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!

giphy-12
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.

giphy-13
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.

giphy-14
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”!

Serena’s Review: “Sherwood”

38734256Book: “Sherwood” by Meagan Spooner

Publishing Info: HarperTeen, March 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+

Book Description: Robin of Locksley is dead.

Maid Marian doesn’t know how she’ll go on, but the people of Locksley town, persecuted by the Sheriff of Nottingham, need a protector. And the dreadful Guy of Gisborne, the Sheriff’s right hand, wishes to step into Robin’s shoes as Lord of Locksley and Marian’s fiancé.

Who is there to stop them?

Marian never meant to tread in Robin’s footsteps—never intended to stand as a beacon of hope to those awaiting his triumphant return. But with a sweep of his green cloak and the flash of her sword, Marian makes the choice to become her own hero: Robin Hood.

Review: As I mentioned in my brief description of this book in our “Highlights” post for March, I was a big fan of Spooner’s wholly unique take on “Beauty in the Beast” in her YA novel “Hunted.” Now, obviously these two stories aren’t connected, but it is clear by the stylization of the cover art that we’re meant to make associations between the two: both feature a strong, independent female main character and both are reinterpreting a story in which that character had varying levels of agency. I’m definitely not one of those readers who subscribes to the whole “Stockholm syndrome” group fret about Belle/Beauty’s role in her story, but there’s no denying that “Hunted” gave this character a bunch more to do. And here, we have a legitimate side character in Marian being firmly placed in the lead role of the classic Robin Hood tale. It was great to see this book live up to the expectations I had placed on it given my feelings for “Hunted.”

Marian has made the best out of a bad situation: she loves her bow, fighting, and generally running wild and has very little interest or skill in the more “womanly” arts. Luckily for her, her childhood friend Robin has always been her partner in crime in these pursuits, and their engagement seems an obvious route to making the  best of out of an inevitable situation. That is, until he rides off to the Crusades and news reaches her of his death. Devastated by the loss, Marian still sees herself as responsible for the livelihood of the people living on both her own and Robin’s land and when the Sheriff’s taxes rise beyond reason, she finds herself donning not only male garb, but the persona of her deceased fiance, Robin of Locksley. Now, pursued by the Sheriff’s right hand man, a man whose desire to catch “Robin” is only matched in his wish to marry Marian, Marian must lead a double life, and one that can only have a catastrophic end.

I really enjoyed this version of Robin Hood. While I’ve read a fair share of stories that insert a female character as a stand-in for Robin, typically Robin himself is still present in the story, often the love interest. That being the case so much of the time, I truly didn’t trust the book description or the first chapter that laid out the concept that Robin died while at the Crusades. It was probably up until about half way through the book before I really let myself trust that he wasn’t going to just pop up. Not that I have a problem with the Robin character typically, but even by a quarter into the story, Marian herself and the way her story was unfolding was already so intriguing that any addition of the more famous Robin could have only detracted from her. Plus, as I said, in those past versions, even a Robin relegated to a love interest role often rubbed up wrong against what the author was trying to do with the actual main character who was supposedly supposed to be taking on the primary role in the action.

Marian was an excellent lead. Her grief for Robin’s death is real, and I appreciate that this wasn’t glossed over. Instead, we see how his loss affects throughout the entire story, first as a hindrance and further on as a motivation. Over time, she also has to re-assess what she knew about the man she was to marry. We, the readers, get a few extra glimpses into past moments between the two, and it is here, too, that we see small, but very important, differences being laid out between who this Marian and this Robin are compared to what we expect from the typical versions of the story. We also see the foundation for how Marian came to possess the skills necessary to take on the role she does here.

Wisely, Spooner leans in heavily to Marian’s skill with a bow, a talent that, while unusual, wouldn’t fall completely out of the realm of something a lady might have learned. Marian is also described as being exceptionally tall. But that aside, it could still have read as unbelievable for her disguise as a man to be fully bought by those around her had the author not carefully crafted every interaction that “Robin” goes into in a way that plays to hiding Marian’s identity. Indeed, Marian herself is written to understand the limitations of her disguise and to use every advantage she has to work within it, instead of breaking past it in ways that could have read as unbelievable and strange.

