The Wife Between Us – Review

WifeBetweenUs_BlogTourBannerr1.png

“Assume nothing.”

The Wife Between Us warns us on the very cover to assume nothing. It tells us explicitly to expect a ride where we can’t see the road ahead. It tells us, and still, the assumptions came. Still I tried to see.

There are three people involved in this book: Richard, his ex-wife and his current fiancé. Throughout the book though, we only get the perspective of the two women. Richard is the thing that ties them together, but this book is about the women.

We are taken down a road of perceptions. How we perceive ourselves, how other people perceive us, how we perceive those perceptions. And the writers have taken it a step further and involved the reader into these impressions. They rely on how we understand and predict characters, plot, twists. This novel is fiction, but it is also interactive. We are part of the twists, whether we like it or not.

The subtlety in the writing is stunning. Hendricks and Pekkanen lull us into the very assumptions they warn us against. They woo us into believing that the warning is a hype, that there can’t possibly be another angle we haven’t thought about. Until the first twist hits you.

But unlike a roller coaster, where you can see the escalation and prepare for it, the first twist hits you like a car crash. Sudden. Abrupt. Unseen. Unexpected. I sat up in bed, my brain demanding that I stop and reevaluate everything I had read up until that point. And this isn’t happening at the end of the book, this is merely a third of the way in.

Even after the hit, once again, the authors take us down a calmer road. They once again woo us into trusting our own beliefs. They convince us that we can’t possibly be surprised again, now that we know their game, we can anticipate the next move. Except we can’t.

Again and again, this novel slams into you. Taking everything you think you know and using it against you. It is brilliant and shocking and such a fantastic ride!

It’s difficult to write this review, since there is so much written within the narrative that you simply have to experience yourself. It isn’t a book I can’t tell you about without taking away from your own ride. Just know, that it is fantastic. The psychology both in the writing of the characters and in how the writers use the readers own natural assumptions is breathtaking.

This book will be compared to many novels that have swept through the literary world. But those comparisons don’t do the novel justice. This book IS the next big thing. This is the book that thrillers will be compared to and held up to. This is the book that you will talk about and recommend and obsess over.

I know that this review is very vague. I find myself struggling with how to write a review that captures the essence of what I read. Listing every synonym to fantastic, stunning, phenomenal, etc doesn’t seem to be appropriate, yet I hesitate to put in any details. To give away any hints would be criminal.

I said before that this book is interactive. The reader is submersed into the characters in a way that I’ve never experienced before. When the narrators are unnerved, so are we. And the way we are lulled into trust and complacency is the same way that the women involved in the book are. They think they know what’s happening. We think we know what’s happening. They want to believe it will never happen again. We want to believe it will never happen again.

Over and over, the twists hit us as they hit the characters, and the visceral reactions you will feel are spectacular in their execution.

The dark themes of abuse, mental illness, power and control are chilling, in both their accuracy and their understated abundance. These themes are hard to decipher in real life, and the authors have ensured that they are hard to decipher within these pages as well. This is a book that deserves to be analyzed and examined and discussed. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever experienced in a novel.

The Wife Between Us comes out January 9, and if there’s one book you need to get, it’s this one. Click the banner at the top of the page, or the links below to pre-order your copy today!

THE WIFE BETWEEN US

Thank you St. Martin’s Press for sending me an early copy to read and review!

Exquisite – Review

“I was suspicious of love and what it did to people – those dark depths of anguish and horror; the thought of it all made me shudder.”

Bo Luxton has the life everyone wants. A successful writing career, loyal husband and two adorable daughters. She is the very picture of happiness and contentment. All she wants is to share her happiness with others. To help guide fresh new talent into the literary world, giving back to the world that has given her so much.

Alice Dark is young and lost. Full of hidden but unused talent, she writes an entry to a writing retreat, expecting it to end in nothing but disappointment like every endeavor before. To her surprise, she is selected and given the chance at everything she’s ever wanted.

