Are there any 90s children who didn't grow up reading the Goosebumps books? If there are, I haven't met them.
In addition to the Goosebumps books, Stine wrote a middle grade/teen-targeted series called the Fear Street series. They were horror/psychological novels, and while some of them were quite twisted, for the most part they weren't too scary. Fear Street was horror with a signed permission slip from Mom.
When I found out that R.L. Stine was writing a reprise, I was really excited. There's a new Goosebumps movie coming out starring Jack Black and now another one of my childhood favorites is coming back? Nostalgia Jackpot!
DON'T STAY UP LATE was kind of lame.
The thing I liked about the Fear Street series is that most of them weren't supernatural (and the ones that were were like L.J. Smith's NIGHT WORLD series...diet urban fantasy, very fun). They were about teenagers going crazy and murdering each other for petty (or not so petty) vendettas.
In DON'T STAY UP LATE, Lisa is a teenage girl. One day she sneaks out to have dinner with her friends. Her parents find out, drive down there, and take her home...but on the way back, they get into an accident and her father dies in the car crash.
After the crash, Lisa keeps having these hallucinations. Scary demons running around, breaking into homes, and possibly committing murder. She sees them so clearly, but nobody else does, not even her friends, and her psychiatrist is making thinly veiled threats to send her to an institution. 51-50, bitch.
To help ground Lisa, her psychiatrist suggests that she babysit a little boy who lives on Fear Street with his mom. But there are all kinds of stories about what happens on Fear Street...and Lisa can't help but wonder if Fear Street might just provide a focus point for her "personal demons" (did you see what I did there? Did you?).
DON'T STAY UP LATE took a lot of time to get started. The set-up was a significant portion of the book, and left the book feeling "beginning heavy" in terms of pacing.
I also feel like this reboot falls in ambiguous category. Fear Street was pretty clearly teen, and most of the books hold up well. Goosebumps was obviously for children, and most of the books hold up less well, because they are more fanciful, more in line with a child's line of thought. Fear Street Relaunch, based on this book, is a bizarre blend of the two that (I think) attempts to appeal to both age groups, but will really end up isolating them because the characters are teens doing teen things and aren't very childlike, and yet the writing itself is very juvenile, and very childlike.
I didn't really like that.
I also didn't like the twist. I've been reading a lot of psychological thrillers with mindfuck endings, so maybe I set the book up for failure that way, but even so, the ending was pretty lame.
Also, it feels so weird to me to see R.L. Stine mentioning iPhones and "swiping" and Facetime. I still remember how inconvenient it was traveling anywhere without cell phones. God forbid if you deviated from the plan and got separated from your group. That was part of what made the original Fear Street books so scary, in my opinion. That sense of isolation. 21st technology just makes everything much less scary.
5 TO 1 is set in 2054, Koyanagar, India. Men outnumber women five to one, and women are a valuable commodity. But they are no longer treated as second-class citizens. In Koyanagar, women rule, because they provide children, and men scrape and serve for a chance to leave behind their lives of poverty and debasement.
In a weird cross between The Hunger Games and the Bachelorette, five men compete for the opportunity to become a husband.
Sudasa, however, is not enjoying her challenge. Especially when she finds out that her grandmother, the president of Koyanagar, may have done some subtle manipulations to influence the outcome.
When I found out that parts of this story were written in verse, I lost some enthusiasm for this book. I really don't like poetry, especially not free verse. Something about it is so pretentious.
Bodger has a way with words, though, and luckily, Kiran's POV is not written in verse. It was interesting comparing the two characters, seeing how similar they were in spite of the differences between their stations. Sudasa is a bird in a gilded cage, and Kiran is a dirty chicken trussed up for the chopping block. But both of them are unhappy, and might just be each other's salvation.
I also have to say that it was nice to read a book set in a foreign country with foreign characters that didn't smack of appropriation.
5 TO 1 is a pretty good book. Not a great one, and not particularly memorable, but okay.
A year ago, I was approved to read Asa Akira's memoir on Netgalley. The book was called PORN - A LOVE STORY. Akira's memoir was fantastic because it deconstructed so many taboos and stereotypes and presented a lot of really interesting, relevant, and, yes, dangerous questions about sex, women, and feminism that often get ignored in mainstream media.
