Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Review: Final Girls

Boo to you, goblins and ghoulies... I hope you're having a horror-rific Halloween! 

In my attempts to get into the season's readings this month, I ventured over to the spookier side of my TBR, with a special thriller I've been anticipating all year... unfortunately, the results were frightfully disappointing. While I'm still scaring up a few last minute favorites to fill my haunting hours, here's why this recent release left me feeling gravely underwhelmed. 

Final Girls, by Riley Sager, finds its heroine standing in a culturally significant space: at the violent ends of horror flicks, as the last ladies left alive to tell the tale... only, in this novel, the massacres that breed these fierce survivors are all too real. There's Lisa, who somehow escaped after a madman claimed the lives of nine of her sorority sisters; there's Sam, who outmaneuvered the Sack Man, during a harrowing graveyard shift at the Nightlight Inn; and there's Quincy, the sole survivor of a horrifying night in a cabin in the woods, at a college party gone terrifyingly wrong.

Quincy, however, has tried her best to put the title behind her. She's a baking blogger in New York City, living in an apartment financed by the extreme legal fallout after her attack, desperately hoping that her carefully-manicured image makes up for a young adulthood spent in the limelight for all the wrong reasons. However, that perfect tableau falls apart with the news that Lisa has been found dead, especially once Sam shows up on her doorstep. After all that these women have been through... could it be that someone still wants them dead? 

With a blurb that promised an intriguing mystery, and a title featuring a favorite cinematic tropes, this book was set up to be one of my most anticipated of the year. It had a Stephen King promo on the front! When I had the chance to buy only five books when celebrating my bloggoversary, interrupting an otherwise year-long buying ban, this novel was one of the chosen few that made the cut!

Unfortunately, all this hype set it up so that when the main characterizations fell flat, motivations got murky, and action escalated at an uneven pace, it made it all the more disappointing. 

In fact, I only made it about 50 pages in before I told my Dad, "This is actually turning out to be kind of a bummer." I had all the information I needed, in order to get a read on my current reading: the book lacked any kind of cinematic quality - a definite issue, once you consider the distinctly cinematic nature of its title and concept - our main character was unrelatable, and frankly unlikable, too, and none of the backgrounds given for the leading characters were especially believable or interesting.

And the pacing was uneven. It didn't just gap in places, it yawned, especially in between Quincy's current timeline, versus flashbacks to the night of the carnage at Pine Cottage. Not to mention that by certain contrivances of the plot, by the time you get the full story on the murders, you don't really get the impression Quincy necessarily deserved to be a Final Girl; it kind of seems like she survived on a fluke. Even before you reach that particular plot apex, suspense is built through attempts to construct her as an unreliable narrator, but those fell extremely flat, as well, as amnesia-centered-plot lines tend to do.

So with plot development, our main heroine, and a key conceptual literary device, all lacking luster, I had one thing on my mind: this cannot be this author's home genre.

You see, the notes in the back of the novel mention that "Riley Sager" is actually a pseudonym, covering for an already established author. My immediate bets arranged themselves towards the romance or chick-lit genres, or maybe even a contemporary YA author, because that's the only way I found myself able to justify the strange characterizations or lack of standard Horror or Thriller background demonstrated in this novel.

Internet exploration quickly led me to the author's real name: Todd Ritter, who deals in Crime Fiction. Unfortunately, this clarified nothing for me. 

For someone whose main series centers around a female detective, it was strange that none of the police characters in Final Girls demonstrated much agency or aptitude beyond their two-dimensional renderings. I also have a lot of questions as to why he would elect to use a deliberately gender-neutral pseudonym for a genre that's a kissing cousin to the one in which he already writes, in order to somehow lend credence to the belief that the author of this book was female. 

In the end, perhaps the book's greatest downfall, in my view, is due to its reliance on the cultural collateral typically ascribed to a Final Girl, when those aren't the only variables in a horror story necessary to creating a compelling plot: it's not just Nancy, it's Freddy. It's not just Laurie, it's Michael. It's not just Sydney, it's the numerous men (and women) behind the Ghostface mask. To create a compelling and powerful Final Girl, you need to experience the horror of what she's up against firsthand.

So with a story line that focuses on deliberately obscuring that fact until the last possible moment, you're holding back on a very important function of what it actually means to be a Final Girl. By not examining the backgrounds of the killers that led to the formation of these other women, a disservice is does to the complexity of their characters. As a result, everything just feels uneven: we're told we should root for Quincy - as not only the titular Final Girl, but as a lead character - but are never given complex or significant reasons to do so.

Final Verdict: While this dead read may have been one of my biggest letdowns of my reading year, it did help me cross the finish line for my Goodreads Challenge of 2017, just in time for NaNoWriMo! Plus, there's plenty of leftover Kit Kat bars to help numb the pain...

Who's your favorite Final Girl? What are you reading this Halloween? Let me know, in the comments below!

