved away from plague town and somehow they got richer in that time as Ezra has just kind of resold whatever supplies they’ve had extra of. This is their newest home and they’re just settling in. There’s a knocking at the door, and Jonathan goes to answer it. A pretty girl is on the stoop, and she says her name is Delilah Wilson and she lives down the road. She brought a pie to welcome the new neighbors. Jonathan takes her to the parlor (DAMN, they did do well for themselves), and tells his mother about Delilah. He goes to tell Ezra, but Ezra is too busy obsessing in his office and pawing at his amulet (you know the one). Rachel sneaks out of bed to go meet Delilah too, and when Jane sees her she has a momentary grief spell where she thinks Rachel is Abigail. After being gently corrected, she goes to prepare the pie. Jonathan and Rachel talk with Delilah, and Delilah asks why they’ve moved so much. Rachel, not one to play it cool, says it’s because of the family curse and tells her all about it. Rachel is all in on the Goode hate train, but Jonathan blames Ezra for Abigail’s death.
A few days later Jonathan is in town and he sees Delilah. She says she’s come from her father’s church and is on the way home, and he offers to escort her. He apologizes for his family’s behavior, especially Rachel’s, but Delilah says that she loved outlandish stories when she was a little girl too. Jonathan is very smitten, and that night he’s thinking about her as he’s falling asleep. He thinks he hears someone calling for help outside and a strange noise, but when he runs to his window he sees nothing out there. He thinks he’s imagining things, but can’t sleep the rest of the night.
The next day Jan asks Jonathan to go get kindling and asks Rachel to go get water from the well. As he’s gathering wood he hears Rachel screaming, and runs to the well to see what’s going on, Jane and Ezra leaving the house. Rachel points at the bucket, and it’s filled with blood. Ezra says that it’s the curse, and when Jonathan says that that isn’t real Ezra calls him foolish, and that there have to be Goodes nearby. Jonathan, sick of his family’s histrionics, goes to call on Delilah. He meets her father, Reverend Wilson, and then he and Delilah go for a walk. He confides in her about the noise and the bucket of blood, and she says that there has to be a rational explanation. But now Jonathan isn’t so sure, but he likes how sensible Delilah is.
That night, Jonathan is awakened by footsteps in the hallway. When he opens his door he sees Jane, crying out for Abigail. She insists that she heard Abigail calling to her. Jonathan says that she has to have been dreaming, and leads her back to bed. The same thing happens the next night, though Ezra is the one to take care of Jane that time. It happens again and again, and Rachel says that she wants to do something for Jane to cheer her up. They start to plant some roses, and Delilah pays them a visit. They all sit in the shade, and tell Delilah what has been going on with their mother, how she keeps saying she sees Abigail in the backyard. Rachel thinks it’s a ghost, and Jonathan thinks it’s hallucinations. Delilah suggests that it could be dream, meeting in the middle of two extremes. But that night, Jonathan hears Abigail, and Rachel says that she saw her outside her window, warning her, though she doesn’t know of what.
The next day Jonathan goes to visit Delilah. Jane sends sweet rolls with him, and when Jonathan gets to Delilah’s house her father asks how Jane is doing. Jonathan says not well, and when he and Delilah go for a walk he tells her that now he has heard Abigail and Rachel saw her. Delilah starts to cry, and when he asks what’s wrong says that she would never wish harm upon his family. He’s confused, and she tells him that she and her father are leaving town soon, and that it’s for the best. When he begs her to stay, she says that he has to go, even though she obviously doesn’t want him to do so. Jonathan leaves with a broken and confused heart.
Shortly before dawn the next morning Jonathan is awakened by a terrible scream. He looks out the window and sees nothing, but when Ezra and Rachel come downstairs Ezra says that Jane is gone. They search high and low and can’t find her, and after hours of looking Jonathan goes to the well to get some water… but the bucket is VERY heavy. He calls to Ezra to help him pull up the bucket, and when they do Jane’s body is sitting in it, drowned.
Jonathan is all in on the curse business now. And it suddenly occurs to him that Delilah’s sadness and insistence on leaving might have something to do with all of this. He and Rachel rush to her house, and he confronts her. Delilah tells him that she is, in fact, a Goode. She says that she and her father changed their name after they were run out of Wickham after they were blamed for the plague. She said that she hadn’t believed in the curse and that when he hadn’t either she thought that it really couldn’t be true, but now she thinks that it is. She tells him that there’s only one way to end it: a Goode and a Fier have to get married. Jonathan says that he’s in love with her so that’s not a problem, and even Rachel, who has been indoctrinated by Ezra her whole life, is on board! Delilah says she’s worried the curse will try and stop their wedding, but Jonathan says they can just get married today! WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG!?
So Jonathan and Delilah rush to the church and Reverend Wilson is going to marry them, but before they can finish the ceremony Ezra bursts in with his rifle. Rachel, carrying the “Fier Narc Trait” says that she told him because he MADE her, and girl? How hard is it to make up some LIE?! Ezra says that all Goodes must die, and raises his rifle. Jonathan lunges at him, and they fight over it, but it goes off, and it shoots Delilah! Ezra then points the rifle at Reverend Wilson, and repeats that ‘all Goodes must die’, but then Wilson drops a huge bombshells: THEY AREN’T ACTUALLY GOODES. He told Delilah to lie to Jonathan because the curse is infamous and they are poor while the Fiers are rich. He convinced her to lure Jane out of the house at night to make her think it was Abigail, but they never intended for her to fall in the well. Delilah felt awful about everything. Jonathan said he’d marry her anyway, whether she was a Goode or not. Ezra starts to have a nervous breakdown, and runs out of the church in a frenzy, and is promptly trampled by a horse. Before he dies he gives Jonathan the amulet and tells him to avenge his death… But Jonathan swears that he is stopping the feud now. When he eventually buries Ezra’s body, he buries the pendant with him.
BUT NORA TELLS US THAT IT DOESN’T STOP THERE!
It took one hundred years, but yes, there’s more.
Flash forward to 1843, still Western Massachusetts. A teenager named Elizabeth Fier is in her backyard digging up the ground for a new planting project, when she finds a rusty metal box. She digs around the dust (IT’S CREMAINS, ELIZABETH!!!) and finds a pretty silver amulet. She doesn’t know what the words ‘dominatio per malum’ mean, but perhaps her brother Simon would know. She joins her family for dinner, which includes brother Simon, sister Kate (oh gosh), father Samuel, and mother Katherine, who tells her to go wash her hands (thank GOODNESS). Elizabeth shows them all the necklace as they eat, but then she has a vision of the dining room being engulfed by flames. But since the vision stops and nothing else happens, Elizabeth plum forgets about it!
Several weeks later, there is a knock on the door around dinner time. Elizabeth answers, and sees a dirty and malnourished looking man on the stoop. He looks at her necklace, an then says that he needs help. He’s hungry, and will gladly work for food. Mr. Fier tells the man that they have plenty of food to go around, and invites him in. Generous, but not something I’d have done! You have no idea who this guy is! Eventually as he’s eating he says his name is Franklin, and after he lost his family and the farm he’s been wandering around picking up odd jobs. He says that after he eats they should give him a task, but they say that they have no work to be done but instead offer him a bath. Elizabeth watches him start to undress, and even though he’s described as skeletal and thin he somehow still has enough muscle mass in his back that they ‘ripple’. Elizabeth rushes off. When he joins them in the parlor after his bath, Elizabeth realizes that he’s SUPER cute. But little do the Fiers know that Franklin is deliberately trying to gain their confidence and trust, and then he will turn on them all and they will pay for the pain that his family had to endure at their hands. Because his name is Franklin GOODE!
The Fiers insist that he stay, and Elizabeth is totally smitten with him.
Elizabeth spends time with Franklin the next day and they go for a walk. She takes him up to a spot where she used to play with Kate and Simon when they were kids, and confides in him about a strange old woman with a cane who scared them back then. People called her Old Aggie and it was rumored that she was a witch. Franklin asks where she got her necklace, and she says she found it. He says that he hopes that it can keep her safe from harm, and she’s certain he’s in love with her just as she is with him.
