Review: “Final Girls” by Riley Sager

Final Girls by Riley Sager

A review by Amanda.

Ten years ago, college student Quincy Carpenter and five friends rented a cabin in the woods for a birthday party getaway. Quincy is the only one who survived after a deranged killer savagely murders her friends. Surviving made her a “Final Girl”, so called by the media, as a reference to the horror movie trope where the only person to make it to the end alive is the lone female character. Lisa, who barely lived through a massacre at her sorority house; and Sam, who survived a brutal attack at the motel where she worked, are also Final Girls, grouped together despite having never met in person. Quincy has done her best to move past that horrific event. She runs a successful baking website, has a solid relationship with a lawyer boyfriend, and maintains regular contact with the officer who saved her life. A Xanax prescription keeps her anxiety at bay, and her mind has protected her further by firmly repressing her memories of the attack. Everything that she has worked for is turned upside down when she gets the call— Lisa, her Final Girl mentor of sorts, has been found dead in her bathtub in an apparent suicide. Sam shows up out of the blue, the press starts harassing Quincy again, some of her memories start to return, and things are not lining up. Is someone coming after the Final Girls? What are Quincy’s memories hiding?

Final Girls is a rollercoaster of misdirection and plot twists. Readers will question everything and everyone by the time the explosive finale is revealed. Quincy is a ball of anxiety in denial. Her reactions after the massacre seem expected for someone who has experienced trauma; she absolutely has PTSD. Her relationship with her mother is strained and Quincy is encouraged to pretend like everything is fine. Shoving those feelings away instead of dealing with them in a healthier manner may work for a short time but eventually will backfire – which is exactly what happens, in surprising ways. The story is told in alternating perspectives, going from present day and first person from Quincy’s point of view, to flashbacks to the events leading up to the cabin massacre, told in third person omniscient. This adds to the suspense, especially as readers start to wonder if there is a connection to the present day. Readers will not want to put this spooky book down, particularly if they are reading at night. It does drag a bit in the middle, but the mystery keeps going and unraveling until the very end.

There is some sexual content, graphic violence, and strong language.

My rating: 4.5/5 stars.

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Review: “Don’t Look Down” by Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer

Don’t Look Down by Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer

A review by Vanessa.

This book is from my personal collection, one I have re-read often. There was no author request for a review, but sometimes it’s nice to go back to read the ones we love so much.

Lucy Armstrong is a successful advertising director. She loves her job, and she’s really good at it, in spite of everyone else mocking her career in dog food commercials. So why is it she finds herself being pulled in to direct the last four days of what is supposed to be a legitimate movie set, but feels more like a practical joke? Probably because her sister is working on the crew with her niece in tow, and something is just not quite right. Not the way her ex-husband is paying her a ridiculous amount of money to finish the move without even seeing the entire script. Not the way crew members have been disappearing, quitting, or dying unexpectedly. Not the way the lead action star suddenly shows up with a real Green Beret to be his new consultant and stunt double at the last minute. And certainly not the way that Green Beret, J.T. Wilder, can capture Lucy’s attention simply by standing still. Something is up with this “movie set” and with J.T.’s help she just might figure it out in time to help her sister and her niece before things get out of hand.

J.T. was just looking to make some quick money while on leave by being stunt double for a bumbling movie star. The beautiful actresses were going to be a big bonus for the short time he planned to be involved. He certainly wasn’t expecting the director to catch his attention. The lead actress is a gorgeous snack, but Lucy is the whole meal; tall, beautiful, strong, determined, an Amazon worth a second, and third, look. He wasn’t planning on getting that involved, or caring for her and her zany band of crew members like her steadfastly loyal assistant director, or her Wonder Woman-obsessed little niece; but J.T. just can’t help himself.  Especially since his instincts tell him that Lucy has somehow ended up in the middle of something not good, and his heart definitely does not want anything bad happening to her.

What I have always loved the most about this book is that it is so well written by it’s co-authors. The writing is smart, snappy, witty, sharp and heartfelt all at the same time. The main characters are lovable, admirable, and believable while still achieving a very no bullshit kind of attitude. The storyline itself is quick and action packed as well as filled with heat and romance and just plain good writing. I have to attribute this to the individual strengths of the two writers. I have always loved Jennifer Crusie’s ability to write admirably strong women, and blazingly hot men into an entrancing but very grounded romance story. I’ve never read any of Bob Mayer’s individually written novels but his influence in the action and the writing of the male leading character is very obvious, and it adds an element of reality to the perspectives of the two main characters. The love scenes are very obviously Crusie-esque, but many of the scenes written from J.T.’s perspective have a distinctly male voice which is so interesting to read when juxtaposed against the female perspective interspersed with them. I always love when two authors from differing genres can bring the best of their writing style and experience into one book. And this book really has it all.

My rating: 5/5 stars.

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Review: “Chain Saw Confidential” by Gunnar Hansen

A review by Brit.

