Lost Reviews Series: Amity by Micol Ostow & Shadowboxer by Tricia Sullivan

PSA: Akin to the theme reviews series I started yesterday, I’ve decided to add lost reviews as well. These are the books that I’ve read, but haven’t reviewed because at the time I couldn’t put my opinions into words. Some of these books were read over a year ago and now that I have time to reflect back, my opinions are more firm. These reviews will be much shorter than my average reviews. 

amityGoodreads/Amazon/iBooks/B&N

syn

Here is a house of ruin and rage, of death and deliverance.
Here is where I live, not living.
Here is always mine.

When Connor’s family moves to Amity, a secluded house on the peaceful banks of New England’s Concord River, his nights are plagued with gore-filled dreams of demons. destruction, and revenge. Dreams he kind of likes. Dreams he could make real, with Amity’s help.

Ten years later, Gwen’s family moves to Amity for a fresh start. Instead, she’s haunted by lurid visions, disturbing voices, and questions about her own sanity. But with her history, who would ever believe her? And what could be done if they did?

Because Amity isn’t just a house. She is a living force, bent on manipulating her inhabitants to her twisted will. She will use Connor and Gwen to bring about a violent end as she’s done before. As she’ll do again. And again. And again.

Inspired by a true-crime story, Amity spans generations to weave an overlapping, interconnected tale of terror, insanity, danger, and death.

review

3/5 Stars

***I received this book as a gift in exchange for an honest review via NetGalley & EgmontUSA

Amity is bone chilling, nail-biting, creepy as sin. There’s so much that will leave you reeling and breathless, uncertain of what’s going on only to hit you with something so horrific, you’ll wish you didn’t know. 

The house itself is terrifying. It has a life of it’s own that is both poetic and so disturbing. It’s alive and breathing. You feel it watching, almost as if it can leap from the pages. If you’ve read The Dead House by Dawn Kurtagich, you’ll know what I mean. 

There are two stories that alternate. One 10 years in the past and one in the present. One male, one female. Both perspectives are strong. Gwen and Conner are worlds apart and yet living the same fate. They’re forced to question everything and doubt their own minds. You may doubt yours too. Sometimes the flips between POVs are trippy and confusing and throw you off. Other times, they’re eerie and oh so dark.

The pacing is moderate to slow. Some sections lag quite a bit despite the creep factor. 

I could have taken or left Conner. He couldn’t keep me invested. Gwen and Conner both talk to the reader, almost in a diary form. Even with that format, it wasn’t powerful enough. 

If you’re looking for a spooky Halloween read aloud, check this out. 

shadowboxGoodreads/Amazon/B&N/iBooks

syn

Thai martial arts, international crime, celebrity and mythical creatures combine in this masterful new tale of two people facing incredible dangers, from award-winning author Tricia Sullivan.

Nothing she’s faced in the cage will prepare her…

Jade is a young mixed martial arts fighter. When she’s in the cage she dominates her opponents—but in real life she’s out of control.

After she has a confrontation with a Hollywood martial arts star that threatens her gym’s reputation, Jade’s coach sends her to a training camp in Thailand for an attitude adjustment. Hoping to discover herself, she instead uncovers a shocking conspiracy. In a world just beyond our own, a man is stealing the souls of children to try and live forever.

review

2.5/5 Stars

***I received this book as a gift in exchange for an honest review via NetGalley & Ravenstone

Shadowboxer is one of those books that had so much potential and had the two main story arcs been separate books and then later intertwined, it probably would have worked better. Instead, these two stories don’t line up like they should. It feels like two separate books. When the stories come together, it feels contrived, forced, and messy.

That being said, I liked the stories as separate entities. Give me a badass female character who speaks her mind, knows how to throw a punch, and doesn’t let anyone push her around. Jade is loud, bossy, take charge, and ready to jump in any fight for what she believes in. Jade has worked so hard to get where she is and strives for excellence in her martial arts. She’s abrasive, rude, crass, wholly herself, and doesn’t apologize for who she is and that makes her someone you can respect, even if you don’t like her. Despite these awesome qualities and the story that goes with them, I didn’t particularly like Jade. Sure she’s overcome a lot, she works for everything, and has super big dreams, but the girl is catty and rude and a mess. She doesn’t even shell out the respect she gets. 

The pacing is abysmal. Jade has a strong voice and stuff happens but it’s so slow and takes ages to get to the second story arc where they merge together. You’ll wonder as chapters alternate what exactly is going on and why it matters. Not knowing in some ways pushes you to read more and in others makes you forget everything as you struggle to piece it together. 

The second story arc in Thailand is excellent. The scenery is diverse and rich and colorful and there’s so much life in those pages. You’ll feel like you’re transported. It’s not always pretty, but it’s real and raw and sucks you in.

The soul stealing. When I read this book, I didn’t bother with the blurb-I almost never do-and so I read those sections without knowing what was happening and it kind of added to the mystery. There’s this cool shadow realm that full of Thai lore and spirituality. It’s fascinating and engaging. You’ll want that poor little girl to escape her fate. 

Overall, Shadowboxer was interesting but easy to put down and forget about. It was complicated, packed with info, and voice, but dragged too much to keep attention. 

