Posted in book review

Sawkill Girls: Reviewed

Sawkill Girls

Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand

Genres/Descriptors: YA; horror; fantasy; LGBTQ+

Publication: October 2018

Pages: 450

Check it out on Goodreads


What’s it about?

I tried to write something, but honestly? The Goodreads description is perfect, and I don’t want to give away anything.

Beware of the woods and the dark, dank deep.

He’ll follow you home, and he won’t let you sleep.

Who are the Sawkill Girls?

Marion: the new girl. Awkward and plain, steady and dependable. Weighed down by tragedy and hungry for love she’s sure she’ll never find.

Zoey: the pariah. Luckless and lonely, hurting but hiding it. Aching with grief and dreaming of vanished girls. Maybe she’s broken—or maybe everyone else is.

Val: the queen bee. Gorgeous and privileged, ruthless and regal. Words like silk and eyes like knives, a heart made of secrets and a mouth full of lies.

Their stories come together on the island of Sawkill Rock, where gleaming horses graze in rolling pastures and cold waves crash against black cliffs. Where kids whisper the legend of an insidious monster at parties and around campfires.

Where girls have been disappearing for decades, stolen away by a ravenous evil no one has dared to fight… until now.


Review:

This is either going to be very short, or very long, because I have a lot of feelings about this book, but I also don’t want to give anything away that might spoil it for someone. This book is so hard to talk about without spoilers, but I really think going into it without knowing much about the story is for the best.

I started this one night, barely managed to put it down after devouring about 60% of it, then immediately started reading again while eating breakfast. After that, I only put it down for a bathroom break. (The phrase “compulsively readable” comes to mind, and that’s exactly how I would describe this, if phrases like that didn’t make me roll my eyes.)

This book was so perfect for me: creepy and atmospheric setting, queer girls (there’s an asexual character, and the word “asexual” is on the page! plus a f/f relationship), great character dynamics, and it was angry in ways that are so relatable and had me cheering on the characters.

From the first page, I was totally sucked in. Sawkill Rock, and our three protagonists, owned my heart. By the halfway point, I’m pretty sure Claire Legrand owned part of my soul.

The writing is right up my alley, at least for books like this. Some people will probably hate it because it’s the kind of poetic kind of writing you find in some magical realism books, and I know that’s hit or miss for some people. It is for me, too, but in this book? It. Works. The writing added an extra layer to the atmosphere of the story, and I drank it in like I needed it to survive.

Non-spoilery example, from the prologue:

Old money: the taste of it sits on every tongue like a film of stale sugar.

The setting itself was fantastic. I love stories set on small islands, oh my gosh. Give me more! Something about those just instantly make a story feel a bit more magical, like anything could happen, like magic could be lurking just through the trees. I love it. If you enjoyed the setting of The Wicked Deep, you’ll probably like this one. Oh, and also Cabeswater, from The Raven Cycle (not an island, but kind of similar vibe). Sawkill Rock was very much a character in this story, and that’s another thing I want to read more of. I love when the actual land a story takes place on is a character (or like a character, whatever).

The characters. Where do I start? Background characters. So, even the characters who didn’t get a ton of page time were so freaking good. They were all distinct, and I could not only imagine how they looked, but I got a good sense of what they would sound like. That almost never happens for me, except when I’ve seen an adaptation before reading the book. Special shout out specifically for Grayson because he was a precious cinnamon roll and I love him ❤ He’s my newest book child, and I would protect him (possibly) with my life.

Marion, Zoey, and Valerie were amazing. Even when I didn’t really like them, I still liked reading about them.

Marion was strong and grounded, acting as the rock for her mother and sister to lean on. I was rooting for her from the beginning, and my heart just kept hurting for her. She went through so much, took on so much responsibility (I related a lot to that), and I just kept wishing she’d find some peace and happiness.

Zoey was probably the character I related to the most, at least with her personality. I can relate a lot to hiding feelings, laughing at possibly inappropriate times, and being an outcast. There were a few times I just wanted to hug her so bad.

And then there’s Valerie. I don’t know what to say about Val, because most of my opinions are wrapped so tightly with spoilers. I really enjoyed getting to know her, and her family history, and I was definitely satisfied with how things wrapped up. (For her, and for everyone else.)

The plot is tricky to talk about, but I will say that it kept me guessing. Until revelations were being made, I had no clue where this story was going, and I loved that. I usually have at least a couple of guesses, and one is usually right. But not with this book. I didn’t have a guess that turned out to be accurate until pretty late in the story, and it didn’t even involve any of our main characters. (It was about Zoey’s dad, for those of you who’ve read it.) The direction this took, with the reason girls kept disappearing from Sawkill, didn’t really surprise me, but I also wasn’t expecting it before it took that turn. The specifics of it all were different from anything else I’ve read, though, I’m pretty sure.