I also really enjoyed how many of the secondary characters came into play. Several familiar faces show up throughout the story, and each was given a few extra flares to make them stand out from the usual versions of the characters we’ve seen in other books. But I also really enjoyed the addition of unique characters (or at least vastly expanded upon versions of them). Marian’s father, maid, and horse master all were expanded upon quite a bit and I loved them all.

The most notable new addition, of course, is Guy of Gisbourne who is presented as both the villain and the love interest of the story. Again, because I was expecting Robin to pop back up at any moment, it took me a while to really figure out his role in the story. Thinking back, I tend to attribute this to an intentional decision on the author’s part as well, and not only my own skepticism of how the story was originally presented. Marian herself takes a long time to understand Gisbourne, what motivates him, where his moral compass points, and how he truly feels about her. Her own confusion translates perfectly to the reader. This is both a good and a bad thing. I love slow burn romances, and this is definitely that. But at times I think the book was almost too successful at selling me on Marian’s dislike of Gisbourne and his own coldness as a character. There are a few moments that are meant to show their gradual warming to each other, and they do work, for the most part, but I’m not sure it was ultimately enough. At a certain point, it did feel a bit like some type of authorial-driven light switch was just flicked in Marian’s head because it needed to be, rather than because it was earned.

So, too, her past relationship with Robin was also a bit strained. We only see a few glimpses here and there of their childhood and teenage friendship, but the scenes are all so strongly written and their connection so well established that it almost worked against the burgeoning romance with Gisbourne in a way that I don’t think was intended. I liked the idea of what we’re being told with regards to Robin/Marian/Gisbourne: that people are not always who we initially think they are and that love can present itself in very different ways with different people, and that these ebbs and flows don’t undermine one relationship or the other. But I’m just not sure the reader can actually see this message play out, so much as just be on the receiving end of being told.

Ultimately, I almost think it says even more positive things about the story that the downside I can mention has to do with romance and yet that downside in no way tanks the entire story for me. We all know that if you don’t get the romance right for me, often that can lead to my very much not enjoying a story. And here, it’s not that the romance was wrong, necessarily, just that I felt it was the weakest part of the story. But Marian herself, the reimagining of how the Robin Hood story would play out with her at its heart, the action, and the new characters all provided enough of a counter balance to my questions about the romance to lead me to viewing it with still a very positive light. Fans of Robin Hood re-tellings should definitely check this one out!

Rating 8: A bit muddled in the romance department, but an awesome female Robin Hood saves the day in the end!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Sherwood” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Female Robin Hood” and “YA Modern Retellings.”

Find “Sherwood” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Internment”

38167114Book: “Internment” by Samira Ahmed

Publishing Info: Little, Brown. March 2019

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Book Description: Rebellions are built on hope.

Set in a horrifying near-future United States, seventeen-year-old Layla Amin and her parents are forced into an internment camp for Muslim American citizens.

With the help of newly made friends also trapped within the internment camp, her boyfriend on the outside, and an unexpected alliance, Layla begins a journey to fight for freedom, leading a revolution against the internment camp’s Director and his guards.

Heart-racing and emotional, Internment challenges readers to fight complicit silence that exists in our society today.

Review: I want to extend a thanks to NetGalley for sending me an eARC of this book!

