Bites
August 29, 2012

Published July 1, 1990.

Author website.

When the Devil’s Elbow roller coaster goes off its track and several teenagers are hurt, everyone thinks it was just an accident. So no one listens when Tess says she saw someone tampering with the track. 

But one person knows it’s true. That person is playing a deadly game – and is going to make sure Tess doesn’t stand in the way. Tess soon finds she’s being terrorized, with threatening notes, menacing phone calls, slashed tires, and nasty pranks. When another “accident” occurs in the Funhouse, Tess is sure that she was the intended victim. Who is committing all these horrifying acts? And why? 

Tess is just beginning to realize that the Funhouse can scare you …to death.  (goodreads.com)

There are few things more awesome than cheese and FUNHOUSE certainly fit that mould nicely.  Not only that but I love reading un-updated works if for nothing more than the outdated styles of dress.  Boys in cutoff jeans?  Ha!  But I remember it.  Most of it would probably be pretty innocuous to the younger readers now simply because the descriptions aren’t too detailed but every once in a while you’ll get the little nugget of nostalgia that’ll have you going ‘yup.’  Love it.

FUNHOUSE combines two of my favorite things: horror and boardwalks.  Thanks Lost Boys.  You rear your mulleted head once again.  There just always seems to be something sinister underlying a carnival-like atmosphere.  I’m pretty sure it’s the clowns.  Are the looking at the same cover I am?  So going in it had the proper ambiance for me to be nice and cozily happy.

The thing about a lot of these old school cheesy YA horror books is that there really isn’t any supernatural involved; they’re mostly thriller but the way they’re written it could go either way.  This particular novel utilized pseudo-flashback pieces that involved a diary and insinuated at maybe a haunting.  Personally I think that’s just enough to pull it all together.

Another common theme in the cheese is the novel having at least one character that you desperately wish would get hit by a bus.  They’re just total shitbags that you can’t help but wonder why they have friends at all.  Trudy was that person in FUNHOUSE.  She’s just an all around nasty, negative human being that any normal person would probably drop like a bad habit.  But I guess because she’s rich and all their daddies work together she’s automatically lumped in with the rest.  Sucks for the rest of them.

Tess is the kind of heroine that I wish I saw more of in today’s YA.  She has Sam (her perhaps/maybe-boyfriend) constantly trying to protect her but she’s so adamant that she can take care of herself that I couldn’t help but go yeah!  Granted she takes it to a point of it being a fault, especially when the events start getting drastic and her life appears to really be in danger but she wants to stand on her own two feet.  She don’t need no man to protect her!  Yes!  Aside from that she is strong, wanting to solve the mystery behind all of these events even in the face of doubt and ridicule.  Everyone else things it’s a string of unfortunate accidents (of course) but Tess knows better.  There are too many elements going on for any of it to be coincidental.

Hoh is one of the better old school YA horror writers.  She doesn’t pander to her audience and just lets the story tell itself.  None of the dialogue feels contrived and the characters feel real to me.  Of course there’s a bit of the melodrama going on and the entire plot centers around a bunch of rich kids but they’re not obnoxious about it.  They don’t flaunt their parents’ wealth.  It’s not a motivating factor in the story; they all just are and who their parents are just happen to be who their parents are.  It’s not a card to play, which I liked.

FUNHOUSE is a great addition to my cheese library and one I’ll probably re-read at some point in the future.  There’s a classic feel to it, aside from the fact that the roller coaster is named The Devil’s Elbow.  How . . . threatening?

Ban Factor: High – Teenagers are ruthlessly targeted by some unknown entity for deliverance of dire pain.  Oh no.  We just can’t have that.  It’s too much for them to take.

August 28, 2012

Published February 28, 2012.

Author website.

The summer before they’re supposed to be cured of the ability to love, best friends Lena and Hana begin to drift apart. While Lena shies away from underground music and parties with boys, Hana jumps at her last chance to experience the forbidden. For her, the summer is full of wild music, dancing—and even her first kiss. 

