FINLAY DONOVAN IS KILLING IT by Elle Cosimano

blog - finlay donovan is killing it by elle cosimanoFinlay Donovan’s life is a bit of a mess at the moment. There’s the impending divorce from her cheating husband, for one, an already complicated situation made messier by the threat of a custody battle for their children over Finlay’s fickle finances. An author of romantic thrillers, she’s nearing the end of a contract for a book she has not even begun to write, the advance of which has long been spent, and the bills keep on piling up.

And that’s all before a frantic meeting with her agent leads to Finlay being mistaken for a hit woman by someone willing to pay an absurd amount of money for her presumed services. Finlay initially balks at the offer, but her overwhelming situation leads her to reconsider, setting off an explosive chain reaction that will have the struggling suspense writer live through a veritable thriller full of dead bodies, hidden identities, cops, and the local mafia.

A particular peeve of mine is when thrillers begin slowly. It just seems contrary to the genre. I’m all for a slow burner of a story, but more often than not I enjoy when these stories embrace their pulp roots and just start with a veritable bang.

So I knew I was going to have fun with Elle Cosimano’s 𝑭𝒊𝒏𝒍𝒂𝒚 𝑫𝒐𝒏𝒐𝒗𝒂𝒏 𝑰𝒔 𝑲𝒊𝒍𝒍𝒊𝒏𝒈 𝑰𝒕 when, by page ten, we already know not only the status of the protagonist’s relationships but also her occupation, her finances, her ex’s love life, and her mostly harried, hectic lifestyle caring for two tireless toddlers. By the second chapter we’re already well into the whole conceit of the plot. Two chapters after that, we have a dead body, and then we’re off to the criminal races. Cosimano came here to 𝘵𝘦𝘭𝘭 𝘢 𝘴𝘵𝘰𝘳𝘺 𝘥𝘢𝘮𝘯 𝘪𝘵 𝘵𝘩𝘦𝘳𝘦’𝘴 𝘯𝘰 𝘵𝘪𝘮𝘦 𝘵𝘰 𝘸𝘢𝘴𝘵𝘦. Pulp roots, I tell you.

The first half of this book is essentially an excellent exhibit of economics and exposition. Finlay is nothing if not a chaotic character, and Cosimano immediately puts us right in that tumultuous headspace by taking us on a whirlwind ride through her protagonist’s bewildering world — the better for us to accept this story’s wild, preposterous premise.

I admit to having a hard time suspending my belief for this narrative, which is my annoying wont for these types of stories — light mysteries/thrillers that aim for exhilaration over veracity. It took a viewing of 𝘒𝘯𝘪𝘷𝘦𝘴 𝘖𝘶𝘵 when I was halfway through this novel that, actually, its premise is no less ridiculous and unlikely as the one in that film, which I consider an all-time favorite. That slight change in perspective helped me accept the story for what it was. And honestly, is it really that far-fetched to think that a Type A personality like Finlay would totally go for this type of scheme? “My life is already absurd — might as well go into the assassination business.”

I enjoyed Cosimano’s characterization. She’s consciously dealing with a lot of stock characters — the amateur sleuth and the intrepid companion, the hunky cop, the international villain — but she writes them with enough mettle that they don’t feel too plain or generic. I particularly loved Finlay’s friendship with Vero, her no-nonsense nanny-cum-accountant, which is sweet and touching in its own morbid sort of way. Get you a friend who would help you bury a body, etcetera.

The aforementioned pace does unfortunately dwindle some about halfway through the story, making the middle chapters a bit of a slog to get through. It picks up again once the third act kicks in, although it never really quite regains the momentum of its opening chapters. A shame, but a minor complaint all in all. I had fun with Finlay, and would definitely check out whatever antics she and her crew get into next.

BAGS (OR A STORY THEREOF) by Patrick McHale, Gavin Fullerton, Whitney Cogar

blog - bags (or a story thereof) by patrick mchale, gavin fullerton, whitney cogar

Here’s a book that I didn’t get to cover on Hallowe’en. Mostly because I forgot. October is kind of a lot.