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Review: Vicious

From A Darker Shade of Magic, to This Savage Song, to  her short story in the Because You Love to Hate Me collection, and even her Twitter account, I've pretty much cemented the fact that Victoria Schwab is one of my favorite authors. That's exactly why I've been saving this particular creepy read for a chilly October day... and now, I'm stuck deciding whether I wish I'd read it sooner, or if the wait made it all the better. All I know, is that I'm looking forward to repeating the adventure soon! 

Vicious, by V. E. Schwab (the non-YA writing alias for prolific author Victoria Schwab), follows Victor Vale through two parts of his life, decisively divided into a "before" and an "after." There's ten years ago, when he and his best friend, Eli, decided to explore the pathway to achieving super-abilities as an EO - or ExtraOrdinary - human, in a college thesis experiment gone rogue. Then there's ten years later, as Victor plots revenge, alongside his prison cellmate Mitch, and Sydney, a twelve year old girl with some interesting powers of her own. As the two timelines converge in a mishmash of interconnecting chapters and viewpoints, betrayal and loss are brought to the forefront, as two archnemeses prepare for the ultimate showdown.

When it came time to write up my initial thoughts on this book, shortly after turning the final page, I typed the following note: "I feel like I should wait until tomorrow morning in order to write a more comprehensive review. All that's going through my head right now is a chorus of 'That was awesome!'"

Schwab is an expert at constructing grey characters, and this book seems to deal exclusively in that palette. Ranging from a serial murderer with a religious hero complex, to a self-described villain with the ability to manipulate pain and a habit for saving others, everyone occupying the city of Merit seems to lie somewhere between charcoal and slate. Except, of course, when they're dealing in red... because there's a whole lot of murder here, only slightly remedied by a girl with a penchant for raising the dead.

The non-chronological time order required careful attention to the chapter headings, but getting used to it came quickly, especially as the tones between the differing timelines are fairly distinct. The effect was a purposefully muddled and deliberate shielding of certain moments and information until it became absolutely necessary to the reader's understanding of the narrative, and the gradual reveal of our shadowy characters' true stories and selves were completely in line with their own ambiguous moral codes.

In any superhero movie, the question is inevitably raised, as to the level of responsibility the character in question has in protecting anyone else. In Spider Man, Uncle Ben delivers one of the most iconic lines in the entire genre, equating the possession of power with the burden of mastering it for a greater purpose. In Vicious, this dynamic is turned on its head: EOs are pretty exclusively shown manipulating their power for personal gain, and the one among them who self-identifies with heroics does so not through saving those in need, but by destroying others. Even our narrative focus, Victor himself, isn't necessarily preoccupied with protecting civilians, either, but is motivated almost solely by revenge.

This helps solidify one of my favorite elements of the novel.

Because of the attention paid to the development of the somewhat reckless self-benefit of EO abilities, a character focus established early on, is whether these mutations make them something that aligns less with being a man, than being a monster. Is becoming something superhuman an act against God, and his creation? What do you sacrifice - what does your soul sacrifice - in becoming something that strays so far from the boundaries of humanity?

One of the best things Schwab does, is keep this answer subjective, especially when it comes to the ways her main characters grapple with their newfound abilities. Clashes about how personalities are reflected and changed in the acquisition of superpowers, forms a central conflict, without an answer ever truly being found, as compelling arguments are generated on both sides of the spectrum.

Are these new rough edges and hard faults something that comes to the surface when you become something new, or have they already been there? Has something else shoved its way in? The moral debates that formed the catalyst for action were so much more compelling than any typical revenge plot, that it allowed for significant forms of personal and relationship development that affected the ways characters interacted, without having the question ever fully resolved.

As a whole, the novel leaves plenty of room for sequential development, while still standing solidly on its own. The final page ends with loose ends pretty much tied, but enough give in them to where there was room to knit something just as new and compelling together to it.

Final Verdict: A gritty, grey variation on the traditional superhero origin story, Vicious is another perfect addition to Schwab's expertly curated canon of novels. Fans of movies like Unbreakable and Chronicle - and probably Sin City - would love this uniquely dark, action-packed adventure.

Are you a fan of Victoria Schwab? Which of her books is your favorite? Let me know, in the comments below!

Monday, October 23, 2017

Twilight Reread: The Podcast, The Novel, My Brother, and The Movie

At the start of my summer reading, I mentioned my intentions for generating a very specific kind of book club: one involving my younger siblings, a podcast, and the series of novels that turned paranormal romance into a publishing genre juggernaut.

into the twilight

The idea came in the wake of a growing obsession with a podcast run by a friend from college: Into the Twilight. The podcast recaps two chapters of the book series with every episode, with our two hosts - Cody and Ally - providing modern commentary, calling out problematic (or just bad) writing, and even exploring their own relationships with the series itself. Over time, other elements, like movie reviews, online quizzes, and readings of excerpts from all-too-recently-published fan-fiction, were added to the show lineup, adding only more hilarity to what was already a pretty surreal media experience.

After listening to the series for a while, what had originally been intended as a sweet and awkward nostalgia trip through the reading material of my younger years, had actually revitalized a long-dormant interest, in one of the cringiest book series I'd ever read. I decided that after I finished all of the podcast series recaps for the first book, I would take a trip back in time myself.

back to middle school

It's truly amazing how rereading Twilight felt familiar and nostalgic, but different. More than anything, it was like opening a time capsule of my earliest preteen years. 

