Saturday, November 28, 2015


Joe is an unassuming guy you see working in a bookstore. He first sees you in the F-K aisle of the fiction section. You both have a slightly flirty conversation while you buy some books and then you leave. You are mostly likely dismissive of the incident, but he isn't. It sticks in his mind as he obsessively Googles every tiny fact he can find about you. He knows about your blog where you write stories about thinly veiled events in your life. He finds your apartment and watches you from across the street. You don't have curtains, so it's easy for him to wear different clothes and watch your most intimate actions for as long as he wants, unnoticed by you or your neighbors. You are also unaware that he has been in your apartment, hacked into your computer, stolen your underwear, and invaded your most personal space. You are now dating him after a few more very convenient meetings and you have no idea what he's done.

You is from the point of view of Joe, creepy misogynistic stalker. Of course he views himself as a completely normal guy. He realizes that people on the outside would see him as creepy and disturbed, but he dismisses it as a misunderstanding. If they knew him and his situation, they would think he was as normal as he did. The narrative creeps under your skin because he seems to have no idea how horrible he is. Everything is nonchalantly described: Joe watching his object of affection Beck in her most intimate moments dressed up in a suit across the street from her apartment; Joe following her every move when she's away from him; Joe kidnapping her current boyfriend, holding him in a cage, and sending offensive tweets so she will break up with him. While Joe idolizes and worships Beck, he's also quick to condemn her behavior if it's outside his imagining of her and act as if he has to educate her. Throughout his tale, women frequently do not figure well. He is always more knowledgeable and wise while they just need to be educated. None of the negative events in his life are ever his fault and this isn't the first time he has done this level of stalking, nor will it be the last. After a while of reading from his narrative, it's easy for his insane behavior to be normalized. When things start going well, I found myself rooting for him a little, at least until he did the next creepy thing or made a particularly offensive comment about women. I love books like this because you see right into the mind of someone who is horrible and you see how and why they justify doing the awful things they do.

 The object of his affection is Beck, real name Genevieve. She isn't perfect. Actually, she's a bit of a mess. Her boyfriend is an annoying narcissist who treats her life garbage. Her best friend lies constantly and tries to separate Beck from everyone else in her life. It's a crazy random happenstance that so many horrible people are in her life. Adding Joe to the mix just pushes it over the edge. Seeing into her short stories, emails, blog entries, and text messages gave an honest view of who she was. She does things that everyone does, but hopes no one knows about: lies about what she's doing, lies to get what she wants, blows people off to spend time with other people, and talks about people behind their backs. It's a bit jarring to see so much about one person and makes me  wonder what someone would think if they had that access to all of my things. I like that she isn't portrayed as perfect, no matter how much Joe wants her to be. She's just a normal girl with a whole lot of crazy people around her.

I had a few problems with the novel. It takes an extreme suspension of disbelief that Beck is some sort of crazy person magnet. She did have some fairly normal friends (who of course she always dismissed when seeking help), but the biggest figures in her life where the narcissistic boyfriend, obsessive Joe, and hypochondriac best friend. The other problem was that Joe's obsessive tendencies could have been pushed further for me. For much of  the novel, he's just doing invasive things like snooping. He obviously has the capacity for more, but doesn't reach it very often. I expected the level of John Fowler's The Collector, but it fell quite a bit short. I hope the next book, Hidden Bodies, raises the creep factor to eleven. Overall You was enjoyable and well written, but a few things pushed believability and it could have been way more disturbing.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

Friday, November 27, 2015

Slasher Girls and Monster Boys

I'm honestly not usually a big fan of collections of short stories. Most of the time, there are a few standout, amazing stories and the rest are forgettable or mediocre. This anthology is different. So many of these stories were impressively chilling. I enjoyed that each story ended with the inspiration behind the story whether it's a movie, song, or TV show. Mild spoilers may follow.