𝑩𝑨𝑮𝑺 (𝒐𝒓 𝒂 𝒔𝒕𝒐𝒓𝒚 𝒕𝒉𝒆𝒓𝒆𝒐𝒇) is the graphic novel adaptation of a short novel written by Patrick McHale, a few years before he started working on 𝘖𝘷𝘦𝘳 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘎𝘢𝘳𝘥𝘦𝘯 𝘞𝘢𝘭𝘭. Unable to land animation gigs, he woke up one day and decided to write a novel. He gave himself one week, because he thought that was how it was done. He barely edited. He did his own illustrations. He had it printed and sold it on Etsy for a while. Then came artist Gavin Fullerton who thought it’d be fun to adapt the short work in comic form, to which McHale said, “Sure why not?”

Thusly: 𝘉𝘈𝘎𝘚, which tells the story of one John Motts, an everyman sort of figure who, after losing his doted on dog, embarks on a humble odyssey that will take him across his familiar town, the surrounding forests, and beyond, encountering along the way corrupt cops, talking walruses, and, not least, the devil.

This is a surreal take on the hero’s journey. A story that is aware of its own absurdity and indeed relishes and thrives in it. If you’ve ever seen the by-now classic 𝘖𝘷𝘦𝘳 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘎𝘢𝘳𝘥𝘦𝘯 𝘞𝘢𝘭𝘭 miniseries, the more dreamlike elements of that story can give you a hint of the weirdness that is contained within the bags of this tale. McHale’s writing is at times poignant and poetic, and at others purposefully simplistic and nonsensical. This style is reflected in Fullerton’s own art by contrasting the stark realism of his backgrounds and other characters with John’s distinctly cartoonish veneer, appearing as he does like a mix between Charlie Brown and Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan.

The art is further complemented by the contribution of colorist Whitney Cogar, who has also done work on the 𝘎𝘢𝘳𝘥𝘦𝘯 𝘞𝘢𝘭𝘭 comics. She gives the book a classic, timeless feel by going with a style that simulates the four color printing process prominently used in the early days of comic books (complete with Ben Day dots).

I liked 𝘉𝘈𝘎𝘚 quite a bit. Mainly because it felt like nothing else I’ve read in a long while. It’s quirky and offbeat, but also lacking any pretense. It’s totally sincere, which makes it surprisingly moving. It’s hard to hate a lost dog tale, anyway, and this one is no different in that regard.

HALLOWEEN PARTY by R.L. Stine — 🎃

blog - halloween party by r.l. stineThey all received the same black-bordered envelope. Inside was an invitation to a Hallowe’en party to be thrown by Justine, the newest new girl at Shadyside High. She and her uncle have just moved into their old family mansion at the end of Fear Street, and what better setting for an All Hallows’ Eve celebration? Couple Terry and Niki are among the invited, but quickly begin to question the motives behind the bash. Why have only nine people been invited? And why invite a group of people who barely share anything in common with one another? They go to the party, regardless, hoping to get some answers. They get more than they bargained for when the body of a fellow reveler turns up with a carving knife sticking straight out of his chest….

I honestly could not think of a better way to finish off the spook season than with a Fear Street book. And what could be more fitting than going for the one titled 𝑯𝒂𝒍𝒍𝒐𝒘𝒆𝒆𝒏 𝑷𝒂𝒓𝒕𝒚?

This is technically my first proper Fear Street! I started reading the series this summer, as part of my whole Summer Spooks deal, but none of the books I read were actually 𝘴𝘦𝘵 on the titular street. This one most definitely is, though, and it’s a whole different vibe.

I had a lot of fun with it. It’s trashy and schlocky and totally appropriate for the day. It also surprised me by including a fair bit of deaf representation. In a young adult book! From the ‘90s! It’s not perfect, needless to say, but still — you go, Stine. Niki is a certified badass of a character. 

