The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James + GIVEAWAY

The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James
Pub. Date: February 18, 2020
Source: ARC + finished copy via publisher (Thank you, Berkley!)
Summary: Upstate New York, 1982. Viv Delaney wants to move to New York City, and to help pay for it she takes a job as the night clerk at the Sun Down Motel in Fell, New York. But something isnʼt right at the motel, something haunting and scary.

Upstate New York, 2017. Carly Kirk has never been able to let go of the story of her aunt Viv, who mysteriously disappeared from the Sun Down before she was born. She decides to move to Fell and visit the motel, where she quickly learns that nothing has changed since 1982. And she soon finds herself ensnared in the same mysteries that claimed her aunt.
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Paranormal, Horror

By now, Simone St. James is an auto-read author. Though I still have several to go, I have a good portion of her backlist under my belt and 2018’s The Broken Girls remains a book I enthusiastically recommend. When I heard she had a new novel coming out after a long, long two years, I immediately marked it as To Read – though I had absolutely NO idea what the book was even about. She’s just that great.

Bouncing between New York in 1982 and 2017, The Sun Down Motel follows two young women: Viv, 20, with dreams of becoming an actress; and her niece Carly, obsessed with the story of her aunt’s disappearance three decades ago. Broke and with nowhere else to go, Viv found herself in Fell, a barely-there town that had once had grand visions of becoming a tourist hot spot after an amusement park was announced. The park never amounted to anything, but by then the Sun Down had already been built, its rooms anticipating the flood of families that never arrived.

Viv was hired on as the night clerk, covering the desk and phone from 11pm until 7am and right from the start she knew something wasn’t right about the Sun Down. It was more than the salesman with the creepy smile. No, it wasn’t just the motel room doors that was open as one – even when they had been lock. It wasn’t just the smell of cigarette smoke that would permeate the office, moving about in the wake of some long-gone smoker. It wasn’t even the pool, empty and fenced off.

With the recent death of her mother, Carly is left with just her older brother. Having grown up knowing her aunt had suddenly vanished – but never hearing the full story because her mother refused to discuss it – Carly had become obsessed, searching and looking for anything that might lead her to truths of what happened. Her search leads her to a tiny town off the highway and a seemingly quiet job as the night clerk at a motel.

Simone St. James has outdone herself with this one. I’m calling it now: The Sun Down Motel will ABSOLUTELY appear again on my Top Reads of 2020 list! This is a book I could truly go on and on about – but I don’t want to spoil a single second! In my review of The Broken Girls I mentioned that I’m a bit of a scaredy cat when it comes to things that go bump in the night. I will only read horror – or books that have even the tiniest whisper of horror – in broad daylight and stop well before dark, whether I’ve finished the book or not. When I was reading The Broken Girls, Matt was out of town. And by out of town, I meant in a totally different state. But I couldn’t stop reading. While Matt might not have been travelling this time around, The Sun Down Motel had me once again reading a book full of literal ghosts well into the night.

An odd string of disappearances has Viv playing amateur detective, a hobby that ultimately brings about her own disappearance. What Carly uncovers is a bunch of shoddy police reports, a person who wasn’t even reported missing for four days, and minimal time and effort spent searching before wiping their hands clean of things. As the book progresses, plots and details come together and – gah, it’s so hard not to talk about THIS or THAT!

The death of a little boy, a woman who still wanders the site where she died, a photographer-for-hire, a young woman desperately seeking answers about her missing aunt, and that missing aunt – so many voices came together to tell this magnificent tale. The pages flipped by all too quickly and, try as I might, I couldn’t slow myself down. I needed to know what the next page held, what the next chapter would bring. Readings new to St. James have come to the party at SUCH a good time and long-time fans are in for such a treat. This is a writer at the top of her game and I’m already sobbing at the thought of having to wait a year – or longer! – for her next book.

GIVEAWAY
ONE lucky winner will receive a copy of The Sun Down Motel!
US only, sorry!
The giveaway will end Friday, February 28.
To enter, head over to instagram!

haunted houses, Christmas weddings, rebel librarians: mini reviews!

The House Next Door by Anne Rivers Siddons | orig. 1978
Colquitt and Walter live a quiet, private, and privileged life. Each house on their street is bigger and more lavish than the one before it and the neighborhood parties are legendary. Unlike their neighbors, however, Colquitt and Walter are fortunate enough to have an empty lot on one side of their property – until the day its sold and a young architect arrives with an even younger couple (Daddy is footing the bill for their wildly expensive dream home). Even before the house is finished, everyone agrees it’s downright gorgeous. Then odd things begin happening, initially written off as tragic coincidences, though Colquitt slowly begins to suspect something far more evil is to blame.

From the moment I first heard about this book and immediately put in a request at the library I was beyond excited to read this book. I’ve mentioned it both on the blog and on Instagram, giddily sharing lines and snippets once I finally was able to dive in. I was in the mood for a good, Halloween read, and what could be better than a haunted house??

On the surface, I enjoyed The House Next Door. It was one of those reads where I was completely immersed while reading and when I wasn’t I was thinking about it and looking forward to my lunchbreaks so I could sneak in a few chapters. However, this book was originally published in the 70s and has some pretty outdated views: the only family in the neighborhood with small children is labeled trashy and low class, allowing their brood to run around acting out and terrorizing everyone in sight. At one point the house turns two men gay. ..yeah. This is highly scandalous and shocking enough to result in death after the father-in-law of one of the men has a heart attack upon discovering the two and dies.

