Book Review: Slasher Girls and Monster Boys, stories selected by April Genevieve Tucholke

A powerful collection of short stories that gave me the creeps and Girl Power feels all at once.

4/5 stars

cover-slasher-girls-and-monster-boys

synopsis for reviews 2

A host of the smartest young adult authors come together in this collection of scary stories and psychological thrillers curated by Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea’s April Genevieve Tucholke.

Each story draws from a classic tale or two—sometimes of the horror genre, sometimes not—to inspire something new and fresh and terrifying. There are no superficial scares here; these are stories that will make you think even as they keep you on the edge of your seat. From bloody horror to supernatural creatures to unsettling, all-too-possible realism, this collection has something for any reader looking for a thrill.

Add it on Goodreads

my thoughts for reviews 1

This was my first time reading a short story collection, and Slasher Girls & Monster Boys made it a good experience. I read the stories across the month of January and the beginning of February, and every time I came back to the anthology, the haunting stories sucked me back in.

My favorite part of this anthology is the strong Girl Power themes throughout. The stories really do pit Slasher Girls against Monster Boys, and though the end results are creepy as hell, they were also strangely comforting and empowering. I also loved how each author interpreted that idea a different way, creating a complex collection of Monster Boys and Monster Girls’ revenges.

My only problem with this anthology was that it was not consistent in its horror aspects, sometimes confusing me. The first two stories were deeply, deeply creepy—so much so that I almost stopped reading. But the next few stories were lighter, scary in a different way. By the end of the anthology, I liked that authors had taken different approaches to writing horror, but in the beginning, I was disappointed by the constantly changing tones. I don’t read a lot of horror, but the stories I enjoyed the most were the darkest, and I felt let down by some of the stories that were not as horrifying.

The Birds of Azalea Street by Nova Ren Suma

4/5 stars

The first story launched me into the anthology really well. This story creeped me out with a combination of paranormal and real-world terrors. Though it was a little predictable, I loved the satisfying vengeance at the end.

In The Forest Dark and Deep by Carrie Ryan

4/5 stars

By far the most haunting story in the anthology. Even now, thinking about it makes the hair rise on my arms…but also makes me smirk. The story started with a good main character and a creative monster and grew to a genuinely horrifying reveal. I wanted a little more from the writing itself, but the story was ingenious.

Emmeline by Cat Winters

4/5 stars

This was one of my favorite stories. Set in a bombed-out house in France during WWI, the story was defined by its clear and emotional setting. The story was less aggressively terrifying than the previous two, creating a gently scary story that made me feel mournful more than anything else.

Verse Chorus Verse by Leigh Bardugo

3/5 stars

One of the most vivid stories in the anthology. It had a clear voice and a strong premise, building an emotional, complex and gritty story. I liked the pop music angle; putting the horror in a fully contemporary setting worked really well for the writing style and the story itself. But while this story definitely gave me the creeps, I felt like the paranormal elements were underdeveloped, keeping me from having that “aha” moment that I expected.

Hide-and-Seek by Megan Shepherd

3/5 stars

This was both one of my favorite stories and least favorite stories. I loved the premise—playing hide-and-seek with death in order to escape dying yourself—but it did not feel like it fit in this story collection. “Hide-and-Seek” was a great story to read: fast-paced, surprising, and original, but it just wasn’t creepy like the rest of the anthology. Also, it lacked a Slasher Girl, removing the agency of revenge from the female protagonist.

The Dark, Scary Parts and All by Danielle Paige

DNF

Yeah, I hated everything about this story. The set-up was painfully cheesy and cliche, relying on the “smartest girl must be a loner” trope—my least favorite trope in the world. It’s “analysis” of Frankenstein was weak and obvious, starting the book on a bad note while trying to prove the main character’s social-life-killing brilliance. Add a cringey romance and vague dream sequences I didn’t stick around to see the horror part develop.

The Flicker, the Fingers, the Beat, the Sigh by April Genevieve Tucholke

4/5 stars

I loved this story. It was dark, heart-wrenching, stressful, and deeply distributing all at once, with vividly drawn characters and an emotional premise. I was impressed with its deft use of flashbacks and compelling characterization, as well as by the fact that it actually acknowledges that girls the get into Harvard have to work their asses off (if it hadn’t, I might have DNF-ed the story). Coming from the organizer of the collection, this story has one of the most interesting interpretations of the Slasher Girls and Monster Boys theme, making it a stand-out.

