Book Review: NEVERLAND by Douglas Clegg

BLURB:

New York Times bestselling and award-winning author Douglas Clegg blends dark suspense and southern gothic horror in Neverland, a novel of deadly secrets and innocence corrupted. What lurks within the shack? What kinds of dangerous — and deadly — games do the children play there?

For years, the Jackson family vacationed at their matriarch’s old Victorian house on Gull Island, a place of superstition and legend off the southern coast of the U.S. One particular summer, young Beau follows his cousin Sumter into a shack hidden among the brambles and windswept trees near bluffs overlooking the sea.

And within Neverland, the mysteries and terror grow…

REVIEW (by Holly):

When attempting to describe NEVERLAND, the words vivid and bizarre come to mind. To be completely honest, I’m not 100% clear on what happened at the novel’s climax or what forces (or combination of forces) are at play in this work of fiction. Regional folklore, gods, telepathy, alternate worlds, and hallucinations/dreams/visions all blur the line between perception and reality–with regard to characters and reader, alike.

That said, the storyline kept my attention throughout, and I’ve never read anything quite like NEVERLAND before.

There’s a lot to be said for originality in a saturated market.

I’m a big fan of highlight-worthy text (those lines and phases that separate one book from the next), and NEVERLAND is chock-full of descriptions that conjure clear and detailed images in the reader’s mind:

  • “She was a dethroned princess, riddled through like a Swiss cheese with the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune.”
  • “Her face was like tapioca pudding, wiggling and still self-contained, her eyes two small raisins…”
  • “Long strands of her white hair hung down from its bristles like tentacles from a Portuguese man-of-war.”
  • “…flicking at black ants just like I was punting paper triangles in a game of desk football.”
  • “The sun was up and hot like a big old egg yolk sizzling on the griddle sky.”
  • “His nipples were huge and hung across his chest like two great puffy flapjacks.”

All in all, I’d recommend NEVERLAND to readers who crave original, suspenseful, and surprising fiction that incorporates preternatural elements.

NOTE: Although I alternated between the ebook and audiobook versions of the title, I wouldn’t recommend the latter. The nature of the book requires distinction between telepathic conversations and outspoken dialogue, which was difficult to distinguish via audio. Furthermore, the narrator’s affected regional accent and “voices” took away from the story, in my opinion.

 

Book Review: If There’s No Tomorrow by Jennifer L. Armentrout

If There’s No Tomorrow by Jennifer L. Armentrout

If There's No Tomorrow by [Armentrout, Jennifer L.]

Author Blurb:

Lena Wise is always looking forward to tomorrow, especially at the start of her senior year. She’s ready to pack in as much friend time as possible, to finish college applications and to maybe let her childhood best friend Sebastian know how she really feels about him. For Lena, the upcoming year is going to be epic—one of opportunities and chances.

Until one choice, one moment, destroys everything.

Now Lena isn’t looking forward to tomorrow. Not when friend time may never be the same. Not when college applications feel all but impossible. Not when Sebastian might never forgive her for what happened.

For what she let happen.

With the guilt growing each day, Lena knows that her only hope is to move on. But how can she move on when her and her friends’ entire existences have been redefined? How can she move on when tomorrow isn’t even guaranteed?

Taylon’s Review:

I could have been Lena. There’s no telling how many times I could have been in her situation. College was a crazy time, and although I was lucky enough to never face the consequences the characters in this book did, I cannot help but think of how differently my life could have been.

Armentrout has a way with words. Her use of dialogue, diction, and overall story-telling is superb. She has an ability to get completely into character, expressing emotions that are real, understandable, and relatable. This book, especially this story, hits home with so many different types of people.

Two of my favorite quotes that I feel resonate with anyone who has experienced life:

“What would I have done differently that night if I’d known there was no tomorrow? Everything. I would’ve done everything differently.”

“One day you will just realize you’ve made it through this part of your life and you’ve accepted what cannot be changed. That is when you’ve moved on. It will feel like it happened suddenly, but in reality, it’s been a work in progress.”

I highly recommend this book, but fair warning: the topic is hard. It left me in tears, and my own guilt and regrets were thrown in my face throughout the book. I may be nearly 31, but I needed Armentrout’s reminder to live like there’s no tomorrow.