So although there are some scenes and opinions that had me, a reader in 2018, raising my eyebrows, I had fun with this one. How could you go wrong with an evil house doing sinister things to families, especially the week of Halloween? A word of caution though: don’t become attached to any of the animals or pets mentioned.

Christmas at the Chalet by Anita Hughes | October 16, 2018
Prior to this one, I had only read one other novel by Anita Hughes (California Summer), but enjoyed it to the point where I happily picked up a Christmas novel in October. Felicity, owner of Felicity Grant Bridal, is convinced she’ll wake up on Christmas morning to an engagement ring. After all, she’s almost 30 (spoiler: I began the eye-rolling in the first chapter) and has been with Adam six years. They have the same goals and want the same things out of life, so it’s only a matter of time before he finally proposes. Unfortunately for Felicity, the day arrives without a ring and, instead of happily announcing their engagement, the two have a massive fight, resulting in Felicity storming off angry to Switzerland where she’s about to take part in a fashion show that could take her career to a new level. One of her models, Nell, has a wedding coming up..only Nell’s newly-divorced parents hate each other to the point where they insist she has two weddings just so they don’t have to see each other.

Look I’m definitely in the minority here. Other reviews for this book have been great so far. Sadly, I can’t echo their praise. There are three storylines in this one: Felicity’s, Nell’s, and flashback scenes featuring Nell’s parents, and I didn’t care for any of them. If anyone deserved sympathy, it was Nell. Her wedding should be her day and I felt so sorry that her parents were selfish enough to where they couldn’t put aside their difference and act civil for a few hours. Felicity was the worst, though. Her end game is to have a ring on her finger, regardless of how Adam feels. And when it seems she’s finally going to get her wish? She has a complete character change and brushes Adam off. Uh? There’s another love interest here, a doctor named Gabriel, and their scenes literally amounted to a handful of pages where each conversation consisted of Gabriel admonishing Felicity for not wearing a coat/hat and suggesting she might have a concussion or broken ankle. He also told her fairy tales. So imagine my surprise when they confess they’ve fallen in love with one another. Uh???

Property of the Rebel Librarian by Allison Varnes | September 18, 2018
When June brings home a book from her school library, she doesn’t think anything of it. After all, she’s an avid reader and adores her librarian – Ms. Bradshaw has yet to steer June wrong when it comes to books! June’s parents, however, take one look at the title (The Makings of a Witch), say it’s much too scary for their 7-grade daughter, and immediately march down to the school to an emergency PTA meeting. From there, a full-scale investigation is launched; Ms. Bradshaw is put on leave and books are tossed into industrial-size garbage cans. What’s worse, June’s books at home have undergone the same treatment: her parents have taken all of her books, refusing to give them back until they’ve been read and deemed appropriate (and thoroughly edited – her parents have ripped out pages, blacked out sentences, re-written entire endings). June refuses to stand by silently and, with the help of a Little Free Library, becomes the Rebel Librarian, running a full-scale library out of an empty locker.

Oh, this book was great. Characters and scenes saw me seeing red. It was bad enough that the school was banning books, but to have June’s books at home confiscated?? I can’t imagine. There’s some filler with crushes and her best friend, but I was far more intrigued by the library June created. This was a one-sitting read and I have never been more thankful my parents never tried to censor what I read.

Harrison Squared by Daryl Gregory

Harrison Squared by Daryl Gregory
Pub. Date: March 24, 2015
Source: ARC via publisher (Thank you, Tor!!)
Summary: Harrison Harrison—H2 to his mom—is a lonely teenager who’s been terrified of the water ever since he was a toddler in California, when a huge sea creature capsized their boat, and his father vanished. One of the “sensitives” who are attuned to the supernatural world, Harrison and his mother have just moved to the worst possible place for a boy like him: Dunnsmouth, a Lovecraftian town perched on rocks above the Atlantic, where strange things go on by night, monsters lurk under the waves, and creepy teachers run the local high school.

On Harrison’s first day at school, his mother, a marine biologist, disappears at sea. Harrison must attempt to solve the mystery of her accident, which puts him in conflict with a strange church, a knife­wielding killer, and the Deep Ones, fish­-human hybrids that live in the bay. It will take all his resources—and an unusual host of allies—to defeat the danger and find his mother.
Genre: YA, Sci-Fi, Horror
Recommended for: Lovecraft fans!

One of the very first reviews ever posted on this blog was for Daryl Gregory’s Raising Stony Mayhall, a zombie (!!) novel. Before we go any further, let it be known that I am not a zombie fan. At all. Yet I gave this book five stars. It was absolutely wonderful: the setting (bouncing off the back on Night of the Living Dead as a sort-of sequel), the gorgeous writing (I had SO many passages and paragraphs and phrases highlighted in that book!), the character of Stony himself – a zombie taken in by a family as a baby and raised as their own. It was lovely (or as lovely and heartwarming as a novel about the undead can be) and I’ve been eager to get my hands on another novel of his.

Enter Harrison Squared. Harrison Harrison, known as H2, was just three when he lost his leg in a boating accident. Whenever questioned, he would mention it was a piece of shrapnel that tore his flesh, but if he’s honest with himself, the way he remembers it involved tentacles. And teeth. The same accident took the life of his father. Now his mother, a marine biologist, wants to head back to Dunnsmouth, the town that changed their lives thirteen years ago.

