A Man With A Spooky Agenda

I'm an indie bookseller in Vermont, sometime public servant, and voracious reader. I love antiques, cats, D&D, and vintage Ken. Though my job requires me to dabble across the board genre-wise, my heart belongs to the Victorians and epic fantasy.


I write something about every book I read, but only publish reviews close to the release date of the book. If you see something on my shelves and there's no review, feel free to ask me about it!

Un Lun Dun by China Mieville

Un Lun Dun - China MiƩville


Darkest London Square: Deeba and Zanna discover a whole new side of the city.


'Un Lun Dun' starts promising, but it overstayed it's welcome. It had an old-fashioned, episodic nature to it, much like 'The Wizard of Oz' or 'Alice's Adventures in Wonderland'. Deeba and Zanna are drawn by circumstances to UnLondon, a bizarre reflection of London that holds most everything that was discarded from that city. There are many such 'abcities' that have a symbiotic relationship with each other.


UnLondon is under threat by the Smog, pollution incarnate, and all the prophecies point towards Zanna being the chosen one, the Schwazzy, and therefore the only person who can save UnLondon and perhaps all the worlds from disaster. And then something goes wrong....


This book is full of odd meta-detail and story deconstruction. It's fascinating the way Mieville subverts expectations of what Destiny means, the nature of the heroic quest, and other tropes get thrown into a blender. That is supposed to be fascinating for me, but after a few hundred pages I just wanted it to be over. There were even a few bits of genuine horror thrown in with no apologies, but it wasn't enough. At least there were lots of disturbing illustrations.


Poor book. I didn't give your second half the attention it deserved. 

Goodnight Kiss 2, Fear Street Super Chiller #10 by R.L. Stine

Goodnight Kiss 2 - R.L. Stine



Deadlands Square: Sandy Hollow is still overrun with vampires who exist to tell us that girls can't be friends and that Stine invented the whiney undead.


Overall this is a pretty limp sequel to 'Goodnight Kiss', which wasn't that impressive to begin with. Stine has gone on the record saying he hates bothering with continuity and likes a clean slate and it shows. A lot of rumors circulate around Sandy Hollow and 'Vampire Island', but no one talks about events of the last book except for April. It might have been interesting to get a broader picture of this weird vampire colony that chooses to live and hunt in a seasonal beach community. Is the nectar better?


Also, the Shadyside connection is pretty slender, with April and some guy named Rick showing up, otherwise the main characters are from Holcomb, a town that nobody cares about. 


The plot is simple: Billy has returned to town for REVENGE. Last summer his girlfriend Joelle was killed by a vampire and, he confesses to his friends, he had to spend the whole school year in an institution because of it. His friends think he's working a summer job, but he's really on the look-out for vampires to slay. The problem is he's really, really bad at spotting vampires. Us readers know the vampires from the beginning (or DO We?!), but Billy has zero instincts on this point. There's also some major plot holes that I can't discuss without spoiling the shocking twist of it all. Let's just say that none of the characters in this book are burdened with good instincts.


The typical abusive relationship patterns are present here, but this time its only the women who are the problem. R.L. Stine: Feminist. Vampires Irene and Kylie are crazy possessive, demanding, and are nasty to each other about their looks - that's what good friends are like on Fear Street, I mean Sandy Hollow.


There is a twist to the book, but logically it makes no sense even for a 'Fear Street' novel. Also, the plot hinges on a bet between the vampires about who can turn a teen into a vampire first...which...is exactly what the plot was last time. Way past lame, Stine. Way past.


Fear Street Super Chillers


Next: 'Silent Night 3'


Previous: 'The New Year's Party'

The Mark on the Door, Hardy Boys #13

The Mark on the Door (Hardy Boys, #13) - Franklin W. Dixon



13 Square: This is the thirteenth book in the series.


Take a long look at that cover, because that's one of the least offensive things about the text of this book.


The Hardy Boys have taken their beloved power boat out for a cruise when a dusky foreigner comes speeding out of the fog, hits them, and keeps going. Some quick action on the boys' part saves their lives and limits the damage done to the boat, but such actions are hardly those of a gentleman.


Determined to get satisfaction, the boys inquire after the boat and discover that it was a rental and the man is unknown in town. Disappointed, the boys go where the action is in Bayport: the city courthouse, to see the ongoing trial of the company that had been selling fraudulent stock in Mexican oil. 


