Posts Tagged ‘Riley Sager’

I may have stayed up late last night reading this one. What can I say? Riley Sager knows how to take a damaged young woman with a past, put her in a scenario reminiscent of famous horror films and novels, and then create a compelling mystery-thriller. Such is the case with Home Before Dark, where Sager takes on Gothic horror and The Amityville Horror.

Home Before Dark follows Maggie Holt, an interior designer who also happens to be one member of a family that experienced an Amityville Horror-esque situation that forced them to flee their newly bought home, the infamous Victorian mansion Baneberry Hall, after only twenty days. Her father Ewan later wrote a book about their “experiences” in the haunted house, which became a bestseller and has forever followed Maggie. Twenty-five years later, Maggie returns to Baneberry Hall, a place she doesn’t even remember, to renovate the house and find the truth hidden in her dad’s book. But as figures from the book emerge as real people and Maggie digs deeper, she finds an even deeper mystery within the manor. One with possibly deadly consequences.

From the start, the novel draws you in and makes it hard to put down. The story switches between Maggie’s present and passages from Ewan Holt’s “tell-all,” House of Horrors, and it’s fun to see how things that “happened” in the past line up with or contrast with what Maggie experiences. I also liked Maggie as a character. You could really feel how much her life has been affected by her family’s deceptions and the popularity of the Book (as she calls it). I almost felt angry at her parents just reading about how much they twisted her life.

And of course, there were numerous twists and turns along the way. I saw none of them coming and they really really kept the tension high and my mind boggled at the possibilities. They’re part of the reason why I was up past midnight last night.

If there’s one thing I didn’t like about the novel, it’s that during the sections quoting the Book, the plot seemed lifted from today’s B-horror films. You know, the kind that have paint-by-the-numbers plots, rely heavily on CGI and jumpscares, and you forget about them a year or so after they release? I get that it’s supposed to be a pastiche or satire of Amityville Horror-style haunted house stories, but at times it felt like I was reading a bad ripoff of The Haunting in Connecticut or one of the poorer Conjuring films. Not really my thing, as you well know.

All in all though, Home Before Dark is a twisty, satisfying read. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving Riley Sager’s fourth book a 4.7. Grab a copy, settle into a comfy chair, and prepare to be thrilled. You’ll be “haunted” even after the very last page.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I might get another post out this week, but given that I’m leaving for my trip soon, that’s going to take up my attention this week. And it’ll be really hard to blog until after I get back. Nevertheless, once I do come back, I promise to have quality content for you. Or something you can use to fill five minutes of your life, depends on how you view it.

And in the meantime, if you’re able to come to the fifth annual Indie Author Book Expo in Des Moines, Iowa this coming weekend, please do. I’ll be selling copies of Rose, doing Tarot readings, and interacting with people, and I’d be happy to see you.

Until next time, stay safe and pleasant nightmares!

Since it was announced that King was releasing another collection of four novellas last year, I’ve been looking forward to reading it. The shutdowns due to COVID-19 delayed me getting my copy from the library by about two months (thanks, coronavirus!), but as soon as I had it, I settled down to read it and see how it stacked up against collections like Four Past Midnight and Different Seasons.

It took me maybe two weeks to read the book. What did I think?

Oh God, I was disappointed. I’m a huge King fan, but–oh God. This is definitely not one of Stephen King’s strongest collections of novellas. Out of the four stories in the collection, I disliked or was indifferent to three of them:

The first story, “Mr. Harrigan’s Phone,” follows a young boy whose relationship with a rich, elderly bachelor takes on a supernatural twist. And while it goes for a creepy coming-of-age story vibe with comments on technology addiction and how business takes place online, it feels like just your average coming-of-age story that tries to be creepy a few times. And not very well. If perhaps the story had dropped some of the literary focus and instead tried to focus on the protagonist through more supernatural terror, I might have enjoyed it a bit more.

