Category: horror


Early this week is kind of like late last week, right? I think that’s how that works anyway. I’ve got a review for you all thanks to the nice folks at First Second for sending me a review copy, it’s Spill Zone.

Spill Zone cover

Three years ago something happened in upstate New York. No one’s sure what it was or why it happened. It destroyed Addison’s hometown, leaving her alone to take care of her little sister. Armed only with a camera and her rules Addison dodges both the physics bending horrors within the Zone and the military blockade outside it. All for pictures. All to take care of her little sister.

Scott Westerfeld and Alex Puvilland’s Spill Zone fits pretty squarely in my wheelhouse as far as story concepts go. It isn’t quite fantasy or horror, more something between the two. The format is a bit iffy for me, this is the first volume of a graphic novel so it winds up being largely introduction to the world and characters. In a straight up novel that would be a massive deal breaker for me, it’s a little more forgivable here but does still hurt the story as it stands.

Let’s actually start with that. This is the first volume of Spill Zone rather than the full story all at once and I feel like there are two views that I could take on that. One is to look at it like one of the trade paperbacks of monthly comics, where I know I’m getting an arc and some connective tissue for the main story. That’s the more generous option. The second option is to look at it more like a book that builds to a sequel but has little substance on its own. In a lot of ways I lean towards the second one more. There’s a lot of interesting stuff introduced in Spill Zone volume one, and I do want to know more about what’s going on, but enough is introduced that nothing gets a real in depth going over. That’s where I run into problems with Spill Zone.

There’s a ton of interesting stuff that looks like it’s going to be expanded on in later volumes, but it isn’t expanded on enough in this volume for me to be super into it. Things like Addison’s little sister and her doll. Little sister doesn’t talk, except when she does, but she and the doll have what are apparently mental conversations. Sometimes Addison seems to hear them, sometimes she doesn’t. The doll, Vespertine, gains power from the Spill Zone and seems to rely on regular charges to maintain herself. I would love to see more of that and maybe the mysterious buyer for Addison’s art, Ms. Vandersloot, and have the other Spill Zone in North Korea and all the stuff related to that be introduced in a later volume. Because, as it stands, I feel like that was all just left hanging and could have been done better later.

So, that’s the story as it stands, what about the art? I like it. There’s this slightly sketchy quality to it that lends itself to the comic, especially its more surreal moments. I feel like the art did a lot of lifting to make up for the writing not being super. It’s emotive and atmospheric and, I feel, one of the best things about the book.

Which of course leaves the wrap up. I want to read more of Spill Zone but I’m also really disappointed at how little content it feels like this first volume has. So this is one that gets scored more on where I’m hoping it goes, and what looks like a lot of potential, than its own merits. I’m giving Spill Zone a three out of five.

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So, house keeping post is coming up later in the week. I’ve been falling behind lately and want to address that. Switching over from that, I do have a review for you all today. Thanks to the folks at Tor, who provided me a review copy, here’s The Empty Ones. Enjoy!

The Empty Ones cover

You’ve seen them before. You’ve even seem the charming strangers with nothing behind their eyes. Carey’s been fighting them since the seventies. Kaitlyn just found out about them a couple weeks ago. To being hunted endlessly by the empty one that nearly killed them, they’ll have to track him down first. Meanwhile a blast from Carey’s past turns up and she doesn’t seem interested in helping save the day.

Robert Brockway’s The Empty Ones is a decent follow up to The Unnoticeables and a solid book in its own right. It’s definitely a middle book, though one that has the courtesy of tying up its own story before jumping for the next book.

It being a middle book is sort of where my big complaint comes from. With The Unnoticeables there was an awareness that there had to be more creepies than just what the protagonists were dealing with, but it was pretty well all small scale stuff. It was local, almost personal, to the protagonists so it felt huge and each thing they stumbled into built it up more and reinforced how out of their depths they were. This book doesn’t have that. It physically takes the protagonists out of their usual haunts and has them chasing the monsters. Having that makes the whole plot feel smaller, or less, even as the stakes are higher this time around.

