Category Archives: Horror

Review: Beneath the Stairs by Jennifer Fawcett

Title: Beneath the Stairs by Jennifer Fawcett
Publisher: Atria Books
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense, Horror
Length: 352 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Edelweiss


In this spine-tingling, atmospheric debut for fans of Jennifer McMahon, Simone St. James, and Chris Bohjalian, a woman returns to her hometown after her childhood friend attempts suicide at a local haunted house—the same place where a traumatic incident shattered their lives twenty years ago.

Few in sleepy Sumner’s Mills have stumbled across the Octagon House hidden deep in the woods. Even fewer are brave enough to trespass. A man had killed his wife and two young daughters there, a shocking, gruesome crime that the sleepy upstate New York town tried to bury. One summer night, an emboldened fourteen-year-old Clare and her best friend, Abby, ventured into the Octagon House. Clare came out, but a piece of Abby never did.

Twenty years later, an adult Clare receives word that Abby has attempted suicide at the Octagon House and now lies in a coma. With little to lose and still grieving after a personal tragedy, Clare returns to her roots to uncover the darkness responsible for Abby’s accident.

An eerie page-turner, Beneath the Stairs is about the trauma that follows us from childhood to adulthood and returning to the beginning to reach the end.


Beneath the Stairs by Jennifer Fawcett is a ghostly mystery that is quite chilling.

Clare Madden returns to Sumner’s Mills, NY when she learns her estranged childhood friend, Abby Lindsay is in the hospital. Once inseparable, Clare and Abby lost touch after a terrifying incident at an abandoned house near their town. They first went into the house with their friends, Lori and Monica, but they are shaken by a frightening event. Later that night, they end up returning the Octagon House and Abby is never the same. Twenty years later, Abby inexplicably goes back into the house and afterward,  her parents ask Clare to come visit her in the hospital. At loose ends, Clare agrees to come back so she can try to finally put the past to rest.

Clare is a teacher and currently lives in Chicago. Her father has recently moved from Sumner’s Mills and when she is ready, he will sell her childhood home. Clare has never resolved the guilt she feels over what happened in the dilapidated house. When Abby sent her a few emails several months back, Clare’s nightmares about their childhood trips to the Octagon House begin again.

Upon returning to Sumner Mills, Clare agrees to meet Lori for the first time in years. During their discussion about Octagon House, she discovers unsettling information about the home’s history. Once she learns the identity of the house’s owner, Clare hopes to find answers about what happened to the person who built the house. Uncovering startling details, Clare knows the only way to get answers about why Abby was in the house is to return there herself. Will Clare finally understand exactly what exactly she believes she saw all those years ago? Can she find out the truth about Abby’s reason for going back into a place that inarguably changed the course of her life?

Beneath the Stairs is a spellbinding mystery with a slight element of horror. The small -own setting is a little claustrophobic and adds tension to the unfolding story. Clare is a sympathetic character whose habit of ignoring her problems and pushing away loved ones leaves her feeling very alone. Her investigation into Octagon house is quite compelling but will she be able to accept what she unearths? Seamlessly weaving both and forth in time, Jennifer Fawcett brings this suspenseful novel to a fully satisfying conclusion.

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Filed under Atria Books, Beneath the Stairs, Contemporary, Horror, Jennifer Fawcett, Rated B+, Review, Suspense

Review: Reprieve by James Han Mattson

Title: Reprieve by James Han Mattson
Publisher: William Morrow
Genre: Historical (90s), Horror
Length: 412 pages
Book Rating: C

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Edelweiss


A chilling and blisteringly relevant literary novel of social horror centered around a brutal killing that takes place in a full-contact haunted escape room—a provocative exploration of capitalism, hate politics, racial fetishism, and our obsession with fear as entertainment. 

On April 27, 1997, four contestants make it to the final cell of the Quigley House, a full-contact haunted escape room in Lincoln, Nebraska, made famous for its monstrosities, booby-traps, and ghoulishly costumed actors. If the group can endure these horrors without shouting the safe word, “reprieve,” they’ll win a substantial cash prize—a startling feat accomplished only by one other group in the house’s long history. But before they can complete the challenge, a man breaks into the cell and kills one of the contestants.

