Violet – Scott Thomas

Spoilers Ahead!

“You know, you ought to keep an eye on a little girl like that in this town.”

Kill Creek was one of my favourite reads of 2017 and I have been eagerly anticipating another Scott Thomas book ever since. When I saw the listing for Violet on NetGalley I jabbed that ‘Request’ button so hard it wouldn’t have surprised me to find an index finger shaped crack in my iPad screen. I was so excited about this book but I didn’t fall in love with it like I was supposed to and as a result I’ve spent the past fortnight dreading writing this review.

I still really want you to read Kill Creek and I hope that you love this book too. I want to be wrong about Violet. I want the problem to be me, not the book. However, I have some problems with this book that would have prevented me from reading beyond the first 10% if I hadn’t committed to reviewing it.

“There is something wrong with this place.”

While Scott’s debut was deliciously creepy and plot driven, with a group of horror writers attempting to survive Finch House (this house was my favourite character!), Violet is more atmospheric, an exploration of grief across time and its impacts upon multiple characters. I don’t usually mind novels where a slow burn gradually builds into a cataclysm of sorts but I found the set up too drawn out here. There were some nibbles along the ways but most of the payoff came after my interest had faded.

Her abuse of prescription medication chased down with a lot of alcohol, combined with the grief of her recent loss and snatches of memories of a more distant one, made Kris an unreliable narrator. This, along with her additional voices, those of Shadow Kris and Timid Kris, made me question whether anything I was reading was actually happening or not. Which parts of the story were real and which were distortions brewed up by a cocktail of trauma, chemicals and the possibility of an undiagnosed mental illness?!

Now, I’m rarely a fan of unreliable narrators in my life, either inside or outside of books, and as a result I never warmed to Kris. I was wary of trusting anything she relayed to me and so I kept her at an emotional distance. I probably would have connected with her daughter, Sadie, but because I saw her mostly through Kris’ eyes I didn’t know what to believe where she was concerned either.

“It is all connected, don’t you see that?”

Some words were used so frequently that I found myself being taken out of the story each time I came across them. By the time I reached 10% I’d considered counting how many times I encountered “like”, “as if” or “as though”. This trio weaved their way throughout the book, sometimes appearing two or three times on a (Kindle) page.

Then there were the descriptions of the house overlooking Lost Lake in general and of the cleaning process. Kris and Sadie need to make the neglected house habitable and the cleaning process was described in such detail that I was tempted to go clean my own home just so I could stop reading about it.

The lake house had helped Kris get through one of the most awful summers of her life. It could do the same for Sadie.

I hate that I felt like I was slogging my way through this book. The tidbits that teased of what was to come would usually have me hooked, poring over every word to make sure I didn’t miss any clues, but it didn’t work that way for me here. I didn’t feel like the story truly started until almost 70% and by then I was drained.

There were some glimpses of the magic that I enjoyed in Kill Creek and I could see myself enjoying a movie adaptation of this story, where the details that felt drawn out in the book could be captured quickly by the camera panning over each room, but overall it didn’t live up to its potential for me.

“Don’t be afraid to remember, Mrs Barlow.”

Despite all of this, I am still looking forward to the next book by this author. Their first book made such an impression on me that I am keen to see what other horrors they’re going to unleash upon my imagination. Maybe if I reread this book when I’m in a different head space I’ll find a new appreciation for it. If that’s the case I’ll definitely be letting you know. Until then I think I’m going to go with the hope that it’s not you, highly anticipated book; it’s me.

Content warnings include painful death of a horse at 57-58%, death of parents from accident and illness, death of children, and abuse of alcohol and prescription medication.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Inkshares for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

For many children, the summer of 1988 was filled with sunshine and laughter. But for ten-year-old Kris Barlow, it was her chance to say goodbye to her dying mother. 

Three decades later, loss returns – her husband killed in a car accident. And so, Kris goes home to the place where she first knew pain – to that summer house overlooking the crystal waters of Lost Lake. It’s there that Kris and her eight-year-old daughter will make a stand against grief. 

But a shadow has fallen over the quiet lake town of Pacington, Kansas. Beneath its surface, an evil has grown – and inside that home where Kris Barlow last saw her mother, an old friend awaits her return. 

The Curious Chronicles of Jack Bokimble and His Peculiar Penumbra – James Demonaco

Spoilers Ahead!

I was ready to adore The Curious Chronicles of Jack Bokimble and His Peculiar Penumbra from the beginning, just for the title alone. Jack is different. He has a magical shadow which he learns to use to explore the world in a way no one else can. He can touch and manipulate items with his shadow, feeling with his physical body and shadow simultaneously. While Jack is shy and fearful, his shadow is not and it cannot feel pain.

