Alone by Cyn Balog

Happy Halloween! It’s the most wonderful time of the year {sorry, Andy Williams, you were singing about the wrong holiday}, and before I lose myself in scary movies and bite sized candy, I wanted to share this book because it’s perfect to read in an empty house, with the lights turned low, and the windows all open.

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Title: Alone {278 pgs.}

Genre: YA Thriler/Mystery

Publication Date: November 7, 2017

Summary:

This must-read for lovers of Stephen King’s The Shining will leave readers breathless as Seda and her family find themselves at the mercy of a murderer in an isolated and snowbound hotel.

When her mom inherits an old, crumbling mansion, Seda’s almost excited to spend the summer there. The grounds are beautiful and it’s fun to explore the sprawling house with its creepy rooms and secret passages. Except now her mom wants to renovate, rather than sell the estate—which means they’re not going back to the city…or Seda’s friends and school.

As the days grow shorter, Seda is filled with dread. They’re about to be cut off from the outside world, and she’s not sure she can handle the solitude or the darkness it brings out in her.

Then a group of teens get stranded near the mansion during a blizzard. Seda has no choice but to offer them shelter, even though she knows danger lurks in the dilapidated mansion—and in herself. And as the snow continues to fall, what Seda fears most is about to become her reality…

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Cyn Balog photo

Cyn Balog is the author of a number of young adult novels. She lives outside Allentown, Pennsylvania with her husband and daughters. Visit her online at http://www.cynbalog.com.

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I was hoping to hold onto this book until it was closer to Halloween, but I ended up devouring it in about two days, way before Halloween. With a story so creepy and mysterious, I had to know what was going to happen. Even better, about halfway through, I got all cocky and confident and told myself that I knew the ending already, and…I didn’t. I didn’t at all.

Seda is not having a very good time living in the mountains in an old murder mystery hotel. But once her mom gets these ideas in her head, there’s no talking her out of it, so Seda has to make the best of it for herself and her four younger siblings. Maybe if she had a twin like her siblings, a twin that was real, a twin that wasn’t in her head telling her to do terrible things.

Then a group of teenagers stumble into Seda’s life, and everything she knows is turned upside down by a friendly game that Seda’s mother creates to make everyone forget that they’re snowed in and can’t leave the house for any reason whatsoever. You know, one of those relaxing games of catching a murderer. A fake one, of course.

Well, it had been fake, at least, until the teenagers start popping up in the strangest places, dead and mutilated.

Seda is trying to keep everyone safe while also trying to figure out if she had a hand in any of these murders. Well, not Seda exactly, but Sawyer, her twin that never really left, her twin that whispers constantly in her ear, her twin that tells her that maybe doing bad things could be fun.

I told you that this was a book for the holidays.

What I loved most about Alone was the way Cyn Balog wrote it, how she sucked you into the story and made you feel the loneliness pervading through the old house. You feel the walls closing in on you. You begin to understand Seda in a way that you might not want to, and then comes the moment when you put yourself inside the house. You wonder, would I have done the same thing? The answer is going to scare you no matter what, and that is the mark of fantastic writing. Cyn Balog is a master at creating this kind of atmosphere, and her other books are very much the same way, but Alone stands by itself as the creepiest and most jaw-dropping that I’ve read from her. From anyone, for quite some time, to be honest.

Don’t believe me that this book is that good? First of all, you really should. I don’t lie about books. That’s rude. And second, here’s something other amazing reviews for this book:

“Even careful readers will be caught off guard by twists and unexpected but divine surprises. This first-rate thriller delivers everything a thriller should, and adds more. With a wink and a nod to Stephen King’s The Shining, Balog provides a shocker for the young adult crowd.” –VOYA Magazine, VOYA Perfect 10 Review

“This is the perfect premise for a chilling tale, and Balog fills every inch with classic horror references, red herrings, and uncertain motivations. As Balog gradually builds tension and paranoia, she manipulates reader expectations to set up several possible endings, yet still manages to end with a shocker. This is fantastically creepy psychological horror.” Booklist

“A bloody, wonderfully creepy scare ride.” –Kirkus Reviews

In case you’re not sold on it yet {and who are we kidding, you’re already preordering it, I know you}, I’ve got a little teaser to get you started on your journey into Seda’s messed up life:

Sometimes I dream I am drowning.

