Book Reviews: The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein & The Butchering Art


Hello blog readers!  And (I hope) book readers!  I’m back with a couple more recommendations to quench your horror thirst.  The first is The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein by Kiersten White, the author of Slayer (which I recommended in my last entry).  The second is The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister’s Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine by Lindsey Fitzharris.  You know the saying “truth is stranger than fiction?”  Well, The Butchering Art shows that truth is not only stranger than fiction but far more disgusting than you could imagine.  So let’s get to it!

The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein by Kiersten White is a retelling of Frankenstein.  Before I started reading, I thought that the story would take place in modern times but was pleasantly surprised to see that it seems to be set in the same time period as Frankenstein.  This time, the story is told from the perspective of Elizabeth Lavenza (the love interest of Victor Frankenstein in the original novel and Henry Frankenstein in the 1931 film adaptation).  In The Dark Descent, Elizabeth is “adopted” as a child to live with the Frankensteins and basically keep a young, troubled Victor in check.  Through her perspective and flashbacks, we get to see not only how Victor becomes the monster creator we all know and love but how Elizabeth’s relationship with Victor colors how she sees herself.  The Dark Descent is a very enjoyable book from a storytelling standpoint.  White does a great job at painting the world in which our characters live and giving the reader some twists and turns that I didn’t see coming.  I also really enjoyed the character of Elizabeth- she’s multi-layered and complex. I was initially unsure of how I felt about Elizabeth but, just like real life (at least some of the time), I grew to like her the more I spent time with her.  But aside from the storytelling, my main takeaway from this book is the idea that we’re all “creations” of something or someone – we’re all influenced by things and other people – and vice versa. The hard part is figuring out who you are apart from those influences and defining yourself the way you want.  At least, that’s what I got from this book. Maybe you’ll read it and take away something different. Or maybe you’ll just enjoy it! That’s fine too.

My second recommendation, The Butchering Art by Lindsey Fitzharris, contains a lot of anecdotes that could be considered torture porn.  Except they’re all true and took place during an unfortunate period of history before anesthesia and surgical sanitation.  This book might make you rethink your answer if you’re ever asked what other time period you would like to live in. I definitely wouldn’t say The Butchering Art is an enjoyable read, but I don’t think it’s supposed to be.  There’s nothing enjoyable about the conditions under which people had to endure surgeries pre-1900s.  Can you imagine undergoing removal of a tumor from your jawbone – a twenty-four-minute procedure that involved slicing off pieces of the tumor and jawbone – without anesthetic?  Or having a surgeon operate on you using the same blood and pus-covered instruments as he used during a previous operation and without washing his hands or changing the sheets soaked with another person’s blood?  It’s completely disgusting and unbelievable and yet exactly how things were done for a very long time. As a result of the unsanitary conditions, infections after surgery were widespread and common, and it was a widely held belief that people were actually safer being treated at home than in the hospital.  But thanks to Joseph Lister, a British surgeon, the idea of sterile surgery eventually became the way of the world. Fitzharris’s The Butchering Art is vivid, detailed, and well-researched and at times hard to read thanks to the stomach-churning anecdotes.  Next time I go to a doctor’s office or hospital and look around at the (hopefully) clean and sterile environment, I’ll definitely be thinking of Lister.  I usually like to recommend fun reads within the horror genre, but those authors have to get their inspiration from somewhere. There’s a great deal of inspiration in The Butchering Art.

Happy Reading!

Kia is a co-host of the Half Assed Horror Cast. Her favorite horror novel is Scott Smith’s ‘The Ruins,’ fave slasher is Freddy Krueger, and her favorite TV show of all time is ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer.’ 

Back to Fear Street Special – Return to Fear Street: The Wrong Girl

Back to Fear Street Special – Return to Fear Street: The Wrong Girl

We’re back with another special edition and a review of the latest book in R.L. Stine’s new series.  From the back of the book, The Wrong Girl is about a girl named Poppy who swears to get revenge after a guy named Jack plays a cruel prank on her in front of her friends.  But then her classmates start turning up dead. As the back of the book says, “Is Poppy being framed? Or did the kids of Shadyside High mess with the wrong girl?”  I was going to do my best to not spoil this book in case some of you readers wanted to check it out for yourselves. But that was before I read the book. And I have since taken an oath to spoil the hell out of this book so that no one else will have to wade through it and suffer as I did.  Where to begin?