In the eyes of many horror fans, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is one of the greatest movies within the genre. It was released in 1974 and was quickly renowned for its craftsmanship and surprisingly bloodless violence. It was hated as much as it was loved. And in the form of Chain Saw Confidential, the one taking on the telling of the film’s origin story (and the reckoning of its legacy) is Gunnar Hansen. Who better than Leatherface himself to take on this muddy tale of dead chickens, melted film prints and runaway eight hour makeup chair sessions?

This book is largely an oral history of the making of Massacre, from the origins in the head of cigar-chomping director Tobe Hooper to the placement of the film in the Museum of Modern Art (and the scathing reviews that choice inspired). Helpfully, the story is also organized in the order of the actual movie’s plot. Hansen’s perspective is somewhat limited due to his starring role in the film. But he interviews cast and crew members extensively, openly admitting when details are inconsistent or if something has been completely forgotten. Add in thoughts about the movie from figures like John Landis (director of An American Werewolf in London) and it’s a very fun ride.

There are two reasons why I did not give this book five stars. The first is that readers who are inherently interested in horror and/or the filmmaking process itself will have a much better experience reading this book than those who are not. It’s undeniable. I’m a huge fan of Massacre, so naturally I enjoyed hearing about the nitty-gritty details about chicken bones and poor set insulation.The average reader may not care to hear about the post-production money distribution web of confusion that happened after the movie took off.

The second reason is that some readers may find Hansen’s treatise on horror at the end of the book tiring. It’s understandable that he has strong feelings on horror being connected to violence in American culture. But it’s 2017, and this debate now largely takes place only in academic and highly political circles. Even if you have no plans to watch Massacre for yourself, this book is still a good testament to the power of research and desire to tell the “real story” of how a legendary phenomenon came to be. Hansen writes in a wry voice that often reminded me of my grandfather. He’s exactly the kind of storyteller to take on this twisted, fun story.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

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Review: “Final Girls” by Mira Grant

Review- Final Girls by Mira Grant

A review by Amanda.

I received an e-copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Doctor Jennifer Webb has invented a new therapeutic treatment, which utilizes proprietary virtual reality technology to help people heal psychological injuries. Clients are placed in special pods, induced to deep sleep, and given carefully monitored injections. Technicians run a dream-like scenario through the VR program, which the client experiences as reality. Each scenario is tailored to the client, to help resolve their specific issues.

Esther Hoffman is a journalist who has made her career by debunking pseudo-science. Due to tragic circumstances in her own past, involving fraudulent regression therapy, Esther is out to prove that Doctor Webb’s work is phony at best; at worst it could be dangerous. Jennifer is determined to prove the safety and viability of her therapy and Esther reluctantly agrees to go through the process, to experience it firsthand. Things do not exactly go as planned, in either reality.

This is a novella written by Mira Grant, which is the pseudonym of best-selling author Seanan Maguire. It’s length does not diminish the horror aspects, thankfully. Readers get just enough insight into the main characters to care about their fates. Industrial espionage, murder, and supernatural elements mingle to make a perfectly horrifying tale. The science behind the therapy is explained in a way that feels natural and easy to understand, which is not always the case in science fiction. There are several delightful twists, and the ending is unexpected perfection. Seanan Maguire has also written the Newsflesh trilogy, a horror series, under the Mira Grant pseudonym.

My rating: 5/5 stars.

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Review: “Review of Eleventh Grave in Moonlight (Charley Davidson #11) by Darynda Jones”

Review of Eleventh Grave in Moonlight (Charley Davidson #11) by Darynda Jones

A review by Amanda.

This book is the eleventh in the Charley Davidson series, and contains spoilers from previous books. I received this ebook for free from NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.

New and shocking information about both Charley’s and Reyes’ origins came to light in book ten, The Curse of the Tenth Grave. But our snarky, caffeine-addicted heroine is still as plucky as ever. She is quick with the quips and sarcastic remarks, immensely loyal to her closest friends and family, and determined to save the world in her own, stubborn way. One of Reyes’ godly brothers has been trapped in the god glass, but that leaves one on the loose to hunt them down. With her infant daughter safely hidden away, Charley is free to focus on defeating her enemies, investigate for her PI clients, and sidestep the limitations her husband tries to place on her, for her safety. Oh, and dodge the angels sent to watch her after she threatened Jehovah.

With every new discovery regarding Charley’s distant past, I half expect that her personality will do an about-face. It is always a pleasant surprise when she retains everything that makes her Charley – her sassy, hilarious remarks, unwavering commitment to her loved ones, passion for Reyes, and her willingness to risk her own life to do what has to be done. That she manages to stay true to herself while also continuing to grow is a testament to the author’s talent in developing her characters in a realistic manner. The series is very much character driven, meaning readers will read book after book because of Charley herself, no matter what cases she is working on, or what is happening in the supernatural parts of her life. The supporting characters are just as integral, and exhibit just almost as much growth.

