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The Plot

Summary clip on top of book cover

Quigley House is a full-contact immersive horror haunted house. Contestants in teams try to complete five cells full of their worst nightmares ala the worst escape room ever, racing to win a $60,000 prize.

We follow the story through three perspectives that alternate. All three perspectives were people present the night that a team of four took on Quigley House and one died. The details of the night swim around you as you hear from:

Kendra – a parking lot attendant at Quigley whose cousin Bryan is in the game

Jaidee – Bryan’s college roommate who is also in the game

and Leonard – an acquaintance of John Forrester, the man who owns Quigley House.

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The alternating chapters drop into flashbacks from these three characters lives and are interspersed with the present where chapters take place in each cell and detail the Quigley House horror experience.

James Mattson with his book in a bookstore

Parallels to the Infamous McKamey Manor

It is easy to draw parallels between the fictional Quigley House and the real McKamey Manor, also known for its full-contact, torture chambers filled with sadistic actors punishing their participants. McKamey Manor has had its share of bad publicity. However, all participants are willing to undergo the waterboarding and hair cutting and bruises that they are given inside the experience.

It is hard not to believe that Mattson has based his understanding and creation of Quigley House on McKamey Manor. John Forrester, the owner of Quigley House, throughout the whole novel is suspect. He is up to no good and damages people in the way of his dream of making Quigley House legendarily famous.

McKamey Manor also used to boast a $20,000 prize for anyone able to survive their entire tour while ranges from eight to ten hours. Russ McKamey ended the potential for prize money as he thought the wrong kinds of people beginning to partake were not what he intended for the horror house. He began to see those desperate for cash and willing to do anything rather than the horror lovers and masochists who are truly willing to experience McKamey Manor for their own personal, internal reasons.

Many have strong opinions on McKamey Manor and whether Russ McKamey and his actors are just sadists legally able to enact dark fantasies of pain out on their participants. Mattson created a similar concept in Quigley House, and presents John Forrester as very similar to Russ McKamey. Mattson makes us question Forrester’s behaviors and reasons for creating Quigley House and the unsavory methods he will go through the make Quigley House profitable and famous.

The Verdict

review from Rumaan Alam

This is not your standard horror novel. This is the most brilliant social horror novel that gives gore but comments on important social and racial issues. Color me stunned and impressed. Rumaan Alam praises Mattson’s Reprieve, and this is an opinion to listen to. Alam has created some of the best unsettling stories of the thriller genre. You can read my review of Alam’s Leave the World Behind here.

Mattson uses diverse main character perspectives to create social commentary on the fetishization of race. It is hard to imagine how a horror novel can do such a thing, but Mattson joins writers like Brian Evenson and creates literary horror fiction in Reprieve. Race and manipulation lie in the underbelly of this story and readers will feel it crawl under their skin.

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The genre of literary horror is quickly emerging to be a subcategory of horror to watch. It makes us consider our actions and our place in the world while still delivering a gory punch to the gut. Many who did not enjoy this novel did not expect the literary qualities of the text. Just know what you are taking on when diving in and emerge mind blown. 5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Click the link below to read Reprieve now!

Sarah Moon is a stone-cold sorceress from Tennessee whose interests include serial killers, horror fiction, and the newest dystopian blockbuster. Sarah holds an M.A. in English Literature and an M.F.A. in Fiction Writing. She works as an English professor as well as a cemeterian. Sarah is most likely to cover horror in print including prose, poetry, and graphic forms. You can find her on Instagram @wellreadredhead18.

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Book Reviews

Brutality, Motherhood, and Art: Nightbitch Review

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“In the distance, she heard her husband in the backyard call for her , but she was not that woman anymore, that mother and wife. She was Nightbitch, and she was fucking amazing. It seemed she had been waiting for this for a very, very long time.” -pg 89, Nightbitch by Rachel Yoder

Nightbitch is the debut novel of Rachel Yoder about a stay-at-home mother coming to terms with the loneliness and brutality of motherhood. The main character, only referred to as The Mother, begins to undergo a frightening change as she sinks deeper into a depressive state. She transforms into Nightbitch, an animalistic creature full of anger, bloodlust, and freedom. The Mother must utilize the help of a strange book and a group of multi-level marketing mommies to harness her newfound strength before she loses herself or her family.

The novel is a stunning commentary on the everyday violence of motherhood centered within the context of werewolf and mystical woman mythos. The Mother spends much of the book contemplating her future and the abandonment of her dreams. Specifically, she grapples with the loss of her ability to create art, her longtime passion. On a larger scale, Nightbitch examines how many women are asked to stop being individuals after having children and only become mothers–existing only in the presence of their child. The message is clear, poignant, dark, and at times, hilarious. The prose and structure of the book are abnormal, however, it works with the overall messaging and plot. 