The place is packed, of course, and the boys arrive in time to hear the case being delayed because a star witness has gone missing. They also see the dark foreign man! In tracking him, the boys discover his link with the fake oil stocks, his gifting of sickly hairless dogs, and his penchant for carving his sigil on doors. As a reward for their sleuthing, their father takes them along on the search for the missing witness and they end up in Mexico.


This was a difficult one to read. The book relies on the trope that the only good foreigner (Mexicans in Mexico are foreigners, fyi) is a rich one and the only good Native Americans are full-blooded strong and silent types. A lot of disdain is given to the "half-breeds" that live in hovels and caves.


The only reason this gets a full star at all is that after the boys are captured by a gang and mistreated by those cads and Frank and Joe's bluster is met with laughter. They ask their Indian guide what will happen to them out in this desert (where nobody knows where they are).


Die, probably.


Which, yes. Finally. Thank you, realism.


There was very little else to redeem this book. I imagine the 1960s rewrite scrapped the lot.


Hardy Boys


Next: 'The Hidden Harbor Mystery'


Previous: 'Footprints Under the Window'

Full Throttle by Joe Hill

Full Throttle: Stories - Joe Hill

Like with any story collection, there are some ups and downs here, I found about a third of the stories enjoyable, a third take-or-leave, and the last third some pretty dull stuff. The good news is that, of course, this doesn't mean you won't like it. A number of the stories were released separately as ebooks and whatnot and plenty of others liked those - even though they were my least favorite (the nerve!). Only three stories here have never been released before (none made my top tier, wahwaaah).


"Faun" was an absolute blast and easily my favorite story, with a comfortable second prize going to "You are Released" (collected in 'Flight or Fright' already) but every story here showcases Hill's growth as a writer, even those I had issues with. I'll hold out for a new, full-length work.


Two stories were co-written with dad Stephen King: "Throttle" and "In the Tall Grass", the first was a pointless road-revenge skit and the second, hyped as a movie on Netflix, was too similar to 'The Ruins', and worse, not very thrilling. "By the Silver Water of Lake Champlain" started as a great mood piece laced with humor and had a meh ending. "Twittering from the Circus of the Dead", was an interesting concept, but didn't have one. single. hashtag? No one saw those tweets. Also, I've been over zombies for a long time. "Wolverton Station" was a flash fiction piece that was stretched out and didn't land. "Thumb Print", following an Iraqi War vet with warped morals, failed to generate a single care. I don't know, maybe I'm just feeling bitchy, but as much as I enjoyed a few of the stories, I was shocked at how many I didn't like at all.


Overall I just didn't feel the full-bore creative engine that got me into 'Locke & Key' and 'Strange Weather', but the collection gets rated above-average because when Joe Hill lands a story, its worth it.


Imaginary Friend by Stephen Chbosky

Imaginary Friend - Stephen Chbosky

This is the long-awaited second novel from the author of 'Perks of Being a Wallflower'. This is a completely different beast, however, so enough about that.


Christopher is seven and this is not the first time that his mother Kate has made them pack up what they can of their lives and escape in the middle of the night from a dangerous boyfriend. They end up in a remote town in Pennsylvania and hope for the best. Christopher then goes missing and is not seen for six days. When he comes back, things are different: he suddenly overcomes his dyslexia, Kate wins the lottery and buys a dream house, and Christopher continues to talk to the "Nice Man" that helped him out of the woods. The Nice Man has a warning for him, however, bad things won't be staying in the woods anymore, for Christopher to stop bad things from happening he has to build a treehouse before Christmas....


I feel like this might be a case of an author working too long on a manuscript. There was some great initial character development and I love the plot, but at over 700 pages the book is overlong and poorly paced. The treehouse was finished within a few hundred pages. 400 pages of impending apocalypse wears down the suspense. Character development and, frankly, many of the character's actions become redundant as the book goes on. Later additions to the 'Hellraiser' films come to mind. A story can sustain mounting, disgusting horror only for so long before I begin to glaze over. Speaking of that, I hate to make the unfavorable Stephen King comparisons, buuuut…this book needed an aggressive editor.


I was very disappointed. Don't believe the hype. I don't like writing poor reviews, but Chbosky is a writer that can do better.

