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The Lost Causes of Bleak Creek

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Goodreads Choice Award
Nominee for Best Horror (2019)
From the authors of the #1 New York Times bestseller Rhett & Link's Book of Mythicality and creators of Good Mythical Morning, a thrilling and darkly funny novel about two best friends fighting the sinister forces at the heart of their Southern town.

It’s 1992 in Bleak Creek, North Carolina—a sleepy little place with all the trappings of an ordinary Southern town: two Baptist churches, friendly smiles coupled with silent judgments, and an unquenchable appetite for pork products. Beneath the town’s cheerful façade, however, Bleak Creek teens live in constant fear of being sent to the Whitewood School, a local reformatory with a history of putting unruly youths back on the straight and narrow—a record so impeccable that almost everyone is willing to ignore the suspicious deaths that have occurred there over the past decade.

At first, high school freshmen Rex McClendon and Leif Nelson believe what they’ve been told: that the students’ strange demises were all just tragic accidents, the unfortunate consequence of succumbing to vices like Marlboro Lights and Nirvana. But when the shoot for their low-budget horror masterpiece, PolterDog, goes horribly awry—and their best friend, Alicia Boykins, is sent to Whitewood as punishment—Rex and Leif are forced to question everything they know about their unassuming hometown and its cherished school for delinquents.

Eager to rescue their friend, Rex and Leif pair up with recent NYU film school graduate Janine Blitstein to begin piecing together the unsettling truth of the school and its mysterious founder, Wayne Whitewood. What they find will leave them battling an evil beyond their wildest imaginations—one that will shake Bleak Creek to its core.

326 pages, Hardcover

First published October 29, 2019

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About the author

Rhett McLaughlin and Link Neal, raised in North Carolina and best friends since the first grade, are a comedy duo known for creating the Internet’s most-watched daily talk show, Good Mythical Morning; their award-winning weekly podcast Ear Biscuits; and the instant #1 New York Times bestseller Rhett & Link’s Book of Mythicality. They share an office at Mythical Entertainment, the company they cofounded, but live separately with their respective wives, children, and dogs in Los Angeles.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,419 reviews
Profile Image for Miranda Reads.
1,588 reviews153k followers
December 9, 2020
description
I have read my way through 315 books to bring you my Top 10 Books of the Year (video) .

Now you know that this one made the cut, check out my video review to see the others!
description

"I'm not used to people thinking I'm a bad kid. It's kind of exhilarating."
"...I feel like I'm being judged. And punished with tomatoes."
Rex McClendon and Leif Nelson are best friends (along with Alicia Boykins) in their small town of Bleak Creek.

The three of them literally do everything together and their latest project - PolterDog - is sure to be a hit at the local film festival.

However, while filming a vital scene, a series of unfortunate events (involving (but not limited to) a bacon belt, a crazed Tucker, an organ fundraiser, two baptist preachers duking it out and a pig roast) results in Alicia taking the fall for all of them.
"They're taking her to the Whitewood School," Leif said.
Whitewood, the local reform school, is praised by any and all adults living in Bleak Creek...

No one exactly knows what goes on in the school but there are rumors...dark rumors floating about the school. People go in one way and come out completely different.

Rex and Leif need to get their friend out, but how?

No one believes them and even if they did, no one is going to go against such a fine, upstanding community school.

No one's escaped unscathed, but Alicia is determined to be the first.
She was no Princess Peach, trapped in a castle hoping that two plumbers were coming to save her.
She will not let this place break her. She will not fall. She will not -
For the first time since arriving at the Whitewood School, it hit her: She could die here.

description
I have a confession.

The ARC (advanced readers copy) arrived in the mail...and I finished it same-day. I couldn't help myself. It was that good.

I had so many expectations going into this book and every last one of them was exceeded.

I feel like making that cross-media leap can be difficult for most (if not all) celebrities but Rhett and Link write as if they have been authors all their lives.

I was extremely impressed by the humor, the plot, the characters - essentially everything in this book - and was wholly entertained from cover-to-cover.

First and foremost, I absolutely adored the humor.

Humor is arguably one of the better-known qualities from Rhett and Link's YouTube careers and it absolutely shines in this book.

There were so many little details that wove in and out of the book, playing upon each other and returning again and again for further hilarity.

I don't want to give too much away, but one thing that I loved was the rivalry between the local churches. The entire book could have been about that and I would say that there wasn't enough church-on-church competition!
...the red-brick First Baptist Church with its towering steeple, less than fifty yards from the light brown brick Second Baptist Church with its slightly taller steeple....
And Rex's scootering leg! Oh my gosh. I could not handle that.
Rex barreled down the blacktop...his scooter leg bouncing off the pavement, propelling him at a fraction of the speed of a bicycle."
In addition, there were so many side characters with quirky personalities scattered throughout the book that truly made it memorable.
"Can you just...Can you just speed up a little? Try and lose 'em?"
"For you, Neenie? Anything." GamGam pressed down on the gas, and Janine's head was thrust back...
A lot of the humor relied on slow builds and reoccurring bits, so it was a bit hard to find the perfect quote to sum it up, but honestly, that made them all the more enjoyable (though, for the record, we definitely needed more mortician-dad and pig-roasting envy!)
description
When I talked with the authors about their choice of names (Rex and Leif, opposed to Rhett and Link), they admitted that the first few drafts really did use their real names but eventually it felt too self-indulgent (and a bit awkward).