At dinner that night Franklin continues to charm the Fiers. They ask him what happened to his family, and he tells them that they all died one by one, though no one could figure out why. He said that no one would take him in lest he be a carrier for a mysterious illness, and that he’s worried that the curse will strike him dead too. Elizabeth feels so bad for him, but notices that Kate, too, is looking at him with pity. Which makes her SUPER jealous. In the parlor Elizabeth asks Kate what her deal is, and Kate says that she likes Franklin like everyone else, and so what? Franklin watches the awkward exchange and is happy his plan is working.
The next day Franklin and Elizabeth go for a walk, and they sit down at the same place that she brought him to from her childhood. He tugs the ribbon out of her hair, and she is excited to see what he’s going to do. She isn’t at all suspicious when he loops it around her neck. In FACT, she’s excited to see what he’ll do next because this is clearly normal courting behavior! He’s about the strangle her, but then Old Aggie hobbles out of the woods. Elizabeth panics and jumps up, foiling Franklin’s plan and dragging him out of the woods and back towards home. She apologizes for ruining their perfect(!!!!) afternoon, and he says nothing. They go inside and find Kate cooking some soup. When she sees them (and Elizabeth’s hair rumpled and UNDONE), she runs out of the kitchen. Elizabeth thinks that’s odd, but Franklin says she’s probably fine.
A few weeks later Elizabeth is waiting for Franklin to come find her, and decides to work on her knitting to pass the time. She hears the door thinking it’s Franklin, but instead it’s Kate. And she has interesting news. She and Franklin are getting married!!! The entire family gathers in the parlor to hear the good news, but then Elizabeth starts screaming that SHE loves Franklin and he loves her, and that Kate stole him from her! Kate is confused, and Elizabeth runs out of the house determined to find Franklin. Kate follows after her. Mr. and Mrs. Fier tell Simon to follow and see what is going on. He goes into the woods and hears his sisters voices, but then hears a horrible scream. He runs to the clearing where they used to play, and finds something horrible: Kate is sprawled on one of the big rocks, and she’s dead, with a knitting needle in her heart!
In the parlor Elizabeth is muttering to herself that Kate was a liar and that Franklin loves her, but when her parents look at her in abject horror she is like “WHY DO YOU THINK I DID THIS?!” Well, maybe because you’re more concerned about Franklin being your boyfriend rather than your sister being found murdered with YOUR KNITTING? When she and Franklin are alone he tells her that HE believes her, and knows that Kate must have killed herself because she was obviously unstable. After all, he NEVER said that he wanted to marry her, Kate was deluded, and he and Elizabeth should elope straight away. She says that she’d love to marry him! Franklin thinks about how he killed Kate, and how this is all going according to plan.
Simon has to get away from his grieving parents and his batty younger sister, so he goes for a walk in the woods. He finds himself back at the scene of the crime, and thinks about the evil that killed his sister. He also muses that there is evil inside of him as well, he feels it, and clunky exposition much? Someone grabs his arm, and he turns around and it’s Aggie. She takes his hand and tells him that Franklin Goode killed Kate and is going to kill Elizabeth. She says that ‘fire’ is in the Fier name, and that is how they’ll all come to an end, and ALSO tells him about the curse that the Goodes cast because of the Fier’s evil deeds. She gives him a dagger with a poison tip and tells him that this will stop Franklin, but to be careful as it only works once. He says that he will be, and runs back home.
And when he gets home it’s a mess. Franklin has murdered Mr. and Mrs. Fier with an axe and he’s threatening Elizabeth! He tells Simon that he’s the last of the Goodes and he’s going to destroy the Fiers. They start to scuffle, and even though Simon does stab Franklin with the dagger it doesn’t seem to work. Franklin is about to hack Elizabeth, but then the poison DOES work after all and he falls down dead. Simon and Elizabeth hug, but instead of being like ‘whoa, that guy was totally nuts but that’s behind us’, Simon starts to think about how goodness never did anyone any good and that being evil is the way to go. Elizabeth gives him the silver amulet and says that it must have protected her, and that he should have it so that HE can have the power. HOW ARE YOU COMING TO THESE CONCLUSIONS?! WHY DO YOU THINK HE DESERVES ANY POWER MORE THAN YOU DO?! Simon vows that he won’t let his family die in flames, and that obviously to break that prophecy is to change his name. The Goodes are dead, the curse (that he JUST learned about not twenty minutes before and has no reason to think is real) has lifted, and he’s going to change his name to FEAR.
And Nora tells us that, given that she’s a Goode, the story is far from over. TO BE CONTINUED.
Body Count: 8! And along with that an entire town of people!
Romance Rating: I GUESS I’m going to give it a 5, since Delilah did love Jonathan, even if she lied to him and was complicit in his mother’s death. Until her father manipulated her they went well together.
Bonkers Rating: 7. Not as crazy as “The Betrayal”, but that murder spree at the end and murderous child ghosts showed just how over the top it could be.
Fear Street Relevance: 10 again! We’re getting all the dish on the Fear family, after all!
Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:
“I will become your sisters’ only hope. Then I will watch them die, one by one. Frank slid his queen across the board. ‘Checkmate,’ he said, grinning.”
Oh, a chess metaphor, HOW ORIGINAL.
That’s So Dated! Moments: Again, as this is historical fiction that doesn’t really apply.
“”The letters in your name – they can be rearranged to spell ‘fire’. Fier. Fire. Fier. Fire.'”
Yeah, we, uh, we get it.
Conclusion: “The Secret” was a little more haphazard than “The Betrayal”, but overall it bridged the time periods well, as the final book will no doubt cover Simon Fear and all of his bullshit. Cannot WAIT to see how that goes. Up next for our very final “Fear Street” book (for the foreseeable future) is “The Burning!
Publishing Info: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, April 2012
Where Did I Get this Book: audiobook from the library!
Book Description: Seventeen-year-old Ismae escapes from the brutality of an arranged marriage into the sanctuary of the convent of St. Mortain, where the sisters still serve the gods of old. Here she learns that the god of Death Himself has blessed her with dangerous gifts—and a violent destiny. If she chooses to stay at the convent, she will be trained as an assassin and serve as a handmaiden to Death. To claim her new life, she must destroy the lives of others.
Ismae’s most important assignment takes her straight into the high court of Brittany—where she finds herself woefully under prepared—not only for the deadly games of intrigue and treason, but for the impossible choices she must make. For how can she deliver Death’s vengeance upon a target who, against her will, has stolen her heart?
Review: Our bookclub theme this go-around is books that have been on our TBR list for over two years. And there are a lot. My lists is somewhere in the mid-300s though, so cut me some slack! But while going through it, I tried to match up a few titles with ones that are currently available at the library in audiobook format and I struck across “Grave Mercy” and thought “Why not? Killer nuns sounds pretty neat.” And here we are. Sadly, killer nuns were not, in fact neat. But one could argue that the story wasn’t really about that anyways, so some other author could still cash in on what sounds like a cool idea.
Just as Ismae’s life is taking a distinct turn for the worst (an arranged marriage, said husband being an abusive jerk, etc. etc.), she’s caught up by a mysterious organization., a convent that follows an old god, one who calls upon his followers to take out evil in the world. The convents train in these deadly arts to carry out this work. With a new route before her, Ismae excels in her new life and role. But when the straight-forward plan of killing targets gets caught up in a much more murky world of courtly politics, Ismae finds herself out of her depth. Add in some romantic feelings, and she’s in a real mess.
To start with any pros, the best thing this book has going for it is the cool premise. I was excited to pick up this book, as assassins always seem like they would be good for an action-packed story full of potentially interesting moral quandaries. Unfortunately, the book itself fails to follow through on this premise, so even that is a pretty luke warm pro.
My biggest problem with this book comes down to the writing itself, both the style of sentences construction as well as the numerous plotting issues. I’m not personally a fan of first person present tense writing, and this one definitely falls prey to the weaknesses of this tense. The voice is often wooden and off-putting. Her emotions are conveyed using a handful of cliches that do nothing to really show us Ismae’s feelings, rather just informing us of them, as a matter of fact. I’m not sure I would have loved the character of Ismae had she been presented in another way, but this definitely didn’t help.