Hallowe’en has long been my favorite time for reading, and I always have a blast delving into the spookier side of my library. It’s sad that the season has come to an end, but as Niki points out towards the end of the party: “It’s always Halloween on Fear Street.”  ⠀

𝕳𝖆𝖑𝖑𝖔𝖜𝖊’𝖊𝖓 𝖎𝖘 𝖊𝖙𝖊𝖗𝖓𝖆𝖑, in other words. 

I hope you all have a good one.

PUMPKINHEADS by Rainbow Rowell, Faith Erin Hicks — 🎃

blog - pumpkinheads by rainbow rowell, faith erin hicksAnother Hallowe’en. Another year of reading this graphic novel. Another year of me gushing about this book. You probably know the drill by now.

This is my third year reading 𝑷𝒖𝒎𝒑𝒌𝒊𝒏𝒉𝒆𝒂𝒅𝒔, the exceedingly charming graphic novel by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks (with colors by Sarah Stern). The last couple of times I’ve picked it up at the very start of the Hallowe’en season, feeling its lighthearted tone and quintessentially fall vibes made for a perfect way to kick off October. This time around I opted to wait until the end of the month, for no reason other than that is when the story is set and it felt right. As the weeks passed, I found myself anxious to fall back into it, but it was absolutely worth the wait. Reading this graphic novel feels like a homecoming now. Like catching up with friends you haven’t seen in over a year. 

Josie and Deja, our preposterously beautiful protagonists, certainly feel like friends. I always finish this story wanting to read more about them. Rowell ends the story hinting at a Christmas reunion, and hopefully that’s more than a throwaway line and is actually in the cards because that’s something I would desperately want.

The autumn ambiance artists Hicks and Stern have illustrated define the season for me now. The images and colors they conjured up are what I see whenever I think of this time of year. Quite the feat seeing as how I live in a place with no proper fall.

Lastly, this book just makes me cry, dudes. “𝐎𝐜𝐭𝐨𝐛𝐞𝐫 𝐦𝐞𝐚𝐧𝐬 𝐲𝐨𝐮,” never fails to hit me like a bag of bricks. 

𝘗𝘶𝘮𝘱𝘬𝘪𝘯𝘩𝘦𝘢𝘥𝘴 is not remotely spooky. It’s all heart and mush and feelings, instead — notions not traditionally associated with the autumn months. But it means October to me, still.

THE CARDBOARD KINGDOM: ROAR OF THE BEAST by Chad Sell, Various — 🎃

blog - the cardboard kingdom - roar of the beast by chad sell, various𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘊𝘢𝘳𝘥𝘣𝘰𝘢𝘳𝘥 𝘒𝘪𝘯𝘨𝘥𝘰𝘮 tells the stories of a group of particularly creative kids in a suburban neighborhood and the worlds, communities, and identities they create using nothing but copious amounts of cardboard and their intense imaginations.

𝑹𝒐𝒂𝒓 𝒐𝒇 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝑩𝒆𝒂𝒔𝒕, the second volume of the budding graphic novel series, finds the youths gearing up for Hallowe’en, adding extra flair to their already elaborate costumes and constructions. Multiple sightings of a monstrous creature creeping around the community puts the kids on edge, however, as does the fact that one of their own is being targeted by teenage bullies. The combination of events threatens to not only ruin their holiday, but also tear the kingdom they’ve worked so hard to build asunder.