If you like any of the following, you’ll enjoy this:

Creepy reading, 

Jordan

ARC Review: And the Trees Crept In by Dawn Kurtagich

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syn

A stunning, terrifying novel about a house the color of blood and the two sisters who are trapped there, by The Dead House author Dawn Kurtagich

When Silla and Nori arrive at their aunt’s home, it’s immediately clear that the “blood manor” is cursed. The creaking of the house and the stillness of the woods surrounding them would be enough of a sign, but there are secrets too–the questions that Silla can’t ignore: Who is the beautiful boy that’s appeared from the woods? Who is the man that her little sister sees, but no one else? And why does it seem that, ever since they arrived, the trees have been creeping closer?

Filled with just as many twists and turns as The Dead House, and with achingly beautiful, chilling language that delivers haunting scenes, AND THE TREES CREPT IN is the perfect follow-up novel for master horror writer Dawn Kurtagich.

review

4/5 Stars

***I received this eARC as a gift in exchange for an honest review via Little Brown Books for Young Readers

Dawn Kurtagich is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors. The twists get me every single time. The darkness, the creepy, the utter shock, and grotesque horror will wrap you up in a gripping downward spiral towards madness. 

I loved this story. There are layers and layers of arcs and distractions that keep you guessing until the very end and when you get there, you still won’t be certain, and will have to ask yourself what just happened and if the end is truly reality. 

There’s a Gothic atmosphere that permeates the story. Despite being set in 1980 and 2013, there’s a gritty desperation that makes you feel like your sinking, slowly into the past. From the creaking floorboards, the blood red of the manor, and the shadows that lurk around every corner, get ready to be on edge until the bitter end. The isolation is killer. It consumes and tricks and manipulates so that you can’t be certain of anything but what is going on in the manor, and even that is suspect. 

Scattered throughout are cryptic diary entires, different POVs, and creepy (think little kids sing-songing in horror films or giggling in a corner) rhymes. You’ll feel it. That sinking certainty, the wrongness of every action. The corn husks, the sack dolls, the Creeper Man getting closer, beckoning from the deep and all-to-alive trees of Python wood. 

Madness. Complete insanity. The slow, torturous crack to the inevitable loss of all reason. It’s there in sharp clarity. Each chapter brings Silla closer to the edge, that black hole of total madness. She straddles the line and each bit of wrongness is another blow to her psyche. The process is grueling and terrifying and SO IMPRESSIVE. I’ve never read insanity so stark and horrible. The confusion, the anger, the pain, the hope. It’s all there. 

Silla has a heart of stone, but she loves so fiercely that it becomes a prison. She can’t let anyone in and it becomes a single-minded goal to protect Nori at all costs. She sacrifices so much for her sister. She forgoes food, she shucks off her own hopes for escape or safety because the Creeper Man is a threat to her beloved little sibling. 

The ending. Explosive. Heartbreaking. Emotional carnage. So much tragedy. This story, the pain is immense and raw and oh so potent. Sometimes it’s all-consuming grief and sorrow. Others, love becomes both blessing and curse.

My one issue is that some parts dragged by and there wasn’t enough bizarre in those sections to keep me interested. But wade through reader, it’s worth it. 

Also, that cover. 

If you like any of the following, you’ll enjoy this:

Cryptic reading, 

Jordan

ARC Review: The Smaller Evil by Stephanie Kuehn

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syn

Sometimes the greater good requires the smaller evil.

17-year-old Arman Dukoff is struggling with severe anxiety and a history of self-loathing when he arrives at an expensive self-help retreat in the remote hills of Big Sur. He’s taken a huge risk—and two-thousand dollars from his meth-head stepfather—for a chance to “evolve,” as Beau, the retreat leader, says.

Beau is complicated. A father figure? A cult leader? A con man? Arman’s not sure, but more than anyone he’s ever met, Beau makes Arman feel something other than what he usually feels—worthless.

The retreat compound is secluded in coastal California mountains among towering redwoods, and when the iron gates close behind him, Arman believes for a moment that he can get better. But the program is a blur of jargon, bizarre rituals, and incomprehensible encounters with a beautiful girl. Arman is certain he’s failing everything. But Beau disagrees; he thinks Arman has a bright future—though he never says at what.

And then, in an instant Arman can’t believe or totally recall, Beau is gone. Suicide? Or murder? Arman was the only witness and now the compound is getting tense. And maybe dangerous.

As the mysteries and paradoxes multiply and the hints become accusations, Arman must rely on the person he’s always trusted the least: himself.

review

3/5 Stars

***I received this eARC as a gift in exchange for an honest review via Penguin’s FirstToRead program 

***There is some mature content, like sex, not especially graphic but it’s there. Contains what could be triggers for mutilation and suicide.

If you’ve read any reviews on this book, you’ve probably seen the collective, what did I just read? trend. Sometimes that sentiment is unfounded, but The Smaller Evil is one trippy, confusing, psychological journey into self discovery and recovery from what is deemed a toxic outside world. 

Curious yet? You should be. The Smaller Evil is the type of book where you wait and wait and wait and wait some more for something-anything to happen. You’ll flip through page after page, cruising on that J.D. Salinger vibe of awkward, a little grotesque, and hyper personal, and hope for revelation. You get it, but what you do with it, whether you understand it, is a whole different ball game. The book drags on and on in this self-pitying, misanthropic tale of Arman, a teenager who has been treated as nothing and so believes he’s even less than that. He knows he’s worthless, but he wants to change. Arman has a myriad of problems-ADD, GERD, self-mutilation, suicidal tendencies a regular cocktail of teenage angst and depression to the extreme. All of these sort of pop up randomly and will leave you questioning Arman’s reliability as a character.