Book Review: YOUNGER by Suzanne Munshower

YOUNGER deals with some fascinating concepts: cosmeceuticals, industrial espionage, and the (especially) American preoccupation with staying and looking “young.”

The “hook” seizes readers by thrusting them into the main character’s present-day life-or-death predicament, and then backtracks to the events and decisions that catapulted her there.

Almost solely career- and lifestyle-driven, the female protagonist is more understandable than likable at the novel’s outset. Her preoccupation with prestige (lifestyle, high-profile PR position, and fabricated family history) governs her decision-making, aided by a healthy dose of self-pity and insecurity.

In any case, readers like me will sympathize with her plight (likely concerned for our own futures) and will be curious about the promise of looking young—at will—while retaining the life experience and maturity that come with growing older.

Sophisticated references and a rich vocabulary characterize this author’s writing; I never doubted that I was reading high quality, well-researched, and thoroughly edited material.

Constructive feedback from my POV:

The pacing felt a tad off, with the middle sagging (as it does for the character at that point in the plot), and the finish speeding by with too many moving, far-fetched parts that simply didn’t do justice to the rest of the novel. Also, the too-frequent references as to what the protagonist was eating took me out of the story, as did the layer-by-layer outfit details when not integral to the scene.

YOUNGER successfully applies the “coming-of-age” theme to the atypical, older life stage through poignant realizations from the fifty-ish heroine–both during her treatment phase and beyond. Overall, the novel impressed me with its level of detail, intriguing subject matter, and exemplary character development.

~Holly*

*This title was purchased by me, in ebook and audio formats; this review was not solicited by anyone or exchanged for anything.

Affiliate Disclosure: In order to support our continued blogging efforts (since giveaways and shipping costs come out of our own pockets, unless otherwise noted), we may receive a small commission–at no cost to you–from products purchased through the links provided. That said, we strive to share only high quality items, most of which are recommended based on firsthand experience.  

Thursdays with Taylon: Reading Priorities

Life is busy. It’s just the way it is. We have responsibilities, and while those may differ from person to person, they still pull us in a million different directions.

Personally, I struggle to find time to read. I’m over-committed with responsibilities as a teacher, I have two small children, a husband, two dogs, family, friends, church, coaching, my Plexus side-gig, and about fifty other things I somehow manage to do during the week.

This year, my goal is to be “intentional” with my time, my efforts, my life. I’ve started to take a closer look at where I really spend my time, whether it’s wasted energy or actually productive. I’m seeing that I spend a lot more “wasted” time than productive time, and I really don’t have time for that. Ha.

I’ve also trying to find ways to sort out the “junk” and excess. I feel like it’s all around me: my house, my classroom, my mind. I want to enjoy the things I do have and not constantly worry that I’m not doing enough.

Thus enter my plan for making reading a priority.

For the third year in a row, I’ve set a goal to read 100 books this year. That averages out to about 2 books a week, and so far, I’m on track. Between the holiday and snow days, it hasn’t been that hard. However, I know that I do not have time to stay up until 4am reading several nights a week to meet that goal. I mean, not that I would do that…

So what’s a girl to do? First, sort through what matters and what doesn’t. Much like this blog, I’m making my reading time important; I’m going to be intentional. Each night, I’m devoting 30 minutes before I go to bed. And it won’t involve social media! Just 30 minutes of solid reading time. I know this is something I need, and it’s important to me that I MAKE the time to read.

What about you? When do you find time to read?

Taylon’s Back with Book Reviews!

Welcome to 2018! This is year three that I have set a word for myself, a goal to aspire to, a word that I want to live out daily. This year, it’s “intentional.” One thing I really want to do is be better at this blog. Holly does an amazing job of keeping it up, and I need to start pulling my own weight!

In order to do that, I’m going to blog twice a week: Tuesday Thoughts and Thursdays with Taylon. Tuesday Thoughts will consist of book reviews. Thursdays with Taylon will discuss book-related topics, such as authors, reading trends, etc.

And what a perfect time to start than on a snow day! I’ve read three books in the last few weeks, and here’s my reviews.