📦

○ The first volume of 𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘊𝘢𝘳𝘥𝘣𝘰𝘢𝘳𝘥 𝘒𝘪𝘯𝘨𝘥𝘰𝘮 was one of the best books I read last year, so its follow-up was naturally highly anticipated. I pre-ordered it knowing nothing about it, but you can imagine, I’m sure, the joy I felt finding out it was not only Fall themed but centered around Hallowe’en, as well. Chad Sell and Company: delivering delights.
○ Sell’s spectacular artwork was a highlight in the first volume, and continues to be still.
○ There is wholesome queer rep here! Always lovely to see, especially in middle grade offerings.
○ A lot more focus on Alice the Alchemist, a morbid little creep of a character. She’s a favorite. So much fun.
○ The kids end up squaring off against The Teens, naturally. The set piece  feels straight out of an ‘80s movie and I am here for it.
○ This book is a lot of fun. A lot more streamlined than the first book, which was more a collection of interconnected short stories (illustrated by Sell and written by various authors) rather than a straight, linear plot. I prefer the anthological approach, but this was a great effort.
○ As per last time, I appreciate the work Sell and his collaborators put into making these stories as inclusive and diverse as they could possibly be. This is a Hallowe’en romp, but it is also a quiet, careful exploration of mental health, gender identity, and sexual orientation. Heady, heavy themes that are handled in such a way that they don’t weigh down the story’s pulpy foundation.
○ Ultimately, I hope these creators continue to bring out hopeful narratives like this, because the kids of the world need and deserve them.

“THE LITTLE WITCH” by M. Rickert — 🎃

blog - the little witch by m. rickertA lonely old woman befriends a trick-or-treater who doesn’t seem to age….

And that’s about as much as I can tell you by way of summary, so as not to spoil this spellbinding short story. 

I loved reading “𝐓𝐡𝐞 𝐋𝐢𝐭𝐭𝐥𝐞 𝐖𝐢𝐭𝐜𝐡,” even though I’m not entirely sure I understood it as a whole. In any case, author M. Rickert’s prose is beautiful enough to make up for any discombobulation one may feel. I found the way she wrote scenery particularly breathtaking, with vivid, poetic descriptions of natural landscapes that were nothing if not transportive. Her characterization was also a stand-out, managing as she did to break my heart multiple times in just a scant number of pages (indeed, most of my notes are some variation of 𝘰𝘩 𝘮𝘺 𝘨𝘰𝘥).

“The Little Witch” is a weird, mystifying, at times surprisingly unsettling little story about two witchy, weary souls finding one another and feeling less lonely in the world. It captures the melancholy, ephemeral nature of the autumnal season better than anything I’ve read so far this year. I adored it, utterly, and encourage you to take the time to read it before the month is out. The story can be found on Tor’s website.

ATTACK OF THE JACK-O’-LANTERNS by R.L. Stine — 🎃

Twelve-year-old Drew Brockman loves Hallowe’en. Too bad it keeps getting ruined by local bullies, Tabby and Lee, whose idea of a perfect All Hallows’ Eve consists of playing mean-spirited pranks on Drew and her friends. Drew vows that this Hallowe’en will be different, though, having spent the better part of the year coming up with the perfect trick to play on the tween tormentors — one that involves her friends, twins Shane and Shana, dressing up as particularly ghastly pumpkin-headed figures. The siblings seem to get too into their spooky roles, however, and the joke quickly gets out of hand, threatening to ruin yet another Hallowe’en. Only this time Drew fears that it may be for good….

It’s not a proper spooky season in this house until I pick up a 𝘎𝘰𝘰𝘴𝘦𝘣𝘶𝘮𝘱𝘴 book or two. It’s one of the traditions I look forward to the most. I never read the books as a kid, but I did watch some of the show, and so I consider these precious, goofy books time capsules, allowing me a brief glimpse back to a time for which I am exceedingly, embarrassingly nostalgic. I am a ‘90s kid, what can I tell you?

I’m still working my way through the series (should read more than a couple a year, maybe), so I’ve only read a handful of the books. 𝑨𝒕𝒕𝒂𝒄𝒌 𝒐𝒇 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝑱𝒂𝒄𝒌-𝑶’-𝑳𝒂𝒏𝒕𝒆𝒓𝒏𝒔 did not turn out to be a favorite, but it is a very solid entry. The characters are annoying as anything, sure, but in that charming ha-ha-all-kids-are-maniacs kind of way that Stine is so good at portraying. It’s set on Hallowe’en. It features pumpkin-headed monsters. I don’t need much to enjoy a 𝘎𝘰𝘰𝘴𝘦𝘣𝘶𝘮𝘱𝘴.

