The Return by Rachel Harrison

The Return by Rachel Harrison

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This. Book. Freaked. Me. Right. The. Hell. OUT!

I don’t normally give horror like this five stars, as you usually can’t get me with jump scares when it comes to reading. But oh my god, this book reads just like an incredible blockbuster horror flick, and I’m living for it.

Elise’s best friend, Julie, went missing. After days and weeks pass, her friends Mae and Molly are convinced Julie is dead, but Elise can’t shake the feeling that she’s just biding her time to come back. She can’t even cry at her funeral. And then, she does reappear: just over two years later, she shows up on her own porch like nothing happened.

The friends reunite over a weekend at an inn in the mountains, but they’re all put off by this changed version of Julie. Their previously vegetarian friend is now eating meat like it’s the only food left. She’s losing teeth. And she just doesn’t look right… not to mention, the hotel is giving them all the creeps.

This boooooook, y’all. I can’t EVEN. The suspense building is absolutely masterful. This is why I say it translates like a true horror movie: I’m met with the same nail biting anticipation and worry as watching a jump scare on a big screen. Towards the end of my reading, I literally had to take breaks. From a BOOK. To calm down from the scares. Nate was forced to remain awake so I didn’t get murdered. (By what, you ask? It was unclear at the time but I definitely felt like we were headed in the direction of murder.)

This is a sleep-with-the-lights-on kind of read. I purchased Cackle last week, and a lot of people were commenting on how the story was solid, sure, but the vibes? Incredible. And I kind of feel that way about The Return as well. Harrison sets an impressive scene at the Red Honey Inn. I loved the way she sets it up to sound cool (at least to nerdy old me), but somehow leaves you feeling like someone has their eyes on the back of your neck. It is deliciously creepy, and I can’t wait to read Cackle as well.

This book kept me guessing up until the very end. I literally couldn’t come up with any logical, regular horror solution to all of the creepy evidence stacking up against Julie and this hotel. Which made sense, once you got to the end, but I loved that there was no rhyme or reason to any of it, and you just literally had no clue what horrifying event might take place next. There was literally jump scares. In a book. Like you’d just be going along normally, and then all of a sudden, BAM. Scared AF. This book would make an excellent movie with little to no changes to the entire plot and dialogue. This is a director’s dream. Blumhouse, where you at??

Horror aside, I loved the well-rounded characters. At just under 300 pages, The Return is actually a relatively short novel, but I have to give credit where credit is due: these characters had more content and thoughtfully curated personalities than most books that I read. They were not only consistent, but they fit together like puzzle pieces to tell this story absolutely perfectly. The four friends just fit, and you can feel their vibe, as well as how Julie’s changes mess with that vibe and that level of comfort with one another. It is so WILDLY interesting, for real! The book had depth and the memories that were told, the dynamic, spoke to the horror and what we might be missing. I just thought this was really well done.

I honestly don’t have a single bad thing to say, guys. I mean, I didn’t love the main character, Elise, but her story and her plot were the way that they were for a reason, and they informed the ending and everything that came before. Whether I liked her or not, she was necessary and well written. This book is five star horror from me, y’all. Please check out The Return, and don’t forget to keep your eyes peeled for my review of Cackle, probably coming very soon!

Have an amazing week!

The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix

The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Hello all! This week’s review is going to be a bit different from my typical reviews – instead of love and romance, we’re talking about some slashers and horror. When people ask, “What do you like to read?”, I’m forced to answer with the very bizarre and worrying, “Oh, romance and horror primarily.” Very strange combination. But they are indeed my favorites, and Grady Hendrix is the master of the genre (and yes, I’m counting Stephen King!).

The Final Girl Support Group follows Lynette, one of six girls who survived a serial killer and is now hashing it out in a monthly therapy appointment. Finals girls fight back, but are left haunted by their experiences and all that comes after. Over the years, the group has begun to fall apart, but the death of one of their members starts in motion a clear attempt on all their lives. Lynette is determined to stop it.

I’m like a Grady Hendrix superfan, to be honest. I’ve read all the fiction he’s put out, and it’s my understanding that his academic study of the horror genre through the 80’s is what makes him so fantastic. This book is no different. Hendrix inspires fear through connection to his characters and their psyche, not through situations. It’s like the difference between seeing a psychological horror movie that leaves you reeling, and watching a slasher film with jump scares – for lack of a better example. Lynette isn’t always loveable, but she’s relatable. You understand and her and what motivates her, which is why this story frightens you to your core (additionally, an anxiety diagnosis may increase fear levels while reading).

One thing I absolutely have to drill into here is Hendrix’s understanding of women. It’s been a privilege of mine to discuss with my fabulous library coworkers what it is to tap into women’s fear, after we all read The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires last year (an absolute must read, if you haven’t). We’re pretty much all in agreement that Hendrix is either the most in-tune man in the world or his books are ghost written by women. And I say this because, horror movies, and really the whole genre (again, looking at you Stephen King) don’t focus on women other than as objects of violence and sexuality. Essentially, many modern horror tales create rape fantasies that romanticize the violence and don’t leave you thinking about women as people, or what comes after this moment on the screen. They are faceless, nameless, and abused by cinema and literature. Think Rob Zombie’s Halloween. While this is still blood-curdling and disturbing for female viewers, it leaves a bad taste in your mouth on the repercussions of this media in the real world, and the minds of its makers. And I think, particularly after reading his two most recent novels, Hendrix gets this, and is dissecting it for us all to watch. These books are terrifying because Hendrix dares to give the women a name and ask “What happens now? What happens after?”…and it’s even more horrifying than meaningless slaughter on a big screen.