Questions like: what is it like working in the adult entertainment industry? Does sleeping with the same sex necessarily mean that you're gay? Is porn star interchangeable with slut? And, perhaps most relevant of all: why is so society so uncomfortable with a woman taking charge of her own sexual gratification, especially in a non-monogamous, non-binary context?
I bring up Asa Akira's memoir because THE COMPANION CONTRACT touched upon a lot of the same issues, and it did so with the same amount of succinct nonchalance. I can't help but wonder if Solace Ames was even inspired by Asa Akira's memoir and films when creating the character of Amy Mendoza, because their stories and personalities were so similar.
It was uncanny.
Amy Mendoza works in porn, although she wants to quit. Not because she feels any shame, but because she knows she's getting older, and out of her prime, and she wants to leave before the industry leaves an indelible mark on her. One night, she goes to a party with her lesbian friend, Chiho, and encounters an albino Colombian named Emanuel, whose supernatural appearance freaks out her friend (who is high on drugs).
Emanuel recognizes her and makes Amy an interesting proposition. He is the lead guitarist of the band Avert, whose singer, Miles Davis, just got out of rehab again. He wants to pay her to be a "sober companion" to Miles, distracting him from the temptations of drugs with sex, providing emotional (and sexual) support, while also keeping an eye on him.
After a lengthy interview, Amy accepts. There are a lot of perks. Obviously, getting paid to fuck a hot rock star is one of them. But she also gets to live in a beautiful beach house with the band (and a crazy ocelot(!) named Gabriel). She gets to go to their parties, their rehearsals. And she gets to spend a lot of time around Emanuel, too, with whom she feels a very intense connection.
There were so many things about this book that I loved.
Amy is Japanese-Filipino. Emanuel is a Colombian albino. Xiomara is Colombian. There are two bisexual characters, a lesbian character, and a transgender character (MtF). Sexism and racism are discussed a lot, as well as the consequences, but not in a way that sounds preachy.
With a female lead who is active in the porn industry, it would be difficult to write a book that didn't have any sex. This book has a lot of sex, in a lot of different ways. I loved how the D/s relationship in this book was played out, and how the author showed the difference between submission in the bedroom versus constant submission in all life choices a la "you must obey me in all ways, Ms. Steele." Emanuel was very respectful about boundaries and made sure they stayed clear-cut.
Ames also shows the darker side to the porn industry (again without being preachy -- and many of her points mirrored those of Asa Akira in her memoir). She shows safe sex, even without condoms (STD tests! Printed out and shared with the participating parties! yes!). She shows how open relationships do not equal infidelity, if there is consent. She shows how fluid sexuality is, and how labels can sometimes do more harm than good when it comes to choosing sexual partners.
And the sex is not only hot, but well written. There is some good dirty talk in here.
This is a story about rock stars, and there are a lot of those. Too many, IMHO, not that you care. But Ames manages to bring something fresh to the genre. The sexuality, the drug addiction, and the struggles to maintain a normal life in addition to the fame life really gave THE COMPANION CONTRACT a real "behind the music" feel that so many of these other books lack. THE COMPANION CONTRACT is actually a pretty dark story, about broken people with gritty issues who try to resolve them in the best way for them (even if it isn't the most PC, or the most tasteful).
Two of my friends who normally abhor erotic novels gave this book a very high rating, and after reading it for myself I can see why. Easily. Ames fearlessly tackles subjects that would send most writers running for the hills, and she does it in a way that is not only authentic, but also interesting. I came into THE COMPANION CONTRACT fully set up for disappointment, and instead I found a very good character driven novel about what it means to find happiness, love, and sexual gratification (and not necessarily in any particular order).
Anne Stuart is one of my auto-buy authors but she doesn't always hit the mark. NOW YOU SEE HIM is one of these latter affairs, which is unfortunate because it had the potential to be quite good.