They felt like they couldn't truly manipulate the world of Bleak Creek if they kept things so close to the truth.

So, Rhett and Link changed their main character's names to create some distance between the novel and their real-selves.
description
As a semi-professional reviewer and fully professional reader, I definitely appreciated that choice. If they had gone full Rhett-and-Link in these pages, that would take away some of the stand-alone qualities of the book.

That's not to say that the duo didn't include things from their real lives.

They kept a lot of their personality quirks but exaggerated them for the book (or explored them from a new direction).

And there were a few key moments from their lives that were kept the same, such as how they both had their first crush on the same girl:
Rex also had a crush on Alicia.
As of a day ago.
This was a painfully unfair turn of events.
But overall, by creating that distance between themselves and their characters allowed for them to take the event, fictionalize it and then run with it.

There were a few aspects in the book that needed a smidge of polishing - the ending felt a bit abrupt. There was so much building, and building, and building...and then BOOM, over. I wanted more!

And there were a few of the earlier interactions with the "Whitewood School Graduates" that could have been a bit more polished but it wasn't so major that I was taken out of the book.

But that being said, this is an ARC and will likely be smoothed by the time this book hits the press and those "issues" (if I could even call them that) were so minor in comparison to my enjoyment of this book that I honestly barely noticed.

All-in-all, one of the best things about this book is that it is good enough to stand on its own two feet (pages?).

The plot was fresh and exciting, the world building was strong and hilarious, and the characters were extremely well-fleshed out.

This is truly the best book I've read all year!

And...that ending...oh wow. I can truly say that I never saw it coming and that I cannot stop hoping for a second book - I'm keeping my fingers crossed.
description
An absolutely unbelievably huge thanks to the authors (Rhett McLaughlin & Link Neal), Jenna Purdy, Brian Flanagan and the publishers at Crown for sending me a free ARC in exchange for an honest review - and for allowing me to talk to Rhett and Link about their latest literary adventure!

All quotes come from an uncorrected proof and are subject to change upon publication


YouTube | Blog | Instagram | Twitter | Facebook | Snapchat @miranda_reads
Profile Image for Liz.
1,918 reviews2,356 followers
January 11, 2020

How do you know you’re old and out of touch? When you read other GR reviews and everyone talks about how they love the two authors and you have no clue who they are.

Anyway, this book had a pretty high GR rating, so I decided to take a chance. The book started off slow. It jumped around a lot. The characters never seemed real, despite being based on the authors’ youth. It’s meant to be darkly comic. I didn’t see it.

I listened to this book. I wasn’t enthralled by the narrator which didn’t help.

So, after about 2 hours, I gave up and DNF.

Profile Image for ☠Kayla☠.
204 reviews72 followers
February 16, 2020
This book is very hard for me to rate, on one hand I love Rhett and Link, they're so talented and funny and I really enjoy their content on there youtube channels. But on the other? The book was ok. I loved the story line! It was very interesting and had me fully engaged the whole time wanting to find out more and more. Sadly though the writing style was a bit of an all over the place mess. There were times I felt like I was reading a book specifically for a very young child and times it felt like I was reading a book meant for adults. At first it seemed like the writing was super terrible and it slowly got better the more you read, but again that could just be because I was so intrigued by the story. I might be a bit biased since I do like Rhett and Link as much as I do, but I still give this book 4 stars. Plus I love how the characters Rex and Leif were clearly ment to be Rhett and Link. All in all the story line was amazing, the writing was just a bit off. I'm still really glad I picked this book up though.
Profile Image for Susanne.
1,155 reviews36.3k followers
May 22, 2020
2.5 Stars

A Young Adult Novel that ‘reads’ like a Middle Grade book.

Rex and Leif are best friends living in Bleak Creek. Freshmen in High School, the two live in fear of a reformatory school called “The Whitewood School.” They should after all, the two pulled a huge prank with their other best friend Alicia and she got sent there. Now the two have to pull out all the stops to try and get her back.

Unfortunately, this book felt a tad bit too young for a YA Novel. The voices, the dialog, everything. I read a few Young Adult novels each year and I really enjoy them, but this one didn’t feel like a Young Adult novel. Even though the characters are supposed to be High School Freshman, this felt like it was meant for much younger readers and therefore it was not my cup of tea. I do however think that the premise of this novel is really cute and can see how it could appeal to Middle Grade Readers.

Thank you to Mimi at Goodreads for the arc.

Published on Goodreads on 5.22.20.
Profile Image for Tucker  (TuckerTheReader).
908 reviews1,574 followers
Read
May 23, 2020

Many thanks to Crown for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review

okay... so....

I DNF-ed this book way back in October of 2019 (I don't remember when... Oops) but I kept telling myself I'd finish it but after trying multiple times and even getting the audio from Audible, I'm just not feeling this.

And so, I'll just share what worked and what didn't. Please note, this is from the perspective of someone who didn't finish the book and doesn't know how it ended.

What worked:

➵ Creepy, eerie - This book was very spooky in a small-town, hidden-secrets-all-around way which I loved.

