Book Review – ‘The Merciless IV : Last Rites’ (#4 The Merciless) by Danielle Vega

Lots of spooky old villages, catacombs, and demon possession.

The Merciless IV Last Rites (#4 The Merciless) Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Horror

No. of pages: 290

goodreads banner by Casey Carlisle

The ropes tighten on Berkley Hubbard’s wrists. Blood drips down her fingers and lands with a smack on the cold floor of the church basement. She’s trapped, bound, and petrified by fear. A knife punctures her fragile skin as Berkley’s captors search for the mark of the devil on her body. They say they want to save her–drive the devil away and cleanse her soul–but will she make it out alive?

When Berkley arrived in Italy a week ago, the last thing she expected was that she’d end up fighting for her life. After spending six months at the Institute, confined to a room with the dangerous-yet-alluring Sofia Flores, Berkley was certain that a vacation in Italy with her two best friends would be the perfect getaway. But Berkley is hiding a terrible secret, one that threatens to undo everything. As she’s forced to face her wicked past, she learns that the devil is always watching, and no one is coming to save her.

Page border 2020 by Casey Carlisle

This one felt like it took a while to get anywhere. But ended with a bang. I liked the twist/message at the end, kind of like a warning to mean girls everywhere. The devil is watching.

I was a little lost with this one, it had been so long since I read the previous books in the series, and trying to place where it existed in the timeline and how it related to the other characters had me going over my old reviews. But this is another horror story following a different protagonist (Berkley) in the same universe as the rest of the novels.

Sofia does make an appearance, which delighted me no end.

The Merciless IV : Last Rites’ took a long time to get going. All of Daniele Vega’s past novels have been fast paced and quick to build up intrigue, but this one felt slow for most of the way through. I also got really frustrated with Berkley’s decisions just about all the way through.

While the ending was brilliant Vega fare, the rest of this book, and Berkley as a protagonist had me rubbing at my face in frustration. A great way to plot out the end of the franchise, and a masterful tone to wrap up the conclusion. But it did not feel as strong as any other of Vega’s titles. There didn’t feel like there was anything particularly new.

The Merciless IV Last Rites (#4 The Merciless) Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

The plot is simple. I didn’t get any camp horror fare. I predicted the whole story very early on, and because the pacing was so slow I didn’t get any of the fun stuff until the last few chapters. This read like a television episode rather than a cinematic culmination to The Merciless collection.

The setting of the novel was well done though. I enjoyed the mythology but I felt like there were so many missed opportunities to add in a scare or creep out the reader/Berkley.

This could easily be read as a standalone, and I’m on the fence recommending it. You get to revisit some familiar characters, and loved the note it ended on, but it’s not as good as its predecessors. Maybe I’ll just leave this for Vega fans.

Overall feeling: Underwhelming

The Merciless IV Last Rites (#4 The Merciless) Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

The Merciless IV Last Rites (#4 The Merciless) Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

Critique Casey 2020 by Casey Carlisle

© Casey Carlisle 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘The Haunted’ (#1 The Haunted) by Danielle Vega

The Grudge and Amytiville House all rolled into one.

The Haunted (#1 The Haunted) Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Horror, Paranormal

No. of pages: 252

From Goodreads:

Hendricks Becker-O’Malley is new in town, and she’s bringing baggage with her. With a dark and wild past, Hendricks doesn’t think the small town her parents moved her to has much to offer her in terms of excitement. She plans on laying low, but when she’s suddenly welcomed into the popular crowd at school, things don’t go as expected.

Hendricks learns from her new friends that the fixer-upper her parents are so excited about is notorious in town. Local legend says it’s haunted. Hendricks doesn’t believe it. Until she’s forced to. Blood-curdling screams erupt from the basement, her little brother wakes up covered in scratches, and something, or someone pushes her dad down the stairs. With help from the mysterious boy next door, Hendricks makes it her mission to take down the ghosts . . . if they don’t take her first.  

page-border-by-casey-carlisle

A brilliant little fast-paced read that feels like you’re watching a horror movie.