Part of what makes this an issue is the difference between what the reader knows from the 2013 sections and what the reader learns from the 1978 sections of the book. In the first book, the split timelines worked really well because it allowed the reader to see something in action and then learn about it or vice versa. The parallels aren’t nearly as clean in The Empty Ones, so we get a lot of new information in the past that doesn’t really seem to inform the present or the previous book. It can feel  awkward even when it does land right, making scenes feel off kilter and characters feel not like themselves.

That’s a big part of what I meant when I said it’s solid in its own right but only a decent follow up. On its own, The Empty Ones has a lot of the same energy and punch as The Unnoticeables. The characters are still easy to care about. The monsters are still that extra spark of creepy. Even the new things that don’t totally work in context of the previous book are really cool if taken as part of a standalone novel. Reading it as a sequel though leads to comparisons and little rough spots throughout. The wonderful bittersweet ending to The Unnoticeables is suddenly fractured because we don’t have to wonder how Carey got from there to being nearly alone. Sammy Six’s story matters a whole lot less now because of new details. What’s lost is a lot of character stuff, and not necessarily little stuff at that.

On its own this is a really fun book. The antagonists are far stronger than the heroes, so the heroes have to be clever or just runaway. The characters feel very human or that perfect degree of just slightly wrong. The tone is by and large spot on. Emotive scenes hit the right chords, generally at the right times. And ultimately, while I like it better on its own than as a sequel, it makes me want to keep reading. I want to see where everything goes.

So, where does this leave The Empty Ones? As a standalone book it would be nearly a five out of five. The issue is that it follows a book that I would more than happily give a five to and, while it does well on its own, it doesn’t stack up to the book it follows. So that earns The Empty Ones a four out of five.

I’m back, and I never left. But this is still a bit late, more things coming up this week. Progress is slow fixing that. I’m a little worried, but it’s workable. Also, there’s a review! Enjoy all.

FNaF The Silver Eyes cover

Ten years ago several children disappeared from Freddy Fazbear’s Pizzeria. Their bodies were never found. The restaurant closed and it’s owner committed suicide, seemingly from his inability to deal with his guilt. On the anniversary of one of the children’s death Charlie and several of her friends return to her home town to attend a memorial in his honor. Nostalgia turns to terror when she and her friends find the old pizzeria buried in an abandoned shopping mall and decide to investigate. Sometimes the past should stay forgotten. Some things never die.

So, Scott Cawthon and Kira Breed-Wrisley’s Five Nights at Freddy’s: The Silver Eyes is a bit of an interesting thing just as a concept. It’s a video game tie in novel, that isn’t canon to the games it ties into while still relying pretty heavily on the reader being familiar with the source material. The first part of that doesn’t hurt it for me, the second bit does though. In a lot of ways it’s like a cheesy horror movie in book form.

This isn’t a book that’s heavy on plot or character development, both things that I think really should have been worked on more. The plot is mostly an excuse to get our characters into the old Freddy Fazbear’s and is kind of a regurgitation of the third game’s story components. It doesn’t really do much to go into the murders themselves or the animatronics being haunted, that’s where I feel the meat of the story would have and should have been. Give me the characters having their nostalgia time and then trying to figure things out while dodging haunted robots. They could have also tightened up the ending to tie it in better.

That brings up the characters. Remember that comparison to a horror movie? That comes in big time with the cast. We get a lot of characters here, but only Charlie really matters for the vast bulk of the book. That leads to none of the cast getting a ton of development, which works in a movie with a dwindling cast but not so much here. It also leads to a couple of moments that feel out of nowhere because the characters involved weren’t acting like themselves, if the book had gone more into the supernatural stuff and used that as an explanation it could have worked, as it stands it really doesn’t.

That said, and bringing up that I read it because the games interest me, I did have fun reading this book. Part of that is that while the characters don’t work when it’s all of them together, because they kind of run together, the smaller scenes with just one or two characters really work at times. I enjoyed Charlie going back to her childhood home and seeing how things hadn’t changed in the house itself. That bit had really good character work and built tension well. The characters’ excitement over maybe seeing the old pizzeria again was great and could have worked into the horror really well.

So, where does this all leave Five Nights at Freddy’s: The Silver Eyes? While I had fun reading it, the book could have done a lot more with its material and its characters. Could have, but didn’t, and that’s really my big problem with it. I’d have liked to have seen a smaller, more developed cast and for the plot to show up faster and more coherently. For all that, I’m still giving it a three out of five. It could have done a lot more, but I still enjoyed it.