One of the vivid horrible memories I have in the wake of the Trump election (and there are many, believe me) is that one of Trump’s PAC supporters, Carl Higbie, said that Trump’s idea to create a registry for immigrants from Muslim countries had a ‘precedent’ because of Japanese American citizen registries during WWII. Given that those registries led to the unconstitutional and horrific internment of American Citizens, this statement was quite frightening (and given the detention of families at the border and how horrific that practice is, in some ways internment is already present on our soil). Fast forward to a couple years later, when a controversy surrounded the upcoming release of a novel called “American Heart”. The author, Laura Moriarty, had wanted to write a ‘what if’ book that was about Muslim Internment camps in America during a Trump-esque executive administration. But it was from the perspective of a white teenage girl who basically has to be taught why it’s wrong to imprison people for their beliefs and culture, and to be shown the humanity and worth of their lives. It’s a story structure that is pretty problematic in that it dehumanizes a marginalized group so that a non-marginalized group an learn a lesson. And that is where “Internment” by Samira Ahmed comes in. The premise is similar: it is a what if scenario in which Muslim Americans have been put on lists and had laws passed to limit their rights in the wake of a far right administration taking power. But this one is from the perspective of a teenage Muslim American girl named Layla, whose life is uprooted when she and her family are taken to an internment camp.

The power and resonance within “Internment” is the timeliness of it all. From the Muslim Travel Ban in this country to the rise in hate crimes against Muslims, the future that Ahmed is painting doesn’t necessarily feel farfetched. While Ahmed doesn’t use specific names, it is very clear that this takes place a couple years after the 2016 election, and she paints a picture of how these policies could easily turn into the policies that we seen within this story. The escalation that is set up, both before Mobius Camp itself comes into play and during the time spent there, is chilling and real, and Ahmed does a good job of drawing comparisons to different internment policies of the past. Not only is the escalation seem based in a probable truth, the power structure of the camp itself also feels very true to life. The camp director abuses his power and uses power plays to harass, intimidate, and commit violence against the inmates. There are Muslim families who have been appointed as leaders of blocks, whose compliance wtih the policy gives them benefits at the expense of other prisoners. And the actions and conditions of the camp has been suppressed from the outside world, so the public doesn’t know just what is going on inside the walls. This all felt VERY real and familiar.

Layla herself is a bit of a mixed bag. For the most part I really liked her as our main character. She feels like a very typical teenage girl in a lot of ways; she is trying to assert her independence from her parents, she is very committed to her Jewish boyfriend David, and is interested in geek culture. Her rebelliousness feels very true to her character, and I completely believe her as a young person who wants to fight back against her oppression while her parents are more investing in using silence and compliance in hopes of keeping her safe. My frustrations of her more had to do with her motivations sometimes feeling like they shifted depending on what they needed to be for the plot at the moment. She would rail against her parents for their complacency one moment, then seem to understand their point of view another moment, only to rail against them again. Her tentative trust of one of the guards, Jake, felt like it grew too quickly for her character as we’d seen her up until that point. To me her motivations were muddled. It very well could be that this is trying to show how a traumatic period can affect a person’s psyche and the way they think, so I can’t completely tear Layla down for seeming inconsistent within her characterization.

And as we sometimes tend to see in YA fiction that hopes to make pertinent points within a broader social and political context, sometimes the messages felt a little too spoon fed to the audience. Be it a speech awkwardly plunked down in a conversational setting, or an offhand remark that doesn’t quite fit the greater conversation at hand but has a point to make, we occasionally see these moments within the narrative. I realize that this book is for a young adult audience, and that sometimes people tend to think that teens need to have things spelled out for them. But I wish that authors would trust their audiences more, in that they are able to read between the lines and parse out the lessons in more ‘show rather than tell’ fashions. Trust teens to get nuance!

All in all, I thought “Internment” was an effective and charged read. It paints a grim picture of where our current political climate could possibly lead, and what could happen if we don’t speak out and rise up against it.

Rating 7: With relevant and pertinent themes but a sometimes clunky execution, “Internment” is a frightening read that asks ‘what if’ when it comes to our current political climate.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Internment” is included on the Goodreads lists “Lady Lit-Female Authors”, and “2019 Books by Authors of Color”.

Find “Internment” at your library using WorldCat!

A Revisit to Fear Street: “Fear Hall: The Conclusion”

325564Book: “Fear Hall: The Conclusion” (Fear Hall #2/Fear Street #47) by R.L. Stine

Publishing Info: Simon Pulse, 1997

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Having fled her dorm room, college freshman Hope hides out in an abandoned sorority house on campus where she discovers that the evil she is trying to escape has become a part of her.