For Harrison it means a new school…and this school is like none other. The teachers are beyond bizarre, no one is allowed to enter the library, and the students have developed a sign language-esque way of communicating. The school is the least of his worries though: there’s a fishboy roaming around his house and the boat his mother took out? It was attacked and she’s missing. As H2 races against time to find his mother, he discovers there is definitely something weird going on in Dunnsmouth…and his childhood nightmares of sea monsters might not be in his mind after all.

This seems painfully obvious now (hindsight is always 20/20!), but I hadn’t realized Harrison Squared was YA. Sure the main character is 16, but so what? Plenty of adult novels feature teenage main characters and Raising Stony Mayhall was about a child (who eventually grows to an adult, but still), so I mistakenly assumed this was one of those novels. Nope. I don’t mind at all that Daryl Gregory decided to try his hand at Young Adult, I just wished he wouldn’t have watered down the voice so much. Harrison, a junior in high school, reads more like a 13- or 14-year-old. Not too much of a stretch, I suppose, but there you have it.

The story itself definitely pays homage to Lovecraft and his works as well as Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Each chapter features a line or two from the poem and essentially summarizes that chapter in a way that made me giddy with delight. Something strange is going on in Dunnsmouth and no one’s talking, especially not to an outsider like Harrison. I don’t want to spoil anything, but let’s just say there’s a old diary, a ghost, and lots of sea monsters involved.

The characters were fine, though nothing particularly special. Harrison’s disability gets him into some hairy situations more than once. The majority of the teachers are big ol’ slimeballs. Lydia, a fellow classmate, initially gives Harrison the cold shoulder (as does the rest of the school – and town, for that matter), but she eventually comes around and invites Harrison to ‘study groups’ where he discovers his classmates aren’t exactly the sheep he pegged them for. Harrison’s Aunt Sel lives for silky clothing and wine – so NOT a person you would want watching your child but oh-so-fun to read about!

A creepy religion, a wicked fun plot, and sea monsters all made Harrison Squared a pretty great read. Bravo to Mr. Gregory for not turning this one into a romance (not so much as a hint of it here, guys), though the ending was severely disappointing. I certainly hope this is going to be a series, because the way it ended was more than a cliffhanger – it felt like it ended halfway through a chapter and that’s just not fair! That said, I think Daryl Gregory is a fantastic writer and his books are a ton of fun. Harrison Squared is actually a prequel to We Are All Completely Fine, which features an adult Harrison as a Monster Hunter – um why isn’t this one in my hands already??

#HailToTheKing: Rage


Hail to the King is a year-long Stephen King reading challenge hosted by me and Cassie. Want to know more? Head over here!

Rage by Stephen King
Pub. Date: September, 1977
Source: Borrowed
Summary: A disturbed high-school student with authority problems kills one of his teachers and takes the rest of his class hostage. Over the course of one long, tense and unbearable hot afternoon, Charlie Decker explains what led him to this drastic sequence of events, while at the same time deconstructing the personalities of his classmates, forcing each one to justify his or her existence.
Genre: Novella, Horror
Recommended for: Readers curious in King’s Bachman work

This is my second Hail to the King read, after January’s awesome Revival. For my next read, I wanted something quick and easy – he has a ton of short stories! I grabbed a collection of his Richard Bachman books (nowadays, authors like James Patterson and Nora Roberts churn out 10+ books a year, but there was a time when it was considered detrimental to your career to write that much, so King published under a pseudonym) and selected Rage, a novella about a boy who goes on a killing spree.

Despite knowing I have a hard time getting into King’s earlier work (it’s seriously hit-or-miss for me) I hunkered down one afternoon and started plowing away. I put my trust in the horror master and he failed me. Charlie Decker is a moody teenager who has a crappy home life and an ongoing stomach issue. This is a boy whose entire life consists of waking up on the wrong side of the bed. An early morning encounter with the school psychologist sets the wheels in motion and forty minutes later he’s shot and killed two teachers, has taken his class hostage, and the school is surrounded by police cars.

My issue with Rage wasn’t Charlie. I’m completely fine with horrible main characters. No, my problem here was that is was boring. Strange, right? How could a Stephen King novel about a school shooting put me to sleep?! Things were going well until Charlie takes his class hostage. Naturally they’re all terrified at first, but then his classmates begin to take his side. No one is concerned about the body under the teacher’s desk or the one outside the classroom door. Nope, instead each chapter is devoted to a student and we get a peek into his or her miserable life.

Maybe I’m being too harsh here. I was in high school once! For these kids not getting a date is equivalent to the world ending. But when their whining drags on for another hundred pages…I’m surprised Charlie didn’t end things right then and there. Or maybe he did. I didn’t get past page 70.

So while Rage was a bust I’m still open to trying some of his earlier novels – a lot of his classics are from the beginning of his career! For now though, I think I’ll stick with his more recent books. Sorry, King, but this one just didn’t work for me.

OUR FIRST #HAILTOTHEKING CHECK-IN IS NOW UP!
Head over to Cassie’s post to link up with your reviews!

Dead Spots by Rhiannon Frater

Dead Spots by Rhiannon Frater
Pub. Date: February 10, 2015
Source: finished copy via publisher (Thank you, Tor Books!!)
Summary: In the dead spots, dreams become reality, terror knows your name, and nightmares can kill you.

