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Book Review: Final Girls by Riley Sager

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Quincy Carpenter survived a massacre at a cabin when she was in college. She was the only one of her friends to survive. It’s been ten years, and she’s managing pretty well. She has an almost fiancee, a successful baking blog, and a Xanax subscription that never ends. Dubbed by the media as one of the infamous Final Girls, she has tried to move on from the night she cannot remember. Then Lisa, one of the other Final Girls, turns up dead in what appears to be a suicide. Then Samantha Baker, the other Final Girl, shows up on Quincy’s doorstep, and forces her to confront her past.

It’s important to note that “debut” author Riley Sager is really established author Todd Ritter, and that the deliberate use of a female-sounding pseudonym to publish this thriller is a calculated marketing move that doesn’t sit quite right with me as a reader. While the book is fairly fast-paced and has a few genuine twists (however implausible they might be), it’s also not very good. The writing is mediocre at its best moments and laughably terrible at its worst. Still, it’s a thriller with a “fresh” perspective, it’s been blurbed by one of the greats, and it will find a reader base.

It’s a book that demands to be gobbled up quickly, and readers will oblige. But the truth of the matter is that the longer I’ve sat thinking about this book, the more uncomfortable I become with some of the book’s glaring issues: the internalized misogyny, the tired trope of the sexy bad girl, the reinforcement of the idea that women can never truly be friends with one another because they’re always secretly in competition for men, and on and on and on. There was never a moment while reading the book where felt as though any of the characters were at all authentic or even realistic, and that still nags at me. I know that this is basically a horror movie put to paper, but that doesn’t mean it has to suck this badly.

Also, there’s a scene where Quincy and Sam become vigilantes and search Central Park for people who need saving. They immediately come across a female in trouble, and her assailant is the only person of color in the entire book–and his skin color is mentioned. Not only does the scene itself fall apart under even the slightest scrutiny, but it feels like something an editor should have excised from the text prior to publication.

But it hardly matters, right? This book is what we are gifted in a post-Gillian Flynn world. We love our pretty white girls in peril, and this book perpetuates all those same sexist tropes. It’ll fly off shelves for a while, but there’s much better fare out there.

Final Girls by Riley Sager. Dutton: 2017. Library copy. 

 

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Book Review: Daughters Unto Devils by Amy Lukavics

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Amanda Verner’s family decides to move from their mountain cabin to a new place with prairie lands.  Hoping for a fresh start after the horrors of the previous winter, Amanda thinks she might finally be able to shed the memories of the visions she saw as she lost her grip on reality as well as the memories of the boy she fell in love with for a time.  Of course, Amanda is now pregnant with that same boy’s baby, and she can’t tell anyone the truth.  When the family arrives at their new home, they find the inside covered in blood.  As time goes on, Amanda starts to realize that things on the prairie are more sinister than they first appeared.  But are the things she sees and feels real, or are they manifestations of the evil within her own soul?

Amy Lukavics’ ghost story hits all the buttons of the classic horror genre: the dread of the unknown, the terror of parents turning on their own children, the threat of exposure to the evil in the dark, and what might actually be lurking inside all of us.  The result is a terrifyingly tense read guaranteed to keep readers up late into the night.  Not one for the faint of heart, Lukavics has crafted a genuinely scary story.

What’s particularly notable here is how Lukavics manages to set her story in the past without getting too specific with the time period.  There are aspects here that are intentionally reminiscent of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series, but they’re subverted by the too-real images of the horrible things that plague this family: fire ants swarming over a baby’s face, blood soaked through wooden floorboards, wild animals devouring a human body.  The family’s journey to the prairie is supposed to bring them peace and a new beginning, but instead they are treated to hell on Earth.

Lukavics builds tension between her characters and the world they inhabit well.  A fast pace helps propel the story forward, and the period dialogue works pretty well, given the murkiness of the actual time period.  Readers won’t be able to turn pages fast enough to figure out which of the devils is going to get the Werner family first: the one inside our protagonist, or one of the many lurking just out of sight of the cabin on the prairie.

Horror done exceedingly well.  Recommended.

Daughters Unto Devils by Amy Lukavics. Harlequin Teen: 2015. Library copy.


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Book Review: The Bunker Diary by Kevin Brooks

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Linus is 16, a runaway, and living on the streets of London when he gets abducted  by a strange man in a van.  When he wakes up, he finds himself in an underground bunker.  He’s alone, but there are other empty bedrooms.  Soon, those bedrooms are filled by people who were taken just like him.  They’re being watched and punished.  There is no escape.  As time passes, the people in the bunker come to the horrifying realization that they may have to result to the absolute worst possible outcome if they have any chance of survival.

Kevin Brooks’ The Bunker Diary is a disturbing read.  This is not a title for every reader, because Brooks doesn’t shy away from the harshest aspects of human life and death and that includes some pretty horrific gore.  But the book is beautifully written in sparse, haunting prose, and the pace is whip-fast, guaranteed to glue readers to every page as they race to find out the fate of the characters trapped underground.

There are certainly parallels to be made here to Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit (this might be lost on most teens, but there it is), and the book examines existentialism through its various characters.  This is going to work best for sophisticated readers who are able to stomach violence and introspection in equal doses.  It is, at times, simply brilliant.  It is a novel that demands to be reread to pick up on the details of plot construction, character development, and insight into humanity.

Readers who finish this one will be haunted by the characters and the book’s overall message.  It’s one that will garner a lot of discussion, which is good, because there’s lots to think and talk about within the book’s pages.  A winner of the Carnegie medal, this is a must-read for anyone who can handle the suspense, the horror, and the darkest parts of what makes us human.  Highly recommended.

The Bunker Diary by Kevin Brooks. Carolrhoda Lab: 2014. Library copy.