* The Birds of Azalea Street by Nova Ren Suma, inspired by The Birds and Rear Window

The first story in the book sets the pitch dark tone. A neighborhood man is just a little bit off and creepy. The girls that live around him feel uneasy around him, but the adults always defend him and nothing definite ever happened. Until now. The story goes right to a pedophile which is a real danger in the world. That danger is real and immediate. Then a supernatural force comes in. I love the mix of reality and fantasy. It's also a cool mix of horror and fantasy. The finale which is actually right at the beginning as the story comes full circle feels like it belongs in a fairy tale.

* In the Forest Dark and Deep by Carrie Ryan, inspired by Disney's film Alice in Wonderland and Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

This story is the most memorable and chilling of the bunch. A girl named Cassidy is obsessed with Alice in Wonderland. One day, she finds a clearing in the middle of the forest with a moldering tea party table. With no idea who it might belong to, she uses it to her imagination's content. The owner of the table adds to it as she does and they sort of become friends. She sees him off in the distance and he looks just like the White Rabbit from her favorite story. When her birthday part doesn't go as planned due to some rude guests, the White Rabbit then gives her a macabre birthday present that she doesn't wholly reject. The story is told hopping back and forth in time from age seven to age seventeen and back. The White Rabbit returns a decade later, more dirty and tattered and just as sinister. This story gets under your skin and makes it crawl. The images are nightmarish, vivid, and not for the faint of heart.

* Emmeline by Cat Winters, inspired by the film All Quiet on the Western Front, Kiss Me Again Strnager by Daphne du Maurier, and Nosferatu

Emmeline is a French girl living in her burned out room that was destroyed by a stray shell in World War I. Her family hosts soldiers and she befriends one to take to her room. This is one of the few to take place in the past. It also takes expectations in a situation like this and turns it around, making it fresh and new. Most of the story is flirting between Emmeline and an American soldier in her burned out room. I suspected something early on, but the twist was still fun. The ending is just the right amount of horror and lets the imagination run wild with its implications.

* Verse Chorus Verse by Leigh Bardugo, inspired by Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge On Seattle by Nirvana

Jaycee is a pop star in a lot of trouble: drugs, nude photos and mandated rehab. Her manager/mom is already working on a manufactured story to catapult her back in the public's good graces and the spotlight. There is something sinister and dark about the rehab facility. I always like weird mental institutions and Leigh Bardugo puts an unexpected twist on the story. The atmosphere at the facility is fearful and restrictive. The nights are the worst. Everyone is alone and vulnerable in separate rooms. The ending is super creepy and the lead up to it is full of suspense.

* Hide-And-Seek by Megan Shepherd, inspired by Final Destination, The Crow, and Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey

It finally happened. Annie's drunken, abusive father finally killed her. She does have the opportunity to escape death in a game of Hide and Seek until sunset the next day to earn her life back. Death doesn't play fair and many people get caught in the crossfire. If she wins, everything will be restored to how it was before the game started. I see all of the influences in the story but it's wholly unique. Annie's fight to survive starts right away and continues at breakneck speed. We never know when another attempt is going to happen or in what form it my take. The ending is clever and unexpected. This was one of my favorite stories.

* The Dark, Scary Parts and All by Danielle Paige, inspired by The Omen and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

Marnie was always kind of an outcast but always excelled in school. She can't help but answer questions in class even though Everly will make her life hell. Damien Thorne, an intriguing but quiet boy, takes an interest in her much to the shock of her nemesis. They strike up a courtship, but Damian is more than he seems. If you're at all familiar with The Omen films, the antichrist's name is Damian Thorne. I was a little disappointed the story was such a literal continuation of the film instead of just being inspired by it. Damian even mentions events from the film directly. It's basically fan fiction that ignores the sequels. The story is ok. Marnie is enamored by anti-heroes in literature like Frankenstein's monster and Dracula, but when confronted with one in real life, she has to decide how she will react to his not super moral actions.