➵ Character chemistry - I really loved the chemistry between Rex and Leif and Alicia (Apparently, she's been renamed Candice for some reason?) It all felt very real and made me flash back to middle school when things were simple for lil Tucker.

➵ Mysterious Benedict Society - This book reminded me SO much of the Mysteries Benedict Society (which I loved, by the way) and I really loved that. It was almost enough to keep me hooked.

What didn't work:

Childish-ness - This book is marked on Goodreads and marketed as YA. The problem—for me, that is—is that it does not feel like a YA novel at all. Mostly, the characters. They had the maturity and behavior of middle schoolers. I really wish the authors had aged down the characters a bit. They could have kept everything else the same and it would have worked so much better. Unfortunately, I just couldn't help but be slightly annoyed by the immaturity of the characters.

Mysterious Benedict Society - I said this aspect was positive and it was. But it was also negative (If that makes sense). While I was pleasantly reminded of a great series while reading this book, I also couldn't kick the feeling of "I've read this before".

Obviously, I'm not accusing the authors of stealing the idea. It was just SO similar that it was hard to not feel like I wasn't reading a copy.

Overall, I am very conflicted about this book. There were things I liked and things I didn't. I recommend giving it a try because you might like it more than I did.
**********

I am temporarily dnf-ing this. I'm just not feeling it right now. And rather than forcing myself to read it and thus not enjoying it, I'm gonna wait a bit.

**********

hmmmmmm

celebrities + trying to write a book = disaster

BUT

1/10 celebrity books are good.

so



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Profile Image for Dennis.
724 reviews1,385 followers
November 12, 2019
I see a lot of positive reviews for this title, so I am sure my opinion is unpopular and rare, but I just did not enjoy The Lost Causes of Bleak Creek . I felt like the narrative was kind of sporadically all over the place, and the story was kind of been there, done that. I actually don't see how this book could be ranked in the nominees for 2019 best horror, because I wasn't scared once. I guess you can label it as a horror novel, but it's better suited as a young adult novel as the dialogue between the main characters tends to be a bit juvenile. I feel bad writing a terrible review, but I have to be honest as I read so many books per year, and I wouldn't want to steer someone in the wrong direction. It's a fast read, so it could work for those gearing up for the holidays and want to spend some alone time away from family. Will I pick up another book by the authors, probably not.
Profile Image for Patricia.
524 reviews98 followers
November 10, 2019
Once I began reading THE LOST CAUSES OF BLEAK CREEK, I didn't want to put it down. What seems like a normal southern town is in fact anything but! Rex, Leif and Alison are three best friends who are all 14 years old when Alison is sent to the local reform school. This is a school where several students have mysteriously died over the last decade. Rex and Leif are determined to rescue their friend when everything goes arie. Get ready for a great story with a surprise ending. I highly recommend!
Profile Image for Mike.
650 reviews40 followers
July 8, 2019
I wanted to love this one a lot, but I merely liked it. GMM is great, however I felt that the authorial insertion actually detracted from what at it's core is an interesting "kids on bikes (and scooter)" story. Hardcore, GMM fans will likely enjoy it
Profile Image for Katie.
213 reviews9 followers
April 14, 2020
2/5 stars

"Soon the lights at the Whitewood School gate came into view, the only indication that there was anything behind the pine trees lining the road. On the rare occasion when Leif had passed by the school, secluded as it was on the far side of town, he'd been unsettled with how much the utilitarian chain-link fence seemed much more like the gateway to a prison than to an educational institution."

**SPOILERS AHEAD**

Honestly, it hurts me to have to rate this book so low. I am a big fan of Rhett and Link and their internet talk show, Good Mythical Morning. I went to see them live a few years ago for the release of their first book, then again for the release of this book (I received a copy of the book with my ticket purchase). I love their creativity and their genuine enjoyment of everything that they do. I have the utmost respect for them as creators and as people. But this book just missed the mark for me in so many ways, and I have to be honest about that.

First of all, I didn't think the writing was that great. The writing style felt a little juvenile, which might have made sense considering that the characters are freshmen in high school, but it just didn't measure up. There is some great writing in YA fiction these days, but this ain't it.

Second, the story was intriguing but ultimately unsatisfying. There were a lot of loose ends left at the conclusion of the novel. For example, we never learn what caused the curse on the spring (at least not that I can remember reading), what the monster/spirit was living down there and where it came from, why it took Mr. Whitewood's daughter in particular, how he got all those people to go along with this crazy scheme, why exactly it needed "Lost Causes," etc. and etc. We also never got a real conclusion on the Leif-Alicia-Rex subplot. We find out that Alicia really has feelings for Leif, but nothing comes of it. That's not necessarily a bad thing, I just felt like it got dropped so suddenly. The climax of the book felt pretty rushed, with not much payoff. Additionally, the message of the book was pretty heavy-handed, and I had mixed feelings about it.

I was conflicted about the characters. I thought Alicia and Ben were cool characters, and I loved Rex and Leif because they were the self-inserts for Rhett and Link. Because I love Rhett and Link and their friendship, I enjoyed Rex and Leif's friendship as well. So many moments between them made me smile because I could picture adult Rhett and Link having the same conversations. Other little details, like Leif's aversion to tomatoes and general picky eating, as well as Rex's assertive personality, made me smile because it reminded me of the guys through and through. But other than that, most of the characters didn't catch my interest. Janine, the filmmaker, felt out of place for me. Other people were straight up boring. Not to mention we get a villain backstory for Mr. Whitewood that basically boils down to: "cool motive! still murder!"