The stillbirth of Mackenzie’s son destroyed her marriage. Grieving, Mac reluctantly heads for her childhood home to seek refuge with her mother, who constantly reminds her of life’s dangers.

Driving across Texas, Mac swerves to avoid hitting a deer…and winds up in a dead spot, a frightening place that lies between the worlds of the living and the dead. If they can control their imaginations, people can literally bring their dreams to life—but most are besieged by fears and nightmares which pursue them relentlessly.

Mackenzie’s mother and husband haunt her, driving her to the brink of madness. Then she hears a child call for help and her maternal instincts kick into overdrive. Grant, Mac’s ally in the dead spots, insists Johnny is a phantom, but the boy seems so real, so alive….

As the true horrors of the dead spots are slowly revealed, Mackenzie realizes that time is running out. But exits from the dead spots are nearly impossible to find, and defended by things almost beyond imagination.
Genre: Sci-Fi, Paranormal, Horror-lite
Recommended for: Fans of Frater’s As the World Dies series, readers who enjoy fast-paced brain fluff

Many fans of horror know Rhiannon Frater’s name from her As the World Dies series. While I’m not a typical fan of the zombie sub-genre, I’ve heard many, many people praise these books and after having finished Dead Spots, I’m curious to see what else she has to offer. So my only knowledge of her/her books were that they involved zombies. That’s it. When I heard about this new series I was intrigued, particular since it doesn’t involve zombies and let’s be real here – I got this book in the mail last week. By the weekend I had already read it. That alone should tell you something.

Mackenzie has a wonderful life. Okay, so her mother’s paranoid delusions might make their phone calls a bit hard to handle, but Mac has a doting husband, a gorgeous house, and soon she’ll be holding her baby boy in her arms. Her dream life comes crashing down the day she realizes she hasn’t been feeling her son kick. Her worst fears become a reality after a devastating stillbirth and, six months later, there’s no hope for her marriage. Tanner moved in with another woman and sent Mac divorce papers.

As she’s making the move back home to her mother’s ranch, Mackenzie swerves to hit a deer and enters a dead spot where she finds out just how terrifying her nightmares can be. She seeks refuge in an abandoned diner – or, at least it was abandoned. Upon entering, the jukebox fires up, diners fill the booths, and a woman was soon asking for Mac’s order. It was only with the help of Grant, an old-school-Hollywood-handsome man, that Mac’s able to make sense of it all.

As they flee the diner to a safe haven (as if safe has any meaning in this world), Grant explains dead spots and how, once you’re in, you’re in for good. Grant has been trapped for decades (the old school Hollywood look isn’t just a look!) and has lost multiple companions along the way for death is not the end in this world: if you die you immediately come back…or you slowly lose you mind and become a wraith. With this world feeding off her fears (open graves try to swallow Mac, Tanner and his new girlfriend appear to tell her what a horrible mother she was), Mac knows she needs to find a way out, but how?

First thing’s first: I wouldn’t exactly label Dead Spots horror. Horror-lite? Horror-esque? Scary sci-fi? I went into this novel expecting classic Stephen King (speaking of! How’s YOUR #hailtotheking goal coming along??). Instead of terrors that kept me up at night, I got something similar to Revival, a story more rooted in sci-fi than straight up horror. While it wasn’t what I had been anticipating, I found that it worked and I churned through this book (a pretty respectable 400-page novel) in record time. If you’re looking for some good escapism, here you go. Dead Spots is perfect for those days when you want a fun read without having to think too much.

Next up: the dead spots. Frater’s world building was incredibly intricate and part of the reason why I couldn’t put the book down! This is a world where nightmares rule. It’s not at all uncommon to see dragons doing battle or fighter jets whizzing by overhead. There’s a clown who was once human, but after crossing over, gave in to his bloodlust and now lives for torturing his victims in brutal ways. That said, there are a select few who have been able to create Dream Palaces (one particularly infamous Dream Palace belong to a teenage girl: a pink castle with unicorns!) and for some, these havens are even better than the real world. My favorite concept in this new world though, is definitely the magical-esque element. Because Mac so recently came through, she’s bright and full of life. She’s able to transform an abandoned house back to its former glory. Someone like Grant has lost much of that ability over time (and with each death) and so he relies on Mac for shelter, food, etc. She’s able to whip up a badass weapon just by thinking about it. Lucas, another human trapped in this world, has a ’64 Mustang with an ever-full gas tank.

Third, the cover. I wasn’t a big fan of the cover prior to reading, but the deeper I got into the book, the more the cover delighted me. It actually matches the story. How often does that happen?? The amusement park rides in the background? That’s an actual scene in the book (guess who they meet there..!) and the clothing the cover model is wearing? Mac is described as wearing exactly that outfit – right down to the boots. Bravo to whoever designed this one!

While I could have done without Mackenzie’s mood swings (for the past six months she hasn’t wanted to let go of her child and Tanner, yet one day after entering the dead spot she’s already thinking about Grant), Dead Spots was a shockingly fun and blindingly quick read despite its length. I have no idea when the sequel will come out – or if there even is a sequel, but I’m already looking forward to diving back in this world (and catching up with Lucas~)!