There’s a big coming of age aspect to the story that’s a bit off-putting in some ways because it’s just so freaking weird. Sometimes I felt repulsed, other times I questioned every single character’s mental stability. 

A ton of misdirects. Just when you think you have an inkling of what is going on at the compound guess again. Something always pops up to throw you off, and believe me, when you get to that ending, you’ll never have seen that coming and I’m still not sure WHY. The how is there, but the why is fuzzy. Why go through such lengths? It’s crazy, yet somehow innovative.

The story itself, there’s not a huge plot focus. It’s more an internal journey for each character into finding their problems, questioning them, and looking for ways to fix them that might be out of the box. Up until, I’d say 200 or so pages, you’ll wonder why you’re still reading when so little has happened.

The compound, Evolve, is a hippie-retreat catered towards inner development and inoculation against the negative forces and influences of the outside world. Bullying, self-doubt, horrible parents, things like that (vectors in the story) that shape you and break your spirit. There are so many questions that are never answered. Why so few young people? Is it a cult? Why the extremes?

You can tell someone with a psychology degree wrote this.

When the plot twist happens, it’s a letdown. Why? Because it’s completely unsatisfying. Sure, it resulted in some moderate improvement but why????

There are some beautifully pointed psychological insights into humanity. Lots of quotable, profound material. There are also what appear to be journal entries or a how-to sort of guide mingled in with the chapters. These may be confusing and frustrating for some because up until the end, you’ll have no clue who wrote them or why.

All in all, The Smaller Evil was hard to rate. It was a decent read, it kept me interested, and I read it straight through. The urge to know what was going on was the driving force behind my single-minded focus to get to the end. 

If you like any of the following, you’ll enjoy this:

Addictive reading,

Jordan

ARC Review: Girl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow

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Release Date: September 6, 2016

syn

Charlotte Davis is in pieces. At seventeen she’s already lost more than most people lose in a lifetime. But she’s learned how to forget. The thick glass of a mason jar cuts deep, and the pain washes away the sorrow until there is nothing but calm. You don’t have to think about your father and the river. Your best friend, who is gone forever. Or your mother, who has nothing left to give you.

Every new scar hardens Charlie’s heart just a little more, yet it still hurts so much. It hurts enough to not care anymore, which is sometimes what has to happen before you can find your way back from the edge.

review

4/5 Stars

***I received this eARC as a gift in exchange for an honest review via NetGalley & Random House Children’s Delacorte Press

+++Triggers: Self harm, violence, assault, sexual situations, graphic scenes

From the first few pages, I knew that this book would be something special. At 10% on my Goodreads update my status was: “This book. That voice.” I haven’t read such an emotionally gripping and poignant book in a long time. Charlie’s voice is rich, broken, and beautifully tragic. She bares her soul to the reader and has overcome so much that you’ll want to weep for her pain.

This book is intense and not for the faint of heart. The subjects are raw and gritty and graphic. There are times when, if you’re even remotely queasy when it comes to blood, that you might feel a little sick. Self mutilation/harm plays a major role in this story and the psychological reasoning behind it is dark, honest, and could be dangerous or cathartic to some readers. 

Sometimes contemporary books can feel contrived, this is seedy, and twisted, and full of anguish and suffering that many young people, unfortunately go through. It feels absolutely real and honest. Heartbreaking and yes, it will make you angry and maybe even open your eyes to all of the hurt around you that you overlook everyday. 

The writing style. Holy sinful writing gods. Beautiful. Potent. Full of soul. It’s imperfect. There’s some poetry thrown in here and there, but that voice. It reads like a diary. 

Girl in Pieces reads like two books. The time that Charlie spent during her recovery and the life she builds after. There are flashbacks sporadically as well. The first half of the book is like therapy. You’re introduced to everything that got Charlie into the position she’s in. You meet other girls who also self harm for whatever reasons. Each character is unique and memorable. You’ll want to know them, to get to the heart of why they feel the way they do. 

The second half was not my favorite. It slows down considerably. Charlie is building a new life for herself and everyday is a struggle not to cut. The memories of her past haunt her, but so is oh so strong. She’s a fighter, through every negative thought, every memory, she battles herself. You see the struggle and wonder how she copes, but there’s hope for a future where she’s better, where she can be and love herself. 

There’s a stunning plot twist. I was so surprised and disgusted. Just wow. You never know people. 

The romance is messed up. Toxic in some instances and good for her in others. Through love, Charlie begins to see a new side of herself, a beautiful side. She begins to truly look at herself, but the risks and decisions she makes, the way she puts herself in danger is most definitely not okay. She sees it, but doesn’t feel worthy or secure in herself enough to say no. THIS is so important. An examination of why people stay in bad situations and how to rediscover your worth. 

Side note: I strongly dislike this cover.

If you like any of the following, you’ll enjoy this:

Keep reading, 

Jordan

Surprise Giveaway & Excerpt: The Cabin by Natasha Preston

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Release Date: September 6th, 2016

synThere may only be one killer, but no one is innocent in this new thriller from Natasha Preston, author of The Cellar and Awake.

