The gist: In the wake of a fatal tragedy, a group of frenemies get together at their favorite summer-time lake house/mansion. Eerie happenings ensue when the a vengeful spirit leaves cryptic messages in the dead of night. Someone or something caused that fire and the culprit might be among them…dum dum duuuuuuuum!
What I liked: Well..to be honest, I didn’t like much about this book except for the cover. When I saw this beautiful hardback on the “Spooky Reads” endcap at BookPeople, I just had to have it! Let’s see…what else? I guess the isolated lake house setting was cool and creepy, but that’s about it.
What irked me: All the bickering!!! Aside from innocent animals getting killed in horror stories (thankfully, that didn’t happen in this one), my biggest pet peeve is incessant bickering and petty arguments amongst insufferable teenagers. While reading this, I kept wondering WTF did these people agree to get together when they clearly despise one another? And why return to the scene of a horrific tragedy? Why not just reunite at, say, a Dave N Busters or something? To be fair, the author answered this question in the very end, and I’m really surprised I even made it that far.
The multiple narrators: This book is primarily told by Chelsea, who is beset by psychological trauma in the aftermath of the fire that killed her childhood friend Emily. Then it flits from one narrator to the next–and good luck trying to tell them all apart because their voices all sound the same. We’ve got the creepy loner guy, Ryan; the rich girl and hostess with the mostest, Kennedy; and Mila, the interloper who nobody wants around except for her problematic boyfriend, Chase. And yes, there is a love triangle. Sorry, just had to warn you in advance…groan.
The whodunnit: In the vein of “I Know What You Did Last Summer,” we’re dealing with a whodunnit involving a dead girl who may or may not have been the victim of premeditated murder. This is probably the best aspect of the entire book, but I pretty much saw the “Gotcha!” plot-twist ending well before the final chapters, so no shockers for me.
Overall: If you’re looking for a campy, spooky lake house mystery, I suggest giving this a pass and picking up “The Lake” by Natasha Preston. Or, if you really want to scare yourself silly with a lake house-themed horror story, I HIGHLY recommend “Where They Wait” by Scott Carson.
Happy Halloween, folks! In honor of our most favorite holiday, my two little goblins CeeCee and Lil Bootz rounded up a dozen more dark and devilish reads for our 13 Books of Halloween extravaganza! Nothing like waiting until the last minute to deliver on our book blogging challenge. You know how it goes, so little time, so many horror books piled up on the TBR stack! Without further ado, here is our bubbling couldren of books filled with ghosts, ghoulies, serial killers and spooky woodland sprites!
The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley
Hold onto your hats and glasses, folks, because this is a wild ride! This is my first foray into Lucy Foley’s books, and I can assure you it won’t be my last! So we all know from the dustcover teaser that this group of friends partying at an isolated snowy lodge on the Scottish moor is doomed. By New Year’s Day, one will be killed, another will be the killer–but who?! They all have deep, dark secrets that slowly unfold as the tensions roll to a simmering boil. These people may look like well-dressed Oxford-educated yuppies, but they are really just MESSED UP! Sit back, get some popcorn and watch the trainwreck unfold.
Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
In a word, the best way to describe my thoughts on this book is CRINGE! Yes, yes, I know that this was written way back in the days when women vacuumed around their husbands’ feet while wearing stilettos and hoopskirts, and this is all just a product of the times. Yet, I still couldn’t help hating Maxim de Winter so, so, SO much—and then there’s his whirlwind lover Rebecca, who expertly played the part of the child bride, emphasis on the word “child.” He speaks to her like an abuser chastising a beaten-down dog, and she just ingratiates herself over and over again. Their dynamic is terrible and awful and repugnant, and I hate it so very, very much. That said, I should give credit where credit is due to the author’s talent for prose, tone and foreshadowing. If the characters weren’t so utterly repulsive, I would have truly adored this Gothic “romance” (I’m using that term lightly since it’s more of a codependent, abusive relationship) with a stunning setting amidst the backdrop of a potentially haunted mansion ran by a creep-tastic battle-axe of a housemaid. Props to Mrs. Danvers for keeping me intrigued! That ol’ bitch got what she deserved in the end–HA!
Scritch Scratch by Lindsay Currie
Sorry, y’all, but his is another flop. The premise is great—a tweenage girl who is trailed by a ghost after joining her father on his haunted bus tour of Chicago. I did like the mystery behind the ghost, which provided some historical insights to an overlooked turn-of-the-century nautical tragedy, yet it did not offset the obnoxiousness that is the main character. This girl is a scientist—and she’ll keep telling you about it ad nauseam. However, I have yet to see her in a lab or doing anything to prove she is indeed a scientist. This is just another problem when authors forget to show, not tell. This girl is also a brat with some serious non-problems. I don’t get why she’s so upset about her father’s super cool ghost touring gig, and why she finds it so humiliating. What’s more, she refuses to go to him for help—a person who would truly believe her haunting—because of nonsensical reasons. Also, the dialogue seemed way too mature for a preteen, so I’m wondering why this was created for middle-grade readers. Either way, I’m over it and moving on to my tried-and-true middle-grade thriller authors.