From the moment Bo read Alice’s words, she knew this was the young talent she had been looking for. And from the moment Alice spoke with Bo, she knew this was a woman whose wisdom could guide her. Mentor and mentee. Two paths destined to cross and become entwined. So how does it all go wrong?

This book is breathtaking in it’s intensity! Every page has you swept into the story, the suspense building with a subtlety that is, well, exquisite. You know something is off, but it’s difficult to put your finger on it. For the life of me, I could not tell which direction Stovell was taking me. I only knew it was going to be a dark and twisted path.

“There’s only one direction this can go, and that is straight to hell.”

We are given the story of Alice and Bo in parts. The first is a story, a woman in prison, but where and when is yet to be determined. Is she a narrator, a story from one of the writers, or a third party yet to be presented? And then we get chapters from both Bo and Alice’s perspectives. These are alternating until after the retreat, where we get only Alice and then only Bo. And then back to alternating as we get closer to the truth.

Each side is presented, with their own slant told. And Stovell is masterful in her writing, never giving us enough clues to get a grasp on what’s actually taking place. Page after page has us feeling as if we are trapped in a cage of quicksand and fog. Nothing is steady, nothing is sure, except that someone is lying.

“The thing about being hurt badly is that the only person who can make you feel better is the person who hurt you, and so you keep going back and they keep making you better, but then they hurt you again, and so it goes on.”

Exquisite kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time. I never knew who to trust, who was the victim and who was the assailant. Even when Stovell unveiled the details, the truth was so sinister, it hits you in the gut, hard and unexpected. Again, the word exquisite fits so perfectly, because that level of story telling is exquisite. You know something is coming, and yet it still manages to hit you by surprise. The title perfect in so many ways.

I am a huge fan of psychological plots, especially where the characters are so deeply complex it’s difficult to fault them for their flaws, and Stovell does not disappoint. But there’s also a deeper villain uncovered, and the cold, sinister motivations are chilling and pathological. We are introduced to someone unrelenting and unapologetic in their behavior, and that persona is truly terrifying. To be lulled into complacency, into sympathizing with someone this evil in nature gets under your skin. Stovell has given us a villain that really does make you stay awake at night because this is the type of villain that is real.

If you are a fan of psychological suspense or thrillers, you need to get your hands on this book. It is masterful in it’s suspense, brilliant in it’s psychology, and breathtaking in it’s twists. In all, this book is exquisite.

Thank you Orenda Books for sending me a copy to read and review!

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? Jac 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!

Seance Infernale – Review

“All those things you fear will reach from into the shadows and pull you down there with them.”

Seance Infernale is an intense thriller following Alex Whitman on his journey to find a piece of film, only rumored to exist. In America, Thomas Edison is credited with building the first camera known to capture motion pictures. In France, the Lumber brothers. But one year before Edison filed his patent, a man named Augustin Sekular is rumored to have built and filmed the world’s first motion picture camera. Conveniently, or rather inconveniently, one year before Edison files for his patent, Sekular vanished from a train, never to be seen or heard from again, taking all signs of the camera with him.

However, the man hiring Whitman to find this lost piece of film isn’t interested in any of the film strips by Sekular known and catalogued. He wants one so rare, it is only whispered about: Seance Infernale. A film only referred to in a letter by a man known in history to be a conman of sorts.

This book is more than a hunt for rare art. More than a historical mystery yearning to be solved. We learn that Whitman lost his daughter ten years prior. Abducted in a park in Edinburgh and never heard from again, she haunts Whitman. His acceptance of this job, and this hunt for Sekular’s film takes him back to the city filled with ghosts. Whitman will have to face his own ghosts, while searching for Sekular’s.

“Sources failed to indicate Sekular’s exact Edinburgh address, they stated that the family lived in a perilous region, full of seedy businesses, dark alleys, and run-down tenements, a place “where wickedness loses its seductive appeal by manifesting in all its depravity.”

