Serena’s Review: “The Shadowglass”

38504533Book: “The Shadowglass” by Rin Chupeco

Publishing Info: Sourcebooks Fire, March 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reader’s Advisory: 

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

Find “The Shadowglass” at your library using WorldCat!

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

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

Publishing Info: HarperTeen, July 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reader’s Advisory:

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

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

A Revisit to Fear Street: “Into the Dark”

176586Book: “Into the Dark” (Fear Street #49) by R.L. Stine

Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, 1997

Where Did I Get This Book: An eBook from the library!

Book Description: Paulette Fox refuses to let her blindness stop her from living a full life. But one thing she’s never done is fall in love – until now. Paulette knows Brad Jones is the only guy for her. Even when her friends see Brad commit a horrible crime, Paulette is sure that he’s innocent. Her friends tell her he’s out of control, that she will be his next victim. But Paulette is sure he would never hurt her.

Is Paulette right about Brad? Or has her love put her in terrible danger?

Had I Read This Before: No.

The Plot: Before I go into this, I just want to say that if you want to experience some actually suspenseful thrillers with blind women in peril, just go watch “Wait Until Dark” or “Jennifer 8”. I do think that necessary conversations should be had about casting actors without disabilities as characters who have disabilities, just as there should also be conversations about who should be writing stories about disabled characters. But since these conversations weren’t getting attention in 1997, let’s continue with the break down of this late series “Fear Street” book.

First there is a prologue section in which the third person narrator alerts us that there is a mysterious guy who likes ‘spying on the blind girl’. Then we meet said blind girl, Paulette Fox, who is being dropped off at her music lesson by her friend Jonathan. Paulette likes that Jonathan doesn’t treat her like she’s fragile because she’s blind, and wishes that everyone could be like him. He asks her what gym class she’s going to sign up for, and she says self defense, and Mr. Doesn’t Treat Her Like She’s Fragile is worried when she says self defense because it’s ‘dangerous’. Paulette has been blind since she was a baby, dude, I’m pretty sure that she has adapted and adjusted to the world enough that she can take self defense classes, but I get the feeling this is going to be a theme of the book. Jonathan drops her off so he can go find a parking spot, and Paulette starts to walk up the slope towards the doors, when someone suddenly knocks her to the ground. Caught off guard she asks what happened, and the person tells her that a car was just about to hit her so he pushed her aside (we get our first inconsistency here; Stine just spent time describing how Paulette could hear the sounds of distant music from inside the school because her other senses are so adept, but she couldn’t hear a car on pavement that was about to hit her?). Another guy says that the emergency brake must have broken because there was no driver and the car just haphazardly crashed. Guy number 1 offers to take her to the ER (she’s FINE, dude!), but she declines, and he tells her that he’s happy he got to her in time, and addresses her by name. She says she doesn’t recognize his voice, and he says he knows her because EVERYONE knows Paulette at Shadyside High, and he’s a senior named Brad Jones, who’s a new student. She asks if he also takes lessons at the music academy, but he says that while he plays, he can’t afford it and is a part time janitor there instead. Jonathan joins them, and he knows Brad from English class. Paulette explains what happened, and Jonathan offers to take her home, but she says she’d prefer to go to her lesson. Once that’s over, Brad catches up with her and asks for her phone number. Paulette is over the moon and gives it to him, but Jonathan is skeptical. Once Brad heads off, Jonathan tells Paulette that there are rumors swirling at school about Brad and his old town of Springfield. People are saying he was involved with a robbery and that’s why he had to move! Paulette doesn’t believe it one bit because he was nice to her! So how could he possibly be a bad guy?

That night as Paulette gets ready for bed we get a pretty thorough and from what I can tell realistic portrayal of how Paulette’s life is around her house. There are mentions of Braille coded hangers, consistent placements of furniture and objects, and what can happen if things are left out of place. The phone rings and it’s Cindy, Paulette’s other best friend. Cindy asks Paulette about Brad (as Jonathan has a big fat mouth), and Paulette says that she’s hot to trot. Cindy isn’t sure that it’s sure a good idea given the rumors, but Paulette just says that Jonathan is way too overprotective of her (SO WHICH IS IT? Is he overprotective, or one of the few people who doesn’t treat her like she could break?). They say their goodbyes and hang up. After Paulette daydreams about Bran awhile, the phone rings again, and when she answers the caller says it’s Brad giving her a call! She’s surprised and asks why he’s talking so lowly, and he says he’s at a friend’s house, and then says he can’t stop thinking about her and says that she’s the one he’s been looking for, and wants to know if she feels the same way about him? Paulette is a little put off, and says they JUST met, but he says he has to know if she feels the same way about him. When she doesn’t answer, he hangs up.

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Perfectly acceptable behavior, no red flags or anything. (source)

Now we’re at school, and Paulette is doing awesome at her first self defense class. The teacher isn’t going easy on her and is telling her it’s about anticipating and concentrating, and once they’re done she tells Paulette that she still needs the signed permission slip from her parents. Paulette isn’t sure her parents will sign off, but says she will bring it in ASAP. After she gets all cleaned up it’s lunch time, and Paulette heads to the cafeteria. She’s always had a great sense of smell, so she knows what lunch is going to be just by the scent. She finds an empty table by listening to the noise levels, and waits for her friends to arrive. Cindy is first, who has the hot gossip like usual, and Paulette admits that her mind is elsewhere because she’s been thinking about Brad. She confides in Cindy about the strange phone call and how he sounded different in both voice and what he said. But before they can explore this more, Brad shows up, and Cindy, being a true wingman, makes her exit. Paulette decides not to bring up the weird phone call, and they have a nice chat. He then puts her hands on his face so that she can get a feel for how he looks, and she notices that he has a scar on his eyebrow but is otherwise pretty handsome. He says that no one can see the scar, so her senses are very well tuned. They talk about piano and he says that he doesn’t own one but is trying to practice. She invites him over to practice on hers, but he gets quiet and declines, saying that he found a piano he can use at any time. It’s in an abandoned house on Fear Street! WELCOME BACK, FEAR STREET! I feel like it’s been far too long since we’ve had any kind of mention of you!

Walking home that day Paulette thinks about the abandoned piano and the weird phone call. She gets home and remembers that her parents are going to be out late that night, and settles in to handle the house herself. She gets to her room, and runs into her waste basket. Figuring she bumped it without knowing, she goes back downstairs to practice piano. Cindy arrives soon after to work on a school project, and Paulette says they can go work in her room. But when they enter it, Cindy suddenly freaks out. She tells Paulette that someone has written all over the walls with red paint, and the phrase is ‘You Will Be Dead, Blind Girl’!!!! Paulette asks Cindy if anything else looks out of place, but Cindy says no. Paulette goes to where Cindy says it is written, and feels the paint with her hands. Cindy says that the person who did this might still be here, and Paulette says that they should investigate! They arm themselves and start looking. I would get sanctimonious about how they should call the cops, but back in college I was living in a house with some roommates and one day a roommate and I were convinced we saw someone in our kitchen (we had all the doors and windows open due to an oven cleaning mishap). Instead of calling the police on the potential intruder we grabbed knives and went to flush them out. We didn’t find anyone (a strange outcome, as there was definitely someone in the kitchen and there was no where to escape without us seeing), but it was foolish of us to do that. Anyway, Paulette and Cindy also come up empty, and Cindy thinks they need to tell someone. But Paulette says that her parents are SOOOO overprotective they will surely blow this whole thing out of proportion. But Paulette, this isn’t them maybe being worried about you taking self defense, this is a LITERAL THREAT AGAINST YOUR PERSON AND A BREAKING AND ENTERING SITUATION. But Cindy agrees, and they start to cover up the entire thing.