Jack’s father, who has a small nose but an exceptionally gifted sense of smell, is excited about Jack’s difference. Jack’s mother, however, who runs an advice website called ILLMAKETHEDECISIONSYOUCANT.COM (unfortunately it’s not a real website – I checked) is concerned, worrying that Jack’s ability will scare people away. Jack’s mother is also a champion farter, smelling up the pages whenever she’s anxious or excited.

This book deals with bullying, being an outcast, friendships, loneliness, wanting to belong, and learning to accept and celebrate your differences. I thought it was wonderful that James DeMonaco explored peoples’ fear of anything or anyone who is different and points out that differences aren’t actually scary after all. There’s some good vocabulary building, often thanks to Louis the Lip, who’s pretty much described as practically perfect in every way (sorry, I love Mary Poppins so had to describe him like that 😊), with the exception of his personality.

I liked Jack as a character. He’s sensitive, intelligent, inquisitive and non-judgemental. He’s a lonely boy who desperately wants friends but is excruciatingly shy. He stands up for what he believes in and wants to use his shadow powers for good. I enjoyed most of the sequence of events and although it’s hinted at several times with one of my pet peeves (see below), I can see this story working as the first in a series.

I enjoyed the quirkiness of Jack’s parent so much and particularly loved the pet names they call each other, always something different so as not to be boring. It’s so hard to pick a favourite pet name for each but I was fond of Sir Spits When He Speaks and Whimsical Wife with Weird Digestion. My favourite character was the lion with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. He was adorable.

I was so annoyed that the only two children not scared of Jack’s abilities are the ones who have personally benefited from them, yet they still allow peer pressure to stop them from being his friend. This makes a really good point about the power of peer pressure but I was so angry with those kids for a while.

It seems that each children’s book I’ve read recently is taking their style or ideas from Roald Dahl. Remember the chalkboard incident in Matilda? It’s pretty much replicated in this book.

Moving on to my irritations, question marks and pet peeve occurrences, some with spoilers so reader beware. While these are plentiful, please don’t think they mean I didn’t enjoy the book. I really did. When I want more or have lots of questions, it means I’m invested in the storyline and I understand that if there is a sequel a lot of my questions may be answered then. Only the first point detracted from my enjoyment of the book.

I found the interjections by the listener and the storyteller discussing the characters and sequence of events really irritating and thought it disrupted the story rather than adding value with it. While I understand the purpose of these exchanges I felt the story would have flowed better without them.

How can a shadow speak with Jack? I don’t remember reading how this is explained and Jack’s shadow doesn’t seem to be verbal so maybe this is something that happens once only the shadow remains?

Is it one of the magical properties of this type of shadow that after death it no longer needs to be attached to a person for it to be projected?

How can Jack communicate with all of the animals in the Central Park Zoo? Is this part of the shadow magic as well?

Hopefully if the events in this book had really happened a teacher wouldn’t have allowed three children to head back into an area soon to be engulfed in fire by themselves just because one of the children insisted they could save the animals. At least have the guts to go in there with them or maybe keep them out of harm’s way and wait for the firefighters to save the day? I know, I know. It’s only a story but as I said, I was invested.

Jack becomes the most popular kid in school after the fire and all the kids, except Melinda and Larry, want to do is ask him questions about his shadow. It feels as though instead of going from someone to be feared to a friend who can be relied on to look out for his friends, he becomes something of a curiosity for quite a while. And the cousin that was frightened of Jack at the beginning of the book? He comes out of the woodwork and wants to be friends with him … after Jack is on the news. I loved Jack and wanted everyone to see him for the awesome kid he is, regardless of his abilities, and I wanted everyone else to be as pure hearted as he is.

There’s a chapter called Back to School, Not Starring Rodney Dangerfield. While I personally appreciated this nod to one of my favourite movies I doubt any kid reading this would know who Rodney Dangerfield is or would have seen the 1986 film.

🚨 Pet Peeve Alert 🚨
“but that is a different chronicle”
“his story is for another day”
“but that’s a different story”
“That’s for another time”
I don’t know why but sentences like those really bug me, although that’s my problem, not the author’s.

