Book Review: You by Caroline Kepnes

Joe Goldberg meets a beautiful wannabe writer when she comes into the bookstore where he works.  Her name is Guinevere Beck, and he becomes instantly obsessed.  He’s able to find out all sorts of things by stalking her social media and then stalking her real life, and he knows that she will be his.  He just has to take care of some of the complications masquerading as people in her life.  As he controls more and more of Beck’s life, he also works to be the perfect man for her so that their life together can finally begin.

One of my favorite library instruction sessions is all about social media and privacy, and I’m tempted to bring up a book like this when I discuss social media with students.  It’s a perfectly ridiculous example of a worst-case scenario: a man uses social media to find out absolutely everything about his victim and uses the information to his advantage in every way possible.

That’s what’s so brilliant about Kepnes’s fantastically creepy thriller: it has a hint of the wholly unlikely, but readers can’t shake the feeling that it could be all too real.  It’s deeply unsettling, extremely compelling, and oftentimes darkly funny.  Readers who like their narrators unreliable, their stories dark, and the morals murky at best will find a lot to love here.

In her narrator Joe, Kepnes has crafted a man completely unhinged but unaware of it.  He is able to exude charm to the outside world while keeping a running commentary of snarky comments and pop culture observations inside his head.  The result is a man who is both abhorrent and kind of awesome.

Beck is also complicated, but because readers are never treated to time inside her head and view her only through Joe’s eyes and thoughts, she remains something of an enigma.  She’s spoiled and kind of a brat, and has a tendency to treat people badly (though pretty much every character in this novel is the literal worst), but readers can tell that she has issues with intimate relationships just by how she engages with the world.  Because of this, they also know that her relationship with Joe is doomed.  I mean, he’s also a sociopathic murderer, but Kepnes writes her characters so well that readers will have to actively remind themselves that they aren’t rooting for Joe.

Perhaps the only true criticism is that the novel goes on for a bit too long, and some heavier editing could have cut a bit of the flab that keeps the story from being as tight as it wants to be.  It starts to drag about two-thirds of the way through, just ever so slightly.  Still, readers will race through this one to see what happens in the shocking conclusion.

Recommended.

You by Caroline Kepnes. Atria Books: 2014.  Library copy.

 

 

Waiting on Wednesday: The Creeping by Alexandra Sirowy

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.  Its purpose is to spotlight eagerly-anticipated upcoming releases.

This week I’m eagerly awaiting:

The Creeping by Alexandra Sirowy

Expected Release Date: August 18, 2015

Twelve years ago Stella and Jeanie vanished while picking strawberries. Stella returned minutes later, with no memory of what happened. Jeanie was never seen or heard from again.

Now Stella is seventeen, and she’s over it. She’s the lucky one who survived, and sure, the case is still cloaked in mystery—and it’s her small town’s ugly legacy—but Stella is focused on the coming summer. She’s got a great best friend, a hookup with an irresistibly crooked smile, and two months of beach days stretching out before her.

Then along comes a corpse, a little girl who washes up in an ancient cemetery after a mudslide, and who has red hair just like Jeanie did. Suddenly memories of that haunting day begin to return, and when Stella discovers that other red-headed girls have gone missing as well, she begins to suspect that something sinister is at work.

And before the summer ends, Stella will learn the hard way that if you hunt for monsters, you will find them.

(summary via Goodreads)

This looks deliciously creepy.  I love a good horror story, and I never feel like there are enough of them to keep me satiated.  So this is coming at a great time, and I can’t wait to see what happens in this book.

What are you waiting on this week?

Book Review: The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant Parks keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don’t like her. She jokes that she won’t bite, but they don’t laugh. (goodreads)

M.R. Carey’s post-apocalyptic novel has readers a lot to offer, and it doesn’t just come from the big names who blurbed the book.  A fresh take on the zombie-trope, Carey’s novel stands out with its unique premise and fascinating story.  A few missteps mar what is otherwise a very entertaining novel (and soon to be a super-whitewashed movie).

The characters of Melanie and Miss Justineau are the standouts here, and their bond helps drive much of the story’s narrative.  Melanie is a character unlike any readers have ever encountered: a second-generation “hungry,” a zombie who is capable of intelligent thought, empathy, and speech.  Miss Justineau is her teacher, a woman who believes that hungries like Melanie can serve a greater purpose than being specimens dissected in a lab.

But because these two characters work so well, it helps illustrate how thin the development of the other characters are.  The rest of the main cast fall into pretty common stereotypes and cliches, and their sections of narration suffer as a result.  However, readers who are invested in the rising action will be able to look the other way on this.

On the whole, the book is well-plotted.  The first third of the book is the richest in terms of story development, but the action kicks in shortly after and will keep readers turning the pages.  The novel combines several different tropes, and the road-trip feel of the middle section will work for some readers more than others.  A strong ending with an unusual twist makes for a satisfying conclusion.  This novel is remarkable for its re-imagining of the zombie tale.

The Girl with all the Gifts by M.R. Carey. Orbit: 2014. Library copy.

 

Waiting on Wednesday: The Dead House by Dawn Kurtagich

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.  Its purpose is to spotlight eagerly-anticipated upcoming releases.

This week I’m eagerly awaiting:

The Dead House by Dawn Kurtagich

Expected Release Date: September 15, 2015

Part-psychological thriller, part-urban legend, this is an unsettling narrative made up of diary entries, interview transcripts, film footage transcripts and medical notes. Twenty-five years ago, Elmbridge High burned down. Three people were killed and one pupil, Carly Johnson, disappeared. Now a diary has been found in the ruins of the school. The diary belongs to Kaitlyn Johnson, Carly’s identical twin sister. But Carly didn’t have a twin . . .