Fat Girl with a Knife by Jonathan Maberry

3.5/5 stars

The main character was the most fascinating part of this story. In the space of a short story, the author created a conflicted, complex protagonist that I was never completely sure would not turn out to be the monster herself. I loved the writing style, but the horror elements were really obvious, never giving me that reveal that I craved. Still, the ending was pleasantly surprising and uplifting.

Sleepless by Jay Kristoff

3/5 stars

Another story I am extremely conflicted about. The good: this was by far the most surprising and horrifying story in the collection. It kept growing and twisting, shocking me over and over again. The bad: it was incredibly problematic, using the “I’m not like other girls” trope, the phrase “kiddyqueer” (like…what???), and kind of male slut-shaming. Also, while I did read this anthology to get scared, I don’t feel like I signed up for the terrifying date-rape vibes of this story. If you want to be scared by a really effective piece of horror, this story does that, but it is so dark that I don’t know if I would actually recommend reading it.

M by Stefan Bachmann

2.5/5 stars

This story could have been powerful, but it felt like the author never pushed themselves. Everything ended up being predictable or obvious, which in a story that centers around a murder mystery is the exact opposite of what I wanted. It had a good setting and was a nice mystery, but a lot of the story felt like Plot™, rather than an actually captivating story. Additionally, the main character was blind, but the author’s approach to her character made it clear he had chosen that disability purely for the horror effects without really considering the larger implications for her character.

The Girl Without a Face by Marie Lu

3.5/5 stars

This story transformed as I read, starting with sympathy and ending with pure hatred for the main character. It was not creepy so much as darkly satisfying. Honestly the most terrifying part was how deeply I hated the main character by the end, how effectively the author got me to root for his downfall.

A Girl Who Dreamed of Snow by McCormick Templeman

3/5 stars

This was one of the less effective stories for me, mainly because it lacked that hard core Girl Power feeling I had come to expect. I enjoyed the pacing of the story, but the constantly changing POV was a lot to handle in such a short story. Overall, it was more bittersweet than creepy.

Stitches by A. G. Howard

4/5 stars

This story was a perfect penultimate tale for this anthology. The writing was gorgeous, with a powerful use of imagery to create a creepy (yet readable) story. The reveal was surprising, and the ending was strangely healing—not just for that story, but for the anthology as a whole. I loved the new angle on Girl Power and the successful re-imagination of Frankenstein.

On the I-5 by Kendare Blake

4.5/5 stars

This story killed it. The writing drew me immediately and unfolded well, with no jarring exposition at all. It had a gorgeous take on Girl Power, focusing on solidarity between victims and (of course) revenge. Creepy, but not too dark, the story was the perfect ending for this anthology. It spoke up for all of the girls that didn’t beat their Monster Boys the first time around, helping me heal from the emotional roller-coaster that was this anthology.


Problematic Moments and Trigger Warnings: (A new section where I call out books for problematic moments and alert readers to possible triggers. Please note I am by no means an expert on either, but I will do my best to research the books I review as I write this section. I added this to help readers, but I cannot promise it will be perfect. I am still learning, and any critiques you have will be greatly appreciated. If I missed something in either category, tell me and I’ll edit the review to include it.)

Problematic Moments: While this collection is not overwhelmingly problematic, it definitely is not perfect. Some stories use mental illnesses and disabilities as a plot devices. As discussed above, “Sleepless” by Jay Kristoff was incredibly problematic for me.

Trigger warnings: Nearly everything. Strong TW for sexual violence/assault, physical violence, and abuse. If you’re curious about a specific trigger, comment or email me and I can confirm/deny it.

Book Review: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

I enjoyed this story a lot more than I expected, though I wish the writing had been a little different.