I can understand why Rhett and Link made the choices they did in writing this book, but I was underwhelmed by the final product.
Profile Image for Jessica Sturm.
31 reviews1 follower
November 8, 2019
I wanted very much to love this book but there are some inherent problems. I enjoyed moments for sure; I’d find myself swept up for a chapter only to be bogged back down into a sense of malaise and slow reactions. When something intense happens to a character in peril it’s followed immediately by a chapter that talks about pop culture references that have no real bearing or some “inside joke/real life thing” that Rhett and Link wanted to share but it felt like that was all. The book suffers mainly from the fact it’s main characters are homages to the authors themselves. Because this is “them” it can’t find its legs in the actual fiction of the novel. It become something, because Rex and Leif are stiff cardboard replicants, that is neither horror or comedy, suspense or drama. It’s just a story.

I always come back to one particular part where a character is in extreme peril. I was on board and really into it at that point, but the very next sentence and chapter was the main characters sitting around hitting each other in the balls and going “It’s real bad what’s going on with our friend.” What’s the point? It might feel more natural if every other sentence wasn’t a forced 90s reference or friends inside joke. Instead it bogs things down and makes it hard to care about anyone.

They hit the climax so hard and fast that the wrap up was a real let down and I’m not sure if they’re planning a sequel but if they do I’m not sure I care to find out what happens to everyone in Bleak Creek.

I love GMM and Rhett and Link, but another year of edits and reworks would have made this way better. It just seems like the novel itself was rushed to publishing and/or just needed more time.
Profile Image for Emilia.
6 reviews
December 29, 2019
I usually don’t write reviews, but with the experience I’ve had reading this and the relentless praise this book has been getting I feel the need to speak my mind. (spoilers ahead, obviously)

First of all, the writing. I saw a reviewer say that Rhett and Link write like they have been authors their entire lives, which is not true and claiming so is absolutely ridiculous. There are plenty of authors who make their debute with a well written novel, but Rhett and Link are not to be compared to any of them.

It’s painfully obvious that they’re trying to sound quirky and funny in every sentence, even at times where the mood should be completely different. The entire book reads as one long comedy sketch, which isn’t surprising considering that that’s, to my knowledge, their only previous writing experience, but it is still disappointing.

I’ve seen people say they read the entire book in one sitting because “it was just that good!” but I think it would be closer to the truth to say that this book is such a quick read because the language has the complexity of a poorly written Wattpad fanfiction. The sentences feel short and choppy and every attempt at a metaphor or simile is either so obvious it’s cliche or lacking effect by the constant use of “quirky” humour. Nothing is left for the reader to decipher, as everything is made so obvious that reading this book feels like the literary equivalent of someone holding up cue cards for emotional reactions.

The writing is a perfect example of the problem of telling instead of showing; Every time a feeling or personality trait is introduced, it is explained through exposition backstory instead of being naturally incorporated into the story. For example, on page 32 where it’s explained that Leif has a crush on Alicia:

“Lately he’d been thinking about Alicia in a very different way. [...] He had tried to put these thoughts about Alicia out of his head, but that only seemed to intensify them. His distant-future visions had been replaced with present-day fantasies: the two of them tandem-biking through the woods, feeding each other popcorn at the Twin Plaza, eating a fancy dinner at TGI Friday’s. And making out. A lot. Complete with serious mouth-exploratory tongue action.”

Not only is that last sentence close to the grossest thing I have ever read, but more importantly it’s an incredibly boring and lackluster way of telling the reader the character is falling in love. Because that’s the problem: Rhett and Link write as if the reader is stupid and has to be told everything instead of showing us through interactions, thoughts, dialogue or body language.

Second of all: The characters.

The two main characters are not just based off of Rhett and Link, they straight up just are Rhett and Link with no real attempt at coming up with a new, original and complex character dynamic. Their interactions are less of a subtle nudge to the fans of Good Mythical Morning, and more of a painfully obvious attempt at showing off their quirky friendship dynamic. An example of this is on page 88 where they argue about Link (sorry, I mean Leif) not liking tomatoes, an exchange GMM viewers are familiar with as it has been taken straight from their real lives and not changed in the slightest:

“‘I don’t think it is at all’, Leif said. ‘I feel like I’m being judged. And punished with tomatoes.’
‘Just take the tomatoes off.’
‘But they’ll contaminate whatever they touch.’
‘With what?’
‘Tomato...ness.’
Rex rolled his eyes.”

Now, if I didn’t know about Rhett and Link or watched their content, I wouldn’t really take issue with this exchange, but I can’t help but feel like when you take every detail of a friendship or character dynamic from your real life, it doesn’t really count as creating nuance to your story.

Although, I will admit that some sort of hope for this story kindled in me halfway through the book when the character of Josefina was introduced. Her interactions with Alicia are actually not badly written at all, as illustrated on page 139:

“Then, still not completely sure what was happening, Alicia grabbed her hand. The simple touch of another human - after days of feeling so isolated - seemed to raise her body temperature. She felt her face flush. [...] Josefinas words made Alicia feel like her resilience had been worth it. She smiled.
‘We should get back,’ Josefina said, rising from her chair. ‘I’ll go first, then you follow after a minute.’
‘That’s it?’ Alicia said. She knew Josefina was right, but she desperately wished they had more time. Even just another minute.”

