Review: Final Girls by Riley Sager

Published by Random House UK, Ebury Publishing

5 stars

Synopsis:

Ten years ago, college student Quincy Carpenter went on vacation with five friends and came back alone, the only survivor of a horror movie–scale massacre. In an instant, she became a member of a club no one wants to belong to—a group of similar survivors known in the press as the Final Girls. Lisa, who lost nine sorority sisters to a college dropout’s knife; Sam, who went up against the Sack Man during her shift at the Nightlight Inn; and now Quincy, who ran bleeding through the woods to escape Pine Cottage and the man she refers to only as Him. The three girls are all attempting to put their nightmares behind them, and, with that, one another. Despite the media’s attempts, they never meet.

Now, Quincy is doing well—maybe even great, thanks to her Xanax prescription. She has a caring almost-fiancé, Jeff; a popular baking blog; a beautiful apartment; and a therapeutic presence in Coop, the police officer who saved her life all those years ago. Her memory won’t even allow her to recall the events of that night; the past is in the past.

That is, until Lisa, the first Final Girl, is found dead in her bathtub, wrists slit, and Sam, the second, appears on Quincy’s doorstep. Blowing through Quincy’s life like a whirlwind, Sam seems intent on making Quincy relive the past, with increasingly dire consequences, all of which makes Quincy question why Sam is really seeking her out. And when new details about Lisa’s death come to light, Quincy’s life becomes a race against time as she tries to unravel Sam’s truths from her lies, evade the police and hungry reporters, and, most crucially, remember what really happened at Pine Cottage, before what was started ten years ago is finished.


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**Thank you NetGalley for a complimentary copy of this title in exchange for an honest review**

YES! So much YES!

This book feels like it picks up at the end of a horror film, the bloodstained heroine survives a terrible ordeal and we join her 10 years later when she’s coming to terms with the fact that she’ll have to spend the rest of her life as a ‘final girl’.
Final girls are doomed to become media fodder every time a similar event crops up and the target of weirdos and fetishists, while they try to recover from the trauma of their past.

In this case, Quincy’s doing a pretty good job. She has an income, a strong relationship with her boyfriend Jeff and a future that doesn’t feature any more horror.

The synopsis of this book tells you what’s going on, so no need for me to add any more here or I’ll spoil the fun. I will, however, say that it’s nothing like anything you’ve ever read before. What I enjoyed the most is how Sager has written very complex and developed characters – everyone has a good and a bad side in this book, they’re capable of anything and that’s what keeps the tension going until the very last page.

Sager builds nail biting tension throughout this book, combining the art of the unreliable narrator and characters with everything to hide. I didn’t have a clue how this book was going to end right up until the final chapter and it was BRILLIANT.

Quincy is very easy to connect to as a main character, she’s understandably a neurotic mess after everything that’s happened but she’s moving forward and trying to keep herself together. She’s not a perfect human being, she’s a little too reliant on Xanax and red wide, and she has a fiery temper but she’s doing the best with what she has.

When Sam sweeps into town and forces her to dredge up the past, things start to get messy. The dynamic between the two characters is fascinating, it’s completely unhealthy from the very start but they’ve both survived the most unimaginable hell at the hands of other people and know that the other can understand them.

There’s not a hell of a lot else I can say about this book really other than that I loved it and hope that this author has more books up her sleeve along the lines of this one! She’s come up with an entirely original concept and, as far as I’m concerned, written the story in the best way possible.

If you’re a horror film, thriller or murder mystery aficionado: this book will rock your world. It’s the ultimate survivor’s story, which left me with that ‘you go girl!’ feeling at the end.

Review: A Mother’s Reckoning by Sue Klebold

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Published by Crown

5 stars

Synopsis:

On April 20, 1999, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold walked into Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. Over the course of minutes, they would kill twelve students and a teacher and wound twenty-four others before taking their own lives.

For the last sixteen years, Sue Klebold, Dylan’s mother, has lived with the indescribable grief and shame of that day. How could her child, the promising young man she had loved and raised, be responsible for such horror? And how, as his mother, had she not known something was wrong? Were there subtle signs she had missed? What, if anything, could she have done differently?