The other big problem with the writing is the way numerous writing crutches are used. The story opens with Ismae’s abusive first day of married life, quickly moves on to her being taken in by the convent and informed, succinctly, of their role in the world. Then two seconds later Ismae’s all on board and we have a time jump. Suddenly, she’s now this badass assassin out on her first mission. It all happens too fast and readers are left to just swallow it all, no questions. There is far too much telling and no showing. We never see Ismae gain any of these so-called skills, and with the introduction of a magical knife that kills with just the barest touch, we’re left wondering why any training is needed at all.
Frankly, it feels as if the author did the barest amount of work in the beginning of her story to get to the part she really wanted to write about. Which, fine. But if that’s your goal, just skip it all together and introduce these pieces of history as the current story plays out. This method would have worked much better and solved several of these problems.
I also struggled with the romance. It’s pretty much just what you would think, so I don’t really need to even bother explaining any of the details. But given Ismae’s early marriage (which, by the way, seems fairly valid and never is addressed again) and the abuse that came with it, I would have hoped for a more nuanced approach to her love story. Instead, we have generic googly eyes at the hawt guy and, again, a long list of cliched descriptions and emotions.
Assassin books are a strange thing for me, now. I feel like I really like them. But when I try to think of examples of books with this theme that I’ve enjoyed, there are really very few. And on the other hand, a rather long list of books with this plot that I’ve absolutely hated. It makes sense: how do you write about something as brutal as assassination without also taking the time to really address the moral issues at the heart of it? Far too many authors simply want the badass points of it all without the latter responsibility to the emotions and decisions behind it. So we end up with books like this, where we’re told that our main character is a badass and then proceed on to a pretty bland love story that is more focused on court politics that assassinations, anyways.
Rating 4: The weak writing really killed this one for me.
Publishing Info: Knopf Books for Young Readers, March 2019
Where Did I Get This Book: The library!
Book Description:It’s a school completely off the grid, hidden by dense forest and surrounded by traps. There’s no electricity, no internet, and an eye-for-an-eye punishment system. Classes include everything from Knife-Throwing and Poisons to the Art of Deception and Historical Analysis. And all of the students are children of the world’s most elite strategists—training to become assassins, counselors, spies, and master impersonators. Into this world walks November Adley, who quickly discovers that friends are few in a school where personal revelations are discouraged and competition is everything. When another student is murdered, all eyes turn to November, who must figure out exactly how she fits into the school’s bizarre strategy games before she is found guilty of the crime…or becomes the killer’s next victim.
Review: Adriana Mather is one of those authors whose books I am probably always going to pick up no matter what. I so enjoy the “How to Hang a Witch” series, and when I saw that Mather had a new book that started off a new one I was a little bummed that I had to wait a bit longer before she revisits Samantha and Elijah, but excited at the prospect of a new series with new characters. And, lo and behold, this new series takes place at a BOARDING SCHOOL WITH A SHADY SET UP!! Bring on the drama! I will gladly bask in all of it!
“Killing November” is definitely more focused on being a thriller and mystery that Mather’s previous series, and I think that this is both a strength and a weakness. The reason it’s a strength is because of the character of November herself. We know that her father has been involved with some espionage and secret government work, so when she awakens in a strange room and at a strange school she’s never heard of, we know that while she’s heard of shit and seen some shit in theory, she will still have some adjusting to do. November is a fun protagonist, because she’s both pragmatic in her personality (aka I completely believed her as being a bit more cynical and world weary thanks to her family background), and yet still in the dark enough that she has HUGE adjustments to make at this new, bizarre school that focuses more on combat, violence, and duplicity than your average educational institution might. November finds herself having to learn about knife throwing, poisons, and psychological warfare, without being given any kind of background, so she is the perfect stand in for the reader in terms of learning everything she can, with severe consequences if she can’t catch on fast enough. Because of this gulf between her and the other students, watching connections and friendships form was more unique than we might usually expect from a story with a similar premise, mostly because of the inherent distrust between the students based on social structures and the violent skills they’re learning. November’s closest ally is her roommate Layla, who is astute and sharp and cunning, but doesn’t hold friendships at the same value level as November, and therefore the readers, do. Because of this, watching their social interactions (along with the social interactions between November and Layla’s brother Ash, who may or may not be hiding his own motivations) was fascinating and rewarding as they slowly unfolded, in spite of the inherently distrustful setting of the school. Along with that I liked how the underlying social structures of this school worked. It’s a bit of a spoiler to go into it in too great of detail, but think of it like Hogwarts Houses, but revved up rivalries to deadly degrees. Throw in some good old fashioned blood feuds and you have for a plot line that I could sink my teeth into.
I think that the biggest drawback, however, is that while Mather is great when it comes to building these foundations and relationships, the main question of who is trying to hurt November and why didn’t pull me in as much. I cared about her as a character and wanted her to be safe, but I didn’t feel all that invested in who the killer at the school was, and why they would be going after November specifically. It wasn’t even that the ultimate solution was bare boned or too predictable; it was well plotted out and I found it to be believable as well as a surprise. It was just that ultimately, this plot wasn’t where the storytelling was richest for me. I liked the characterizations and the world building far more than the main plotline of this first book. My hope is that, should this series continue, in the next books with all the world building and November’s alliances and trustworthy cohorts established (as of now), I will be more interested in the twists and turns that are thrown into whatever adventure she and her classmates go on next.
“Killing November” has some very solid promise to be a fun new series from Adriana Mather. And while I’m still waiting for the next “How To Hang A Witch” book, I can now add the next “November” book to my list of anticipated reads!
Rating 7: With interesting characters and a compelling background story for the school, “Killing November” has promise, even if the main mystery didn’t grab me as much as I’d hoped it would.
Book: “The Betrayal” (The Fear Street Saga #1) by R.L. Stine
Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, 1993
Where Did I Get This Book: The library!
Book Description:The Secret is Out!
Why do so many horrifying things happen on Fear Street? Nora knows.
She knows how the terror began. She knows about the young girl who burned at the stake–and the bloody feud between two families that caused the unspeakable horror that has lasted 300 years!
She knows, and she wants to tell.
Are you sure you want to hear it?
Had I Read This Before: No
The Plot: I thought that the best and most appropriate way to end my “Fear Street” re-read would be to read the trilogy that gives an origin story to Fear Street itself. So we’re going back in time!
We start in the Village of Shadyside in 1900. A girl named Nora Goode is watching Fear Mansion as it burns to the ground, hoping that her beau Daniel Fear will come out. But it looks like everyone is trapped inside. As the other neighbors speculate that the fire will burn forever and that the family is cursed, Nora holds the necklace that Daniel gave her in her hands. In a fit of desperation she runs to the window to look inside, and inside she sees a lot of distorted faces in agony, including that of a young girl tied to a stake. The window explodes outwards thanks to the heat, but Nora still stares inside.
Now we’re going even further back to the Wickham Colony of Massachusetts in 1692! We’re now following a teenage Puritan named Susannah Goode, who lives with her mother Martha, her father William, and baby brother George. Martha dotes on the baby and already sees Susannah as a nuisance it seems, and I’m getting shades of the dysfunctional family in “The Witch” here because CLEARLY teenage girls are sinful or some shit. That said, Susannah has been thinking a lot about a certain special boy in town.
Susannah says she needs to got get firewood and her mother says that walking outside alone is dangerous these days because the local Magistrate, Benjamin Fier, has been targeting young women as witches for doing ANYTHING suspicious, like living their lives. The most recent ‘witch’ is Abigail Hopping, whom Benjamin claims was singing songs of The Evil One (honestly same). Susannah can’t believe that her friend is a witch, but promises to be careful. She goes to gather firewood and passes Benjamin Fier as he’s going to no doubt interrogate Abigail because she was probably not wearing her cap right or something. But Susannah knows that Benjamin is not only a ‘fair and righteous man’ (GAG), but he is also the richest man in town along with his brother Matthew. And obviously they are so successful and prosperous because they are SO RIGHTEOUS. Benjamin Fier also has a history of conducting other witch trials and executions across Massachusetts, and insists that the witches have to burn as opposed to hanging, probably because it sounds more brutal. Also, Susannah has a thing for Benjamin’s son Edward, who is almost assuredly NOTHING like this tyrannical father or anything like that, right?