The book starts off hastily, right in the middle of the scene. I have to admit it took me off-guard and made me wonder if this was a sequel, or if I was missing some pages. Frances Neeley is at a parade, filled with horror, as she realizes that her charming Irish boyfriend is actually a member of the IRA and plans to assassinate a political official. She watches as he is gunned down to death, and his 'cousin' (who isn't really his cousin) is hit by a car.
Anyone would find this traumatic, and Frances is no exception. She ends up staying at a semi-tropical resort run by her cousin called Belle Reste. Also staying at Belle Rest is a man named Michael Dowd. He believes that Frances had more involvement with the IRA than she admitted, and plans to do anything he can to find out more.
Some users have drawn comparisons to Stuart's Ice series, and yes, I think it's fully possible that Michael Dowd served as the prototype for some of the gamma leads in the Ice series. NOW YOU SEE HIM isn't even close to being half as good as the Ice books, though. Which isn't really surprising, considering that this book was a lesser-known Silhouette title published in the 90s. Just look at this trashy cover and blurb!
I prefer my romantic-suspense to be more suspense than action, and there was a little too much pining in NOW YOU SEE HIM for my taste. Insta-love, a TSTL female lead, a bland hero, and cardboard cutout villains who manage to fulfill almost every homophobic/misogynistic stereotype you can imagine, and yeah, you can see why NOW YOU SEE HIM had me skimming huge chunks of the book at a time. Snore.
But that's okay. I'll still devour Anne Stuart books like cheese and crackers.
I love old furniture and knickknacks. There's something so cool about seeing the classic staples of various time periods being put to new use in the modern era. I don't have a home of my own, yet, but I love thinking about how I'm going to decorate it and make it my very own space.
STYLE ME VINTAGE is a how-to guide that covers the 1920s through the 1970s. In each chapter, Keeley talks about some of the staples of each time period, how to obtain genuine articles, how to find good replicas, and very vague approximations of what price range will look like (obviously 1920s art deco is super expensive).
Reading through this book allowed me to pinpoint what I really like. Some of the things in here were really tacky (oh God, 70s furniture! The horror! The horror!) but I loved the sunbeam kitchen motifs from the 1930s, and the shabby chic bedroom from the 1940s. So cute!
I was really glad this book had as many pictures as it did, but it still seemed way too short. In addition to all the pictures of the homes and rooms, it would have been nice to have more pictures of the knickknacks, furniture, and appliances that were hallmarks of their respective time periods, too, but maybe the author feared that if she did that, she'd have a super thick antique book on her hands.
The last couple chapters are about how you can mix and match these various styles, but Keeley didn't spend as much time on these. Which is a shame. Also, I think the author is from the U.K., so these seem to be the U.K.'s interpretation of each of these time periods, which many of the furniture made or coming from Europe. Whenever she talked about the prices it cost to get these items, I couldn't help but thinking that that location adds a pretty hefty price tag for Americans looking to do the same.
Overall, I really enjoyed STYLE ME VINTAGE. It's more handy as an inspirational guide than as a guide as to where to actually find vintage furniture, but it's a fun read, nonetheless.
I have not seen a single episode of Bob's Burgers. To be honest, I don't really watch a lot of TV. But I do like comics, and that hugenormous blurb at the type said that this particular comic was created by some of the staff who worked on the show.
One thing I've noticed about comic books based on TV shows is that the panels are full of very aggressive intertextual writing. There are tons of inside jokes for the show and characters, which are meant to declare "WE ARE FANDOM!"
Bob's Burgers is no exception.
I have to say, it went better than I expected. Sometimes when I jump into these comics blind, I find myself totally lost or completely annoyed. That wasn't the case here. It reminded me of what my sister told me when I asked her about this show:
"It's not as dumb as it looks."
BOB'S BURGERS revolved around the Belcher family -- Dad Bob, Mother Linda, Daughters Tina & Louise, and Son Gene. The stories are all totally AU, kind of like the episodes of Futurama featuring Professor Farnsworth's "What If?" machine. What if Tina was a horse? What if the Belcher family lived in space and was at war with robots? What if Gene turned into a burger? And so on.
I think fans of this series will probably be able to appreciate BOB more than I did, but it wasn't bad. The creators clearly know what it's like, loving cartoons as an adult.