I want to clarify that I’m not of the opinion that every story has to include some sort of love interest to be deemed valuable or well written, but if there is going to be a couple I would prefer the connection being based on honest human interaction rather than just thoughts of making out “complete with serious mouth-exploratory tongue action”.

Now, I realize I haven’t talked much about the actual plot and that’s probably because I didn’t really care much for it. I mentioned earlier about the “cue card” effect this book has, which led to me not being able to take anything that happened seriously. I quite frankly did not care about these characters and thus didn’t give a fuck about what happened to them. The story, despite trying so hard to shock the reader, ended up being very predictable. I mean, did anyone actually think Alicia was going to die?

While on the topic of the readers, I can’t say I have any idea exactly who this book is for. The main characters are thirteen, leading me to think it’s supposed to be a young adult (although maybe a bit too young to be considered interesting by the average reader of young adult literature). But at the same time there’s another main character in her twenties, as well as one more character we get the perspective of later who is at least 30 years old and a father, which makes me think Rhett and Link tried to write for the same demographic as Good Mythical Morning: Everyone. Oh and apparently it’s not even marketed as a young adult, but as a horror novel despite the fact that it possibly couldn’t be considered scary by any reader who is above the age of 5 years old.

With all of that being said, I have nothing against Rhett and Link, quite the opposite. I have been a fan of theirs for close to five years. I thoroughly enjoy their content and I think it’s great that they’re dabbling in fiction writing. If they genuinely care about their writing and about improving as authors, I think that the people around them are doing them a great disservice by acting like The Lost Causes of Bleak Creek is some kind of genial masterpiece when it’s a mediocre bordering on bad young adult novel wrongly marketed as horror. To write a better book next time, they need actual constructive criticism and not for everyone to praise them and kiss their asses just because people watch their youtube content. And if the case is that they don’t actually care about writing and just used this mediocre story to make money since they knew there’d be a market for anything they make, I think you’re all foolish for not holding them accountable for the content they put out.
Profile Image for Denise.
11 reviews
September 22, 2019
As a huge R&L fan, I was ecstatic to receive an advance copy of this book. The story of Rex, Leif, and Alicia had me staying up late with "one more chapter." I love the easy use of humor in the writing, and I had a huge wave of nostalgia with the reference to the Hardee's California raisins as my late grandmother had every one lined up on her fireplace mantel. That definitely caused a teary smile.

What keeps me from giving a 5 star rating is the supernatural turn in the story. While it held my attention, I just was not able to suspend my disbelief with that plot line. I would consider this book to be geared toward the young adult audience, so maybe it's just due to me being an old lady and not in the intended demographic.

Overall, R&L impressed me with their writing skills and their story, and I fully recommend this book. I look forward to discussing it with other MBs!
Profile Image for Denise Mullins.
758 reviews12 followers
November 5, 2019
If this had been marketed as YA fiction, there would be no problem. But as it is not, it struck me as a poorly executed melding of "Holes" and "Hoot" with a totally incongrous sprinkling of Stephen King. Although tweens might find this a fun read, the attempts at humor consistently fell flat for me with characterizations that were very one-dimensional and stereotypical. Very disappointing with a wonky ending that hints at-heaven forbid- a sequel.
Profile Image for kenzie.
306 reviews23 followers
November 8, 2019
ok first of all i’d like to formally apologize for saying anything mean about this cover because once i held it i absolutely fell in love. and second, this is the first fictional story i’ve ever read from randl, though i don’t think there’s many more to read yet, and i was so emotional by the time i got to the end i was crying at the acknowledgements ahahahahaha i would go from laughing because someone said scooter leg to crying because of their reactions to something, anyway i’m just so proud and so happy for these boys

also naming a character ben already made me cry, but THEN having a character with the thing that he died from?????????????? i am so sad
Profile Image for Kristen Beverly.
1,125 reviews41 followers
September 28, 2019
I had so much fun reading this book. If you’re looking for a serious book, keep right on looking. If you just want to have fun, stop right here! It’s also well written and an intriguing story!
Profile Image for Elizabeth.
101 reviews
November 2, 2019
A really good debut for these first time novelists! I tore through this book over two days - it's got a lot of deep cut call backs for long time mythical beasts, but it can be enjoyed by everyone!
Profile Image for The Nerd Daily.
720 reviews342 followers
November 7, 2019
Originally published on The Nerd Daily | Review by Marla Warren

I have always said that I love debut novels, but it isn’t often that I get to read a debut novel that is this well-crafted, this engrossing, and this much fun. With a truly unique balance of humour and horror, McLaughlin and Neal have established a world that is instantly both familiar and fascinating.

The story is set in 1992, in the small North Carolina town of Bleak Creek, and with this setting comes all the 90’s nostalgia you could want! From New Kids of the Block to Hyper Color T-shirts, those of us that remember that time can’t help but smile, (and those that don’t probably can’t help but laugh at us), either way, it’s a good time.