These are questions that Klebold has grappled with every day since the Columbine tragedy. In A Mother’s Reckoning, she chronicles with unflinching honesty her journey as a mother trying to come to terms with the incomprehensible. In the hope that the insights and understanding she has gained may help other families recognize when a child is in distress, she tells her story in full, drawing upon her personal journals, the videos and writings that Dylan left behind, and on countless interviews with mental health experts.

Filled with hard-won wisdom and compassion, A Mother’s Reckoning is a powerful and haunting book that sheds light on one of the most pressing issues of our time. And with fresh wounds from the recent Newtown and Charleston shootings, never has the need for understanding been more urgent.

All author profits from the book will be donated to research and to charitable organizations focusing on mental health issues.


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**Thank you NetGalley for a complimentary copy of this title in exchange for an honest review**

I started this book just before Christmas and had to read it in small chunks ever since. It’s a tough read and broke my heart on every page.

I don’t normally read more than one book at a time but I needed to punctuate this book with some lighter stuff because it was dragging me down into depression. There’s a trigger warning for you right there: take caution in reading this book if you suffer from depression or suicidal thoughts.
This book is the heart wrenching memoir by the mother of a high school shooter. Sue Klebold was an ordinary mother, she was attentive and involved in her son’s everyday life but she didn’t pick up on the subtle signs which could have shown her what her son was planning.

This book explores that very fact, highlighting how difficult it is to see into the mind of another human being if they choose to hide something, in this case- depression. Dylan’s parents had no idea that he was suicidally depressed for years before he took catastrophic action, and I for one believe that there’s no way they could have known without specialist advice. Unless you’re looking at your loved ones and specifically for signs of suicidal or homicidal thoughts, how  would you spot those signs? How many of us look at children and wonder if they’re thinking about killing themselves or others?

I believe her when she says that Dylan was an empathetic and compassionate teenager. It doesn’t absolve him of anything that he did, but it does shine a new light on matters – a kind and thoughtful teenager can still do these things. Posthumously, Dylan has been diagnosed with various mental conditions which can never be definitively proven but seem very likely.
Klebold uses the term ‘brain health’ a lot in this book rather than ‘mental health’ and makes an excellent point: ‘mental health’ is made to sound so ethereal, as if any illness or diagnosis would be questionable. Whereas with ‘brain health’ is sounds more grounded in fact – we believe in high blood pressure and know that it could cause a heart attack, we should believe in chemical imbalances in the brain that could cause irrational behaviour too. It’s a purely psychological use of the term, but it makes a good point.

This book packs a hell of a punch and does discuss tragedy, grief, depression and suicide in great but essential detail. My heart broke for Sue (I don’t normally use authors’ first names, but this book feels so much like reading someone’s diary that you lose a bit of formality along the way) over and over again,

Sue Klebold has not written this book for financial gain, donating all proceeds to brain health charities. She hasn’t written it to protest her innocence or to beg forgiveness, she’s poured her heart out on a page to tell other people what the signs were that she’d missed in her own son and overall:

‘Anyone can be suicidal. Don’t assume that you and your loved ones are safe, so educate yourself and be aware of the people around you.’

Review: Sister, Sister by Sue Fortin

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Published by HarperImpulse

3 stars

Synopsis:

From the bestselling author of The Girl Who Lied

Alice: Beautiful, kind, manipulative, liar.

Clare: Intelligent, loyal, paranoid, jealous.

Clare thinks Alice is a manipulative liar who is trying to steal her life.
Alice thinks Claire is jealous of her long-lost return and place in their family.

One of them is telling the truth. The other is a maniac.
Two sisters. One truth.


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**Thank you to NetGalley for a complimentary copy of this title in exchange for an honest review**

At some point I’m going to have to admit to myself that I’ve watched too much TV and read too many books to be easily surprised, even by the most suspenseful and well written thrillers (this book is worthy of those accreditations).

Sue Fortin is a talented suspense writer, setting the scene powerfully from the start when Clare is stuck in a hospital bed after some kind of accident, we don’t know the details but we know she’s in some way responsible.
After this description, we’re thrown back a few weeks to a time just before Clare is reunited with her long-lost sister. We know that Alice grew up in America after their father took her away 20 years ago, leaving Clare and her mother behind in the UK. They’ve been searching for Alice the whole time and are delighted when she makes contact.