As far as negatives go, Nightbitch was pretty ambiguous. This was by design, and created an aura of magical mysticism around many of the characters and events. The Mother is the definition of an unreliable narrator. However, towards the end of the book, I would have liked a little more clarity in what certain characters knew. 

Nightbitch is a must read for any parent. As a non-parent, I highly recommend it for those interested in feminist horror or more avant-garde approaches to horror narratives. Those who don’t like books with heavy introspection or ambiguous storytelling may enjoy something else, however I still think it is an interesting read nonetheless. 

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4.4 out of 5 stars (4.4 / 5)

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Book Reviews

Gothic, Ghosts, and Tlachiqueros: The Hacienda Review

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“Dread washed over me. Had she been sitting there, watching me sleep, the whole night? Her skin gleamed like candle wax in the light; then she grinned and whatever color her eyes had been before, now they turned red. In an instant, her skin transformed, dried and desiccated into leather, and her teeth grew long and needle sharp.” -pg 214, The Hacienda by Isabel Cañas

The Hacienda is a gothic horror novel by Isabel Cañas set in the wake of Mexico’s War for Independence. The debut novel by Cañas, it delivers a classic haunted house tale with a twist of Mexican high society. Recently made homeless by the execution of her father, Beatriz marries Don Solórzano to escape her cruel treatment by her relatives. However, once she joins him on his estate, she finds that the promise of a new life holds dark secrets and darker spirits. She enlists the help of a priest, Andrés, to uncover both. Together, they find the home has more dangers than they bargained for. And more threats both supernatural and far too material await every corner.

I adored The Hacienda from start to finish. Cañas’s prose was accessible but full of deep imagery. While told from the perspective of both Beatriz and Andrés, neither outweighed the other. The perspectives were interesting and the transition between the two was well executed throughout the novel. I usually don’t seek out romantic books, but I loved the romantic and sexual tension between the two main characters. Specifically since the romantic tension developed within both perspectives, the relationship’s “will-they-won’t-they” felt both plausible and full of stakes. And of course, The Hacienda was spooky! I loved the way the spirits manifested and the impact that had on the characters.

My only minor criticisms would be the resolution was fairly quick and mostly offscreen. Though maybe I’m just saying that because I wanted to keep reading, even after the book ended! I also found myself slightly annoyed at the characters for not picking up on some of the more obvious clues to what had happened in the house. 

A thoroughly enjoyable gothic (and dare I say, romantic) novel that kept me on the edge of my seat, I highly recommend The Hacienda. If you enjoy haunted house tales, you will enjoy this book. 

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4.8 out of 5 stars (4.8 / 5)


Preorder Isabel Cañas’s new book Vampires of El Norte now!

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Book Reviews

“The Family Game” Glimpses Into The 1%

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Are their traditions innocent or are they darker than they seem?

The Plot

Harry, short for Harriet, is a British writer gaining popularity after the publishing of her first novel. She meets Edward, a member of the widely known Holbeck family, and the two strike up a relationship. The Holbecks are high powered executives, running family businesses that bring in massive amounts of wealth. When Harry learns she is pregnant, the couple decide that it is finally time for her to meet the family.

During her first meeting with the family, Edward’s father, Robert gives Harry a vintage tape that he says holds a story that he’d like her to listen to. As Harry listens to the tape, she begins to believe that the Holbecks have done some very bad things.

As she continues visiting the family, their strange traditions are revealed to her. The games that they play traditionally involve darkness and fear. Can Harriet find out the truth about the mysterious Holbecks?

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The Verdict

Catherine Steadman outdoes herself in The Family Game. She creates such a mysterious family in the Holbecks and their dynamics are intriguing. Readers will follow Harry as she tries to determine the truth about Robert’s misdoings. The cast of family characters are a wonder to watch. We’ve all always wondered what the extremely rich live like. Harry shows us their virtues and misdeeds.

The novel really remarks on the power of wealth and the wealthy’s ability to commit audacious crimes and pay for them to go away. Robert, as the patriarch of the family, is a prime example of such. As Harry begins to discover that Robert may be confessing to a series of murders on the cassette tape, she must decide how to proceed. She knows that the power that Robert holds cannot be taken lightly.

As Harry navigates potentially deadly Christmas traditions, she races for the truth, unable to forget once she finds it. Harry is such a compelling character – a developing mother willing to risk life and limb to protect her unborn baby. Harry is brave and unapologetic and is a true testament on how to write a female main character.

It was very difficult for me to decide between 4 and 5 Cthulus, so we will call it 4.5. This is a novel I highly recommend thriller lovers check out. 4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

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