Lock Every Door by Riley Sager

Lock Every Door by Riley Sager

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The 52 Book Club 2022 Challenge Prompt: 25. A wealthy character

Other Possible Prompts: 22. An unlikely detective, 23. An author with an X, Y, or Z in their name

Every time I doubt Riley Sager he manages to pull it out, somewhere around the middle…Lock Every Door was one of his more popular novels, I believe, and I can see why. It has all the great makings of gothic horror but pulls out all the stops in modern twists and turns.

Left jobless, boyfriend-less, and homeless all in one day, Jules can’t believe her luck when she finds a job posting for an apartment sitter. Despite the weird rules provided by the manager, Jules can expect $1,000 at the end of each week she spends on the twelfth floor of the famous and mysterious Bartholomew apartment building – so she eagerly accepts the job.

While the other tenants living at the Bartholomew provide intrigue enough, Jules manages to befriend one of the other apartment sitters, Ingrid. When Ingrid goes missing, however, far more of the “quirks” she enjoyed about the Bartholomew before are cast in a new light. As she struggles to locate her new neighbor, the “haunting” of the apartments comes to a head.

Really, this book is about the ambience. The Bartholomew is a stunning setting for this gothic horror with a modern vibe. The novel is rich in details about the building and I could absolutely see it in my mind as I read. This is definitely something Sager excels at that I don’t see in many of his novels, but wish I did – I’m a sucker for a good setting in a horror novel (The Return, anyone?).

Like many of Sager’s works (which I will get around to later when I review The House Across the Lake) Lock Every Door starts real heckin’ slow. The first half of every Sager is just setting you up to believe that you know exactly where this is going, that we are on a predictable train ride to the full conclusion. But no. No no. The second half will have your head spinning, and the last twenty pages always damn near knocks your head right off your shoulders. Like I frequently say of Tessa Bailey, I was in doubt, but I have learned better: never doubt. Sager impresses me, and I like his writing style that’s easy to fall into and enjoy.

On a similar note, this book is masterfully crafted. Each and every detail, every offhand remark has a point. Do you ever read a book and wonder if it could’ve been written backwards? The mystery is just too perfect, the hints just too well placed. I think that impressive plotting is part of what made this book such an instant hit, and the reason people have been hooked on Sager for years now.

I liked that each and every character was complex and enjoyable. It is truly quite a cast, and it gives me Murder on the Orient Express vibes for sure. Just really unique characters with their own distinct story and ~vibe~. I loved Ingrid, the other apartment sitter, despite not wanting to. Her happy, bubbly personality is not only charming, but necessary to the story, in order to make Jules drawn to her and concerned by her disappearance. I liked Jules, too, but her character veers toward outgoing where I think I would be more reserved in the same situation. She’s not unlikeable, but for me, she wasn’t totally relatable, either.

All in all, I think it’s pretty clear I’m recommending this book! It wasn’t my favorite of his, hence the four stars, and I think that’s partly because the beginning was so dull in my eyes. I was waiting for things to get interesting, and thought it would happen a lot sooner than it did. However, overall, this is a damn solid mystery thriller, and I loved it!

Have a most excellent weekend, peeps!

Cackle by Rachel Harrison

Cackle by Rachel Harrison

Rating: 3 out of 5.

The 52 Book Club 2022 Challenge Prompt: 35. From the villain’s perspective

Other Possible Prompts: 5. Chapters have titles, 6. Household object on the cover, 14. A character with superhuman ability, 37. Set in a rural area

I have some thoughts on Rachel Harrison. And some thoughts on Cackle. Some thoughts. And I’m going to say before anything, this is probably going to be my most spoiler-filled review ever, because there’s just no way to talk about the meat and potatoes of this story without ruining some of it for you – so if you plan on reading this at some point, bookmark my review and come back to it once you’ve finished this book.

After a breakup from a relationship that lasted ten years, Annie is forced to up and move from NYC to a remote town upstate called Rowan, where the townspeople are nice and the shops quaint, and take a new teaching job there. Luckily, as she’s settling in, she manages to befriend a sweet and welcoming woman of indeterminate age by the name of Sophie.

As Annie’s life becomes more droll and depressing, more chaotic and hard to deal with, her friendship with Sophie remains a constant. The women care for each other, Sophie dotes on Annie, and the mansion Sophie resides in becomes a harbor against the storm for Annie and her inner turmoil over her breakup. But weird things are adding up, and the townspeople’s original niceties begin to twist into something more like suspicion, until Annie’s not sure who the “good guy” is anymore.

So I guess my biggest thing with this is that in The Return, which obviously, I absolutely adored, there is some weird, ew, uncomfy feelings about the the main character’s relationship to others in the story. And I don’t mean that to come off as questionable romantic relationships. I’m actually referring to their friendships…Elise of The Return and Annie of Cackle both come from these dark pits of despair when they walk into the story. Whether it’s feelings of guilt or loss or both, they walk into our set stage just absolutely miserable. And I think, after reading both books, this is what makes them susceptible to the weird. To the horrific. What desensitizes them and draws them into it. The series of events that transpire before Rachel sits down to write these books perfectly positions them to accept the horrors of these toxic relationships.