That said, the chapters that were written entirely in musical number (and there were a lot of them) were incredibly annoying.
This was one of my most anticipated reads of 2015. I love fairytale retellings and in particular, I love 1001 Nights. THE WRATH AND THE DAWN received all sorts of advanced praise from the reviewers lucky enough to finagle ARCs, and somehow Ahdieh got Carrie Ryan and Marie Lu to sing her praises. I begged--begged--my library to purchase a copy (honestly, I'm surprised they haven't written me a cease & desist letter because of how often I'm on them to buy new books), and when they did, I checked that sucker out that day because I was so excited.
Before I get into my review, I want to tell you about another retelling of 1001 Nights. It's called Arabian Nights (2000) and was a TV movie that my parents had purchased on VHS from Blockbuster when they were liquidating their assets. I know, I know--a TV movie? What's even more wince-worthy is that, despite the Middle Eastern setting, Scheherazade is played by an Israeli actress, Mili Avital, and the caliph is played by Scottish actor, Dougray Scott.
But you know what? I fell in love with this movie. Even though the special effects are cheesy, and the casting was a little dubious, it convinced me. Scheherazade is brave, and intelligent, and beautiful, and mysterious. Shahryar was her childhood friend and she can't understand what transformed him into the ruthless killer he is now. She is certain that she can stop the murders and reach into that part of him that once knew gentleness and love--and she saves her own life, and, eventually, his, with her stories that feature strong, brave men and the even stronger women who are their salvation.
I think that is why this story is powerful enough that it has transcended time itself to become one of the most lasting fairytales of all time: it resonates with people who love stories, who love telling stories, who love reading stories; and it resonates with people who know what it's like to be weak and who want to be seen as strong; more importantly, though, it shows that sometimes, in playing the victim, we sometimes end up being the villain, and it's important to learn how to forgive.
So yes, I fell in love with this cheesy TV movie, because it exposed me to a fairytale where women don't have to be damsels in distress and where the princes can sometimes also be villains.
That brings me to THE WRATH AND THE YAWN. The wrath is all mine, and the yawn--well, that's mine, too. Oh--what a crushing disappointment it was. I spent most of this book alternately pissed off and bored. First off, Shahrzad is not the compassionate and brave woman I met through Arabian Nights. She is a vengeful, angry, bitter bitch who wants to assassinate the caliph because her best friend was one of his victims. Which, okay, I get it. It makes sense. But seriously? What the fuck was she doing why he was killing those other women, then? It was okay until your best friend died?
WHO THE FUCK ARE YOU, BITCH? WHO ARE YOU? YOU DON'T EVEN GO HERE.
Anyway, she marries the caliph and immediately starts sniffing for weaknesses. And yes, while she does tell a story to save her life the first two nights--that's it. That is the end of the storytelling in this book. Which frustrated me to no end, because how can you have 1001 Nights if you stop at night two? The stories told within the story were what endeared me to Arabian Nights--Aladdin, Sinbad, The Golden Apple. I did appreciate the author showing the parallels between Bluebeard and 1001, but that was not nearly enough to compensate for the crushing disappointment I felt at seeing such an integral part of the original story removed entirely.
Oh, and let's talk about Shahrzad. She goes about her sleuthing in the most obvious, blatant way, arousing suspicion everywhere, raising eyebrows with her prying. And then she has the nerve to act shocked that people seem to catch on to the fact that her motives in marrying the caliph maybe weren't entirely pure. Miss Katniss Everdeen over here walks up to the Captain of the Guard and handles the bows and arrows like an expert in front of him, allows herself to be tricked into assuming a professional defensive posture, and then acts all scandalized that he's found her out!
WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU, SOME KIND OF MORON? EVEN A FUCKING THREE YEAR OLD WATCHING BLUE'S CLUES COULD FIGURE OUT YOUR GODDAMN TRICKERY.
