Review: The Women in the Walls by Amy Lukavics

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Lucy Acosta’s mother died when she was three. Growing up in a Victorian mansion in the middle of the woods with her cold, distant father, she explored the dark hallways of the estate with her cousin, Margaret. They’re inseparable—a family.

When her aunt Penelope, the only mother she’s ever known, tragically disappears while walking in the woods surrounding their estate, Lucy finds herself devastated and alone. Margaret has been spending a lot of time in the attic. She claims she can hear her dead mother’s voice whispering from the walls. Emotionally shut out by her father, Lucy watches helplessly as her cousin’s sanity slowly unravels. But when she begins hearing voices herself, Lucy finds herself confronting an ancient and deadly legacy that has marked the women in her family for generations.

review

3/5 Stars

+++Contains graphic violence, grotesque imagery, self-inflicted mutilation, and scenes that could be disturbing to some readers. 

I loved Daughters Unto Devils so when I saw The Women in the Walls I was gleeful. It felt like a lovely early Christmas present for my horror-obsessed little heart. Then I started reading. I waited. And waited. And waited some more for something to happen and finally it did, but it took ages. The pacing is slow. So much so that the tension doesn’t build like it should. Scenes that should have sucked all the air out of the room with the sheer creepiness of what was going on fell flat and missed their mark entirely in some places. 

The setting didn’t quite fit with the story. The Women in the Walls read like a Gothic novel, but was set (I’m assuming because of a few-very few-references) in present time. There were so many details that were left out. It bugged me that I had no clue how old the main characters were. All we know is that they are not legal adults. I was at a loss for what Lucy looked like. Descriptions of people were sparse. Apart from Lucy’s habit of self-mutilation, we really know nothing about her hobbies, her interests, her friendships, nothing. There are measly references to her mother, and some moderately detailed memories of her and Penelope, but that’s it. Lucy’s closeness to Margaret was stressed throughout, but there are no flashbacks, no nostalgia, and certainly no friendly interactions as the story evolves. If anything, they look like enemies. It’s hard to invest in their relationship when it felt as though it was never there to begin with. 

What Amy Lukavics excels at is those spine-tingling, chilling images that are blunt and brutal and made of nightmares. The horror is grotesque, packs a punch, and so bizarre that it takes a second for it to process and then, boom. I said this about Daughters Unto Devils as well, this would make a fantastic scary movie. Some statements are disturbing on levels that sink their teeth into you and keep going, gnawing at your thoughts. I can’t get them out of my head and that shows you how powerful those scenes are. 

The ending. The bulk of the horror happens in the last 15 or so percent of the book. What gets you is the anticipation. You know something terrible is coming. Something so bad that you persevere and wade through the slowness. Will it be paranormal? Will it be bloody? Will Lucy make it to the end of the book? What happened? All of these questions nag and plague and will drive you mad with need. I had to know. I pushed and fought and when I got there…

Holy plot twist. That’s some next level horror. The clues are minimal. You might expect it a little, but the full extent of what happens-never. 

That finale. The gore is enough to keep you awake for days. Read it with the lights on. You were warned. 

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

Hypnotic reading, 

Jordan

ARC Review: The Smaller Evil by Stephanie Kuehn

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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