Had I Read This Before: No.

The Plot: When we last saw Hope, resident of Fear Hall and purveyor of multiple personalities, she was sitting on the fire escape outside her dorm, hiding from the police. And that is basically where we jump back in, with Hope and her two roommates/delusions “Angel” and “Jasmine” hiding out and listening to Melanie, Margie, and Mary (aka the 3 M’s) telling the police about Hope and how she may have committed the two previous murders in Book 1 (though Hope thinks that it’s “Darryl” that did it). We’re reminded that Hope loves Darryl SO MUCH even though he’s a violent looney toon, as she still doesn’t realize that Darryl, Jasmine, and Angel are figments of her imagination. The police then spot Hope on the fire escape, and one of the policemen grab her and yank her back through the window. Then Darryl suddenly appears and chokes the cop enough for Hope to get away. She jumps off the fire escape and lands funny, but still manages to take off into the night. She runs for aways until “Jasmine” and “Angel” tell her they need to stop, and once they do they ask Hope why she ran and didn’t tell the police about Darryl. Hope says that they HAD to run because the police think she’s crazy and believe the 3 M’s over her! She decides that they have to hide out. They walk around fraternity/sorority row, and eventually find an abandoned sorority house to hide out in. They make their way inside, and find a stray black cat the Hope names Lucky. She is also still pissed at the 3 M’s, thinking that everything that’s happened in their fault. Then Darryl shows up and says that he’s going to live there too, but Hope says no can do, buckaroo. Darryl, a dominant personality if there ever was one, tells her that he has a better idea: he’s going to kill the 3 M’s because Melanie has ruined Hope’s life! Hope tells him to get out and never come back, and man, can you imagine what Lucky the Cat must be seeing right now? Darryl gets very mad and kicks poor Lucky, and before storming out he says that she won’t be able to get rid of him that easily.

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Barely two scenes in and I’m already so tired. (source)

Hope plunks down in a chair and stares up at two portrait paintings on the wall. The woman reminds her of her terrible mother who called her Buttertubs, and we get some new anecdotes about her abusive nature. The first one takes place at a summer camp Hope attended. Her mother would address her camp mail as “Buttertubs’. The second is how in front of Hope’s crush Mark her mother said ‘let’s play the game of counting Hope’s chins!’ The third is when she found out that Hope was going to sneak out, so she handcuffed herself to Hope and wouldn’t let her leave, and then locked her in her room for two more weeks. This is the moment that Angel, Jasmine, and Eden showed up, by the way. Hope jumps up in the present and claws at the portrait on the wall.

Flash forward a week or two to Melanie’s dorm room. Melanie is studying for a French test while Mary’s getting ready for swim practice. Normally Melanie would be getting ready for that too but she has to miss to take this make up test. She had to see a therapist three times that past week because of the whole thing with Hope, who still hasn’t been caught. The two girls talk about how scary it all is and how nuts that they could hear Hope talking to herself. Melanie offers to talk Mary to swim practice, but Mary says that she’s fine. Of course, then we cut to “Darryl” and his POV, as he’s stalking the locker rooms after swim practice, waiting for Mary. And honestly, I don’t want to dwell too much on his inner monologue because it’s a whole lot of repetitive nonsense about violence towards women and how nothing is his fault and that kinda garbage. So let’s just cut to the chase. While the swimmers are practicing he finds all the chlorine, dumps gallons upon gallons of it into the therapy Jacuzzi, and then lies in wait. NEVER MIND that it’s a public therapy pool and that ANYONE could use it, but whatever. So yes, poor Mary lingers behind her teammates and gets into the Jacuzzi, and the pH levels are so basic that she gets horrible chemical burns all over her body. She screams bloody murder and staggers out of the pool, and the swim coach runs to her aid but doesn’t know what to do. And then said swim coach sees “Darryl”.