Whitman isn’t the only perspective we get; however. In addition to his hunt for this mythical film, a Detective Sergeant, Georgina McBride is hunting an elusive creature of a different sort. A serial killer prowling the streets of Edinburgh, kidnapping children and leaving their bodies in alleys. Georgina needs to find his latest victim while there’s still a chance they are alive.

Two different people searching for two different things, and yet their paths cross in unpredictable ways. But the more each of them discovers, the more they realize their searches are more dangerous than either one ever anticipated.

“Because a murder investigation is first and foremost a hired investigation; your client may be silent and dead, but he is still screaming out for justice.”

This book shocked me! I was expecting a hunt through time to solve a lost mystery. But, the present day twists with McBride’s serial killer hunt kept me on my toes! It was easy to lulled into the mystery of this lost film, and what happened to Sekular. As soon as you got comfortable in that story, you were slammed into the present day with the hunt for this killer. In addition, we get some narration from Elliot, the killer himself, told in such a way that you aren’t sure who he is going to end up being, or why he is important to Whitman and this film.

There is graphic violence in this book, both in what Elliot does to his victims and some flashbacks of other scenes in characters lives. One particular scene of animal cruelty was two pages I skipped, it was that grotesque. So, if that sort of violence unnerves you or makes you queasy, this may not be the book for you.

As far as dark thrillers, this book is crazy dark and crazy intense. I was climbing the walls, reading between my fingers, and definitely leaving the lights on to make it through this book! The author does a fantastic job weaving characters in and out of the plot, and just when you’ve forgotten about someone, they pop back in to play. He has a talent for making you look to the left and then hitting you from the right. Every twist and turn was like plummeting down a roller coaster blind folded. It is exhilarating but also terrifying.

My favorite parts are when we are taken below ground into ancient and forgotten parts of Edinburgh. Areas simply entombed over in the name of progress. Skariton does an insane job bringing places to life. I could taste the dust and smell the stale air as crypts and catacombs were discovered and explored. And nothing says creepy more than underground houses, forgotten tunnels and old graveyards.

“You could have walked past it every day on the way to work and you wouldn’t have noticed it, padlocked behind doors or hidden underground. It was right there, for everyone to see, yet it was unknown. But that was Edinburgh, revealing itself only in the constant vigilance of dark, steady eyes.”

I did read this as an ARC, so there were some pieces that seemed incomplete. I don’t mean the writing, it’s more the presentation of the book. This is a book that has art within the book, and with those pieces missing, it felt a little confusing. Some were there, but notes at the bottom and the notes in the back seemed to not quite be finished, so I didn’t feel that I got the entire experience.

The hardest thing, and again, this may be fixed in a final copy, is there weren’t any years in the chapter headers. The book is divided into sections with the date (month and day) listed at the beginning of each section. But, the narration jumps between the years quite a bit and it can get confusing, especially as we are reading between multiple points of view. It isn’t overwhelming, but I did have to backtrack a few times to figure out where I was supposed to be.

In all, this book was perfect for October reading and for the #spookathon. It will leave your heart racing and your stomach churning as you hold your breath waiting to read the outcome. If you like dark, if you love thrillers, and you don’t mind some intense violence, this book is definitely for you!

I won this in a giveaway from AA Knopf, and was not required or obligated to review.

Containment – Review

“When it comes to contagious diseases, it’s a pretty small world.”

I knew by the synopsis that this book was going to be a terrifying ride. I knew going in, and yet somehow I was still unprepared for the terror this book brought!

Mariah Rossi studies viruses and works to make sure that in the event of a breakout, it can be easily and quickly contained. Curt Kennedy, scientist and covert CIA agent, also works to ensure containment of outbreaks. But when a lethal virus begins to kill people outside of Philadelphia, time is not on their side. They need to work together to figure out what this virus is, and how it can be contained.