Susannah decides to take a quick detour into the woods, even though she’s been told that the witches in town like to go there to worship The Evil One. I mean, it’s not like random girls are being persecuted as witches for any old thing, right? No problem! Suddenly someone grabs her, but instead of The Evil One it’s Edward! He scolds her for even thinking that he could be The Evil One because the village is full of witches no according to his father. Susannah says she’s so upset about her friend Faith, who had just recently been burned as a witch, and Edward assures her that his father no doubt has AMPLE proof of her evil ways! She says that they have to stop meeting in secret, because it could get her in trouble, and he brushes that off in the way that only a certain kind of privilege can bring. She jokes that what if The Evil One is watching them and he straight up scolds her for joking about that, and he sure seems like a fun date to bring to parties. They hear the townsfolk getting ready to burn Abigail, and when she expresses sadness about it he says that if she’s a witch she deserves to burn. She asks when he’ll tell his father about them, and he says when the time is right he will, and hey buddy, that’s all well and good for you because YOU won’t be accused of being a witch just for looking at a person of the opposite sex in a way that isn’t deemed ‘righteous’! She is excited that she’s going to be married to Edward Fier, and I think it sounds like a raw deal for her.
Over dinner that night the Goodes wonder aloud how it is that even though they grow in the same soil the Fiers always have bigger and more plentiful vegetables than they do. Martha also casually wonders just where it is that this new family came from, because they know it wasn’t England. William then confronts Susannah about the fact he’s seen her meeting with Edward in secret. He tells her that’s super dangerous, but Susannah insists that they’re in love and doing nothing wrong, and that he’s going to marry her. But William has to break the news to her that Benjamin Fier told him just that morning that Edward was engaged to be married to a girl from Portsmouth! Heartbroken, Susannah goes to bed and cries her eyes out. Cut your losses, Susannah. YOU CAN STILL GO TO THE WOODS AND JOIN THE WITCHES! LIVE YOU BEST LIFE!
Meanwhile, across town, Edward is talking with his asshole of a father Benjamin, saying that he refuses to marry Anne Ward. Benjamin tells him that Anne Ward is a good match for the families (I assume it has to do with wealth and land ownership), but Edward tells him that he’s not in love with Anne. No fucking duh, you moron, this kind of thing isn’t about love, and Benjamin tells him as much when he reminds his weenie son that when he and Matthew first came to America they had to eat rats to survive, and doesn’t want that for his kid. By marrying Anne he will get access to a tea importing fortune and become even MORE wealthy, in spite of the fact that Benjamin is already town Magistrate and Matthew is the most successful farmer. Edward confesses that he loves Susannah, and Benjamin says that she’s poor as fuck so THAT’S not going to do. Edward says he intends to marry for love, not money, and Benjamin tells him he’s not marrying Susannah and that’s that.
Some time later Martha and Susannah are preparing dinner, Susannah still sulking about Edward’s engagement, when Benjamin and a couple of Puritan thugs bust into their home. He tells the thugs to watch the women as he looks for proof, and he reaches into a pot and pulls out a vial with a chicken’s foot, a charm, and perhaps blood. He says that this proves that they are witches! Susannah says that they’ve never seen that before, and Benjamin says they’re lying and they’re going to be taken to the jail. Martha and Susannah are horrified, but manage to pass baby George off to a neighbor named Mary Halsey as they’re hauled away. And honestly, this seems pretty accurate given that it’s said that sometimes accusations of witchcraft were done for political gains during this time period. Hell, during ANY time period!
Mom and daughter are standing together in a prisoner’s box in the town hall, and will be tried and convicted and burned before the week is done. Susannah says that the people in town KNOW they aren’t bad, but Martha is far more pragmatic and knows that they’ll see what they’re told to see. When a bat flies into the room, Matthew Fier accuses the women of conjuring it. William stands up and demands that his family be released as Matthew KNOWS that they aren’t witches, and Benjamin says that they don’t put innocent women on trial. They try to goad the ladies to confess, but they both refuse, and Susannah STILL thinks that Edward will come and save her. John Halsey, who has been watching baby George with Mary, says that they need to let William speak but he’s ignored and William is removed from the courtroom, but not before getting roughed up a bit. Benjamin shows off a bag of items he has deemed associated with witch craft, and Susannah and Martha still say it isn’t theirs. When they refuse to confess, he finds them guilty and sentences them to death by burning the next night.
As Susannah and Martha lie in their cell, Edward suddenly appears at the cell window. Susannah asks if he’s come to save them, but LOL NO WAY, he’s come to yell at her about being a witch!
He asks how she could betray him, and OH BOY IS THAT A JOKE. He says that she tried to lead him astray with The Evil One, and when she says she’s innocent he says that there’s no WAY because he told his father his feelings about her and would his FATHER HURT HIM SO BY FALSELY ACCUSING HER? NO WAY! He tells her off and ditches her, leaving her heartbroken.
Across town William is probably trying not to have a nervous breakdown, and Matthew Fier knocks on his door. Matthew says that he can help change his brother’s mind, but it’s going to cost William money to do so. 100 pounds, to be exact. William says that he only has 80 pounds to his name, and Matthew says that that won’t be enough, but is more than willing to accept a fancy belt buckle and whatever else William has instead. William gives Matthew the money and the finery and Matthew says he’ll take care of everything. William notices a fancy amulet around Matthew’s neck, and it has the phrase ‘Dominatio per malum’ engraved on it. William asks him what it means, and Matthew doesn’t give an answer. When William asks him about the bird claw design and says it’s sometimes called a demon’s claw, Matthew freezes, and then says that HE knows nothing about that and neither should William. He then rides off.
The next night William is elated that his wife and daughter are going to be freed, but, in a big fucking surprise, he gets to the town commons and Martha and Susannah are STILL being led off to be burned! William confronts the officers and tells them that he paid the Fiers to let them go, where are they so they can confirm it? And haven’t you heard? THE FIER FAMILY DISAPPEARED INTO THE NIGHT! No one knows where they are, and they didn’t give any word about stopping the execution. So Susannah and Martha are burnt at the stake anyway. William, absolutely devastated, returns to his home. He thinks about how not only did they die for things they didn’t do, but how he was totally bamboozled by their accusers. Mary brings George back and tells William that the baby needs his father, and William says that she has to hold onto him a little longer because he has something to do first. And THIS is where things get interesting. William enters a secret room in the house, one that Susannah and Martha never knew about, and PULLS OUT HIS OWN MAGICAL ITEMS!! William Goode IS a practicing Warlock (though I’m still pretty sure that those Fier assholes planted the witchcraft evidence because it sounds like William hid all his shit in this room, so fuck them)!!! And now he’s seeking his revenge!!!
Quick stop back to 1900, as we find out that Nora Goode is writing out her family history, trying to trace her lineage and the curse that is upon the Fear Family that as of now they have so richly deserved. She doesn’t remember how she got from the lawn of the burning mansion to safety, but knows that there was a reason for it.
Jumping back to 1710, we meet up with the Fier family once more. They’ve moved to Western Pennsylvania, and have made quite the lives for themselves. Edward didn’t end up marrying Anne Ward, but he did marry some woman named Rebecca and now they have a bratty son named Ezra. Matthew and his wife Constance now have a teenage daughter named Mary. They all seem very pleased with themselves, in spite of the fact Benjamin has been muttering that he feels like the family is cursed, mostly because the new shingles on the roof came off in a storm. Edward says he’ll take a look after supper, and assures Mary that the only curse the family has is his ‘crotchety old father’. I would argue psychopathic zealous father, but hey, potato, potahto. Meanwhile, someone is standing outside, hiding behind a tree. It’s William Goode, and after twenty years of searching he’s finally found the assholes who ruined his life. He watches Edward as he climbs up onto the roof, with Mary holding the ladder for him. She asks him to be careful and he brushes her off, so it’s no big shock when he manages to plummet off the roof. Mary screams, and everyone rushes out of the house (and Constance accidentally cut her wrist when she heard Mary scream, so she’s bleeding like a stuck pig). Edward is alive but his arm is broken. Benjamin keeps muttering about a curse.