Cut to Hope in her squatter’s shack, waking up to a pounding on the door. She goes to it and it’s Darryl outside. She lets him in and he tells her with glee that he killed Mary, for Hope. Oh, and he shoved the swim coach into the Jacuzzi too because OOPS, she saw him! When Hope asks if she was dead too he says ‘who knows?’ Hope is horrified but he says he did this because the 3 M’s ruined Hope’s life and he’s doing this to show how much he cares.

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You know, at least when J.D. pulls this shit he has a moral philosophy regarding the banal evil of society and his unhingedness has purpose and reason. (source)

Hope tells him that he has to stop killing and he tells her that she doesn’t actually want him to stop. She says goodbye and closes the door behind him, and stomps back into the main room. She then finds a note addressed to her, that says ‘I’m coming for you, Hope. You can’t run away from me.’ The handwriting is familiar, but Hope doesn’t know how they could have gotten in without her noticing.

Now the perspective is from Chris! Wait, Chris? Who the hell is CHRIS? Well, Chris is a boy who has to move into Fear Hall because his apartment building burnt down and the school opened up the second floor to guys for supplemental student housing. Chris is kind of shy and not very athletic, and gee, I wonder what purpose HE is going to serve? He had talked with his former roommate Big Al, who asked him about the fact that a murderous co-ed used to live in Fear Hall, and Chris laughed it off. So now he’s moving in, and his new roommates Will and Matt greet him and help him move his stuff into their room. Chris reiterates his shyness to the reader for some reason, and then once he’s unpacked Will and Matt ask him what he knows about Fear Hall’s reputation. Chris admits not much, and they proceed to tell him about howls at night, missing students, blood in a bathtub, and a girl who keeps seeing a ghostly reflection in her dorm room mirror. Frankly, I’d read the HELL out of ANY of those stories over this lame excuse for a “Fear Street” novel! Chris tells them that he doesn’t believe in that stuff, and goes to take a shower. Of course, once he’s in the shower the water starts to turn red! Into BLOOD!! He starts to scream his head off, and then Matt and Will burst into the room, laughing at him. They put Jello in the shower head! Chris is horribly embarrassed, and you’d think he just lived the opening scene of “Carrie” he’s so humiliated.

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Come talk to me when this happens to you, buddy. (source)

Chris goes to a dorm mixer, which I imagine is a way for the new dude residents to meet the ladies they COULD be banging. He’s shy and afraid of going there alone, but has no choice. He then meets Melanie and Margie, and is immediately struck by how pretty Melanie is. They introduce themselves, and try to make small talk, but inevitably Melanie and Margie bring up the fact that their roommate Mary was murdered. Chris, having heard about it, sticks his foot in his mouth when he says he saw the footage of her body on TV (the FUCK does local news have THAT footage for?!), and Margie and Melanie get very upset. They say that with three murders and a grievously injured swim coach on their minds, they shouldn’t have come to the party, and graciously part ways from Chris. He hangs out at the party a little longer, but then leaves, opting to go get a coffee at Java Jim’s. And while he’s at Java Jim’s eating his cookie and drinking is 9pm coffee, he meets another girl! They start to talk, and he tells her that he lives in Fear Hall. She looks surprised, and he compliments her straight dark hair. She says that he probably shouldn’t talk to her because she just broke up with a jealous boyfriend. He asks if maybe he could call her sometime, and she says no and gets up to leave. But before she does, she says that she could meet him the day after the next at Java Jim’s, and he says sure! He says his name is Chris, and she introduces herself as Karen. Yeah. Sure. ‘Karen’.

Hope runs home, and tells Angel and Jasmine that she has awesome news. And yes, she has changed her hair so as not to be recognized. She tells them that she met a boy named Chris and that he’s the boy of her DREAMS! Based on the five minute conversation they had she knows that he’s perfect and she really likes him and she never expected to love again, not with the bad luck they’ve been having. Angel asks her about Darryl, and Hope says that he still wants to kill Melanie and Margie. Jasmine says that Hope isn’t ever going to be safe with Chris if Darryl is around. Before she can protest, there are suddenly voices outside the house. Turns out this house is for sale because she hears a couple say that this is the house for them and they totally want to buy it. Oh yeah, because you two random people want to buy an abandoned house, sight unseen, that is in the middle of a college campus?! They then leave, and I guess that was just there to show that Hope can’t stay forever. Then the phone rings (and by the phone rings I mean Hope’s delusions ratchet up a bit because no, there’s no phone in this house), and when Hope answers it’s Darryl. He tells her not to worry, he’s still going to kill Margie and Melanie!