But no, we're told--continually--how good at archery Shahrzad is. How smart she is. How clever she is. How witty she is. (Her wittiness is mostly sarcasm and insults. She sounds like the teenaged spoiled brat she is, but hey, potatoes, poh-tot-oes.) Oh, and most importantly of all, how beautiful she is. If the thought of endless passages about the heroine's gleaming hair and emotional eyes and sparkly outfits does not appeal to you, steer clear of this book, because that's 50% of the content right there. In fact, as I read further in THE WRATH AND THE YAWN, I realized that my chief complaints with this book mirrored many of the complaints my friends had with Caleana Sardothien from THRONE OF GLASS: we are told, instead of shown, that a vapid, useless, even incompetent girl is in possession of far more agency than she actually has and are expected to swallow it because she gets her way in spite of said incompetence just because boys think she is pretty.
You might notice that I used the plural--boys. That's because there is more than one boy in this book. That's right--IN A BOOK THAT ORIGINALLY WAS ABOUT A WOMAN SAVING A BROKEN MAN WITH LOVE, THIS AUTHOR DECIDED TO INSERT A FUCKING LOVE TRIANGLE RIFE WITH EMOTIONAL MANIPULATION. You know what the irony is? In the original 1001 Nights, the reason Shahryar went cray-cray was because his wife--his first love, the woman he entrusted with his heart--cheated on him. It broke him inside, and made him think that no woman could be trusted, and that was why he executed his brides every night. (In the movie version I talked about earlier, they ran with this a step farther: his wife cheated on him with his brother and then tried to kill him so his brother would be caliph instead.) WHAT THE FUCKING FUCK.
It doesn't help that Tariq is a total asshole, like Gale from Hunger Games on some high-aggression 'roids. He wants to bone Shahrzad and kill Khalid. Which could maybe make you sympathize with him, but towards the end of the book he spews out some misogynistic bullcrap about how the fact that Shahrzad has fallen in love a bit with Khalid makes her in need of fixing and that he's the one who's going to do that, never mind her feelings or what she wants, the fucking sod.
And the reason why Khalid kills his wives in this book is stupid and really made me angry. It made me angry on multiple levels, because of how it simplifies many touchy and serious topics that were not treated with the justice that they deserved in this book. And you could make the argument that this is YA and therefore doesn't have to be complicated, but I disagree. I mean, it had sex in it. (Dot-dot-dot fade-to-black sex, but IT WAS THERE.) If you are old enough for sex, then you are old enough for other adult issues, too. You don't get to pick and choose.
Lastly, there is the writing. Some people said it was beautiful. I found it pretentious and twee. Each sentence seemed to be written with such calculatedly purple prose that I began to wonder if the author used the thesaurus function on her word processor whenever she got bored with a word. There were a few instances when it didn't even make sense.
"[The obsidian beads] caught at wayward beams of light, making each curl flash like shadow incarnate (169).
What the hell is that even supposed to mean? Shadows don't glitter and gleam. If something sparkles, that would make it the antithesis of a shadow, wouldn't it? Not its incarnate.
The only thing that I can say in this book's favor is that it does have POC characters. But if that is a book's only redeeming value, then that's rather unfortunate and insulting in and of itself, because it says, "Oh, hey, you can publish this utterly inferior and undeveloped book, but it's okay, because--you see--the characters aren't white! Who cares if it's good or not? DIVERSITY!"
Apparently this is a retelling of PRINCESS AND THE PEA.
Oh, book. I wanted to love you. I wanted us to have frolicsome adventures together, that ended with the two of us tromping drunkenly down the beach into a beautiful sunset. I wanted the memories of you--of us--to stay with me always.
The first two hundred pages were wonderful. Penelope is the heir to a Mafia-like organization that deals in stolen human body parts. Creepy. So creepy! I dug it.
But Penelope is hampered from learning about the family (and Family) ways because of a platelet disorder, idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpra, which causes her to bruise easily and bleed easily, and necessitates constant complete blood counts and an endless supply of transfusions. Also, everyone treats her like she's made of glass and is about to shatter at any moment.
The build-up was very slow, very meticulous. I thought Penelope was the perfect blend of sheltered and determined. I could sympathize with her. She wanted to learn more, to be self-sufficient, but everyone--including her crush--was like, no, stay in your bubble, the world is full of sharp things and you can't be trusted, because you are a silly, delicate girl. I was filled with outrage on Penelope's behalf. I wanted her to take on the world, scary sharp things, and all.