The Sitter

Hey, guess who’s reviewing a fourteen year old book! This gal! So, yeah, there might be some spoilers here. I tried to avoid them, but this was surprisingly hard to talk about without getting into what, specifically, made my reactions happen. I got really hung up on one thing, guess what it was. That’s pretty well it though. I’ll have another post up probably tomorrow or Friday. For now, enjoy!

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Ellie Saks is at the end of her lease, the end of her temp job, and the end of her patience with her mother and her ex-boyfriend turned stalker Clay. So, she jumps at the opportunity to leave the city behind for a trip to the Hamptons for a summer of fun away from it all. A stroke of luck even lands her a babysitting job and place to stay. That luck turns sour though when someone starts sending her threatening notes and disturbing gifts. With a disturbed child to care for, a stalker on the loose, and a ghost story unfolding with her in the middle of it can Ellie figure out what’s going on or even survive her summer as the sitter?

Not going to lie, I didn’t enjoy The Sitter. This is one of those books that feels so, so like a lot of the books I have tremendous nostalgia for but with all the nostalgia stripped away and a painful attempt at retargeting its readership. See, R. L. Stine does a great job with teen horror, particularly cheesy teen horror. His books can be very formula and very like a B horror movie, but they tend to be fun and quick and you know what you’re getting in to when you pick one up. That’s sort of the case here and with a few changes this could have been a pretty standard Fear Street book. That’s part of the problem though, with The Sitter Stine tries too hard to make his book “adult” and it feels very forced. There’s a fair amount of profanity, some drinking, a really gross sex scene, drug use is mentioned, but it all feels like someone reminded Stine that he was writing for grownups after the book was already finished, so he just threw that all in.

So, that said, what made me dislike this book other than the audience related weirdness? There are a lot of things that get a pass in teen novels that shouldn’t and don’t in adult novels, this book for example had terrible foreshadowing. Early on, we find out about Ellie’s cat, he’s sweet and trusting and she misses him so because she couldn’t have him in her apartment. Yeah, he didn’t make it to the end of the book. The problem with that is twofold. Stine’s used killing the beloved family pet to gain a quick cheep hit to the feels before, several times actually, so as soon as the cat gets mentioned you know what’s going to happen. It’s a similar thing with the big twist at the end. It also ties into my next big issue.

A ton of terrible stuff happens between Lucky’s introduction and Lucky’s plot appointed death, but Ellie doesn’t seem to take that into account. The book’s plot was almost entirely reliant on the protagonist making stupid choices. Again, a lot of those choices would have made more sense in a book with a teenaged protagonist rather than one in her twenties both because relative youth and because a teen protagonist could be stuck being the sitter rather than it being a summer job. This bit is really hard to go into without spoilers, but our protagonist gets death threats and vile stuff mailed to her. She stays, doesn’t even talk to the police after like the second thing. Not for the threats, or her cat getting killed, or her stalker ex showing up and threatening her. Most of the tension in the book relies on the reader having never read R. L. Stine before and Ellie being an idiot.

Add to that, The Sitter has a ton of stuff going on that doesn’t seem to go anywhere until the end. There are chapters from the antagonist’s view point. They could have been cut entirely. There was a side plot about some curse on the guest house. That could have been cut. Clay probably should have been cut, he doesn’t really add much to the story and is basically made of cringe. The cat could have been cut, he was a completely pointless inclusion. Any of that could have been removed to tighten up the main plot and work the twist in better.

Those are my big issues with the book, everything else kind of spins off of those. It had a twist ending, but that was completely unsupported by the rest of the book. The only reason I didn’t see it coming was that it was so completely out of left field it came from another game entirely. It’s silly in the grand scheme of things, but this book made me angry. There were so many places where Stine could have done better, could have not done the blatantly obvious thing, could have shored up the writing instead of going into another side plot. This book gets a one, as much for what it could have been as for what it is.