#hailtotheking: Revival

Revival by Stephen King
Pub. Date: November 11, 2014
Source: a gift from Cass!
Summary: In a small New England town, over half a century ago, a shadow falls over a small boy playing with his toy soldiers. Jamie Morton looks up to see a striking man, the new minister. Charles Jacobs, along with his beautiful wife, will transform the local church. The men and boys are all a bit in love with Mrs. Jacobs; the women and girls feel the same about Reverend Jacobs — including Jamie’s mother and beloved sister, Claire. With Jamie, the Reverend shares a deeper bond based on a secret obsession. When tragedy strikes the Jacobs family, this charismatic preacher curses God, mocks all religious belief, and is banished from the shocked town.

Jamie has demons of his own. Wed to his guitar from the age of thirteen, he plays in bands across the country, living the nomadic lifestyle of bar-band rock and roll while fleeing from his family’s horrific loss. In his mid-thirties — addicted to heroin, stranded, desperate — Jamie meets Charles Jacobs again, with profound consequences for both men. Their bond becomes a pact beyond even the Devil’s devising, and Jamie discovers that revival has many meanings.
Genre: Thriller, Contemporary, a hint of Sci-Fi
Recommended for: SK fans, readers looking to become engrossed in a richly woven story with a huge payoff at the end, SK newbies who want to try a novel without diving into Horror

So my first #hailtotheking read. Guys, this book is over 400 pages and I read it in ONE DAY. That alone speaks volumes to King’s mastery of his craft and his power over words. The jacket hails Revival as a throwback to Classic King, with shout outs to Gothic powerhouses like Melville and Poe, with “the most terrifying conclusion Stephen King has ever written.” While I didn’t quite get that (and I was VERY disappointed I didn’t lose sleep over the ending – this is Stephen King we’re talking about!), Revival was a damn fine novel and one that left me feeling both mentally and emotionally drained upon finishing.

Over the course of fifty years, Revival follows Jamie Morton as he grows from a little boy playing with army men to a guitarist in a high school band to a guitarist in bar bands that never stood a chance. As that little boy in Maine, Jamie met Charlie Jacobs, the easygoing and friendly new minister the entire Morton family (entire town, for that matter) instantly took a liking to. However, tragedy struck and with the Terrible Sermon, Minister Jacobs walked out of Jamie’s life. Years later as a coke-addicted adult, Jamie finds his path crossed with Charlie’s once more and, over the coming decades, their lives interlock in ways Jamie could never imagine.

It takes so much more than one paragraph, a mere four sentences, to fully sum up Revival. It reads like a memoir of sorts, a fifty-year character study into Jamie Morton’s life. From what I understand, King has done other coming-of-age tales and if they’re anything like this one, you can bet I’ll be reading them! Revival has many definitions, nearly all of which are explored in these pages. Religion, death, identity – Stephen King shies away from nothing and tackles each topic expertly.

Charlie, the electricity-obsessed Minister who lost his faith, was fascinating and I could have read another 400 pages devoted solely to him. He was in his early twenties when he left Maine and when Jaime meets him again decades later, he has completely reinvented himself, taking on a new identity and adopting a backstory. Over the next few decades, he goes through multiple names, multiple personas, all the while keeping his eye on one goal – a goal he needs Jamie’s help with, though he’s tight-lipped about the details.

Revival is a sweeping 400-page buildup to its final conclusion and, I’ll admit I had a hard time getting into it. I expected non-stop action and spine-tingling scenes from the very first sentence instead of a quiet little town full of church-going families. Within a few chapters, however, I was golden and 100% along for the ride. I refuse to say anything about the ending (I had my theories about what the Big Reveal could be and wasn’t entirely wrong), but I will say it was a little disappointing. I think the ending will make or break this book for readers. Revival is a LONG and meticulously-plotted journey and I really feel that if the ending doesn’t work for a particular reader, it’ll ruin the entire experience. Although I had hoped for something truly scare-my-socks-off eerie, I still enjoyed this novel immensely. I’ll just have to head back to early King for my nightmares!

Hemlock Grove by Brian McGreevy

Hemlock Grove by Brian McGreevy
Pub. Date: March 2012
Source: Bought
Summary: The body of a young girl is found mangled and murdered in the woods of Hemlock Grove, Pennsylvania, in the shadow of the abandoned Godfrey Steel mill. A manhunt ensues—though the authorities aren’t sure if it’s a man they should be looking for.

Some suspect an escapee from the White Tower, a foreboding biotech facility owned by the Godfrey family—their personal fortune and the local economy having moved on from Pittsburgh steel—where, if rumors are true, biological experiments of the most unethical kind take place. Others turn to Peter Rumancek, a Gypsy trailer-trash kid who has told impressionable high school classmates that he’s a werewolf. Or perhaps it’s Roman, the son of the late JR Godfrey, who rules the adolescent social scene with the casual arrogance of a cold-blooded aristocrat, his superior status unquestioned despite his decidedly freakish sister, Shelley, whose monstrous medical conditions belie a sweet intelligence, and his otherworldly control freak of a mother, Olivia.
Genre: Paranormal, Horror
Recommended for: readers in a Halloween mood, fans of the Netflix series

I won’t lie: when I first heard Netflix was going to produce their own original line-up, I was more than a little curious. And, truth be told, not entirely convinced they could pull it off. Oh, sure, they’re great at providing me with other company’s material, but how would their own hold up? When Hemlock Grove premiered, Matt and I decided to give it a chance. What would one episode hurt? Before we knew it we were halfway through the season; before the weekend was over, we had burned through every episode. It was only after the fact that I discovered it was based on a novel.