Told from multiple perspectives, we get to watch this terrifying virus reveal itself. We see it through Mariah and Curt’s eyes, but also Doctor Vector, the terrorist developing the virus to be even deadlier than it was originally. Using ticks as its carrier. While the outbreak is happening in Philadelphia, the conspiracy that unleashed it ends up taking Curt and Mariah all over the globe as they race to stop Doctor Vector from releasing havoc onto the world.

“Doctor Vector smiled. Soon his soldiers would be ready for battle.”

The twists and turns this book takes you on are as exhilarating as a roller-coaster. The plot builds and builds, and just when you think you have a grasp on what’s happening, the floor plunges from out beneath you. Over and over again, until your heart is pounding in your ears and you’re breathless with the intensity of it all. There were twists I never would have guessed that completely blind-sided me. And yet, each turn the plot took, each twist that presented itself, all made sense in a very real-world setting. Which made the entire thing even more chilling than if it remained in the realm of fiction.

Most thrillers and suspense novels borrow from real life. They take a ‘what if’ and explore the dark underbelly of possibility. What could happen? And even though we know these things could happen, we take comfort in knowing they probably won’t.

With Containment, the details hit a little too close to home. They unravel with breathtaking speed, and every event makes your stomach queasy. Even more disconcerting is finding out that the author has studied and lectured on these exact topics. The book is fiction, but the ideas within the pages are all too real. As you read you can hear the reality a little too clearly.

There is a lot of “shop talk” within these pages. A credit to the strength of writing and story-telling of Parker in how he manages to make them seem natural to the reader. There is a glossary in the back, but I never felt the need to look up a term or felt confused in reading. He doesn’t work it into the dialogue, or place an awkward technical explanation in the writing, he simply is able to describe what he means without dumbing it down or calling it out. By the time I reached the glossary, I realized that how elegant these work-ins were. I didn’t even realize I needed a glossary.

It’s strange to think, but most plots, whether fictional or real life, truly only impact a small number of people. A person gets murdered, and while the effect on their friends and family is deep and profound, the tragedy is contained. Part of what makes Containment so bone-chilling, is the sheer idea of how many people can be impacted. A virus can kill millions in the blink of an eye. People, wildlife, pets, infected and killed, sometimes within hours or even days. The sheer volume of casualty is shocking, and the speed in which it can occur even more horrifying.

The title eludes to more than simply finding and stopping a virus. Containment zones need to be put into place, and the extent of those zones will vary by threat. It was chilling to read how quickly you could lose your rights in the event of a tragedy or emergency. How fast law-abiding citizens turn rogue as fear and panic set in. How little control we end up having in the face of disaster. The idea of containing not just the virus, but the fallout as well. I love a title that has multiple layers of meaning hidden within it.

I will caution sensitive readers going into this book. While there isn’t graphic violence, there are disturbing ideas discussed and presented. Parker doesn’t shy away from giving a direct understanding of what lethal viruses would look like in a human and animals, which is unpleasant to read about. There is a trigger scene involving a sexual assault. Again, nothing graphic or explicit, but the detail is realistic and can be disturbing.

This book is a thriller in the most strict of definitions. I found myself having to put it down and breathe through my unease. It is realistic and terrifying. Like any thrill ride, you’ll put the book down feeling shaky; adrenaline having spiked through your muscles leaving you exhilarated and shocked, but stronger for surviving the ride.

Thank you Touchstone Books for sending me a copy to read and review!

We All Fall Down – Review

“I stay in the car because I’m not welcome at the door.”

From the very first sentence we see the tension built into the backstory of this YA thriller. Theo and Paige have been friends forever. Paige battles anxiety and Theo battles ODD, ADHD and a number of other disorders. Together they can face anything.

Except Paige’s parents think Theo is a negative influence. Except Paige has had a crush on Theo forever, and has decided to leave the unrequited feelings in the past. Except, they aren’t unrequited.

“Paige checks her phone and teeters in her pretty sandals, and my mind is popping and buzzing, but there’s not a thing I can do. I’ve had all the time in the world. If she likes this guy, I need to suck it up and deal.”