But on the surface, Hana must be a model of perfect behavior. She meets her approved match, Fred Hargrove, and glimpses the safe, comfortable life she’ll have with him once they marry. As the date for her cure draws ever closer, Hana desperately misses Lena, wonders how it feels to truly be in love, and is simultaneously terrified of rebelling and of falling into line.  (goodreads.com)

I had to go back over my review of DELIRIUM because for the life of me I can’t remember much of anything from that book.  Apparently I really liked it (loved it is more on par there) and I was desperate to read more of the story. It’s funny how tastes can change in such a short amount of time.  My DELIRIUM  review was posted about a year and a half ago.

That’s not to say I wouldn’t still like DELIRIUM if I read it again because my tastes don’t change THAT drastically but having read far more like stories since I think I’d look at it with a different eye.  Yes, I’m still a fan of ROMEO & JULIET except I now know it’s true point, and it’s not all about star-crossed lovers.  I’m still a fan of non-douchey boys and even Oliver’s writing.  But within the time since I’ve read DELIRIUM one major issue has been brought to my attention that would completely throw a wrench in the reality of the story – children growing up unloved by parents.  Really this would create a society of feral children.  Children can subsist in the mechanics of parenthood like feeding, changing, etc.  But love is a pretty huge factor in a kid’s developmental years.  Just look at all those orphans in eastern Europe.  Removing love from society is far more detrimental to its well-being than it is beneficial.

So that’s what I went in to HANA with, this reformed view of Oliver’s word tickling my mind.  It wasn’t a bad story but because I couldn’t remember what really happened in DELIRIUM I had a hard time placing HANA so that was a nagging factor throughout.  Personal, obviously.  By the end I kind of remembered where it was because Hana encounters Lena after she received the dog bite so I have a vague idea of what and when.

Ultimately it was nice getting into Hana’s head a bit and see her basically being scared straight.  She doesn’t want to be cured but at the same time the thought of being caught rebelling is far too horrifying for her.  She’s a really dynamic character that I do wish I’d seen more of in DELIRIUM (I’m assuming I didn’t because she isn’t really mentioned in my review but I do remember her).  I think there’s more of a struggle there for her, more of a tear, than what Lena had.  Really I think she would have made a better MC than Lena.  Maybe I would have remembered more of DELIRIUM if that were the case.  It wouldn’t have been so “standard” a story that way.  Not to mention there are so many other ways to approach someone like Hana because she’s all aspects of the world: rebel and conformist.  She doesn’t draw a hard line in the sand and it’s really a struggle for her.  I would have liked to have seen her through her cure, to see if it really took, what her brain was like afterwards.

I enjoyed HANA, obviously.  I wasn’t as thrilled with the writing as I appeared to be with DELIRIUM, especially the lack of contractions.  A lot of ‘I am”s going around that annoyed me.  But it was a good glimpse of Hana and provided her with so much more depth.  I haven’t read PANDEMONIUM yet but I hope she’s in there more and it doesn’t just focus on Lena.  And from HANA alone I was able to suspend my disbelief enough in the world to keep reading because I think everything else fit and there was an obvious care and craft to the world itself.  It didn’t appear to be thrown together in a blender and spit out.  I can’t say if that would hold true if I re-read DELIRIUM or tried to get into PANDEMONIUM though.

Ban Factor: High – Those kids rebelling against the system.  Can’t have that, children thumbing their noses at adults.  Breeds malcontents!

Pub date: September 25, 2012.

Author website.

Seventeen-year-old Nero is stuck in the wilderness with a bunch of other juvenile delinquents on an “Inward Trek.” As if that weren’t bad enough, his counselors have turned into flesh-eating maniacs overnight and are now chowing down on his fellow miscreants. As in any classic monster flick worth its salted popcorn, plentiful carnage sends survivors rabbiting into the woods while the mindless horde of “infects” shambles, moans, and drools behind. Of course, these kids have seen zombie movies. They generate “Zombie Rules” almost as quickly as cheeky remarks, but attitude alone can’t keep the biters back. Serving up a cast of irreverent, slightly twisted characters, an unexpected villain, and an ending you won’t see coming, here is a savvy tale that that’s a delight to read -whether you’re a rabid zombie fan or freshly bitten-and an incisive commentary on the evil that lurks within each of us.  (netgalley.com)

There really isn’t much that Sean Beaudoin can do wrong.  His novels have a definitive signature that screams THIS IS SEAN BEAUDOIN.  It usually involves some level of noir, exceptional find-fuckage and a snarky cynicism that is like the brand of Sean on all of his books.  THE INFECTS fit nice and snugly into this mould although I have to say it’s the least mind-fucked of the SB books I’ve read.  In fact it was downright tame in comparison to the likes of FADE TO BLUE.  But that doesn’t mean it was bad.