Here's a quick flashback to the personal significance of reading Twilight when the books were first published, in 2005: I was eleven, entering the sixth grade, and was all too aware at that point of the social damages I'd already accrued from admitting I read vampire books. I had gone through R. L. Stine's Dangerous Girls with desperate fervor, a friend had lent me a few copies of Amelia Atwater-Rhodes' various novels, and I had even tried my hand at Bram Stoker's Dracula (only to generate a compulsion to lock my windows and shut my blinds before I went to sleep every night, a habit I only managed to break in college).

It was a hobby I entertained exclusively in private... until two years later, in 2007, when suddenly, Team Edward fever swept through our middle school with such ferocity, you'd think the local high school was playing Forks HS for Homecoming. Eclipse - the third in the series - was published that year, and previews would soon be running for the Twilight movie, premiering the following November. Vampires were now in vogue, for the teenage set.

The same kids who though me strange before, now considered themselves to be ahead of the trend, with this hot new reading material. The books I had originally embraced for their genre, I abandoned with just as much feeling. In my mind, they weren't really vampire novels at all, because if they had been, then why was everyone else reading them?

I felt just as embarrassed about Twilight at 23, as I did at 13. Instead of taking the book anywhere in public, I read it on a camping trip.

my brother joins in

After I was done  - and still reeling from the resulting time warp - I handed the book off to my baby brother, Beau, who, even at fifteen-turning-sixteen, has a tendency to ride on the same reading wavelength as me. It's one of the reasons I was so interested in seeing his reaction to the book: with similar tastes, and differing history, what would he think of this teen lit phenomena?

What I hadn't accounted for, was the factor of something akin to socialized expectation. His understanding of its story was generated from an outside-in standpoint, rather than one that went inside-out: he grew up knowing of and observing Twilight's background and cultural collateral, he was raised seeing its wider impact and subsequent backlash firsthand, long before he knew its plot or characters well enough to decide for himself.

It's one of many reasons why the book, to him, was absolutely hilarious.

Because of this element of previous cultural engagement, for him, the novel ran closer to satire, brimming with unintentional irony and meta-humor constructed not from the objective nature of the text itself, but of his already-developed understanding, of what the text generated in mainstream culture, from its original popularity to pretty much a decade after its publication. When he read the book, he wasn't interacting with the text first: he had to wade through twelve years of pop cultural understanding, before he even had the chance to get to the simplistic YA romance of a girl and a vampire.

But even when he managed to - when he set all of those preconceptions of the novel, and its miscellaneous media extremities, aside - he still ended up really liking it. So, of course, we had to watch the movie.

kristen, robert, and my sister, delaney

One of my younger sisters, Delaney, is a movie buff, and a Twilight fanatic.

She watches all of the movies on a somewhat annual basis. An "Edward + Bella = Forever" tee shirt we found in the XXL women's section of a Value Village a couple of years ago, is a regular staple in her wardrobe. She near-exclusively drinks Rainier beer, because that's what Charlie Swan drinks in the movies, and when she had an opportunity to meet Billy Burke - who plays the character - it was one of the first things she told him. The photos of this exchange are currently her pinned tweet on Twitter.

You'd think she'd have been a super-fan since Twilight first hit teen bookshelves everywhere, but that's not necessarily the case. She saw the first movie, loved it, read all the books in one go, and saw the rest of the movies in theaters... but the real hype didn't actually kick in until years later, in college.

She demanded to be able to watch the movie with us, while on vacation towards the end of summer.

bella, edward, and the family

For Beau, it was his first time watching the whole way through; for Delaney, she was so well-acquainted with the material that she interacted with the television in a pseudo-Rocky Horror manner, calling out phrases that interacted with on-screen activity, or quoting lines alongside some of her favorite characters. The jokes made it clear that while this was one of her favorite franchises, even she knew that it was not above criticism or comedy. If anything, her enjoyment of the movie was, in some ways, constructed around the fact that it was more than a little ridiculous.

I'd forgotten a lot about how this movie interprets the plot, and even found elements of the novel absent from the movie that I was surprised I missed, like some of my favorite lines (for instance, the scene where Bella pressures Edward into eating a slice of pizza in the school cafeteria, which contains one of my favorite pieces of dialogue in the whole series).

There were aspects of the movie's construction that threw me off, too, yet seemed so emblematic of the franchise as a whole that I can't believe I forgot them: the strange blue color filtration, the intensity of close-up camera angles, and the prevalence of great music covering up otherwise completely silent scenes. The fact that the movie soundtrack was so much better than I had ever given it credit for, was just something I had never paid that much attention to, until Ally and Cody made frequent mention of it on the podcast.

