Bites

Published: April 5, 2016
Publisher: Tor Teen
Author: Website
Info: Goodreads

Becket, walking her dog one winter evening, fears it’s an abandoned baby left out in the cold. But it is something else—something evil—and it tricks Becket into opening a doorway to another realm, letting a darkness into our world, a corruption that begins transforming Philadelphia into a sinister and menacing version of itself…but only at night.

The changes are subtle at first, causing Becket to doubt her senses and her sanity. But soon the nightmarish truth is impossible to deny: By day, the city is just a city, but at night it literally comes alive with malevolent purpose. Brick and steel become bone, streetlights turn into gallows, and hungry alleys wait to snare mortal victims. Terrified citizens huddle indoors after dusk, as others succumb to the siren song of the night, letting their darker sides run wild.

Once, Becket’s biggest problems were living up to her police commissioner father’s high expectations and a secret crush on her best friend’s boyfriend. Now she must find a way to survive and protect her loved ones…before the darkness takes her as well. (goodreads.com)

How horribly disappointing. It sounded so good and even the blurb by Kendare Blake, whom I love, said it was dark and horror-ridden and fantastic. I don’t normally give author blurbs any regard, but I love Blake’s work so yeah. It’s going to carry some weight.

The world itself was actually really awesome. This insidious infiltration of this other dark, fantastical world into modern Philadelphia was terrifying, the way things changed, the way things existed in the corner of your eye, maybe you were seeing things, maybe you weren’t. The build-up with that was fantastic. And then how people started to change and basically just live on their ids, creating terror where the constructs, inanimate objects come to life, couldn’t get. And how all of this happened at night and went back to normal during the day. It’s terrifying. It really is.

But that’s about all the good I found the book. Becks is a vaguely condescending teen who does NOTHING for 95% of the book before taking really dumb and poorly thought out action at the end that’s entirely antithetical to the “think everything through cop’s daughter” mentality she built up during the entire book. The entire book where if she’s not getting pushed around by her selfish friend, she’s either commuting to and from school or cowering in her house. Becks literally does not move the plot at all. It moves her. This is, like, a cardinal sin of writing. Yet here we are.

Right before I started reading this, I was listening to a bunch of podcasts that recap Point Horror novels and one book they were doing was real heavy in ableist language around mental illness. One of the podcasters deals with a mental illness on a daily basis and she expounded on how harmful this kind of language is and how likening a mental illness to the worst thing that could possibly happen to a person is so incredibly damaging.

Then I started reading NIGHTSTRUCK and was dumbstruck by the number of times terms like crazy and variations of spaz were used. Not to mention Becks thinking multiple times that she’d rather have a brain tumor than lose her mind (when trying to figure out if the night changes she was seeing were real). Had I not listened to those podcasts I don’t know if I would have been as sensitive to such language, but seeing as how I did listen, and how pervasive this language was, I felt like I was getting slapped every time I read it. It was incredibly heavy-handed in the first half of the book and then trickled down, but was still there. Kind of awful.

And then back to Becks’s condescension, because she’s supposed to be this enlightened, smart kid who’s in AP everything yet runs her mouth about mental illness like it’s nothing yet won’t call a dick a dick when she sees it in some iron work. It’s a phallic symbol. Every. Single. Time. Phallic symbol. And it was mentioned multiple times because it’s really what started drilling into Becks’s head in figuring out what’s going on. It’s the marker she uses to bring Luke into everything. Not a dick or a penis or a schlong. Phallic symbol. Yet she doesn’t know to cool her shit about mental illness. Slightly inconsistent there.

I wanted to like NIGHTSTRUCK so bad. The world is so creepy and how it comes into fruition is just fantastic. But everything else just sucks. Becks is a less-than-appealing character who is barely tolerable most of the time, inconsistent in her intelligence and decision-making abilities, and literally does nothing for most of the book. Great, so does she do a whole lot more nothing in the sequel? Guess I’m not going to find out because I’m not going to read it. And that makes me sad.

2

Published: October 8, 2014
Publisher: Image Comics
Author: Website
Info: Goodreads

Everything you thought you knew about witches is wrong. They are much darker, and they are much more horrifying. Wytches takes the mythology of witches to a far creepier, bone-chilling place than readers have dared venture before. When the Rooks family moves to the remote town of Litchfield, NH to escape a haunting trauma, they’re hopeful about starting over. But something evil is waiting for them in the woods just beyond town. Watching from the trees. Ancient…and hungry. (goodreads.com)

Not to be confused with volume 1, which collects the first six in the series. This is just WYTCHES #1.