* The Flicker, the Fingers, the Beat, the Sigh by April Genevieve Tucholke, inspired by Carrie and I Know What You Did Last Summer

A group of friends drive down the road, drunk, celebrating their last year of high school. They hit a girl in the road and decide what to do. Throughout the story, it becomes clear that one of the boys knew her more than he was willing to admit. The title is genius and you would never know what it signifies unless you read the story. Again, the influences are definitely there, but subtle. It's a fairly short story, but packs a punch. It shows how a single moment of guilt and doubt can follow you the rest of your life and consume you.

* Fat Girl with a Knife by Jonathan Maberry, inspired by Zombieland and Night of the Living Dead

Dahlia has a beautiful name, but none of her physicality matches her name. She's accepted her lot in life and gets revenge on people whenever she can. The world ends on a seemingly normal day, making her skillset much more desirable than the average popular or attractive person. Jonathan Maberry is one of my favorite authors and he doesn't disappoint with this short story. A zombie apocalypse breaks out, leading Dahlia to save her fellow student and fight against the zombies. Despite her admittedly unfortunate looks, Dahlia is very strong and capable. This new world is more suited to her and she finds happiness by the end of the story. This one has a more lighthearted tone than most of the other ones and it stands out as a result.

* Sleepless by Jay Kristoff, inspired by Psycho and Mudvayne's Nothing to Gein

Justin likes a girl with the screenname C0ff33 and they've been chatting back and forth for a while. He's ready for the next level, but his mom keeps getting between them and berating him for even talking to her. When she runs away from home, it's the perfect opportunity for them to be together. Unfortunately, he grossly misrepresented himself, so he has to get a little creative. I thought I knew what would happen in this story. I figured it would be a modern replica of Psycho, but it was completely different. The ending flips expectations in a delightful and memorable way. The IM messages were useful in introducing the characters and establishing their relationship. Jay Kristoff has a talent for this as seen in Illuminae.

* M by Stefan Bachman, inspired by the film M and the TV show Upstairs Downstairs

Misha is blind and usually regarded as barely a person. She goes through her life being ignored and used to it until she stumbles upon a murder in progress. The murderer threatens her life if she tells and leaves abruptly. The only clue she has is his distinctive scent and she is bound and determined to catch the killer. This is another story that takes places in the past. This blind woman is seen as pretty much useless with no skills or social standing. We don't even know that she's blind until a few pages into the story, which is an interesting twist in the story. Her investigation skills impress as she analyzes everything she sensed from the murderer from his scent to the sound of his voice. She employs the help of a servant girl, who also has no social standing, and together they seek expose the killer. I love the contrast of the wealthy and influential doing basically nothing while these two women do everything to save themselves and others. The ending is pretty surprising, but depressingly realistic in its aftermath. The children in the story are incredibly creepy and make this Gashlycrumb Tinies-esque songs about everyone they know.

* The Girl Without a Face by Marie Lu, inspired by What Lies Beneath and Los Ojos de Julia

Richard thought his room in his new house was a little odd because the closet was locked from the inside. He slowly becomes aware of a girl who seems to be following him. She always has her back to him or her face hidden, but she's appeared many places to him. First, she is at a distance and then slowly gets closer and closer, even superimposing herself over his teacher so he assaults her to demand answers. Why is he being haunted by this incorporeal girl? This story was unexpected. I liked that it dealt with a lot of relevant issues for women and girls while having us guess at this mystery. I loved the ending and it acts as a kind of cautionary tale.

* A Girl Who Dreamed of Snow by McCormick Templeman, inspired by Kuroneko

A plague has wiped out most of the women of Mowich's people. The indigenous people don't have this problem, so it's typical for his people to kidnap their women and girls to sell for a high price for people to be able to continue their families. Nara, daughter of a shaman, is determined to fix the problem, but is kidnapped along the way. This story read more as dark fantasy than horror to me, but it has a really cool dystopian edge to it with the plague. There are quite a few twists and turns. I never quite knew where it was going to go. The ending is a bit heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same times.