Our main characters are Rex McClendon and Leif Nelson, who McLaughlin and Neal have readily admitted are based on themselves, at least in part. The town of Bleak Creek is also (somewhat) based on the small North Carolina town where they grew up, which has undoubtedly helped them to create such a richly textured world. In addition, if you have ever lived in the South, particularly in a small town, you will most certainly recognise the cast of characters in this book!

While there are both expected, and unexpected, laughs throughout the book, this is ultimately a thriller/horror story that gets dark in both real and supernatural ways. There is a local reform school (with a history of suspicious deaths), called Whitewood School, that looms over the youth of Bleak Creek, with everyone frightened about what kind of infraction might result in them being sent to Whitewood. Yet they aren’t even aware of some of the very real horrors that are happening there.

It isn’t just the youth of Bleak Creek who are suspicious of Whitewood. Janine Blitstein, a former resident of Bleak Creek who is now working as a documentary film-maker, is back in town and clearly not welcomed by many of the residents. Besides her grandmother, lovingly referred to as “GamGam,” her aunt, and her cousin Donna, who she had once been very close to, Janine no longer has connections to Bleak Creek. But as circumstances change in the community, she is pulled into the orbit of Rex and Leif as they all seek to find out what secrets are being held by the town and its residents.

With themes of friendship, teenage angst, relationships, and courage, the story is structured in a clever, interesting way that keeps the reader glued to the page and engrossed in the well-drawn, very real characters that have been created. The cleverly plotted resolution is yet another aspect that sets this book apart from so many other debut novels. Best of all, the story is resolved in a way that lends itself to possible sequels (fingers-crossed!) It is definitely a world you will want to revisit.
Profile Image for Aristotle.
620 reviews64 followers
October 29, 2019
Creepy Creek just in time for Halloween

A reform school is not what it seems. What secret is hidden beneath a natural spring on the grounds of the school? A secret the townsfolk of Bleak Creek are willing to kill for.

I didn't know who Rhett and Link were before receiving this book. I'm not a big fan of watching YouTube. So when i heard they were internet stars i was doubtful. I was pleasantly surprised at how good this story was. Told mostly through the eyes of a trio of 14-year-olds this was a well written story with crisp, funny, and at times disturbing dialogue.
How much would you be willing to sacrifice to save your child? Your soul? The souls of other children?
Stephen King's It meets Stranger Things with a splash of Poltergeist.

Thanks to Goodreads giveaway.
Profile Image for Brittani Allen.
367 reviews23 followers
October 31, 2019
I love Rhett and link so much! This book was just as hilarious as I would’ve expected. That being said, I wasn’t really sure what this book was supposed to be. The content was pretty dark but the tone was super light.. I also couldn’t tell who this book was meant for. It would seem for an older audience sometimes and a really young audience other times. I will listen to any book Rhett and link write though!
Profile Image for Indrė.
92 reviews
January 22, 2020
This was really easy, fun and enjoyable read, and if it wasn't for any other outside reasons, I would have finished it ages ago. Like seriously, so much fun!
I love my internet das, Rhett and Link, so much; and their alter egos, Rex and Leif, were a mirror image of themselves. Reading the book, knowing them, the places they talk about (they have mini-documentary made about it) and people (a very nice tribute to their deceased real-life friend) is half the entertainment. And the story itself, well... made me think of Edgar Wright "Hot fuzz" (2007). For the greater good :D
800 reviews4 followers
October 28, 2019
There is so much I love about this book. First it is well written. It grabbed me with the first sentence and shocked me with the last sentence. I was fully invested in every character including the ones that were minor. The authors brought the people, the town and the decade it takes place in to life.

The authors have been best friends since third grade and it shows in the two protagonists, Rex and Leif, who are best friends since forever and are entering freshman year of high school in the small southern town of Bleak Creek in 1992. They are would be film makers because camcorders back in the 80s and 90s made everyone the latest Spielberg. Their other best friend, Alicia, is helping them make their masterpiece movie, PolterDog. You know, like Poltergeist, but with a dog ghost!

The cultural references in this book are many and are awesome. Everything from Goodfellas (one of my favorite movies) to Saved by the Bell makes an appearance. The fact that New Kids On the Block music plays a role in a rescue attempt is one of the things that made me smile while my heart pounded as our heroes find themselves in a dire predicament. This ability to make me smile when I am in a panic is an amazing gift that the writers bring to this original work.

I don't want to give too much of the plot away about this book. There are many surprises especially near the end. Basically, our heroes unwittingly discover an evil in their town and it's up to them to do something about it. Along the way they encounter a host of characters that bring comedy, fear and insight into this world. There are no unnecessary people or moments in this book.

Speaking earlier of Spielberg, this book must be made into a movie. It has that feel of innocence, fierce friendship, and wonderment that were so prevalent in the movies in the 80s and 90s; such as Back to the Future and Stand by Me. I enjoyed this book as much, if not more, than I did these iconic movies.

I won an advanced copy of this book from Penguin Random House and Goodreads for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.
Profile Image for J.S..
Author 1 book48 followers
January 24, 2020
“I feel like I’m being judged. And punished with tomatoes.”
“Just take the tomatoes off.”
“But they’ll contaminate whatever they touch.”
“With what?”
“Tomato…ness.”