The second story, “The Life of Chuck,” is actually three stories in one, all focusing on a man named Chuck Krantz at various stages of his life. And I didn’t see the point of all three stories being included together as one story. The three parts don’t really link up that well except for the titular character, and each has a different focus: the first is an interesting take on the verse from the Talmud “He who saves a life, saves a world entire;” the second is about an impromptu flash mob in Boston; and the third is a spooky ghost story set during Chuck’s childhood. I think if the three parts were released in separate collections, they honestly would have been stronger, especially the first and third. As they are though, I was just left annoyed and confused.

The final story, “The Rat,” is a semi-interesting story about an author trying to finish a novel in a remote cabin during a storm that takes a dark fantasy turn during the last third. And the way it takes that turn is so silly, I’m wondering if King meant for that to be a comedy/horror piece and I missed it. As it is, it’s not going to leave anyone with nightmares anytime soon.

The one story I actually liked is the third, “If It Bleeds,” starring Holly Gibney from the Bill Hodges trilogy (which I haven’t read) and The Outsider (read my review here). In this story, private eye and cinephile Holly Gibney realizes a monster like the one from The Outsider is causing death and misery after a school is bombed. It’s got a great mystery at the center, a thrilling climax, and some nice character development on the part of Holly (who, might I add, is on the spectrum with me. Positive representation!). It’s not exactly top-notch King, but it’s still very good, and I’d check out an adaptation if one were made and it was on a channel/streaming service I have access to (*hint hint wink wink*).

All in all though, If It Bleeds by Stephen King is not going to keep anyone up at night. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving the collection a 2.3, and that’s mostly for the titular story. Major King fans are going to read this one, but I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who’s either a casual fan, a new King reader, or just looking for a scary collection of stories.

For that, I recommend his collection Four Past Midnight.*

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’m disappointed that this book didn’t resonate with me, but I already have my next read, Home Before Dark by Riley Sager, waiting for me to start. Hopefully that’ll scratch my horror literature itch, especially if I finish it before it has to go back to the library. Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

*And would someone please make a movie based on the third story in that collection, The Library Policeman? PLEASE?!!! I would help make it and make it the best it can be if someone did.

In the past couple of years, Riley Sager has made a bit of a name for himself among horror-thriller writers. Final Girls was a great debut novel with a new twist on an old trope, and his second book The Last Time I Lied gave new life to the sleep away camp horror story by making a twisty thriller out of it. So I had high hopes for his third book, Lock Every Door, which just came out.

And you know what? It has all the hallmarks I’ve come to expect from a Riley Sager novel. A young woman with a past negatively affecting her present as the lead? Check. A situation out of an old horror movie just ripe for a new spin? Check. Lots of flashbacks? Check. A whole ton of twists to keep you guessing? Check.

You know what else? Dude still knows how to write a good horror-thriller.

Lock Every Door follows Jules Larsen, a young woman recently laid off from her job and out of a bad relationship. Life’s been hard for her: her sister went missing, her parents are dead and she’s got nowhere to go. So when she’s offered a job as an apartment sitter at the Bartholomew, an upscale Manhattan apartment building for the rich and famous that also happens to be the setting for Jules’s favorite novel, she jumps on it. But once she moves in, she finds a disturbing side to the Bartholomew. Another apartment sitter goes missing in the middle of the night, and Jules suspects someone at the building is responsible. As she investigates, she uncovers a web of intrigue and murder that may claim another life very soon. Her own.

Mood-wise, Lock Every Door is semi-Gothic: it takes place in a fancy apartment building with gargoyles and a dark and sordid history. There’s not enough emphasis on the building itself as a character to really make it a Gothic novel, but there’s enough there to give it a feel of that genre, and that works in the book’s favor. It gives horror fans some expectations, but at the same time leaves room to defy them in a spectacular manner.

I also liked Jules as a character: she’s damaged and somewhat pragmatic, but she’s fiercely loyal to those she cares about and that’s what drives her throughout the story. She’s the kind of person you’d want as a friend through thick and thin, as well as the sort of character I like to write into my own stories.