Alice ingratiates herself into the family immediately and Clare’s hackles are up- but the book explores whether Alice is up to something nefarious or if Clare is losing her mind under the shock of family having her family back together again after so long. One thing’s for sure –all is not what it seems.

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Clare wasn’t a particularly likable protagonist, she’s spectacularly selfish and doesn’t spare much thought for the people closest to her. She’s incredibly petty, you get a feeling that she’s smug about being the main breadwinner for her family but also, she gets a kick out of her children making a fuss over her, at the expense of her husband’s feelings.
I can’t help but think that everyone is so quick to believe that Clare is either losing her mind or just acting like a bitch for no reason, that there must be some kind of track record of shitty behaviour on her part.
This was the bit that I struggled to suspend my disbelief with, the only thing that stood between me and 100% enjoyment of this book – I’m too cynical for my own good!

If you’re a fan of thrillers and suspense, particularly from a domestic view (rather than police, spies and secret agents) then I would recommend you pick this book up. It’s so well written that you’ll struggle to put it down!

Review: The Witchfinder’s Sister by Beth Underdown

328602545 stars

Synopsis: 

The number of women my brother Matthew killed, so far as I can reckon it, is one hundred and six…

1645. When Alice Hopkins’ husband dies in a tragic accident, she has no choice but to return to the small Essex town of Manningtree, where her brother Matthew still lives.

But home is no longer a place of safety. Matthew has changed, and there are rumours spreading through the town: whispers of witches, and of a great book, in which her brother is gathering women’s names.

To what lengths will her brother’s obsession drive him?
And what choice will Alice make, when she finds herself at the very heart of his plan?


 

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**Thank you to Netgalley for a complimentary copy of this title in exchange for an honest review**

This book was all the best things that you can find in a historical fiction novel.

It immediately appealed to me because the 1600s witch hunting is a phenomenon that has always intrigued me, probably due to my own pagan leanings. This book was everything that I hoped that it would be and more.

Firstly, the book is told from the perspective of Alice, fictional sister of Matthew Hopkins the infamous witch finder general. It’s a story about the lives of women from the perspective of a woman, it talks about being at the mercy of the men in their lives and other factors which made them vulnerable to accusations of witchcraft.

Alice is an excellent narrator for this story, she’s a kind, educated woman who has lost everything she once future on. She’s returned home after the loss of her husband and is now at the mercy of her unstable younger brother who has moved up in the world in her absence. What makes her so perfect is that she is part of the proceedings while at the same time set apart from them so that she can see everything that’s going on.

Underdown is a storytelling genius, she’s a master of the art of subtlety and has found the perfect balance to make the language come across as authentic without being face meltingly dull as I’ve learnt to be wary of in historical fiction. She weaves in some of the possible psychological causes of the witch hunts, ranging from grief over the loss of a child, mental illness, fear and greed. The most interesting part for me was when Alice, even tempered narrator that she is, was jealous enough of another woman that she couldn’t fully disagree with her being accused of witchcraft.

This book kept my attention all the way through, the second half picked up the pace and shifted from ‘sad’ to ‘downright traumatic’ as Hopkins’ activities start to escalate and people just let him destroy the peace in their villages and torment their most vulnerable women. What makes it so harrowing to read is that the author has clearly done her homework on the history… which means that these events are based on a true story. Regardless of motive or the specifics, dozens of women were tortured, abused and hanged for witchcraft during this time frame.

If you like historical fiction or have even a passing interest in the 1600s witch hunts, pick up this book and read where it all began before the hysteria travelled overseas to Salem, Massachusetts. From this point on, I’ll be picking up anything written by Beth Underdown and relishing it!

Review: Confrontation with Evil by Steven A. LaChance

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Published by Llewellyn Publications

2-stars

Synopsis:

For Steven A. LaChance, the possession case that inspired The Exorcist has always felt . . . incomplete. In this book, he shows how the official account crumbles under scrutiny, revealing instead a story of familial horror and spiritual corruption that implicates the highest levels of the Catholic Church.

Known as the 1949 St. Louis Exorcism, the harrowing story of a possessed child and his terrified family was immortalized in The Exorcist. While theories and rumors about the case abound, none of them explain how a young child could have been possessed to the degree described in Father Raymond Bishop’s infamous diary.