By the time the credits rolled, my brother had already given his initial verdict: "When I was reading the book, I didn't imagine them just... staring... quite so much."

my baby brother writes a review

After about a month of simmering, and a return to scholastic reading with the advent of the new school year, I asked Beau again what his overall thoughts were, not just of the book, but also of the movie, and of our family's coveting of both.
"Overall, reading and watching Twilight was a blast, though it should not be said that these books are objectively good. In my opinion, these books are bad, but this faultiness is one of the reasons I love it.  
I have grown up around three different sisters who have all individually read this series and over time I have obtained a small portion of understanding of what this series was about: a girl named Bella meets hot vampire dude, and romantic adventures ensue.  
However, this limited foresight is what allowed me to truly enjoy this book. A vague and warped understanding of the plot, caused me to know what to expect ahead of time, but also allowed me to appreciate some of the features of the story more.  
Twilight, the book, is filled to the brim with classic cheesy scenes, many of which made me laugh. The movie is very similar, with the addition of strange acting choices. Sadly, the movie also loses some so-bad-it's-good lines and moments along the way, to shorten up its run time (Though, as previously stated, it is a great time with good friends).  
In conclusion, Twilight was a fun read and I am glad I read it. It is a much more hilarious book if you don't take it too seriously. One thing for sure, is that I’m planning on finishing the series.

rereading New Moon

Now, I'm finishing up the last couple of podcast episodes covering New Moon. My brother is impatient to get to read it as well, with absolutely no shame in carrying it to school as a proud sophomore high school student, exhibiting more self-confidence than I ever had in my first readings of these novels.

In that way, it's been an interesting experience exploring what this franchise means to each of us. For me, it was a source of preteen shame, that lost all fun once swept up in the crowd; now that I've been able to let go of some of that social anxiety, I've can enjoy the book for what it is. My sister was a part of the initial craze, but found she could love it more once the rest of the frenzy had already past. My brother grew up in the "post-Twilight" pop culture experience, and the books are more fun for him now than they probably would have ever been, had he been a part of the initial phenomenon.

While there are still plenty of issues with the books as a whole, there's one element of their popularity I've always found necessary to highlight: this series got people reading. However, the power of this statement doesn't come from the idea that lots of people were reading these specific books, but that these specific books were being read by a diverse and multi-faceted population of people. 

From a variety of backgrounds and life experiences, ages, genders, sexualities, careers, and other forms of social divide, a whole lot of us read this book. If my sister, brother, and I could all come from different ways of thinking, and enjoy something as silly as a YA vampire romance together, then who's to say what it might mean to other people, too?

When was the first time you read Twilight? Would you think about rereading it now? Let me know, in the comments below!

Thursday, October 19, 2017

24 Karat Magic: My Birthday Haul!

Well, it's official: as of this past Sunday, I officially turned 24. While it's weird contemplating yet another trip around the sun, thankfully, my existential dread has been put on hold for a moment... so I can play with all the new toys I got!

(Just kidding. To be fair, though, I'm really most excited for is for the new bedding I ordered to arrive tomorrow afternoon, so I can rest easy in Garnet Hill Signature Navy Toile Flannel Sheets, instead of on the as-to-now-sheetless double bed I was handed down earlier this year.)

Still, I'm not joking when I say my parents (and friends! and siblings!) are awesome, and took advantage of my inability to buy my own books in order to pick out a few just for me. Resolution 2017 is still holding strong, but my shelves still get filled with oodles of awesome new reading material... and that's the best bday present I could have asked for!

thrifted fashion reference books for women's styles in the 1800s
While my birthday itself was mostly spent in Seattle, Washington, playing Dungeons and Dragons with some of my sorority sisters (and biological sister), I had gone thrift shopping with my other younger sister the day before, and she was determined to use the excursion to find the perfect present. She did, in these reference books for 1800s women's fashion, focusing on European styles in the later half of the century. While I'm mostly planning on using them for scrap-booking, but also think that some pages will look amazing in the new gold frame I picked up on the same trip!

The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine, by Mark Twain and Philip Stead, illustrated by Erin Stead
My mom knows that I read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer every year, and that Twain is one of my all-time favorite authors... which is why she made a perfect guess in picking up this new picture book, based off of stories that Samuel Clemens told his own daughters before bed.

Dear America: The Fences Between Us: The Diary of Piper Davis, Seattle, 1941, Kirby Larson
I've been a long-time, hardcore fan of the Dear America series since I first started reading them as a kid, but this has probably been the first that I sought out specifically because of its content. Not only is this 2011 release set in my city of choice - Seattle, WA - but it deals with a historical moment that has been close to my heart throughout college: the West Coast Japanese internment during WWII.

Before the Devil Breaks You (The Diviners #3), Libba Bray
To be perfectly honest, my younger brother - with whom I share a love for this series - and I definitely did not realize that its most recent release was due for publication just weeks ago. Whether it's the lengthy waiting time between each installment of this fantastic series, or the fact that the publisher is changing the cover style for the third time with the third book, we were taken completely by surprise! But not too surprised that he couldn't run out and buy me a copy... with the expressed intention of reading it right after me, of course.

The Lemonade Cookbook, Alan Jackson and JoAnn Cianciulli
Lemonade LA - one of the most Instagrammable restaurants in existence, touting fresh salads, cafeteria-style desserts, and over fifteen different candy-colored flavors of its titular beverage - has long taunted me due to the sheer distance I'd need to cover to taste its fare. Now, there's no plane ticket required, because I've finally got my hands on some of its "California comfort food" recipes!

of course, it wasn't all just books...