The next morning over breakfast Paulette gives her parents the permission slip for her self defense class. They predictably waffle on whether or not she can handle it, but she convinces them that she can, so they sign. As she’s walking to school she thinks that she better not tell them about Brad yet, given that there are those pesky rumors about him being a criminal. As she’s walking she suddenly hears shoes running up behind her. She calls out a greeting, but gets no answer. Then she’s suddenly shoved into oncoming traffic. She isn’t hit, but a car does spin out trying to avoid her. The woman in the car asks Paulette if she’s okay, and Paulette says yes. The woman offers to drive her home, but before Paulette can undoubtedly decline because her parents are SO overprotective, she’s helped up by Brad, who sounds like he has a cold. Brad says that he can take her to school, and says that he was across the street and saw the whole thing. He says he saw Paulette trip. When Paulette tells him that someone pushed her, he says no, he didn’t see anyone, she pretty clearly tripped. He then pulls her into a creepy hug, and asks if she thinks about him as much as he thinks about her. She shoves him away and asks what’s wrong with him, but he just gives her back her cane and runs off.

At the library that afternoon Paulette is thinking about the strange encounter with Brad. Jonathan and Cindy ask her why she’s so spacey, and she doesn’t tell them about what happened that morning. Brad then comes up to them and asks Paulette if they can talk. She agrees, warily, and he asks her if she would come hear him play the abandoned piano on Fear Street that night. She isn’t certain, but now Brad seems perfectly normal, so she says sure. He says that he was happy he saw her because he was thinking about her, and she said that they saw each other that morning. He soundss confused, and has to go back to class before they can discuss it more.

Cut to Paulette getting off at the Fear Street bus stop. Brad is there to pick her up and walk with her to the abandoned house, and Paulette notes to herself that Fear Street even has a different smell from the other streets in town, and I personally really like that tidbit. They get to the house, and the door is easy to open. Not only that, in a convenient twist of fate, while the electricity is out, the gas was never turned off, so it’s nice and warm! He tells her that there’s rumors that the person who owned the house was a music teacher whose family was murdered, and the piano was left behind. We get new tidbits about other hauntings in the area, and man, I missed this aspect of these books, it’s been too long. They start to play, but then they hear noises upstairs. Brad says he’ll go check it out, and she can hear him moving around upstairs. Then there’s a slam, and shouting, and footsteps running down the steps, and a door slamming. And then that’s it. Paulette calsl out for Brad, but gets no answer. She decides to try and find him in this house that she’s never been to, and uses her cane to explore the space. She eventually finds a staircase, and is about to climb it, but then someone grabs her from behind! It’s Jonathan! He tells her the staircase is rotted out and it could collapse, and she asks what he’s doing there. He admits that he followed her there, and started to get worried when the flashlight they were using stopped moving around. Jonathan says he’ll go check the house, but doesn’t find Brad. Brad’s gone. She says that he wouldn’t have ditched her in an abandoned house, and yet… that’s exactly what he did. When she and Jonathan get to his car she demands to know why he followed her. He says that he thought it was weird she was getting on a bus, and then when he saw she was meeting Brad he wanted to be sure she was safe because of the rumors about him. She says she can hang out with whomever she wants and he says he can worry about his friends, and Paulette wonders if Jonathan is hiding something. And I mean, sure, he has serious boundary issues and a hero complex, but the fact that she’s questioning HIM over the guy who has been a total weirdo the entire time she’s known him, that seems misguided to me. Once she gets home she waits for Brad to call with an explanation as to why he ditched her in an unfamiliar place, but no such phone call is to be had.

At lunch the next day Paulette and Brad finally meet up, and he says that he was ‘really sorry’ about the night before and didn’t mean for it to end up like that. She calls him out on it, but he doesn’t have any better explanation of reasoning. He also tells her that he can’t see her anymore. She asks him to tell her what is going on, but he balks and says that he ‘can’t let this happen again!’, and runs out of the cafeteria.

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Frankly this is how the story should end, but we still have half of the book left. (source)

That evening Paulette is moping and her friends ask her why. She tells them about Brad, and they both agree that it’s probably better this way, and Paulette doesn’t like that one bit. She tells them about how weird he acted after the car incident, and they both say that he is BAD NEWS, but Paulette doesn’t want to believe it. She goes home and her mom tells her that her grandmother fell and broke some bones, and so for the next few nights her parents are going to have to be out late taking care of her. They ask if she wants to stay and her aunt’s house, but Paulette says no. She waits for Brad to call, but he doesn’t. As she’s trying to fall asleep, she hears a scratching at the window. She gets up the shut it, but then someone grabs her! She begins to scream, calling for her parents for help, but of course whoever it is lets her go and by the time her parents arrive she’s alone. But instead of coming clean about everything (and this would be the perfect time to do so), she just says she had a BAD DREAM and that everything is okay. Her Dad goes to check the window anyway, and then finds a ring on the floor. It says ‘B.J.’, and those are Brad’s initials! Paulette lies and says she was holding the ring for a friend of hers and just forgot to give it back, and they believe her. Paulette doesn’t understand! How can Brad be so sweet and thoughtful one moment, and then trying to hurt her the next?!

At Pete’s Pizza the next day Paulette, Cindy, and Jonathan are talking about Student Council, but Paulette is so sulky the others discern that she’s still upset about Brad. Jonathan tells her that Brad dropped out of school (how Paulette didn’t hear this is beyond me). Paulette is upset, but Cindy says that this is probably a good thing because Brad turned out to be such an unstable creep. Then, someone in a mask bursts into Pete’s Pizza and holds up the place!! He also says that everyone has to hand over their cash! Paulette’s backpack slipped to the floor, and as she’s trying to find it the gunman gets antsy about her movements. Jonathan stands up to try to explain that she can’t see where her backpack is, and then the gunman shoots him! He then tells a girl (Ann Johnson, Paulette recognizes her voice) to gather up the valuables as Cindy and Paulette try to stop the blood from pouring out of Jonathan’s body. They hear police sirens, and a scuffle ensues, and Cindy tells Paulette that two guys unmasked the gunman… And it’s Brad!! The police arrive and an ambulance crew hauls Jonathan away, and the police say that they need to ask some questions. A number of people say that Brad was the gunman, but Paulette realizes that it wasn’t Brad’s voice that was yelling at everyone, and she remembers that the gunman’s scent wasn’t like Brad’s scent. Paulette decides to pipe in and says that it wasn’t Brad, but the police officers are…. skeptical to say the least. Paulette tries to explain that voices are like faces to her and that she knew that Ann Johnson was there just by her voice, which Ann confirms. The police still don’t listen, and radio out a request for a warrant for his arrest.

As Paulette and Cindy wait at Cindy’s house for news about Jonathan, they argue about whether or not it was Brad. But they get the call that Jonathan is going to be okay, and they both are too relieved to be too mad at each other about their differing opinions. Cindy asks if Paulette is going to tell her parents about all of this, and Paulette says she’ll tell them about the robbery but nothing about her and Brad. Paulette also says that she has to warn Brad that the police are looking for him, and the argument is back on. Paulette asks Cindy to drive her to the Music Academy since Brad works there, but Cindy refuses at first, but then agrees once Paulette says she will just walk then. They get to the school and ask if Brad is there, but one of the music teachers says that Brad never showed up for work. Paulette suggests that they check the locker room, and Cindy reluctantly agrees. They go to the locker room, and Cindy narrates what she finds in the locker that says ‘Jones’, and let me tell ya, it’s incriminating AF. There are a bunch of newspaper clippings about robberies in Springfield, Brad’s old town, of businesses and homes, and it names Brad as the number one suspect. Paulette laments how she could have been so wrong about him.