When Mackenzie treks to a secluded cabin in the woods with six friends, she expects a fun weekend of partying, drinking, and hookups. But when they wake to find two of their own dead and covered in blood, it’s clear there’s a killer among them.

As the police try to unravel the case, Mackenzie launches her own investigation. Before long secrets start to emerge, revealing a sinister web of sins among the original seven friends. The killer is still free. Every one of them is a suspect. And Mackenzie starts to realize that no one is innocent…

Excerpt

Chapter One

Friday, August 7

“Do you have everything you need, Mackenzie?” Mum asked, watching me stuff clothes in a bag.

“I think so. We’re only going for two nights anyway.” Two painful nights of dealing with Josh.

“Remember to leave the address and phone number on the fridge.”

“I don’t think the cabin has a landline, but I’ll leave the address. I’ll get cell reception out there, apparently, and I’ll let you know when we arrive.”

She nodded nervously and gave me a weak smile.

“Mum, I’ll be fine.”

“You’re spending the weekend with someone you don’t like.”

“No, I’m spending the weekend with Aaron, Courtney, Megan, and Kyle. It’s just unfortunate that Josh will be there too.” If I could have uninvited him, I would have.

But the cabin is his parents’, so that didn’t seem too likely. Or reasonable. He’d invited us all to spend the weekend at his family’s cabin since school was out. The UK had finally realized it was summer, and next year, we’d all be going our separate ways for university.

“If you need to be picked up early…?”

I shook my head. “Thanks, but I’ll be fine. There’s no way I’m letting him ruin a weekend with my friends. Anyway, I need to go.”

“I’ll drop you off at Joshua’s.”

“No, it’s fine, Mum. I can walk.” I grabbed my bag and swung it over my shoulder. “See you Sunday night. Love you,” I said, kissing her cheek.

“Love you too, sweetheart. Call if you need anything.”

“I will,” I replied.

Josh only lived a two–minute walk away, so it wouldn’t take me long. I slammed the front door behind me and headed down the path. The weather was superhot, it being the beginning of August, and I was glad I’d opted for shorts and a T–shirt.

When I got to Josh’s, everyone was outside his house, cramming bags into cars. Seriously, we were going for two nights, but it looked like Courtney and Megan had packed for a week.

“Kenz!” Courtney shouted, jogging toward me. Her red ponytail swayed and her green eyes danced with excitement. She was the only person genuinely happy about this trip.

Taking a deep breath, I pushed away every ounce of doubt I had about this weekend and smiled. “Hey, Court. Is everyone ready?”

“Almost. Josh will be back soon,” she replied with a goofy smile. “Don’t look like that,” she added when I grimaced at his name.

Whoops, she caught me. “Sorry. I didn’t mean that. It’s…nice of him to invite us to his folk’s cabin.”

She took my lame apology with a smile. “He wants things back the way they were.”

Did he have a time machine so he could go back and not say those awful things about my friends? Could he take back what he’d done to me? What he still was doing to me?

Josh might be trying to make amends for the past—-if we were even to believe it was genuine—-but we weren’t going to forgive him so easily. Some hurts aren’t that easy to get over, and I couldn’t forgive someone who wasn’t sorry and hadn’t changed their behavior. Courtney had forgiven him already, of course, but she never could see what a waster her boyfriend was.

I lifted my eyebrow.

“Mackenzie, please,” Courtney said, sighing as she pushed her bangs out of her eyes. “He’s trying, and it will mean so much to me if you’ll try too. Please?”

I groaned and my shoulders sagged. “Fine. I’ll play nice.”

Two nights, that’s it. You can do that.

“We all will,” Megan added, stepping beside us. “Right, guys?” Aaron and Kyle nodded along, agreeing to put their differences to the side—-for the weekend at least.

“Where is Josh anyway?” I asked.

“Picking up his brother.” Courtney rolled her eyes. “Blake wanted to see him again, so Josh invited him this morning. Technically the cabin belongs to Blake too, so there’s not much anyone can do to stop him from coming with.”

“Oh,” I muttered, not sure how I felt about a stranger joining us. We didn’t know Blake, and if he was anything like Josh, the weekend was going to be a nightmare. “So the estranged brother is coming.” Great. This trip keeps getting better and better.

I had seen Blake before, on about two occasions, when his parents were doing a kid swap, but I’d never spoken to him. Blake had moved away with his dad after their parents divorced. Josh stayed with their mum. The two boys didn’t spend much time together while they were growing up, which was probably a good thing for Blake.

Courtney pushed her bangs aside again. They never stayed put, so I didn’t know why she didn’t just cut them shorter. “They’re hardly estranged.”

They rarely saw each other; I’d call that estranged. “Why is he crashing his brother’s party?” I asked.

“He’s lonely?” Kyle offered, making a sad face.

Courtney leaned against Aaron’s car. “No, he just wants to spend time with his brother. They both want to.”

If Blake was like Josh, I would be coming home early for sure. I didn’t even want to breathe the same air as Josh, so I sort of hoped Blake was an idiot too, then I would have an excuse to leave that wouldn’t hurt Courtney’s feelings.

The warm air blew my long chestnut hair in my face. I brushed the strands from my eyes just in time to see a metallic–black Mitsubishi Warrior—-the only car I recognized without reading the logo because it was Kyle’s favorite subject—-pull up beside me.