I applaud Jack’s forgiving nature. I think if I was the one treated like a leper because I had a special talent I would have happily slapped every single rotten bully across the face with my shadow hand, but I guess that’s one of the many reasons why I haven’t been entrusted with my very own super shadow. 😜

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Inkshares for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Shortly after Jack is born, strange things are afoot in the Bokimble house – glasses fall from shelves, and nothing seems to be where Mr. and Mrs. Bokimble left it. Jack’s parents begin to sense that there’s something strange about their son, and it’s not long before they realize that he has a secret friend: his magical shadow. 

Is Jack’s shadow a superpower that he needs to control and master? Or is it a curse that will separate him from others? Travel with Jack on his boyhood journey as he learns not only how to control his magical shadow but what it means to be different – a story that mines the potential for magic and mystery in all of us.

Kill Creek – Scott Thomas

Kill Creek is best read when the weather is on your side. While I travelled to the Finch House there was torrential rain, thunder that rattled the windows, hail that pounded on the roof, 30,000 lightning strikes one night in the local area (or so they reported on the news) and wind that howled through the trees. One windy night around 3am as I crept through the dark house trying to be quiet so I didn’t wake anyone up I walked through a cobweb. Reading at night with the only light coming from my Kindle I could almost imagine something that used to be human reaching for me in the darkness of the room just beyond what I could see. It was creepy and it was perfect. I highly recommend reading Kill Creek under similar circumstances.

If ever a book was written with a cinematic quality where you could practically watch the movie as you’re reading the book, this is the one. An hour or so before walking through my cobweb I’d read a part in the book with spiders (so many spiders! 🕷) and sitting there in the dark I convinced myself I could feel something crawling along my arm. Now that’s the kind of creepy I love, when the book reaches out from the pages (or screen) and convinces you that what’s happening in the book and what’s happening around you as you read it are related, like the book knows and is somehow causing these ‘coincidences’. After reading his book, Scott Thomas almost had me convinced the house at Kill Creek had the power to reach into my life, and that is the type of creepy fun I haven’t experienced in a book in a long time.

Kill Creek takes us to Finch House, a gorgeous and meticulously crafted house with over 150 years of tragedy living within its walls. Wainwright of WrightWire (an internet “destination for horror events”) and his photographer Kate plan to interview four of the world’s most famous horror writers at Finch House for WrightWire’s annual Halloween stunt.

Our lambs to the slaughter authors are Sam, a lecturer at the University of Kansas and best-selling author who’s struggling to write his next novel, Sebastian who’s basically horror writer royalty, Daniel who I imagined as a Christian version of R.L. Stine and Moore, who writes what I can only describe as torture porn. Horror means something different to each author and each has their own reason for agreeing to take part in this interview. What they experience may reveal that the ghosts of the past that haunt your mind can be some of the most terrifying ghosts of all.

And the house? The house enjoys entertaining visitors. I remember one of my English teachers talking about how locations can become characters in stories and in my adolescent omniscience I sat there rolling my eyes thinking, ‘Yeah, whatever’. So, anonymous English teacher, I get it now! The house in Kill Creek is my favourite character!

Told in third person from multiple points of view, you are granted access to each character’s thoughts, desires and greatest fears. At times the writing was so poetic I almost forgot I was reading a horror novel. Then there’d be a description of seeping wounds, crunching bones or goo oozing out of eyeballs, and I’d remember, sometimes almost cringing from the detailed descriptions of agony and torment. With some humour, action sequences, egos battling egos and mystery thrown in along with some good old fashioned murder, Kill Creek is pure entertainment.

Should you ever star in your own horror novel, there are some basics that Kill Creek teaches that you should probably keep in mind.

Horror Novel 101

  1. If there’s a creepy basement with a rickety staircase, stay the hell out.
  2. No matter what, stay together as a group.
  3. If a house has a reputation for being evil, don’t think it’ll let you leave unscathed, if it lets you leave at all.
  4. If there’s a creepy third floor room whose entrance has been bricked over, take note. There’s probably a reason and you probably don’t want to know what’s in there.
  5. If someone who you know is dead is standing before you asking you to do something really weird, it’s probably not them and you probably shouldn’t do that really weird thing.

I did find that there was a section around the middle of the book that I felt was a bit long-winded and slowed the pace down at a time when I was eager to just get back to the house and get some answers. I found the themes of Moore’s novels kinda out there but in terms of relating those to her backstory I did understand where she was coming from. I found something to like about all but one of the characters (Adudel). I really had a fun time reading this book and will most certainly be on the lookout for future novels by this author.

Biggest disappointment: Looking up Last One Out Kills the Lights on Goodreads because Sam makes it sound like my kind of horror short story book, only to find it doesn’t exist. Just to make sure I looked up the author’s name and found they do exist! Except they’re a romance novelist. ☹️

Favourite sentence:

“That may be the most perverse thing of all: ignoring the horror, even as it happens around you.”