Sometimes I dream of bloated faces, bobbing on the surface of misty waters.

And then I wake up, often screaming, heart racing, hands clenching fistfuls of my sheets.

I’m in my bed at the top of Bug House. The murky daylight casts dull prisms from my snow globes onto the attic floor. My mom started collecting those pretty winter scenes for me when I was a baby. I gaze at them, lined neatly on the shelf in front of my window. My first order of business every day is hoping they’ll give me a trace of the joy they did when I was a kid.

But either they don’t work that way anymore, or I don’t.

Who am I kidding? It’s definitely me.

I’m insane. Batshit. Nuttier than a fruitcake. Of course, that’s not an official diagnosis. The official word from Dr. Batton, whose swank Copley Square office I visited only once when I was ten, was that I was bright and intelligent and a wonderful young person. He said it’s normal for kids to have imaginary playmates.

But it gets a little sketchy when that young person grows up, and her imaginary friend decides to move in and make himself comfortable.

Not that anyone knows about that. No, these days, I’m good about keeping up appearances.

My second order of business each day is hoping that he won’t leak into my head. That maybe I can go back to being a normal sixteen–year–old girl.

But he always comes.

He’s a part of me, after all. And he’s been coming more and more, invading my thoughts. Of course I’m here, stupid.

Sawyer. His voice in my mind is so loud that it drowns out the moaning and creaking of the walls around me.

“Seda, honey?” my mother calls cheerily. She shifts her weight on the bottom step, making the house creak more. “Up and at ’em, buckaroo!”

I force my brother’s taunts away and call down the spiral staircase, “I am up.” My short temper is because of him, but it ends up directed at her.

She doesn’t notice though. My mother has only one mood now: ecstatically happy. She says it’s the air up here, which always has her taking big, deep, monster breaths as if she’s trying to inhale the entire world into her lungs. But maybe it’s because this is her element; after all, she made a profession out of her love for all things horror. Or maybe she really is better off without my dad, as she always claims she is.

I hear her whistling “My Darlin’ Clementine” as her slippered feet happily scuffle off toward the kitchen. I put on the first clothing I find in my drawer—-sweatpants and my mom’s old Boston College sweatshirt—-then scrape my hair into a ponytail on the top of my head as I look around the room. Mannequin body parts and other macabre props are stored up here. It’s been my bedroom for only a month. I slept in the nursery with the A and Z twins when we first got here because they were afraid of ghosts and our creepy old house. But maybe they—-like Mom—-are getting used to this place?

The thought makes me shudder. I like my attic room because of the privacy. Plus, it’s the only room that isn’t ice cold, since all the heat rises up to me. But I don’t like much else about this old prison of a mansion.

One of the props, Silly Sally, is sitting in the rocker by the door as I leave. She’d be perfect for the ladies’ department at Macy’s if it weren’t for the gaping chest wound in her frilly pink blouse. “I hate you,” I tell her, batting at the other mannequin body parts descending from the rafters like some odd canopy. She smiles as if the feeling is mutual. I give her a kick on the way out.

Despite the morbid stories about this place, I don’t ever worry about ghosts. After all, I have Sawyer, and he is worse.

As I climb down the stairs, listening to the kids chattering in the nursery, I notice the money, accompanied by a slip of paper, on the banister’s square newel post. The car keys sit atop the pile. Before I can ask, Mom calls, “I need you to go to the store for us. OK, Seda, my little kumquat?”

I blink, startled, and it’s not because of the stupid nickname. I don’t have a license, just a learner’s permit. My mom had me driving all over the place when we first came here, but that was back then. Back when this was a simple two–week jaunt to get an old house she’d inherited ready for sale. There wasn’t another car in sight, so she figured, why not? She’s all about giving us kids experiences, about making sure we aren’t slaves to our iPhones, like so many of my friends back home. My mother’s always marching to her own drummer, general consensus be damned, usually to my horror. But back then, I had that thrilling, invincible, first–days–of–summer–vacation feeling that made anything seemed possible. Too bad that was short lived.