Cog by Greg Van Eekhout

Cog - Greg Van Eekhout

This is the sweetest juvenile sf book I've read in a long time. 'Cog' follows the eponymous android, designed for realistic human cognition, as he has to make up for a very, very big mistake of a learning experience.


Cog has lived happily since their creation-date of some months before with Gina in a house in the suburbs until a misunderstanding has Cog taken to a new "home" at the headquarters of the tech firm that funded their creation. Once there Cog makes friends with a talking car, a trash-bot, a robo-dog and a sibling.


'Cog' quickly gets to the heart of artificial-intelligence sf, morality, and the buddy road-trip adventure. This will engage young readers at once and make them ask questions about assumptions of appearance, the law, and family. The publisher is really putting their support behind this book and it is 100% warranted. Loved it.

The Doll in the Garden by Mary Downing Hahn

The Doll in the Garden - Mary Downing Hahn

"You're too young to know, but the things you do when you're a child stay with you all your life."


I am so glad I revisited this book. I read it several times growing up and something about it always thrilled me. Not the finding of a buried doll - that came later - but this novella is equally a ghost story and a touching story about grief, friendship, and forgiveness.


Ashley and her mother have moved from Baltimore to a more rural town. Her father recently died of cancer and there won't be much money until her mother can finish her dissertation and get get a good job. To make ends meet they've rented the top floor of an old house owned by the cantankerous Miss Cooper who dislikes children and has a mean dog. Memorably, the first chapter is called "The Cat Hater". That night Ashley sees a white cat and the unmistakable crying of a child in the garden outside.


There's a younger neighbor girl, Alicia, who Ashley befriends and they take to exploring the overgrown garden behind Miss Cooper's house - despite warnings to stay away. In the middle of the roses the girls find a box buried with an antique doll and a cryptic letter of apology inside. Alicia had told Ashley that the garden was known to be haunted, does the doll have something to do with it?


A note on dolls (of course). The cover of this paperback shows Ashley handing Louisa what looks like a German bisque. The text talks about Anna Maria having a china head with eyes that open and shut. China and bisque are two very different things Ms. Hahn. The other dolls mentioned are well-worn two rag dolls and an actual china doll with painted hair. I was going to take a picture of a grouping (I even have one with ancient jam and tea stains around the mouth), but I lost track of time. Someday.


The ghost story itself is not a threatening one, but there is something about Ashley's visits to Louisa in the garden and the ever-encroaching darkness. The real pleasure in this book comes from the quote from Miss Cooper at top of this review and the idea, the fantasy, the book offers in the chance to correct a small wrong. Events like death are inevitable and unstoppable, but the redemption offered in this story is tantalizing and encourages the reader to make right what they can, while they still have the chance.

Ginnie and the Mystery Doll, Ginnie #8 by Catherine Woolley

Ginnie and the Mystery Doll - Catherine Woolley

Ginnie and Ginevra and their families have rented a house on Cape Cod for the summer. They have a kind neighbor in Miss Wade, who despite being an old maid somehow still manages to be presentable. She lives in a big old house and the man at the local historical society refers to her as "impoverished". Great place, Cape Cod. To be fair, Ginnie is indignant that the man would label her with such a squalid word.


Despite her genteel economy, Miss Wade is still able to donate the money from her Beach Plum Jelly sales to her church. On a rainy day the girls are allowed to poke through the attic and dress up in old clothes. In one of the boxes Ginnie finds an old diary and is fascinated. It belonged to Miss Wade's mother and was written in 1871 when the girl was ten years old. It mentions the gift of a fabulous French doll with a precious jewel around it's neck. On questioning, Miss Wade reveals the doll went missing thirty years ago while the family was away and the house was rented.


Soon, however, at the church auction who should appear but Lady Vanderbilt! The girls are outbid and the race is on to discover the answer to all the mysteries.


The book is okay for its type. It's probably believable that a 24" French fashion would have sold for only $6 at a  sleepy summer auction in 1962, but it seems fishy. The usual preponderance of coincidence is also in effect. The book is geared towards very early readers as Ginny's observations make clear every emotional impulse she is feeling or other character's are feeling: '"He is embarrassed because his car broke down" Ginnie thought' is a typical example when we've already been told Ernie's face is red when he confesses a major repair is needed for his car after bragging about it. Ginevra doesn't add much, she's a wall that Ginnie bounces ideas off of and nothing more.


Well, that happened.