Then something Terrible happens, which forces Penelope to go on the run.
And we meet Love Interest #2.
Everything goes downhill from here.
The love interest--Char--is Asian, which is great, because YA books need more diversity. Unfortunately, this is one of the only things that speaks in his favor because Char is pretty stock as far as YA love interests go. He follows the MC to her apartment after meeting her for the first time. Why? Because he's concerned. He thinks she's sick and wants to make sure she gets home okay. Well. When they go on a date, he assumes she has diabetes because her eyes look glazed, and when she orders a brownie he asks her if she thinks she really ought to be eating that. WELL. He says nothing about himself or his family or even his last name, but on their second date, he wants to meet her family. WARNING! WARNING! WARNING! WARNING!
But of course, Penelope sees nothing amiss.
I get that she's sheltered, but after that Terrible thing that happened, Penelope is kind of in "trust no one" mode. Which is good. Because she probably shouldn't. And yet, when this one guy who won't tell her his last name and who follows her home enters her life, Penelope falls in love with him and starts dreaming about how they're in love and all this bullshit, and la la la.
MULTIPLE CHOICE TEST.
You are a hormonal teenage girl on the run from a scary organization. Who is the most likely candidate that said organization will send out to bring you in?
A) A really scary-looking dude with scars that shout out to the world, "I fight with knives on a regular basis--and win!"
B) A really creepy looking dude your own age who makes lots of rapey remarks and alludes that you might as well give into him because Bad Things Are Going To Happen.
C) A really attractive but mysterious guy who acts really sweet and OMG DOSE ABS.
D) Nenia Campbell, who is all too ready to put you out of her misery.
If you chose C--FUCKING DUH. (I would also accept D.)
The sad thing is, I didn't even buy the romance between Penelope and Char. It was more like Penelope trying to tell us she was in love with him without really telling us why, behind the fact that he was Asian, and she seemed to think that was hot, and he had nice shoulders and a pretty mouth. Okay, but that is no reason for matrimony. Those things will not stand up to the test of time.
The book did get a little better towards the end, but the romance portion took up a good 100 pages and it was incredibly tedious. I wish this book had had more action, and more focus on the mafia families and their illicit trading of human parts. The idea behind this story was SO good, and I was very sorry to see it circle the drain in terms of how the author chose to execute her concept.
I am interested in the sequel, but I'm hoping it will be narrated by Magnolia or Garrett, because at this point, I feel like Penelope has worn out her stay in my good graces.
When I saw this book on Netgalley, I was so excited. That cover. That blurb. That concept. When I found out I was approved, I squealed a little. I wanted to like this. I really did.
But I couldn't even finish the damn thing.
SPELLED is a Wizard of Oz retelling smooshed in together with fairytale retellings. All the characters use these in-world pseudo-curses that are cute at first -- until you realize that they're going to be used twenty times a page. Mother of Grimm, that's too pixing much, what the spell are you doing? I mean, hex.*
*These are actual pseudo-curses
Dorothea, our main character, is probably one of the most irritating narrators I've been forced to endure in a while. She's every negative stereotype crammed into one: childish whining masquerading as snark and wit, Mary Sue with super speshul magic powers she doesn't appreciate, selfish, idiotic, misguidedly sanctimonious, obsessed with clothes and sparkles, etc.
If you don't want to murder her yet, don't worry, you will. Several times over.
When Dorothea finds out that she's going to be engaged to a prince, she throws a fit. When she realizes that the prince isn't going to tolerate her bitchery, she throws an even bigger fit.This fit ends up creating a massive curse that makes her parents disappear and turns the prince (aka the voice of reason) into a mute dragon-puppy thing. Which fucking sucks, because he was the only character who had anything of value to say, which seemed to be symbolic for the direction this book was heading, i.e. nowhere good.
The nonstop description of clothes, Dorothea's constant petty insults, the outlandish plot, the childish writing, and the never-ending psuedo-cursingwore my patience so thin I wasn't able to finish. Maybe Dorothea redeems herself in the end. I won't be sticking around to find out. I gave this book the old college try of 100 pages and I'm completely unwilling to stick around for 200 more.