Here we go…

Josh was sitting in the passenger seat and his brother was driving. They both had the same dark–brown hair and blue eyes, but apart from that, they looked totally different. Josh definitely didn’t inherit the looks. Blake snapped every ounce of drop–dead gorgeous and left nothing for his younger brother. Lucky for Blake.

I looked away and walked around to Aaron’s car, wanting to put as much distance between me and Josh as possible. Even just seeing his face made me want to punch him, especially after his demands. Courtney was smart, but when it came to him, she was as thick as a post.

Josh got out of the car. “Hey, guys. You remember my brother, Blake?”

Megan shook her head. “Nope, but hi.”

Blake walked to the front of his truck and casually leaned against the hood as if he was bored. “Hey,” he said with a nod.

He wore chunky black boots, dark jeans, and a black jacket, making him look mysterious and maybe a little dangerous. His dark hair stuck out in all directions in a messy style that looked like he didn’t give a crap—-which I assumed he didn’t. His bright–blue eyes scanned the group, checking us out one by one.

His gaze was intense and it was like he saw everything. I didn’t want him to see anything about me. “Let’s just leave already!” I said, opening the car door and climbing inside. The sooner we got there, the sooner we could get back. Damn, I sounded like my parents on Christmas Eve when they would try to get me to sleep as the clock ticked dangerously close to midnight.

But at least I would get two nights adult free to spend with my friends. That was something to look forward to for sure.

“Err, Mackenzie,” Courtney said. “You’re in the car with me.”

My face fell. I knew what that meant. “What?”

She stepped forward and leaned in the car so we could talk privately. “You’re coming in the car with me, Josh, and Blake.”

“Yeah, I’m not,” I replied.

“Please? Look, I know you’re mad at him, and I understand why, but will you try? I really think you two need to spend the car trip together to work through this.”

“We really don’t, Court.”

“This weekend is going to suck if you’re pissed at Josh the whole time.”

I frowned. I wasn’t the only one who didn’t like him though, so why was I the only one being forced to make the extra effort? “His brother’s weird,” I whispered as if that was going to change Courtney’s mind.

“Blake is harmless.”

I’d run out of excuses. Sighing in defeat, I replied, “All right! But if he pisses me off by making his usual stupid comments, I’m switching cars.”

Courtney held up her hands. “OK, OK. Thank you.”

“We’re taking Blake’s car then?”

“Yeah, they must have decided to bring Blake’s instead. I can see why.” Courtney was a car person; she knew all the different types and models by sight. I couldn’t even tell if something was wrong with one—-unless the engine actually fell out.

“Blake’s driving?”

“His car, so I guess.” She shrugged, watching Josh with a loving look that made me want to shake some sense into her.

“I call shotgun,” I replied. If I had to be in the same car, at least I wouldn’t have to sit next to him. I was aware that I was behaving like a child, but I didn’t care. Josh had crossed a line, and I wasn’t going to forgive him. Actually, Josh had crossed about a million lines.

I got in the passenger seat before Josh had a chance to say or do anything. He could shove it if he thought I was moving. Blake smiled a little awkwardly and started the car. He didn’t ooze confidence, but he looked like he didn’t care what anyone thought.

“I’m coming in your car too,” Kyle said.

Courtney narrowed her eyes. “You’re with Aaron and Megan.”

“There’s space with you for another, isn’t there?”

“Kyle, five in one car and two in another is stupid. No one wants to be cramped in the back.”

“Oh, for Christ’s sake, Kyle, just get in Aaron’s bloody car,” Josh snapped, shoving past him. “Pathetic arsehole.”

I ground my teeth. Did it really matter which car he rode in?

The answer was no.

Blake and I hadn’t spent any time together, so we quickly fell into an awkward silence while we waited for Josh and Courtney to get in the car. I bit the inside of my cheek and twiddled my fingers. Say something to him! We had never actually spoken to each other before. That was about to change. We had a forty–five–minute car ride to a remote part of the Lake District ahead of us.

“Why do you hate Josh?” he asked.

I was surprised by his bluntness. It was no secret that I didn’t like Josh, but I didn’t expect his brother to come straight out and ask. “Um, because he’s a bloody idiot.”

Blake’s eyebrow rose, and he pursed his lips. Finally, he nodded once. “Yeah. OK then.”

“You don’t see him much, do you?”

“Not really. Growing up, my parents couldn’t get their shit together long enough to schedule proper visits for us. Most of the time, when they finally got around to it, they swapped us over for a day or two. I think I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen my mum in the last twelve years.”

My heart ached for him. I couldn’t imagine what he went through as a kid. He must’ve missed his mum. I would have; my mum was the person I went to with every problem—-well, almost every problem. “That’s really sad.”

He lifted his shoulder and let it drop. “That’s how it goes sometimes.”

“Yeah, but…” I shook my head. I couldn’t imagine not seeing my mum every day, as crazy as she drove me sometimes. Blake must have felt abandoned by his mom if she never made the effort. Maybe that was how Josh felt about his dad? Wow, Josh and deep feelings. That was strange to think about… Everything I’d witnessed of his character had been shallow and selfish.

Josh and Courtney got in the car, and I zipped my mouth. The atmosphere turned tense, like it always was when Josh was around. He knew I wished he wasn’t with Courtney after all of the horrible things he’d said about our friends Tilly and Gigi. He loved that Courtney wouldn’t ditch him for treating her friends like rubbish. Bastard.