Yes, THE INFECTS is a zombie novel but it’s not your standard zombie novel.  It’s not really a world-wide pandemic of zombie proportions and the zombies have a habit of evolving, thinking, picking the more favorable pieces of your body to eat as opposed to just chomping at random.  There are different levels of infected, from the full-on zombie to something a little more human to a lot more human to total meat sack meal.  This isn’t a simple zombie novel despite the humor that Sean involves.  Yes, it’s funny, but he’s taken zombie lore and expanded it to something a bit more terrifying than just having to deal with your regular ol’ shambling zombies.

Of course THE INFECTS has all the seriousness of a Simon Pegg movie, background events being carried out in a rather hilarious background humor fashion while the SERIOUS things happen in the foreground.  Never mind the guy running around with a severed arm in his mouth.  WHAT’S FOR LUNCH?  It is truly a Sean Beaudoin novel for that reason, along with the demented reality that takes it that many more steps away from being grounded.  It’s not just a chicken restaurant but it’s what everyone thinks of when they think of a chicken restaurant, the menu showcasing full servings for fried random chicken parts and a chicken surprise pack with some kind of unhealthy gravy mess.  It is as much of a satire as a satire can be even moving beyond the restaurant.  LIFE has elements of the familiar with added doses of ridiculous to elevate the story into the absurd but still managing to keep it relatable.  Everyone wants to survive the Zomb-A-Pocalypse, right?

Nick/Nero is the spearhead of the group, much to his chagrin.  His only objective is getting to Petal.  People just happen to want to follow him around while he completes it.  He’s not comfortable with it but he makes due.  With Sean’s books you don’t necessarily have likable or unlikable characters; they either are characters or aren’t.  It’s all in the way they’re written, that satirical pulp style that makes caricatures of everything, to one extent or another.  So you’ll either think the characters are too far out there (like the twins) or they’re readable (pretty much everyone else).  Unless they get killed.  And Sean has no qualms about putting the kibosh on the pulses of any of his characters.  So be warned: if you favor one more than the others, it’ll probably end up with some teeth in its neck.

Reading this, though, I couldn’t help but think there was some kind of message here, about over-processed and genetically engineered food, unhealthy eating habits, complacency in what we’re being forced fed.  Messages aren’t something I picked up on in other Sean books so it took me aback a bit.  Couple that with the relatively toned down (for him) style and I think it was a bit different from what Sean usually writes.  Not as wild and with more of a purpose, however slight.  Still incredibly enjoyable but veering off the path a little.

THE INFECTS is not your typical zombie novel, filled with atypical zombies and anti-heros and an ending that will make your head spin.  Sean’s snark is not for the faint of heart and the satire is for those only able to take big blasts of the absurd at a time.  The level of mind fuck is lower than in previous books with the story being far more straight forward and the characters being more contoured and easy to grasp.  The subtleties of it are what will make you laugh, hidden in a well-timed background element in a greater scene.  It forces you to pay attention because you’ll miss snippets of gloriousness if you’re just reading it for what the surface provides.  If you like trippy, off the wall tales riddled with snark that will make you laugh and gag in the same sentence, you’ll most likely love THE INFECTS.  It brings with it the familiarity of the zombie trope but Sean just comes right on in and fucks it all up.  But in a good way, like always.  And that’s why I keep reading him.  Not only is he a fantastic storyteller but his voice is so epically unique that you can’t help but latch onto it and drool love all over it.

Ban Factor: High – Zombies, lesbians, zombie sex, rabid fried chicken . . . what’s in this book that the banners WON’T throw a shit fit about?

August 25, 2012

Published February 8th, 2012.

Author website.

Carter didn’t rape me. People at school think he did. Suddenly, new friends are rushing to my side, telling me that Carter hurt them, too. They say he’s getting what he deserves. 

Maybe I don’t want to fix this. 

Sam is in love with her best friend Nick, but she can’t seem to tell him. So she decides to flirt with golden-boy Carter Wellesley, hoping Nick will see it and finally realize his true feelings for her.