Content warnings include domestic violence, self harm and suicide.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Inkshares for the opportunity to read this book. This is the second book I’ve read by this publisher and both were home runs.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

At the end of a dark prairie road, nearly forgotten in the Kansas countryside, lies the Finch House. For years it has perched empty, abandoned, and overgrown – but soon the door will be opened for the first time in many decades. But something waits, lurking in the shadows, anxious to meet its new guests. 

When best-selling horror author Sam McGarver is invited to spend Halloween night in one of the country’s most infamous haunted houses, he reluctantly agrees. At least he won’t be alone; joining him are three other masters of the macabre, writers who have helped shape modern horror. But what begins as a simple publicity stunt soon becomes a fight for survival – the entity they have awakened will follow them, torment them, threatening to make them part of the bloody legacy of Kill Creek.

Sunshine is Forever – Kyle T. Cowan

Um, is it politically incorrect to say you enjoyed a book about depressed teens who have attempted suicide? Oh, well, here goes … I really enjoyed reading Sunshine is Forever.

Growing up reading The Baby-Sitters Club books I was determined to go to camp in America and have fun with a bunch of new friends from camp like Kristy and co. Even after watching all of the Friday the 13th movies I still wanted to be a camp counsellor. Much to my dismay I never went to camp as a kid or counsellor, but find me a book about teenagers going to camp, any camp, and I want to read it.

So, here we are at Camp Sunshine which incidentally leaned closer to Friday the 13th (minus the sex) than BSC. In fact, had Jason shown up to deal with Asshole Jim around the time of his introduction I probably would have happily provided him with directions and a mug shot.

I would hope that Camp Sunshine would never get accreditation to open in the first place because other than half an hour of token therapy a day, the workers may as well have been singing Kumbaya with the kids for all the good they were doing. A padded cell used as punishment? Really??? I kept thinking as I was reading this book, ‘please don’t let this resemble the way mental health is dealt with in America’, but having seen some documentaries about American LGBTQ conversion therapy I wondered how far from the truth it actually was.

My time reading this book was divided between smiling at Hunter’s observations and monikers he chose for his family, friends and prison guards (oops, sorry, therapy staff) and sadness at the situation all of these teenagers were in. With themes including guilt, forgiving ourselves and others, and taking responsibility for our actions there were obviously going to be portions of the book that were very difficult to read but like witnessing an imminent train crash I couldn’t look away. I had to know if the crash was going to happen or if there’d be a near miss.

Hunter’s conviction that it was only through Corin’s love and acceptance of him that he could be happy was both sad and believable. It’s much easier to assign roles for other people to attempt to make them responsible for the outcome of our lives than to look inside and take responsibility for ourselves.

I spent most of the book waiting as patiently as possible to find out what secrets were hidden in Corin’s thick green file and wasn’t surprised at their theme when all was revealed. However hard it was to read I did like the symmetry it set up between Corin and Hunter. While the noose around Hunter’s stomach was guilt, Corin’s noose was shame.

I loved the point made that you get out of therapy what you’re willing to put in to it. I would’ve really liked to have read that miscalculations had been renamed at the end in conjunction with Hunter taking responsibility for his actions, but that’s essentially nitpicking.

I liked that some things were left undone at the end. It wouldn’t have worked as well if everything was wrapped up with a pretty bow. Life’s messy and while we’d love to believe in them, Insta-Fixes aren’t as plentiful as we’d like to think.

I felt this one sentence summed up depression better than the DSM-5 could ever hope to:

“If you knew me, you probably wouldn’t like me, either.”

Content warnings include descriptions of self-harm, suicide attempts and sexual assault.

Thank you very much to NetGalley and Inkshares for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

After a life-changing decision, Hunter decides that he can’t go on …

… which lands him in Camp Sunshine, a rehab center for depressed teens. Hunter is determined to keep everyone there out of his head, especially his therapist. But when he meets Corin, a beautiful, mysterious, and confident fellow camper, all Hunter wants to do is open up to her, despite the fact that he’s been warned Corin is bad news.

When Corin devises a plan for them to break out of the camp, Hunter is faced with the ultimate choice — will he run from the traumatic incident he’s tried so hard to escape, or will he learn that his mistakes have landed him right where he’s meant to be?

Sunshine is Forever captures the heartbreaking spirit of The Fault in Our Stars, the humor of Orange is the New Black, and the angst of Catcher in the Rye.