**If you think trigger/content warnings are spoilers, skip to the next paragraph!** This one definitely needs warnings for: blood and gore; violence; parental abuse; suicidal thoughts; loss of loved ones; drinking/alcohol; talk about miscarriage; animal death (not tortured, more like that scene from the ferry in The Ring); a challenged and apologized for acephobic comment plus mention of other comments that were not apologized for. There’s probably more, so I would suggest looking for others, if you feel you need to.

I want to gush and scream about this book, because that’s what I’m doing on the inside, but I’m trying so hard to keep this spoiler free. I’m wrapping this up now, before I can’t stop myself and do spoil it. So, in short, I absolutely loved this book, and I’m probably going to be screaming about it for a very long time. I highly recommend it.

I gave this one all the stars, 5 out of 5, and I wish I could give more, oh my gosh. This is a new favorite, and I can not wait to read more from Claire Legrand.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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Posted in book review

While You Sleep: ARC Review

While You Sleep

While You Sleep by Stephanie Merritt

Genres/Descriptors: thriller; mystery; horror; gothic; paranormal

Publication Date (US): March 5th, 2019

Pages: 400

Check it out on Goodreads


What’s it about?

On an small island off the coast of Scotland, the McBride house has been the center of rumors and strange occurrences for over a century, since a widow and her son died under mysterious circumstances.

Zoe Adams, an American woman, wants to get away from a bad marriage, and arranges to rent the house for a few week for some peace and time to herself. Her peace is short-lived, with disturbing incidents, strange singing coming from somewhere in the house, and the constant sense of being watches.

The locals blame everything on the house, but Zoe isn’t convinced. She doesn’t buy into the haunted house story, and thinks there must be a rational explanation for what she’s experiencing, and that the possible danger lurking is no phantom.

Review:

If you’re looking for something new, without the tired haunted house tropes, this isn’t it.

When I found this on Net Galley (I believe it came out last spring in the UK, but is now being released in the US), I had to request it. I’m a horror junkie, and a sucker for gothic, haunted house stories. I’m always hoping to find something that surprises me, or, if it doesn’t surprise me, at least entertains me for a while.

This one kind of managed to entertain me, but I was never surprised by anything. I had the entire story figured out from very early on, and I’m not happy about that. There are a few tropes I encounter somewhat frequently in horror (movies and books) that really irritate me, and this one had at least a couple of those. Unfortunately, I can’t talk about those things without giving away spoilers. I’ll just say that I kept hoping I was going to be wrong, that this book was not going to go where I thought it was, but then it did. (Actually, I am going to do spoilers, but they will be at the end, with a warning in bold so you can skip over them.)

Before I get into what I didn’t like, I will say that I enjoyed the writing. Stephanie Merritt is not a bad writer, and I will definitely be looking into her other books. I think she is certainly capable of writing a good story, this one just didn’t work for me personally.

The characters were okay, but not great. I only really liked Charles (known by locals as The Professor), but by the end I wasn’t even a huge fan of his character. (I didn’t dislike him, I was just not surprised by anything.)

Zoe just annoyed me. I wanted to like her, but I was pretty sure from the first few chapters that she was going to be a particular cliche, and I was right (and so angry about it).

The locals were what you would expect: superstitious, close-knit, and a tendency to not trust strangers. And, of course, there was the quintessential creepy perv, because we can’t have a story about a woman spending time alone without one of those, can we? (The more I think about this book, the more irritated I become.)

While I had somewhat high hopes at least for the atmosphere of this one, it fell short for me. It started off alright, and I got excited. Maybe this one would succeed in creeping me out! A restored (but still creepy) old house, strange sounds and happenings, the isolation… It seemed perfect, and I was so ready to feel claustrophobic and uneasy. That lasted about a minute, and then it never got creepy (in the paranormal way) again. If you’re easily scared, this might not be an issue for you, though.

**If you think of trigger warnings as spoilers, skip to the next paragraph.** This one definitely needs TWs, in my opinion, for: sexual content, sexual encounters that are non-consensual/have dubious consent (including adults with a minor), sexual assault/threat of assault, animal death and mutilation (that one is pretty brief and not too graphic, but I thought it was only there for shock value), mental illness as a plot device; death of children.

This book has graphic sexual scenes, so if that makes you uncomfortable, you should skip it. I didn’t mind it, but I didn’t love it. I read erotica, so it didn’t shock me or anything, but I wasn’t expecting it.