After breakfast the next day Mary is returning from the henhouse (and thinking about the chaos from the night before), when she’s approached by a handsome young man on the road. He says that he’s looking for the owner of the estate, and she says that it’s her father Matthew Fier. She says she’ll take him to see him and he carries the egg basket like a true gentleman. She tells him that the farm has been growing steadily since before she was born, and Matthew lumbers out like some oafish bear on quaaludes. The man says his name is Jeremy Thorne and he’s looking for work, and while Matthew first tells him they don’t need help Edward comes out and is like ‘hello, my arm is broken?’. Once Jeremy tells them all that his father is ill and he’s the only one who can bring in income, Matthew decides to hire him. Mary is excited because he’s a hottie.
That afternoon Mary finds Jeremy by the well and they do some light flirting, and just as he’s about to kiss her Rebecca comes running out asking Mary if she’s seen Matthew or Edward, as something terrible has happened! Mary follows her back to the house and Benjamin in collapsed on the floor, staring up at the ceiling as if in a trance. He snaps out of it as Edward arrives, and while he’s not dead his left leg is suddenly paralyzed for no discernible reason. I’d say it’s karma, but we know it’s far more intentional.
Three days later, Mary has snuck off to meet Jeremy in a field where he’s clearing brush, and it seems that they’re already head over heels for each other as they’re already talking about how they can’t live without each other. Mary says that her uncle would never approve of this, but given that his entire left side is paralyzed at this point he has bigger worries to think about, I’d say. They kiss, and Mary is head over heels. Later that night she and Edward are walking through the woods on the property, and he is saying that not only is his father ill, but now Rebecca is acting sullen and distant, and maybe it’s because you leave her to care for your shitty child as if you didn’t have some hand in his creation. As they’re walking, however, they see that some of the trees are on fire! But when they get closer, it’s not trees that are on fire, it looks like a girl! A girl is ablaze and Edward starts to scream that it’s Susannah Goode! As the vision fades, Edward continues to scream.
Two days later Mary is telling Jeremy about what she saw, and he says it was probably a trick of the light, but she insists that it was something far more sinister. She says she’s going to bring sweet rolls to Rebecca to lift her spirits, and Jeremy asks her if she’s told her father about them yet. She says no, because when she told him about the girl in the fire he reacted very poorly, in that he grabbed the silver amulet around his mouth and got very quiet. She says she needs to get to Rebecca and Edward’s before the incoming storm starts, and then asks Jeremy if HE’S told HIS father about HER? He says no. So they’re both dragging their feet. When Mary gets to her cousin’s house, it starts to rain. She hopes that the sweet rolls will raise the spirits of her cousin, as his father’s paralysis got worse in the night and now Benjamin can only move his head and his right arm. As she searches through the house for her family, she stumbles upon something really upsetting: Rebecca has hung herself from the rafters! Mary screams, pukes, and then runs outside into the rain like a lunatic. She calls frantically for Edward, but then runs into what she thinks is a scarecrow. Except, it’s not. IT’S BENJAMIN, PROPPED UP LIKE A SCARECROW AND DEAD AS A DOORNAIL!
A couple days later the funerals have happened. Edward is practically catatonic and Ezra is now in the care of Constance because, once again, why would a father parent his own child when a woman can do it? Mary saw her father late at night chanting ‘Dominatio per malum’, but doesn’t know what it means, because not only do girls not get educated, they certainly aren’t educated in Latin. Mary sees Jeremy at the edge of the group, and follows him to the toolshed. He tells her that he knows who killed her uncle and Edward’s wife: it’s his father! His father isn’t a sick old man, his name is William Goode, and he is evil, but only because evil has been done to him! He’s been obsessed with the Fier family ever since Martha and Susannah were murdered, so much so that Jeremy’s older brother George returned to Massachusetts to escape his anger. Jeremy tells her about Benjamin murdering Susannah and Martha, Edward doing nothing to stop it, and Matthew stealing the money. He says that his father will keep seeking revenge unless they stop him, and he says that can do this if they get married. That way the families will unite in goodness. Mary accepts, and they embrace, but unfortunately Edward had followed her like a creep and now that he’s seen everything he fully intends on narcing on them because even STILL he believes his father was right in burning Susannah and her mother. PRICK! Though, he thinks about the vision he saw in the woods, and starts to have doubts. So he goes to confront Matthew (making sure to shove his son away when the little boy wants to see him, like the model father he is), who of course denies it all. But when Mary arrives Matthew relents, and then confesses everything to both of them, though he says it was all in Edward’s best interests. Why that had to involve stealing all of William’s money remains to be seen. Mary says she wants to marry Jeremy Goode, and Matthew says NO WAY, he’ll never marry her off to the son of a murderer. Edward and Mary remind him that he is ALSO a murderer, but they were poor WOMEN so who gives a shit, right? They fight and Mary says that she loves Jeremy and intends to marry him, and then Matthew suddenly relents, and says that after the mourning period has passed they will invite Jeremy AND William to dinner, and the feud will end. Mary is ecstatic.
So after a week passes Jeremy arrives and Mary is convinced that Matthew is going to give him her hand in marriage. But when Matthew enters the room, instead of shaking his hand, he yanks off his amulet and chucks it at Jeremy’s head… which in turn EXPLODES with graphic detail of brains and blood and everything. And up comes the head of someone else. WILLIAM GOODE! There never was a Jeremy, it had been William the whole time trying to steal Matthew’s only child away from him! But Matthew, who is ALSO a warlock, was too clever, and a wizard fight ensues, as Mary keeps calling out for Jeremy, Constance looks on in horror, and Edward just kinda stands there. Eventually Matthew yells out ‘Dominatio per malum, power through evil!’, and the spell turns William into dust. Matthew starts laughing, and once he starts he literally cannot stop. As Constance begs him to stop, Edward grabs Mary and Ezra and runs out of the house.
Another time jump, this time to 1725 in the Pennsylvania wilderness. Now Ezra is an adult, and reflecting upon what has happened since they ran away. Edward tried to raise him and Mary up on his own, but he eventually died of exhaustion and Mary, who was driven crazy by what happened that night, killed herself. Ezra blames the Goode family for everything that happened, and unfortunately he wasn’t privy to how his grandfather and father and great uncle were complete assholes. Hoping to get any info he can, he goes back to Matthew and Constance’s farm, not sure of what he’ll find. The place is basically abandoned. He does eventually find the skeletons of Matthew and Constance, and a diary left by Matthew talking about how he walled them in for safety and bashed Constance over the head when she tried to escape. The last pages are about how the Goodes and their treachery did this. Very convenient that he made NO mention of two innocent women who were burnt at the stake, hm? Ezra swears that he’ll get his revenge.
We end this book back in the Village of Shadyside in 1900 as Nora continues to write out her family history. She thinks about how the story is long and awful, but she is compelled to tell it. To Be Continued…
Body Count: 5 (nine if you include the off page deaths of Matthew, Constance, Edward, and Mary)! Some weren’t the most historically accurate of deaths, but whatever. If Stine wants to burn his witches, who’s to stop him?
Romance Rating: 2. I feel like Norah and Daniel are going to be something significant, but we haven’t seen them interact yet. But Edward was a piece of shit to Susannah and Jeremy was a big ol’ lie.
Bonkers Rating: 7! I was legitimately caught off guard by the William Goode reveal, Jeremy’s head exploding is pretty hard to deny as being bonkers.
Fear Street Relevance: It’s gonna get 10s across the board! This is the history of the Fear family, guys!
Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:
“‘Edward Fier is engaged to be married,’ her father said. “Edward is to marry a young woman of Portsmouth. His father told me this morning.'”
… Cliffhanger maybe, but Edward sounds like a true dink so Susannah should have cut her losses and went to join a REAL coven to free herself from the idiot men in her life.