Re-opened police records, psychiatric reports, transcripts of video footage and fragments of diary reveal a web of deceit and intrigue, violence and murder, raising a whole lot more questions than it answers.

Who was Kaitlyn and why did she only appear at night? Did she really exist or was she a figment of a disturbed mind? What were the illicit rituals taking place at the school? And just what did happen at Elmbridge in the events leading up to ‘the Johnson Incident’?

Chilling, creepy and utterly compelling, THE DEAD HOUSE is one of those very special books that finds all the dark places in your imagination, and haunts you long after you’ve finished reading.

(summary via Goodreads)

Based on the summary, I feel like this is a mix of House of Leaves (which remains the single scariest book I’ve ever read) and classic R.L. Stine.  I could be way off, but who cares?  Either way, this looks like it’s going to be  ton of fun, and a perfect Halloween read (I know we’re a ways off, but it’s always fun to start planning).

What are you waiting on this week?

 

Book Review: Your House is On Fire, Your Children all Gone by Stefan Kiesbye

The tiny village of Hermmersmoor has that timelessness that only the smallest ones do.  It’s full of secrets and superstitions, and the locals keep secrets both terrible and mysterious.  The grand manor sits on the edge of town, and the rest of the villagers share rumors about the family who lives there.  In this town, four friends come of age and discover some of life’s most horrific aspects.

There are plenty of reviews that compare Kiesbye’s novel to Stephen King (at his prime, I guess), and while there may be some elements here that are similar to King’s most chilling works, Kiesbye’s voice is far more literary than the comparison hints at.  In this chilling novel, Kiesbye crafts a story that sticks to readers’ ribs and chills them to their bones.  This is not a story that readers will be able to put down and forget about.  It demands to be paid attention to.

Loosely connected short stories told by different people in the village of Hemmersmoor make this a remarkable novel.  Each chapter has different narration and offers a different tale of reminiscence about the weird town the characters grew up in.  Each tale has an underlying tension throughout it, and there’s a feeling of malice on every page, though it’s hard to place at times.  The result is a suspenseful, gripping, wholly terrifying read.

What’s worth mentioning is Kiesbye’s ability to craft a story that is genuinely terrifying without resulting to gratuitous gore.  The stories are mostly bloodless but terrifying all the same, and sometimes even scarier because they’re so removed.  It’s a knockout of a novel, and should work for hardcore horror fans as well as new readers to the genre.  It’s very good.

Your House is On Fire, Your Children All Gone by Stefan Kiesbye. Penguin Books: 2012. Library copy.

Book Review: Please Remain Calm by Courtney Summers

Rhys and Sloane are on their way to a safe haven when they end up separated after a particularly bad zombie attack.  Although he’s determined to find Sloane–alive–Rhys finds another group of people, and he realizes that he might need them as much as they do him.  Determined to survive and with a newfound hope that he just might make it, Rhys continues to navigate a world where the dead are alive.

Summers’s novella takes place immediately after This is Not a Test, so reading the first book is a necessity for readers picking this one up.  But fans of the first novel will also find that Summers applies the same mastery and enormous respect for the genre here, crafting a genuinely horrifying, moving novel about the zombie apocalypse.  This is a fast read that can (and will) be devoured in one sitting.

Much of what works in this story is the same stuff that worked in the previous book: the balance between truly heart-stopping action sequences and quieter, more emotional moments.  Summers is a well-documented zombie-fan, and it shows here.  She knows her stuff, respects the greats, and still manages to create a world that is uniquely her own.  But she also loves her characters, and the detailed, fully-realized characters who inhabit this world are compelling.

This time, the story is narrated by Rhys, and though readers still get plenty of page time with Sloane, having a new narration offers a fresh perspective.  Rhys’s experiences offer a different take on what has happened and what’s to come, and his fierce devotion to Sloane is palpable.  Summers takes care to build the interpersonal relationships between the characters, which makes it all the more horrifying when they’re in dire situations.

Highly recommended.  This is an ebook only, but it’s well worth the (cheap) price.  This is a great, quick read that should work for horror fans young and old.  It will also leave them clamoring for more.

Please Remain Calm by Courtney Summers. St. Martin’s Griffin: 2015. Purchased copy.

 

Book Review: Through the Woods by Emily Carroll

In Emily Carroll’s graphic novel, five creepy stories come to life.  These creaking, macabre stories will chill readers to the bone.  “It came from the woods.  Most strange things do.”

Carroll wrote and illustrated all of the stories in this excellent, creepy collection, and her talent for both sparse writing and brilliantly rendered stories shines through in each offering.  Using a combination of techniques to ramp up the tension and the horror, Carroll succeeds on every level, offering readers thrills, chills, and genuine scares.

All of the stories are a bit folk-tale-esque, but each offers a unique and original take on old tropes.  The blend of spare text (all hand-lettered) and brilliant illustrations (mostly done in black, white, and red) makes for a compelling reading experience.  Carroll makes use of visual techniques employed in the best horror movies, too: long passages of silence, sudden extreme closeups, lurking shadows that are almost completely out of sight.  All of this works gorgeously on the page, making it impossible to stop in the middle.

Genuinely scary stories that even the most jaded horror fan will find creepy.  There’s a lot here to unpack, but the stories read quickly, making this a great choice for reluctant readers as well as more sophisticated ones.  Absolutely brilliant and highly recommended.

Through the Woods by Emily Carroll. Margaret K. McElderry Books: 2014. Library copy.