Danielle Vega has done it again! I loved ‘The Haunted.’ It created a sufficiently spooky atmosphere and walked that line of reality and supernatural. A fantastic haunted house storyline that slowly unfolds to a totally unpredictable ending. If I have one criticism, it’s that the story wasn’t complex enough. But I have noticed that about Vega’s writing. She likes short, to the point horrors that build intense imagery.

The Haunted (#1 The Haunted) Book Review Pic 04 by Casey CarlisleHendrick’s is a fun protagonist, moving to a new small town, enrolling in high school and dealing with some weird hallucinations that may or may not be connected to a troubled past. The town of Drearfield offers Hendricks a clean slate, one that she is determined to take advantage of. Straight off the bat she is a got-getter. Proactive. Despite past events, she is not wallowing in grief or self-pity. I instantly liked her. Hendricks was a battler right to the end.

We do get a lot of tropes however – the parents not believing or being involved in the paranormal storyline, the emo loner, the jock, the love triangle… it was a little bit cringey, but I have to admit, I enjoy those from time to time. Even with those tropes, the friends Hendricks makes at school does deconstruct the stereotypes a little, giving a taste of freshness to Vega’s writing style.

Eddie, the emo loner and next door neighbour, jilted from the ‘in’ crowd at school, knows more about the haunting than he’s letting on; and is one of the love interests for Hendircks. I enjoyed how Vega develops this character, even if it is somewhat predicable.

Our jock, Connor, seems to be the quintessential stereotype, turns out to have a heart of gold, oodles amount of patients, and once I got to see him interact with many of the other cast, came to favour him above all the rest… and it was interesting having him as Hendrick’s other suitor.

Notable mention: the not-quite-mean-girl, Portia played her role expertly. But I could take her or leave her, she was an integral part of the plot – as the tool for dragging our protagonist into unfamiliar situations. I felt like she needed a bit more development and wasn’t so stereotypical.

There are some triggers around torture, sexual assault and abuse, and definitely some gory scenes to boot.

Read easily in two sittings, and ties everything up nicely. Enjoyed the ending – that plot twist though… girl!

The dominant theme was about overcoming abuse and learning to stand up for yourself. And family.

Vega has cemented herself as one of my auto-buy authors. She’s highly recommended to those younger readers who love horror – like a Stephen King starter pack.

I thought this was going to be a standalone, but just found out there is a sequel slated for release in 2020 titled ‘The Unleashed.’  You can bet your first born I’m excited about this and can’t wait to get my hands on a copy!

Overall feeling: Holy Haunted House!

The Haunted (#1 The Haunted) Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

The Haunted (#1 The Haunted) Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

critique-casey-by-casey-carlisle

© Casey Carlisle 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘The Merciless III : The Origins of Evil’ (#3 The Merciless) by Danielle Vega

Going back to the beginning…

The Merciless III The Origins of Evil (#3 The Merciless) Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Horror, Paranormal

No. of pages: 304

From Goodreads:

Brooklyn knows that there’s no good without evil, no right without wrong. And when a helpless girl calls her teen helpline, whispering that someone is hurting her, Brooklyn knows that she needs to save her anonymous caller, even if it means doing something bad.

Her parents and friends assure her the call was probably a prank but Brooklyn has always had a tendency to take over, whether someone has asked for help or not.

She discovers the call came from Christ First Church and finds herself plunged into the cultish community of its youth group. She’s especially drawn to Gavin, the angelic yet tortured pastor’s son.

Torn between an unstoppable attraction to Gavin and her obsession with the truth, Brooklyn is forced to make a devastating choice to rid Christ Church of evil once and for all. . . . But the devil has plans for Brooklyn’s soul.  

page-border-by-casey-carlisle

This is a prelude to the first two novels following the story of a new protagonist, Brooklyn, leading right up to the events in the debut novel. It has all the uncertainty that I find Danielle Vega does so well in her writing. You want gore – you got it. And again, ‘The Merciless III’ is a quick punchy read that you can visualise as a movie.

I loved following Brooklyn’s transformation, the increments that lead her from each action, escalating as the plot evolves. You are always questioning. Is this mental illness or different shades of crazy? Is this Evil? But it is all based in reality and justifiable, so it’s a grey area. The special effects (so to speak) are straight out of a Hollywood Blockbuster and I loved the descriptions of the evil Brooklyn faces. She is gritty with a rebellious streak, determined not to become a sheep or a clone like the popular girls, sans Mean Girls.