* Stitches by A.G. Howard, inspired by Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

After Sage's mother died, her father was never really the same. He became abusive to the point of grave danger. She and her siblings had lost teeth and gained bruises due to his wrath. He gets thrown in jail one day and makes a deal with a doctor to replace his hands, feet, eyes, ears, and tongue with another's in exchange for a large amount of money. The only catch is that Sage has to do all the amputating and sewing because the doctor won't leave his house and won't accept visitors. This was another one that feels more like dark fantasy. It takes a huge suspension of disbelief to accept that a teenage girl can perform complicated amputations and reattachments with complete success. This story was really touching. The father sees his horrible actions and seeks to replace them to become a better person, literally and figuratively. Sage is a strong character, always seeking to protect her siblings and do what needs to be done when everyone else shies away from it. I like her ability to reimagine what she's doing to make it more palatable. For instance, she imagined making gingerbread men instead of sewing a new foot onto her father. This story was one that I had no expectations for and enjoyed going where it took me. It's a bit odd, but enjoyable.

* On the I-5 by Kendare Blake, inspired by Death Proof and The Hitcher

EmmaRae is hanging out at a diner, waiting for the opportunity to move the dead girl in the dumpster nearby. It's her job to lay these girls to rest that were victimized, possibly raped, and murdered. Kendare Blake doesn't disappoint with this amazing story. It has ghosts, gore, revenge, and justice. I loved that this story lets you know what's going on in small chunks, kind of like a flower that opens little by little. I don't want to give too much away because it's very cool.

Slasher Girls and Monster Boys is one of the strongest anthologies I have ever read. Each one feels a bit familiar, but each author changes and tweaks each story to create something new. None of these are boring or predictable. It has definitely raised the bar for collections like these for me.

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Merciless

* spoilers *

Sofia Flores moves to a new school in hopes of a new start. Her old school was full of people who just love to ridicule her. When Riley's overly religious, popular group accepts her, Sofia couldn't be happier. They drink together, have sleepovers, and seem genuinely nice. Brooklyn is nice too, but Riley's group hates her for some reason. They used to be friends and had some sort of falling out. Brooklyn is everything Riley and her group isn't, but it isn't until Sofia sees Riley's boyfriend with Brooklyn. She's just being a good friend. She ever expected Riley to tie Brooklyn up in the basement and try to exorcise her. Now Sofia is torn between siding with her friends and their religious fanaticism or saving Brooklyn from who knows what torture awaits her.

Sofia right from the beginning is kind of desperate for acceptance. She faced humiliation at every turn at her old school and she just wants a new start where she can be happy. Riley, Grace, and Alexis accept her right away. She gets the high school experience she has always wanted: sleepovers, illicit drinking, and real girlfriends to pour her heart out to. They also happen to be weirdly religious. More on that later. Brooklyn is also an interesting friend. She takes her to get piercing and tattoos, not caring what the more conventional girls think (even though they drink and have no real room to throw stones). One day, Sofia sees Brooklyn all over Riley's sort of boyfriend. She feels more loyalty to Riley's group, so she tells Riley about it. She had no idea that their next sleepover would include Brooklyn tied up and bleeding in a vacant house with all the exits locked or nailed shut.

The excuse for Brooklyn's imprisonment is that a demon is inside her, making her do horrible things. Four girls who play lip service to religion and with no connection to the church, no guidance, and no knowledge are going to exorcise the demon out of her. Riley is the toxic queen bee of the mean girls group and wastes no time going all Hostel on that poor girl. Brooklyn is stabbed with knives, burned with matches, and almost drowned in a tub among other horrific things. Who knew teenage girls coud be so vicious? Riley is obviously the ringleader and delights in the pain she inflicts. The other girls are not quite so gleeful, but follow nonetheless. It's a sick game of follow the leader and the only one conflicted is Sofia who infuriatingly does next to nothing to stop her through most of the novel. Riley employs classic bullying techniques to keep everyone in  line: threaten opponents with the same treatment, say opponents are possessed by demons as well, and cut off all exits in the house. This situation is the classic example of the majority witch-hunting the minority who is different whether it's because of religion or dress or any other random thing.