On top of that, the story is quick-paced and full of the usual twists. I spent a good chunk of my reading wondering, “Where’s this going to go? Where are you taking us?” And just when you think you have it figured out, the carpet is pulled out from right under your feet. I had to struggle to put the book down sometimes, which could be an issue as I mainly read it on my lunch break.

If there’s one issue I had with Lock Every Door, I felt like characters other than Jules felt underdeveloped to me. You could feel them wanting to be more, but they weren’t really allowed to be, and this made them a bit easier to predict as to what their final fates would be (usually I’m not good at guessing these sorts of things in these types of books. Not so with Lock Every Door. I was making early predictions that turned out to be right each and every time).

But on the whole, Lock Every Door is a fast, engrossing, and chilling read that will have you thinking one thing and then totally throw you for a loop. On a scale of 1 to 5, I give the book a 4.7. Check in and hope you’ll come out unscathed.

Makes me wonder what Mr. Sager will be doing for his next book. What horror trope will he flip on its head for a new thriller novel? I hope it’s not a school. I’ve got plans for November, after all…

After reading and really enjoying Sager’s first novel Final Girls, I was eager to check out his latest book, The Last Time I Lied, when I found out about it. It helped that the protagonist was a young woman with a dark past (my favorite kind of character to work with) and the story combined an old horror trope with some of the new thriller-type storytelling that we’ve seen in novels like Gone Girl and The Woman in the Window, as well as in Sager’s last book. What more could I ask for? Excited, I downloaded the audio book before the New Year, and started listening.

The Last Time I Lied follows Emma Davis, a New York City artist who is invited back to Camp Nightingale as an art instructor for its first summer in fifteen years. One problem: Fifteen years ago when Emma was a camper at Camp Nightingale, her three bunkmates went missing and were never found. This incident has haunted Emma all through her teens and adulthood, and she decides to go back to see if she can’t finally put the past to bed and maybe even find out what happened to her friends. Weaving between the past and the present, Emma arrives at camp and finds very little is as it seems, and gets caught up in a web of mystery, one with her old bunkmates at the center of it, and which threatens to entrap her and the current crop of campers inside.

One thing I loved about this story is that the camp setting and the camp reminded me of my own camper days. Yeah, my camp was co-ed and Jewish in nature and the one in the book is a secular all-girls camp, but the amount of swearing, the hormones and the differing personalities that sometimes get along and sometimes clash kind of brought me home. But beyond that, this novel is just as twisty as Final Girls was. Every moment you think you know what’s happening or what’s happened, the story throws you for a loop and introduces new information that makes you rethink everything. I was only able to guess a couple of those twists out of all of them, and given that I’m not normally very good at doing that for most mysteries, that’s impressive.

I also felt a lot of connection with Emma herself. She’s a very well-developed character, and I understood how the events of the past affected her in the present (I’ve been there too, though nowhere as severe). But you also see how caring she is, and how that caring makes her want to seek out the truth and to protect those around her. She’s a great example of a protagonist for this sort of story, and I hope I can learn from reading her story to write those sorts of characters in my own stories.

A few things did stick out for me with this story. Remember those twists I was able to guess? Well, at times said twists did feel a bit obvious, so the emotional response at their reveal wasn’t as strong as it could’ve been. At least for me. For others, it could be different. Also, there’s this subplot involving a relationship between Emma and another major character she has history with, not all of it good. And while that subplot did add some drama to the story, I didn’t like how it concluded. Without spoiling anything, after everything that occurs in the novel, I find the hints as to the direction the relationship may go in the future hard to believe.

But all in all, I really enjoyed The Last Time I Lied. It’s a twisty story with plenty of surprises and great characters that play off each other in all the best ways. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving it a 4.3. Sign up and dive right in for a great thrill ride.

I’m looking forward to Sager’s next novel, Lock Every Door, when it comes out this summer. And if you read Final Girls or The Last Time I Lied, you will be too.