As Paulette is trying to fall asleep that night she pretends not to hear her mother ask if she’s okay. Then her phone rings, and it’s Brad. He tells her that he knows that it looks bad, but he’s innocent! And he can’t tell her why or how, but he just wants her to know that he didn’t do it. Oh, and that things are going to get pretty bad in the next few days….

The next evening after her parents have left to go check on grandma, Paulette is sitting in the backyard trying to do homework. She’s having a hard time concentrating, as she can’t stop thinking about Brad, but she she hears an out of place noise. She turns off her recording, and listens. She hears footsteps. She calls out, hoping it’s a neighbor or a stray animal, but we know better, don’t we? She then hears heavy breathing right next to her ear, and when she tries to get up to grab one of the handrails that should be there, they’re gone! Without any sort of marker for where she is in the backyard, she becomes completely disoriented. She knows that someone is watching her as she tries to find her way to something familiar, and this is actually a very effective scene and one of the better done moments of suspense in a long time within this series. She eventually gets hold of a landscaping stone she recognizes, and can get back into the house handily once she’s oriented again. She locks all the doors and windows and calls Cindy. Cindy rushes right over, and when Paulette asks her if the backyard looks different she says no, which means whoever was stalking her put everything back. Cindy suggests that Paulette call the police (YES, CALL THE POLICE), but Paulette doesn’t see the point. Cindy asks if she wants to stay at her house at least, and Paulette says no. Then Cindy gasps, and turns up the TV. Someone just robbed a store that is two blocks from Paulette’s house, and the description matches that of Brad Jones! The address he gave the school isn’t a real address and he’s considered armed and dangerous. Cindy practically begs Paulette to come stay with her, but Paulette still refuses. Cindy says she will at least call the check in later, and leaves.

Paulette is playing the piano to calm her nerves when the phone rings. It’s Brad! He says that he called to apologize, and his voice is so weak that Paulette can barely hear him. He tells her that he needs to tell her the truth: he has a twin brother named Ed! And Ed has been jealous of him his entire life and made things really hard to Brad wherever they lived!

giphy-4
I feel like this was published the same year that “The Simpsons” Tree House of Horror also did an evil twin episode. Justice for Hugo! (source)

He says that the police are after him for things Ed did, and that’s why he moved to Shadyside. And he arrived the same time that Brad did, and saw Paulette and decided that she was his girlfriend. Ed’s the one who’s been stalking her and committing the crimes. He says that he and Ed fought and Ed hurt him, and he needs a doctor. Paulette says she can call the cops but he says he’ll be arrested. He needs to get to Ed first, then they can call the cops. He asks for her help and says he’s at the house on Fear Street, and then hangs up.

Paulette arrives at Fear Street and gets off the bus. She remembered the step count from the last time she was there, and makes her way to the house. She calls for Brad and hears him upstairs. She remembers what Jonathan said about the staircase, and slowly climbs it. When she finds Brad he tells her she has to help him trap his brother, who will be back soon. He says that when they hear the door open she should call to him, and he will come to her because he’s so obsessed. She agrees. When they hear him call for her, Brad says that he will knock him out as soon as he walks through the door. So Paulette calls for him. And indeed, as soon as he calls for her, she calls back, and she hears him run up the steps and into the room, followed by a thwack and a thud. Brad asks her to help tie him up, and she does. Soon Ed comes to, and he starts to freak out, but not for the reasons you’d expect. It’s because he’s claiming that HE is Brad, and that the guy Paulette just helped is Ed!! The twins argue both claiming to be Brad, but Paulette knows how she’ll figure it out! THE SCAR! She walks up to the standing twin and asks to touch his face. And whoops, wouldn’t you know it. No scar. Ed confirms he was the intruder at the window, he was the one who pushed her into traffic, who moved things in her backyard, who painted the message in her room. All because she was falling for BRAD, like they always do! And now she smells the cinnamon on him like she did at Pete’s Pizza (though I would have thought that she would have smelled it on a number of occasions when there was confusion given that her sense of smell has been so hyped up). Ed ties Paulette up because now she knows too much, and we get some lame thrown together reasoning for why there are no parents (both are dead) in this entire kerfuffle. Ed turns on the gas valve. He says once they’re both unconscious he’ll untie Brad to frame him for this whole thing. He’s going to take the money and skedaddle. Paulette decides to make a gambit of a move, and asks Ed to take her with him because she’s been in love with him the whole time! After some convincing he agrees, and tells her to hold up this flashlight while he pulls the fireplace apart to grab the stash. She does for a bit, but then smashes the flashlight against the hearth, making the room go black. Then we get a “Wait Until Dark” rip off moment as they play cat and mouse in the dark, and all you have to know is Audrey Hepburn and Alan Arkin did it better. Eventually at the top of the steps Ed grabs her, but her self defense skills kick in, and she waits until he’s off guard and slams into him. He pushes her towards the steps, and she pulls him with her. She swings him around and then tosses him down the steps as she flies back and lands on the top floor landing. Ed is not as lucky. She crawls back to where Brad is based on her memory, and helps him up, using his eyes to get them down the steps and past Ed’s broken dead body. They get outside just as the police arrive. The policeman asks if they’re okay, and Brad says that he feels like he’s ‘finally coming out of the dark.’ The End.

giphy-5
This is dumb on multiple levels. (source)

Body Count: 1. And his twin wasn’t very broken up about it either!

Romance Rating: 5. Brad wasn’t a homicidal maniac, but he sure kept a LOT of secrets from Paulette that could have prevented her from getting hurt…

Bonkers Rating: 7. The sudden evil twin reveal was pretty out there, but I don’t think it was in a good way.

Fear Street Relevance: 7! As if Stine realized that he’d been neglecting Fear Street as of late, we got some good action sequences there AND got some good reminders and new mythologies as to why it’s such a scaaaary place.

Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:

“And it was obvious to Paulette that Brad was in terrible, terrible danger.”

…. And then that’s all she has to say about that in that moment. Even if this was true, Paulette should have been thinking that perhaps Brad was part of the terrible, terrible danger in some way, shape, or form.

That’s So Dated! Moments: Paulette, Cindy, and Jonathan are watching a generic slasher movie on VHS and if that didn’t take me back to high school, I don’t know what would. Also the outdated and offensive term ‘handicapped’ is used to describe Paulette.

Best Quote:

“‘Great film!’ Jonathan said.

‘If you like swimming pools full of blood,’ Cindy commented.”

Ooh! Me! I like swimming pools full of blood!

Conclusion: “Into the Dark” was just kinda boring for the most part, and I did call the big twist pretty early on. But it wasn’t as abysmal as some of the late game “Fear Street” books. You could do worse. Up next is “The Best Friend 2”! We’re nearing the end of the original run!

Serena’s Review: “Through the White Wood”

39735900Book: “Through the White Wood” by Jessica Leake

Publishing Info: HarperTeen, April 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+

Book Description: Katya’s power to freeze anything she touches has made her an outcast in her isolated village. And when she loses control of her ability, accidentally killing several villagers, she is banished to the palace of the terrifying Prince Sasha in Kiev.

At the castle, though, she is surprised to find that Sasha is just like her—with his own strange talent, the ability to summon fire. Instead of punishment, Sasha offers Katya friendship, and the chance to embrace her power rather than fear it.

But outside the walls of Kiev, Sasha’s enemies have organized their own army of people who can control the very earth. Bent on taking over the entire world, they won’t stop until they’ve destroyed everything.

