Vacations from Hell: With Comments from Steph and Yash!

Hello! Yash and Steph here. We haven’t done “buddy reads” yet, so forgive us if it feels a little clunky (we’re still working on it!). We thought we should give buddy posts a try before we reach our one year anniversary! Expect a few more of these and hopefully up to one a month from now on.

vacationsfromhell

The back cover copy on this text reads:

“[S]upernatural tales of vacations gone awry. Lost luggage is only mildly unpleasant compared to bunking with a witch who holds a grudge. And a sunburn might be embarrassing and painful, but it doesn’t last as long as a curse. Of course, even in the most hellish of situations, love can thrive. . . .

From light and funny to dark and creepy, these stories have something for everyone. You definitely won’t want to leave this collection at home!”

Steph

The selling feature on this book was a short story by Libba Bray. That and it sounded like it was going to be fun, campy, random — and all the other authors are well known and renowned YA writers. So, I thought I’d give it a go.

Well, I have to say, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. So when, after I’d read the first two stories I realized that I was clearly reading “chicklit” I was a little bemused, but mostly irritated. The cover for this book has pretty much nothing to do with the content and the description on the back also makes no mention of the intended audience – should I have just known? The author’s should have given it away?

Anyway, I didn’t see it coming but this book definitely fell under the category of stories written for prepubescent females – the give-away? The blatant objectification of the men in these stories. Almost all of the stories features a female protagonist with some sort of power while she tries to get a boy, or boys are simply objects that pass by in the story. It was really… odd for me to read, but that’s probably because I haven’t read much chicklit at all (is Chicklit even an acceptable term?). The exception here is Bray’s story, the one I read the anthology for, her story is the only one that features a male protagonist. Of course he is a funny “friend-zoned” character, but still it was refreshing after the other four stories. This anthology only consists of 5 short stories, and so they all read more like novellas (not really short fiction here) and we really dig into the characters and the settings of the Vacations from Hell.

**SPOILERS!**
Cruisin’ by Sarah Mlynowski: For me this was a very low point to start the book. It is basically impossible to give you a review without giving away the whole story. Let me just say that the main character, Kristin, was a little flat and unbelievably naive making the only twist in this story not that hard to figure out. To pick back up on the objectification point I mentioned earlier, in this text Kristin is seeking her “first” (we are meant to believe sexual experience but… well, you can guess what the twist is already?) and the three girls dress up slutty and scope out guys on the cruise ship for the entirety of the story while they dance around the big reveal. On top of that by the time the reveal came around all it did was create inconsistencies within the story and the text itself (for instance, it really wasn’t a hellish vacation for our MC at all…) Anyway, this story gets firm thumbs down from me. The only thing that surprised me was how vapid pretty girls and boys are.

I Don’t Like Your Girlfriend by Claudia Gray: This one I enjoyed a little bit more, though it had the same issue for me with the objectification, or sort of oblivification (making them kind of stupid?) of the guys. Anyway, at the same time that this was an issue for me it was also quite central to the story (and perhaps a little critical of itself, which was refreshing). The story follows a young witch as her family goes on their yearly summer vacation to the cottage (where the girls meet with the coven and the guys (who can’t know anything about witchcraft) go fishing). Overall, this story was pretty light to read, certainly relatable. Cecily, our main character, despises another member of the coven who is also a young witch, Kathleen. Kathleen brings her boyfriend along this summer and Cecily can’t help but begin to fall for him. There are some funny moments that follow and … I won’t say any more. I liked the characters and their relationships with each other, despite it being a short story the family relationships were well flushed out. The issue with the boyfriend being at the centre of the story was well balanced by the girls’ strong characters. The ending was not very shocking, but I’m not compelled to give it away, so it was satisfactory.

The Law of Suspects by Maureen Johnson: This is the first of Maureen Johnson that I have ever read *hides from the barrage of surprised looks* and I have to say that I … well, I enjoyed aspects of it. This fell more on the horror story spectrum and certainly succeeded with the weird and hellish factor. Charlie, another female protagonist, and her sister are sent to France on vacation to visit and uncle who is too busy to show them Paris and so, much to their chagrin, sends them to the French countryside (a little long and involved (and unbelievable) for a short story set up, and really, did they need to be in France? Whatever, that’s what we got). We get to know the two girls pretty well by the time the story really gets going and we learn about the “law of suspects”. This story, once it was going, felt very Tarantino-esque with it’s gore and circumstance. Again there is some shameless male objectification but generally with a macabre twist, so that was ok. The conclusion to this story was the best one in the collection, poignant and darkly funny. The writing style was also wonderful, I could see and smell all that gore.