The Cinderella Arrangement by Vanessa Waltz

The Cinderella Arrangement by [Waltz, Vanessa]

Although I enjoyed the story, the editing errors drove me crazy. If you are looking for a good story that moves quickly, jumps right into content, and has a happily every after, it’s worth reading.

The characters were relatable and likeable. The story was a little far-fetched at times, but it was a good cleanser after reading The Ghostwriter. If you are in a funk or need a book hangover cure, I’d recommend this one. PLUS it comes with a part two that carries the story over. Personally, I like closure, so getting the second story included was a definite positive.

The Ghostwriter by Alessandra Torre

The Ghostwriter by [Torre, Alessandra]
I’ve been putting off reading this story for months. I didn’t know if I was ready for it, but I decided to jump in and add it to my read list for 2018. I am so glad I did.

It’s twisted. It’s not a love story. It makes you think. It’s not a happily ever after, but it’s a good ending that brings closure and peace. The writing is superb. The story excellent. The characters are deep and well-developed. The foreshadowing is there, and if you really clue in, you’ll figure out what’s really eating the main character.

This was a book I wanted to skip ahead on, because I needed to know what was causing the guilt, what had happened that changed her. I’m glad I waited and let the story unfold on it’s own. It was totally worth it.

The anger, guilt, and fear felt so real–like this could really happen. I think that’s what I loved most about this story. I could understand the motivations, appreciate the friendship, and find peace in the ending.

I would highly recommend this book!!!

I’ll Be the One by Hazel James

I'll Be the One by [James, Hazel]

Holly and I met Hazel this summer, and I fell in love with her as a person. She was carefree, kind, and so much fun. I have been following her on Facebook since, and I’ve really grown to appreciate her honesty and courage. Honestly, I was afraid to read her book, because I didn’t know if I could write an honest, unbiased review.

I’m so glad I got the courage to read it!

In her first book, she does a great job of making you think. She has great dialogue and well-developed characters. Her take on young love is spot on; she makes you believe in it and reminds you how much your first love truly meant. She employs lots of foreshadowing with the psychic aspect, and while it has a very sad ending, it’s a good one I’d still consider a happily ever after. Warning: be prepared to cry!!

Hazel has gained a reader in me! I recommend everyone give her a chance!

DISCLAIMER: All ebooks were purchased by me through Amazon. I appreciate authors’ efforts immensely, and these comments reflect my reading preferences only.

Two Book Reviews

The following is my current process for “discovering” books:

  1. Scan Amazon until a cover catches my attention
  2. Read the blurb
  3. Send the “Free Sample” to my phone (Kindle app)
  4. Buy & download if the sample holds my attention

After all, time is of the essence. I need to seized and held captive by an author’s first chapter(s). (Side note: Traci Finlay address this topic from a writer and editor’s perspective in her article, “A Winning Beginning”.)

Using the method listed above, I’ve read two books so far this year, and here’s what I have to say about them.

Trinity by Luke Romyn

  • The opening of Trinity grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. I highly encourage anyone interested in this genre, supernatural suspense, to read the free sample.
  • Trinity is incredibly well-written. While labeling a work of fiction “unpredictable” comes across as cliche, I genuinely couldn’t predict what would happen from one chapter to the next, from one page to the next. Likewise, in addition to the non-stop action, readers can expect unique, original characters and a striking premise.
  • While my experience reading this book was mostly positive, I did get impatient with the narrative at roughly the 70%-80% mark. When I felt the story should be wrapping up, it dragged on, and I didn’t feel propelled to speed-read to the conclusion like I had previously.

Just for fun, check out the novel’s alternate cover, posted on Goodreads:

https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1479791042l/33027263.jpg

(Just to be clear, it’s the Amazon version, with the gauze-mask and creepy hallway, that caught my attention.)

 

Twisted by Andrew E. Kaufman

In my opinion–and it won’t be a popular one–the blurb for Twisted vastly oversold the actual book. The mention of “psychiatric hospital” (especially the Alpha Twelve ward) in the first chapter kept me reading, as that topic is one of my fictional weaknesses (both in literature and in film). And while there’s an interesting storyline here, the writing itself fell short.

As someone who comments on college-level essays all academic year, I wanted to suggest sentence structure variation throughout this book. Even when writing in first-person POV, the pronoun “I” doesn’t have to be used in every sentence (or more than once in each sentence).