On Monday, everyone at school is saying that Carter raped Sam. He didn’t, but Sam can’t find the words to tell the truth. Worst of all, she’s afraid she’ll lose Nick if he finds out what really happened. 

As graduation approaches, Sam discovers that living the lie isn’t as easy as her new friends make it sound–and telling the truth might be even worse.  (goodreads.com)

I thought I was going to get pretty enraged by IN TOO DEEP because I have some pretty strong feelings about girls crying rape but it wasn’t too bad.  I think ultimately it was all handled really well, the protagonist went through a sufficient level of guilt and it wrapped itself up realistically so I really don’t have any complaints.

IN TOO DEEP tackled all the relevant avenues that it could potentially go down, I think, from claimant guilt to what’s happening to the guy to his future to her future to the repercussions to outward reactions in the face of the lie’s reality and a bunch of things in between.  But it doesn’t touch on how a lie about rape ultimately undermines a claim of rape.  In fairness it wasn’t relevant to the plot but at the same time I do wish it was touched upon.  It’s hard enough for women that were raped to come forward.  When a woman cries rape for her own gain it undermines the claim for all, making people that little bit less trustworthy of the next woman to claim she was raped because the last person they knew lied about it.  There is just no winning for anyone when rape is claimed when it didn’t really happen and while IN TOO DEEP does touch upon most of it I do think it would have been just that little bit stronger if it broached undermining as well.

Irrespective of the lie it is pretty awful what Sam goes through when people believe it, especially at the hands of Carter’s friends who believe his story blindly.  If it were true they’d still be doing the same thing and while it was rough to read something like that I think it’s unfortunately accurate.  Rape is belittled constantly when it has actually happened so it’s no surprise that Sam suffered the things she did at the hands of the buddies of her supposed rapist.

It’s hard to say that Sam is a likable character because she cried rape and then perpetuated the lie due to peer pressure and a need for vengeance but I didn’t dislike her.  I didn’t find her reprehensible or a disgusting human being.  She’s a girl that was scorned by an incredible douche bag.  That doesn’t make what she did right but I think it explained enough to make me believe it, especially when the other girls bring in their own stories.  Yes, Carter was a douche and yes even I, reading this, felt just a little bit of joy seeing the high and mighty knocked from his pedestal.  But rape is a devastating tag and not even the biggest of douche bags deserve to have that kind of lie haunting them for the rest of their lives.  It only succeeds in ultimately turning the douche into a victim and garnering him sympathy.  Kind of the adverse effect.

I found the end wholly satisfying because everything worked out how I felt it should for everything that had happened.  For a while there I was a little afraid that it would tank, that I’d end up with another ACCOMPLICE that had me raging.  It didn’t.  All of the repercussions you’d expect to happen do and it feels right.  Lessons are learned at great cost and life goes on for all.  Sickly sweet need not apply.  The end is rather ugly but it’s deserved and what’s even better Sam knows it and accepts it.

IN TOO DEEP delves into an aspect of a dark event that I don’t think too many people do.  Everyone’s always so focused on the real act of rape that they don’t consider what an unsubstantiated accusation can do to someone.  I like it for it’s difference in that regard.  That’s not to impugn rape but look at it from another angle where things aren’t what they seem.  The Duke lacrosse scandal is probably the most prominent example of something similar to IN TOO DEEP.  It’s a good read and immensely satisfying, as odd as it sounds.  I’m a fan of characters suffering realistic repercussions for their actions.

Ban Factor: Medium – Reading would need to be involved in this one to find the references to high school sex and drinking.  On the surface it might not set off too many alarms although they may be intrigued to see how a liar suffers.

Pub date: September 11, 2012.

Author website.

The quaint little beach town of Winston, California, may be full of wholesome townsfolk, picturesque beaches, and laid back charm, but Clare Knight is about to uncover something underneath its thriving demeanor. Someone is hiding something, and it’s as gruesome as the townsfolk, and their stately homes, are stunning. Amanda Stavros, fellow classmate and resident of Winston, is gone and there’s no sign of her ever coming back. Everyone says she was taken and murdered, but where’s the evidence? Why isn’t there a single ounce of proof? And why is everyone okay with this, except for Clare? 