  • One of the presents I was most excited for, actually came two days after my birthday, on the 17th: the season one DVD of Starz's American Gods - based off of the Neil Gaiman book of the same name, which I freaked out about only last summer - has finally arrived! 
  • And while it's not based off of a book of its own, it might as well be: influenced by the enduring legacy of British period crime novels (like those penned by my beloved Agatha Christie), and serving as the reason why Julian Fellowes was able to give us Downton Abbey so many years later, the Academy-Award winning Gosford Park is one of my favorite rainy day movies... and now I can watch it whenever I want! 
  • I've been geeking out about my beautiful Tombow dual-brush pens for a full year now, as I only received my first set of them for my birthday last year. Now, the obsession is back... and in pastels! 
  • Like I mentioned before, I spent my birthday playing D&D. While the hobby itself can be a relatively cheap one - all you really need is a set of dice, a Player's Handbook, the Character Sheet app on your phone, paper and pencils, and some good friends to play with - it's always fun to upgrade with game-specific goodies. That's why I'm so excited I got a HeroForge gift card from my friend Bernie: this complete-customization mini-figurine company allows you to build one that looks just like your character... so you don't have to just use a d6 as a stand-in on battle maps, like I've been doing for the past two years! 
  • True, I took sewing lessons as a kid. But now, as an adult, my Project Runway and thrift-flipping obsessions have made themselves manifest once again, in a request to take some Joann's classes on improving my non-existent skills. So I'm signed up for three of them! 
  • And, of course, one of the rare and few benefits to spending all of my time at home, is the fact that I get to rock Zella Live-In leggings whenever I want... which is probably why the pairs I've owned since freshman year of college all recently bit the dust. No worries, though: the two new pairs I got for my birthday should keep me comfortable for a while! 

Much and many thanks to everyone who helped me celebrate my birthday, even though there's nothing exciting about turning 24! 
What's your favorite way to celebrate a birthday? Let me know, in the comments below!

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Review: Slasher Girls and Monster Boys

While I was a huge fan of R. L. Stine's Goosebumps and Fear Street books growing up, my first real brush with Horror came courtesy of Stephen King's short story collections, like Skeleton Crew and Nightmares and Dreamscapes... so when I first saw this compendium of horror shorts, courtesy of notable YA authors, I knew I had to read it this October. 

When I finished, and saw that it had originally been published two years ago, I was absolutely shocked. Why hadn't I heard of this book before? 

Psycho, I Know What You Did Last Summer, Alice in Wonderland, Carrie. Marie Lu, Leigh Bardugo, Kendare Blake, Danielle Paige.

Slasher Girls and Monster Boys, edited by April Genevieve Tucholke, is jam-packed with plenty of names and titles you'll recognize... and they're counting on it. Drafting some of Young Adult's most thrilling authors to pen their own horror shorts inspired by works of fiction - from movies, television, music, and more - this collection takes familiar fictional tropes and trends, and turns them on their heads. Now, it's up to you, to do your best not to lose yours...

While reading, even before I'd managed to get halfway into this collection, I said, out loud, "This is so much better than it has any right to be." You go in expecting some kind of watered-down YA version of Horror, but this is still straight-up the real deal. There were plot twists, there were genuinely creepy atmospheres, there were characters you didn't know whether to root for or not, and there were Final Girls galore... this book took its source material seriously.

And they were proud of it: each story - like I said, inspired by one or more musical, television, movie, etc. influences - takes those various forms of inspiration, flips the script, in more ways than one, and creates a completely new story, recognizable by a few key ingredients that you can latch onto throughout the course of the narrative. When you're done, it lists its foundational titles upside down at the end of each chapter, to check whether your hunch was correct, or in case you're wondering what your further reading should include if you happened to like it. Not only do they want you to recognize that the stories are re-imaginings, they wanted you to explore the original when you're done. 

Which is an important step, when the stories you're telling sometimes bear only tangential relationships to the original. They're never a complete rehashing of the original tale, it's more like a revisiting or a re-interpretation... or in the cases of those that come courtesy of multiple mythologies, it's not so much strict collaboration or a careful conversation of interlocking parts, but a mutation between them both. For instance, I went through one story absolutely sure that it was inspired by Carrie, only to come to the end and find that it was a variation on, among other things, The Omen and Frankenstein. Meanwhile, Carrie came up again later on in the collection, tucked in amid an I Know What You Did Last Summer retelling.

(For people who love metamedia, this collection might make for an interesting course study, due to the remediated relationship between these culturally-iconic movies and their inclusion in literary-formatted retellings, aimed at a similar audience. Just a thought!)

If there's anything the stories have in common, it's certain themes of reclamation, with young girls finding vengeance or making their own hatch marks on the genre, creepy older men and typical social predators - like Internet stalkers, leery-eyed truckers, and manipulative doctors - getting their comeuppance, and those that would want to ignore either party, being force to look on and understand. For a genre that only too frequently finds young women at the center of their gruesome games, many of these stories did a good job finding opportunities to turn over the power to the actions of the female protagonist.