That being said, it’s creepy as hell. Between the art and the story itself . . . because I needed another reason to be afraid of the woods. Lucky for me I don’t live around them anymore so NO WORRIES.

It’s certainly a compelling story that starts decades in the past with a woman basically being consumed by a tree, which is horrifying. And then fast forwards to the present about a girl being heinously bullied and that ending . . . poorly. Not for the victim, though. Although it’s not anything she’s going to be able to forget for a while.

It’s got a bit of a chosen one syndrome going on with the main character there although I doubt her path is going to be saving the world. Eaten by tree wytches, maybe.

I do like how the witches in this world aren’t traditional witches, which is why they’re spelled wytches. They’re these gnarly, beastly things that require blood sacrifices in order to stay alive. Again, horrifying. Didn’t need another reason to fear trees. Really didn’t. But this is good because I actually find the story creepy. And the art. The art is kind of terrifying too. I need to get me the rest of the series now.

4.5

I received a copy of this comic from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Published: October 1, 1993
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Author: Website
Info: Goodreads

The bold print seems aimed at her directly: “Detail-oriented student for cataloguing personal library.” But when Robin Bailey answers the ad she is surprised that she has already been recommended for the job by Parker Swanson, the gorgeous new guy in school. Parker’s grandfather will pay her to organize the collection of antique books that belonged to Parker’s stepmother, a Medium who died by her own hand. Suddenly Robin is plunged into Parker’s dark and twisted family saga, trying to protect his stepsister Claudia who is haunted by visions of her evil mother and driven to desperation. Parker says Claudia is crazy. But Robin has heard and seen the ghost! Now her part-time job is a full-time nightmare! (book back blurb)

I would have taken the blurb from Goodreads like I normally do, but it was just outright wrong. So I got it directly from the source.

HELP WANTED is a book that’s halfway to being the ridiculous cheese of RL Stine, but it’s also half-grounded in something resembling reality. Robin appears to be a rather level-headed, somewhat well-rounded, character that comes off as genuine and like a real human being. So does her friend Walt. Not a whole lot of drama or hyperbole going on with either of them, all things considered. Parker is an egotistical jerk that Robin puts in his place time and time again and luckily doesn’t fall for his crap at all. And her alleged best friend Faye is just a stuck up, drama queen bitch. Not sure how her and Robin are even friends, they’re so opposites. And Faye isn’t even that appealing as a human. Completely self-centered and not all that supportive of Robin, Robin would have been wise to ditch this one years ago. Luckily Faye just kind of falls off the map halfway into the book, probably because Cusick realized she was kind of a twit.

The story itself was compelling and while I wasn’t buying the supernatural slant that kept getting spun, I did keep trying to figure out who was behind what and what exactly was going on. I didn’t see the ending coming, which is awesome with these books because even I can see them from a million miles away. It was also kind of nice the way it ended, rather atypical without giving away any spoilers.

Of course, what would cheesy old school YA horror be without a couple of ridiculous deaths? You get a solid three of them within the pages of the book, four if you want to count the stepmother, but that’s off-page. Cusick doesn’t have the ridiculous and absurd creatively with deaths that Stine does, but there’s some literal backstabbing and crawling maggots happening. So kudos for that.

One of the truer thriller books coming out of that era, and some of the more level-headed, HELP WANTED lands closer to the top in terms of re-readability and standing the test of time. Most of the characters (at least those that matter) aren’t caricatures of real people and the drama isn’t so over the top that it comes off as absurd. Robin and Walt are great characters that are actually relatable and the ending has a good twist. I really can’t ask for much more when it comes to these books!

4

Published: March 22, 2016
Publisher: HarperTeen
Author: Website
Info: Goodreads

Jen Noonan’s father thinks a move to Harmony House is the key to salvation, but to everyone who has lived there before, it is a portal to pure horror.

After Jen’s alcoholic mother’s death, her father cracked. He dragged Jen to this dilapidated old manor on the shore of New Jersey to “start their new lives”—but Harmony House is more than just a creepy old estate. It’s got a chilling past—and the more Jen discovers its secrets, the more the house awakens. Strange visions follow Jen wherever she goes, and her father’s already-fragile sanity disintegrates before her eyes. As the forces in the house join together to terrorize Jen, she must find a way to escape the past she didn’t know was haunting her—and the mysterious and terrible power she didn’t realize she had. (goodreads.com)

Decent concept, poor execution. The pacing was always just slightly off, the language at times stilted and at other times overly forced. And I couldn’t help but think that it was set in 1997 solely to remove cell phones from the equation. Because a cell phone would have solved this book’s problem real quick. Well, it would have removed the story entirely but, you know. Regardless, it being set in 1997 felt arbitrary. Aside from the absence of constant connection there doesn’t appear to be a reason for setting it twenty years in the past.