3.5/5 stars

cover-frankenstein

synopsis for reviews 2

Mary Shelley began writing Frankenstein when she was only eighteen. At once a Gothic thriller, a passionate romance, and a cautionary tale about the dangers of science, Frankenstein tells the story of committed science student Victor Frankenstein. Obsessed with discovering the cause of generation and life and bestowing animation upon lifeless matter, Frankenstein assembles a human being from stolen body parts but; upon bringing it to life, he recoils in horror at the creature’s hideousness. Tormented by isolation and loneliness, the once-innocent creature turns to evil and unleashes a campaign of murderous revenge against his creator, Frankenstein.

Add it on Goodreads.

my thoughts for reviews 1

Like 99% of the classics I read, I read this book because of school. I can’t say that I had low expectations for the book, because I had honestly no idea what to expect. I knew that Hollywood portrayed the Creature wrong…and that was it. I was pleasantly surprised by Frankenstein, though.

I’ll start with the positive. I genuinely enjoyed the plot of this book. Having known nothing about the plot beforehand except that the Creature comes to life and everything goes wrong, I found the actual plot original and complex. There is so much more going on in this book than “whoops, bringing the dead back to life is a mistake.”

There were surprising moments and the story built to a strong climax. I loved the approach the story took to discussing good and evil, as well as how it left some moral questions unanswered.

The Creature was a fascinating character, and his complicated relationship with Victor was unexpected and nuanced. I absolutely hated Victor, but I admire Shelley for how completely she got me to hate him. Both characters grow significantly throughout the novel and I never felt like I didn’t understand their motivations.

Looking just at the overall plot of the novel and the two main characters, Frankenstein was a really solid novel. Unfortunately, the details are where I start to like the book less.

First off, waaay to much time passes. Seriously, the book spans like six years, with most of that time just being Victor passed out from his bad decisions or loitering, trying to decide what to do next. If you cut out all the waiting around parts, the plot is paced pretty well, but I could never get fully invested in the story because so much of the story wasn’t the main plot. 

Also, the writing bothered me. I knew it was a “classic” going in, so I wasn’t expecting it to read the same way a novel written today would. I can forgive the novel for its wandering sentences and obsession with figurative language—in truth, I actually enjoyed those parts.

However, the story is told in a forcibly “tell” instead of “show” manner. For me, it felt like certain chapters were trying to suck all of the excitement out of the plot in the way they were told. For a book that is entirely in first person (though the narration changes), it feels like it’s written in third person—by which I mean that something is constantly separating me from experiencing the action up-close-and-personal. 

Overall, I’m glad I read this book. It is one of my favorite books I’ve read in for high school, both from a plot standpoint and a literary analysis standpoint. I would recommend this book to people who enjoy “classic” writing, or who are at least able to forgive a story for slower pacing.

Book Review: The Dead House by Dawn Kurtagich

I. Do. Not. Know. What.  To. Think.

Seriously, I can’t even give this book a star rating. I’m too conflicted.

Release date: September 15, 2015

cover the dead house

Amazon Description

Three students: dead.
Carly Johnson: vanished without a trace.
Two decades have passed since an inferno swept through Elmbridge High, claiming the lives of three teenagers and causing one student, Carly Johnson, to disappear. The main suspect: Kaitlyn, “the girl of nowhere.”
Kaitlyn’s diary, discovered in the ruins of Elmbridge High, reveals the thoughts of a disturbed mind. Its charred pages tell a sinister version of events that took place that tragic night, and the girl of nowhere is caught in the center of it all. But many claim Kaitlyn doesn’t exist, and in a way, she doesn’t – because she is the alter ego of Carly Johnson.
Carly gets the day. Kaitlyn has the night. It’s during the night that a mystery surrounding the Dead House unravels and a dark, twisted magic ruins the lives of each student that dares touch it.
Debut author Dawn Kurtagich masterfully weaves together a thrilling and terrifying story using psychiatric reports, witness testimonials, video footage, and the discovered diary – and as the mystery grows, the horrifying truth about what happened that night unfolds.

My Review

I’ve started jotting down a quick Pro/Con list after I read a book that I later expand into a review to post. Problem is, for every pro I wrote down, there was a corresponding con. I honestly cannot decide if I loved this book or hated it. When I went to give the book a star rating, I literally write I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO THINK instead.

I’m breaking this down into matching pros and cons. You can decide if you think the pros or the cons win.


Pro: This book is hands down the creepiest thing I’ve ever read.