Closed for the Season by Mary Downing Hahn
This right here might be Mary Downing Hahn’s best piece of work! I love everything about this book—the murder mystery, the secretive small townsfolk, the spooky dilapidated theme park—it’s all good fun! I also just love a summer story involving kids tooling around town on their bikes looking for adventures and mysteries to solve. I really enjoyed watching the friendship flourish between the adorkable boy next door (think Kimmy Kibbler meets Erkle) and the new kid on the block Logan. They make a great crime-solving team, and I really enjoyed tagging along on their adventures!
The Haunting of Ashburn House by Darcy Coates
I’ve attempted to read a couple of books by Darcy Coates but had to DNF due to questionable, undeveloped characters. I wish I could say her shortcomings improved with this book, but alas, it was another dud. To her credit, she paints a great premise with a derelict old mansion, spooky nocturnal noises and unsolved mysteries. However, I have zero interest in any of this when the main character makes ZERO SENSE! How is it that a seemingly intelligent freelance writer cannot scrape together two pennies to even feed herself? I get that her deceased mother had medical expenses, but even in the toughest times, can’t some government programs assist? Like foods stamps, maybe? Also, since her clients aren’t even paying her, why not just get a job in town rather than sitting alone in a house night after night starving to death? I mean, even a low-paying, demeaning custodial job would be better than starvation, no? I just couldn’t make sense out of her situation. I also didn’t understand her lack of curiosity about her new house. It’s HER HOUSE, so why is she tiptoeing around the place like a tentative houseguest? Why isn’t she curious about the many cavernous rooms—hell if she looked around enough, maybe she could find some spare coins to go buy herself a Whopper. I could get into the haunted house part, but I’ll just save you the trouble by advising you to skip this mess. The climax was WAY too insane, and not in a good way. In fact, it was rather laughable, which is not what I want in a scary story.
Survive the Night by Riley Sager
If you’re going to read any of the books on this list, make it this one! Riley Sager is at the top of my list of favorite contemporary authors! Not once have I been let down—and this book might just be the most suspenseful out of them all! Imagine taking a red-eye road trip with a mysterious stranger behind the wheel after your BFF gets murdered by a serial killer on the loose. Through every twist and turn along the dark, desolate icy roads, I was on the edge of my seat wondering who exactly would survive this ill-fated night. This author is a master at character development, almost making me feel like I was the one in the passenger seat doubting my own sanity. Our main character Charlie has some…issues…leading readers to wonder what’s reality and what’s just a “movie in her mind.” I loved the throwback to the mid-90s back when Nirvana dominated the radio waves and cell phone distractions weren’t a thing. I’ll tell you one thing—I’ll never listen to “Come as You Are” the same way again. Such a perfect song for the theme of the book.
The Twisted Ones by T. Kingfisher
Ugh…this was bad, y’all. I found this in the horror section, yet I think it needs to be moved to comedy. I’m not saying that to be mean; I just think humor (the dry, sardonic variety) is more in this author’s wheelhouse. I was lured in by the premise of a woman cleaning her dead grandmother’s house surrounded by spooky woods and malevolent entities scratching at the windows. Yet what I got was a hot mess of a story with an increasingly annoying main character who can’t help but crack jokes even while being led into the bellows of the forest by a murderous seven-foot-tall woodland sprite. At that point, I had to stop reading because it was just plain silly. Also, animal lovers, I should warn you that there are gratuitous scenes of animal mutilations in the woods, the worst of the worst of horror genre tropes. Thankfully the dog Bongo (the only character I was rooting for) was able to bypass the serial deer killer, so that’s something, I guess. Either way, this had the potential of being a very spooky story, but the humorous quips just kept throwing off the vibe. If the protagonist isn’t spooked enough to stop cracking jokes, how are the readers supposed to buy into it? DNF city, y’all!
The Haunting by Lindsey Duga
Confession—I love middle-grade horror as much as I love devouring candy-corn pumpkins on All Hallows Eve! Like a shiny lure, this cover hooked me in and reeled me right up to the checkout counter, where I told the clerk, “It’s for my niece.” Life is too short to begrudge ourselves of these guilty pleasures, no? These pocket-sized books are perfect for while I’m walking my dog, who moves at the speed of a geriatric turtle. Hmm…that would be a great costume for next Halloween. But I digress, this book is a fun, creepy read set in the horse-and-buggy times of the Victorian era, which I love! It follows a little orphan and her dog who hit the jackpot with wealthy adopters and a big, stately haunted mansion! Think Daddy Warbucks meets the Munsters. Spooky happenings ensue when a ghostly little girl keeps leading little orphan Emily into mischief, thus rocking the boat—or should I say yacht—and putting her in danger of being returned to the depressing orphanage and its slew of mean girls. I thoroughly enjoyed solving this little mystery with Emily and her pup amidst the spooky backdrop of a haunted mansion with hidden rooms and deep, dark secrets. I’m already planning on using my next audible credit on this author’s next book!