It took two years, but I dusted off my copy and settled in. Hemlock Grove, Pennsylvania is a fictional suburb of Pittsburgh and a once-booming steel town. When the times changed, so did the Godfreys, the virtual overlords of the town. The family transitioned from steel to a biotech conglomerate with the ever-shining White Tower at the center of it all. One autumn day, a body (or, rather, what’s left of it) of a teenage girl is discovered and rumors run rampant that it was a werewolf, not a man, who committed this horrible crime.

Hemlock Grove is total camp, but I loved it. I’m always a little nervous to read the source material (details big and small tend to change and entire arcs undergo massive overhauls), but I quickly discovered I had nothing to worry about here. Hemlock Grove followed the book almost religiously, though I shouldn’t be surprised since Brian McGreevy, the author of the novel, is one of the head writers. Because the first season was a year and a half ago, there’s a good deal I forgot; Hemlock Grove (the book) is the entire first season and was not only a great refresher, but I also discovered a few things I had originally missed in the show or tiny details that were cut altogether.

Roman Godfrey, the heir apparent who knows all-too-well the weight his name holds; Peter Rumancek, a constantly-roaming Gypsy who recently moved into the local trailer park with his mother; Shelly Godfrey, Roman’s younger sister and a Frankenstein-esque creation with a heart of gold. These characters were all as wonderfully-fleshed out in the novel as they were in the show. If my heart broke for Shelly ten times over in the show, here it broke a hundred times over. Hands down my favorite character, this sweet girl is even more so within these pages. Something is rotten in Hemlock Grove and this quiet community isn’t nearly as sleepy as it seems. Old, old magic is alive and well and supernatural creatures no longer just exist in storybooks.

The one downside to Hemlock Grove was that, at times, I couldn’t figure out who the narrator was supposed to be. Throughout the novel there were be sentences sprinkled into scenes that broke the Fourth Wall. Was Brian McGreevy actually witnessing these events and then relating the tale to the reader? Was the narrator a character in the book? It was never clear to me.

Hemlock Grove is one of those novels that feels written especially for me. From the cheesy campiness to the numerous Pittsburgh shout-outs, I was completely on board from the very beginning. It’s also one of those rare novels that didn’t need to be virtually re-written for a screen adaptation, so it made picturing nearly the entire novel a joy. Although I’d definitely recommend this one for a Halloween read, Hemlock Grove is more than just a scary story: there’s history, mystery, supernatural elements, romance, and one of my favorite bromances all thrown together to create a ridiculously fun ride.

As if you actually needed some convincing to watch the show, this beautiful boy is the star:

yep.
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mini review: Hyde by Daniel Levine

Hyde by Daniel Levine
Pub. date: March 18, 2014
Source: ARC from publisher (thank you, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt!)
Summary: Mr. Hyde is hiding, trapped in Dr. Jekyll’s surgical cabinet, counting the hours until capture. As four days pass, he has the chance, finally, to tell the story of his brief, marvelous life.

We join Hyde, awakened after years of dormancy, in the mind he hesitantly shares with Jekyll. We spin with dizzy confusion as the potions take effect. We tromp through the dark streets of Victorian London. We watch Jekyll’s high-class life at a remove, blurred by a membrane of consciousness. We feel the horror of lost time, the helplessness of knowing we are responsible for the actions of a body not entirely our own.

Girls have gone missing. Someone has been killed. The evidence points to Mr. Hyde. Someone is framing him, terrorizing him with cryptic notes and whisper campaigns. Who can it be? Even if these crimes weren’t of his choosing, can they have been by his hand?
Genre: Adult, Gothic, Horror
Rating:

With my reviews, I tend to follow a format. Hyde, however, made me so angry – and nauseous – that I’m going to jump right into things. I apologize for the quotes below. I know they’re gross, but so is this book. Avoid it.

I’m not alone. Believe me, I am not alone.

I was so looking forward to having a great, albeit creepy, time with Hyde. After all, it’s a reimagining of Jekyll and Hyde, but one where Hyde is the hero and shown in a sympathetic light. Unfortunately, I didn’t get that at ALL here. Hyde is foul and disgusting, fully willing to do Jekyll’s dirty work for him and kill with no remorse.

The chapter titles confused me. They consist of four days, yet the story lasts far longer than that. I wasn’t entirely sure what these days meant. At first I thought perhaps that was how long Hyde was in control of the body, but it quickly became apparent that wasn’t the case; in one chapter we’re with Hyde for over a month!

You would think Hyde would be a fascinating character, right? Sadly, it was the minor, secondary characters I felt more for. Jeannie, a sixteen-year-old prostitute Hyde frequently visits who winds up moving in with him (along with her younger sister) and ultimately becomes pregnant. At one point the sisters are cast out of the estate and that’s it. Jeannie wasn’t even given the chance to tell Hyde about the baby. I wanted more about her. Where did she go? What happened to the baby? Out of everyone, Jeannie was the character I was the most drawn to, and she was practically written out of the story and forgotten about. Another character I found intriguing was one who wasn’t even in the story: Emile Verlaine. Before the novel starts, Jekyll experiences a bit of scandal while in France when a young boy under his care committed suicide. Through a series of narratives, we learn Emile had other personalities, much like Jekyll. These personalities were separate entities with their own characteristics and likes and dislikes. Again, however, the ‘screen-time’ wasn’t enough for me and ended far too soon.