While the stories held true to a familiar genre, and the theming felt similar, too, the tones within them varied significantly: some were almost uplifting, like zombie-uprising short "Fat Girl With A Knife," while others definitely knew the dark place to which they were carrying their readers, like when a victim of a sexual assault comes back to brutally haunt her rapist, in "The Girl Without a Face." Some, like Nirvana's "Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle"-retelling, "Verse Chorus Verse," leans towards teen celeb culture and bright city lights, while rural-based "Hide and Seek" comes complete with barren fields to run through, and a barn in which to take refuge. Eerie WWII-set "Emmeline" contrasts with Upstairs, Downstairs - riffing "M".

And that's only six of the fourteen stories contained in this collection.

Honestly? I hate pitting books or authors against each other, but there's really no other way to describe it: this is the kind of book that recently-hyped Because You Love to Hate Me collection wishes it was. Both collections of prominent authors traversing new ground, centering their retellings or prompt-adaptations on baddies you know not to root for, but can't help doing so. But unlike that collection, I absolutely love all of the directions these stories went. There weren't standout favorites, like I had with BYLtHM, because there weren't any that dragged or I had to skip through. Almost all of them had something unique and entertaining to offer, even when I could see where the plot was headed from a mile away. Even when you could easily identify the source of the stories, you enjoyed the way they were told. 

This is the kind of book I wish I had bought instead of just rented from the library, because I have a million people I want to recommend it to! Halfway through reading, I posted about it on Snapchat and reblogged photos of it on Tumblr, and my sister messaged me saying that I was required to bring it up for her the following weekend so she could read it, too. I had to tell her no, because it was only a rental, but I hope she takes the time to seek it out for herself, like I know I'll be doing this time again, next year.

Final Verdict: Pulling from a diverse variety of cultural inspiration, and featuring the talents of plenty of YA's finest, Slasher Girls and Monster Boys makes for a unique and entertaining creepy read, perfect for younger fans looking for an accessible entry into the genre. Not only am I still in shock that this book was so good, I've already picked out a few authors to explore later on in the year, because their short stories did so much to recommend them.

Have you read this collection before? What's your favorite horror short? Let me know, in the comments below!

Thursday, October 5, 2017

My Spooky October TBR, and Other Favorite Creepy Reads

There's nothing my family loves more than a great theme... which might be one of the reasons why all of our Halloween decor made their way out, all the way back in September. We've been preparing for this since August, when our suitcases returned from Disneyland bursting with Haunted Mansion paintings and picture books, and now that the spooky season has finally arrived, we've wasted no time in getting the celebration underway.

We've got a stack of our favorite horror DVDs lined up for viewing by the television. We've got a stockpile of pumpkin- and apple-flavored goodies in the kitchen. And you can bet that I've got a long list of creepy reads, stacked a mile high. 

Here's what I'll be reading in the month of October, as well as some of my favorite unexpected Halloween recommendations, for you, too!

my personal spooky October TBR

19364719Slasher Girls and Monster Boys, edited by April Genevieve Tucholke
Okay, full disclosure - at the time of this being posted, I've already pretty much finished this one! A spooky story collection written by some of your favorite YA authors - including Marie Lu, Leigh Bardugo, A. G. Howard, and more - each tale features a signature point of inspiration or two, taken from famous, movies books, and music, and it's up to the reader to tease out the source material. Can't figure it out? Don't worry! All secrets are revealed at the end of each story.

Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge, Paul Krueger
This urban fantasy follows a band of magical mixologists, whose signature cocktails whip up more than just a buzz, as they tackle a band of miscreant monsters terrorizing downtown Chicago. The book itself is also peppered with drinks to try at home, and promises plenty of riffs on the "Young Woman Called to Defeat Scary Baddies" trope that I love so much.

Vicious, V.E. Scwhab
You ever been so excited to read a book, that you let it sit in your TBR pile for a long time instead of picking it up, because you want to make sure the moment is absolutely perfect? V. E. Schwab is one of my favorite authors of all time, and this novel - about two ex-best-friends with supernatural powers and a rivalry that could destroy the world - has been languishing on my shelves for far too long.

Our Dark Duet, Victoria Schwab
32075662Yet another V. E. Schwab title, but thankfully, this one hasn't had so much of a waiting period: the sequel to This Savage Song, in the Monsters of Verity duology, this novel just came out earlier this summer. In a world where terrifying monsters are born from intense occasions of violence, it's up to Kate and August to face their demons, inside and out, if they want any chance of making the lives of the citizens of Verity worth living again.

The Beauty, Jeremy Haun and Jason A. Hurley
They say beauty's only skin deep, but the truth is so much more than that: physical perfection has become attainable, when deliberately contracting a sexually-transmitted disease can effectively alter its host to the aesthetic ideal. Unfortunately, this status comes with a deep price. While the idea of an STD-altering the biology of those that contract it is hardly new in the comics world - it was most famously done with the iconic Black Hole series, from Charles Burns - I've been looking forward to this one, because, let's face it: I'm more than happy to judge a book with that kind of cover.