Those who were present on that fateful night lend their points of view: Kendra Brown, a teenager who’s been uprooted from her childhood home after the sudden loss of her father; Leonard Grandton, a desperate and impressionable hotel manager caught in a series of toxic entanglements; and Jaidee Charoensuk, a gay international student who came to the United States in a besotted search for his former English teacher. As each character’s journey unfurls and overlaps, deceit and misunderstandings fueled by obsession and prejudice are revealed, forcing all to reckon with the ways in which their beliefs and actions contributed to a horrifying catastrophe.

An astonishingly soulful exploration of complicity and masquerade, Reprieve combines the psychological tension of classic horror with searing social criticism to present an unsettling portrait of this tangled American life.


Reprieve by James Han Mattson is an intriguing novel with an interesting storyline.

In 1997, John Forrester is the eccentric owner of a full contact house of horrors called Quigley House.  The big draw to Quigley is the competition to win $60,000. Four contestants work together to advance through the various cells by collecting envelopes within the allotted time frame without yelling the safe word.

Following the death of her father, Kendra Brown moves with her mother to Nebraska. As one of the few Black students at her school, she feels out of place and unable to break into the cliques that have already formed. She secretly takes a job at Quigley House and forms an unexpected friendship with John and her co-workers. Kendra is pivotal in bringing in one of the contestants in the final, ill-fated competition.

Jaidee Charoensuk is a Korean student at the local university and he is struggling to fit in. He is a bit older but having learned about the United States through movies and tv shows, he has many misconceptions about relationships. Jaidee works hard to make good grades but he is not really in the US for an education. He is instead searching for the tutor he developed a crush on when he was a teenager. Through a strange series of events, Jaidee has connections to two of the other people on his team at Quigley House.

Reprieve features a thought-provoking yet convoluted plot. Through various points of view and court documents, a murder during one of the competitions unfolds in horrific detail. The characters are well-drawn but not all of them are likable. The pacing is somewhat slow until the four contestants begin working their way through the cells. Their battles through the cells is quite detailed but these scenes tend to drag somewhat. With stunning revelations, James Han Mattson brings the novel to a tragically sad conclusion.

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Filed under Historical (90s), Horror, James Han Mattson, Reprieve, Review, William Morrow

Review: The Bright Lands by John Fram

Title: The Bright Lands by John Fram
Publisher: Hanover Square Press
Genre: Contemporary, LGBT, Mystery, Horror
Length: 480 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley


The town of Bentley holds two things dear: its football, and its secrets. But when star quarterback Dylan Whitley goes missing, an unremitting fear grips this remote corner of Texas.

Joel Whitley was shamed out of conservative Bentley ten years ago, and while he’s finally made a life for himself as a gay man in New York, his younger brother’s disappearance soon brings him back to a place he thought he’d escaped for good. Meanwhile, Sheriff’s Deputy Starsha Clark stayed in Bentley; Joel’s return brings back painful memories—not to mention questions—about her own missing brother. And in the high school hallways, Dylan’s friends begin to suspect that their classmates know far more than they’re telling the police. Together, these unlikely allies will stir up secrets their town has long tried to ignore, drawing the attention of dangerous men who will stop at nothing to see that their crimes stay buried.

But no one is quite prepared to face the darkness that’s begun to haunt their nightmares, whispering about a place long thought to be nothing but an urban legend: an empty night, a flicker of light on the horizon—The Bright Lands.

Shocking, twisty and relentlessly suspenseful, John Fram’s debut is a heart-pounding story about old secrets, modern anxieties and the price young men pay for glory.


The Bright Lands by John Fram is a small town mystery with horror elements.