Hyde would have been a fairly lackluster story had I not noticed just how obsessed with fecal matter it was. At first it was a bird dropping on Hyde’s jacket. This happened twice and two scenes seemed two too many. It was then it became apparent that Hyde was a book about shit:

Dr. Petit said that L’inonnu mixed his own feces into the paint. pg. 211

The fecal stink from Carew was still in my nostrils… pg. 225

Numbly, I picked at my buttons, dragging off my sticking clothes. I pulled down my trousers and drawers and stared at the filthy streaks down my legs, a blast of stench making my cover my mouth and cough. I had soiled myself. pg. 227

We passed a horse pulled up to the kerb who lifted his tail and ejected a pile of green droppings that steamed like hot food. pg. 258

He dropped the book into the pot, he turned and unbuckled his trousers, hunkered down, and strained out a dry painful curl of movement. He stood and looked woozily down at the soiled book. pg. 289

Nope. No thank you. I wash my hands (both figuratively AND literally, if you please) of this novel and it is with a hearty sigh of relief that I’m finally done with it.

Disgusting and unnecessary, Hyde is a novel that I honestly cannot recommend. To anyone. At the end of the book is the original story, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and if you’re interested in the inspiration (if you want to call it that) for Hyde, you can easily find a copy for much cheaper at a used bookstore. I hate writing negative reviews without anything positive to include, but there was nothing positive to be said about this book. It was less than 300 pages? I suppose that’s a plus. It’s really a shame; I love HMH’s Young Adult books, but this Adult novel was such a disappointment. Do yourself a favor and avoid this one.

The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon

Title: The Winter People
Author: Jennifer McMahon
Pub. Date: February 11, 2014
Source: e-ARC via netgalley (thank you, Doubleday!!)
Summary: West Hall, Vermont, has always been a town of strange disappearances and old legends. The most mysterious is that of Sara Harrison Shea, who, in 1908, was found dead in the field behind her house just months after the tragic death of her daughter, Gertie. Now, in present day, nineteen-year-old Ruthie lives in Sara’s farmhouse with her mother, Alice, and her younger sister, Fawn. Alice has always insisted that they live off the grid, a decision that suddenly proves perilous when Ruthie wakes up one morning to find that Alice has vanished without a trace. Searching for clues, she is startled to find a copy of Sara Harrison Shea’s diary hidden beneath the floorboards of her mother’s bedroom. As Ruthie gets sucked deeper into the mystery of Sara’s fate, she discovers that she’s not the only person who’s desperately looking for someone that they’ve lost. But she may be the only one who can stop history from repeating itself.
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Horror
Rating:

All quotes taken from the ARC.

The story of a little girl named Gertie who died.

Whose mother loved her too much to let her go.

So she brought her back.

One of the first reviews ever posted on the blog (back in August, 2011!) was Don’t Breathe a Word, a deliciously creepy novel about the disappearance of a little girl who went off to marry the King of the Fairies and never returned home. That novel was my introduction to Jennifer McMahon and has stuck with me ever since, a perfect combination of horror and reality and how blurred the lines separating them really are.

Two years later I’ve got another McMahon novel under my belt and I’m itching for a third (and fourth and fifth…). Going off the two I’ve read so far it’s clear McMahon has something of a formula, a recipe of sorts, that she uses when writing. Don’t Breath a Word had a cop-out ending that I didn’t care for at all – the final destination made the entire journey feel a bit worthless – and was a little worried the same would hold true for The Winter People. Despite my worries, I jumped right in and discovered a novel even better than the first.

She remembered her parents’ warnings when she was little: Stay out of the woods. Bad things happen to little girls who get lost out there.

The first thing you should know about me: I love dual time periods in novels. I live and breathe multiple eras so right off the bat The Winter People was looking good. The second thing you should know about me: the more character perspectives there are, the happier I am. The Winter People had a huge cast of characters, and the story played out over many of their points of view. Giddy from the get-go, I only came to love this book more and more the further I read.

An old farmhouse in West Hall, Vermont holds its share of secrets (some, literally). In the late 1800s, Sara Harrison grew up in the house with her siblings, father, and Auntie. Auntie’s strange and otherworldly beliefs ostracized her from the rest of the townsfolk, yet when they needed a surefire way to win the eye of someone or needed a remedy the doctor couldn’t provide, she was the person to go to. While growing up, Sara had heard whispers of sleepers, those returned from the grave, and on one occasion saw a classmate in the woods not long after having attended her funeral.

Now grown and with a child of her own, Sara Harrison Shea still lives in her childhood home. Unfortunately Gertie is in a terrible accident and her untimely death is too much for Sara to handle. As she sinks deeper and deeper into depression (or, as her husband and brother-in-law believe, madness) she faithfully pens her diary, filling it with knowledge Auntie had passed down.

Since then, multiple families have come and gone, and now Alice and her two daughters reside in the old farmhouse. As far back as the girls can remember, Alice has made it clear they are never to go into the woods, especially not the Devil’s Hand as the locals call it, and if anyone should ever knock on the door they are never to open it. Never. Alice’s sudden disappearance one morning sends the girls on a manhunt through states and decades as they discover hidden diary entries and realize the town’s legends might be real after all.