Theo doesn’t deal with things though. He gets drunk. The party is at an old bridge, and Paige is pushed to climb the bridge by her date. When she starts to have an anxiety attack, Theo is too drunk to help. Instead he gets in a fight. But when he hauls his fist to take a swing, it isn’t her date’s face his fist collides with. It’s Paige.

Talk about an explosive opening act.

When we meet Theo and Paige again, several months have gone by. Theo is back near the scene of the crime, so to speak, working for his Uncle, trying a new assortment of meds and living in a pit of regret. Paige is attending a summer Science program on the opposite side of the bridge for college credit. She is working on forgetting Theo, accepting that he is bad news like her parents told her all along.

They both want to forget. They both want to move on. But something keeps bringing them together. Something keeps reminding them of the one night they both want to forget. Something won’t let them move on.

The representation of mental health issues in teens is phenomenal in this book. It isn’t just how accurate and relatable Richards makes Paige and Theo. It’s the details. How Paige’s parents are typical helicopter parents, constantly hovering and interfering. How Theo’s have simply written him off as too much trouble and too much work. Both are very real reactions from parents when dealing with adolescents who struggle with disorders.

Even though we don’t see a lot of Paige’s parents, their influence is felt throughout the entire thing. I think this is also very accurate and was well done. Whether it’s the over involvement or the complete disappearance, these reactions shape both Theo and Paige and how they react to various situations. It is also extremely well written because it is these small details that build the tension and suspense within Paige.

“Alarms flare in my mind. I shouldn’t have said his name. Shouldn’t have talked about his at all. What if she says something to my parents when they pick me up?”

As far as Theo goes, we see very little even in the background of his parents. Rather it is his Uncle Denny who is his main parental figure for the summer. Denny has a construction business and is letting Theo live with him and work, to keep him out of trouble. Denny is actually a decent Uncle. He tries, but is clearly in over his head with Theo. He doesn’t even know where to begin. But you can tell he cares, and Theo cares about what he thinks as well.

“He nods slowly, still ruminating whatever armchair-therapist crap he was about to spit out. He must think better of it, because he adjust his cap on his thinning hair and sighs.”

But no matter how many meds Theo forces his therapist to prescribe or how many times he promises to stay away from Paige, some force seems to be pulling them together. Whether it’s mysterious noises drawing them to the bridge, or remnants from the party long thought discarded mysteriously appearing; something is happening. And it always leads back to the bridge.

This part of the novel was especially enjoyable for me because I think bridges are creepy in general. Yes, they are beautiful from a distance. And romantic. And historical. But really. Driving a car over something that could collapse at any moment is terrifying to me. So I completely get the anxiety and trauma associated with this bridge. Throw in some weird supernatural nonsense. I would be out of there super fast!

But what I really enjoyed was how Richards was able to weave the supernatural in to play against both Theo and Paige’s natural dispositions. If you constantly question everything, how do you know when you’re being haunted or going crazy? It’s a fine line, and the suspense both of them felt at legitimately not knowing the answer was brilliant.

“The arsenic is there because rivers are full of icky things. And because no matter how deep you bury them, they find their way to the surface.”

This is excellent YA suspense. It deals with relevant issues and, perhaps, gives a new light and perspective on how kids dealing with those issues feel. It also is a bloody good haunting novel. Whether real or imagined, the ghosts we believe to be real will always be as powerful as we allow them to be. I absolutely loved how this was handled, and explored and ultimately, how this story ended.

I won this book in a giveaway from Teen Reads and am thrilled I was able to read it!

 

 

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!

Final Girls – Review

“The forest had claws and teeth.”

The opening words to Final Girls and we are thrown into the beginning of a horror story. A girl, screaming, running through a forest covered in blood, trying to escape death that follows her. This is how we meet Quincy Carpenter.