32796253Final Girls, Riley Sager
There was Lisa, the sole survivor of a sorority massacre that claimed nine of her sisters, and there was Sam, a late-night Nightlight Inn employee standing off against the gruesome Sack Man. Now, there's Quinn, who left for a vacation with five friends, only to be the only one to return home alive, after a gory altercation with the mysterious figure only known as Him. Of course, this exclusive club of Final Girls starts to get even more dangerous, when one of them turns up dead.

One of my most anticipated reads of the year, I purchased this novel at the same time as Meddling Kids, for my Seventh Bloggoversary, which turned out to be a 2017 fave, so I'm hoping that the super-meta, culturally-commentative creepy vibes rubbed off on this one, as well!
Playing Dead: A Journey Through the World of Death Fraud, Elizabeth Greenwood
This non-fiction, in-depth exploration of the motivations and planning of people who committed complete pseudocide asks the age old question, "Am I better off dead?" without any of the messy follow-through.

Of course, all of those reads make for a pretty intense and lengthy TBR. Because I've been making my way with five or six books a month for the past few months, I don't want to make this list any longer than it really needs to be... but that being said, if I can, I'd absolutely love to make it through Martha Brackenbrough's A Game of Love and Death, Shirley Jackson's We Have Always Lived in the Castle, and Stephanie Meyer's New Moon, as well!

some of my favorite unexpected creepy October reads

I've talked about my Halloween favorites on this blog before, on many a "Top Ten Tuesday," no less.

2015 saw me discussing some of the best children's Halloween favorites in our giant stack of holiday books (one that's only grown through some pretty fantastic new purchases in the past two years), while 2016 got me gabbing about best books for YA, Adult, and Non-fiction readers for the spooky season, too!

That being said, there are still plenty of great books to read this October that encapsulate that Great Pumpkin feeling that haven't made it onto my lists yet, so while I still adore talking about Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves, and Mary Roach's Spook to my heart's content, here are a few other books you might not necessarily think to read this October, that are absolutely worth the scare:

16299And Then There Were None, Agatha Christie
A chilling mystery favorite, with eerie ambiance and a creepy supporting cast, this classic whodunit-turned-murder-spree has been widely lauded since it was originally published 1939. As houseguests to a mysterious and missing owner, ten people with troubling pasts they'd like to keep secret are forced to determine who among them has been killing off their fellow residents. (For a more YA-friendly take on this classic story, check out Ten by Gretchen McNeil!)

The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Elizabeth George Speare
Okay, so the titular witch of this series might not actually be a witch, and this read doesn't benefit from any of your typical thrills and chills, but it does feature a stifling and suspicious Puritan colony, a feisty and unconventional heroine, a well-written romance, and is a pretty classic Fall read for those looking to up the witch content in their 2017 TBR.

Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen
398199Austen is known for her Regency-era romances; however, she also played a fair hand with this parody, aimed at the trendy world of Gothics, featuring decrepit castles, locked rooms, cryptic messages, and unwelcoming relatives. While the book is still at its heart a love story, it's one whose shadowy atmospherics and eternally-suspicious leading lady make for a fun and funny take on the literature movement that made many of Jane's contemporaries famous.

The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern
The circus arrives without warning. Boasting an array of dazzling sights, sounds, magical and mysterious acts, and more, Le Cirque de Reves has served as a stage for many things, but a battle between the proteges of two expert magicians will watch it soar to its highest heights... whether these star-crossed lovers want to play the game or not. A longtime fave with plenty of atmosphere, and plot to back it up, you might not get scared, but you certainly won't be able to look away.

3682A Great and Terrible Beauty, Libba Bray
While I've lauded her Diviners series for its masterfully macabre and perfectly paranormal stories and characters before, I haven't given as much attention to the Great and Terrible Beauty series, which is what turned Bray into an auto-buy author for me all the way back in the seventh grade. Featuring a Victorian-era boarding school, a mysterious band of girls, special powers and the supernatural forces that try to take them away, this would be a great YA read for anyone looking for less spooks, and more of a general creepiness.

And while I haven't read them myself, I've heard only good things about Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodrigeuz's Locke and Key comic book series. In terms of horror comics, I've enjoyed the American Vampire series from Scott Snyder and Raphael Albuquerque in the past, and even the first in the Mike Carey and Peter Gross Unwritten series is pretty gosh-darned creepy!

So there you have them: some of my favorite and no doubt soon-to-be favorite reads for the Halloween season in October. "When hinges creak in doorless chambers, and strange and frightening sounds echo through the halls, whenever candlelight flickers where the air is deathly still"... it might just be the perfect time for a great spooky read or two.

And make sure to keep the lights on, when you do!

So, what are you planning on reading this upcoming spooky season? Do you have any Halloween traditions, especially bookish ones? Let me know, in the comments below!

Sunday, October 1, 2017

News and Things: September Favorites

This month has been a bit of a whirlwind, where all too much has happened, from all of us making the return jump to school and family life after two solid weeks of blissful vacation, to ending the month running a gamut of doctor's visits. It has been, on the whole, a bit of a pain.