“Oh, I don’t mind you sitting up front with my brother, Mackenzie,” Josh said sarcastically as he climbed into the backseat.

I clenched my fists. Don’t let him get to you.

“My car, Bro, and I’d rather sit near a pretty face than your ugly mug,” Blake responded.

Smiling to myself, I grabbed my bag of lollipops and offered one to Blake. I should probably have been annoyed at the “pretty face” comment, but that was overshadowed by him calling Josh ugly. Blake took an orange lollipop—-my favorite—-and gave me a wink.

“Not sharing, Mackenzie?” Josh asked.

I took a deep breath, resisting the urge to jam the plastic stick into his eye. “Sure,” I replied, holding out the bag. He took two, probably to annoy me, so I said nothing.

“OK, everyone, please play nice,” Courtney whined. “This weekend, parent free, is going to be epic, so will you all make up?”

“You know I don’t have a problem with any of them, babe,” Josh replied.

“Whatever,” I muttered, clenching my jaw.

I watched Blake as he drove. His eyes slid over, occasionally catching me, but he didn’t say a word. I found myself wanting to get to know him, but I wasn’t sure why. He would go home after the weekend, and I’d probably never see him again.

Still, Blake was gorgeous, and I was drawn to him.

We reached the cabin without bloodshed, so I was pleased with my self–control—-so far. Courtney kept Josh in check by flirting with him and getting him to listen to music. I couldn’t wait until she saw through him and his crap. I was going to make sure I had a front–row seat when she dumped his arse.

“This is it?” I asked, looking out the window up at a huge, two–story cabin. It could easily house about ten people.

Blake cut the engine and smirked. “What did you expect? The Ritz?”

“This is amazing. I didn’t think it would be this big.”

“Three years ago, I would have made some sort of sexual innuendo,” Blake replied.

“All grown up now, are we?”

“Nah, that was just when I noticed Josh trying to act the big man and I realized how lame those comments actually sound.”

I grinned and got out of the car. I liked Blake and his painfully beautiful face. Maybe this weekend wouldn’t be so miserable. Kyle and Aaron bundled bags out of the trunk and chucked them on the ground. Halfway to the cabin I guess. Kyle grabbed his phone and started to film, like he usually did. He wanted to do something in the film industry, and I think he’d be awesome at it.

“Smile, Kenz,” he said, pointing it in my direction.

I stuck out my tongue and Aaron made an obscene gesture.

“Nice, Aaron,” Kyle said sarcastically.

Megan stared up at the enormous house. You could tell from the overgrown plants and faded window frames that no one had been here in a while. Josh and Courtney had spent all last weekend here getting it ready, but they’d just cleaned the inside.

The cabin was set in a clearing; the woods surrounded it on three sides, and a gorgeous lake ran along the front of the property. The scenery was beautiful. I didn’t understand why Josh’s family didn’t use it more often.

“You happy to be back?” I asked Blake as we walked to the front door at a snail’s pace. He dragged his feet like he didn’t really want to be here.

Blake shrugged and grunted. “Just here for the booze.”

Of course you are.

Josh unlocked the front door and turned to us. Kyle rolled his eyes, guessing what was coming, and I tried not to laugh. We—-eighteen and however old Blake was—-were about to be given rules.

“Courtney and I have worked hard getting the cabin ready for you all, so I would appreciate it if you would respect the place and not leave it looking like a Dumpster.”

I bit my tongue. How pompous. None of us were going to trash the cabin and he knew that. Courtney stood beside him like the lady of the manor, eating up the attention. I loved that girl, but she needed a good slap to knock some sense into her.

Josh opened the door and walked in ahead of Courtney. Gentleman my arse! And Court didn’t even care; she followed him like a little lapdog.

“I’ll grab the rest of the bags,” Aaron said, heading back out of the door.

I walked in and my jaw dropped. Wow.

The cabin was beautiful, albeit a little dated. The view of the lake from the family room window was to die for. The sun shone down on the water’s surface, making it glisten. There was a large fireplace that I could have stepped into.

Kyle walked behind me, capturing the view with his phone.

“I’m going to explore. Anyone wanna come?” Megan asked, bouncing up and down like a toddler. Her short, overly hair–sprayed bob barely moved an inch. She had already dropped her bag by the bottom of the stairs, which was about as much unpacking as she ever did.

I handed a case of beer to Courtney, who was organizing the food and booze in the kitchen.

“Don’t fancy getting lost in the forest, thanks,” I replied.

Aaron dropped a load of bags on the floor. “I’ll come.” He walked out before anyone could stop him and make him help. I watched them walk into the woods. The bright midday sun shone down on Aaron’s white–blond hair, making it glow. They both looked happy to be away, and I was going to try and do the same.

“Going for a walk,” Kyle said, shaking his head at them as he lowered the phone. He held up a six–pack in his other hand. “Crazy. Hey, Blake, where’d you want the beer, man?”

“In the oven,” he replied dryly.

I tried not to smile but failed miserably. I wasn’t sure what Blake was doing here. He didn’t seem to have a good relationship with Josh, and he didn’t seem to be making much effort.

Kyle’s mouth thinned in a tight smile, and I could tell he was fighting the urge to say something back. Instead, he narrowed his eyes and spun on his heel. Shaking his head, he walked away. Kyle was a sensitive soul and was never very good with anyone making fun of him.