So now we’re  back in Darryl’s head, so once again I’m going to skim this because I really, really hate his POVs. He stalks Margie to where she works, a dry cleaner shop, and then kills her by putting her in the steam press. Creative? Absolutely. But I hate this. The “Fear Street” books that have an actual mystery and whodunnit are far more interesting than the ones where we know who the killer is for a majority of the novel, and I have to say I’m having a VERY hard time with following this stupid prick around as much as we are as he picks people off. It’s repetitive and stupid, and it feels more gratuitous to have to see the actual deaths over and over instead of just a goofy aftermath. I don’t know. I’m getting burnt out, I think.

Hope and Chris meet at Java Jim’s for coffee the next day and Chris is upset about Margie’s death. Hope tries to play it cool even though she knows ‘Darryl’ did it. They have a nice date, and after they do a little kissing her offers to walk her home so she feels safe. She declines, as she doesn’t want him to become suspicious of the fact she’s squatting in an abandoned sorority house (whyever not, Hope?), but he gives her his number and she promises to call him. She practically skips back to her hideout, but who is on the front lawn. DARRYL. She tells him to stop killing people and he says ‘nah, I’m good’, and then says that he saw her with Chris and that he can’t ‘allow’ that. And in a moment of actual spine, Hope tells him that he has no right to ‘allow’ her to do ANYTHING, channelling her inner Diane Keaton, Bette Midler, and Goldie Hawn or some shit! He tells her that Chris will only hurt her, and she tells him to go away and leave Chris alone. Darryl then reminds her about MARK and what he did to her, and we get a new flashback! Seems that Mark had asked Hope out and she was quite smitten with him. But then she found out that the only reason Mark asked her out was because he lost a bet, and it was all a joke. Hope was so humiliated, but that was around the time that Darryl showed up and swept her off her feet…. oh, and ran Mark over with a car, over and over and over again. After the memory fades, Hope realizes that Darryl has disappeared, and laments that she can’t control him.

Cut to Chris and Will playing pool at the student union. They run into Big Al, who makes a tasteless joke about the kids in their dorm dropping like flies. Chris and Will part ways with him, and while they’re walking back towards their dorm Will asks Chris about Karen and what Chris knows about her. Chris admits not much, that she doesn’t want him to know where she lives nor does she want to give him her phone number, but Will says that maybe she just wants some action. And that’s a legitimate theory. As they’re walking, though, a car suddenly revs up and speeds towards them!! THey jump out of the way just in time. Is it Darryl? Psych! It’s actually Matt! This was his idea of a joke, and to that I say YIKES. He offers to give them a ride back to the dorm, and they agree, with Chris telling the reader that he had no idea who scary the next few days were going to be.

And now it’s Darryl again. So we’re skimming again. He sneaks into Fear Hall, planning to finish off Melanie and solve all of Hope’s problems. So he creeps into the dorm she lived in with Margie and Mary, and in the dark puts a pillow over her face… But oops, she groans and rolls over… and it’s not Melanie! It’s some random other girl!!! She screams, and wakes up the other girls in the room!! YOU FUCKED UP, DARRYL!!! Darryl makes a break for it, and while the girls try to grab him he is able to get away. He’s also VERY confused that they keep referring to him as a ‘her’! He runs and runs, and then eventually fades away…. into Hope! Hope finds herself running in the middle of campus and has no idea how she got there, and no memories of leaving her squatter shack that she is still squatting in even though those two people were going to make a bid on it? Maybe they went inside and saw that it was a disgusting hovel and balked, who knows. She gets back to the sorority house, but finds the door open. And when she looks inside the place has been trashed, and there’s a note that says ‘You cannot escape from me’.