The book bounces around between different characters’ perspectives but is mainly written from Poppy’s point of view.  Poppy and her group of friends – Ivy, Jeremy, Manny, and Jack – decide to start playing pranks on people and filming it for social media.  The group of friends also included Keith, Poppy’s boyfriend, but she breaks things off with him and starts dating bad boy Jack instead because Keith is too boring and not interested in pulling pranks on people.  The group decides to call their group the Shadyside Shade because, as Poppy says, they’re “throwing shade on everyone.” I might not be completely up on the slang of the youth, but my understanding of “throwing shade” is throwing insults, not playing pranks.  So I guess this is what happens when a 74-year-old writes books about teenagers. The group’s prank club stars off innocently – they unleash a bunch of dogs into a pet store. Then Poppy decides that they should play a prank on her arch nemesis, Rose. Poppy and Rose have apparently been in competition with each other since the fourth grade, and Rose has just beaten out Poppy to get the lead role in the school play.  Poppy first thinks that they should put a laxative in her water because Rose always drinks water right before she goes out on stage. But Jack tells her she’ll get arrested for assault. Poppy then decides that they should keep people from making it to the play by staging a car accident in the intersection and blocking people from the school. As ridiculous as this sounds, everyone’s totally fine with it because they figure they can just tell the police, “Punked you!” and say that they were just doing a high school prank.  Yeah, because that’s how the police work. Also, does anyone actually say “punked” anymore?

These kids go through with the prank, and to really sell it Poppy puts a smoke machine in the back of Ivy’s car.  Why she wouldn’t think people would clearly see smoke coming from the backseat is beyond me, but she’s clearly an idiot as evidenced by her coming up with this plan in the first place.  Somehow all of the cars catch on fire, but apparently the kids suffer no real consequences aside from making their parents a bit upset. Afterwards, Poppy and Rose get into a physical fight at a restaurant after Poppy smashes a hamburger bun in Rose’s face.  Why? Mainly because Poppy’s upset that her sister has started hanging out with Rose. Other than Poppy and Rose being a little competitive and bitchy towards each other, the book doesn’t really establish any big beef between them that would lead to a physical fight in the middle of a restaurant.  Plus, Poppy, Rose, and Heather all seem to have some anger management issues which served no purpose except to make them all possible suspects when the shit hits the fan.

After the car prank, Jack decides that the group should pretend to rob a store, with the owner in on the prank, and film it to share on social media.  However, they go and “case the joint” which made me think that the store owner actually wasn’t in on the prank. A weird aside – before they pull off the prank, Jack gives everyone a ski mask, and Jeremy asks about the material of the ski mask because he’s allergic to wool (and a bunch of other things).  Jack tells him not to worry because the ski mask is fake. I didn’t understand this. Maybe he meant it was fake as in a synthetic material, but that still doesn’t make sense to me. A ski mask is still a ski mask. It’s not like someone being robbed would be all, “Hey, wait a minute. This is a prank! That’s not a real ski mask!”  But I digress. The group goes through with the robbery, but as they’re entering the store Jack slips a gun in Poppy’s hand, and she ends up shooting and apparently killing the store owner when she sees him going for his gun. After the incident, Poppy feels extremely guilty and decides to turn herself in to the police, specifically Manny’s brother Benny.  Benny and Poppy go to the store… and the store owner is there! Alive and totally fine! Turns out he was in on the prank all along, as was the rest of the Shadyside Shade. And it was actually Jack and Rose’s idea because they’ve actually been dating this whole time behind Poppy’s back. You know who else was in on it – Office Benny! That’s right – a police officer was totally fine with a group of kids filming a fake robbery in which one of the kids thinks she kills someone.  I guess that makes sense – these are the same police that had no problems with the same kids staging a fake car accident in which multiple cars exploded. Also, let’s not just skip past the fact that the couple behind this prank are Jack and Rose. The star-crossed Titanic lovers are reunited, and they’re bigger and badder than ever!

So now to the core of the story – the big revenge!  Which doesn’t start until page 240 of a 328-page book.  And remember all of those classmates that start turning up dead?  Yeah, it was just two people. Ivy gets acid put in her shampoo but lives; Jeremy has his room filled with hornets who sting him to death ( remember he’s allergic to everything – a My Girl moment); and Rose gets strangled just before taking the stage for her lead role in the rescheduled school play.  But that’s the extent of the revenge. It’s almost as if Stine remembered “oh yeah, that’s what this book is supposed to be about.”  Another thing – I’m pretty sure that Fear Street isn’t even mentioned until page 262, and even then it’s just a throwaway mention about Keith, Poppy’s ex-boyfriend, thinking about death a lot ever since moving to Fear Street.  Maybe this was another “oh yeah” moment for Stine – I mean this new series is called Return to Fear Street after all.