I’m on the fence about the rest of the characters in this novel, only because I found it all a tiny unsettling. You were either getting a culty-religious-zealot vibe, or possibly-possessed-by-a-demon vibe, so it was hard to relate to, or sympathise with the cast. But those elements helped in constructing Riley as a goody-two-shoes judgemental antagonist and leader of the popular girl gang.

The Merciless III The Origins of Evil (#3 The Merciless) Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

There is a bit of two guys fighting over Brooklyn’s affections. Gavin, the pastor’s son: angelic and tortured. And then there’s Elijah, the laid back dude. But there’s not instalove or anything, just like and lust, so it does not read as a love triangle.

The story is predictable – I mean it’s a prequel to the first two books, so you know in which direction it’s heading, but boy oh boy if it doesn’t still throw a cat at your face. I still get shocked at the *cough-torture-porn-cough* and it is still a fast paced read. It has got me even all the more excited to get to the fourth and final book for the series. At this point I don’t know how any of the characters are going to end up surviving. Maybe they’ll all take a big dirt nap in Hell? Who knows?

I’m really loving Danielle Vega’s writing style. She can throw misdirection and doubt like a master, her characters aren’t so cookie-cutter typical either, and most always have a hidden past that is intriguing. It’s fast-paced, interesting and very teen slasher movie. Another definite recommend from me for a light YA horror which is an easy read.

There was some disorientation upon first reading as I went into this novel without any prior knowledge – eager to continue in Sofia’s journey – and felt a little confronted by a different perspective and new characters. But I quickly got over myself when I worked out what was going on.

Overall feeling: Keeping the creep factor alive since 2014.

The Merciless III The Origins of Evil (#3 The Merciless) Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

 The Merciless III The Origins of Evil (#3 The Merciless) Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

critique-casey-by-casey-carlisle

© Casey Carlisle 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘The Merciless II : The Exorcism of Sofia Flores’ (#2 The Merciless) by Danielle Vega

Mean Girls meets The Exorcist…

The Merciless II The Exorcism of Sofia Flores (#2 The Merciless) Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Horror, Paranormal

No. of pages: 320

From Goodreads:

Sofia is still processing the horrific truth of what happened when she and three friends performed an exorcism that spiraled horribly out of control. Ever since that night, Sofia has been haunted by bloody and demonic visions. Her therapist says they’re all in her head, but to Sofia they feel chillingly real. She just wants to get out of town, start fresh someplace else . . . until her mother dies suddenly, and Sofia gets her wish.

Sofia is sent to St. Mary’s, a creepy Catholic boarding school in Mississippi. There, seemingly everyone is doing penance for something, most of all the mysterious Jude, for whom Sofia can’t help feeling an unshakeable attraction. But when Sofia and Jude confide in each other about their pasts, something flips in him. He becomes convinced that Sofia is possessed by the devil. . . . Is an exorcism the only way to save her eternal soul?  

page-border-by-casey-carlisle

Another homerun from Danielle Vega. Continuing  right where the debut left off we follow Sofia Flores as she tries to put into context the events that happened in ‘The Merciless.’ Are there really demons out there, or is she suffering delusion brought on by mental illness? I loved how Vega supports both of these hypothesis right up until the end so you never really know what is going on until an explosive ending that throws another twist into the works.

I actually had a nightmare after reading ‘The Merciless II’ waking up in the early hours of the morning, heart pounding, feeling like there was a presence in my room. I haven’t had a sensation like that since my high school days, so there is something about Vega’s writing that resonated with me enough to unsettle my psyche. What a brilliant testimony to this series.

A highly entertaining read with a creepy undertone that raises the hairs on the back of your neck. Protagonist Sofia is isolated from the safety and familiar and forced to question everything she has seen and heard. ‘The Merciless II’ is haunting. Something about the way this story unfolds has you on Sofia’s side all the way – fanatics look insane, demons a religious fantasy, it makes sense… but there is always that ‘what if.’ And it is something that Sofia cannot ignore lest she gives in to the impossible, or declares herself insane.