Rex and Leif are making a movie, PolterDog, and trying to finish in time to submit it to the Raleigh NC Film Festival. The Second Baptist Church of Bleak Creek fundraiser to replace the organ's copper pipes (which were stolen) provides the perfect opportunity, as well as a crowd of unwitting extras. But when their filming goes horribly awry, their friend Alicia ends up being sent to the dreaded Whitewood School.

Also in town is Janine, a recent NYU film school graduate, who is visiting her grandmother and making a documentary about... kidney stones. But she stumbles upon a story much more interesting than kidney stones, for it seems the Whitewood School isn't quite the savior of wayward children that it seems, and there have been a number of fatal accidents in the past. Rex and Leif end up teaming with Janine to expose the school, but they might be up against more than they expected.

This was a very weird but rather entertaining story. The authors are "YouTube celebrities," and have a following for their weird brand of humor, so fans will no doubt love it. And the book was funny, but in a nerdy kind of way ("scooter leg" is a somewhat recurring joke). It tries to pull in elements of 1992 but it's kind of limited and doesn't really take full advantage of any nostalgia anyone might have had (in contrast to how successfully Stranger Things does with the 1980s.) The humor didn't quite do it for me (although I agree totally about "tomato...ness" contamination) but the story pulled me in enough that I enjoyed the book. One thing, however, that really annoyed me was that the chapters about Rex and Leif combine their POV, so that it was often difficult to read and keep them straight. One paragraph is in Rex's head and thoughts, and the next is in Leif's - not cool to me. Still, it was a fun read that I can round up to 4 stars.
Profile Image for Luwanda Dunfee.
170 reviews5 followers
November 2, 2019
This was an excellent book about friendships and facing horrors together. It had a surprising twist that makes it worth the time.
Profile Image for Beth.
106 reviews
November 19, 2019
4.5 stars!

This was super entertaining and fun to read. I loved the fact it was set in the early 90s, and had a bit of a Fear Street (R.L. Stine) vibe!
Profile Image for Dave   Johnson.
Author 1 book32 followers
November 11, 2019
For people who don't mind reading a book by authors with the writing ability of two YouTube personalities.

This really stung. As someone who loves Rhett and Link and their YouTube channel, I am devastated to have to write such a negative review about a book written so poorly. And, yes, it really is that bad.

First, let's talk about the actual story. It's supposed to be creepy, and a mild horror book, but it's really not creepy in the slightest, and seems to only be called a "horror" because there are some mild supernatural elements--which you can see a mile away. The characters are extremely weak and lifeless, and the main characters which SHOULD be likeable come across as annoying--but not deliberately. Obviously Rex and Leif are somewhat loosely based on the authors Rhett and Link, and the authors even admit this. But the names often took me out of the immersion of the story because I kept asking myself if certain events or traits were ACTUALLY Rhett or Link or if they were just fictitious. I think it would have been much better if the main characters were named something completely dissimilar to the authors names. The naming of the characters is admittedly a small thing, but just adds to the overall disappointment of the book.

Some mild spoilers ahead.

The actual writing was the worst part, though. The writing is worst example of "telling" and not "showing". How do you know if something or someone or some place should be disliked or liked? The authors tell you in exposition! They don't show you by actual events or character flaws or individual decisions--they tell you. This simultaneously weakens both the characters and the plot itself. One moment that really stands out is when the exposition introduces a character that is supposed to be disliked for how they often bring up that they have a vacation home of sorts, and the book tells you that this character brings it up all the time. But the character himself only mentions it once, and it wasn't annoying the first time. So they just tried to make you believe something about a person without actually showing the character doing the action that is supposed to be annoying. What's worse, it's evident that the authors found flaws in their story in the editing process and in rewriting, they had "that-should-fix-it" moments. One is the pronunciation of "Leif". The pronunciation is "leef" in most of the book, though it's supposed to be "layf" which is how most people should pronounce it. There is barely any mention of this, and in a "fix it" moment, the book mentions about halfway in the story that Leif's correct pronunciation was indeed "Layf" but everyone pronounced it "Leef" and he was too passive to correct them. The thing is, this is only mentioned once in the story. It could have been a great recurring event for Leif and would have added some much-needed character development along the way. But my biggest issue is that in the audiobook, the narrator kept saying "Leef" from the very beginning as if that was the correct version. But the narration of the story is from an omniscient point of view. The narrator should have known the correct pronunciation all along and used the correct one in exposition and the wrong one for dialogue. That would at least add to the two pronunciation thing. (Also, pronouncing it as "leef" is dumb.) Now since I read this book as an audiobook, this might not be as pronounced in the written page because the reader can pronounce the name however they want in their minds. But the bigger issue is that there was one or two sentences mentioning it at all, which only made it odd and awkward.

The writing of the exposition was bad enough. This is not good writing. It's too wordy when it should be simpler, and too descriptive when it should be vague. It felt condescending to have to read how the story was telling me what people thought and how to perceive the way they thought--especially because the exposition is from an omniscient point-of-view. This isn't an unreliable narrator who has his/her own opinions and subjective framework. I WISH! That actually would have been a great addition! But no. This is an omniscient narration telling you everything, but not allowing you to understand the subtext between characters or in scenes or situations.