We are thrown abruptly from the past and land jarringly in the future, years after that horrific night. Quincy, the sole survivor of a massacre, now a successful baking blogger, living her life as if she isn’t severely scarred from that night. Perhaps she isn’t, as she doesn’t remember a thing about that night. Nothing except the briefest of glimpses. She’s decided that’s a good thing. Besides her memory lapse and her daily Xanax, Quincy really has put the past behind her.

If only the world would let her stay forgotten.

Quincy is part of an infamous, exclusive, tiny group known to the world as The Final Girls. Girls who through luck, or fate, have survived horrific mass slaughters. A term from horror films, and popularized in the media, and used to describe Quincy. And two other. Only two others. Lisa, the first, survived the slaughter in her sorority house when a dropout took his revenge by stabbing every girl in the house. Lisa managed to kill him and nearly died herself before help arrived. And Sam, a maid working the night shift at a small motel in Florida, who managed to escape the killing spree of the Sack Man.

“What if I don’t want to be a Final Girl?                                                                            That’s not your choice. It’s already been decided for you. You can’t change what’s happened. The only thing you can control is how you deal with it.”

Quincy never wanted to be a Final Girl. She never wanted to be a victim. She never wanted to stay a victim. So she keeps Lisa at a distance, never accepting her help or her support or her guidance. Sam makes it easy by disappearing entirely.

Except, Lisa ends up dead, and then Sam shows up on her doorstep. Everything Quincy has worked so hard to put behind her, is suddenly refusing to be pushed aside anymore. Suddenly, having Sam in her apartment makes her realize how alone she has feels. How alone she has felt since that night. And while having Sam around isn’t easy, Quincy isn’t sure she wants to let her go either.

“Jeff doesn’t know what it’s like to have one of only two people just like you snatched from this earth. He doesn’t know how sad and scary and confusing that feels.”

But for all that Quincy likes having Sam around, Sam seems intent on pushing Quincy to remember. She brings up emotions that Quincy has worked had to keep stuffed deep down inside. Feelings that could trigger memories and flashbacks that she doesn’t want triggered. Quincy begins behaving in ways that shock her, but she is unable to stop herself. As new details about Lisa’s death emerge, Quincy feels the control she has so kept tightly leashed for a decade begin to loosen and unfurl.

“I laugh at the ridiculousness of the situation. We’re just two massacre survivors downing Xanax. Lisa would not have approved.”

We get glimpses into that night. The pieces that Quincy remembers. The before. And the after. Each memory told to draw out the suspense of that night. The effect of this interspersed recall builds not just the terror but the mystery of the night as well. Will we finally be able to see what actually happened?

This book isn’t a gripping, hold you to the edge of your seat, action packed thriller. But it is thrilling and intense in a different way. Quincy is very similar to many female leads in typical slasher films. She makes decisions that you’re screaming at her not to make and does things you want to scream at her not to do. However, Sager firmly establishes in the beginning that Quincy is Queen of the town Denial, so her decisions and actions are going to be erratic and foolish and at times desperate. We know it going in.

And while we don’t get a horror movie in the entire book, we get it in the flashbacks, which read like segments of these films. It’s interesting to me how breaking these scenes up into these brief flashbacks, actually increased the suspense for me. Each glimpse made me want more. Each memory revealed a little bit more of Quincy. And with each flash we start to understand why she doesn’t want to remember anything at all.

Final Girls combines the slow intensity of a psychological thriller with the shocking violence of a horror film. The dramatic difference between the two experiences is enough to keep you off balance while you’re reading. I don’t know how predictable the ending was because honestly, I wasn’t even trying to figure it out, I was simply pulled along for the ride.

If you’ve never been in a situation where you’ve tried to hide from your past, or deny who you are, Quincy may seem difficult to understand. For me, she made sense, and part of the intensity was watching that grasp over her identity slip. It was fascinating reading the flashbacks in relation to this to see a before and an after. Who she was and who she decided to be. And then who is underneath.

“What will I feel more of? The bad or the good?”                                                           “That’s the weird part. They’re one and the same.”