The Merciless II’ steps it up from the debut, it’s more visceral, more on the line, and Sofia is even more vulnerable. I was gripped from start to finish and eager for more. A quick read, and am glad I have ‘The Merciless III : Origins of Evil’ on hand to jump into directly, as this novel ends with a twist I did not see coming and am excited to find out what happens next. Vega is turning into one of my top-tier authors. I’ve yet to be disappointed in any of her novels.

The Merciless II The Exorcism of Sofia Flores (#2 The Merciless) Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

I can’t say I predicted what was going to happen – only a vague sense that she would battle something paranormal, but no specifics. And certainly not what came to eventuate. But I am learning Vegas’ twisted sense of humour and starting to get a taste for her delightfully wicked style of storytelling.

Merciless II’ introduces us to a new setting – a Catholic boarding school and a plethora of new characters. Even though this deals with religious beliefs, exorcisms, it reads more like a monster story. Religion is merely the mythology behind the tale, not a plot point for conversion. And that is another reason why I enjoyed this book so much. I didn’t have God bashed into my skull with a well-worn leather bible, I was left to revel in the tale of Sofia being stalked – be it by some twisted mentally ill girl, or a supernatural force.

It falls well in the realms of YA. There is no extreme gore and filth, or language. It’s written for mature audiences but not adults only. But that is what you’d expect from a horror story of this genre.

Definitely recommend. It was a wild ride – but be prepared to get your hands on all four books in the series because once you finish one, you’re going to want the rest of the collection around to get the rest of the story.

Overall feeling: Heart-pounding, hair-raising, spooky fun.

The Merciless II The Exorcism of Sofia Flores (#2 The Merciless) Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

The Merciless II The Exorcism of Sofia Flores (#2 The Merciless) Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

critique-casey-by-casey-carlisle

© Casey Carlisle 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘The Merciless’ (#1 The Merciless) by Danielle Vega

A spooky version of ‘Mean Girls.’

The Merciless (#1 The Merciless) Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Horror, Paranormal

No. of pages: 279

From Goodreads:

Forgive us, Father, for we have sinned.

Brooklyn Stevens sits in a pool of her own blood, tied up and gagged. No one outside of these dank basement walls knows she’s here. No one can hear her scream.

Sofia Flores knows she shouldn’t have gotten involved. When she befriended Riley, Grace, and Alexis on her first day at school, she admired them, with their perfect hair and their good-girl ways. They said they wanted to save Brooklyn. They wanted to help her. Sofia didn’t realize they believed Brooklyn was possessed.

Now, Riley and the girls are performing an exorcism on Brooklyn—but their idea of an exorcism is closer to torture than salvation. All Sofia wants is to get out of this house. But there is no way out. Sofia can’t go against the other girls . . . unless she wants to be next. . . .

page-border-by-casey-carlisle

The Merciless’ definitely creeped me out. In the last half of the book I was squirming at the tension and excitement. This book is definitely a well-written YA horror. After being introduced to Danielle Vega’s writing with ‘Survive the Night’ I expected great things and wasn’t disappointed.

Sofia was a great choice for a protagonist, new to the school with a hidden past. Her Latino heritage played into the religious aspect too. The narrative doesn’t get involved in the mythology of religion, possessions, and demons, just observes what is happening.

I hope we get more of Sofia’s mum and abuela (grandmother) in the sequel. They were such a strong presence in her identity and gave her a safe place from which to deal with all the craziness.

I wish the story would have been a little more complex, and sometimes the popular girl gang who welcomed Sofia to the new school, and the situation, felt immature and ridiculous – but I was certainly hooked. What possessed (see what I did there?) these girls to think they could perform a religious rite? Little girls playing, like at a séance – until it gets ugly.

The Merciless (#1 The Merciless) Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

Would have loved to explore the groups self-appointed leader, Riley’s motives and back story some more – she seemed to be the driving force for the plot. Especially with Sofia’s other friend Brooklyn who has been ostracised from the group for some reason… Is this just a gaggle of mean girls or something more?

We do get some layers peeled back from the girls (sometimes literally… ew!) to reveal failings which was a masterstroke. I love a flawed character.