Not posted on a Wednesday, but hey, I didn’t skip this week. Quick reminder that the giveaway for The People’s Police Giveaway is still going until midnight Sunday the 19th. This book’s one that I bought rather than being send to review. So, enjoy!

your-favorite-band-cannot-save-you-cover

Beautiful Remorse is your new favorite band. You couldn’t say why if asked. You couldn’t even really say anything about the lyrics. But their music does something for you. To you. It’s like nothing you’ve ever heard, and their singer, Airee MacPherson. She’s fantastic, completely out of this world.  Strange things keep happening with each new track they release. Beautiful Remorse is your new favorite band, and your favorite band cannot save you.

Scotto Moore’s Your Favorite Band Cannot Save You: a tale in ten tracks is a quick fun read that’ll pull you along right to the end. The first two thirds of the book is solid genre fiction, but then it gets to a certain point and everything starts to feel kind of rushed. Think of it a little bit like a love letter to the Cthulhu mythos through the lens of modern internet culture.

There are a few bits that needed more attention throughout the book. Without that, the end isn’t a total big lipped alligator moment, but it does still feel under supported. I’d have liked more exposition on Aimee’s plan or the music itself, though the narrator’s limited knowledge goes a ways towards explaining that away.

My other big issue is with the characters. I legitimately cannot remember the narrator’s name or much of anything about him. The same goes for most of the characters that aren’t Airee, they sort of get lost in her or the music and just don’t come up again. I could easily say that this was a purposeful thing and that a big part of the point was a collective nothingness for humanity. It still doesn’t really work for me in the long run though, at the end of the day I’m still very much invested in character over plot.

More than anything, Your Favorite Band Cannot Save You reminds me of a B movie. Despite its faults, the story is aggressively readable and fast paced. It’s eyes off the action to build tension, which works well in a lot of ways. This is a book that could have been a lot better with a little work, but it doesn’t need it to be a fun book. If that makes sense at all. It’s fun, it’s fast, and at the end of the day I still really enjoyed it.

So, where does that leave us? While Your Favorite Band Cannot Save You has some issues, I still had a ton of fun with it. So, from me at least, it gets a four out of five.

Squeaking in at the last moment, I have one last Halloween treat for you all. Yes readers, today you get two reviews! Enjoy!

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Edgar Allan Poe: And Adult Coloring Book by Odessa Begay is a bit of an outlier for my reviews, so bear with me here.

Back in high school and middle school I read a fair amount of Edgar Allan Poe’s short fiction and some of his poetry. The dark broodiness appealed in a lot of ways and I loved the detail work in some of his stories and the slow decent into madness that overtook most of his protagonists. So, when given the chance to review a coloring book based on his work, I accepted happily.

My experience with adult coloring books involves a lot of little fiddly bits that take a ton of attention to detail to fill out well. I like that because it makes me slow down and focus on what I’m doing. This particular adult coloring book has some of that, but not nearly enough for my taste. Most of the art is presented in two page spreads with one page having a section of writing from the piece that it’s referencing. This works both to the book’s advantage and disadvantage.

On some pieces the spread allows for a grand scope and a good deal of detail work. On others it winds up with a lot of empty space that leaves the art feeling incomplete or like it’s floating. The amount empty space is definitely my biggest issue with the book itself, there is quite a lot of it. That said, the paper feels nice and heavy and the quality feels good. I didn’t get the chance to test it with markers, but it takes color pencils very well.

I feel like the sections of prose could have been worked in better in many of the spreads. In many cases the prose is just kind of left hanging in empty space, making it feel less like a centerpiece than I think it is supposed to be. The spreads where it’s boxed in or solidly framed work best for me personally.

Where does that leave the review then? I’m giving it a three out of five, mostly because of the empty space and partly because some of the art has a tendency to feel detached from itself.

Happy Halloween everyone! I’m wrapping up the weekend’s festivities with the last Fear Street Saga novel today. This is actually the one I wimped out on last time. I admit the last thing I’d remembered from it was a lot earlier in the book than I’d thought. Bonus, the Jonesy cat seems to like Oxenfree and has been cuddling her whenever I’m in the room with both of them. It’s cute. Anyway, on to the review!

 

Over a hundred years ago Benjamin Fier framed an innocent girl for witchcraft and burned her at the stake. Over a hundred years since his brother Matthew robbed the girl’s grieving father. Over a hundred years since everything began, but just two since the curse was reawakened and Franks Goode murdered the Fier family in cold blood. Only two years since Simon Fear changed his family name and forswore good. The chain is completed, and the end is beginning.