The Winter People had me thoroughly creeped out in the middle of the afternoon! I think that’s a pretty good testament to McMahon’s skill as a writer, don’t you? Broad daylight with the sun shining through my windows and there I was, jumping at every sound. More than once I steered clear of the closets, fulling expecting to be greeted by a sleeper. This novel is very much a winter read and not just because of the title. There’s a stark coldness that’s ever-present, and a resounding sadness that left me thinking in shades of blue and grey. Death is also a key theme and the novel explores the lengths some people would go to in order to see a loved one for one more day – or, in this case, one more week.

It’s been a while since a novel has captivated me from beginning to end, but The Winter People did just that. In one case I was reading well into the night (not my best decision!) simply because I could not put the book down. I came to know and care for these characters: Ruthie and her little sister Fawn; Katherine and her anguish over the loss of both her husband and son; Sara with her sorrow and excitement. Despite the number of characters and eras, McMahon wove the story together flawlessly.

Again, however, the ending loses a bit of its magic. Ruthie doesn’t so much make a decision as accept what’s thrown upon her. While it does leave room for a possible sequel, I had hoped for more. Despite that minor bump I absolutely loved The Winter People and highly recommend it. If you’re in the mood for a quick and compelling novel that will keep you guessing, this is it.

The End Games by T. Michael Martin

Title: The End Games
Author: T. Michael Martin (websitetwitter)
Pub. Date: May 7, 2013
Source: Publisher
Summary: It happened on Halloween.

The world ended.

And a dangerous Game brought it back to life.

Seventeen-year-old Michael and his five-year-old brother, Patrick, have been battling monsters in The Game for weeks.

In the rural mountains of West Virginia, armed with only their rifle and their love for each other, the brothers follow Instructions from the mysterious Game Master. They spend their days searching for survivors, their nights fighting endless hordes of “Bellows”—creatures that roam the dark, roaring for flesh. And at this Game, Michael and Patrick are very good.

But The Game is changing.

The Bellows are evolving.

The Game Master is leading Michael and Patrick to other survivors—survivors who don’t play by the rules.

And the brothers will never be the same.
Genre: YA, Horror
Rating:

Twenty-two days since Halloween. Twenty-two days since Michael followed the Game Master’s Instructions and carried Patrick through a door into the night and saw their first Bellow. Twenty-two days since that moment, since the world seemed to end, but then instantaneously resurrected, to a frightening and beautiful life.

Michael’s world changed Halloween night. His original plan had been to take his younger brother and run away from their abusive stepfather. Unfortunately for Michael, life doesn’t always go according to plan. Halloween night brought monsters, monsters unlike anything Michael had ever seen before.

Following the instructions he received from the Game Master, Michael led Patrick into the forests of West Virginia, deeper and deeper into the wilderness and into the world of the Bellows.

Fifty feet away, he could just make out the creature: staggering, hitching wild legs through the woods. Its limbs hung at impossible angles, a dozen times shattered. Its clothes were stripes of rot. What skin still cling to the skeleton was in some spots the color of mushrooms and in others that of wax and mostly it was as pale as the bones that jutted through it.

The boys have one goal in mind: reach the Safe Zone. Not only will they be among the living again, but they’ll be able to be reunited with their mother (assuming, of course, she managed to get to a Safe Zone). Along the way Michael and Patrick meet up with a small group of survivors and it’s with them they they learn not only what caused the outbreak, but that there is also a cure. Everything rests with the Safe Zone.

First things first: I’m not a zombie fan. Sure, The Walking Dead is fun and a few years ago I fell in love with Raising Stony Mayhall, but apart from that, I just don’t care about the undead. Zombies are still riding high at the moment however, and I always like to come out of my comfort zone every so often.

You know what? I liked The End Games. I really liked The End Games. Those Bellows are how I expect zombies to look and act; they shambled along in such a quiet, terrifying way that my breath caught multiple times. That’s the work of a fantastic writing, Mr. Martin: making me so deeply engrossed that I feel as though I’m the one being chased. I loved it.

I’ve mentioned time and time again that I live in Pittsburgh & this story really hit home for me. Literally. I’m less than an hour away from the West Virginia border and could easily picture myself in Michael’s & Patrick’s shoes.

“No, no, I totally get it,” she said. “You worked the whole time to get to the ‘the Safe Zone,’ but it lacks ‘the Safe,’ so if that didn’t work, then what will, right? What we’ve got on our hands is one highly unreliable apocalypse. A hundred years of post-Armaggedon narratives! And the world ends without the courtesy of a sale place to go to.”

The reveal with the Game Master and his true identity broke my heart for Patrick and made me love Michael even more. Everything he has done has been for this little 5-year old boy who he loves more than anything. These two boys felt so real to me: they fight and argue, but would die for each other. Even with the world falling to pieces, Michael is still a teenage boy and gets shy around a pretty girl. Patrick might put up a good front, but he’s still a picky eater and wants his mother when he’s too scared to go on.

There is a romance and, personally, I could have done without it. It felt a bit tacked on as an afterthought, an attempt to draw in romance fans. On the plus side, it wasn’t a love triangle.

As a standalone, I felt The End Games was really well done and enjoyed it quite a bit. I can see both long-time zombie fans and those new to the genre having a good time with this novel. That the author used his own name and his brother’s name for the two main characters feels a bit Mary Sue-ish (or Gary Stu, if you will), but I can easily look past that. As a debut novel, The End Games was great and has me interested in what Martin comes up with next.