Another weird "that-should-fix-it" moment was near the very end. At one point certain characters made a film of the events in the book, and when they showed it to an audience, one critique was that it was making light of the real death of someone in their town by making a horror film of it and capitalizing on it. Now this is actually a valid criticism because that's exactly what the film was doing. Which makes this criticism sound like an ACTUAL criticism from someone reading an early draft of the book. They "fixed" it by having the filmmaker disagree with the critic that the film was a horror film at all. But this is a stupid argument because the reader already KNOWS it's a horror because the film is based on the "true" events in the book...WHICH IS A HORROR BOOK. Without leaving much time to ponder about this critique and subsequent dismissal of the critique, another stranger interrupted the conversation by adding another disagreement with the initial critique and then the flow of the conversation drastically changes. So after it's all said and done, it reads like the authors making a revision to the story to "fix" a valid criticism of the plot itself. But it seems like a tiny Band-aid and doesn't fix anything. It honestly does the opposite, making you think about this awkward conversation about a very real criticism.

One comparison this book has already gotten is to Stranger Things, and I don't really think that's a good comparison. Other than the kids and supernatural elements, there's not much similarity. But what I really thought was more similar--at least in tone--was comparing this to Ready Player One, which was an awful book that relied on the reader's nostalgia itself to give gas to a terrible story. Sadly, that is also what I get with this story. It was nostalgia done wrong, and most of the time felt like the authors talking between themselves and saying "Ooh! Don't forget to add Piggly Wiggly--and Cheerwine! Oh! And let's add New Kids On The Block at the end!" The nostalgic elements seemed forced most of the time and was another thing that took me out of the story. I like the nostalgic feeling of Stranger Things because the plot doesn't need to reiterate over and over that the show is about the 80s. The nostalgic power comes from the fact that Stranger Things is very subtle. But Ready Player One is the opposite. It beats you over the head with references to games and movies, etc., in order to give the reader the impression that you are reading a nudge-nudge-wink-wink by the author. This book was often the same with the constant references to pop culture, and it was too much most of the time.

My final criticism is about the setting. Bleak Creek is supposed to be loosely based on the authors' home town of Buies Creek, NC. Like I mentioned with the names of the characters, I think it was a big mistake to write something so close to home (pardon the pun). Because it made their town look AWFUL. Many of the characters seem to be one-dimensional caricatures of bigots. And when reading (listening) to the authors talk about their writing process and the inspiration, they admitted that it was based on things, people, and ideas they weren't happy with and wanted to question. The thing is, they didn't do this in any reasonable way. They just labeled the entire town bigots almost entirely by exposition (telling, not showing), and they didn't for a second lead the reader to point of reflection. So it ultimately just made the authors look like assholes.

I remember watching an interview with someone in the movie business, and they were talking about good and bad scripts. They talked about the difference between actual stories and just "situations". This book sadly feels like the latter. It doesn't tell a story with character growth and development. Anyone could be in this town and have the events happen in the same way. This is just a situation. And a badly written one at that.

Look, I love Rhett and Link, and think they are very entertaining and talented. They often talk about their love of story, but I think they have grossly overestimated their ability here. I don't know what happened, but it's bad.

Will it story? NO.
Profile Image for Justin Brendel.
165 reviews9 followers
February 3, 2020
4.5 stars! A fun mystery book that read a lot like Stranger Things, 90's edition. Pop culture references were abundant, the characters were likable, and barbeque! Leif and Rex sure felt like name nods to Link and Rhett. Great story from the guys at Good Mythical Morning!
Profile Image for Michelle.
410 reviews65 followers
February 6, 2020
this cover is so pleasing to my eyes and i cannot even explain why because it's so, like, NOT VERY AESTHETIC. i digress.

other than that, this felt like as if spielberg directed a cure for wellness, which would have made for a better movie, but it also wouldn't have worked.

about the same way that this book doesn't work. i'm not one to criticize it too much when someone fails to show and not tell but tells instead, which this book does a lot, so that's not my main problem. my main problem is that this novel feel extremely jerky, like you're on a VERY bumpy ride and the car's making your body jerk left to right and up and down, and like, it's okay, you'll survive, but you're also asking yourself why? why must this be happening to me and is it over?

+ some of these characters are super unlikable and i didn't like where it went with other characters, so like? ehhhh.

ultimately my biggest problem really is that this felt totally bland, like i was trying to eat something but i forgot to put salt in it. literally reads like someone didn't put caesar dressing in caesar salad.
Profile Image for Tessa Kikkert.
24 reviews5 followers
April 10, 2020
I really, really, really like this book, and I definitely didn't expect that to happen after reading "wind-up bird chronicle". I'm a huge fan of the authors,so I'd gotten the signed edition as a collector's item,but I wasn't planning on liking it this much, for it being a ya book.

While it does start off rather slow and tedious, it picks up momentum at around the 60 page mark and it just keeps going from there. Normally, every book has a portion somewhere right before the final that could be deemed the "Marathon" of the book, in which usually the momentum gets put on a hold. Some writers make great use of the Marathon,even succeeding in making it the most interesting part,while others fail miserably. Rhett and Link joined the first group mentioned,for the entirety of the book kept me wanting to read more.

Paranormal, creepy and unsettling with a touch of humor,all played out within the parameters of a religious southern town. Surprisingly well written and thought through.
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