The very ending is complete and utter bullshit. Apparently, Brooklyn really is possessed by demons. Just ignore that Riley is obviously a total socio/psychopath who doesn't think twice about victimizing someone for something pretty minor, threatening her friends, and bullying anyone who gets in her way. The ending is supremely stupid and says that Riley was right to do all these awful things. It seriously disgusts me and I will never read anything by Danielle Vega ever again. Up until the very end, the story was a rather interesting look into mean girls to the extreme. One other flaw is that there's simply no suspense. It's the book version of the Saw films. No build up or actual creepiness. Just descriptions of torture which does not make good horror.  

My rating: 2/5 fishmuffins

Thursday, November 12, 2015


It's 2575 and Kady thought the worst thing to happen to her was breaking up with her infuriating boyfriend Ezra. Unfortunately, she was dead wrong. Just a few hours later, their planet is attacked by a rival megacorporation that wants the planet's resources. Kady and Ezra had to depend on each other (and a little bit of luck) to escape with their lives onto evacuating spaceships with the rival company's warship in constant pursuit. It later becomes apparent that their enemies attacked them with a biological weapon that has infected some of their people and created an epidemic of catastrophic proportions. If that wasn't enough, their ship's AI who is supposed to be protecting them may be their biggest enemy, but none of the higher-ups are telling anyone anything. Kady hacks into the ship's computer, determined to figure out what's really happening. She realizes the only person who can help her is the only person she never wants to speak to again: Ezra.

Illuminae blew me away. The story is told not in a conventional narrative, but in a compilation of hacked files, interviews, reports, schematics, instant messages, and descriptions of security footage. I've seen a few books that use this style, like The Dead House, and I haven't seen it be truly effective until now. This style does a great job of immersing you in the story and the world with crazy amounts of details. The variety of narrative plays with how the story is conveyed: different points of view, and comments in the margins. I like the different word density of each chapter and how the author plays with the tempo of the story. Some pages, mostly near the end, are so incredibly artistic and unique that it brings to mind the amazing post-modern work of Mark Z. Danielewski. The typography captures the mood of the scene and it's just plain beautiful.

I liked the characters right from the beginning. Kady and Ezra's testimonies about the disaster that changed their lives, killed their friends and family, and destroyed the only home they ever knew were full of snark and defiance towards those questioning them and each other. Their romance is sweet and organic, but doesn't overpower the story. It figures largely in the beginning, but when the greater conflicts start rearing their ugly heads, it takes a backseat while still affecting the relevant characters. I liked that they were two distinctly different people and had a lot of disagreements, fights, and resentment. However, both of them had similar angst and pain over the horrific events that destroyed everything.

Initially the plot sounded like way too many things all together, but each story line fits together like a well crafted puzzle. There are three main conflicts: the rival megacorporation out to kill them, the rogue killer AI called AIDAN, and the airborne, mutated bioweapon that causes extreme rage and violence in the afflicted. Once I started the story, it felt that everything fit together organically and nothing seemed out of place or overpowering. The rival megacorporation takes a bit of a back seat near the middle simply due to proximity, but comes back with a vengeance at the very end. AIDAN and the rage filled infected people are more immediate threats. AIDAN is malfunctioning and has become more than he is supposed to be. I don't consider him evil, much like HAL 9000, and he learned things like humor and sarcasm by the end of the book. The infected people are super creepy and the disease is airborne. They start out with a fever and then end delusional and murderous with the intelligence of the person they once were. Not only do they have loved ones faces, but they can strategize and lure prey. All of them hate being looked at and that one common thread just turns the creep factor up to eleven.

Illuminae is an epic science fiction adventure with a healthy dose of horror that has made it into my favorite books of the year. I didn't find anything lacking or annoying. The writing flows well and had me at the edge of my seat for most of the story. The different styles of narrative and type lend a freshness and provide a unique vehicle for the story. This concept has always interested me, but I've never seen it executed as well as this. I am so incredibly excited for the rest of the series that I can't stand it!

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins

* Note that I have an ARC and the images may look different in the finished copy.