Psychological thrillers invariably do one of two things to me: piss me off, or fascinate the fuck out of me.
This book belongs to the latter group.
I went into TWISTED with very low expectations and came out impressed by a well-written, solid, twisted storyline.
Dr. Christopher Kellan is a psychiatrist at Loveland Psychiatric, a haven for the sickest of the sick. The patients he deals with here wouldn't be out of place in a sequel to Silence of the Lambs.
His latest patient, Donny Ray Smith, has been accused of murdering young girls, the latest Kellan's own son's age. His assessment could make or break Smith's defense, and if Kellan wants to do his job successfully he has to put his biases on the shelf and make his diagnoses as impersonally as possible.
But Donny Ray Smith seems familiar. And he knows things about Kellan he couldn't possibly know.
Is he a victim? Or a sadist? Or both?
And where has Dr. Kellan seen those eyes?
I can't really say more about the plot of TWISTED without giving away some major spoilers, but Kaufman did an excellent job writing a creepy novel without resorting to shock horror or gore. Reading TWISTED is a lot like looking at a fun house mirror at a carnival; half the horror and the creep factor comes from seeing fractured reflections of yourself, and what could be.
Part of the fun with this book -- which is also why I won't be sharing any spoilers -- is trying to guess what's really going on. I was so sure I had figured it all out. So sure. But when I thought Kaufman was going to go one way with the ending, instead he went another route.
Stephanie Kuehn is the teen Gillian Flynn -- she writes these dark, meandering storylines that end up leading you right into the tangled snare of humanity's most evil moments. Why do we keep coming back, again and again? Curiosity, maybe. Or maybe we just fancied we saw a light at the end of that twisted tunnel.
I haven't read CHARM & STRANGE (I received an e-copy for review, but it expired before I could get around to it). I did read COMPLICIT, and I found it to be a decently written book with an original premise, even if it was a bit meh in terms of engagement. Actually, my favorite aspect of the book was that it was set in Danville, in a number of places that I'd actually been to.
DELICATE MONSTERS was exciting for a similar reason because it is set in Sonoma. I have been to Sonoma.
DELICATE MONSTERS was exciting for another reason, too. It features a fucked up and diverse cast of characters. Sadie Su is a cheerfully unapologetic sociopath. Half-Chinese, 100% IDGAF, she's been fucked up since the day she was born and got even more so after her father packed up and left. (Also her mother's an adulteress, so has she got a slut-shaming complex, too? Probably.)
Emereson is a boy who, on the surface, seems like such a nice guy. Dating a black girl (ooh, he's tolerant), with a sickly younger brother whose very existence he braves with forbearance (such a trooper), and a father who committed suicide and a mother who can't be bothered to take care of them both. But appearances can be deceiving and Sadie sees through him like glass.
Then there's Miles, Emerson's younger brother, who is constantly sick and claims he has visions. But he has a secret too, one that's just as dark as his brother's and ties them all together.
I BET YOU TOTALLY WANT TO READ THIS BOOK NOW.
And you should.
And you can. When it comes out. On June 9th.
DELICATE MONSTERS had a very similar formula to COMPLICIT. There is the elaborate set-up with the fucked up characters, including fucked up siblings. There is the California setting that really gives you an idea of what that particular locale is like, including its peculiar little subcultures. Then there's what I think of as The Twist, which ends up bringing the story full, dizzy circle.
Honestly, I liked DELICATE MONSTERS just fine, and it had some really chilling moments. I could see this becoming a movie, a really terrifying movie that has people leaving the theaters and side-eying their family members in morbid speculation. But something about the prose just didn't call to me. It fell flat, even though the characters were wonderfully flawed, and that is a shame.
DELICATE MONSTERS is a much better book than COMPLICIT (from what I remember of COMPLICIT, anyway), and nowhere near as forgettable. I love that Kuehn isn't afraid to push the envelope, and explore the reaches of her dark mind. I just wish her writing was more engaging.
Maybe she should give first person a try? I'd love to see her do an unreliable narrator.