I don’t watch horror movies. I don’t read thrillers or horror novels. But when I was asked if I wanted to read an ARC of The Dead House, I decided I was game to try out a new genre.

Holy crap. I would have read this book in one sitting, except that I honestly had to put it down every few hours. It was too dark to absorb in large quantities. Everything about this book is creepy–the paranormal angle, the mental illness angle, the characters, even the format (diary entries, transcribed interviews and video clips) became disturbing.

In being a scary-AF book, The Dead House succeeded. A++

Con: Monotone creepiness.

As I said, everything about this book was creepy. Which, unfortunately, made the creepiness somewhat monotone. There was no rise or fall, no happier moments where I could take a deep breath that could later be knocked out of me. It was scary 100% of the time, which “weakened” the scariness. I wanted happy moments, not just to give my soul a moment to recover, but so that the creepy moments would be more impactful.

Pro: The Carly/Kaitlyn premise was so cool. 

I loved the two souls in one body (or two personalities in one body, if you’re a psychologist) idea. From the first page, I loved and empathized with Kaitlyn–the girl stuck in the dark. The dynamic between Carly and her was starkly human: both of them love each other like sisters even though they’ve never met, but Kaitlyn is also incredibly jealous of her sister for being the “real” one. They were both struggling to hide Kaitlyn and keep themselves out of the loony bin, but they were also permanently separated, and thus they could never have a transparent relationship. There were secrets from the get go, and they only continued to mount as the story went on.

Con: Carly was never a part of the story.

Since the story is driven by Kaitlyn’s diary entries, Carly is actually a minor part of the plot. Notes she leaves for Kaitlyn and a few diary entries of hers are included, but that is the only contact the reader gets with Kaitlyn’s other half. Carly’s fellow students mention her second-hand, but I still felt that there was a Carly-shaped hole in the story. I never “met” her, I never connected to her, and I never fell in love with her, so ensuing plot lines were weakened because my heartstrings weren’t as tied to Carly as they were to her sister.

Pro: Dossier format was interesting and Kurtagich “pulled it off.” 

The book is a dossier of evidence collected about the case–Kaitlyn’s journal, footage from Nadia, and various interviews conducted by the police–as well as commentary from the dossier’s compiler and from psychological experts. Everything is organized chronologically and weaves together to tell a masterful story.

I was amazed at how effectively random pieces of paper could convey a story. Jumping back and forth between different forms of evidence was never distracting or confusing. The way the dossier was compiled added to the aforementioned creepiness of the story.

Con: The dossier format kept me “out” of the story. 

Nothing in the dossier is truly reliable. Kaitlyn wrote her journal entries after the things happened, and no one forced her to write down every detail, or the cold hard facts–just her impressions. Nadia’s footage obviously couldn’t record everything. The other transcripts and interviews rely on people being honest and the interviewer asking the right questions–neither of which happened.

I felt like I was never connected to the real story. Everything felt second hand and untrustworthy. The dossier format was interesting, but it also separated me from the story; we never got any scenes that were happening “live,” never got to fully connect to the story.

It also struck me as unrealistic that Kaitlyn would write down everything that she did in her diary, and that Nadia would record everything that she did. The two most prominent forms the story was told in often came across as a stretch.

Pro: This book is POWERFUL. 

You can tell how ramped up this book got me. In that sense, I have to love this book. Any story that makes me shake with half-formed thoughts (*activating fangirl mode*) is a good one. This story hit me in the fact over and over, grabbed me and wouldn’t let me go. If you like being emotionally and mentally pummeled by the books you read, pick up this book right now (or in September, when it hits the shelves). I know I won’t be forgetting this book for a looong time.

Con: Some parts of the plot missed the mark.

The romance was a big part of the plot that didn’t work for me. I liked the love interest (Ari) in the beginning, but the more intimate their relationship became, the less I cared for it. A major cause of this is that dossier format. It’s not like Kaitlyn is going to write down minute details about her relationship with Ari, because she’s  the one living it, and videos of their time together don’t give the viewer a sense of the emotions each is feeling. I was told of their love, not shown it by the story, and subsequently I just didn’t care about it that much.