Let’s skip to the big finale.  The remaining kids, Officer Benny, and another police officer are all together in a room shortly after Rose’s body is discovered.  Poppy (in all of her brilliance) and her sister Heather decide they know the perfect way to get the real killer to confess – Poppy confesses to the acid attack and murders, but then Heather steps in and says that she’s the real killer, and she stabs Poppy in the chest with a knife.  And then Keith confesses that he did everything because he wasn’t good enough for Poppy and because nobody wanted to get to know him. Can’t imagine why? When it comes out that the stabbing was staged, Poppy explains, “We figured if we confessed, the real culprit wouldn’t be able to just stand by.”  I’ve watched a lot of Investigation Discovery shows in my lifetime (there’s actually one on in the background as I’m writing this), and this has to be the dumbest plan to get someone to confess that I’ve ever heard of. First off, there’s two armed police officers in the room, so Heather basically risked her life by pretending to stab someone right in front of them.  Second, what if Keith had been all, “Hey, I’ll just let one of them take the fall. This worked about better than I could’ve imagined!” All the evidence pointed at either Heather or Poppy anyway – a bottle of jewelry cleaner containing acid is missing from their home; Jeremy was killed by hornets and Poppy and Heather’s mother just happens to be an entomologist who’s doing a study on hornets; and Rose gets strangled with a scarf and it’s mentioned a few times in the book how wearing scarves is Poppy’s “thing.”  So, Poppy and Heather’s idea to get the real culprit to confess was pretty stupid. But hey, in the world of Fear Street it worked perfectly. By the way, the whole stabbing-and-confession thing happens in the last seven pages. A whole lot of ridiculous buildup for an even more ridiculous conclusion.

In case you can’t tell, I really didn’t like The Wrong Girl.  And I actually left some things out of this post for the sake of time, space, and my sanity.  I gave this book a 1/4 rating on Goodreads. I would’ve given a lower rating if I could, but you can’t give a half-star rating and giving no rating at all is equivalent to not voting – your voice won’t be heard.  And I wanted my voice to be heard loud and clear! The next installment in the Return to Fear Street Series is called Drop Dead Gorgeous, and it’s set to be released in February 2019.  Here’s a look at the cover:

Screen Shot 2018-10-16 at 10.10.20 PM

They say the third time’s the charm, so maybe we’ll have better results with the next installment.  Thankfully, I don’t have to find out until next year. So next month I’ll be going Back to Fear Street to review Ski Weekend, the tenth entry in the original Fear Street series.  These last two books of the new series have left a bitter taste in my mouth, but I’m looking forward to going back to the original series.  I’ve had better luck with those and they’re less than 200 pages so any suffering is swift!

Before I go, I’d like to end on a good note and recommend some fun reads that are perfect for the Halloween season – The Ruins by Scott Smith; The Amulet by Michael McDowell; My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix; The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon; NOS4A2 by Joe Hill; Seize the Night: New Tales of Vampiric Terror, an anthology with multiple contributors; Midnight Movie by Tobe Hooper; and Let the Right One In and Little Star by John Ajvide Lindqvist.  And some suggestions for you comic readers – Kill or Be Killed by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips; I Hate Fairyland by Skottie Young; Harrow County by Cullen Bunn and Tyler Crook; Outcast by Robert Kirkman and Paul Azaceta; Chilling Adventures of Sabrina by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Robert Hack; and American Vampire by Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque.  I could recommend many more books and comics, but these are the ones that came to mind.  I can guarantee you’ll enjoy any of these more than The Wrong Girl!

Have a happy (and spooky) Halloween, and I’ll see you in November!

Back to Fear Street #1, The New Girl and #2, The Surprise Party


Back to Fear Street – #1, The New Girl and #2, The Surprise Party

It’s a new year, and I have a new resolution.  My resolution doesn’t involve improving my health and physical well-being or becoming a better, nicer person.  No, my resolution is something I think I can actually pull off – reading at least two Fear Street books a month, in order, and blogging about them!  Fear Street is a teenage horror series written by R.L. Stine that started in 1989 and continues to this day.  In fact, a new installment in the series, Return to Fear Street: You May Now Kill the Bride, will be out in August 2018.  You might also recognize Stine’s name from his other series, particularly Goosebumps and Mostly Ghostly.  The Fear Street series targeted an older audience and basically dealt with strange, mysterious, and often terrifying happenings that occurred in the fictional city of Shadyside, Ohio, which involved teenagers who lived either on or around Fear Street.  I used to read Fear Street books all the time in the early 90’s and haven’t read any of them in probably over twenty years.  So I was interested in re-exploring them for nostalgia’s sake but also interested in seeing how they hold up when read through the eyes of a soon-to-be 36-year-old.  I’m not planning on giving away any spoilers but just giving my opinion on whether the books hold up. I can do this!  So let’s go!