Now, the reason this book is four stars and not five, was simply that I liked Southern Book Club’s Guide better. I’ve previously read Final Girls by Riley Sager, which is a completely unfair comparison here, but I think it turned me off to the idea of a Final Girl and the kind of story we’re telling in this book. Southern Book Club’s Guide lived in my head for months after, haunting me with the thought of “What if you knew there was danger, but no one would listen?”…it’s the kind of book where the ideas are part of you now, but it’s not always a happy thought. This one taps into that too, but not in a way I so connected with. I hope others find a different experience, as my issue may be one of personal preference.

The Final Girl Support Group hits shelves next week, July 13, and I highly implore you to grab a copy. I hope you find a new favorite author, and find yourself reading all the way back to My Best Friend’s Exorcism. You won’t be disappointed. A copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Two Lives of Lydia Bird by Josie Silver

The Two Lives of Lydia Bird by Josie Silver

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Hey all! I’m going to preface this review by saying…this book is wicked sad. I cried several times. It was reminiscent of reading In Five Years, but I was very taken with Lydia’s story and the beautiful cast of characters that make up her life.

Lydia Bird’s fiancé has died in a car crash. In the months after Freddie’s death, Lydia is struggling hard to move on with her life in her emotional turmoil. And then, miraculously, some sleeping pills she never intended to take connect her to a world where Freddie is still alive, and their world keeps spinning. She falls quickly down a spiral of sleeping just for the chance to see her love, and live her life as it should have been.

But as she falls deeper and deeper into this fantasy, the real world is slipping away from her. It can’t compare to the hours she spends in another universe, even when it shows that this world, too, has its faults. As Lydia is forced to confront her grief with this added curveball, it becomes clear she cannot exist in two lives, as two Lydia’s.

The plot of this novel is absolutely artful. It’s truly a masterpiece. I want to follow Josie Silver around and just clap for her for like a straight 24 hours. I’m in awe of her ability to not only portray grief and loss, but for her ability to navigate the question “what would I do with one more chance?” with creativity and heart. It. Is. Beautiful.

Another thing I’m absolutely loving about Lydia Bird is the messiness of it. The plot can feel a bit scattered at times, but when you step back and process those pages, it becomes obvious that Silver has simply crafted real-life. Which is messy, and sad, and you don’t always make the right decisions – but you eventually get where you need to be. The cast of characters Silver has created, from Lydia’s mother and sister, to her lifelong friend Jonah who was Freddie’s best friend, and with him at the time of his death, to her coworkers, and Kris and Vita, who provide friendship exactly when Lydia needs it. Looking back, I’m shocked by just how many characters actually do play a pivotal role in this story…which only reinforces the idea that grief, loss, and life are messy, and it takes a village to get through it.

Lydia is lucky. The people around her are here for her, 100%, and they lighten the load of the real-world as she slowly adjusts from these shell-shocking events. The familial love laced in every page makes this book warm to the heart, despite the cold and sad loneliness that haunts it. I cannot stress enough that this is a work of art! Amazing.

I’m warning you now, this book is dense. It took me days to get through primarily because of its emotional weight. Take time to process, and take time to take care of yourself. Lydia’s feelings feel so real, which is a positive thing, but feels heavy for the reader.

I am just absolutely enthralled by Lydia Bird. I highly recommend! Special thanks to Willow for letting me borrow her copy ❤ ! The Two Lives of Lydia Bird was released on March 3, 2020 and is available now. Enjoy! 🙂

In Five Years by Rebecca Serle

In Five Years by Rebecca Serle

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Ugh, GUYSSSS. This book was SO SAD. I’m going to be real upfront with you, this book is not what I expected, whatsoever, and I’m going to do my best to not spoil it for you either. I think there’s something magic in the book I expected to get, becoming the book I got – and I wouldn’t want to ruin it for anyone. Whoever wrote this synopsis did a lovely job. Specifically, “In Five Years is an unforgettable love story, but it is not the one you’re expecting.” It certainly was not.

Dannie is a corporate lawyer, living exactly the life she planned for herself in New York. Her best friend is her total opposite: free-spirited and loving and flitting from one thing to next. But Dannie is okay with that; she’s content with her own life and knows Bella’s is far different.

Until the night she gets her dream job and gets engaged, when she falls asleep and wakes up in what is certainly not a dream but most definitely a vision of the future – five years from now, in a different apartment, with a different man. When she returns to her present, she lives with this haunting memory until the day she meets that man in person, four and a half years later.

Honestly, that’s really all I can tell you without spoilers! But if this description sounds good to you, buckle up. This is not the ride you think it is.

Somewhere around the halfway point of this book, things took a sharp right turn, I started sobbing, and I haven’t stopped since. I cannot relay to you the beauty of this book in words, and how it made me feel. The characters were incredible and whole, and while I felt at first that they were too perfectly cast to be real, I know now that that’s the point of the story, and what can be drawn from it.

One interesting thing I noted was that Dannie’s perspective is very robotic. You understand right from the beginning that she’s very Type-A, she lives things exactly according to plan and thrives in environments of her own making. But her voice gains strength throughout the novel: as she’s forced to step outside and feel, you can see the change in her perspective and her dialogue, the way she interacts with others. It’s like a blending between two extremes (you’ll see!) that leaves her a little bit better than we found her, prepared to move on to something greater. Again, it’s so hard to review this book without ruining it for you. I want everyone to experience, the shock, the grief, the love that this book has to offer, without my having tainted it.

This book flew by for me. Whenever I picked it up, I could hardly put it down. You’ve been warned. 🙂 I highly recommend In Five Years.

An advance copy of In Five Years was provided to me by the publisher through NetGalley. It was released March 10, 2020.