I wanted to like this so much more than I did, and I’m not sure if it’s me (and my increasing exasperation with certain tropes in horror) or the book, but it didn’t really work for me. The plot was a lot of cliches, which isn’t necessarily bad, I was just hoping for something new, or a unique spin on tropes that took it in an unexpected direction.


Spoilers ahead!

Skip past this if you don’t want spoilers.

I knew, early on, that Zoe’s son was going to be dead, and that it was going to come out that she was dealing with some kind of mental illness or something. I hate that. I hate mental illness being used as a plot device, especially in horror and thrillers. Especially when you pair that up with something like paranormal events, in which women are often thought to be crazy or whatever anyway. (Think about haunted house stories. How often are the women, who are usually the ones experiencing the worst of things, believed by other people?) I’m so tired of it.

I’m also sick of this trope where women can’t seem to get through a horror or thriller without being sexually assaulted. In this one Zoe is repeatedly made very uncomfortable by the local pervert, because of his comments towards her, and that’s the tame stuff. At their first meeting, his touched her breast. Later, he assaults her, gropes her, and threatens to rape her.

There’s also the weird incubus thing with the house, which is supposed to explain people losing control and turning into sex-crazed beasts. I get that Zoe consented to sex with the teacher, but…if we accept that the house is exerting influence over the people inside, it’s dubious consent at best. And I am pissed about how that turned out, with her being pregnant with a new half-incubus fetus.

I don’t even have words for the thing with the teenage girl. I saw it coming, but I didn’t expect it to unfold quite the way it did. I was pretty sure she had a sexual relationship with the creepy perv, but gods. There is a kind of explicit scene in which she’s tied up in a sexual way (she seems to be consenting, but again, she’s underage and there’s the influence of the house going on), with not just him, but another middle-aged character. I am so beyond sick of situations like this being used in horror so frequently. We have enough of this in the real world, so it’s not exactly fun to read about it in so many books. (I don’t think I would complain about the sexual assault and such if it wasn’t so prevalent.)

End of spoilers


I’m giving it 2 out of 5 stars (actual rating more like 2.5, but I didn’t want to round up to 3 stars).

★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

I received an eARC from NetGalley in exchange for review.

Posted in book tags/memes

Book Blogger Hop: October 5th-11th

This weekly hop is hosted by Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer, featuring a question about books each week. The purpose is to bring bookish bloggers together, basically. To participate, write a post about the question for that week and add your link.

The question this week is: It’s getting close to Halloween. If you HAD to read one of these two genres, which would you prefer — urban fantasy, or horror, and why? (submitted by Maria @ A Night’s Dream of Books)

Almost certainly horror, because my most read genre is probably fantasy, and I think I might read more urban fantasy than other subgenres.

I tend to save up horror books to binge read during October because I participate in some spooky themed reading challenges and read-a-thons.


Which genre would you choose?

Posted in Uncategorized

R.I.P. XIII: Update the Second

(Check out the R.I.P. 13 page here, and my sign up post here.)

I’ve officially completed Peril the First, whoo!

That doesn’t mean I’m stopping, because I have several spooky books lined up for October, and other spooky challenges to participate in (like FrightFall which I just posted about earlier). I’m just shocked that I A) actually finished four books that fit, and B) have done so before October even started haha.

In my first update, I’d read two books and was working on a third (I ended up DNF’ing The Library at Mount Char…maybe some other time).

Since then, I’ve also finished:

  • The Suffering by Rin Chupeco (the sequel to The Girl in the Well), and I loved it I think as much as the first book, maybe more. I might post a combo review soon, but I gave it 4.5/5 stars.
  • Kill Creek by Scott Thomas (reviewed here) which…I didn’t love. 2/5 stars.

For Peril of the Short Story I read:

  • Haunted: Ten Tales of Ghosts edited by Rayne Hall which I gave 1/5 stars :/
  • Then I re-read “The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allan Poe which I gave 4.5/5 stars (it’s not my favorite Poe story, but I really enjoy it).
  • I think The Marble and Other Ghost Tales of Tennessee and VIrginia by Joe Tennis counts. It’s a super short book (70 pages) of ghost stories from a small region of TN and VA. I just read it this morning and gave it 3.5/5 stars.

For Peril on the Screen:

I watched Happy Death Day. I’ve wanted to see this movie since I first saw previews last year(?) and I was not disappointed. I don’t want to say much about it, but I honestly loved it. Probably enough to buy it if I ever find it cheap.

I give this one 4.5/5 stars for being so much fun to watch, and because if I hadn’t spoiled myself accidentally by searching for something while watching it, I honestly wouldn’t have seen the ending coming. I might have figured out the “who,” but not the “how.”