Bullied and humiliated for being gay, Joel Whitley left his small hometown of Bentley, TX behind him ten years ago.  Now living in New York, he has a successful career and he enjoys all the perks of big city life. But after a series of troubling texts with his ten years younger brother Dylan, Joel returns to Bentley to find out what is going on. When Dylan vanishes, Joel will do whatever it takes to find him. He eventually teams up with Sheriff’s Deputy Starsha Clark and together they attempt to learn the truth about Dylan and ultimately, their town.

Joel is wracked with guilt that his relationship with Dylan is distant and superficial.  Which is why he vows to do better once he realizes something is wrong with his brother.  Immediately after his return to Bentley, he is plagued by unpleasant memories and exhausting, terrifying dreams. After Dylan fails to return home after a weekend away with his football buddies, Joel and his mother fear the worst.

Dylan is a star quarterback and he is revered by everyone in Bentley.  He tries to downplay his texts to Joel and goes forward with his weekend plans with his friends. In the aftermath of his disappearance, Joel  discovers disquieting information about his brother that leads to more questions than answers. But he remains committed to exposing the truth about what happened to Dylan.

After Dylan goes missing, Clark is surprised when she is assigned to work with Inspector Grady Mayfield. They begin questioning the quarterback’s circle of friends which is somewhat frustrating due to their lack of candor. As the situation worsens over the course of a week, Clark and Joel find help from very unexpected sources. And their quest for answers leads right to mysterious whisperings of the Bright Lands.  Are Joel and Clark prepared for what awaits them as their investigation takes a shocking, horror-filled  turn?

The Bright Lands is a riveting mystery with a large cast of characters and an imaginative storyline. Written from multiple points of view, the tension rises with every chapter. Exhaustion and fear are palpable as Joel, Clark and Dylan’s classmates venture deep into the surrounding  flat lands in hopes of finally uncovering the secrets that some of Bentley’s residents are keeping. With plenty of action and suspense,  John Fram brings this spine-tingling mystery to an edge of the seat, action packed conclusion. An impressive debut that I thoroughly enjoyed and highly recommend.

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Filed under Contemporary, Hanover Square Press, Horror, John Fram, LGBT, Mystery, Rated B, Review, The Bright Lights

Review: The Patient by Jasper DeWitt

Title: The Patient by Jasper DeWitt
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense, Horror, Supernatural Elements
Length: 224 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley


The Silent Patient by way of Stephen King: Parker, a young, overconfident psychiatrist new to his job at a mental asylum, miscalculates catastrophically when he undertakes curing a mysterious and profoundly dangerous patient.

In a series of online posts, Parker H., a young psychiatrist, chronicles the harrowing account of his time working at a dreary mental hospital in New England. Through this internet message board, Parker hopes to communicate with the world his effort to cure one bewildering patient.

We learn, as Parker did on his first day at the hospital, of the facility’s most difficult, profoundly dangerous case—a forty-year-old man who was originally admitted to the hospital at age six. This patient has no known diagnosis. His symptoms seem to evolve over time. Every person who has attempted to treat him has been driven to madness or suicide.

Desperate and fearful, the hospital’s directors keep him strictly confined and allow minimal contact with staff for their own safety, convinced that releasing him would unleash catastrophe on the outside world. Parker, brilliant and overconfident, takes it upon himself to discover what ails this mystery patient and finally cure him. But from his first encounter with the mystery patient, things spiral out of control, and, facing a possibility beyond his wildest imaginings, Parker is forced to question everything he thought he knew.

Fans of Sarah Pinborough’s Behind Her Eyes and Paul Tremblay’s The Cabin at the End of the World will be riveted by Jasper DeWitt’s astonishing debut.


The Patient by Jasper DeWitt is a chilling debut.

In 2008, psychiatrist Parker H. is compelled to blog about his experiences with a patient at the Connecticut State Asylum (CSA).  Joe has been at the CSA since the early 70s when his parents brought him for treatment for his night terrors. Not only was no one able to help Joe, but he is also deemed to be a danger to the staff and other patients.  Newly hired, Parker H. is intrigued by Joe and convinces his bosses to allow him to treat him. Despite their numerous warnings and Joe’s history, will Parker end up like many of his predecessors?