Then, Blake and I were left in the living room. Alone again. I pursed my lips, not knowing what to say. Should I even say anything? The silence was awkward, but it didn’t seem to bother him at all. Nothing seemed to affect him. Blake was cool, calm, and almost robotic. But I wasn’t naive enough to think that nothing got to him.

“So…did you come here much when you were a kid?” I asked to fill the silence.

He looked over his shoulder, half smiling at me. “You’re asking if I come here much?”

“No, I asked if you came here much.” There was a big difference.

Blake turned his body so he was fully facing me. I don’t know if he did it to be intimidating, but it was. He had this cockiness about him, but it wasn’t off–putting like Josh’s.

“We came here a lot before our parents separated. After the divorce, the place stayed empty, until now.”

I didn’t know what to say. “I’m sorry.”

“Why? People divorce all the time.” Before I had the chance to say anything else, he walked outside. There was definitely a lot more to him than he let people see.

“Beer, Kenz?” Kyle asked from behind me.

I turned and smirked. “You know it’s eleven in the morning, right?”

“Yeah,” he replied, tilting his head, waiting for me to explain.

I smiled and took a beer from his outstretched hand. “Never mind.”

Kyle and I sat on the sofa while Josh and Courtney messed around putting things away in the kitchen. “You think we should help?” I asked.

“I offered. You know what Josh is like.”

Control freak. We wouldn’t do it the way he wanted. How many different ways were there to put food in a cupboard? This was “Josh’s” place though, and we were being made very aware that we were just guests. “I’m going to need a lot of alcohol to get through this weekend,” I said. I’d promised my parents no drinking, obviously, but we were all parent free and determined to make the most of it. They think we’re swimming in the lake, cooking out, and roasting marshmallows around a campfire. We are, so it’s not a total lie, but there will be drinking.

Kyle nodded in agreement and raised his bottle. “Let’s keep it coming, then.”

I clinked the top of my bottle against his and took a swig.

Kyle and I had just finished our thirds when the rest of the group joined us. “Wow, this looks fun,” Aaron said, grinning at the bottles of alcohol spread out over the coffee table.

“Yep, Kyle and I thought we should have it all at arm’s reach. Cheers,” I said, raising my half–full bottle.

“Well, if we’re doing this, we’re doing it right. I’m well up for getting wasted,” Aaron replied, picking the Absolut Vodka. “Everyone’s in, no backing out. Josh, shot glasses, my man!” My smile grew. I wasn’t a big drinker, especially after last time, with the accident, but I wanted to have stupid, immature fun tonight.

“Err, guys, I don’t want anyone throwing up in my house,” Josh said in his annoying, stuck–up, I’m–better–than–you way. I had a very sudden, very childish urge to drink until I puked.

Everything he wanted, I wanted to do the opposite. I knew that was dangerous though. I knew I couldn’t—-and I wasn’t stupid enough to do it—-but I damn well wanted to.

“Lighten up, mate, come on. We all want this to be a good weekend,” Kyle replied.

Josh glared and his jaw tightened. He didn’t like to be challenged. “I am relaxed,” he growled through his teeth.

Aaron lifted a freshly poured shot glass and raised it to Josh, his own little in–your–face, before knocking it back. I smiled and did the same. And then I regretted it because Josh’s eyebrow arched and I knew exactly what he was thinking.

And he wouldn’t hesitate to open his big mouth. But before he could say anything, Aaron spoke. “A toast,” he said, raising a bottle this time. “To a killer weekend.”

We lifted whatever we had in our hands. “To a killer weekend!”

giveaway

Enter for your chance to win (1) physical ARC (Advanced Reader’s Copy) of The Cabin by Natasha Preston (U.S. & CANADA ONLY). Giveaway ends August 18th 11:59 EST. 

To enter tell me your favorite thriller or horror book in the comments, on the Facebook page (http://facebook.com/yabookmadnessblog) or by email yabookmadness@gmail.com

Good luck, 

Jordan

Review: My Soul to Keep by Jackie Sonnenberg

my soul to keepGoodreads/Amazon

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Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep,
If I shall die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take…

When thirteen-year-old Sky Monroe arrives at her new boarding school, all she can think about is death and connecting with the afterlife. Soon she discovers her school’s spirituality group called Guardians of Light—and they have a secret.
The Guardians of Light can speak with the dead…

When Mitchell Brooks, the teacher and leader of the group, reveals this unnerving secret to Sky—though this is exactly what she believed she wanted—she learns the organization is rapidly becoming a cult. Now she’s concerned she and her friend Damien will not be permitted to walk away.

Danger and death lurk around every corner…

The campus house, where Sky resides, is haunted, and the spirits have their own agenda. December 21, 2012 threatens the end of the world, and Mitchell and the spirits have special plans in store. They just might bring Sky closer to the afterlife—and possibly beyond—than she ever imagined.