Katya and Sasha are desperate to stop the encroaching army, and together their powers are a fearsome weapon. But as their enemies draw nearer, leaving destruction in their wake, will fire and frost be enough to save the world? Or will they lose everything they hold dear?

Review: I’ve had some good luck recently with Russian-based fairytale/fantasy novels. Plus, I’m always on the look out for a good standalone as I have way too many series I’m currently invested in. It’s a problem. All of that plus a pretty cover, and I was quick to place a request to read an early coy of this. Ultimately, however, it didn’t live up to all of the expectations I had placed on it.

Katya’s life has been one of fear and isolation, except by the elderly couple who has raised her. One night, her worst fears are realized when she releases her incredible power over ice with horribly destructive results. But her banishment turns out nothing like she had imagined. Instead of punishment, she finds more of her kind, people with incredible powers over elements. Even the Prince of Kiev whose own power over fire seems to perfectly balance her own. Now, not only has she found a place of acceptance, but she finds herself drawn into a greater conflict where her rare abilities may be the turning point that saves her entire nation.

As a pro for this book, the greatest thing that stood out to be was the commitment to the darkness at the heart of Katya’s story and the true danger of her powers. This isn’t just Elsa from “Frozen.” People die when Katya loses control. The original incident that results in her banishment is rightly horrifying, and while yes, she is definitely provoked into it, we see how terrible the results are, not only for the villagers but for Katya herself, as at this point in time, she only has limited control of how her abilities manifest. Then, further into the story, when we begin to hear about the larger threats against the country itself, these incidents aren’t left as purely stories of terrible things happening elsewhere to other people. Again, we see the results of these attacks, and it has a direct impact on Katya and her story. I really appreciated that the author made not only the dangers of Katya’s powers, but the villains themselves, feel more real by raising the stakes in this way.

But other than that, this book simply felt too standard to spark my real interest. Even trying to type out that summary above was a struggle because it just sounds so similar to so, so many stories that are just like it. Ice powers, fire powers, what have you. A book about a teenage girl who has some incredible power, is misunderstood, and then turns out to be the “chosen one” essentially to save a nation? Been there, seen that. Add in a love story with, of course, the prince, and you have pretty much checked off every requirement for the base model of YA fantasy novels.

Katya herself could be incredibly frustrating at times, especially early in the story. Yes, her initial confusion about what is going on and what her role is in everything makes sense. But as the story continues, she bizarrely flips back and forth between being trusting of and then suddenly antagonistic against those around her. And there is never any clear instigating factor behind the switch. It never read as a natural reaction to events happening around her, and instead felt like authorial intervention to add drama.

I also hated the romance. It was a terrible case of instalove where I couldn’t see any true chemistry built between the characters and it happened incredibly fast, especially on Sasha’s side. While Katya is going through her little song and dance of “I like him! I don’t trust him! But he’s great! But no, I must be opposed to him!” Sasha was pretty fully invested in Katya from the start. But…why? Again, no reason is actually presented in the book. We’re simply told that this is how it is.

There was nothing truly bad about this book. But there was also nothing that made it stand out to me. The story felt incredibly familiar. The characters seemed to be just going through the motions that we expect from YA fantasy. And the entire read felt slow and plodding, except for a few instances of action thrown in here and there. I can’t even say the idea behind the book was exceptional, as, like I said, it felt very familiar to many other fantasy YA stories featuring powered young women. If you really love those stories, this is more of the same, and you’ll probably like it. But if you’re looking for a new take on things, this isn’t it.

Rating 6: Pretty much exactly what you’d expect after reading the book description. No surprises here, and that was a bad thing.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Through the White Wood” isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists, but it is on “2019 Must Read Fantasy.”

Find “Through the White Wood” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Serena’s Review: “A Curse So Dark and Lonely”

43204703Book: “A Curse So Dark and Lonely” by Brigid Kemmerer

Publishing Info: Bloomsbury YA, January 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: from the library!

Book Description: Fall in love, break the curse.

It once seemed so easy to Prince Rhen, the heir to Emberfall. Cursed by a powerful enchantress to repeat the autumn of his eighteenth year over and over, he knew he could be saved if a girl fell for him. But that was before he learned that at the end of each autumn, he would turn into a vicious beast hell-bent on destruction. That was before he destroyed his castle, his family, and every last shred of hope.

Nothing has ever been easy for Harper Lacy. With her father long gone, her mother dying, and her brother barely holding their family together while constantly underestimating her because of her cerebral palsy, she learned to be tough enough to survive. But when she tries to save someone else on the streets of Washington, DC, she’s instead somehow sucked into Rhen’s cursed world.

Break the curse, save the kingdom.

A prince? A monster? A curse? Harper doesn’t know where she is or what to believe. But as she spends time with Rhen in this enchanted land, she begins to understand what’s at stake. And as Rhen realizes Harper is not just another girl to charm, his hope comes flooding back. But powerful forces are standing against Emberfall . . . and it will take more than a broken curse to save Harper, Rhen, and his people from utter ruin.

Review: So, as always, another “Beauty and the Beast” retelling comes out and I line up obediently to read it. This, if anything, is proof that I am an eternal optimist, as I’ve had pretty poor luck with this particular fairytale and the versions I’ve read. Yes, “Beauty” is and likely will always be one of my absolute favorite fairytale retellings, and I loved “Uprooted.” But from there…maybe a few middling titles, but then it’s straight down to versions that I highly dislike.  So the scale is pretty heavily weighted on both sides of the extreme. Sadly, “A Curse So Dark and Lonely,” while not my least favorite version, joins the ever expanding ranks of disappointments for this story.

In the fairly standard layout of the story, Rhen is our cursed prince, doomed to relive one season over and over again, attempting to win over a new girl every three months. But, what’s worse, his failures don’t simply reset things, but end with his transformation into a terrible beast that kills all those in his path. Harper, a girl growing up in D.C. and with struggles of her own, suddenly finds herself pulled away from her life (one full of its own strife with her ill mother and a brother caught up in crime rings in an attempt to pay off the family debt) and thrust into the middle of this curse, the most recent would-be curse breaker. To make matters worse, this will be the last season and Rhen’s last chance to break the curse and avoid a life ever after as a monstrous beast.

This book has received a lot of positive reviews, so I just want to say right away that there’s a good chance much of what bothered me with this book wouldn’t hold true for others who enjoy YA fairytales. There have been comparison to “A Court of Thorns and Roses,” for example. Which, given the massive appeal of that series, means many will ultimately really like this. I hated ACOTAR, on the other hand, so that comparison might be even more apt. I didn’t hate this book, but it definitely wasn’t for me.

The good thing about this book is that it does what it sets out to do. We have a unique (ish) take on the “Beauty and the Beast” tale that leans into its darker elements (beast!Rhen is truly destructive and dangerous). A heroine who represents those with disabilities in a really great way (she has what seems to be a high functioning version of cerebral palsy). And a story that delivers both action and romance (eventually).

But, for me, it did all of these things in a very “meh” way. The world-building, for one, was an immediate let-down. Emberfall is simply “such and such, generic fantasy world with magic.” There is no real explanation or true creativity behind any of it. The castle itself has some of the standard magical elements that we expect to see (ooooh, musical instruments that play themselves) and even those that we are given are too few and far between. It’s just enough to set the stage as a fantasy land, but not enough to make it stand out in any way from the millions of other fantasy lands we’ve seen.

And when juxtaposed against the “real world,” this lack of world-building is made even more stark. It’s one thing to set a book entirely in a fairly bland fantasy world, but when you have the “real world” as an element in your book and characters from that world, it’s inevitable that the “hows” and “whys” of it all should come more to the forefront. If everyone lives in this fantasy world, there’s more of a “get out of jail free” card in that, naturally, everyone (and thus the reader) would take things at face value. That’s simply not the case when you have “real world” characters who should be asking these questions.