Join Steven A. LaChance—author, investigator, and himself the survivor of a long-term demonic attack—as he shares shocking evidence for how seemingly benign events progressed into a full-blown demonic possession. While the conventional story is that the boy brought the infestation upon himself, this book presents an alternative interpretation and provides new insights into the nature of possession itself. As LaChance gains access to a secret location that plays a crucial role in the story, he sheds new light on how the exorcism’s bizarre aftermath continues to haunt the city of St. Louis and the Catholic Church to this day.


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Due for release 8th of February 2017

**Thank you to NetGalley for a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review**

This book and I didn’t get on.

The author ‘investigates’ the original case which inspired the 1970s film ‘The Exorcist’. In 1949, a 14-year-old boy begins exhibiting strange behaviour which was associated with demon possession. His mother contacts the Catholic church to help the situation, leading to a long process of exorcisms and church intervention.

This would have been fascinating to me if the author wasn’t so hellbent on pushing his own agenda – instead of taking a balanced approach to his investigation and even entertaining the possibility that demon possession wasn’t the case (even if you believe in the idea of demon possession, you would have to consider whether or not this was the case in this instance), he bends all of the supposed facts to prove his point.

Early on in the book, I knew that I wasn’t going to get on with the ideas that I would be reading when the author states that demon possession is often mistakenly diagnosed as mental illness. Firstly, is there a more literal way of demonising mental illnesses?!
Secondly, there was no mention of this boy having been taken to see a doctor at all anyway. Sure, it was 1949 and he probably wouldn’t have had a great diagnosis or treatment but I like to think that it would have been less cruel than what he did have to endure.

The author estimates that he was seen by 48 different priests during the period of his ‘possession’, during this time he was physically restrained, slapped and even ‘slugged’ which I assume to mean that a priest punched him in the face. Yes. A priest. Punched a 14-year-old boy. In the face.

I wasn’t able to detect any feeling of pity for the kid either, or even the suggestion that this treatment was wrong. Sure, there was the accusation that his mother had sold his soul to the devil in order to find out where his deceased aunt had left her fortune and that some of the priests took the wrong approach in their exorcisms – but the author didn’t really consider any other treatment for the boy other than the religious.

I’m pretty open minded when it comes to the supernatural, I believe that there are indeed more things in our heaven and earth than dreamt of in our science… but I think that in this case, I would struggle to believe in demon possession unless the poor boy had been fully evaluated by a mental health expert. Even then, the diagnosis and treatment of mental illnesses wasn’t exactly sophisticated back in 1949 (it’s still got a long way to go today!) so it would have taken a more convincing book than this to make me think the boy was possessed.

All this said, the writing style is compelling and well paced – it’s the content that got me riled up. Had I known ahead of time that this was a religious read, I would have given it a swerve. If you’re a believer or a fan of religious investigations, this may well be the book for you.

Review: My Viking Vampire by Krystal Shannan

 

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Published by KS Publishing

3 stars

Synopsis:

Bailey Ross’ world is crumbling around her. Her abusive ex, a human, is closing in on her again, and to make matters worse, a new enemy, a djinn, is stalking her. This supernatural being takes great pleasure in human pain, something Bailey has in excess thanks to her ex. If she’s caught by either, she’s as good as dead.

Backed into a corner and desperate to escape, she does something she swore wouldn’t ever be possible again –trusting a man. And he’s a vampire.

Protection via the sexy vampire Erick Thorson may prove to be a little more than she bargained for. Sparks fly between them and she finds herself agreeing to more than just protection. Though he has promised not to let anyone harm her, the small west Texas town is more than it seems and he may not be able to make good on his vow no matter how hard he tries.

Will Sanctuary be the home Bailey longs for or will she have to die to find out?


 

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The literary equivalent of popcorn – this book is fluffy, light, delicious, contains little to no nutritional value and like popcorn: I NEED MORE.

This book was a compulsive read, I read it cover to cover within a couple of hours and then shook it upside down to see if any more crumbs of vampiric deliciousness would fall out.