Written in blog format, Parker H. describes what happens with Joe after he begins treating him. He is ill-prepared and over confident and his reaction to his new patient reflects this. Joe is seemingly affable and co-operative so Parker becomes even reckless over the few days of their encounters.  Is it possible this fresh from school psychiatrist can diagnose Joe when seasoned doctors cannot? And will anyone believe him when he discovers what is wrong with Joe?

The Patient is a fast-paced novel with supernatural elements.  Parker is a well-developed character but secondary characters are not very well fleshed out. The storyline is quite creative and intriguing. With spine-tingling twists,  Jasper DeWitt brings this suspenseful novel that an unexpected conclusion.  A clever debut that I greatly enjoyed and highly recommend.

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Filed under Contemporary, Horror, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Jasper DeWitt, Rated B, Review, Supernatural Elements, Suspense, The Patient

Review: Imaginary Friend by Stephen Chbosky

Title: Imaginary Friend by Stephen Chbosky
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Horror
Length: 721 pages
Book Rating: C+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley


A young boy is haunted by a voice in his head in this “haunting and thrilling” epic of literary horror from the #1 NYT bestselling author of The Perks of Being a Wallflower (John Green).

Christopher is seven years old.
Christopher is the new kid in town.
Christopher has an imaginary friend.

We can swallow our fear or let our fear swallow us.

Single mother Kate Reese is on the run. Determined to improve life for her and her son, Christopher, she flees an abusive relationship in the middle of the night with her child. Together, they find themselves drawn to the tight-knit community of Mill Grove, Pennsylvania. It’s as far off the beaten track as they can get. Just one highway in, one highway out.

At first, it seems like the perfect place to finally settle down. Then Christopher vanishes. For six awful days, no one can find him. Until Christopher emerges from the woods at the edge of town, unharmed but not unchanged. He returns with a voice in his head only he can hear, with a mission only he can complete: Build a tree house in the woods by Christmas, or his mother and everyone in the town will never be the same again.

Twenty years ago, Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower made readers everywhere feel infinite. Now, Chbosky has returned with an epic work of literary horror, years in the making, whose grand scale and rich emotion redefine the genre. Read it with the lights on.


Imaginary Friend by Stephen Chbosky is a “hold onto your hat, it’s going to be a bumpy ride” horror novel.

Fleeing an abusive relationship, Kate Reese and her seven year old son Christopher  sneak away in the night to move to Mill Grove, Pennsylvania. The small town has an excellent school system which is important to Kate.  Christopher soon settles into school and dodges bullies while making friends with Eddie Anderson and twins Mike and Matt. After a string of lucky coincidences,  Kate purchases a house on the edge of the Mission Street Woods. Despite repeated warnings to stay out of the woods, Christopher disappears for a week after he is lured into the woods by an otherworldly force.  He has no memory of what happened during the time he was missing and life soon resumes for mother and son.

However, Christopher is not quite the same following his misadventure and while some changes are welcome, others are very worrisome.  After becoming fixated on building a tree house in the woods, Christopher enlists Eddie, Matt and Mike to help him with the elaborate construction project.  With dire warnings that life will end on Christmas Day, Christopher is soon embroiled in a dangerous race against time to help the Nice Man defeat the Hissing Lady.

The entire premise of the novel is extremely intriguing and the world building is phenomenal.  The main characters are appealing but some of the secondary characters are a little one-dimensional. The horror elements are brilliantly executed and truly spine tingling.  The suspense builds to an incredible pitch as danger erupts in Mill Creek and the residents mysteriously fall ill just days before Christmas. Christopher remains tightly focused on his attempts to do the Nice Man’s bidding in order to save himself and everyone around him.

Imaginary Friend is an ingenious horror novel that is clever yet also overly long (721 pages), unevenly paced and a bit repetitive.  Late in the novel, a HUGE plot twist takes the story in a completely unexpected direction.  A “good vs evil” battle ensues and plunges the reader into an alternate world. With even more shocking and diabolical turns, nothing is as it seems and Christopher, Kate and their friends are enmeshed in an epic fight that has decidedly religious overtones.  Stephen Chbosky keeps readers on the edge of their seats as the novel comes to an action-packed conclusion.