This book is dark and a delight to read. It’s a book that let’s your imagination get ahead of yourself as you think about the possibilities. Not just of the horrors of that night. But everything that follows. To survive is more than a single event. It’s more than simply walking out of the woods alive. It is a daily occurrence. Something that takes constant effort. And then Sagar makes us wonder what happens when events force you to relive that trauma.

For Quincy, the monster is both real and imagined. There was a monster. One who lived and killed and died. And then there’s the one in her head. The one who lives on and on and on.

We are entering the season of haunted houses and thrills. Jump into the season right, and read this book.

Thank you to Read It Forward and Dutton Books for giving away this book!

Heather the Totality – Review

“She was radiant with life even when she was alone, or thought she was.”

Heather, The Totality is a power punch of a novel. Short but brutally precise, each word is chosen carefully and delivers deliberate intensity.

We are introduced to Mark and Karen Breakstone, a couple living in New York. Having married later in life, when the couple has a daughter, Heather, she becomes the focus of their life. Or, at least, for Karen she does. Make finds himself sort of an intimate outsider, though his love or adoration isn’t any less.

We are also introduced to Robert Klasky, Bobby, who lives a much different life from the Breakstone family. Neglected and ignored by his addict mother, Bobby learns to forge his own life at a young age. This life quickly evolves to include violence and while Heather toddles around adoring parents living an insulated and luxurious life, Bobby lands himself in prison.

“He would go down to the river which was littered with abandoned appliances and tires and feel lonely and sick because “he, too, felt thrown away,” as a prison psychologist would one day tell him.”

We watch as Heather grows and the closeness she once shared with her mother shifts as she enters adolescence. Teenage girls need their space, but Karen has made Heather the very epicenter of her life. Mark also finds his relationship with Heather changed, although in his opinion for the better, as he is suddenly allowed into a closer relationship with his daughter.

The stories seem unrelated, one a fairy tale and the other a nightmare, but the paths of these cast of characters crosses with shocking results.

“It had annoyed her and then enraged her, making her think of all the entitlements of men and how they didn’t have the right to just look at women and disrupt them that way.”

The core question at the center of this short novel is this: what would you do to protect your family? How much do we notice in the way of danger surrounding us? Would you even notice danger if it was lurking near those you love? And if you did notice a predator in your midst, what do you do?

We are pulled into this little family, lulled into safety and complacency with their normal, expected dramas. Weiner allows the force of our own imaginations to fill in the blanks as he leads us down different paths of possibility, each one shocking and horrifying in their own right. And even with all of that possibility laid out before us, somehow the actual ending ends up being surprising.

Children are always the center of a parent’s life. Thousands of tiny decisions coupled with thousands of larger decisions are sprinkled throughout a parent’s odyssey of raising their kids. Worries and stress and laughter and tears are all woven in this journey. And underneath all of that, fear is a parents most intimate companion. We fear for our children, consciously and unconsciously, throughout their entire lives.

Weiner taps into that fear and waters it. He plants the seeds of doubt and terrible possibility and then allows them to bloom in our imagination. Even after the pages end and the cover closed, this fear, this trickle of terror lurks in your mind. Heather, The Totality will stick with you, turning the two words, what if, over and over in your mind.

Powerful novels aren’t in their length, but in their ideas. And how well those ideas stay after the pages have ended. This isn’t a ghost story or a paranormal haunting, but the novel will haunt you nonetheless. It is chilling in the blunt delivery of it’s terror.

Heather, The Totality is easily read in one sitting. It is simple, yet intricate and will make your heart race to the end.

Thank you Little, Brown for sending me a copy to read and review!

Good Me Bad Me – Review

“I thought you would own less of me after I handed you in but sometimes it feels you own more.”

From the very first pages, Good Me Bad Me grips you in the horrific world of Milly. A teenage girl deeply traumatized. Milly isn’t her real name, but protecting her identity is important since she has to testify against her mother. Who is a serial killer. And Milly is the one who turned her in.