Ginnie and Genevra


Next: 'Ginnie and the Mystery Cat'


Previous: 'Ginnie and the Wedding Bells'

Footprints Under the Window, Hardy Boys #12 by Franklin W. Dixon

Footprints Under the Window (Hardy Boys, #12) - Franklin W. Dixon, J. Clemens Gretta


Free Square!


Frank and Joe have been left to their own devices while their parents are away on yet another vacation, when suddenly there's a phone call: Aunt Gertrude is coming! That formidable lady of indeterminate years will wring their necks if the house isn't spotless when she arrives. Being boys the Hardy Boys have neglected their linens and make haste to drop it all off at the best Chinese laundry in town.


Unfortunately instead of the friendly Sam Lee, they are greeted by the sinister Louie Fong who accuses the boys of eavesdropping and doesn't see at all reliable as far as laundry. Spoiler alert: they never get their laundry back!


Things keep going wrong for the Hardy Boys. Their aunt fails to turn up at the docks, a young man they invite to stay overnight goes missing along with many important papers of their father, and Aunt Gertrude complains of a vision of a Chinamen coming in through the window - you may have guessed that the boys find footprints under the window shortly thereafter.


The mystery this time is all about the illegal smuggling of Chinese into Bayport (which is on the Atlantic coast and therefore convenient for this) and a curious case of duplicate identities. Along the way Tom Wat, a young Chinese man whose life is in jeopardy may or may not be dressed up as a girl by the boys to avoid detection.


There is a mix of tone-deaf cultural depiction in here and outdated terms (read: Chinamen), but also a lot of racially charged associations that are a real problem. Language changes over time and I can't fault the author for trying to write in the, uh, "pidgin English" of the Chinese immigrant....well, maybe a little.  However, when we're constantly reminded of the dusky or yellow cast of the skin of our villain, and reminders of the suspicious differences between our heroes and villains you know we're supposed to make certain associations.


Bad form Hardy Boys, bad form.


Speaking of bad form, our good friend Chet has a good-sized part in the novel, but Biff is on to my game and refused to make an appearance.


The revision of this 1934 novel came out in 1965 and involves the Hardy Boys investigating illegal immigration in a fictional island nation and stolen blueprints to a miniature spy camera. I'm sure laundry has something to do with it.


Hardy Boys


Next: 'The Mark on the Door'


Previous: 'While the Clock Ticked'

The Spell of the Sorcerer's Skull, Johnny DIxon #3 by John Bellairs

Spell of the Sorcerer's Skull, The - John Bellairs


Stranger Things Square: Bellairs' Johnny Dixon series was set in the 1950s, but this was published in 1984 and features two smart-alec kids teaming up with a priest to defeat evil.


The professor invites Johnny on a winter holiday to see the White Mountains of New Hampshire, but an accident on the icy roads strands them in a small town. Coincidentally the inn in that town has one of the professor's family heirlooms in a back storage room. Of course it does. The heirloom is a tall mantel clock with a dollhouse room built into the base. It depicts a room of the Childermass  estate, the study and a doll of the professor's great-uncle on the evening of his mysterious death. Of course it does.


Inside the diorama sits exquisite miniature human skull that Johnny is fascinated by and, for reasons, ends up in his pocket. Afterwards Johnny has a compulsion to tell no one about the skull and eventually carries it around with him (did he learn NOTHING from the blue figurine?) even after he has odd dreams and the professor himself disappears after Johnny sees a phantom jack-o-lantern in the professor's window.


'Sorcerer's Skull' is noteworthy in the Bellairs canon not just for Johnny's vacation with his elderly friend Roderick Childermass, but because he also goes on a "pleasure outing" with the parish priest, along with Fergie. This is considered a good cover, as the real reason they were off together was to battle supernatural forces, but that would have provoked suspicion.


It's a sad fact of today's world that parents would have every right to be suspicious of elderly gentlemen spiriting their children away on trips all the time. The fact that one is a priest...whoo boy....


Anyway, the nice thing about reading these Dixon mysteries more or less in order is that I can see how Bellairs did build in some initial skepticism on the part of the professor and the boys towards the supernatural. In a few books they'll be all "Welp, time to go back in time in the trolley buried in my basement" and no one will think twice. It's nice to know everyone in Duston Heights started off in the real world.