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Filed under Contemporary, Grand Central Publishing, Horror, Imaginary Friend, Rated C+, Review, Stephen Chbosky

Review: Theme Music by T. Marie Vandelly

Title: Theme Music by T. Marie Vandelly
Publisher: Dutton
Genre: Contemporary, Horror, Suspense, Supernatural Elements (Ghosts)
Length: 396 pages
Book Rating: C+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Edelweiss


An utterly propulsive and unpredictable psychological thriller from stunning new talent T. Marie Vandelly.

She didn’t run from her dark past. She moved in. 

For the lucky among us, life is what you make of it; but for Dixie Wheeler, the theme music for her story was chosen by another long ago, on the day her father butchered her mother and brothers and then slashed a knife across his own throat. Only one-year-old Dixie was spared, becoming infamously known as Baby Blue for the song left playing in the aftermath of the slaughter.

Twenty-five years later, Dixie is still desperate for a connection to the family she can’t remember. So when her childhood home goes up for sale, Dixie sets aside all reason and moves in. But as the ghosts of her family seemingly begin to take up residence in the house that was once theirs, Dixie starts to question her own sanity and wonders if the evil force menacing her is that of her father or a demon of her own making.

In order to make sense of her present, Dixie becomes determined to unravel the truth of her past and seeks out the detective who originally investigated the murders. But the more she learns, the more she opens up the uncomfortable possibility that the sins of her father may belong to another. As bodies begin to pile up around her, Dixie must find a way to expose the lunacy behind her family’s massacre to save her few loved ones that are still alive—and whatever scrap of sanity she has left.


Theme Music by T. Marie Vandelly is an intriguing mystery with horror and supernatural elements.

Twenty-five years ago, Dixie Wheeler is the sole survivor of her father Bill’s killing spree in which he killed her mother and three brothers before taking his own life. Raised by her Aunt Celia and her Uncle Ford, Dixie has finally gotten her life together.  She and her longtime boyfriend Garrett are ready to purchase a house and settle down. When Dixie discovers her old family home is on the market, she cannot resist taking a tour. Although she is ready to buy the house, Garrett is not at all on board with her plan. Dixie instead rents the house on her own and moves in with her family’s old furnishings.  After discovering the police file about her family’s murders, she contacts the detective in charge of the investigation. Now retired, Stanley Cullins agrees to take a second look at the old case after Dixie notices some troubling inconsistencies which leads her to believe Bill did not murder her family.  Will she and Cullins unmask the real killer? Or will they find definitive proof her father is, in fact, responsible for her mother’s and brothers’ deaths?

Right from the start, Dixie is a shockingly unreliable narrator. She suffers from horrible nightmares and she has trouble telling what is real and what is not. Dixie has also exhibited obsessive behavior in the past as she stalked and acted inappropriately with one of her brother’s friends, Rory Sellers. Rory is also connected to the her family’s murders since he stumbled onto the grisly scene not long after their murders.  Dixie has not seen Rory in years so she is somewhat surprised when he unexpectedly shows up not long after she moves in her family home. His recollections of the day of the murder are the impetuous for doubts about her father’s guilt.

Theme Music is an interesting mystery with a unique premise. While evenly paced for about the first half, the story soon becomes repetitious as Dixie’s life goes into a downward spiral.  Bouts of insomnia skew her perception and she becomes an increasingly unreliable narrator as she makes one mistake after another.  With quite a few startling twists and slightly unbelievable turns, T. Marie Vandelly brings this macabre mystery to a dramatic conclusion.  All in all an enjoyable novel, but readers will definitely have to suspend disbelief for some aspects of the storyline.

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Filed under Contemporary, Dutton, Ghosts, Horror, Review, Supernatural Elements, Suspense, T Marie Vandelly, Theme Music