We’ve been nestled at Bug House like hermits for months. Well, that’s not totally true. Mom has made weekly trips down the mountain, alone, to get the mail and a gallon of milk and make phone calls to civilization. We were supposed to go back to Boston before school started, but that time came and went, and there’s no way we’re getting off this mountain before the first snow.

Snow.

I peer out the window. The first dainty flakes are falling from the sky.

Snow. Oh God. Snow.

Creepy, right? And it only goes downhill from there.

Sourcebooks Fire is also super awesome {like super awesome}, so they sent along a raffle for you to win a copy of Alone, and I might just enter in myself, because I want to fill my house with this book. But in case I don’t win, here’s the link for all of you!

https://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/54ca7af7598/

I’m not kidding when I say that this is one of my favorite scary books of 2017. It’s creepy and claustrophobic, and it keeps you guessing until the very last moment. So have a Halloween in November, and curl up somewhere dark and quiet, and have a great time scaring yourself. I sure did.

 

 

I Never by Laura Hopper

Oh, another Monday, another eight million degree day in California. But today is different because it also brings whipping winds and the kind of heat that makes it hard to breathe! Hooray! I needed a fun book today, and that would be I Never.

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Title: I Never {288 pgs.}

Genre: YA Fiction

Publication Date: November 7, 2017

Summary:

Janey King’s priorities used to be clear: track, school, friends, and family. But when seventeen-year-old Janey learns that her seemingly happy parents are getting divorced, her world starts to shift. Back at school, Luke Hallstrom, an adorable senior, pursues Janey, and she realizes that she has two new priorities to consider: love and sex.

This book was cute in the way that makes old people like me think about their high school years and thank whoever that those years are over. The description compares it to Judy Blume’s Forever, and I think that’s the best comparison.

Janey’s whole life is turned upside down by her parents getting a divorce and her father moving out. But it’s not like she starts skipping down some path of self-destruction or anything. There’s a lot of crying, a lot of wondering what’s going to happen to her life now, but she doesn’t let the divorce become a stormcloud over her life. But it’s always there, and it’s always reminding her that the life that she knew before is no more.

But she has Luke Hallstrom to keep her busy.

Watching Luke and Janey fall in love is sweet and slow, just like a first love should be. They discover each other and themselves while trying to navigate high school life. Luke loves Janey just for herself, and while she may find this difficult to believe, she tries hard to accept it, because she loves Luke, too. Because, you know, Luke is handsome and popular, and Janey doesn’t understand what he sees in her. If this makes you roll your eyes like it did me, just wait. There’s an actual reason as to why she think this way, I believe. She’s not a girl who wears glasses, obscuring the gorgeousness that we know is there if she would just take off her glasses. She’s not a girl from the wrong side of the tracks. She’s none of those stereotypical girls who are always surprised when the popular jock falls in love with her. Nope, I’m pointing the accusatory finger at Janey’s best friend Brett.

To put it mildly, Brett is a jerk. I honestly have no idea why Janey is friends with him. She tells him about Luke being interested in her, and he warns her that Luke is just a “worthless, arrogant guy who’s going to treat you like shit.” Like, okay, Brett. Thanks for not being a complete and totally ass about things. In case you think it’s just a case of him being jealous because she didn’t tell him {not because she’s his type because he very clearly tells her, “You’re not my type”}, later, Janey tells him how she felt super insecure when she saw a pretty girl talking with Luke. Instead of making her laugh or doing anything that a best friend should do, Brett tells her that she’s right to feel that way because Luke is “weak” and “if a pretty girl is willing to make herself available,” Luke wouldn’t “ignore it.”

I really could have done without Brett in this book.

Sure, he does come around, but it’s a case of too little, too late. He’s a buttface, pure and simple, and I don’t know why Janey didn’t just kick him out of her life.