I’ve been keen to read this novel since Stephen King tweeted about it months ago, saying this novel, which apparently is the first work of an already-established author published under a pen name, was the first great thriller of 2017.* By the time it came out on July 11th, I was one of the first people to get a copy at the library. And while I don’t always agree with King on what makes a good story (see my review for A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay), I have to say, he was right that this is a great thriller novel, possibly the first great one of 2017 (I haven’t read most of the others that came out this year, so who am I to judge?).

Final Girls follows Quincy Carpenter, the lone survivor of the Pine Cottage Massacre, in which a man she only refers to as Him killed all her friends while on a camping trip and she was the only survivor. This has made Quincy part of an exclusive club known as the Final Girls, women who have survived horror-movie style massacres and, like the girls in those movies, are the only ones to survive. The other two are Lisa Milner, the survivor of a sorority house murder spree in Indiana, and Samantha Boyd, who escaped and killed a killer known as the Sack Man at a motel in Florida. Quincy, who has no memory of the events at Pine Cottage, wants nothing but to keep up her baking blog, maybe marry her defense attorney boyfriend someday, and have some definition of normal.

That is, until Lisa Milner dies under mysterious circumstances in Indiana, and Samantha Boyd shows up at Quincy’s apartment in New York to talk. Suddenly Quincy’s life is thrown into a maelstrom as Sam’s presence threatens not just to unearth the memories from that fateful night, but change her world forever.

Immediately, you feel like this is two stories in one, a standard slasher and a mystery/thriller. On the slasher hand, you get to read Quincy’s recollections of Pine Cottage, which are told in third-person POV and past tense. And on the other hand, you get the events of Quincy’s current life, which are told in first-person POV and present tense, which is a mystery/thriller mixed with the story of two completely opposite people trying to bond over an incredible and dark situation. And both stories are peppered with references to horror movies, especially the best of the slasher genre. There are some obvious ones: Quincy’s last name is a reference to director John Carpenter of the Halloween series, while Lisa Milner’s massacre is an obvious reference to Black Christmas. But there are other, subtler references. ┬áThe mystery elements definitely remind me of the Scream movies and the TV series, which utilize mystery to offset themselves from tried-and-done-to-death slasher stories, as well as elements that make me think of Urban Legend. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, there are probably references I don’t recognize from movies/comics/shows/books I haven’t seen or read yet.

I also really enjoyed the characters. Quincy felt incredibly real to me: rather than being a character who’s always good and delicate or always damaged and dealing with her issues, she’s actually a pretty good balance of both. She’s clearly made some progress in trying to move on and have a new normal, but she also has issues that she doesn’t want to address, even takes some joy in, and those occasionally threaten the balance she’s trying to maintain in her life. It’s very refreshing to see such a realistic character like that. I also found Samantha Boyd (or Sam, as she prefers), to be very real. She’s a girl whose life is one defined by horrors, and who’s trying, in her own way, to reach out to the one person left in the world who knows what it’s like to have felt horrors like hers. The way she does it isn’t exactly smooth, but it does feel like someone with her background might use to reach out and find some mutual catharsis.

But the best part of the story is definitely how twisty it is. Even when we go back to Quincy’s past, it is anything but a standard slasher, going in directions you don’t see coming. Just today, while reading the last 70 or so pages, I kept marveling at surprise after surprise after surprise. And that’s pretty much how it is for most of the book, especially in the latter half of it. I think even some veteran mystery/thriller fans will find themselves surprised at the twists in store here in Final Girls.

If there’s one thing that might have been a drawback for this novel, I felt that the moments that Quincy and Sam were trying to bond were a little slow at times, but that may be nitpicking on my part. They were still well-written parts, and they showed both how much these girls wanted to be friends and how much they rubbed against each other as people.

On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving Final Girls a well-earned 4.6. From one page to the next, you never know what to expect, and it will only leave you wanting more. Go ahead, pick it up, and find you have a hard time putting it down.

* This tweet and hints about the author’s identity make me think it might be Stephen King’s son Joe Hill doing his own Richard Bachman turn, but that’s just my guess.