See these examples from just two Kindle app pages:

  • “I take a closer look..”
  • “I remind myself…”
  • “…I’m constantly hearing…”
  • “I find my phone…”
  • “I can’t count the number of times…”
  • “I set my gaze uphill…”
  • “I straighten my wheels…”
  • “I’m racing up the hill…”

All I could think about is how these independent clauses could have been revised to form stronger, more engaging sentences, without the repetition that distracts oddball readers like me. (BTW, I’ve left out the instances from these pages that justified the “I + verb” construction. Also, these two pages weren’t the only to exemplify this trend.)

That being said, most people probably won’t even notice or care about this nuance, and it’s an author’s choice how to write his or her story. In this case, it simply wasn’t a good fit for me.

While I mostly enjoyed the first half of the story, it fell off for me after that. The execution of the plot (a difficult task of weaving storylines, to be fair) fell short of its potential.

~Holly

 

DISCLAIMER: Both ebooks were purchased by me through Amazon. I appreciate authors’ efforts immensely, and these comments reflect my reading preferences only.

Clicking in the New Year

My three words for 2018 are detox, declutter, and self-care. All three, I hope, will affect my reading this year in positive ways.

With that in mind, here are the five e-book titles I “clicked” today:

1. 52 Small Changes: One Year to a Happier, Healthier You by Brett Blumenthal While I don’t usually spend time reading nonfiction, I’m hoping that “small steps” will help me further my goals this year. I tend to get overwhelmed by (and then ultimately abandon) big projects, unfortunately.

2. Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind

I’ve wanted to be a published author as long as I can remember. Like the book listed above, I’m hoping the “routine” and “focus” bits will help this gargantuan task become a manageable reality.

3. Nest by Terry Goodkind

As a fan of fictional thrillers, I can’t resist a cover with a striking center image–especially one so “vulnerable” as an eyeball. Not to mention, this compelling description on its Amazon page:  “a complete reinvention of the contemporary thriller. Travel with Goodkind on a dangerous journey to the back alleys of the darknet, to the darkest corners of our minds, and to the very origins of what it is to be human.”

4. Twisted by Andrew E. Kaufman

Another cover I couldn’t resist. Plus, any tale that starts with the protagonist, a psychiatric hospital psychologist, “overseeing a unit known as Alpha Twelve, home to the most deranged and psychotic killers imaginable” is right up my alley. The thin, tenuous line between sanity and insanity has always intrigued me. In asylum-themed works of fiction, I like determining which characters are actually the “good” ones. (Think Gothika, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, American Horror Story: Asylum, Shutter Island, etc.)

5. Obsession by Amanda Robson

This book purports to be a “page-turner,” and that’s what I’m looking for in a read these days. Currently priced at 99 pennies, I figured it was worth a look.

 

Happy clicking in the new year, friends!

2017 Recap: Holly’s “Best Of” in Books & Film

Unfortunately, the stress and distraction of the first half of 2017 eclipsed recreational activities for me. Less leisure time resulted in fewer books read and an unintentional lapse in self-care.

As a result, I made some changes during the second half of the year: I decluttered, learned to say “no” when necessary (for my own peace of mind), and restructured my priorities.

I don’t want to be busy or harried 24/7, always worried about the next item on a to-do list. Instead, I want to be less “preoccupied” with minutia and more mindful regarding my own personal goals and the people who matter most in my life.

That said, I started reading for me again in the latter half of this year—mindlessly browsing Kindle deals, stumbling upon new authors, experiencing new-to-me genres and topics.