One of the episodes of the TV show I remember the most was called “Awesome Ants” (curiously not adapted from any book of the original series, but from a later short story instead). It featured a memorable and preposterous ending that had — uhh spoilers I guess — an entire suburban neighborhood enclosed in glass, with gigantic ants towering over the new human vivarium. It stuck with me because it played into some of my more particular anxieties: of being perpetually stuck in a singular space; of being intensely creeped out by North American suburbs consisting of countless identically bland houses. The climax of 𝘑𝘢𝘤𝘬-𝘖’-𝘓𝘢𝘯𝘵𝘦𝘳𝘯𝘴 involves a similar setting and situation, and I appreciated the skeeved-out feeling it gave me. 

I watched the television adaptation of this for the first time last year and it was perfectly terrible.

WHAT LIVES IN THE WOODS by Lindsay Currie — 🎃

blog - what lives in the woods by lindsay currieAspiring writer and Agatha Christie aficionado Ginny Anderson is looking forward to spending her summer break attending a mystery writing workshop with her best friend. Plans swiftly derailed when her dad, who restores old crumbling buildings to their former glory for a living, is hired to renovate the Woodmoor estate, a sprawling manor in the outskirts of Lake Michigan, and wants to bring the family along. The mansion is the subject of many rumors in the neighboring town: of creatures that stalk the surrounding woods; of inhospitable spirits that still haunt the antique abode. Impressionable Ginny finds herself frightened at the prospect of spending her summer in a house of horrors and she wishes she could just go back home, to her friend and her workshop. Her frustration turns out to be greater than her fear though, and,  determined to emulate the heroes written by her personal hero, she sets out to either find enough proof to convince her parents to leave the dreadful place — especially after she encounters a ghastly presence that would very much like the same — or to solve the mystery at Woodmoor once and for all. ⠀

○ ⠀

Lindsay Currie’s 𝑾𝒉𝒂𝒕 𝑳𝒊𝒗𝒆𝒔 𝒊𝒏 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝑾𝒐𝒐𝒅𝒔 was originally going to be a buddy read, chosen because my friend and I were both under the impression that it was going to be a middle grade horror full of forest frights, which was the mood we were after. I began reading it first, though, and quickly found myself frustrated by the fact that this seemed to be very much a haunted house story. Which is fine — love a good haunting — just not what I was expecting. Yes, the back blurb 𝘥𝘰𝘦𝘴 mention the haunted house element, but look at that cover! At that title! What else are we supposed to think? Not to mention the fact that creepy beings stalking the woods are frequently mentioned in the opening chapters. They are, sadly, a no-show in this spooky story. Maybe they’re being set up for a sequel? I don’t know!⠀

So I was disappointed. Which is tragic because the story taken on its own is actually fairly decent. There’s a historical mystery that’s interesting, even if it’s only really explored during the last few chapters when it could have been the focus from the outset. Currie is excellent at writing tense scenes with unnerving imagery (there’s a particularly good jump scare, and those are very hard to pull off in written form). But again, this is a supernatural mystery more than it is horror, and so those types of scenes end up feeling a little out of place, as if they’re from a different story. 

This may be a classic case of judging a book by its cover. But I come from a design background so I believe that packaging and presentation are important. They provide the context, form the filter through which the content within will be viewed. My expectations were shaped by a display that evokes a certain narrative that is different from the one within, and I just think it only does it a disservice, in the end. Granted this particular criticism is directed more at the publisher, as authors rarely have any say in how their work is marketed. Currie wrote an imminently readable book that I would have enjoyed more under different circumstances.