The Thirteenth Cat by Mary Downing Hahn
I love all of Mary Downing Hahn’s middle-grade thrillers…except this one. Aside from the fact that this gets the Cover of the Year Award, this book was a big, fat dud. It is such a big departure from her other ghost stories, and that’s not a good thing. If you’re into far-fetched fantasies involving humans being turned into cats and living together in some weird, witchy colony, this one’s for you. I honestly don’t know why I even finished this thing.
Apart in the Dark by Ania Ahlborn
This new-to-me author is one to watch! Both of the novellas inside this book are quality reads that are sure to win over fans of “Head Full of Ghosts.” The second novella, “I Call Upon Thee,” is so devilishly creepy—the kind of horror that gets under your skin and makes you turn on that extra bright night light before going to bed. It follows Maggie, a marine biology student who begrudgingly rushes home to attend to her sister’s funeral arrangements. There seems to be a curse on her entire family—a curse that was set in motion when she made the grave mistake of befriending a creepy doll and playing the Ouija board with her friend. Very spooky stuff! The first novella, “The Pretty Ones,” is also quite unsettling, but in a different way. This one is more of a true crime thriller set amidst the 1970s backdrop of the “Summer of Sam” killer that follows a very questionable and fashionably challenged main character. This book is perfect for fans of Paul Trembley and Catriona Ward.
Cemetery Girl Trilogy by Charlaine Harris
I’m giving this two stars for the amazing production work on this “movie in your mind.” The actors and sound effects really took it to the next level! Now for the main character, Calexa. I get that she’s an amnesia victim, but she had the decision-making skills of a kindergartener. If your kidnappers believe you to be dead and dump your body in a graveyard, wouldn’t you want to flee the crime scene in anticipation of them coming back to bury their tracks??? Furthermore, why didn’t the kidnappers return to hide the body? Now on to my next befuddlement. She witnesses a horrific cold-blooded murder in the graveyard and manages to get ahold of the dead girl’s phone. Yet she just stashes the phone in her crypt/home and lies in wait while the search parties comb the neighborhood, all the while letting the killers roam free to murder again. She doesn’t want the police to track her down via GPS, but that could’ve been easily avoided if she just made an anonymous call from the girl’s phone outside of the graveyard and then dumped the darn thing. How hard is that to figure out? I’m sorry, y’all. I tried to enjoy this book for the amazing production value alone, but Calixa was 50 shades of stupid, so I will not be moving on to the next installments of this series. Hard pass.
In short: Two best friends with one big scary secret return to summer camp as CIT’s (counselors-in-training) and get terrorized by a camera-toting, deer-killing weirdo in the woods.
What I liked: I’m giving this one a generous 3-star review because I enjoyed the summer camp setting and the whole Fear Street vibe. The whodunnit guessing game was fun, and I really liked playing along with the conspiracy theory game. Could the killer be in cahoots with the uptight camp director in high-waisted shorts? Or could it be the hunky CIT’s with questionable backstories? Maybe it’s the quiet, Nervous Nelly CIT with secrets to hide? The ending had me…what are the kids saying these days…all shook! I really thought I had the conspiracy theory all worked out, but then the author ripped the rug out from under me with the grand finale!
What didn’t work: I had to knock off a couple of stars because there were quite a few problems with this book. First, I’m not convinced the author ever attended sleep-away camp and/or did much research in that area. As a veteran camper/CIT/camp counselor (my parents couldn’t wait to get rid of me every summer), I can tell you that CIT’s do not have that much alone time. When I wasn’t flirting shamelessly with the kitchen staff, I was chasing after kiddos, making sure they didn’t drown!
That said, our two main characters Esme and Kayla seemed to be on a vacation that just happened to be at camp. I think they may have had two or three interactions with their little campers throughout the whole book. Also, I really wanted more summer campy scenes–like skit night or dance night or food fights! Sure there were a few hikes and swims in the lake, but that’s about it. Hell–there weren’t even any scary stories around the campfire! All I’m saying is more camp nostalgia would’ve been nice.
Last but not least, I’m a little mad at Esme for taking some seriously stupid risks without thinking them through. It takes a special kind of stupid to go out in the woods alone at night knowing full-well that a killer out there and stalking you around the clock. Just sayin!