I like the concept of the house doing something to people, or seeming to do something to people. HARMONY HOUSE plays around with this concept and a little bit with mental illness and what fanaticism can do to someone. But because it can’t really figure out its own pacing, and the element that ends up saving Jen isn’t very developed, it all falls flat.

Jen finds out she has this power except you see very little of it. It’s mentioned a little bit at the end and then when it comes to save the day and pulls Jen out of the wreckage. Literally. Total deus ex machina plot element that I think was supposed to tie her to her mother, but didn’t.

The whole book just felt very amateur. Jen’s voice was that of what an angsty teenager in the 90s was supposed to sound like, saying goddamn a lot (A LOT, I don’t take offense to that term at all, but most of the time it felt like forced character development) and being moody and listening to classic rock. It wasn’t necessarily a caricature, but Jen certainly didn’t feel like a real person.

The situation with Alex felt really overdone. Not sure if it was supposed to be tied to the house and have it all loop back, but it felt like really forced tension because there wasn’t anything else going on.

HARMONY HOUSE feels like the sort of story that a younger person would write, or someone who isn’t very experienced with storytelling. It also didn’t answer the whole “is something evil in Jen” question because she did react to the exorcism. So was the miscarriage the purge her body needed or is the “evil” still there? Was it ever evil? Or was what’s in her good and her father was evil and it was reacting to him? None of that is really developed or answered.

It just felt unfinished, undeveloped, and all around mediocre. Definitely far better horror out there.

1

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Published: June 24, 2014
Publisher: Scholastic
Author: Website
Info: Goodreads

To tweet or not to tweet . . . what a deadly question.

When Briana loses out on a starring role in the school’s production of Hamlet, she reluctantly agrees to be the drama department’s “social media director” and starts tweeting half-hearted updates. She barely has any followers, so when someone hacks her twitter account, Briana can’t muster the energy to stop it. After all, tweets like “Something’s rotten in the state of Denmark . . . and a body’s rotting in the theater” are obviously a joke.

But then a body IS discovered in the theater: Briana’s rival. Suddenly, what seemed like a prank turns deadly serious. To everyone’s horror, the grisly tweets continue . . . and the body count starts to rise.

There’s no other explanation; someone is live-tweeting murders on campus.

With the school in chaos and the police unable to find the culprit, it’s up to Briana to unmask the psycho-tweeter before the carnage reaches Shakespearian proportions . . . or she becomes the next victim. (goodreads.com)

FOLLOWERS actually has a full point lower rating than DEFRIENDED on Goodreads, however, I think this is the better of two books. At least FOLLOWERS has actual tension and the author doesn’t act like the readers like dolts when it comes to technology. Although she is rather insistent that her characters can’t live without their phones, which I found a little annoying. And I’m not sure what the creepy ten-year-olds with yellow eyes have anything to do with anything. I guess yellow eyes are mentioned once, but that’s it.

This book, I think, was a little more reminiscent of the older Point Horror books. It’s kind of campy, kind of kooky, people die in weird ways. It’s more of what I would expect of an old school reboot. It’s harkening back to those older YA horror novels. But it’s still trying pretty hard to fit into the current technological climate. It does a far better job of it than DEFRIENDED did, but it still kind of misses the mark with how Twitter is used. The entire premise focuses on this one account called Hamlet’s Ghost that’s seemingly following Bree around and her only followers seem to be her schoolmates. On Twitter. Like Twitter is a silo for only school people to know about. No.

The a ha moment at the end of the book seemed a little out of nowhere despite its subtle build-up. It’s just that one moment when Bree put all the pieces together, after everything, seemed kind of hackneyed. I wasn’t thrilled with it. There’s also not a whole lot of character development going on and a lot of suspension of disbelief that I have to go through in order to get on board with the plot. Like Forsythe students being allowed to come in and audition for a play at a private school. Yeah, no. Totally contrived. There is no outreach in something like that. Parents are paying for their children to go to this performing arts school yet they’re okay with their opportunities being shanghaied by locals who get it for free? Yeah, that school would have a lot of angry parents to contend with on that one. Not to mention one student dying under mysterious circumstances would shut down the school, let alone two, let alone continuing with a stupid play.

So yeah, while it’s a better book than DEFRIENDED, FOLLOWERS still has its own hurdles to get over. It just gets more points with me because it actually had some semblance of tension in the story. I can appreciate that.

3