Quick warning, there are triggers everywhere in this book, and while they aren’t exactly graphic in nature, they are there. Sexual abuse, violence and self-harm. This book is a dark look into a troubled mind.

Be prepared to dive deep into uncomfortable territory with this book. Everywhere you look there are murky morals and questionable characters. You would think the villain is easy to spot, the serial killer mother. But, life isn’t always quite so clear. Milly finds herself delivered out of the hands of a sadist, only to be placed in the direct line of fire of spoiled teenage girls.

“One day these boys and girls will run the world. In the meantime, they ruin it.”

And you would think that the comparison to those two realities is trivial and insignificant, yet Land writes both Milly’s new reality in relation to her old so boldly, that you frequently wonder if Milly is indeed in better hands. It’s quite brilliant how Land is able to capture both the inconceivable horror of being raised in such a brutal way, and then to show us the exhausting drain and torment of living with a bully.

The irony that the bully is the daughter of a prominent psychologist who has offered to foster Milly and help her prepare for the upcoming trial simply adds more realism to the book. It’s often those we love who can’t see us at all. Yet Milly seems able to see more clearly than everyone else. She is hyper aware of the hypocrisy and injustice around her. She sees the motives and lies the people around her tell not just each other, but also themselves.

“The world turns on a million different looks. Glances. I work hard to decipher them, harder than most.”

We see into Milly’s mind, her internal thoughts and struggles. She was raised in a world of pain and torment. She received and watched both given freely, taught that these things equal love. So even though she has been removed from this existence, her new life is just as isolated since no one except her foster parents know of her past. She is given a new life, but she can’t openly face her old one.

Being thrown into Milly’s head for the entirety of the novel lets us experience how her past and present conflict with each other. We see the torment she lives in her dreams and memories. Only to wake up and face a different set of torments in real life. Both realities have their own traumas. Both realities would shape a child irreparably as they grow. So it is a grisly fascination to watch how living through both could possible shape Milly.

“It’s the chapter on the children of psychopaths that interests me the most. The confusion a child feels when violence is mixed with tenderness. Push and pull. A hyper vigilance, never knowing what to expect, but knowing to expect something.”

It’s hard not to sympathize with Milly. To feel that she is being given a bad break all around. And yet, it’s still difficult not to be leery of her as well. She is the child of a killer. And openly worries that she’s a product of her environment. She is only letting her peers and teachers see one side of her, so is she only letting the reader see one side as well?

We can only watch, transfixed by Milly and her memories. The nightmares, and memories, daily bullying, and stress of being the sole key witness in a trial against her mother culminates to a breaking point in Milly. We are faced with the question, when she breaks, which Milly will win?

This book is phenomenal. While it is deeply disturbing, I love a book filled with moral ambiguity. Where good isn’t bad and bad isn’t good. Especially in cases where you think it should be. Life rarely is so clear cut, and I appreciate an author willing to dive into the depths of that grey area. I love it when they succeed, even if the result is haunting and chilling.

I was simply blown away with Good Me Bad Me. There aren’t enough adjectives to describe how this dark thriller crept into my brain and found a home. I’ve always been a firm believer in facing the worst in yourself to find who you want to be, and Milly does that to the extreme. Her worst is the makings of nightmares, and yet she still tries to be normal. To not be her mother. The effort alone is worth applause.

This novel is even more delicious with the ending. I don’t want to spoil it, but talk about morally ambiguous! It took me awhile to even digest how I felt about what happened. These are the types of endings I live for in a novel! Make me think and wonder. Force me to really dive deep into my own skeletons and fears. Really make me face my demons.

Again, this is a dark novel, and while violence isn’t necessarily graphic, you tread down some twisted paths. But if you like to traipse on the dark side, and waltz with the devil on a foggy midnight from time to time, Good Me Bad Me is waiting for you.

Thank you BookSparks and Flatiron Books for sending me this intense thriller as part of the Fall Reads Challenge.