Trigger warning: There are some scenes involving mutilated deer involved. Just putting that out there for all my animal-loving friends!
Overall: If you’re looking for a semi-suspenseful campy YA thriller on par with R.L. Stine’s works, this book’s for you. This review is a little rough, so I should note that I did enjoy the story, for the most part, and will give the author another chance. I’m just happy to see these classic YA spooky thriller books are still gracing the shelves at Barnes & Noble. It’s nice to have a few other choices besides the ever-present fantasy/Dystopian books that dominate the YA shelves these days.
The premise of this book and the glowing reviews of it being as creepy as the Blair Witch Project really suckered me into checking it out (thankfully for free via Libby), but boy was I disappointed. I tried, y’all. I really did. I got as far as 50% through the audiobook when I decided to hit the “return early” button. Here’s where it went all kinds of wrong:
The premise it great–a bunch of teenage explorers lost in the woods whilst experimenting with an urban legend in search of a missing girl. My hopes for this story quickly dissipated when I met the main character, Sarah and her slew of friends via tedious direct message threads. Note: these long text conversations do not translate well on audio. Needless to say, I did not enjoy their snarky dialogue, nor did I care much for their personalities in general. The lack of character development is where this book went horribly wrong. We really don’t get under the surface with any of these kids–and there’s way too many of them. It’s like watching a classic teenage B-grade horror movie that makes the audience root for the monsters. The only character with a semblance of depth is Sara, and she’s a real Gloomy Gus. I mean, yeah it’s sad her adopted sister went missing and that she was scorned by her girl-crush, but it was even more sad for me to have to endure her emo attitude. But hey, if you’re into Sylvia Plath, you may enjoy Sara. To each their own.
And then there’s this false promise that this book channels the Blair Witch Project. Sure, there’s a bunch of bickering kids lost in the woods, but that’s the only connection. The genius of the Blair Witch Project is the building suspense of an unseen force that may or may not exist, leaving everything up to the imagination. This book, however, is full of zombie people, ghosts and gates to multiple otherworldly dimensions. Sure it was disorienting, but in a bad acid trip kind of way.
To be fair, I only got halfway through this thing, but from what I could tell, this book was missing a very important element: A villain, either physical or supernatural, that ties the whole legend together. There’s a bunch of rules to follow in order to survive the cursed woods, but what overarching power is casting this spell? What’s the actual “Ghost of Lucy Gallows” legend here? Somewhere before reaching the midpoint of this story, the characters should have figured this out. I mean, it’s good to know what they’re up against, right?
With all the gates to different levels, I felt like I was inside a video game on a mission to capture the damsel in distress from the evil castle troll. But hey, if you’re into that, maybe this book is for you. I’m just not really into fantasy and sci-fi, so it’s not my cup of tea. I’m more into gothic ghost stories and psychological thrillers with supernatural twists.
Synapsis: Two sisters, Silla and Nori, seek refuge in their creepy aunt’s dilapidated manor deep in the dark, dark woods. What begins as a fun family reunion soon turns into a world of nightmares. Evil lurks within the woods and the encroaching trees seem to have a mind of their own.
What worked: If you’re looking for a creepy, atmospheric book, this is it! We’ve got a cursed English mansion, enchanted woods, spooky dolls and an evil entity hiding within the dark nooks and crannies. Of al the creeptastic elements in this book, I was most unsettled by the aunt’s rapid decent into madness. Could you imagine being trapped in a house with a crazy old lady pacing nonstop and speaking gibberish in the upstairs bedroom? Jeepers creepers!
Pretty soon, the line between reality and crazy town gets blurred when Silla starts questioning her own sanity. Are the trees slowly but surely smothering the house that seems to be sinking into the ground? Is a “Slender Man” lookalike really stalking her and Nori? And what’s with the beautiful boy who seems to randomly appear out of thin air? Does he really want to nourish them with red apples, or does he have other plans in mind?
Pretty soon, I was starting to feel like I, too, was slipping into a starvation-induced hypoglycemic fog. My mind was spinning with questions throughout the girls’ dark and twisted journey into the unknown. Summed up in a word, this book is truly unsettling.
What didn’t work: The mute little sister was terribly annoying. Like all creepy little kids in horror movies, she quickly befriends the evil entity that’s vying for her soul. What’s wrong with these kids? Can’t they see that these fiends are pure evil!?! This “I see dead people” horror movie cliché is getting so old. By the mid-point of the book, I was ready for Mister Stickman to whisk her away so Silla could finally be free of the albatross around her neck. Yet, I know the moral of the story is sisterly love, so I guess I’m missing the whole point. What can I say? I’m heartless.
Overall: This is the perfect Halloween read for YA readers who are looking for a good spooky story without the standard monster mash tropes and obligatory love triangles.