To be perfectly honest, I've been ready for September to be over for a while now. I finally convinced our Family to set up all our Halloween decor last weekend, I've got a stack of 20 spooky movies downstairs next to the TV and a plan to watch as many as possible in the coming month, and out of the five of us who live in this house, we've already made it on to our fourth box of orange-and-black Oreos. October holds both my birthday and my second-favorite holiday, and I'm ready to start the celebrating right now.

And thank goodness, the time has finally arrived. I'm ready to stuff myself with everything apple and pumpkin flavored known to mankind, and reflect of all that I've learned in the past month (Lesson #523: throw out unused cosmetics and skincare).

As for the rest of it, we've seen some News. We tried some Things. So now, it's time for News and Things!

There's been plenty of discussion about Teen Vogue within the past year, as it becomes more politically active and diverse in both interests and model selections, for what was once simply viewed as one of the most unrealistic teen magazines. It's time to thank the mag's new visionary Editor in Chief for the shake up (and for the love of lip gloss, can the media stop condescending down to teen magazines?).

Between the flooding and hurricanes in the South and Puerto Rico, to the asthma-inducing fire and heat in the North, this past late August and early September has seen plenty of weather extremes... which is why pretending climate change isn't an issue is deliberately dumb and willfully stupid. Calculate your carbon footprint, and see what kinds of daily changes you can make.

How women write women, versus how men write women: what the new Bette Davis memoir - versus the new Ryan Murphy-helmed Bette Davis TV show - tells us about how women's lives are constructed and communicated when women are at the helm. 

While the name "Iggy Azalea" might not flit through your consciousness on a regular basis, it's fascinating to watch her overnight success, and just-as-fast plummet to D-List stardom, in this Jezebel article, charting her industry build-up and take-down in its entirety. 

In this month's surprising, not-surprising movie news: stop quoting the cerulean speech from The Devil Wears Prada, because it's not even an accurate description of the ways trends progress! (On all other counts, though, probably best to listen to Miranda Priestly.)

Have you thought about the outfit you'd like to be buried in? Unless you're a fan of Mary Roach's Stiff and Caitlin Doughty's The Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, like I am, probably not a whole lot. But thanks to a social media caption trend among teens, it's given this Racked author reason to reflect.

The Big Bang Theory is one of the most successful sitcoms on television right now, but its opponents can be just as fervent as its supporters. I've had a hard time describing my own issues with the show before - "easy" and "colloquial" humor, characters who rarely demonstrate personal growth, throwing in just as many intellectual buzzwords as necessary to keep up the charade that it's a "smart" show - but this video, classifying how the casual sexism and misogynistic humor in the show means for women in greater geek culture and Hollywood comedy, really lands the mark.

Fans of musical theater and food rejoice: Eater hosts a casual interview with the Pie Consultant (amazing job alert) for Waitress: the Musical on Broadway! 

Someone put a hold on my debit card, PBTeen has now launched a new Harry Potter collection! Granting you the ability to outfit your bedroom with plenty of wizarding wonder, I'm taking it as no coincidence that this collection was released at the same time I'm looking for a new set of bedding. I may have long graduated from my own castles of choice, but a college grad can still rock Patronus bedding, right?

I'm a huge fan of celebrity impersonators, and this expert reading of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven" in 100 celebrity voices is a great way to get into the spooktacular season. (Personal faves include Adam Sandler, Rod Sterling, Sterling Archer, John Cleese, and Christopher Walken.)

My personal makeup standby - like that of many others - is undoubtedly my mascara. While I long stood by Tarte's "Lights, Camera Splashes," they changed the formula a couple of years ago, and I've been hunting for the perfect replacement since then... and when I heard that a drugstore fave had released a new waterproof mascara to rival Too Faced's "Better than Sex," I knew I had to try it! L'Oreal's "Lash Paradise" Waterproof is my new go-to, and has the benefit of being just as great as much more expensive mascaras. 

Bless the reality television gods, Project Runway is back on TV! Tim Gunn, Swatch, Heidi and crew are back and better than ever, and this season is seeing one of my favorite twists ever: all of the models are between the sizes 2 to 22, and if you think we'd get through the season without someone whining about styling plus size, you are wrong! (Seriously, it's like the contestants on this show have never actually seen a whole season before.)

Hi, I mentioned this in the intro, but I don't know if you heard me fully: we're now on our FOURTH BOX of Halloween Oreos, and October only started this morning. I know they're literally the same flavor as the original, with just an additional dose of food coloring... but we can't stop snacking!

I've long been a fan of hit musical Something Rotten, but didn't get a chance to see it in person until I came to Seattle's Fifth Avenue theater. What transpired: sassy Shakespearean takes, expertly inappropriate lyrics, and the perfect blend of awesome dance moves and Renaissance riffs. Take a few minutes of your day to listen to one of my favorite songs, "God, I Hate Shakespeare."

What have you been up to this September? What were your favorite News and Things? Let me know, in the comments below!