That’s So Dated! Moments: Given that these are historical fiction novels that doesn’t really apply here.
“Innocence died today, But my hatred will live for generations. The Fiers shall not escape me. Wherever they flee, I will be there. My family’s screams shall become the Fiers’ tortured screams. The fire that burned today shall not be quenched – until revenge is mine, and the Fiers burn forever in the fire of my curse!”
Gotta say, this fired me up and made me solidly #TeamGoode.
Conclusion: “The Betrayal” was a dark and solid start to the three part origins of the Fear Family and Fear Street! It will be interesting to see how this Hatfields and McCoys-esque feud will escalate, as I have to imagine it’s just going to get worse. Up next is “The Secret”!
Book Description: In a world divided by meddlesome gods and treacherous oceans, only the Maarin possess the knowledge to cross the Endless Seas. But they have one mandate: East must never meet West.
A PIRATE WITH A WILL OF IRON
Teriana is the second mate of the Quincense and heir to the Maarin Triumvirate. Her people are born of the seas and the keepers of its secrets, but when her closest friend is forced into an unwanted betrothal, Teriana breaks her people’s mandate so her friend might escape—a choice with devastating consequences.
A SOLDIER WITH A SECRET
Marcus is the commander of the Thirty-Seventh, the notorious legion that has led the Celendor Empire to conquer the entire East. The legion is his family, but even they don’t know the truth he’s been hiding since childhood. It’s a secret he’ll do anything to protect, no matter how much it costs him – and the world.
A DANGEROUS QUEST
When an Empire senator discovers the existence of the Dark Shores, he captures Teriana’s crew and threatens to reveal Marcus’s secret unless they sail in pursuit of conquest, forcing the two into an unlikely—and unwilling—alliance. They unite for the sake of their families, but both must decide how far they are willing to go, and how much they are willing to sacrifice.
Review: I never got around to reading “Stolen Songbird,” but it’s been on my TBR list for quite some time and I know that a lot of people really enjoyed it. So when I saw a new title by this author available on NetGalley I thought, “Here’s my chance!” Unfortunately, this wasn’t a complete hit with me, however.
Two worlds divided by a vast ocean and with only one people who know of the existence of both. Teriana comes from this people and a family of peaceful traders. Marcus comes the opposite side of things, known for his keen tactics and manipulations that have seen him slowly but steadily gaining territory for his Empire. The two could not be more different, but each are thrown when secrets, betrayals, and political maneuverings begin fraying the edges of their lives. Now, these two unlikely comrades, must come together to chart a new path for themselves and their peoples.
I struggled with this book from the very start, but I don’t want to start my review with a list of complaints. As I read on, I did find some things that stood out as strengths, so I’ll highlight those first. One, while not as complex as I might have wished, I did enjoy the world building at the heart of this story. The clear inspirations from Ancient Rome were interesting not only for the cultural aspects, but also for how Marcus’s story of conquest plays out. I also enjoyed the general pacing of the book. It was a quick read and I flew through it pretty quickly. There were a few moments here and there where this pacing seemed to stumble, but overall it was a fast read and for those looking for a quick, easy read, this book will hit those marks.
But, like I said, I had struggles. These started right away with the introduction of Teriana whom I immediately had troubled connecting with. She reads as very immature, to the point that it was almost hard to believe that she was meant to be the age she is presented as. It’s hard to come back from first impressions like this, so while Teriana had some good moments throughout the story, I was never able to get over some of this. I didn’t have as many direct problems with Marcus, but he also didn’t connect for me. Not that there was anything standing out with the character as much as with Teriana’s, but…nothing really stood out with the character at all, either.
This book also suffered from a false expectations. There story is promoted as being about pirates and adventures on the high seas. Alas, no. This is much more of a political fantasy at its heart. Which would be fine on its own, since some of my favorite fantasy novels are political at their heart. But when I pick up a book being told its about one thing and then find out that that thing isn’t in it at all, we have problems. I really hate marketing ploys like this. There are readers for the book as it actually is, target them. Stop trying to misrepresent your book to his some type of fad. Do they actually think that readers who were tricked into picking up a book on the promise of one thing (pirates, in this case) are not going to notice when that thing isn’t even really there? You’re just going to end up with disappointed readers and miss out on the ones who would have truly enjoyed the book and praised it for what it actually is.
I also have to mention that the romance was not to my taste. I enjoy a good enemies-to-lovers romance as much as the next person, but it really is starting to get old. It feels like this is almost the only type of romance one finds anymore in YA fiction. And what’s worse, it always feels rushed. This is the first book in a series. Why do the main characters need to fall in love in this book? Isn’t it more believable that it would take longer than this to move from pretty opposite extremes, enemies to lovers? Plus, drawing it out builds anticipation. It’s a win/win. Trust that readers can appreciate some delayed gratification.
So, yes, this book wasn’t for me. I can’t say whether or not going in with my expectations properly targeted towards a political fantasy and away from pirates would have made all the difference, but it would have helped. Ultimately, however, poor characterization for Teriana and a tepid romance killed it for me.
Rating 6: Fails to bring anything new to the table, though it is a quick read if you’re looking for a beach book.
Book: “The Dead Lifeguard” (A Fear Street Super Chiller) by R.L. Stine
Publishing Info: Pocket Books, 1993
Where Did I Get This Book: An eBook from the library!
Book Description:In too deep…
The lifeguards at North Beach Country Club know they’re lucky. While other kids are flipping burgers, they’re sunning themselves by day and partying by night. So what if some people say the place is cursed, haunted. This is the life!
And then, one by one, the lifeguards start to die horrible deaths. Someone—or something—evil is stalking them. They all know how to save other people’s lives…but who will save theirs?
Had I Read This Before: Yes.
The Plot: We start with one of R.L. Stine’s patented Killer Talking To Potentially Imaginary/Dead Friend Intro®, with someone named “Mouse” talking to someone named Terry (with the ‘don’t talk just listen’ bit to make us think that maybe Terry CAN talk, but we all know better, right?). Mouse informs Terry that not only have they passed the lifeguard test, but they can’t stop thinking about that last summer, and how Terry is dead because of the lifeguards. So now it’s revenge time as Mouse is heading to North Beach Swim club to kill the lifeguards, as it’s their fault Terry is dead. Auspicious start!
We now move onto Lindsay Beck arriving at North Beach Country Club. She’s excited for the summer, so excited that she forgot to pack her sunblock! She’s a lifeguard again this summer, as she was the previous summer, and she wonders if anyone else has come back. As a rain storm starts up she rushes to the gate of the pool area, and she can see at least one of her fellow lifeguards inside the guest house. She tries to open the gate but it’s locked, and she remembers that she has an ID card that she can swipe to give access. But it too doesn’t work. She decides to start calling towards the guest house in hopes someone will hear her, but then she looks in the pool and sees a girl drowning in the pool. She screams.
Note: This book is split into multiple POVs per chapter, and while I tried to tackle them independently it just became too convoluted. So just know that sometimes narrators change and their reliability does too.