 

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Book Review: The Dead Girls of Hysteria Hall by Katie Alender

Delia’s estranged aunt has died and left her a huge old house.  Long before it was a private residence, it was the Piven Institute for the Care and Correction of Troubled Females.  Essentially an insane asylum for troubled women, the house earned the nickname “Hysteria Hall” from local townsfolk.  Rumored to be haunted, Delia and her family embark on what is supposed to be a summer spent readying the house for sale.  But the house likes to trap strong-willed girls inside its walls.  And it traps Delia.  After that, Delia starts to learn all about the house’s sinister secrets, and realizes that she’s not the only soul stuck in limbo.

Katie Alender’s innovative ghost story takes all the expected tropes and twists them around into something completely fresh and captivating.  Truly suspenseful and often smartly funny, this is a standout ghost story that will keep readers engaged from start to finish and is a great addition to any horror collection.  Perfect Halloween season reading, this is not to be missed.

It helps that Alender has come up with a better-than-average ghost story to start with.  Although the story starts in a fairly predictable way, it soon takes a sharp and unexpected turn, which is guaranteed to surprise readers and keep them completely glued to the page.  The high creep factor and the fact that none of the book’s characters are necessarily what they seem to be also keeps things interesting and the stakes high.  There’s an eerie feel to the novel throughout, and the gothic-style scares will keep readers on their toes.

Scary, original, and full of twists and turns, Alender knows her way around a creepy story.  This is perfect horror for readers who like their stories original and their gore on the very light side.  Wholly engrossing, this is a delight from start to finish.  Highly recommended.

The Dead Girls of Hysteria Hall by Katie Alender. Point: 2015. Library copy.

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Book Review: Slasher Girls and Monster Boys edited by April Genevieve Tucholke

A collection of horror stories from some well-known YA authors working today, this anthology is full of chills, thrills, and bloody resolutions.  Each story draws inspiration from other parts of pop culture, including movies, books, TV, and even songs, and each one interprets these inspirations in various creepy ways.  The stories run the gamut from the fantastical to the all-too-real.

This anthology of horror is the perfect read for the Halloween season.  Full of stories that offer different things for different readers, there are standout tales as well as a couple of convoluted stories that never quite make it off the ground.  Like most anthologies, this is a mixed bag that has a great deal of successes and a few missteps.

The diversity of the anthology’s offerings make this a must-purchase for fans of horror and supernatural tales.  There’s something for every reader of the horror genre, including truly chilling takes on a zombie apocalypse, ghost stories, new takes on urban legends and classic fairy tales, and more.  One standout is Carrie Ryan’s “In the Forest Dark and Deep,” a truly terrifying take on the Alice in Wonderland story.

On the whole, this collection of stories is a lot of fun and offers such a wide variety of stories and writing styles that it’s likely to attract a wide range of readers.  The stories are bloody and actually scary, making this a read best suited for readers who can handle a bit of gore.  Best read in small doses but easily consumed all at once, this is a solid entry into the YA horror genre.

Slasher Girls & Monster Boys by April Genevieve Tucholke, et al. Dial Books: 2015. Library copy.

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Waiting on Wednesday: Dead Upon a Time by Elizabeth Paulson

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.  Its purpose is to spotlight eagerly-anticipated upcoming releases.

This week I’m eagerly awaiting:

Dead Upon a Time by Elizabeth Paulson

Expected Release Date: August 25, 2015

It’s a fairy-tale nightmare . . .

One girl is kept in a room where every day the only food she’s given is a poisoned apple. Another is kept in a room covered in needles — and if she pricks her finger, she’ll die. Then there are the brother and sister kept in a cell that keeps getting hotter and hotter. . .

A sinister kidnapper is on the loose in Kate’s world. She’s not involved until one day she heads to her grandmother’s house in the woods — and finds her grandmother has also been taken. Already an outcast, Kate can’t get any help from the villagers who hate her. Only Jack, another outsider, will listen to what’s happened.

Then a princess is taken, and suddenly the king is paying attention — even though the girl’s stepmother would rather he didn’t. It’s up to Kate and Jack to track down the victims before an ever after arrives that’s far from happy.

(summary via Goodreads)

The past few weeks have been pretty horror-book heavy, and this week is no different.  I’m excited about the Halloween season and can’t wait to read some good fun horror.  This looks like it might fit the bill, in a fantastical sort of way.  I can’t wait to see what the book has in store.

What are you waiting on this week?

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Waiting on Wednesday: The Dead Girls of Hysteria Hall by Katie Alender

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.  Its purpose is to spotlight eagerly-anticipated upcoming releases.

This week I’m eagerly awaiting:

The Dead Girls of Hysteria Hall by Katie Alender

Expected Release Date:  August 24, 2015

Asylum meets Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, in this riveting tale of ghosts, secrets, and family, from master of suspense Katie Alender.

Delia’s new house isn’t just a house. It used to be an insane asylum, a place to lock up “troubled” young women lof?ng ago. And a restless, wicked spirit is still at play–and it doesn’t want defiant girls like Delia to go anywhere.

So the house kills her.

Now Delia is a ghost, trapped in her creepy home forever. As she meets the other ghost girls who haunt the narrow hallways, as well as the handsome ghost boy on the grounds, she learns shocking truths about the house’s history. Delia also realizes that her alive and grieving sister might be the house’s next target. Can Delia unlock the mystery of the old asylum, save her sister, and free herself?

(summary via Goodreads)

Here’s to hoping the book is a lot less like the two books it gets compared to in the opening part of the book’s blurb and is a lot more compelling.  Early buzz for this one is great and it’s supposed to be much more gothic than gore, which I appreciate.  I love how many horror novels are being published this late summer/early fall, and I can’t wait to start digging into some of these titles to get me in the Halloween mood.

What are you waiting on this week?