My favorites from what I read this year are listed below (with #1 being my top favorite)*:

1. Desert Flowers by Paul Pen (literary fiction/psychological thriller)

2. The Butterfly Garden by Dot Hutchison (psychological thriller)

3. Hell House by Richard Matheson (haunted house horror)

4. Girl Last Seen by Nina Laurin (dark & graphic psychological thriller)

5. Disclaimer by Renee Knight (suspenseful psychological thriller)

 

I also watched a number of excellent films this year, as I consider well-made movies to be “literature”—a reflection of culture and humankind—in their own right. Listed below are my favorites, titles which earned the distinction because they’re though-provoking, surprising, and memorable:

1. The Ninth Configuration (literary/philosophical)

2. Hell House LLC (slow-burn horror)

3. The Invitation (slow-burn psychological thriller)

4. Intruders (psychological thriller)

5. Sleep Tight, English subtitled (psychological thriller)

Runners up (in film):

  • Eden Lake (literary/psychological thriller)

 

NOTE: Although I bought (rather than rented) this film digitally, I haven’t watched it a second time. Eden Lake is brilliantly-made, its heavy message conveyed through superb acting, sustained tension, and plot twists. Both cringe-worthy and anxiety-inducing, one viewing was all it took for me. And some scenes are still branded on my brain.

Random find, pleasant surprise. And who doesn’t love Brian Austin Green?!

Strays from cliché slasher territory to the credit of a strong heroine and an unexpected twist.

Impressive cast!

 

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      *Classifications in parentheses are my opinion, not necessarily how the works are categorized by their creators or online retailers. Also, I’m not suggesting that any of these titles were published or released in 2017, merely that I experienced them this year for the first time.

Must-Watch Monday: Horror Films

Hell House LLC

Hell House LLC tells the partial, disjointed story of a company (i.e. a group of friends) that designs and runs haunted houses each year. Although I stumbled upon the movie by accident, it has since become one of my favorite Halloween-themed titles.

Brief comedic reprieves in Hell House LLC—courtesty of Paul, my favorite character—lighten the otherwise slow-building tension. Suspense and mystery are what this film does best, leaving several elements of the friends’ journey open to speculation and interpretation. Documentary-style storytelling (interviews, found footage, and secondhand video) works in the film’s favor, especially when it comes to nailing down what actually happened “that night” in 2009.

Amazon Instant Video (FREE for Prime members): http://amzn.to/2ycnavl

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Martyrs

First, to watch and understand Martyrs, one must be prepared to read subtitles (unless fluent in French).

Second, this movie is NOT for the faint of heart.

To me, it’s almost divided into two halves, the second of which seems to take an entirely different turn. While some of the violence and gore may be construed as gratuitous, much of it serves a purpose that isn’t revealed until the end of the film. One image in particular is seared into my memory. I won’t forget it soon…or ever.

WATCH AT YOUR OWN RISK.

Amazon Instant Video: http://amzn.to/2xuoLOw

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Sinister

Sinister is one of few horror films to affect my ability to sleep and feel safe in my own home. (In fact, the only others I can remember are Candyman and The Unborn, after watching both back-to-back at a sleepover in the seventh grade.)

Not only is Ethan Hawke’s acting top-notch, but the director does a fabulous job of balancing “jumpy” scenes with an ever-increasing intensity that reaches its crescendo at the movie’s close.

Let’s just say my husband wasn’t thrilled when the lamp by my bedside stayed on stayed on that night.

Amazon Instant Video (to rent or buy): http://amzn.to/2yccWeE

DVD: http://amzn.to/2yCkWac

 

****Stay tuned for more horror-themed movie reviews throughout the month!****

October: The Season of Horror

It’s FINALLY October, the season of horror films!

Maybe it was AMC’s FearFest, or a similar movement from Chiller TV, that first got me hooked on the genre and medium. Either way, I’ve become a self-professed horror film “connoisseur” in the last few years, and I’d love to pass my recommendations along to viewers of like minds.

For the purposes of this post, I’ll bypass a defense of the genre and its fans here (although I did have my students read Stephen King’s article “Why We Crave Horror Movies” this semester).

Some people don’t understand those of us who watch, analyze, and re-watch scary movies. And that’s okay….

To each their own!

Although a departure from the blog’s titular entertainment medium, I’ll be doing several film features this month, all revolving around the scary, the horrific, the suspenseful, the dark.

To kick it off, I’ll share an article that was shared with me: “Here’s 31 Underrated Creepy, Disturbing, and Downright Scary Films You Can Watch Throughout October”. My plan is to watch and review all of these, while also highlighting some of my favorite all-time horror films.

If this subject matter appeals to you, stick with me this month as we cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time! And if this subject matter doesn’t appeal to you, keep following our Facebook page for book-related posts, per usual. 🙂

~Holly