Danny is the head lifeguard and he’s having a meeting with his team. There’s Cassie, who has white blonde hair and a ‘sexy whispery’ voice and I’m just picturing Joey Lauren Adams (have I just dated myself?). Cassie is afraid of the thunder from the storm that’s just started. Then there’s Runty Arnie, who makes bad jokes; Deirdre, whose main feature is being ‘hot’ (I get that this is Danny’s POV but sheesh, that’s all the girl gets huh?); May-Ann, who is quiet and shy; and Pug, who sounds like a stereotype of a lifeguard with curly blonde hair and a meat head attitude. They suddenly hear screaming from outside. Danny and Arnie go running outside to see what Lindsay wants, and she tells them about the girl who is floating in the pool. But when they look they don’t see anything. Danny and Arnie lead her inside and she meets the other lifeguards. She tells them that she SWEARS she saw someone, there really was no one there. They ask her what she’s doing there and she says she’s a lifeguard like them. When Danny looks on his roster, he doesn’t see her name. She insists that she does TOO belong there, and shows him her ID card. Danny asks if this is the one that was just sent to her, and she says yes, but he points out that it’s two years old. While everyone else is looking at Lindsay like she’s a nut, May-Ann offers to let her get changed into dry clothes in her room. Lindsay asks everyone if everyone is new, and they confirm that they are, so no one will remember her from the year before. Pug says he was a guest the year before but doesn’t remember her, and they figure that Pete the athletic director will be able to clear it all up when he arrives. May-Ann lets Lindsay get changed and visits with her pet mouse Munchy (why you brought your pet to your summer job is kind of beyond me, but I get missing one’s pets), and then Lindsay asks May-Ann how all these things could be going so wrong, the ID card, the list, the girl she thought she saw. May-Ann says they will get it all sorted out. They go back into the main room, and after Arnie kills the conversation with another bad joke, May-Ann tells Lindsay that she knows who she saw in the pool: it was one of the resident ghosts. When pressed, she tells them that every summer a person dies. The summer before a fourteen year old boy drowned, and two summers ago one of the lifeguards drowned. May-Ann says that these ghosts haunt the club now, and while most of the people don’t believe her they all get a little freaked when the door to the room opens and no one is there. But then someone is there, another lifeguard who says he’s Spencer Brown and his ride was late. Lindsay is convinced that she recognizes him, and when she says hi he kind of balks, but then says he recognizes her too. Then Pete arrives and FINALLY, and adult presence. He asks Danny if he’s assigned rooms to everyone yet, and Danny says he has. But he also says that Lindsay is here and she isn’t on the list. Pete doesn’t remember her either, and asks her when they talked. She doesn’t remember. Pete thinks it’s weird that he doesn’t remember her either, but he says that since she’s passed her tests she can be alternate lifeguard, and Danny says she can bunk with May-Ann. While Deirdre and Cassie fight about assignments (but they’re really fighting about Pug because Deirdre likes him for some reason but be likes Cassie), Lindsay is relieved she can stay, but realizes she doesn’t remember ANYTHING about Spencer.
Cut to Mouse talking to Terry (aka talking into an off the hook phone as a busy signal no doubts shrills). Mouse asks Terry if they should kill their roommate first. After all, everything Mouse is doing is for Terry.
Over dinner Danny is jealous that Pug is getting all the attention from the ladies, Cassie is insisting upon building a fire even though it’s the dead of summer, and Lindsay is obsessing. She asks Spencer if he was the lifeguard when the kid drowned that past summer, but he says he wasn’t even on the property at that time and it sounds like he’s really worried about liability or something. She asks him if he has seen the ghosts, and he seems confused, but May-Ann insists they’re real. May-Ann is pretty much me as a tween and I really love her for that. Cassie screams and says she sees a ghost, but she’s just joking, which pisses May-Ann off and she storms out of the dining room. Danny asks his team to lay off May-Ann but no one seems to want to listen except Lindsay, who says it was her fault for asking Spencer about it. Soon Pug and Spencer are taking out the tried and true dick measuring contest by arm wrestling, and as Pug is pressing against Spencer’s arm there’s a huge CRACK sound. Spencer looks like he’s about to lose it, but SURPRISE, it was just Cassie breaking a piece of kindling! What a character! Everyone laughs as Spencer tries to stop his heart from beating through his ribcage, and he says that he would have won had Cassie not scared him. Pug then stuffs Arnie in a wastebasket and that’s the end of the night. When Lindsay goes back to her and May-Ann’s room to see if she’s okay, May-Ann isn’t there. Then a lame cliffhanger moment happens (more on that later) that establishes that May-Ann REALLY likes mice…. I smell seafood. Red herring, specifically.
Mouse POV again. Mouse is now telling Terry that everyone laughed at them tonight and that just won’t do. Revenge, Terry, killing, blah blah blah.
On Lindsay’s life guard shift the next day she’s lamenting her sunburn and noticing that Cassie and Pug have officially hooked up. Lindsay notices May-Ann getting all primped and asks her if she’s going out, but May-Ann doesn’t answer. Later that night, Lindsay is awakened from sleep by a voice outside the door of someone calling for help. May-Ann heres it too and they go to investigate, worried that someone is hurt or in danger. But NAH, it’s just Cassie and Pug again, playing a pretty dumb and reckless trick on them. Cassie gives May-Ann crap for thinking that she was a ghost, and hey Cassie, maybe she thought that you were someone in actual need of help? May-Ann tells her that she’ll be sorry, and rushes to her room crying.
At breakfast the next day Cassie has told everyone about her dumb prank and they tease Lindsay as she eats. She leaves for her shift before she can see what they do to May-Ann, and so much for roommate solidarity! While on her shift she notices all the ladies in the pool fawning over Pug and Cassie looking mad about it. After Artie relieves Lindsay she runs into Spencer, who is doing a great impression of a privileged rich woman who gave him a tip of twenty five cents and told him to put it towards his college fund, and if THAT doesn’t still sting I don’t know WHAT does. She tries to figure out how she knows him, as she still can’t remember, but he runs off before she can prod him. Later, she wakes up in the middle of the night, and sees May-Ann is missing. It’s so hot in the room she decides to go for a midnight swim in the pool. But when she goes outside, she sees the floating girl again! She doesn’t hesitate and jumps in, hoping to save her. But when she pulls her up, the girl’s face is HER FACE! It whispers ‘I’m Lindsay’, and then starts to decompose until it’s just a skull. Then Lindsay wakes up. Yep, it was just a dream. But May-Ann is still not in bed AND now there is another voice calling Lindsay’s name. Lindsay wonders if it’s May-Ann, and decides to follow it. She eventually winds up in the dining hall, and someone has built a HUGE fire in the fireplace. And…. in the fireplace… IS CASSIE! FACE FIRST! Lindsay pulls her out but yeah, it’s far too late, the girl’s face has been burned off. So now we know that Cassie was sultry, mean spirited, and decidedly NOT the Dragon.
The police arrive and start questioning everyone. Officer Malone asks Lindsay why she was in the dining room in the middle of the night, and Lindsay says she heard a voice, and Malone seems to be suspicious. Eventually the cops tell everyone they can go back to bed. May-Ann reiterates that someone dies every summer, and Danny thinks that she is smiling a little too much.
Mouse again. Mouse tells Terry that they killed one of the lifeguards and that they’ll let Terry know when they kill again. Yawn.
A couple days later Lindsay is trying not to think about the horribly mutilated body she found or the fact that the cops seemed suspicious of her. She then realizes that she hasn’t talked to her parents at all since she arrived, which is odd because USUALLY they’re all about communication. So she goes to her room and calls her number…. But the number is out of service. She tries again and again, but still no connection. She even tries calling information, but there is no one in Shadyside listed under her parents names. Thinking something is terribly wrong, she decides to drive down to Shadyside that day and see if they’re okay. Danny gives her permission to go, and she’s off. By the time she makes it to her home on Fear Street she’s in a panic. But she sees a woman through the screen door and bounds up the steps, relieved to see her Mom… but it isn’t her Mom, it’s a random woman. Lindsay says her family lives her, and the woman says there has to be a mistake. When Lindsay drops her name, the woman suddenly looks like she could pass out. She then informs Lindsay that Lindsay Beck is DEAD.
Understandably distraught, Lindsay returns to the country club and feels the need to find clues as to what the FUCK is going on. She sneaks into Pete’s office and finds her file. But when she opens it, she does see her status as ‘deceased’. There is also a newspaper clipping that details Lindsay Beck as drowning at the Country Club pool two years ago. LINDSAY IS THE DEAD LIFEGUARD.
Mouse again. Mouse hasn’t been talking to Terry for awhile because they’ve been so busy with their lifeguard duties. But don’t worry, they are still working on killing them all, they just have their tan to think about as well.