Luckily—or as it’s been turning out, unluckily—Clare possesses a gift, an ability to see visions from the clothes she works with. And since her clothes come solely from the townsfolk, Clare has become privy to some startling and disturbing memories of these townspeople. Will she uncover who killed Amanda Stavros? Or is she just moving herself up in line to be the next victim of Winston?  (netgalley.com)

Every once in a while I’ll come across a book that’ll drag me in not necessarily based on the blurb but the setting.  Winston, California reminded me a lot of Santa Cruz.  A bit more sedate, not as hippie-esque, but still a reminder.  Within the context of the story it lies south of Monterey and is three hours south of San Francisco, which makes it a little less than two hours away from Santa Cruz.  Sold.  I just love the area that much that a LOCATION will pull me into a book.  Premise need not apply.

Lucky for me HANGING BY A THREAD was actually a really good book and a welcome addition to a sorely underrepresented thriller market in YA.  Yes, it has slightly supernatural elements: Clare sees people’s histories when she touches clothes, something her mother has brow-beaten into her as being bad while her grandmother (also a gift-holder) doesn’t feel the same way, leaving a lovely rift in the family.

So while Clare’s mom did her best to eliminate this “gift” from her daughter, it’s left Clare a bit conflicted.  She’s started seeing things in some random clothes she picked up.  And they’re horrible things.  And she just doesn’t know what to do about it.  The town has a murder mystery that’s going to end up destroying it and Clare just might have it in her to solve it.  Except for the fact that she wants nothing more than to fit in in a new, and small, town.  What would her new friends think if they knew about what she could do?  Call her a freak?  Probably.  So not only is she torn about how to use her gift at home, she doesn’t even know if she should be herself socially, if people will accept her for it.

I loved Clare.  I loved that she was so passionate about design, that she was so goal-oriented about making her passion work for her and how, at sixteen-years-old, she already as a small “business” selling her wares in her new home.  Her new friends love her style and all she wants to do is make the history of her family (and the supposed haunted house she lives in) go away and she does a pretty good job of it.  It also helps that most of the people she comes in contact with don’t put as much emphasis on her family’s past as she does.  Really she’s just such a wonderful character that it was impossible for me to not immediately get on her side about everything.  And then the crap really started hitting the fan and she didn’t have all the answers and actually had to do work herself (loved that! kind of rare in YA, unfortunately) I could actually feel her being torn about things, I could feel her desire to help but at the same time warring with herself about just what she could do.

Her love interest, Jake, I was less than impressed with.  He’s set up to have a bad reputation from the beginning which, I think, is a fairly obvious red herring to some extent but he really didn’t do much to put the kibosh on any of it.  He was temperamental, snapped at Clare a lot, gave her the cold shoulder after little more than a comment he wasn’t thrilled with.  I did like the fact that Clare argued with herself over liking him, about how she shouldn’t because there was something off about him.  At least she realized it but ultimately it didn’t stop her which kind of irked me.  He did turn out to be a good guy but if it were me just the things he said and how he acted in the beginning would have been a total turn-off and not something I would have pursued.

HANGING BY A THREAD offers its own unique blend of supernatural and thriller to deliver a story that’ll keep you sucked in from the beginning.  Balanced out by Clare’s will to just have a normal life, it gives the story just enough grounding to keep it something believable as opposed to launching it into outer space.  It won’t take very long before you start trying to put the pieces together and try and solve the mystery right along with Clare.  Even if you’re not big into supernatural elements, Clare’s ability isn’t an overwhelming force in the story.  It serves it’s purpose and it could have gotten out of control but Littlefield did an excellent job of reigning it in and keeping it relevant to the plot and making sure Clare didn’t lose focus of it.  Of course the story wouldn’t be what it is without Clare’s gift but it moves things along without leading them along.

Just like YA needs more horror, it needs more thriller as well.  A story that focuses on THE STORY, where the main motivation, the main theme, is the thriller aspect.  Not romance, not angst, thriller.  HANGING BY A THREAD delivers not only all of this but blissfully leaves behind the love triangle for something, you know, more interesting.

Ban Factor: Medium – Banners would actually need to read the book to find anything objectionable, like teen murder and pre-marital kissing.  So this could rightly fly under the radar.