Beyond that, while there was nothing overtly objectionable with Rhen or Harper, neither of them were particularly intriguing either. Obviously, the inclusion of Harper’s disability is an interesting take and, not having any experience with this of my own, seems to be represented well. But that is not enough to make her a fully-fleshed out character. Rhen, too, was just kind of…fine. I just never felt fully invested in either of them, and there wasn’t enough given to either to make them feel like much more than the fairly standard “beauty” and “beast” cut-outs we’ve come to expect.

And, from the get-go, the story set off on the wrong foot. Pretty early in the book, right after Harper is kidnapped and brought to the castle, we start in on the “she’s so different than the other girls” lines of thought. I almost just put the book down at this point for how much I hate this way of writing. For one, it’s lazy. If you can’t make Harper look good without including negative comparisons to “other girls,” than you have a character problem on its own. Beyond that, Rhen is something like 300 years old at this point. So, how many seasons would that be? You’re telling me that in that entire time, girls have been kidnapped from the modern world and ALL of them have only ever been interested in dresses and NONE of them wanted anything to do with daggers or, I don’t know, trying to escape? Not only is this incredibly insulting (especially when it’s linked to another comment about how originally Rhen would ask for beautiful women in particular, so of course they’re also frivolous and, I don’t know, scared of weapons??), but it’s also beyond the point of belief. These women have been kidnapped. There is no way that they all simply got distracted by sparkles and sat around meekly adoring their wardrobes. It’s as if to say that, for women, the standard reaction to kidnapping is complacency, especially if your kidnapper is rich and handsome. And that Harper’s reaction of immediately trying to escape is somehow unique and note-worthy. I could go on and on with my frustrations with this, but I think I’ve made my point and any more would just be indulging myself in ranting.

So yes. This book wasn’t my favorite and sadly joins the list of “Beauty and the Beast” retellings that I won’t be recommending. Like I said, a lot of people have liked this book, so there is definitely an audience for it. But, for me, the world-building and characters were simply too bland to hold my interest and the early introduction of “other women shaming” into the story was an immediate turn-off.

Rating 5: Not for me, alas. Maybe check it out though if you liked ACOTAR?

Reader’s Advisory:

“A Curse So Dark and Lonely” is a newer book, so it isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists. It is on this one (though I disagree about the “best” in this title): “Best retellings of Beauty and the Beast.”

Find “A Curse So Dark and Lonely” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Serena’s Review: “A Sorrow Fierce and Falling”

36443576Book: “A Sorrow Fierce and Falling” by Jessica Cluess

Publishing Info: Random House BFYR, October 2018

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

Book Description: It’s time for war.

After suffering terrible losses, Henrietta and Lord Blackwood have led their warriors to Sorrow-Fell, a vast estate where only those invited by a Blackwood may enter–and the ideal place to plan a final assault against the Ancients.

It’s time for a wedding.

Henrietta nervously awaits her marriage to Blackwood, but when the ritual to become his bride reveals a dark secret, she realizes that Sorrow-Fell is not a safe haven; it’s a trap. Convincing the sorcerers of this, however, is not easy. So with Maria, the true chosen one, and Magnus, the young man who once stole her heart, at her side, Henrietta plots a dangerous journey straight into the enemy’s lair. Some will live. Some will die. All will be tested.

In this stunning conclusion to the Kingdom on Fire series, Henrietta must choose between the love from her past, the love from her present, and a love that could define her future. While battles rage, the fate of the kingdom rests on her decision: Will she fall or rise up to become the woman who saves the realm?

It’s time for Henrietta to make her stand.

Previously reviewed: “A Shadow Bright and Burning” and “A Poison Dark and Drowning”

Review: This trilogy has traveled an odd trajectory as far as my feelings for a book series go. I was underwhelmed by the first book, a bit put off by the sheer number of love interests who were introduced. The second one fared better, expanding the world out by quite a bit, upping the ante with the villain, history, and Henrietta’s true role in all of this. And then this one…just kind of threw out a lot of different things and saw what stuck, essentially? I’m not even sure! I’m still experience a bit of whiplash from it all, but I don’t think I liked it, in the end.

Events had been coming to a head at the last book, not least of which saw Henrietta agree to marry Blackwood. However, now, as events continue to spin out of control, Henrietta is forced to re-examine all that she thought she knew about those around her. And with new revelations come new choices, each with their own prices to be paid. Surrounded by her friends and facing new and terrible dangers, Henrietta must face her final challenge.

So, as usual, I’ll try to start with some things I enjoyed about this book. The one consistent thing throughout this series that I have liked has been the general writing style. There’s a nice mixture of interesting turns of phrase alongside stark, to-the-point writing that solidly carries the story along. For the most part, purple prose, of the like that can all too often pop up in YA fantasy that has a strong emphasis on romance, is largely avoided. I also listened to this one on audiobook again (which I did for the second book, too) and enjoyed the narrator’s interpretation of characters. I remember thinking that my increased enjoyment of the second book could have something to do with this change of format. And I now have to think that continuing my read of this series using this format was a wise choice, as I’m not sure I would have made it through this one without the increased enjoyment of the audio narrator.

I also generally still enjoy the world-building. There have always been a plethora of creative ideas at the heart of this story. And I’ve also appreciated the way the author has walked right up to the horror line with many of her villains, making them truly horrible. Much of that still continues here, though it did start to feel overly crowded and muddled at times. It’s only been a year since I read the last book, but there were times where I was still struggling to remember how some of these elements worked together and what there histories were.

However, other than those points, I really had a hard time with this book. I’ve never loved Henrietta as a character, but I also didn’t have any overt issues with her. I was particularly intrigued by the second book where we were introduced to Maria, the “real” chosen one. But here, Henrietta went from blandly ok to outright unlikable. We’ve had three books now to witness her making mistakes as she discovers herself and her role in this conflict. And that’s fine. But by this point, we need to start seeing the growth that comes out of those mistakes. Instead, if anything, Henrietta becomes more indecisive and makes even more nonsensical choices than we’ve seen in the past, often to disastrous results. It makes her not only a frustrating character to read, leaving the reader feeling like the character hasn’t grown at all over two entire books, but this weakness of character was necessary to drive much of the plot, as it revolved around said poor decision making and the results therein.

And, lastly, the romance was a huge problem for me. This has been the biggest question mark for me throughout the entire series. From the very beginning I had huge red flags going up regarding the sheer number of love interests that were introduced. We were way past love triangle and into the realm of love square or even more. It was always too much. As the story progressed, I was mostly able to distract myself from my concerns in these areas. But not here. To finally resolve all of the dangling romantic threads, several characters had to be almost completely re-written. One in particular became almost unrecognizable and the change came out of left field. Beyond this, Henrietta’s reaction to this change was not appropriate, as the character essentially became abusive. There are so many layers of problems with this that I’m tired even thinking about it. Ultimately, it felt like the author didn’t know how to resolve (or even decide!) all of the romantic plotlines that were introduced. So instead of making her main character progress along a natural arc of self-discovery throughout the series that would result in her forming a realistic attachment to one character over the others, the author just got to the last book and decided to write off at least two of the choices, leaving Henrietta with only one viable option anyways. It felt lazy and like a slap in the face to readers. What exactly were we wasting our time on before this point if this is how it’s going to be ultimately resolved?