The beginning of this book made me chuckle, there was very little preamble as our main characters are thrown together and their story together begins. By ‘very little’, I mean there was almost no scene setting at all so it does take a few minutes to piece together what’s going on and accept there wouldn’t be any satisfactory explanation.

It works out OK though, we get the barest hint of backstory and then join Bailey and Erick on the bus to Sanctuary, a small town inhabited by supernatural creatures who have joined together to form a new society. Of course, there’s romance, prophecy and magic to follow.
I love meeting loads of characters with a variety of supernatural powers, it’s my catnip to see what magical powers and paranormal beasties authors have picked out of their imagination to use.

Bailey isn’t the strongest of strong female leads, she puts up a token fight but ultimately allows the new menfolk in her acquaintance to take charge of the situation and protect her. The only reason that this doesn’t drive me insane is because the men in question aren’t strictly human and have several centuries on her.

This book is the first in a series, it looks like the following books will be following different characters in the town of Sanctuary rather than focusing on the same characters. Seeing as there’s an abundance of supernatural hotties in the town, some of whom run a kink club, there will be plenty of opportunities for more sexytimes and love stories!

This genre of books is one of my greatest vices, I could just live off the stuff and can’t stop myself from collecting free copies from my daily BookBub emails.

If you’re looking for a series to fill the void left by Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse series, this might be a good place to start.

Review: Children of the Dark by Jonathan Janz

Published by Sinister Grin Press

5 starsSynopsis:

Will Burgess is used to hard knocks. Abandoned by his father, son of a drug-addicted mother, and charged with raising his six-year-old sister, Will has far more to worry about than most high school freshmen. To make matters worse, Mia Samuels, the girl of Will’s dreams, is dating his worst enemy, the most sadistic upperclassman at Shadeland High. Will’s troubles, however, are just beginning.

Because one of the nation’s most notorious criminals—the Moonlight Killer—has escaped from prison and is headed straight toward Will’s hometown. And something else is lurking in Savage Hollow, the forest surrounding Will’s rundown house. Something ancient and infinitely evil. When the worst storm of the decade descends on Shadeland, Will and his friends must confront unfathomable horrors. Everyone Will loves—his mother, his little sister, Mia, and his friends—will be threatened.

And very few of them will escape with their lives.


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**Thank you to the author for a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review**

Top notch horror featuring teenage angst, creepy campfire story monsters and bad parenting.

I could sense a strong influence by Stephen King throughout this novel, particularly in the way Janz tells his story through the eyes of a teenager in an unfair world without coming across as whiny or annoying. It reminds you of your own adolescence and how intense everything was back then – friendships, crushes, family, murderous monsters. Everything!

The main character, Will, is a 15 year old boy with more troubles than your usual teen but he’s a decent boy and works his hardest to manage his responsibilities and do right by everyone.
He’s a likable character and you really sympathise with his situation because of his attitude, despite being in his awkward teen years, he genuinely adores his little sister and takes the role of caring for her very seriously. He empathises with his peers, even the ones who seem to have made it their life’s ambition to beat the living crap out of them – he’s emotionally mature for his age, but not impossibly so.

This is very much a book of two halves, both halves as good as each other. The first sets the scene, introducing us to all of the major players in the book and instantly making you empathise with all of them even though we’re told right from the beginning that no-one’s safe. This is abundantly clear in the second half when shit gets real and an escaped convict and ancient beasts start their reign of terror on the town of Shadeland.

The funny thing is, the monsters aren’t particularly scary in appearance (at least, not to me) but they still work. I guess it doesn’t matter how scary you look if you’re ripping out someone’s throat.

Every single death in this book has an impact and the action was outstanding, the second half of the book had me riveted. It’s the very definition of a page turner, I finished this book in one very intense sitting and have found myself still thinking about the story today.

The writing style in this book screams intelligence, Janz knows how to spin a good yarn and how to make you care about his characters before he starts ruthlessly ripping them apart. He reminds you of the intensity of being a teenager, so you feel that same angst while you’re reading which is a combination of evil and genius (which go together like rum and coke).

If you like horror novels or have even the slightest literary crush on Stephen King, pick this book up and feast your eyeballs upon it.

 

 

N.B. Kudos to Jonathan Janz for using the words ‘moist flaps’ when referring to a water damaged cardboard box. I may not be mature, but I was amused!