The deaths in this book lacked ceremony. While I understand that the point was that the circumstances surrounding the deaths were vague and unknown, it still bothered me that deaths were announced in pasted-in notes. If a character’s death is going to affect me, it has to take up more than a sentence of the novel.

Pro: The paranormal aspects were unique.

Scottish voodoo. You read that right. This book surrounded a type of magic that I’d never even heard of. The paranormal elements that grew out of this were unique and compelling. It was refreshing to see a YA plot surround a mythology that isn’t Greco-Roman.

Con: I didn’t follow the paranormal plot line very well.

To be honest, all of the paranormal bits in the plot were confusing. There’s a house, a girl, a snake. Then the magic workers have like five different names, which were never explained clearly enough for me to remember the nuances (and the nuances were important). I understood the broad strokes of what was going on–enough to enjoy the story–but I wish more of the paranormal elements of the plot had been slowed down and explained. The story could have been richer if I’d been able to follow it.

Pro: I don’t know what to think.

This book is a constant battle between conflicting views of the “Johnson Incident.” The police and psycologists consulted in the dossier believe that everything can be explained by various characters suffering from various mental illnesses. The characters themselves, however, believe that everything is caused by paranormal occurances, namely Scottish Mala voodoo.

Both sides are supported during the dossier. Neither “wins.” And it drove me crazy. I’m still thinking about it. I don’t know what I think (as you can tell).

The Dead House is a giant questionaire: what do you think happened? And it does an A+ job asking that question and leaving the reader unable to answer it.

Con: I don’t know what to think.

I like closure. I like it when books ask questions because I can trust the answers will be surprising. This book doesn’t have answers–or really, it has too many answers to choose from. I wanted to be thrown a bone that pushed me toward one side or the other, and while a few pieces at the end could have been considered “evidence” for one side, I was still left unsatisfied. The Dead House is built of questions–ever increasing questions that leave the reader absolutely sure that there will be an incredible answer that ties everything together.

I’m still waiting for that answer.


Enjoyment of The Dead House comes down to one simple question:

Do you like unanswered questions?

If you like it when a book drops you off a cliff and leaves you with the sensation of falling and grasping for answers, then this book is great. If you have a lifelong struggle with closure and crave explanations and definite answers, this book might drive you insane.

I’m on the fence.

Is a book about the journey or the destination?

The journey–the majority of The Dead House–is captivating, chilling, and powerful. The ultimate destination–answers to the questions that the journey posed–is murky, and doesn’t really exist.

 

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to have a mental breakdown trying to figure out where to put this book on my bookshelf (which I organize by how much I enjoyed each book).


I received an ARC of this book for free from Hachette Publishing at SDCC. (THANKS!) This in no way influenced my review.

Book Review: Slash by Evan Kingston

This book surprised me with its stylistic writing and unique premise, but left me conflicted over the success of its execution.

3.5/5 stars

cover slash

 I received a copy of Slash from the author in exchange for an honest review. 

Author’s description of Slash:

Alex Bledsoe would rather die than reveal her secret crush. As a star of TV’s #1 family drama, she’s certain coming out of the closet would end her career. Worse still, her one true love is America’s hottest young actress, Lissa Blaine, who just happens to play her older, prettier, and smarter big sis each week on Koop’s Kitchen. So Alex hates Lissa too, wishes her dead every time she stumbles onto the tabloid covers with a Long-Island in hand and some new B-list beefcake on her arm.

Desperate for an outlet each night after filming wraps, Alex closes the shades on her trailer and reads slash stories on internet fan-fiction forums: trashy little tales written by viewers about an imagined romance between her character and Lissa’s. All unbelievable moans and trite whispers, the fantasies are so incestuously metafictional, Alex believes them best taken to her grave—until an anonymous author begins to post violent slash stories, and Alex’s lusty dreams start to open up graves of their own.

As Alex struggles to decide whether she is turned on or disturbed, Koop’s Kitchen’s real-life actors start dying in suspiciously similar scenes. Sure that the parallels are more than coincidence, she begins to search the stories for suspects and clues instead of steamy caresses. But as she works to catch the killer before he slashes again, Alex realizes that revealing the secrets she’d die to hide might be the only way to save the lives of everyone she loves.

Slash was originally released as seven “episodes” from 2013 to 2014, and has recently been released as a collected edition.

