The Grip Of It – Review

“I worry he’ll think I’ve been keeping secrets. And then, because I don’t want to keep secrets, I keep more secrets.”

The Grip Of It is an eery novel about one couple’s struggle to live in a haunted house. Of course, they didn’t know it was haunted when they first moved in, but with each passing day, their grip on reality slips further and further from their grasp.

James and Julie decide that a move into a nice small town, away from their city problems and city life is the perfect solution to their most recent marital woes. Well, Julie decides this. And James goes along with her, because maybe it really will help. It can’t hurt to take his gambling problems far away from their constant allure. It can’t hurt to settle down somewhere with a slower pace to find their bearings once more. It can’t hurt.

“The span between hurt and help is not a span at all: a fine dotted line,”

When they are shown the older house, complete with hidden rooms and secret passages, they thrill at the idea of living somewhere so unique. When their offer for lower than the already low asking is accepted, they rejoice at their new start.

But almost right away, things begin to feel off. The neighbor stares through his window at them almost constantly, never acknowledging them, never talking to them. The house makes noises, at first vague and odd, but increasing in intensity and frequency. Items move without them moving it. But the time bruises begin to appear on Julie’s body and they question if they should move, it appears the house already has them firmly in it’s grasp.

“James and I are living in a Latin mass, memorizing ritual, reciting mysteries we’ve given up on deciphering, foreign syllables unrolling in order.”

This book had me on the edge of my seat until the end, when, well, things sort of took a confusing turn. Ending a horror story is a daunting task. Do you let them escape unharmed, the house waiting for the next victim? Do they become part of the haunting? Is it all a dream or a descent into madness? And how do you tie it up to the ending you want without making it feel predictable or cliche?┬áJac Jemc manages to write her ending so that it isn’t cliche, or predictable, but I also wonder if it was an ending at all.

The thing with supernatural subject matter is that often they leave us with a bit of a vague answer. The reader is required to form some opinions and the author drops them at a crossroads of paths. Usually, it is only a few paths, but they are there, ready to allow our imaginations to continue the journey and to follow our subconscious to our own conclusions. I really enjoy these types of books because they stay with me long after the pages have ended. These are the characters you think of like old friends you lose touch with. They exists, somewhere, because their endings were never written.

That said, this ending had more than a few crossroads at the end, and I’m not entirely sure it felt even close to wrapped up for me. We were being led down a path, but then at the last minute, Jemc turned on the light in the room and revealed that maybe there had been multiple paths happening all at once without our knowing. This is a trick we see sometimes in horror or suspense. M. Night Shyamalan does this trick exceedingly well in his movies. Except in his movies, we want to rewatch the story to revel in all the details we missed. The experience is added to, not changed.

With The Grip Of It, I felt like I needed to reread the entire book from the beginning to even try and figure it out. It wasn’t to add to my experience, but rather a need to understand it. Options and paths were added at the end, that felt at odds with what we were initially presented with in the beginning. In all, I felt somewhat confused.

There are vague endings full of uncertainty, and then there are vague endings that are entirely uncertain. The Grip Of It was the latter for me. Perhaps I didn’t pick up enough clues, or the right clues along the way. Maybe it was meant to be as ambiguous and unsettling as the characters felt. If so, then that part was well done. Like Julie and James, I have no idea what was real and what wasn’t. The house was haunted but there are so many loose ends, details that were presented but never answered. It’s difficult to not feel as if I reached the end only to find pieces missing.

But maybe that’s the point. Maybe this was less about the haunting and more about experiencing the haunting with them. We feel the unease, and the creepiness building in intensity until we are dying with curiosity to know what’s happening. We have to know, we want to know, but maybe some things aren’t knowable. Perhaps the greatest horror of all is never knowing.

Thank you FSG Originals for sending me a copy to read and review!

Ultimate Sacrifice – Review

“Blood is the first thing I see, covering the front of his white V-neck tee and down across his yellow swim trunks.”

As we open the book, we meet Vickie, enjoying the quiet of her family home in rural Tennessee. Quiet and peaceful until she hears her twin brother, Travis, screaming for help and emerging from the woods covered in blood.

If that isn’t enough to make you sit up and take notice, finding out that the blood is from 4 year old Michelle, their neighbor and family friend will. Even worse, Michelle was found stuffed inside a goat in what looks like Satanic Ritual.

This book! I devoured it. Seriously! I read this in less than a day. It is fast and intense. It draws you in from the very beginning and all you want to know is what’s going on! Who killed Michelle? And why?

“Anyone can step into these woods at any time. There is no fence. I’ve never thought about that before. Never worried. Never needed to. But now I do.”

S.E. Green does a fantastic job shedding doubt on every single person in Vickie’s life. I mean, everyone. It’s brilliant writing as you feel this building distrust right along Vickie. As she learns new information, or overhears snippets of conversation, you feel the unease right in your gut. You can’t help but feel that you are being led down a very dark path, but seeing the details of the path is murky and difficult. Which is fantastic horror.

Ultimate Sacrifice isn’t horror at every turn. But Green uses your discomfort and uneasiness to work against your imagination the entire time. It isn’t what’s happening, but what could happen, or what did happen that kicks your pulse into high gear. Because you know that you are being led somewhere. And that somewhere can’t be anyplace good.

“What is this life I now live that I took a gun into the woods earlier and am now sitting on my own porch with a butcher knife at my side?”

As we go through the days following this atrocious discovery, the funeral, the investigation, it becomes obvious to Vickie that there is some connection to Satanic ritual. Even though there seems to be a logical explanation, Vickie can’t help but see these connections everywhere she looks.

For Vickie, this murder is personal. She loved Michelle. She is frustrated at the police, at the news, even at her parents. She wants to know who killed her, not just for her own piece of mind, but to be able to mourn the little girl. You can feel her desperation as she makes her decisions, some questionable, some rash, but you understand them and her frantic state of mind. Her fear clouds her judgment, but as you read, you realize that your vision is clouded too.

I do think that a few characters and story lines could have been developed a touch more. It doesn’t take away from the reading, or the overall book, but it would have added more depth to the overall experience. But again, it doesn’t take away from the experience.

Ultimate Sacrifice is a book where you find yourself questioning everything. By the end, your hesitation to actually know only adds to the suspense and horror. And what an ending!

I am not going to spoil this book, because those last few pages are horrifying and shocking, which is exactly the ending a book like this needs. However, I will say, that it isn’t about predictability. Even if you suspected the ending, I would be surprised if you didn’t find it shocking nonetheless. Sometimes seeing the picture out of the dark shapes surrounding it makes it less scary. Sometimes it only highlights the gruesome reality. This book is definitely the latter. Seeing the details only shoves the horror from a vague discomfort in the pit of your stomach into a scream clawing its way out of your throat.

If you’re looking for a book this Halloween season that will make your skin tingle and the hair on the back of your neck rise, this is it. Ultimate Sacrifice releases October 9. Just in time to prepare you for Scream Season.

Thank you to OfTomes Publishing for the opportunity to read and review this book early!