So, while the book did have some creative ideas with its world-building, in the end that’s all it felt like: a collection of ideas. Looking back over the trilogy as a whole, it looks like the work of an author badly in need of an editor. Everything and the kitchen sink went into this series and it shows worst of all in this last book when you can see the wheels coming off as the author frantically tries to resolve all of the elements that have been introduced (most poorly in the romance arena, perhaps). If you’ve enjoyed this series up to this point, I’m not sure how you’ll feel about this one really. It’s the kind of thing where some readers may really enjoy it and others will hate it, but it’s going to largely come down to what each reader was getting out of the series before and how they wanted things to turn out in the end. For me, it didn’t work and almost retroactively lowered the first two books as well, as it seemed to highlight that there was only ever a shaky overall plot from the very start.

Rating 5: A disappointing conclusion, most especially in the lazy resolution to the multiple love interests that had been introduced.

Reader’s Advisory:

“A Sorrow Fierce and Falling” is fairly new and isn’t on any very relevant Goodreads lists, but it is on “YA Releases of October, 2018.”

Find “A Sorrow Fierce and Falling” at your library using WorldCat.

A Revisit to Fear Street: “Who Killed The Homecoming Queen?”

537658Book: “Who Killed the Homecoming Queen” (Fear Street #48) by R.L. Stine

Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, September 1997

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Tania is having the best year of her life. She has a hot new boyfriend, she landed the starring role in a student film, and she’s just been voted homecoming queen. But someone is jealous of Tania. Someone plans to ruin her perfect year–even if Tania must be killed. Will Tania live to see the homecoming dance?

Had I Read This Before: No.

The Plot: It’s Pep Rally time at Shadyside High, and Eva Whelan is rushing through the halls to get to the gym. This is the pep rally where they find out the girl who won Homecoming Queen, so you know everyone is abuzz! Eva’s friend Tania catches up with her, and we find out that Tania is up for the position of Homecoming Queen. Tania asks Eva if she can use her psychic powers to tell her if she’s going to win, but Eva is clearly uncomfortable with this because she’s NOT psychic, she just gets intuitions and bad feelings before something bad happens. I’d say that that’s what Daphne Moon would call ‘a little bit psychic’, but that’s not my call. But Tania assures her that she doesn’t even care if she wins, because it’s already been a great year. Her Mom got remarried to a great guy, they moved into a fancy new house, and she has an awesome stepbrother named Jeremy (who it just so happens Eva has a huge crush on!). On top of that Tania is also dating the uber popular Sandy Bishop, captain of the football team who is a little too into himself but really does care about Tania. So things are going GREAT for her. As they’re walking, however, someone suddenly shoves Tania at the top of the steps! Tania almost falls but catches herself before she can, and it turns out it was LESLIE GATES did it! Leslie apologizes, saying it was an accident, but given that she too is up for Homecoming Queen Eva isn’t so sure it was very ‘accidental’. Add into the fact that Leslie has always been jealous of Tania’s life, going so far as to stop being friends with her she was so jealous, and it makes for a rather big coincidence. I’ve known a Leslie or two in my life, and they are EXHAUSTING, so I’m going to keep an eye on her. As Tania breaks off from Eva to sit in her nomination seat, Eva gets one of her ‘bad feelings’, but tries to write it off.

Eva takes her spot in the gym and looks at the Homecoming Queen nominees as they sit in a semi-circle looking like products of the patriarchy…. Okay fine, I’m kinda joking. It looks like a fun time, and my high school didn’t really HAVE a Homecoming Court so much as the members of the various grades of Student Council were just kind of appointed to their positions, which takes out the popularity contest aspect but also feels hollow.

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Seems a bit shady is all I’m saying. (source)

Anyway, there are only four of the five Homecoming Queen nominees sitting there (Mei Kamata being one of them, and I wonder if she’s still with that boy that Holly had such a thing for?), and Eva realizes that Leslie isn’t there. But then Leslie makes a grand entrance, fashionably late, and Eva is annoyed by her calculated attention seeking stunt. But she is distracted by Keith Hicks, a guy who dresses in black and has an earring so we better keep an eye on him too, and Jeremy, who are sitting next to each other because bromance! Eva joins them in hopes of catching Jeremy’s eye and finally getting the guts to ask him to the dance. Jeremy has barely been listening to Keith talk about movies because he’s SO nervous about Tania winning. He REALLY cares about Tania and they’ve become REALLY close ever since their parents got married, and huh… maybe we should keep an eye on him too… As Jeremy gushes about his stepsister, Keith rightfully points out that said gushing is WEIRD, but then he has an ulterior motive because he has a huge crush on Tania. Keith says that maybe he’ll write in his movie script a scene where Tania dumps Sandy for him, and Jeremy ups the ante by suggesting Keith just MURDER Sandy and Eva has probably regretted sitting next to these two. Keith says that Leslie has been pestering him to cast her as the lead in said amateur film he’s making, saying she’d do him the favor of being in it, but Keith is no dope and knows that she is desperate to get into a prestigious acting program, so him casting her would be doing HER the favor, and besides he’d prefer to cast Tania, especially if she wins homecoming queen, as his movie is titled ‘Who Killed the Homecoming Queen?’ Eva is still getting her bad feeling, but now it’s time to announce the winner! And, big surprise, it’s TANIA! But as she’s walking to get her crown, she suddenly collapses in a heap on the floor!! IS SHE DEAD? No, she has blood sugar issues, which causes her to faint. A candy bar will fix her right up! She gives a charming acceptance speech, and once the pep rally is over Jeremy says they should go say hi! He rushes ahead to congratulate her, and Eva wonders where Sandy is. She runs into Leslie, who is crying over her loss, and Eva tries to comfort her. But all of her sympathy runs out when Leslie says that Tania gets EVERYTHING, and even her blood sugar issues aren’t fair because it means she can eat candy whenever she wants and not worry about getting fat!

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Oh yes, lucky Tania with her constant fainting. (source)

Eva tells Leslie that you can’t be mad at Tania for getting the most votes, and Leslie tells her to essentially stuff it and storms off. But before Tania can think too much about it, she sees something horrible under the bleachers: SANDY IS MAKING OUT WITH CHERISE COLBY! Eva is shocked, and wonders if she should tell Tania about it, but doesn’t know if she wants to be the one to do it. She turns away to leave, but then sees that Leslie has slithered back and has seen the whole thing. She declares that this revelation would ‘kill’ Tania!

The next day Eva is watching Tania and Sandy argue about him sneaking around on her. Tania says that she knows all about it and that she’s dumping him, and he is affronted that she would dump him right before the Homecoming dance. She tells him that he should have thought about that before he cheated on her. He grabs her arm, and she tries to get away but he says that he’s not letting her go and he starts to manhandle her! Eva just keeps watching, horrified, and yells at him to stop and runs forward. Tania twists away and hits Sandy, but he starts to strangle her! Tania falls limp to the ground, and Eva screams ‘NOOOOOO!’…. But then Keith yells ‘cut!’ and tells everyone to take a few minutes. It was all part of his movie. Keith says that they have to do the scene again because a plane overhead interfered with the sound, and Sandy is pissed and tries to argue with him. But thus is the life of the outdoor shoot, dickhead. They then realize that Tania isn’t moving. She’s passed out again. Sandy starts to freak out and shake her and insists on calling an ambulance, but Tania comes to and it’s just her blood sugar again. No need for an ambulance, it’s chocolate time. I guess they haven’t been dating that long since he doesn’t know the drill. Keith goes to get some candy, and Sandy says he doesn’t know what he’s do if something happened to her. Eva thinks to herself that he’d just go fuck Cherise. She hasn’t told Tania about what she saw, and thinks it’s ironic that Keith’s movie is pretty much projecting what is going on with Sandy, Tania, and Cherise in real life. Keith says they need another take, but Tania has to go to Homecoming ceremony rehearsal. He’s mad for a bit, but the moment Tania touches his arm he lightens up about his ‘vision’ and calls it for the day. Eva follows Tania to the auditorium, thinking now is the time to tell her about what she saw. But before she can, Leslie is in there yelling at Tania about how she’s going to kill her because she got the lead in Keith’s movie! Tania says that she had no idea that Leslie wanted the role and if she HAD known she would have told Keith to cast her instead. Leslie seems convinced, but is so determined to hurt Tania that she’s about to tell her about Sandy and Cherise, but Eva stops her. She yanks Leslie off to the side of the auditorium and tells her to stop being such a nut, and Leslie says she won’t tell… for now. Eva goes back to Tania, intending to tell her, but then the rest of the Homecoming Court traipses in and Eva doesn’t want to embarrass Tania so she says they’ll talk later.