Overall this was not a strong addition to the series. Way too many coincidences going on here. I mean, couldn't the professor have just found the clock in the attic instead of in a stranger's house in a town he'd never been to? The clock had actually been stolen? I mean, evil tramp warlocks can curse people from beyond the grave, but let's be plausible about it.


Johnny Dixon


Next: 'The Revenge of the Wizard's Ghost'


Previous: 'The Mummy, the Will, and the Crypt'

Magic's Pawn, Valdemar #6 by Mercedes Lackey

Magic's Pawn - Mercedes Lackey


Spellbound Square: Vanyel eventually manifests the mage and herald abilities in this early Valdemar novel.


Vanyel spends his days dreading practice with his father's brutal arms-master, weathering the scorn of his father towards his 'soft' son, practicing music, and fending off the advances of his mother's ladies. Vanyel doesn't enjoy bedding those worthy women like his younger brother. As his father's heir Vanyel has responsibilities that make it impossible for him to follow his dream of becoming a Bard.


He is ultimately sent to the capitol to be under the eye of his stern aunt who is one of many Herald-Mage's in the Kingdom of Valdemar. Vanyel faces the usual pressures of being a gifted young person, but also must keep truths about himself secret from those at Court and those who would harm him. The book ramps up as Vanyel faces many personal challenges.


Mercedes Lackey's Valdemar books were the queerest things going in fantasy for a long time, and I owe a lot to that. Her books were not only queer friendly, they had empowered women, talking horses, and more pink and violet covers then you can shake a stick at. There are some mixed messages in these novels, to be sure, but reading these as a scared closeted kid in high school must have offered some comfort.


I say must have, because, honestly, I'd forgotten just how big a part Vanyel's sexuality played in these books. My ultimate disappointment in how the love story played out was likely a factor in my willful amnesia. Three recent reviews (Linda, Carolyn, Wanda) mention the sudden melodrama, the off-screen action, the lazy short-hand in developing all the romantic relationships here as really downgrading the reading experience. That is why the book gets an 'OK' review from me today, but at the time of publication and for a long time after there was nothing else in genre-fiction that talked about prejudice and coming-out so directly. Like it or not, many readers needed to experience the course in Queer Empathy 101 Lackey offers here.  I read these around 2001-2, and it was still revolutionary. The fact the book is from '89 makes it that much more extraordinary.


With so many other options out there in fantasy, I will probably not revisit these books again, but they were there for me when I needed them.


The Last Herald-Mage


Next: 'Magic's Promise'


Previous: 'Oathbreakers'

Crooked Tree by Robert C. Wilson

Crooked Tree - Robert C. Wilson


In the Dark, Dark Woods Square: The Crooked Tree State Forest has suddenly become plagued with black bear attacks with a sinister origin.


Axel Michaelson is working on an injunction to prevent development of part of the Crooked Tree State Forest in the lower peninsula of Michigan. The housing development would provide jobs to the area, but, he believes, would irreparably harm the forest and negatively impact the Ottawa Native Americans who still live in the county in great numbers.


His wife Janis is descended from an Ottawa chieftain and begins acting strangely. The dogs in her kennel begin barking at her and she has memory loss and mood-swings.


A series of people make plans to enter the forest and their characters are developed well enough that their grisly - almost a pun! - fate is all the more shocking. Wilson writes extensively about the natural habits of black bears so the reader gets a sense of how unusual the violent behavior is. The novel is influenced enough by 'Jaws' that Wilson felt readers should understand what actual animal behavior is like. The supernatural origin of the bear attacks may dull the scares for some.


I'm unfamiliar with Native American history in Michigan so there were some interesting information here. My favorite bit is when Axel goes researching a particular Ottawa ritual and engages in some serious reference-library porn. From a citation in a dusty treatise he seeks out the source material at the University of Michigan library and, with the help of a library assistant, tracks down an obscure archive with the use of many reference manuals and card-catalogs. It goes on for a couple pages, it's totally dated, and totally thrilling. Research used to be so very, very hard. People should remember that.


That bit of reference-porn makes up for some very silly dramatics involving ghostly possession and naked woods-wandering. The book almost made it as a serious horror novel, but it was still a lot of fun when it went off the rails. The cover on the mass market was diecut so the bloody-mouthed bear of the cover is revealed to have the body of a sexy, hairy woman humping the body of a man while she pulls his heart out of his chest. So I was pleasantly shocked at how good much of the writing was.