If you like movies like Scream, April Fool’s Day, Heathers, Final Destination, maybe Final Girl, Black Christmas (the original, I don’t think I’ve seen the remake), and–of course–Groundhog Day, you might want to check this one out if you haven’t already.


I think that’s it for my R.I.P. updating, but there will be more coming next month, probably.

Posted in book review

Book Review: Kill Creek by Scott Thomas


Genres/Descriptors:
Horror

Why I read it: I found it on Net Galley last year (eek) and it sounded great.

Who I’d recommend it to: Honestly? Very few people.

My rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books a Million | Book Depository | IndieBound

 


Goodreads Description:

At the end of a dark prairie road, nearly forgotten in the Kansas countryside, lies the Finch House. For years it has perched empty, abandoned, and overgrown–but soon the door will be opened for the first time in many decades. But something waits, lurking in the shadows, anxious to meet its new guests. 
When best-selling horror author Sam McGarver is invited to spend Halloween night in one of the country’s most infamous haunted houses, he reluctantly agrees. At least he won’t be alone; joining him are three other masters of the macabre, writers who have helped shape modern horror. But what begins as a simple publicity stunt soon becomes a fight for survival–the entity they have awakened will follow them, torment them, threatening to make them part of the bloody legacy of Kill Creek.


Review:

Meh. If I had to sum up my feelings about this book in a single word, it would be, “meh.” This was honestly one of the most disappointing reads I’ve had in a while.

I’ll start with the good, though.

This book was undoubtedly an homage to the big names of horror, probably both classic and modern. As someone who really likes horror, both on the page and on the screen, I could appreciate that.

At times, it was clear that Scott Thomas is capable of writing very well, and potentially delivering some scares, so I’m not writing him off just yet.

This book would probably make a great movie, and I’m thinking I would like the movie version more.

That’s pretty much all I actually liked about this book, and I feel weird about giving it such a low rating because it seems to be well-loved, in general.

The first 30% or so are seriously over-written. The remainder of the book is a little better, but I stand by what I said once (when I was only about halfway through it): it could probably lose 100 pages and nothing about the story would change. With horror, or any other spooky-ish book, I tend to call this “Stephen King Syndrome.” So if you like how wordy King can be, you probably won’t be bothered by that aspect. One additional note about it, though, is that some things were repeated way too often. Certain phrases, or recounting the same memory or whatever. Eventually, I just started skimming and skipping over pages.

Nothing really happens until close to the halfway point. Then, I finally had hope of reading a truly creepy story, but it lost steam really quickly. I don’t want to say much about what happened, so I don’t spoil anything for someone planning to read this, but there was a shift in the type of horror around 70% and I just rolled my eyes and thought, “Of course.” I’d seen it coming, but had hoped it wasn’t going to go there.

Two things frustrated me most about this book.

The first was the one (main) female character. At first, I thought I was going to like her. And eventually I did, but less in a, “Wow, this guy wrote a decent female character, hurrah!” kind of way, and more in the way that I wish I could take her away from him and give her to a woman author. The creepiest thing about this book was how T.C. Moore was written at times, and if she could come to life and speak for herself, I’m guessing she would verbally rip Thomas a new one. Or maybe even literally do it. I get it. She’s a tough, badass bitch, in a field dominated by men. I. GET. IT. I have no issues with unlikable female characters (I want more of them!). I have no issues with crass female characters. But Moore was just so over the top she became unbelievable, which is really disappointing because if Thomas had just dialed it back a bit (and maybe not mentioned her breasts and underwear and how she has a “pagan ritual”–which I have other issues with–of writing naked) it would have been much better to read about her.

The second thing was the lack of explanation. I still have no clue what caused the things that happened in the book. We’re given some vague ideas, but nothing is really settled and actually explained. I guess that’s supposed to make it creepier, but it just irritates me. And then there were the vines. I won’t elaborate on that part.

None of the characters really stood out to me. It’s like they should have had more depth, but just didn’t. I honestly can barely even remember their names already, even though (as I’m typing this) I just finished the book a half hour ago. I think the idea for them was to make them almost like archetypes of big-name horror authors, without actually making them into those authors. But that didn’t quite work for me, in the end, and so I never really cared about any of them. I just wanted the book to end so I could move on.

I feel like this book should have been a better experience for me, but I spent almost all of it bored and/or skimming over all the repetitive bits so I could finally finish it. wanted to like it, but it was just…fine. Not really good, not horrible, just fine. I saw the ending coming from pretty much the beginning, and it was also just fine. Nothing new or surprising there.

Would I recommend it? Not really. But, if you love Stephen King, maybe Dean Koontz, and others like them, you might like this more than I did.

 

I received a free copy for review from Net Galley