Because that’s what Annie and Sophie are…a toxic relationship. Sophie is domineering and bossy, and a bit frightening. She uses gifts and showing constant, overbearing attention as a way to keep neglected, broken Annie coming back for more. Even when the signs could not be clearer that something is wrong, Annie convinces herself of Sophie’s goodwill in favor of being alone, or not being liked by someone as much as Sophie seems to like her. And it is Annie’s behavior and attitude, above all, that ruined this story for me. With the two of them like this, and Elise and Julie from the last novel like that…I can’t help but ask myself whether this is conscious or unconscious on Harrison’s part. Does she know she’s writing toxic relationships, or is she living them? That’s concerning in the way it comes out in her writing, in the way it’s romanticized, and in the way it plays out so horrifyingly.

Not to mention, this book is not nearly as scary as The Return. The Return scared the bejeezus out of me, kept me up at night! Cackle got me a few times with good jump scares, but nothing like it needed to be. Those jump scares are also never tied – there’s something missing from the end of this book that prevents it from being finished with a neat little bow. It didn’t do it for me in the horror capacity, and the story was lacking in that sense as well.

Clearly, there’s a point to this story. The not-so-subtle messaging about women, relationships, and power are center stage in this book, especially in the latter half. Obviously, being pop culture of a witchy nature, those themes are bound to come up, but I think they were meant to carry the novel in a way they just, *didn’t*. To some more inclined to think women can’t be truly wicked, I’m sure this novel is full of frights. To most who know the truth, this is nothing more than a revenge story turned empowered.

I wanted to like this. I wanted to LOVE this. But I just don’t, I can’t. Annie ruined it for me, and while I think Sophie was meant to be endearing to start, to persuade you like to her and follow Annie’s line of thinking, I disliked her from the first. It really surprised me just how much I didn’t care for Cackle when I absolutely loved Harrison’s debut and this one was supposed to be even better. Well. Can’t win them all.

My advice would be to skip this one, but I’m not against Rachel Harrison just yet. I will give her next release the good ol’ college try.

Have an awesome week, pals.

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

This book took me by surprise. Mexican Gothic drew a lot of attention when it first released, I believe, because it was a choice for Book of the Month. I grabbed a copy then, but it’s just been sitting on my shelf (my recent theme is kicking my TBR’s ass…oh, waiting on me to read you for several years, have you? *Cracks spine*) . My friend read it last year and didn’t care for it, but told me I would probably like it. She was correct: this is good stuff friends.

Noemí Taboada is a strong willed socialite. After her cousin Catalina sends a confusing and concerning letter to her father, Noemí is forced to leave behind her life of parties in Mexico City for High Place, to check on Catalina. There, she finds an intriguing cast of characters in her in-laws, the Doyles, a long forgotten wealthy family of mine owners, and their home surrounded in silver and rot.

It doesn’t take long for things to start going awry. Catalina’s behavior is far more concerning in person. The Doyles have many rules, and won’t seek the proper medical attention for Noemí’s cousin. And Noemi has begun to sleep walk again…something is wrong at High Place, and Noemí would die to find out what it is.

I had a lot of expectations for this book just based on what people had *told* me it was about, but it blew them out of the water. My biggest expectation was that it would be along the lines of a Shirley Jackson novel. Anyone that regularly reads my blog sees me compare things to Shirley Jackson, or preach my love for her, on a fairly regular basis. She’s a genius and a visionary, not appreciated in her own time. While Moreno-Garcia’s writing did have a similar tone and darkness to it, I think what was most missing from my expectation was the ambiguousness. Jackson tends to leave a lot up to the imagination. Moreno-Garcia, in contrast, wrote with rich and colorful detail, so much so that I could practically see High Place in my mind. I could picture the characters, their quirks, everything in striking color. Which is good, because it seriously adds to this book to have all that.

The story within this novel is wild and fanciful. It wasn’t at all what I was expecting; it kept me guessing right up to those very last chapters. I don’t want to give too much of it away, but it was so delightfully creepy and horrifying, and all the characters so perfectly malicious. This is the exact kind of horror I love to read, that requires that extra level of depth and thought.

I discovered, upon gathering my photo for this post, that THIS BOOK IS GOING TO BE A HULU SHOW!!! If done well, it’s going to be truly incredible to watch on screen. I think of it akin to The Haunting of Hill House show… if a good troupe of actors plays these incredible characters, it should be an absolute delight. They truly made the story, and I think any good visual representation of it will require some damn good acting.

Since it took me so long to pick this one up, I’m dying to know…have you read Mexican Gothic? What were your thoughts? Did you love the story, or get bogged down in the details? My friend felt personally that the writing style was too similar to Jackson, and because she didn’t care much for Jackson, she had to drag her way through it.

Overall, if your tastes are anything like mine, I highly recommend Mexican Gothic. Grab a copy. Seriously!

I hope you all have an amazing week as we head into fall!