While the Clock Ticked, Hardy Boys #11 by Franklin W. Dixon

While the Clock Ticked - J. Clemens Gretta, Franklin W. Dixon


Baker Street Irregulars Square: The Hardy Boys, regressed to high school age, investigate a mystery while their parents are on vacation.


With their parents away on a long-overdue vacation, the boys are under the strict rule of Aunt Gertrude. While she approves of their skills and resourcefulness, she would never tell them she was proud of them to their faces. That would fill their heads up with air. So at every turn she is critical, demanding, and obstructionist, and I love her for it.


Aunt Gertrude turns a man away at the door when he comes asking to see Fenton Hardy. She doesn't tell him Fenton Hardy is away, because one doesn't let a man know you're alone in the house, however well dressed. I'd like to see Aunt Gertrude in a 'Fear Street' novel, she would straighten those kids out in a heartbeat.


In any case, the man comes back and theboys let him in - they wouldn't last a day on Fear Street - and tell him they'll try to wire their father, but they'd be happy to look into any mysteries. The man laughs, but gives them a hint and ultimately hires them. The man, Raymond Dalrymple, is a wealthy banker who bought the furnished Purdy Mansion along the Shore Road as an investment. The house had been built by a paranoid miser and contained a secret room with a time-locked vault door. Dalrymple is so harried by business he decides to use this room as a private office and uses it occasionally without exploring the rest of the house.


The mystery, he tells the boys, is that he's been receiving threatening notes that he discovers inside this locked room. There is no way in but through the vault door, even the chimney is too small for entry and barred besides, and the room itself is a closely guarded secrets. The immigrant laborers who even built the room were sent far away after construction was completed. Nice.


There is another appearance by Hurd Applegate, from 'The Tower Treasure', who has devolved into a man whose only passion left is stamps. Valuable, valuable stamps. The disappearance of some of Hurd's stamps gets him involved. The disappearance of his sister is of no consequence apparently. The police are also investigating 'River Thieves' who have been stealing goods for months. 


This was a pretty lackluster mystery with some bizarre elements including a doppelgangers, screams in the night, mad inventors, time bombs, and even a crook named 'Indian Tom' who was likely expunged in the 1960s rewrite, but who can say? There's some serious bumbling police tropes that are more likely to have been cut, and perhaps, maybe, the boys should have a break from rescuing valuable stamps. I was disappointed that the forward momentum of the boys' lives - namely their high school graduation in 'The Great Airport Mystery' - was so abruptly cut short. I looked back and 'What Happened at Midnight' merely describes the boys as still being in high school as they head out to Morton Farm for a party. There must have been some reader backlash, or the editors realized by themselves - after printing - that it was a mistake to let the boys grow up.


It also seems that Chet and Biff are aware of my scrutiny, as neither of them obliged me with a scene for my slash fic of them, but those chums and the rest of the gang did make a fuss about the Hardy Boys not including them in this latest caper. For that realism, and Aunt Gertrude's curling papers, I give this an extra star.


Hardy Boys


Next: 'Footprints Under the Window'


Previous: 'What Happened at Midnight'

Goodnight Kiss, Fear Street Super Chiller #3 by R.L. Stine

Goodnight Kiss - R.L. Stine


Fear Street Square: Teens roam at their own risk in Sandy Hollow, a beach community beset with vampires.


The book begins with Jessica, a townie in the beach community, shopping for her blind date with Gabri. She's excited its summer again and there will be so many people around. The date with Gabri is enchanting, but there's a problem. It turns out they're both Eternals. Vampires, and so both of them wasted a night going for that sweet vein nectar. They refer to blood as nectar. Gabri and Jessica are both pushy jerks and they decide that the better vampire will be able to 'turn' a teen before the other. This requires three feedings spaced out, otherwise the teen would die and the bet would be off.


The next day April is helping her parents and twin sisters move in to the summer cabin. It's so much better in Sandy Hollow than in Shadyside! She's happy that her boyfriend Matt's family is coming to the beach again this year, as well as their friend Todd. Todd appears to be ok, even though he lives in one of those dumps on Fear Street.


The vampires make their bets, the unsuspecting teens go about visiting arcades, going to pizza shops and visiting the carnival. Will they make it through the summer alive?


This was OK. There wasn't much to jeer or cheer. The plot was instantly supernatural, but the vampires are still like bratty kids (take that Stephanie Meyer!). April makes a really strong case for liking her boyfriend, but then proceeds to complain about every one of his interests. Girl, get your priorities straight.