MEXICAN GOTHIC by Silvia Moreno-Garcia — 🎃

blog - mexican gothic by silvia moreno-garciaI started Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s 𝑴𝒆𝒙𝒊𝒄𝒂𝒏 𝑮𝒐𝒕𝒉𝒊𝒄 for Hallowe’en last year. I was enjoying it, too, noting how Moreno-Garcia had the Gothic undertones and atmosphere utterly 𝘥𝘰𝘸𝘯. But then I dropped it, and I couldn’t quite tell you why. Well, I could: there was a pandemic going on, sucking the joy out of everything and anything at the drop of a hat. It was — and still is, depressingly — a 𝘵𝘩𝘪𝘯𝘨. So I decided to leave it for this next Hallowe’en season, and as it approached, I found myself excited to pick the book back up again. 

You can imagine my disappointment when I found that I did not enjoy it as much as I expected. Which is nothing but a shame as all the elements were still there: Moreno-Garcia’s writing is gorgeous, pitch-perfect in its baroque tone and flowery wordage; the atmosphere — atmos𝘧𝘦𝘢𝘳 — it evokes is palpable and practically seeps from the page; Noemí, our intrepid bon vivant of a heroine with the quick wit and indomitable will, is simply marvelous; its villains are suitably abhorrent, showcasing as they do a grotesque version of white entitlement towards other culture’s religions and lands and bodies; the story’s central theme of colonialism and its ruinous blight of a legacy is one that quite literally hits close to home as someone who lives in an actual modern day colony.

And yet… it didn’t quite connect with me. Perhaps that was because of the above-mentioned epidemic exhaustion; but more likely it was just that the story felt distant, with too many of its true horrors told rather than shown; evils obscured rather than exposed. Moreno-Garcia keeps her protagonist in the literal dark for much of the novel, and at arm’s length from many of the other characters, a detachment the reader feels by extension. A dense fog envelopes High Place, this story’s setting. At times it felt like a similar gloom shrouded this novel, and perhaps it just proved too thick for this particular lector to penetrate.

Whatever the case may have been, Moreno-Garcia’s prowess is undeniable, and I don’t regret reading this weird, visceral, phantasmagoric vision of hers.

THE WOODS ARE ALWAYS WATCHING by Stephanie Perkins — 🎃

blog - the woods are always watching by stephanie perkinsJosie and Neena are best friends about to graduate high school and heading off in different directions — or Neena is, at least. Josie enrolled in a city college and will stay at home, while Neena is bound for glamorous California. Feeling a mix of melancholy and resentment the pair plan a getaway hiking through the local North Carolina mountains, in the hopes the adventure will create meaningful, unforgettable memories before they part ways.

Their plans are quickly unraveled, however, as both environment and emotions seem to be working against them. Neither of them have any worthwhile outdoors experience, and so they are soon overwhelmed by the elements. Adding to that is the pair’s pent up personal drama, which comes to a head on their very first night where bitter words are shared in the dark. Not wanting to abandon what could be their last ever exploit together, they continue their trek through the woods in stubborn, stony silence. On their last day they decide to follow a blaze path, informal trails created by amateur hikers that make guideposts out of trees through marks and other signs. A sudden downpour makes them lose their way, and then tragedy strikes when Josie falls through a sinkhole and suffers a particularly gruesome injury. Neena is reluctant to leave her friend alone, but with no phone service and night quickly falling, she decides to brave the forest in search of help. But the watchful woods seem to have other plans for the pair of friends….