There was a lot to enjoy with this book. For me at least, the premise was outside of anything I’d really ever read before. I loved the way Kingston incorporated slash fan fiction. Fan fic is something that I’ve encountered the fringes of on the internet, but that I’ve never really gotten into, so it was interesting to see it play a significant role in a novel. The stories and the forum onto which they were posted felt realistic, as did the digs Kingston worked in about the writing quality of most fan fic, especially slash.

The reality TV angle of the book was fun to read. Koop’s Kitchen is a fascinating mixture of writers who want a platform to preach “family values” and network specialists determined to use scandal to score high ratings. I loved the subtle cynicism infused throughout the descriptions of filming the series and the Hollywood world in which the story takes place.

The mystery was compelling. The way the stories played out in real life worked well with the story, and I liked that all of the deaths were “suicides,” adding an extra level of confusion to the early episodes. Each “episode” essentially focuses on investigating a different suspect. I could usually tell that the main character, Alex, was jumping to the wrong conclusion as to who the killer was, but for the life of me, I had no idea who the murderer could be. The last episode, when everything starts to come together, still kept up the suspense and the surprises. In the end, I liked the resolution of the mystery and of the overall plot.

The characterization wasn’t overly complex, but it got the job done. I loved Perry, he was hilarious. By the end of the story, I had a clear sense of who each of the major characters were. I loved the way Kingston worked in each character’s backstory. The flashback style would have come off as clunky with a different story, but it actually really worked in Slash.

I’m on the fence about a few parts of the book.

Alex, the main character, is one of them. I can’t decide if I connected to her. Parts of her personality–her most basic fears, her feelings about acting and Koop’s Kitchen, her drive for the truth–were very compelling and relatable. I honestly wanted to like Alex. Though the ages of the characters put the book in the NA genre, Alex’s voice had a YA feel. I didn’t feel like this took away from the story at all, and it was nice to have the familiar narrative style in an unfamiliar genre.

When I picked up the first episode of Slash, my first thought about Alex was basically “wow this girl is screwed up.” I thought that Kingston was going for the broken protagonist, but in fact, he presented her personality in a way that I realized she wasn’t screwed up psychologically that much. She has issues, of course, and her addiction to slash is one of them, but Kingston presents them with no judgement in his tone or plot structure, so that you end up sympathizing with her as a struggling individual rather than looking at her as damaged goods. Especially with the subject matter Kingston decided to tackle, I appreciated the matter-of-fact-ness of his writing throughout the book, making sure that Slash avoided what could have had an overwhelmingly preachy tone.

However, there were other parts of her personality that I understood on a conceptual basis but that I never emotionally connected with, especially her love/obsession with Lissa.

You learn fairly early on that Lissa is…a bitch. I really didn’t like her, though the characterization that made me hate her was skillfully done. At times, Alex sort of admitted that Lissa’s personality sucked, but her obsession (and that is a fair word to use–even Alex admitted it) never wavered. Kingston did provide psychological reasons for this (which tied in to her fears/doubts about her sexuality), but I never emotionally believed them; I still felt like her obsession was shallow and unreasonable, and I couldn’t connect to it. If the psychology had been more clearly shown–instead of basically just told to the main character by other people–it might have been a very different story.

One part of the story that was different from what I expected was the darkness of the plot. From the synopsis provided, I got the impression that I was in store for a seriously dark and screwed up story (along the lines of Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects, which I read last year). In reality, the novel was a lot more mellow than I expected. Horrific things happened, sure, but most of them were told second-hand (much in the style of Macbeth, where someone runs off screen, dies, and some poor messenger has to relate the gruesome details). It wasn’t until the seventh and final episode that things got super horror-esque.

I was actually okay with this aspect of the plot. It was kind of nice to read a story that deals with dark topics and horror elements without throwing themselves headlong into scaring or scarring the reader.

I would recommend this book to anyone who likes the idea of reading horror but maybe isn’t ready for nightmare level plots. The story has a good amount of humor, characterization, and voice.  The writing is stylistically interesting and very readable–I breezed through the seven episodes in a few days of light reading. While there were specific areas of the execution that I feel missed the mark, the story in its entirety is definitely worth reading.