The Burning is the third and final book in the original Fear Street Saga by R. L. Stine; it’s also the first of the three to give us a villain protagonist. That’s actually a thing that I appreciate about the book. Having Simon as both our starting protagonist and, ultimately, the antagonist of the book ties things up nicely in a way that the previous two books didn’t. The reader has known that the Fear Mansion was going to burn down at the end, leaving Nora Goode all alone; it’s just been a matter of getting there.

The big down side here is that I feel like the first half of the book was really rushed. Pacing has been a problem throughout the trilogy, so it isn’t a huge out of nowhere thing. It’s more another example of needing to get things in place for what comes next and not having the room for much build up. There’s some out of nowhere stuff that I would have liked to have seen more support for, but it’s par for the course at this point.

I can’t say that The Burning is the strongest of the three books, which probably still goes to The Betrayal, but it does pretty well for itself. While rushed in a lot of ways, I feel like a lot of the things that are rushed could or would probably be hand waved with the curse if the extra space had been taken to go further in.

There’s really not a lot for me to say here. The Burning has its points that work, and work well, but it also shares the same weak points that the rest of the series has. It also has an unfortunate side effect, since the reader knows about how it ends and that Fear Street is ultimately still cursed, of not having a really satisfying ending. It’s just kind of done. So, at the end of the day I think it earned a three out of five. If any single part of it had been a touch better it would have been a four.

Missed a day there. Nothing really big happened, the spooks freaked out a little when a friend came over. I think they aren’t fans of new people. Going to work up something to fix that. Any way, on to the review!

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Forty-five years have passed since Benjamin Fier had an innocent girl and her mother burned at the stake. Forty-five years have passed since Matthew Fier robbed the girl’s father of everything he had with false promises. Forty-five years have passed since a curse was cast from betrayal and a mourning father’s grief. Following his great uncle’s notes Ezra Fier seeks the last of the Goodes to have revenge for his family’s downfall. Another link in the chain of vengeance is forged.

The Secret is R. L. Stine’s second book in the Fear Street Saga trilogy. Sometime after the end of the first book Ezra Fier has dragged his family to Wickham village in search of vengeance, only to fine the village empty of all but the dead. That makes Ezra great material for a villain, but I feel like I want more of why he’s so driven for revenge. Guy has a family, including protagonist Jonathan, which he drags along on his quest. I think that’s a big part of where this one falls apart for me.

See a big thing with The Secret is that, while we’re left with an Ezra who is totally out for revenge at the end of The Betrayal, a ton is left out from point A to point B. If his whole life is revenge, then when did he stop and court his wife, Jane? What kind of notes of Matthew’s is he following that it’s taken him this long to get to Wickham? It’s just kind of weak writing because the plot requires it. Ezra has to have a wife and kids so that there’s room for both a body count and enough Fiers to get through to modern Shadyside. It has to take awhile so that Jonathan is old enough that we have a relatable protagonist. That kind of works out for me, I don’t like it because it feels weak, but it works.

The bit after the century long time skip is where that weakness just kind of goes off the rails for me. After a hundred years of the curse not acting up in any way that is important enough to show, it wakes back up stronger than ever. We get the actually completely innocent Fier family, living happily in their ancestral home, taking in a charming drifter. The drifter is, of course, a Goode out for revenge because the plot demands it. Not just a Goode though, the last Goode, who watched his entire family die of apparently nothing so the Fiers must be at fault. This whole section of the book gives me so many issues.

Frank Goode blames the Fier family for his family dying, but we haven’t seen enough from the Goode side of things to know their feelings on the curse or feud. We don’t even actually know enough to know that there are any Goodes still alive until Frank shows up, but we’re shown a bunch of times that he’s been planning this for a long while. I feel like this could have been so much stronger if we were given more from the Goode family perspective, especially since way back in the first book George wanted nothing to do with his father’s revenge scheme. I want to know what made Frank grab on to the curse as a reason for his misfortune so hard. I want this bearing in mind that over the course of a century the Fier family itself completely forgot about the curse. Either that or I’d have liked to have seen the curse angle pushed harder rather than it being suddenly a Goode out of nowhere.