That Saturday Eva is waiting for Tania at the Mall fountain. They’re going to go Homecoming dress shopping, and maybe now would be a good time to tell Tania about Sandy and Cherise? But instead of Tania showing up it’s Jeremy! Eva is excited to see him, but he’s just there to deliver a message to Eva; Tania forgot to bring an item she wants to return, so she’ll meet her at Pete’s Pizza later. Eva, not one to miss an opportunity to spend time with Jeremy, asks him to go to Pete’s Pizza with her while she waits. He agrees, and Eva is seeing hearts in her eyes in spite of the fact he’s weirdly obsessed with his step sister. They get to the pizza place and she asks him what his Mall plans are. He tells her that she’s going CD shopping for his Mom, and then laughs in what I can only imagine is a weird awkward way and says that it’s SO wonderful having a REAL family again! He says that before Tania and her mom came into his and his dad’s life he got into trouble at his old school, but now his life has changed for the better! But he doesn’t want to talk about the ‘trouble’ either. Eva, not to be deterred by these GLARING RED FLAGS that are waving in a goddamn hurricane, asks him if he has a date to the Homecoming Dance. But suddenly Jeremy looks angry, and when Eva looks to see where he’s looking she sees Sandy and Cherise in a booth, kissing! And to make matters worse, who should walk into the pizzeria, but TANIA! Jeremy stands up and leads her out before she can see what they saw, and tells Eva to meet them by the fountain. Eva decides that she needs to tell Tania for sure.

That Monday they’re filming Keith’s art house joint again, and Eva still hasn’t told Tania about Sandy. Stine is trying to write this like it’s some kinda betrayal, but I think it’s a complicated conversation to have with a friend. What she SHOULD be doing is confronting Sandy! And while they’re on some down time, she gets about halfway there by being passive aggressively snide to him, and she must be from the Midwest because we have that on LOCK. She tells him that he’s ‘unreal’ (whoa there Eva, you can’t take THAT back), and he thinks she’s talking about his acting (LOL). She tells him she knows about him and Cherise, and he says that he can explain that, and she says he should explain it to Tania. He grabs her arm and asks her if she’s going to tell on him, and she asks why he cares, and he INSISTS he can explain it, but Eva doesn’t want to hear it. Keith says they are going to film the strangling scene again. But as they’re filming Keith yells cut because his camcorder has jammed again. Sandy stamps off in a fury (chill dude), and Jeremy yells after him, which gets TANIA in a tizzy and this is a soapy mess. Keith gets the camcorder in order and they film again, but this time they’re interrupted by Keith’s sister Mandy who needs him to take her to gymnastics practice. Nothing is going right… And even worse, Tania has passed out again. But Sandy starts to freak out because this time, she has no pulse!!!! Sandy insists he wasn’t really choking her but she died anyway. Jeremy FREAKS OUT and runs to her lifeless body, shaking it and wailing her name to the heavens. Keith goes to call an ambulance and Eva tells Sandy to go with him so she can stay with Jeremy who is having a total meltdown as he cries and shakes her. Eva tells him to stop, and he jumps up and runs away. Eva chases after him, but he’s too fast. When she hears the ambulance and police sirens she goes back to the bleachers to meet the police with Keith. Jeremy trudges back (WHAT WAS THE POINT OF RUNNING YOU WEIRDO?!) as well, but when they get back to where they left Tania’s body… IT’S GONE! Which is awkward given the police and ambulance are here for a body. The teens tell them that the body was here but now it’s gone, and it goes just as well as one would expect it to. Eva notices Leslie at the top of the bleachers, smiling down at them, and Eva points at her and says that SHE can tell them what happened to Tania’s body! The police grab her and Leslie says that she didn’t even SEE Tania, she just saw everyone running around and was curious. Eva wonders if she’s telling the truth or working on her acting. As the police try to suss out what is going on/how badly they were just had, Eva looks around at all her friends. One of them has to be lying. Sandy comes trudging back and says that he was looking for Tania, thinking she’d gone to his car. Eva asks what that even means, and one of the police officers also wants clarification. Sandy says that they had planned this all out. Tania was going to pretend to die, just to scare everyone, but then yell ‘surprise!’ and that would have been that. But she wasn’t supposed to disappear. The police officer asks if Tania was breathing when the scene ended, and Sandy admits that he doesn’t know. Jeremy says that SANDY KILLED HER (even though with no body and a witness saying that it was a bad joke there is NO reason to believe she’s dead, you obsessive weirdo!) and starts to strangle Sandy. The police officers break it up, and say that this really sounds like it’s just a dumb joke, and if it’s not they will figure it out. They offer to take the gang home.

Eva gets home and tries to call Tania’s house, but gets a busy signal. She wonders if this is all just a mean joke or if Tania’s dead and her body has been stolen in a Victorian Medical student kinda way. She then realizes that the camcorder could have caught everything on tape if it kept running, and calls Keith. He says he was just about to see what was on it, and invites Eva over to watch it with him. Because I guess what’s another half hour of not knowing? She goes to his house, and they sit down to watch the video, but it was jammed again and didn’t record anything outside of static. Keith tries calling her house again, but says he got a busy signal. He says that he has to finish his video with or without Tania. Jeremy bursts in and says that Tania wasn’t at home, and he’s called everyone in her address book asking if they’ve seen her. The police still think it’s a joke, and Jeremy says that he KNOWS that Tania is dead because he overheard Sandy and Cherise talking about how they were going to murder Tania! Keith says that he’s nuts, and Jeremy insists that he heard them whispering to each other while he was at his locker. Eva says that he could have misheard them, but Jeremy says there’s no way he did! Eva wants to ask Cherise before they tell the police, but when she calls she can’t get ahold of her.

The next day (no school because of Teacher Conferences, VERY convenient) Eva decides to go to Cherise’s house to confront her. When she pulls up across the street she sees Sandy and Cherise on Cherise’s porch, kissing. She waits until Sandy leaves and Cherise goes inside before leaving her car. She tehn knocks on the door, but hears someone inside yelling about how they’re going to kill someone. But Cherise opens the door and it’s just the TV. Eva follows Cherise inside, and asks Cherise if she and Sandy were plotting to kill Tania, as per Jeremy. Cherise is mortified and denies it, and Eva says Jeremy overheard them at the lockers. Cherise then relaxes and says that she was helping Sandy learn his lines. The phone rings, and Cherise puts it on speaker phone (because fuck privacy I guess?). The voice on the line says ‘I killed Tania. You’re next.’ Cherise asks what they’re talking about, and the voice says ‘Tania was first. You’re next.’, and hangs up. Eva says that something is wrong, in that she just feels like something isn’t what it seems…

The next day after school Eva is catching Keith up on the phone call. Still no sign of Tania. Jeremy took the news poorly and is now sulking by his car. Even after Cherise called the cops the cops still think it’s all a joke. Leslie then comes rushing across the parking lot, saying that now that Tania is missing Keith will need a new star of his video, and she will HAPPILY step in.