Sky is looking for a connection to the afterlife, but what she finds may be more than she bargained for…because what lies after life is death.

review

3/5 Stars

***I received this book as a gift in exchange for an honest review via the author

PROS:

  • From the beginning of the story, it’s hard to tell what it will become, a cult situation, something paranormal, something ghostly, magical, hexing, who knows. The mystery of The Guardians of the Light propels the story forward, though it’s a fight when nothing much happens, you KNOW something is coming, something dark. There are subtle clues here and there that create a sinister vibe that suggests the Guardians aren’t the love and light community that they seem. The cult atmosphere is gripping and chilling. The way they parrot and how deeply they believe in the Light is enough to scare anyone. 
  • Towards the later half of the book, seriously creepy, haunting, and downright terrifying things happen. They’re graphic, grotesque, and will keep you on the edge of your seat wondering if Sky will live to see the end of the book. Read with the lights on…er…or not. 
  • Sky’s devotion and conviction are admirable. She just wants to believe in something and get a greater spiritual understanding that will bring her closer to her father. Only in the Guardian group does she feel safe, at home, and like she belongs. It’s her safe haven and that comfort is almost enough for her to overlook their sketchy behavior. Through the companionship she finds with the Guardians, she gains confidence and learns to fight for her beliefs. While she may be misguided, she learns and questions, she takes risks, and opens her mind to the possibilities of the supernatural. 

CONS:

  • Pacing is fairly slow. Nothing really happens until well into the story. It almost reads like a diary entry of daily mundane activities. 
  • Sky is initially creeped out by The Guardians of the Light, but them becomes obsessed. It’s like a light switch flipped on without any real explanation. The sudden change of heart is hard to understand. The loss of her father is prominent in the story but somehow the reader seems to be looking at it from a distance. Sky is searching for something to help her through her grief and to make her feel closer to the father she lost, but the leap from totally turned off by them to extreme lifestyle change was fast and felt off. Too much too soon. 
  • The mean girls, the gossip, the cattiness, the petty jealousy were typical and a distraction that took away from the overall story. The romantic elements were light and sporadic. It’s there, it’s not, it doesn’t feel as authentic or emotional as it could have. It felt like a random insertion instead of something that was building up. The pieces were there, they just weren’t connected. 

If you like any of the following, you’ll enjoy this:

Scary reading, 

Jordan

ARC Review: Beware That Girl by Teresa Toten

beware that girlGoodreads/Amazon/B&N/iBooks

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For fans of We Were Liars, The Girl on the Train, and Gone Girl, this powerful psychological thriller with multiple mysteries is set against the backdrop of the megawealthy elite of New York City. Toten delves into the mesmerizing yet dysfunctional world of those who manipulate but seem ever so charming. With its gripping pace and Hitchcockian twists, Beware That Girl will keep readers guessing until the very last line.

The Haves. The Have-Nots. Kate O’Brian appears to be a Have-Not. Her whole life has been a series of setbacks she’s had to snake her way out of—some more sinister than others. But she’s determined to change that. She’s book smart. She’s street-smart. Oh, and she’s also a masterful liar.

As the scholarship student at the Waverly School in NYC, Kate has her work cut out for her: her plan is to climb the social ladder and land a spot at Yale. She’s already found her “people” among the senior class “it” girls—specifically in the cosseted, mega-wealthy yet deeply damaged Olivia Sumner. As for Olivia, she considers Kate the best friend she’s always needed, the sister she never had.

When the handsome and whip-smart Mark Redkin joins the Waverly administration, he immediately charms his way into the faculty’s and students’ lives—becoming especially close to Olivia, a fact she’s intent on keeping to herself. It becomes increasingly obvious that Redkin poses a threat to Kate, too, in a way she can’t reveal—and can’t afford to ignore. How close can Kate and Olivia get to Mark without having to share their dark pasts?

review3/5 Stars

***I received this ARC as a gift in exchange for an honest review and as part of #FirstInLine 

+++Features some subjects that may be triggers: domestic abuse, violence, mutilation. 

Here’s what I liked:

  • The main characters were complex and a psychological minefield of explosive issues. From psychosis to social disorders to past trauma, there’s a ton of rich, dark, and terrible secrets that threaten to topple the carefully crafted world they’ve created. There are mysteries that slowly unravel, parallel to their overall loss of control. The closer they are to reaching their goals, the harder they fall into fear and paranoia. 
  • Mark Redkin is a textbook sociopath and he’s pretty freaking terrifying. The ease by which he infiltrates the school and preys on these impressionable young (and old!) women will make you take a cold, hard look at screening for the school system and extending background checks beyond one state level, especially when it comes to safety of children. 
  • Kate is a genius. She understands people at their core and uses it to her advantage. Her motives are far from pure, as the story progresses, we learn a little more about why Kate is the way she is. The flashbacks are sometimes cryptic, other times outright traumatic and appalling. The abuse and what Kate suffered through is enough to scar anyone psychologically and Kate’s determination is a coping mechanism. 
  • There were two twists that really threw me. One you might see coming, the other, no way!

Here’s what I disliked:

  • The pacing was abysmally slow, to the point where it took so long for the suspense to build that it kind of fell flat. Scenes that could have added tension and fear to the story abruptly cut off (like most of the chapters when things were getting interesting). 
  • The slow simmer romance building between Kate and Johnny might have added some spice to the story, but hardly anything comes to fruition. Encounters are far an d few between and when they are together, it feels disconnected. The chemistry was floating there and needed an extra push to bring it to the story, but just sat, hovering around everything else. 
  • I don’t know how to explain why this is, but despite everything creepy going on, the activities were mundane, dragged, and were a little boring. I fought to remain interesting. Kate goes and researches, barely makes any headway, and yet there are a billion scenes of her looking through books. Why? The tidbits of information, there needed to be more, more often to propel the plot forward. 

If you like any of the following, you’ll enjoy this:

Intense reading, 

Jordan