Like most people (at least those who regularly watched Vlogbrothers circa 2009) I first learned of Stephanie Perkins due to 𝘈𝘯𝘯𝘢 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘍𝘳𝘦𝘯𝘤𝘩 𝘒𝘪𝘴𝘴, a gentle gem of a romance novel that kicked off a series of similarly sentimental stories. Romance became Perkin’s brand, and so — like most people — I was surprised when she suddenly dropped her slasher throwback of a novel 𝘛𝘩𝘦𝘳𝘦’𝘴 𝘚𝘰𝘮𝘦𝘰𝘯𝘦 𝘐𝘯𝘴𝘪𝘥𝘦 𝘠𝘰𝘶𝘳 𝘏𝘰𝘶𝘴𝘦 (which just got the adaptation treatment over on Netflix) a couple of years ago. It seemed like such a turn. But I was already a fan of her writing, and it came out just around spooky season, so I gave it a shot. I dug it a great deal. I remember Perkins getting a lot of flak for that novel for being derivative and full of stereotypes. I could see where the criticism came from, but I didn’t really mind — there’s no genre that’s as cannibalistic as horror, after all, constantly feeding off of its own self. It’s part of the appeal. So I liked it enough that when 𝑻𝒉𝒆 𝑾𝒐𝒐𝒅𝒔 𝑨𝒓𝒆 𝑨𝒍𝒘𝒂𝒚𝒔 𝑾𝒂𝒕𝒄𝒉𝒊𝒏𝒈, a spiritual sequel of sorts, was announced, I awaited it with anticipation.

It didn’t disappoint, although I suspect it will get a lot of the same kind of criticism as its predecessor did. But once more, I did not mind. I enjoyed this ticking time bomb of a novel, which starts off slow, almost hesitantly, ramping up the tension to almost unbearable levels before finally releasing it in a cannonade of catastrophe and catharsis during the book’s final half.

I went into 𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘞𝘰𝘰𝘥𝘴 fairly cold, which turned out to both harm and help my reading experience. I knew only that it was a horror story set somewhere in the Appalachians, which is honestly enough description for me to be certain that I will be thoroughly freaked out, as that particular mountain system fascinates me as much as it fills me with dread — blame it on assumptions and stereotypes shaped by years of macabre media consumption. I did not know what form the antagonistic force was going to take: if it was going to be a supernatural specter, or a more realistic, grit-and-grime menace. For the first hundred pages the text made it seem like either one could have been likely.

𝗦𝗼𝗺𝗲 𝘀𝗽𝗼𝗶𝗹𝗲𝗿𝘀 𝗮𝗵𝗲𝗮𝗱

So I admit to being initially disappointed when it turned out to be the latter.  As the book went on, though, with Perkins packing on the terror and trepidation, I understood the kind of story she was aiming to tell: a heightened version of what far too many women suffer through at the hands of men, the sort of experiences that are the root of very real fears and anxieties they can experience while among us. Josie and Neena are stalked and threatened by men in the woods here, but it’s terrifyingly telling that their story could have been set literally anywhere else — with men in elevators or subway cars or quiet streets — and depressingly little would change in the way of details. 

Two girls walk into the woods, Josie thought. But the story wasn’t a fairy tale. They hadn’t dropped a trail of bread crumbs, discovered a gingerbread cottage with sugar-paned windows, or shoved an old witch into a flaming stove. Nor was it a ghost story, traded in whispers around smoky campfires. It wasn’t even an urban legend. Their story was flesh and bone. Urgent and real.

Perkins offers up a tight, tense thriller of survival, with two protagonists who feel real: smart and resourceful but also obnoxious bordering on unlikeable — kids, in other words, a fact that makes their ordeal all the more harrowing, as you can’t help but hope they make it through the dark forest and into the light.

𝗖𝗼𝗻𝘁𝗲𝗻𝘁 𝘄𝗮𝗿𝗻𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝗳𝗼𝗿 𝗺𝗲𝗻𝘁𝗶𝗼𝗻𝘀 𝗼𝗳 𝗿𝗮𝗽𝗲 𝗮𝗻𝗱 𝘁𝗼𝗿𝘁𝘂𝗿𝗲, 𝘀𝘁𝗮𝗹𝗸𝗶𝗻𝗴, 𝗮𝗻𝗱 𝘀𝗼𝗺𝗲 𝗴𝗿𝗮𝗽𝗵𝗶𝗰 𝗱𝗲𝘀𝗰𝗿𝗶𝗽𝘁𝗶𝗼𝗻𝘀 𝗼𝗳 𝗴𝗼𝗿𝗲.