Another thing that bothered me about this book was how it seemed like you couldn’t be a functioning woman while also wanting to have sex. At one point, Janey walks in on her newly single mother having afternoon sex with a man. This shakes Janey to her core, which I get, but later, she marvels that her mom is “single and horny,” but can also be the “doting, generous, sentimental” mother that she’s always known. Well, yeah. You can be horny and still be a good person. Like, obviously?? Then there are the times when Janey is so distracted by Luke and his handsomeness that she can barely function. I get that Luke is probably her first boyfriend, but she had such a stable head on her shoulders before him that I doubt she would lose it for a smile and good hair.

Like I said, this book is cute and one of those novels that will take you back to a simpler time of first loves and jerk friends. It’s a quick, fun read that will make you really think about high school, and maybe realize that you’ve put on rose-colored glasses when it comes to those four years. Janey is sweet and goofy, and she’s the perfect narrator to take you through this journey.

Berserker by Emmy Laybourne

Happy Monday! I know, those are two words that don’t go together usually, but it’s October and it’s not a thousand degrees, so it’s pretty happy.

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Title: Berserker {288 pgs.}

Genre: YA Fantasy/Historical Fiction-y

Publication Date: October 10, 2017

Summary:

Are Hanne’s powers a gift from the old Norse gods, or a curse?

Her brother Stieg swears their powers are a gift from the old gods, but Hanne Hemstad knows she is truly cursed. It’s not Stieg’s fault that their father is dead, their mother has left, and their brother Knut has been accused of a crime he didn’t commit.

No, the fault lies with Hanne and her inability to control her murderous “gift”–she is a Berserker. When someone she loves is threatened, she flies into a killing state. The siblings must leave Norway for the American frontier or risk being brought to justice.

Aided by a young cowboy who agrees to be their guide, Hanne and her siblings use their powers to survive the perilous trail, where blizzards, wild animals, and vicious bounty hunters await.

Will they be able to reach their uncle, the one man Hanne believes may be able to teach her how to control her drive to kill?

To say that I’m a bit into Norse mythology would be like saying that I’m sort of into reading. The stories, the gods, the goddesses, the absolute messes that these beings get into…it’s all so magical and frustrating and bloody, so it’s not wonder that tiny Bree devoured whatever books she could find on Norse mythology.

Poor Hanne. She didn’t ask to be a berserker, and she didn’t ask to kill those who want to harm those she loves. But she this is what she does, and one traumatic kill forces the family to move to America. Her two brothers, Stieg and Knut, and little sister Sissel pack up as much as they can, hop on a boat, and are dumped off in America, where they travel halfway across the country to the Montana territory to try to find their uncle, also a berserker, who can maybe help her control her gift.

Yes, that’s all in the summary, but what the summary doesn’t tell you is about Rolf and Ketil, two men dispatched from Norway to find the Hemstad children. Their boss, a man who “collects” the Nytteson {people who have these certain gifts}, wants to protect the children. At least, that’s what he tells Rolf, his oldest friend and a man who only wants to do right by the old gods. Then there’s Ketil, and I would honestly throw him in the dumpster if I could, but he’s a fictional character. The problems of reading a book, I swear. But Ketil is Rolf’s constant partner – not by Rolf’s request – and his idea of getting information out of people is to kill first and ask questions never.

Ketil is the worst.

Then there’s also Owen Bennett, a cowboy trying to make a living for himself since he’s the bastard son of a wealthy rancher and his cook. Owen wants nothing of the farm where he grew up, so he decides to become a cowboy, something that he’s actually good at. He comes across the Hemstad’s at their lowest moment, and he offers his services, hoping to get a little bit of money and a new life out of this.

This is where the movie trailer man comes in: But Owen gets so much more than he bargained for.

Is it wrong for me to say that I loved Hanne berserker? Everyone talked about how thin she was, how tiny, and then she rips apart a man within half a breath. Like, come on. It’s pretty awesome. But there wasn’t really a character in the book that I didn’t have some kind of strong reaction to. Stieg only wants the best for his brother and sisters, and he puts them before himself, always. Knut, sweet baby Knut, is a huge giant, but couldn’t hurt a fly. Sissel is the typical little sister: whiny, annoying, and in need of a good whack every now and again. Owen is fantastic, even when he’s having his moments where he feels left out and angry {something, as the youngest child, I totally understand}. I even wanted to hold an old German couple close to my chest, even though they were only in two or three chapters. The characters are all so alive, and the way that each of them react to this adventure in America speaks volumes about them.