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Buzz off, leech. (source)

Keith tells her that he’s not doing the Homecoming movie anymore and that he’s working on something with Sandy instead. Leslie demands to know if there’s a role in it for her, and he says ‘NAH’, so she storms away. Sandy then arrives saying that he can’t stop thinking about Tania and that he’s losing his mind. Keith tells him to go home and rest up, and offers Eva a ride home. She says she’ll ask Jeremy for one, but then notices he’s disappeared. Eva’s about to walk home, but realizes she forgot her backpack inside. She goes to her locker, and then finds Leslie covered with blood! Leslie says that she was so mad about the movie that she slammed her locker door against the wall, and the mirror hanging inside shattered and sprayed glass all over her. Eva takes her to the bathroom to try and help her clean up, but I’m more concerned about the glass spraying outward instead of just falling to the ground. Physics? Leslie leaves the bathroom and thanks Eva for helping her clear up, and when Eva goes back to her locker she finds something very bad: a pool of dark liquid pooled under her door. When she opens it, she finds something worse: SANDY’S DEAD BODY TUMBLES OUT ONTO THE FLOOR! There’s a knife sticking out of his back. And written in his blood in Eva’s locker is the phrase ‘YOUR TURN NEXT’.

Eva invites all the suspects her friends to her house that evening to discuss the turn of events. Cherise is freaking out and Keith is trying to discern who could be next, movie style. Eva wonders if Leslie REALLY cut herself on an exploding mirror. The police interrogated her and now she’s scared that she’s a suspect (just test the blood on her clothes, that should clear things up right quick). The phone rings, and it’s the voice again, reminding Eva that it’s her turn next.

Cut to the next day (that previous scene was damned near pointless) and Keith is going to film a ‘candid portrait’ of Eva and Cherise. As they wait for Cherise Eva talks about how scared she is, and Keith wishes he’d heard the voice. Eva goes to pose at the top of the bleachers, but as she leans against the rail it snaps. She almost falls off, but Keith is able to grab her in time. He also notices that the break is clean instead of jagged, which means that someone must have sawed it down in hopes that she would lean against it. They decide to take this to the police, but as they’re about to leave, then look up at the top of the bleachers.. and TANIA is there!! They call out to her and she rushes down to meet them. She says that she heard about Sandy’s death and had to ‘come home’. They ask her where the HELL she was, and she tells them that it was all a joke. She wanted to get revenge on them for not telling her about Sandy and Cherise. Because JEREMY told her after he saw them at Pete’s Pizza and told her about the cheating and that Eva knew to. So it was HIS idea to do this elaborate joke. Tania told Sandy about it to a point, but then she disappeared to go stay with cousins in Waynesbridge! They told her parents that she was fine, and the parents told the POLICE she was fine, which is why they thought it was a joke! But when she heard about Sandy she came back, feeling awful that he died, possibly because of her disappearance. Eva then realizes that Cherise was supposed to be at the bleachers an hour ago. They try to call her, but there’s no answer. So they decide to drive to her house.

When they get to Cherise’s house they hear screaming coming from inside. They enter the house and see Jeremy running away, and Cherise holding a knife in her hand. She tells them that Jeremy killed Sandy and tried to stab her, but she got the knife away from him and that he wants to kill them all. Jeremy yells at her to stay away, and when Eva asks why he did this he tries to run. Tania grabs for him but he falls and is knocked unconscious. They ask Cherise what happened and she says that he wanted to get revenge on Sandy and her for Tania, because he couldn’t stand to see her hurt as the ‘first family he’s ever had’. Eva wonders if the trouble he got into in his past was murder. Cherise also says that he was going to kill Eva because Tania spends so much time with her, and that was why he sawed the bleacher railing. Cherise says they have to call the police but Tania is reluctant because it’s ‘her brother’ (fucking Lannister vibes man), and then Jeremy starts to come to. He says that they have to get away, and when he sees Cherise he freaks out and says that SHE killed Sandy!!!! Cherise says that’s not true and he broke into her house and attacked her, and HE says that THAT’S not true and the knife belongs to her. He says he’ll tell them everything that happened, and Cherise says they have to get out of there and that she’s afraid, and he says she has no reason to be afraid because SHE has the knife and that doesn’t mean ANYTHING, asshole! But he says that she called him over and then began screaming as soon as she saw the rest of them arrive. He started to run because she was setting him up. Eva eventually comes around and says that she knows that Cherise is lying, because Jeremy already GOT his revenge on Sandy with the joke and there was no need to kill him. And besides, how did Cherise know about the bleacher railing? THEY HADN’T MENTIONED IT AND IT HAD JUST HAPPENED.

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Cherise in this moment. (source)

So now we get the real reveal, and it’s actually pretty upsetting. APPARENTLY, Sandy never actually liked Cherise, he and Keith were using her to make a movie! Sandy would pretend to like Cherise, and Keith would film it in secret as another of his ‘candid’ movies. Cherise found out and killed Sandy, and was convinced that everyone else was in on the secret and was laughing at her humiliation. She sawed the railing in hopes Eva would fall. Eva says they should call the cops, and Cherise says they have no proof, but Keith says he’s been recording the whole time. Cherise tries to attack him with the knife, but Keith blocks her blow with the camcorder. The knife flies out of her hands, and Eva kicks it away. Cherise tries to grab the camcorder, but when it’s clear she can’t win she collapses into tears.

The police arrive, and Eva and her friends tell the cops everything. The police turn to Cherise and ask if that’s all true, and SHE SHRUGS PETULANTLY. Keith says that they have her confession on tape, and SHE SHRUGS PETULANTLY AGAIN, but then just kinda sighs and says ‘yeah okay, I did it’. The police ask where her parents are and she says they’re at a convention and the phone number is on the fridge, and they just kinda  nonchalantly take her away. It’s the most anticlimactic Fear Street ending ever. Keith and the others decide to try and watch the confession on the tape…. BUT IT WAS JAMMED AGAIN. The End.

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Well let’s hope that the court doesn’t decide that they need that piece of evidence. (source)

Body Count: 1. Quite the dip from the previous book!

Romance Rating: 1, only because there was very little to be had and the romances that WERE present were filled with LIES!

Bonkers Rating: 3. Tania’s disappearance act was ridiculous, but everything else was standard and bland.

Fear Street Relevance: There is no mention of Fear Street or the Fear Family anywhere in this damn book, but since it does take place in Shadyside it gets a 1.

Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:

“In the sudden quiet, another sound rang out. A single, sharp, metallic sound. A piercing blast that echoed off the walls of the gym. A shot!, Eva thought with a cry. A gunshot!”

… But it was just a student crushing a soda can with his foot. How that was mistaken for a gunshot, I don’t know.

That’s So Dated! Moments: Keith is filming all his stuff on a VHS based camcorder, and at one point Jeremy refers to CD stores at the mall.

Best Quote:

“‘It really is,’ he agreed. ‘I guess it sounds weird. But having a real family is so awesome. I never really had one before. My mother died when I was a baby. And I hardly ever saw my father because he worked all the time. He stays home more now.’

Why is he telling me all this? Eva wondered.

HAHAHA, I love how even Stine had to acknowledge this plot exposition was shoved in sloppily.

Conclusion: “Who Killed The Homecoming Queen?” ended up being a total misnomer and felt trite and lazy once it all shook out. We didn’t even get to go to the homecoming dance!!! Up next is “Into The Dark”!