I'll keep saying it: these super chillers are only 15 pages longer than regular 'Fear Street' novels, I'm not sure why they didn't just cut some of the banter and descriptions of baggy swim trunks and publish them as part of the main series. In reality, it probably had to do with the publishing schedule of the others, but if publishing more than one a month floods the market how is the different packaging preventing the flood? I don't know.


Oh well. I have the sequel on hand, but since this is a 'Fear Street' novel they may not share any characters. We'll see....


Fear Street Super Chiller


Next: 'Broken Hearts'


Previous: 'Silent Night'

Dead Voices, Small Spaces #2 by Katherine Arden

Dead Voices - Katherine Arden


Supernatural Square: Three friends find themselves snowed-in at a haunted ski lodge armed only with a Ouija board and a book of matches.


Ollie, Coco and Brian have tried to put what happened in the land beyond the mists behind them. When a free trip for five is won to a soon-to-be-open ski mountain it seems like a great opportunity to have fun and get away from reminders of the past.


A blizzard is hitting the Vermont mountains especially hard and the expected 8" overnight, heavy enough, becomes a big enough storm to prevent the other guests from arriving at Mount Hemlock, and traps them in the building without no power and only a single fireplace.


No one but Coco sees the man in the road warning them away from the lodge. When the car is stopped, he's disappeared. The taxidermy collection in the lobby seems to keep shifting positions on their wall-mounts and pedestals. The lodge itself has a dark past as an orphanage run by the stern 'Mother Hemlock' and not all the girls made it through the cold winters.


Snowbound, the trio, two parents, the lodge owners and a paranormal journalist, have to confront the ghosts in the dark halls armed only with a Ouija board, a book of matches, and a talent for chess. Ollie's wristwatch, through which her dead mother communicates to her, tells her to beware....


This was another good middle grade horror by Katherine Arden. In many ways this is Coco's book, as it showcases her talent for chess and logic, her mediating role and provides some outside perspective on Ollie's relationship with her dad.


The story skates on the edge of being too simple, but the puzzle was a good one, and the internal logic of the story and the world of 'Small Spaces' is respected. The characters are continuing to grow and with some unanswered questions, I see a lot of room for more sequels down the line.


Small Spaces


Previous: 'Small Spaces'

Into the Pit by Warner Lee

Into the Pit - Warner Lee


Psych Square: Jason's first wife Glenda's psychosis drives her to terrorize him and his new family from beyond the grave.


This is not a sensitive portrait of mental illness. It is in many ways a guide of what NOT to do if a loved one begins showing signs of mental instability. The novel has two timelines, present-day (1988) Appleton Falls, NJ and the other in various locations in the 1970s, ending in Philadelphia.


It begins with a young psychic, Jennifer, who makes her living drawing up astrological charts and reading tarot cards agreeing to do a seance for a client against her better judgement. The seance is a success, but it opens a scary door. After, Jennifer is plagued with green mist and visions of fire and she keeps blacking out and finding she's recorded herself asking for Jason McGuire.


Jason McGuire is a landscape architect. He and his wife have finally established their business to the point where they're getting high-profile clients and can enjoy their new family. Nyssa is taking time off until their son is ready for nursery school and everything is perfect. Until he starts having nightmares about his first wife Glenda. Who he loved so much until she "denied him" children, went mad and was a pain in the ass. The book says a torment, but mostly she seemed inconvenient, until the Satanism. She died in a house-fire years ago.


The book shifts viewpoints to a group of misfit boys obsessed with their shameful virginity. One, Christopher, offers to show them the body of a hot woman as soon as one shows up in his father's funeral home. The boys think that will be delightful. Glenda, off in the green mists of hell or whatever, finds a way to sneak into the world through the funeral home, too, and starts making mischief.


There are some genuinely scary scenes, some possession, some kidnapping, but the pace seemed a little off and there was a brief plot fake-out that wasn't believable for a second. Mostly, I was distracted by how Jason lived for years with his wife in an obviously unhealthy state, not even telling her parents. Years pass even after she gets involved with a cult and Jason witnesses their weird sex rituals.


My experience with mental illness is slight, but if someone is behaving as erratically and violently as Glenda does, I wouldn't wait eight years to think about just talking to a doctor against her wishes and I don't think anyone else would either.

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