As to what was done specifically well, I liked Jonathan as a protagonist. I liked that Ezra was cast in a bad light because of his obsession with revenge on people he’d never met. The end to Jonathan’s section I thought worked really well for his character. The post time skip Fiers being legitimately kindly people and the implied happy childhood for their kids was great.

Right, so that’s a lot of words. What’s the verdict though? Ulitmately I don’t think The Secret is as good a book as The Betrayal, and it doesn’t really work well enough as a standalone novel to not get that comparison. Where it’s weak, it’s really weak. Where it works well, it still tends to be kind of thin. That said, I did read it in a single sitting without forcing myself in the least. So that happened too. In the end, it gets a three out of five for not being a bad book but also being one that could have used a lot of expanding upon.

So, day one of posting stuff for Halloween. I’m pretty excited, not gonna lie. Even the spooks around the apartment have quieted down some, either they’re getting used to us or they’re getting ready for Halloween too. But, regardless, on to the review!

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Fear Street is cursed. Since Shadyside’s founding, the town and the street bearing the name of its most infamous residents have been haunted by murderers, vengeful ghosts, and all manner of horrors. When an innocent girl is burned as a witch, the first link in a chain of vengeance that will span centuries is forged. A curse is cast, and a legend begins.

The Betrayal begins at the end with Nora Goode staring in horror and disbelief as the Fear family mansion burns down, taking her beloved Daniel with it. The story, however, begins over two hundred years earlier in the village of Wickham in the middle of a witch scare as several girls have already been burned at the stake. A girl, Susannah Goode, is framed for witchcraft by her beloved’s father, Magistrate Benjamin Fier. She and her, also accused, mother are innocent. Her father however is not and, after having his family taken from him and being robbed by the Fier brothers, William Goode vows revenge and places a curse on the Fier family.

Right off the bat, this is pretty gory for a kids’/YA book, and that fits the Fear Street Saga trilogy pretty well. It also does a good job with build, even knowing how things ultimately end there’s this sort of looming sense of waiting for the other shoe to drop. I think a good part of that is that our protagonist for most of the post betrayal book, Mary Fier, had nothing to do with that whole situation. She hadn’t even been born yet and is just a girl. Even knowing what her father and uncle did, having her as the protagonist makes the rest of the Fier family look better because she cares for them.

Unfortunately, while I do adore Mary as a protagonist for what she does for the story, The Betrayal is still very much set up for the other two books. The ending also feels a bit rushed, like Stine knew where his start was and where the ending was but he only had a certain number of pages he was allowed. It gets the point across, but it also feels pretty cheesy.

So, I know that my review and score here are ultimately pretty heavily influenced by nostalgia, but even rereading this as an adult I enjoyed it a great deal. So, The Betrayal by R. L. Stine gets a four out of five. Let’s see what happens next.

I mentioned figuring out what I was planning to do here for Halloween earlier, so I figured I should talk about it a bit.

So, back in the nineties and early aughts R. L. Stine’s Fear Street novels were the slightly more mature option to the Goosebumps books if you were a kid and wanted to read horror novels. For the most part they were pretty good, kind of formula after awhile but not unforgivably so, and genuinely fun to read to boot. So of course, as a kid, when I had the chance to read the origins of Fear Street I jumped at the chance. I never actually finished the Fear Street Saga trilogy back then, I wimped out.

That’s a lie. I got so scared that I quit reading the trilogy and split the books apart so that they couldn’t scare me any more. I gave one to a friend that I haven’t talked to in forever. Another I donated to the library of a school I wouldn’t attend until much later. As to what happened to the last book, I don’t remember in the least. It could be on a shelf at my parents’ house waiting to be opened and to allow terror to spill forth once more.

Alright, got a little purple prose-y there, but point made. Right? This trilogy scared my child self to pieces in ways that no other book I’d read at the time had been able to. So badly that I apparently decided that a fantasy novel approach to a mass market printed book was the most logical thing possible.

And the nature of fear fascinates me, especially my own. So what to do about a series like that? Read it as an adult of course. I want to see what freaked me out so badly and if it still does. So, for Halloween, I’m reading the Fear Street Saga trilogy!