My Haunted Library

All things spooky. Your source for paranormal and supernatural book and movie reviews, strangeography, Halloween crafts and a little cozy fall baking.


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Review: The Lying Game

The Lying Game—Ruth Ware, 2017.  3.5/5

The lies four friends told seventeen years ago return to haunt them when a set of skeletal remains turns up on the beach.

“I need you.” Kate’s terse text sends her three best friends in the world hurrying to her side. Kate, Isa, Thea, and Fatima have been besties since they spent a year together in boarding school. There at Salten House, they play the “lying game” on their credulous classmates, earning points by telling shocking lies. Their game and cliquish attitude isolate them from the rest of the school but solidifies their friendship. Most weekends they spend at Kate’s dilapidated house on the coast, drinking, smoking, hanging with her handsome French “stepbrother,” Luc, and swimming in the waters of the Reach. Kate’s permissive, artist father, Ambrose, draws them incessantly, clothed and dishabille. One day, Ambrose turns up dead: Suicide. Maybe. The girls secretly bury Ambrose on the beach. Now grown, the women live with the guilt of hiding the body and the lies they told over a decade ago. But someone (or someones) knows their secret and the truth could ruin their lives.

The Lying Game is a page-turner that ticks all the boxes on the psychological thriller checklist. We have a completely unreliable first-person narrator with a fragile emotional state. An ominous, gothic setting: The decrepit old Tide Mill that is Kate’s home, and to an extent, her prison, is literally being washed away. Natural elements like water and light and wind take on threatening qualities. The flashbacks to the fifteen-year old girls’ life in boarding school are among the best parts of the book, and significantly add to the novel’s tense, slow burn. There are red herrings. Secrets. Blackmail. A remote, creepy village literally (and symbolically) covered in nets. A gaunt, hostile postmistress with a grudge. The list goes on. These elements shine.

The novel stumbles, for me, in two places. First, the narrator, Isa. Her borderline over-obsession with her tiresome (mostly screaming) six-month infant, and her willingness to lie to (and forsake in a heartbeat) her significant other are off-putting. I didn’t like her. Consequently, I was not rooting for her, and did not care if her lies were exposed. Unfortunately, Ware spends most of the time crafting Isa’s character, and so Fatima and Thea read a little flat. Second, the women’s big secret, the one that has driven them to extreme coping mechanisms, haunted them for seventeen years, riddled them with guilt, etc…wasn’t really that big a secret. Lois Duncan’s excellent YA book, I Know What You Did Last Summer—which The Lying Game pays homage toharbors a more serious secret.

That said, I flew through The Lying Game. Ware is undisputedly skilled at building tension and keeping interest. I do, however, recommend The Death of Mrs. Westaway and In a Dark, Dark Wood over The Lying Game.

rating system three and a half crows


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Review: The River at Night

The River at Night – Erica Ferencik, 2014. 4/5

We all have that friend, right? The shining star with her infectious charisma and almost obnoxious joie de vivre, throw-caution-to-the-wind attitude whom we’d follow to the ends of the earth – despite the gut-level misgivings we may have?

In The River at Night, Pia is that friend for her small posse of forty-something BFFs, Win, Rachel and Sandra. Seemingly unlike Pia, the three are weighted down with mid-life baggage: Win is suffering the loss of her special needs brother; Rachel, a brittle ER nurse counts the days of her sobriety; and Sandra struggles with an abusive husband.

For their yearly weekend get-together, Pia convinces the three to go white water rafting on an uncharted river in remote northern Maine. This is well outside the three ladies’ comfort zone, but they agree with a mixture of fear and exhilaration.

What could possibly go wrong? Lots. Lots and lots of things could – and do – go wrong. Kind of north woods, Deliverance-level wrong. This girls-weekend-out turns into a survival thriller.

Through the eyes of our narrator, Win, the most fearful of the group, we experience both the beauty of the outdoors and its terrors. We appreciate the give and take of friendships: from an initial tiff that exposes tiny slivers of resentment towards Pia, to the ladies’ trial-by fire (well, water) empowerment, to the overarching love the women have for each other.

That’s all good stuff, but the book really takes off with its river sequences. Ferencik treats us to some great physical action writing: graphic description and vivid, immediate detail. You’re in the raft – or more likely out of the raft – with the women, struggling to swim, surface, breathe, survive. My tiny cavil? I personally wished for just a little …more… at the very end. Just a little. Still, the book is a stunner.

The River at Night reads as fast and frenetic as screaming down the high slide at a waterpark, its increasingly frenetic pace mirroring the growing desperation of the women. If you have a fear of water, this will be an especially white-knuckle read for you. A great summer read. That is, as long as you’re safe on shore.

rating system four crows