The New Girl (Fear Street, #1)  – The first book in the Fear Street series is The New Girl.  It’s about a teenage boy, Cory Brooks, who falls for a mysterious new girl at his school.  The girl lives on Fear Street (yes, there’s an actual Fear Street named after a family who changed their name from Fier to Fear), and the story follows Cory’s adventures in trying to figure out who she is all while receiving threatening messages telling him to stay away from her.  On Goodreads, I gave this book 2/5 stars, and here’s why.  The premise was interesting enough, and it’s been so long since I’ve read this book that I had forgotten the twist ending.  However, the book is only 168 pages, which leaves little room for real character development, especially when there are so many other characters involved. This is something I didn’t notice when reading Fear Street as a kid – that the books are so short.  Most seem to be less than 180 pages.  So lack of character development may be an ongoing issue as I go through this series again.  Another issue with the book being so short is that it moves very swiftly to the conclusion, which means that characters, particularly our main character, have to make decisions that seem a bit ridiculous.  For example, on more than one occasion Cory goes to Fear Street in the middle of the night because he gets a call from this mysterious new girl who he doesn’t even really know.  Now, I know he’s a teenager and therefore prone to make stupid decisions, so maybe this is less a flaw of the book and more of me reading through the eyes of a somewhat mature adult.

My biggest issue, however, with The New Girl actually has to do with some very unnecessary updates.  The edition of the book I read is from 2006, and for some reason someone decided that updates needed to be made for newer, younger readers.  For example, in one scene Cory is listening to an iPod, whereas in the original he was listening to a Walkman.  Some other examples include Cory’s best friend renting The Lord of the Rings (which I assumed was a reference to the Peter Jackson movie) and a school dance playing songs by Missy Elliot and Kanye West.  I don’t remember the songs originally included in the book, but a look at Billboard’s Top 100 Hot Songs of 1989 included “Smooth Criminal” by Michael Jackson,  “My Prerogative” by Bobby Brown, “Miss You Much” by Janet Jackson, and “Bust a Move” by Young MC, so yeah I’ll take those please!  These updates took me out of the story because they were unnecessary.  People read books all the time that were written years before they were born and include references that they might not understand.  Plus, updating is a slippery slope.  The book includes Missy Elliot, Kanye West and iPods but makes no mention of cell phones.  Also, our main characters have to make a special trip to the library just to use the computer, which I’m pretty sure was a less common activity in 2006 than it was in 1989 when the book was originally written.  Now that I’m aware of these updates, I’ll try to stick to the original versions.

Overall, The New Girl was a decent first outing, and it kept my interest enough to make me want to continue my return to Fear Street and kept me on my toes as to the twist ending.  Plus, the mere fact that I was rereading a book from one of my favorite childhood series really made this an enjoyable read despite some of its issues.  So on to the next…

The Surprise Party (Fear Street, #2) – This book was also written in 1989, and the copy I have is an original, so no weird updates to report.  The premise is that our main character, Meg Dalton, decides to throw a surprise party for an old friend who’s coming back to town.  This friend was also the girlfriend of a guy who accidentally shot himself in the woods…or did he?  Meg gets threatening messages telling her to call off the party (I’m thinking threatening messages might be a common occurrence in the Fear Street series), but instead of giving in she becomes more determined than ever to throw the party.  I liked The Surprise Party a bit more than The New Girl, so I gave it 3/5 stars on Goodreads.  I thought it had a much better twist ending that I didn’t see coming at all, and unlike The New Girl, parts of the story were told from one of the antagonist’s perspective, which I thought added an extra layer of mystery.  There were more characters in The Surprise Party than The New Girl, and many of the characters had their own secrets that get revealed at the end.  Another plus with this book is that our main character from The New Girl, Cory Brooks, and his best friend make a few appearances.  Because this series centers around a particular street in a particular town, it would make sense for there to be some recurring characters.  This gives the series a more insular feel and makes me feel like I’m not just picking up another Fear Street book but actually going back to Fear Street to see what the kids have gotten into this time.  I somehow missed this when I read these books as a kid (probably because I read them out of order and also had to keep up with The Baby-Sitters Club and the Sweet Valley High crew), so I’ll make sure to keep a lookout for it in future books.  Overall, The Surprise Party was a much more compelling story with way more plot twists than The New Girl, so a much better outing the second time around.

So far, my return to Fear Street is off to an exciting start, and the high nostalgia factor has been worth it alone.  Seeing old covers online of the Fear Street books I had as a child is nice but when I finally get an actual copy, and better yet an original copy, it’s a pretty cool experience.  I thought I had left Fear Street behind over twenty years ago, so it’s nice to know I can always go back.  My trip down memory lane will continue next month!  Until then…

Kia is a cohost of the Half Assed Horror Cast. Her favorite horror novel is Scott Smith’s ‘The Ruins,’ fave slasher is Freddy Krueger, and her favorite TV show of all time is ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer.’