As much as I enjoyed this story, there was one aspect that disappointed. The main men in Charley’s life, namely Reyes and Ubie, continue to issue orders, even resorting to manipulation on occasion. They both hide their reasons for their demands, ostensibly for her safety, and get frustrated when she doesn’t listen. Aside from the fact that neither of these men seem to trust Charley with relevant information, it seems unlikely that two people who have known Charley for her entire life would actually expect her to comply without question. Reyes and Ubie should both know better, especially so late in the series. Reyes has fallen under the “protective male protagonist” stereotype several times before, as has Ubie, and it never works in their favor. This might be a more upsetting trend, were it not for Charley’s habit of calling them out on their behavior and her tendency to do what she wants anyway. This could be an intentional character flaw, especially for Reyes, since he is otherwise pretty close to perfect. Their banter and head-butting disagreements are still entertaining. Hopefully he will eventually grow past the need to protect Charley in this particular way.

I enjoyed this book just as much as the rest of the series and look forward to continuing with book twelve!

My rating: 4/5 stars.

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“The Dead Boyfriend (Fear Street Relaunch #5)” by R.L. Stine

The Dead Boyfriend (Fear Street Relaunch #5) by R.L. Stine

A review by Amanda.

When high school senior Caitlyn meets new boy Blade, it’s love at first sight. Things seem to be going exceptionally well, if developing faster than her friends think is appropriate. Caitlyn decides to ignore their warnings, choosing instead to focus on how amazing they are together. One night, Blade sends a text and cancels a date with Caitlyn. She is concerned but not suspicious until she accidentally happens upon Blade’s car and witnesses his affection towards another girl. Rage hits Caitlyn like an anvil, one thing leads to another, and Blade ends up dead by Caitlyn’s hand. Caitlyn quickly covers up her part in the grisly murder and does her best to hide her guilt from everyone around her.

Devestated at the loss of her perfect relationship and at the knowledge that she’s capable of murder, Caitlyn is consumed by grief and confusion. The horror she feels at her actions is nothing compared to how she feels when Blade mysteriously comes back from the dead. Questions race through her mind – how is this possible? Will he reveal her murderess status to everyone? And how does Deena Fear, of the infamous Fear family, tie in to everything?

To someone who read anything by R.L. Stine as a young adult, aspects of this book will feel quite nostalgic. Stine’s classic twists and turns are in abundance, and while they were a bit more predictable reading from an adult perspective, young teens may enjoy being surprised and delightfully terrified. There are some minor graphic descriptions of violence, typical of the author’s other works in this genre. Sexually, the characters do not progress past kissing, although more could be very lightly implied. As a character, Caitlyn is shallow and a stereotypical teenaged girl. None of the characters have much depth, but that isn’t necessarily a major drawback in this case. The story moves very quickly and is intended to be a light read for those looking to be intrigued and vaguely creeped out.

Recommended for ages 12 and up.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

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BOOK TOUR Review: “Carnival Keepers” by Amber Gulley

A review by Domoni.

I would like to thank the author for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.

It’s All Hallows Eve and the Carnival has returned as it does each year, though this carnival is unlike any other in 1879 London. Strange things abound and spread throughout the town. James, on a mission to win a bet made with his friend Alex that has multiple quests to complete in one day, is refusing to stop his task due to the bizarre happenings in his town. Forces seem to be conspiring to keep James away from the carnival, while others work to bring him to it.  While the carnival keepers enjoy their yearly visit to London, and the feast so easily found on its streets and walking into their mists, some work to just get through the day before the carnival leaves again.

This is a strange horror story placed in Victorian England. James seems to be the main character and his portion of the story is in first person, though there are many characters we watch weave through the story. The carnival keepers are not human and many delight in the destruction of the mortals around them. For some reason James is a main goal. Many seek him, for good or for bad, it is hard to follow why. Being the indulged child of a wealthy family, he is more concerned with drinking, winning the bet and thoughts of his girl Laura, who he plucked from the streets and turned from a tart into a lady in waiting.

This story has great bones to be an amazing horror tale, but it lacks the threads to draw the whole thing together. There are characters placed into the story with no motivation which only seem to be there to end up dead. From the detective that starts following James, for no defined reason, to the cousin Emily, who never serves a purpose, I searched for a reason behind their appearance and never found it. I was more confused reading this story than captivated.

The author has an incredible talent for bringing her world to life. The fog-lined streets of London in their filth and clutter are easily pictured in one’s mind.  The hiss of gas lights and the smell of the stagnant air in the refuse-choked cobblestone alleys are the scene of supernatural creatures enjoying a gore filled meal of urchins and nobles alike. I just wish that there was more reason given for why the carnival keepers behaved the way they did. Why did none of the mortal characters react by seeking help, or fleeing the terrifying events in the plagued city?

 

As the carnival ends and the night is over, there is no conclusion to the events or explanation to the characters’ motivations. I pushed through the story hoping for clarity and was simply left puzzled.

My rating: 3/5 stars.

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