I had a hunch of what the ending was going to be, but there is a little twist that I was never quite sure of until I read the words. So it is somewhat predictable, but not entirely. Plus, this novel reads like an expert thriller/horror. I have the next two books in the series and am excited to continue on very soon.

Totally recommend this series for a fun scare!

Overall feeling: *hears a noise in the dark* “AHHHH What the heck was that!!”

The Merciless (#1 The Merciless) Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

The Merciless (#1 The Merciless) Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

critique-casey-by-casey-carlisle

© Casey Carlisle 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘Survive the Night’ by Danielle Vega

A surprising read of rock chick goodness and terror in abandoned railway tunnels!

Survive the Night Book Review Pic 01 by Casey Carlisle.jpgGenre: Y/A, Horror

No. of pages: 263

From Goodreads:

We’re all gonna die down here…

Julie lies dead and disemboweled in a dank, black subway tunnel, red-eyed rats nibbling at her fingers. Her friends think she’s just off with some guy—no one could hear her getting torn apart over the sound of pulsing music.

In a tunnel nearby, Casey regrets coming to Survive the Night, the all-night underground rave in the New York City subway. Her best friend Shana talked her into it, even though Casey just got out of rehab. Alone and lost in the dark, creepy tunnels, Casey doesn’t think Survive the Night could get any worse…

…until she comes across Julie’s body, and the party turns deadly.

 Desperate for help, Casey and her friends find themselves running through the putrid subway system, searching for a way out. But every manhole is sealed shut, and every noise echoes eerily in the dark, reminding them they’re not alone.

They’re being hunted.  

Page border by Casey Carlisle

Survive the Night’ is like a teen horror flick – a gathering of rebellious youths track down an underground rave, get isolated and then picked off one by one. It’s a campy, scary, short book (fast read) and I felt like the story was only half way through when it ended… because I wanted more.

This girl was impressed with the cast of characters – nobody was perfect, and each had their own story to tell. A great way to draw the reader into the book!

Survive the Night Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle.jpgCasey (our protagonist and the novel is told through her point of view) is recovering addict who is slowly coming to terms with her illness and is taking responsibility for her condition and rectifying her life. It was nice to see how Casey’s perceptions, on and off drugs, shows an unreliable narrator at times. It added to the suspense and tension. I’d be dropping a load in my underwear if caught in abandoned underground tunnels with something hunting us in the dark.

The rest of her friends joining her for the adventure: Sam, the typical gorgeous lead singer type, has a great character arc well worth the read. Shana, the annoying druggy (passive aggressive) mean girl you love to hate. She had the most interesting personal journey of all.

And then we have Aya, the innocent (of sorts); Woody, the grungy musician; and Julie, the boy loving victim that sets off the chain of events… It has been a very long while since I’ve read such a diverse cast of personalities that felt so organic in the narrative. For this alone I highly recommend you give this book a go.

I liked how there were urban legends around previous disappearances in the tunnels that this group find the rave in after an extensive egg-hunt. The ‘big bad’ reveal was fun (a bit silly) but still scary and monstrous. I was shuddering and pulling my legs up onto the couch in several places – a sign of a well written book. There are only a few authors who have forced a physical fear response from me when reading.

Survive the Night’ is predictable on the most part as far as plot goes – who survives and who doesn’t – my initial thoughts were proven right; but I was thrown towards the end and changed my mind. Vega’s narrative lead me to a different conclusion, and then snatched it away. Loved that she had me questioning myself.

Such a fun exhilarating read. Vega’s writing style is punchy, cool and full of pop culture as you would expect from a YA horror. I would have rated it higher if there was more complexity in the story and less predictability.

Can I mention the cover art! I bought the hard cover and was struck by the design, bright colours, mixed with a skull covered in glitter- it so sums up the tone of the novel. Love the tactile feel of it too! A blurb on the back quotes “Page-to-page Stephen King style terror” and I’d have to agree.

I was a little confused at some of the low ratings I’ve seen this book get – it’s nothing other than what it states to be. A strong favourite for me.

Overall feeling: this gif of a baby sums up my reading experience…

survive-the-night-book-review-pic-02-by-casey-carlisle

Survive the Night Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle.jpg

Critique Casey by Casey Carlisle

 

© Casey Carlisle 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.