Oh, also, Ketil is the WORST.

Berserker comes out tomorrow, so go on out to the bookstore {online is great, too – and the library!} and grab this book. It’s entertaining, terrifying, and heartwarming all in one go. Really, isn’t that the best kind of book, though?

We All Fall Down by Natalie D. Richards

This Monday already sucks, so while you’re in between reading the news and helping everyone that need to be helped {I know you}, let me give you a bright ray of sunshine in an awesomely creepy, but still quite lovely, book.

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Title: We All Fall Down {368 pgs.}

Genre: YA/Mystery

Publication Date: October 3, 2017

Summary:

Theo’s always been impulsive. But telling Paige how he feels? He’s obsessed over that decision. And it’s time. Tonight. At the party on the riverbank, under the old walking bridge, site of so many tales of love and death.

Paige has had a crush on Theo since they first met, but she knows her feelings are one-sided. She’s trying to move on, to flirt. A party at the river is just what she needs. Except a fight breaks out, and when Paige tries to intervene–Theo’s fist lands in her face.

All Theo and Paige want to do is forget that fateful night. But strange events keep drawing them back to the bridge. Someone, something is determined to make them remember…and pay for what they each did.

When I read that synopsis, my immediate thought was a YA thriller, which are really too few and far between, but this leaned more toward the mysterious, the supernatural. And trust me, I was not complaining.

Paige and Theo’s friendship is something to behold. Both of them have their own issues – Paige has anxiety and Theo has ADHD, among other troubles – but they’ve come together to form the kind of friendship that everyone wants: they accept each other, warts and all. But one fateful night, it all changes, because while Theo wants to tell Paige how he really feels about her, she wants to hang out with Chase, the cool guitar playing guy who is, unknowingly, the catalyst for what happens later that night.

The punch had been a mistake, Theo aiming for Chase instead of Paige. But because of that miscalculation, Theo and Paige are pulled away from one another, both of them trying to convince themselves that it’s for the best. But something doesn’t want them to forget that night.

So, without spoilers, I felt like this book really was written for me. I’m not a teenager and I don’t have ADHD {anxiety, on the other hand…}, but there was one aspect of this story that made me nod so hard that I almost hurt my neck: the locks on the bridge. The party Theo and Paige attend is near a bridge where people put locks, like the love locks on the Paris Bridge. While I always thought this sentiment sweet, I was also very creeped out about them. I can’t put into words why they freak me out, but this book put my worst nightmare into very real words, and I was like, well, yeah, this could totally happen {it really probably can’t, but still}.

I was also of two minds about Paige and Theo’s friendship. It was beautiful and dark, and they helped each other through their lowest days. They understood each other {maybe the only ones in their town that tried to}, and they accepted one another as they were. But the adult inside me sometimes agreed with their parents. Their relationship could be dangerous, and I would probably do the same thing that Paige’s parents did, at least for awhile, especially when she came home from the party without some teeth. But the romantic part of me won out, because Paige and Theo were not as codependent as Paige’s parents thought they were. They held each other up, and keeping them apart only killed a part of each of them. They only wanted to bring out the best in each other.

I loved these characters, the realness of them. Watching Paige spiral down into an anxious tornado was terrifying and all too relatable. Theo’s absolute helplessness involving Paige and her parents was something that we’ve all felt once in our lives, maybe about a friend, maybe about a family member, maybe even about ourselves. These two don’t need each other to have a normal, happy life, but they do make that idea easier to find.

Anyway, it’s October, so we’re all ready creepy books for the next 29 days. Definitely pick up We All Fall Down, and get your October started right. But just a hint: don’t read this at night. Not alone in your bed. Especially not when the lights are out and your Kindle is the only light you have. Trust me, I have a sleepless night to prove how bad an idea this is {but do it anyway}.