Two days after Lindsay’s trip to Shadyside she’s stewing and refusing to believe she’s dead. While Pug and Artie continue to display preenings of toxic masculinity by rough housing and sniping at each other, May-Ann tries to bring up the ghost talk again. Then Pug turns his unchanneled and unhealthy anger her way, and starts yelling at her (and if you think he’s still traumatized about Cassie, I can assure you he’s not; he’s already flirting with other girls). As everyone starts yelling at each other Arnie suggests that he and Lindsay go get some air. Lindsay agrees, but before long Arnie is shoving her up against a tree and trying to kiss her, and HOLY SEXUAL ASSAULT. Spencer then comes up the path and pulls Arnie off of her, and Arnie rushes off. Lindsay thanks him and they get to talking. She tries again to ask him if he can tell her anything about their friendship, and he evades the questions. He tells her that she left so suddenly that they didn’t have time to get to know each other, and then won’t tell her what that means.
The next day Lindsay is on duty, and we have a particularly cringey moment where Arnie comes up and tells her that he’s sorry about the night before, but that he’s not a bad guy, he just made a mistake. To make it even worse, Lindsay concedes that she may have ‘overreacted’, and I could have thrown my smartphone in disgust when I read this. Arnie then asks her if she wants to go on a date, and she turns him down. And he keeps pushing because GUYS, HE IS A PREDATOR. She doesn’t have to answer as he’s called away, and then Lindsay notices a woman staring at her. The woman says she recognizes her and asks her how she’s doing, but looks shocked to see her. Lindsay wants to yell at her that she is, in fact, alive, but the woman rushes off.
Dinner that night is tense, and while trying to take a walk to settle her mind Lindsay sees Pug and May-Ann arguing by the weight room, with May-Ann telling him to keep his big mouth shut. Is he about to reveal that he knows she’s a killer, or is it perhaps that he’s just a creepazoid asshole who has been picking on her ever since they arrived? Regardless of what it’s about, Lindsay can’t catch all the details, and Deirdre comes up behind her and bitches about how Pug is now hitting on May-Ann. Lindsay doesn’t think they’re romantically involved, as May-Ann has better taste than that I’m sure (projecting? Maybe). But then she sees them walk off together with his arm around her shoulders. Lindsay goes back to her room and tries her parents once more, but still nothing. She doesn’t think she’s dead, but also doesn’t know WHAT is going on. She falls asleep, but wakes up in the middle of the night again, and AGAIN May-Ann isn’t in the room. But that voices outside the door is back, and it tells Lindsay to follow. So, like a dummy, she does, and it eventually takes her to the weight room. And LO AND BEHOLD, there is Pug, and his windpipe has been crushed by a barbell! And then Lindsay turns around and sees Pete in the doorway!
The police come again, and Pete says that he found Lindsay standing over Pug’s body. Lindsay notices a spider crawling into Pug’s nose (YUCK). They all go to the common room for questioning, and Officer Malone really starts to press Lindsay about the voice she heard, and Lindsay shouts at her that she must think that Lindsay killed Pug! Always a good strategy, going apeshit on the police. Officer Malone says Lindsay needs to calm down, and when another officer asks her why she looks so familiar Lindsay wants to yell that she’s a ghost of a girl who died a couple years ago. Which also wouldn’t be sound, strategy wise. Lindsay then overhears May-Ann saying that she believes Lindsay, but also saw Lindsay looking at her and Pug right before Pug died with a strange look on her face.
MOUSE AGAIN. Bragging about Pug, saying they have the next target in mind, etc etc etc.
A few nights later Lindsay can’t take it anymore. While the police think that someone broke onto the property and killed Cassie and Pug, Lindsay feels like everyone thinks that she did it. She asks Danny to borrow his car keys and just decides to drive. Unfortunately, Arnie hid in the back seat, and when she confronts him about this unacceptably creepy behavior he said that he wanted to cheer her up. He tells her that he doesn’t think that she’s a killer, but then starts to put his hands on her again. She pulls over, gets out, goes around the car, opens his door, and DEMANDS that he get the FUCK out or else she’s going to flag down a car and call the police on his entitled, disgusting ass.
Lindsay gets back to the club and everyone is poolside. Danny is happy that she’s back okay, and she tells him that she left Arnie on the side of the road. They tell Lindsay to get in her swim suit and join them, and she agrees. They’re all having fun, until May-Ann pushes Deirdre into the pool. Deirdre is fine, but Lindsay starts to scream. When they all rush to her side, she says that she’s NOT Lindsay!! Her name is Marissa and she KILLED Lindsay! Well, kind of. She and Lindsay were lifeguards at the pool two years prior, and were thick as thieves. But one day they got in a petty argument by the pool and it turned physical. Marissa shoved Lindsay a little too hard, and Lindsay fell in the pool in just the right way that she hit her head on the concrete, cracking her skull open. Marissa was so traumatized she assumed Lindsay’s personality, unable to believe she was dead. She went to a mental hospital for a few months, but was discharged and everything was okay. But then she ran away and began thinking she was Lindsay again, which is how she came back here. Spencer asks her why she killed Cassie and Pug, and Marissa says that she didn’t, or at least doesn’t remember doing it. Spencer suggests that she blocked it out. But then Marissa remembers something. When they met up each other this summer, he did in fact say that SHE was Lindsay. He says that he didn’t realize that her name wasn’t Lindsay as he didn’t really know her and got confused since that summer was such a blur. Without questioning any of this Marissa decides she needs to call her parents. So she goes to Pete’s office. But when she gets there the phone is ringing. She answers, and the woman on the line says that she needs to explain why her son Spencer hasn’t shown up for his lifeguard job. Marissa is shocked but listens. Spencer was MURDERED!!!
Marissa goes to confront ‘Spencer’, and he says that the real Spencer HAD to die, because he HAD to be a lifeguard to avenge Terry. Folks, Spencer is Mouse. And now Marissa remembers. Mouse and Terry were kitchen staff, and Marissa and the other lifeguards would look down on them because they weren’t lifeguards. They made Mouse and Terry do dives and laps and hold their breath, but then told them that they couldn’t actually certify them. and Terry was SO distraught about this that instead of actually looking into how to get certified, he KILLED himself. Now Mouse is going to kill Marissa because 1) she was mean to them, and 2) she knows too much about Spencer and his involvement in Cassie and Pug’s deaths. Spencer also admits that he was the one who lured Marissa out both nights that Cassie and Pug were killed, as he realized she didn’t remember who she was and that he could make her the perfect patsy. He then drags her to the pool and starts to hold her head under the water. She pretends that she’s lost all her breath, but then pulls him in as well. They struggle, but then it’s my girl May-Ann to the rescue! She jumps in and helps subdue Mouse! Then the others all show up and help hold Mouse down while they call authorities. Marissa explains everything, and May-Ann explains that the reason she wasn’t in the room those nights was that she and Pete were sneaking around (HE’S TWENTY, SHE’S A MINOR, INAPPROPRIATE!). That was what she and Pug were arguing about. Lindsay says that she needs to go call her parents to tell them that she’s okay. The End.
Body Count: 2! From a face in a fireplace to a graphic description of a spider crawling into a dead guy’s nasal cavity, these were pretty nutty deaths to be had!
Romance Rating: 1. There wasn’t really any romance in this one outside of Pug hopping from girl to girl.
Bonkers Rating: 7. The forgotten identity was a fun twist that was executed pretty well!
Fear Street Relevance: 2. Lindsay/Marissa mentions living on Fear Street, but all the action is in a beach town forty miles away.
Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:
“I started toward the phone, but stopped when I saw Mary-Ann’s dresser top. ‘Ohh!’ I let out a low cry as my eyes tried to focus in the dim light.
The dresser was crawling with mice!”
…. But it’s just mouse figurines that Mary-Ann has collected over the years in the most heavy handed misdirection ever.
That’s So Dated! Moments: Sadly this book didn’t have many moments that stand out as dated. Sure, one could say that an Internet search could have been beneficial, but that could be said for most of the “Fear Street” books.
“Cassie and Deirdre both came on to Pug all through dinner. I admit it, I was turning as green as the steamed spinach that no one touched. I’m the big cheese, after all, the main guy. Those girls were supposed to come after MY bod!”
Conclusion: “The Dead Lifeguard” actually held up from my youth and felt like a fun way to start the summer! I remember liking it as a kid and I was entertained as an adult. Up next we start our final “Fear Street” Trilogy, with “The Betrayal”.