The Mirror House by Cassandra Clare: It is well known among my friends that I am not a Cassandra Clare fan. This story… was meh. I truly enjoyed parts of it: the setting was phenomenally described and realized, and the villain was very well written as well (creepy…). We follow Violet, whose mother just got married to a semi/very abusive man named Phillip, as she endeavours to save her new brother-in-law from Mrs. Palmer. There was a lot going on in this story, Violet and Evan have semi-incestuous relations, Phillip is a big issue and I’m not sure how comfortable I was with how the situation was handled. Violet’s mother turned into a total wuss and neither Evan nor Violet (even when they could they just set the idea aside) stood up to Philip and for me that made me like them less. The ending was a great idea, but it felt unfinished. Ending on an interesting sinister note (that felt awesome but raised more issues) was appealing, but I think it could have been wrapped up a little nicer with a “four weeks later” or an epilogue of a paragraph or two… I felt like the story needed it, particularly with regards to Philip.

Nowhere is Safe by Libba Bray: Awesome. This was the story that I read the whole anthology for and it was WAY worth it. Now, that’s not to say it didn’t have it’s own flaws, but it managed to be scary, it fulfilled the “vacation from hell” theme, and in Libba Bray fashion the POV provided the humour and created a more or less believable setting and ambience. I particularly enjoyed the play with the form of the story, it is meant to be a YouTube video, and the deft way with which Bray deals with racism. We follow Poe, the only Male protagonist and on top of that he is a POC. Poe is voyaging with his best friend Izie (African-American girl) her new boyfriend John (rich White Boy) and Baz (John’s cousin) – all the characters were fun and quirky, really enjoyable to read. The four friends are backpacking through Europe and find their way to Necuratul for an ancient festival. Anyway, adventure ensues, it is only slightly predictable and overall, very fun to read. The ending left me with the feeling that this could be the start of a series of stories that would follow Poe the demon hunter…

Yash

Okay, so, I pretty much knew what I was getting into. Or, I thought I did. I knew there was going to be an element of “chick-lit” to it- which doesn’t bother me much, given some of the writers I enjoy (and trust) have penned these stories. And given the title, I knew there would be some horror. What I didn’t expect was the fun subversion of romance tropes in favour of horror tropes. I quite enjoyed it. (For the record: I don’t think female gaze is a bad thing, especially when romance and horror both often make use of male gaze. This is a welcome change in my opinion.) And, all in all, I think Vacations from Hell is quite a nice read* for when you’re on a flight, your head is pounding, and that guy next to you just won’t stop falling asleep on your shoulder. It’s time to leave the cares of regular vacations behind.

“Cruisin'” by Sarah Mlynowski: I actually enjoyed it. It’s like the short story version of the first five minutes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It has some incredibly funny lines too, that become even funnier … given the ending. I like that, whichever plot you are following (romance or the horror), the girls are the ones in positions of power. They dress up how they want, pick the guys they think are “suitable”, and they get what they want to get. I don’t mean to be vague because if you haven’t seen the first five minutes of Buffy, I think you might enjoy this one.

“I Don’t Like Your Girlfriend” by Claudia Gray: Hmm. This one was not my favourite. The protagonist’s dislike of her fellow coven member is funny at first, and then this hatred devolves into something absurd and, frankly, annoying. Maybe I just got very used to female friendships by the time the first story was over, but I don’t I ever enjoy when a protagonist is extra motivated in her quest to take down “competition/the mean girl” because there’s a guy who might possibly be perfect for her. It’s not a great motivation. It’s not fun to read. Not for me anyway. I will, however, admit that the ending made me giggle.

“The Law of Suspects” by Maureen Johnson: Fun fact: Maureen Johnson co-authored the French Revolution chapter of The Bane Chronicles too. So, I’m just going to assume that this is a piece of world history that she’s pro at or simply loves to research, maybe? Anyway, this is the first story in the collection to make me laugh aloud- it’s a gift that Johnson has. Even the scary bits were funny and ridiculous, and yes, I agree with Steph- a bit Tarantino-esque. I, admittedly, saw the ending coming BUT it was thoroughly enjoyable nonetheless. I really loved how History and (personal) history collided to create a chilling story. Also, Johnson nailed the balance between “romance” and horror. Definitely one of my favourite short stories from the collection.

“The Mirror House” by Cassandra Clare: Unlike Steph, everyone knows I adore Cassandra Clare. I didn’t, however, adore this story. I think Cassie Clare’s strength lies in world creation and character building. Over the many Shadowhunter Chronicles the fantastical world and its inhabitants are meticulously developed. These elements do not come through in this medium. I did enjoy the story behind the Big Bad of this story. I actually had fun figuring out who the actual Big Bad was- was it Anne or Philip? It isn’t really resolved in the end, and I kinda like it that way.

“Nowhere Is Safe” by Libba Bray: I have to agree with Steph. This one is gold. I love the group of friends and the mess they get into. I love the twist in the story. And yes, yet another History-and-history type story that adds to the creep factor. I also love that the main character is Poe and is a POC. I love the way Libba Bray handles sexism and racism. I actually wish this was a real YouTube series by Libba Bray with maybe Yulin Kuang directing it?