The next day Hope wanders aimlessly around campus trying to think of a plan. Then she sees Chris and Melanie talking, and jealous mode kicks in. Why is he talking with Melanie? Is she telling him about her? Are they together now? Why aren’t she and Chris together? She goes to Java Jim’s to wallow and stew, but her paranoid thoughts start to be too much and she bolts. When she gets back to the sorority house, she is shocked to see Chris leaving the property. When she confronts him, he says that he was looking for her. She points out that she never told him where she lived, and he admits that he followed her home one night after a date because he was curious where she lived. This is framed as sweet, but frankly, it’s not. Even if she is a murderer, there are boundaries! He asks her why she lives in an abandoned house, and then, wouldn’t ya know it, Darryl takes over and starts to strangle Chris. Hope begs Darryl to stop, and Chris is able to pull away. He asks Karen what the HELL that was, and she says that she can tell Darryl to go away. Chris, realizing that he’s in WAAAAY over his head, says

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(source)

and peaces the hell out. Hope, devastated that he’s skedaddled, rushes into the house looking for Darryl, but finds another note instead. But then she realizes that the handwriting is HERS!

Hope sits for hours, angsting about the note, and when Darryl finally shows up she confronts  him about it. This leads to a Yalta-esque summit of ALL of Hope’s personalities, and Angle and Jasmine agree that he needs to turn himself in. He says that if they cared about him they wouldn’t ask him to do that, and that he’s going to kill Chris tonight! And in a case of terrible timing but obvious exposition, Chris is suddenly at the door, asking to be let in. Darryl says that this is perfect, and lets him in. Chris is there, but he isn’t alone! He has MELANIE with him! And not only Melanie, but FOUR POLICE OFFICERS! Chris and Melanie NARCED HER OUT! Melanie confirms that Hope is Karen, and Chris says that he had hoped it wasn’t true, but when Melanie described Hope to him he knew it was. Hope and her personalities run up the steps, determined to get away from the police. The police follow saying that they want to help, but Hope, Jasmine, Angel, and Darryl are not to be stopped, and they gather on the balcony, say their goodbyes, and all hug each other. WHen the cops do enter the tiny porch, the railing breaks, and Hope falls to her death. Chris and Melanie see the whole thing, and she buries her face in his chest and cries. The police go check on Hope, and confirm that she’s dead. They tell Chris and Melanie that they don’t have to stick around, and that they can follow up with them at a later date. They tell the cops they live in Fear Hall, and the cops say don’t seem surprised by this. As Chris and Melanie leave, he finds a piece of paper. It’s a note that Hope wrote, that says ‘There is no escape, Hope. No escape from yourself.’ THE END.

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It’s finally done. (source)

Body Count: 4 if we count Mark in the past.

Romance Rating: 2. And that’s only a two because I feel like Chris and Melanie could have some potential. Everything else was decidedly not romantic.

Bonkers Rating: 5. It didn’t really do anything too nuts, though a couple of the deaths were wacky.

Fear Street Relevance: 6 this time, as a lot of the action was in Fear Hall again AND we find out that Hope was from Shadyside the whole time.

Silliest End of Chapter Cliffhanger:

“I fell for a lifetime. Or a second or two. And I died before I hit the ground.”

… But no she didn’t. She was fine.

That’s So Dated! Moments: Honestly, nothing really stuck out! Stine didn’t put anything in that dates this thing, which was surprising and just another layer of disappointment to this reading experience.

Best Quote:

” ‘You don’t own me!’ I cried. ‘You can’t say what you’ll allow and what you won’t allow! Do you really think you can control my life? Do you really think you can control who I seen and who I don’t see?'”

This is EXACTLY right when it comes to relationships!

Conclusion: “Fear Hall: The Conclusion” was a lame end to a lame start, and it also just isn’t how dissociative identity disorder works. Definitely a hard pass and a clear sign that “Fear Street” had started to run out of steam as it neared the end of the original run. Next up is “Who Killed The Homecoming Queen?”