It’s not often that I can snag up an ARC, it’s even less often that I get something I totally fall in love with. Caryn has accomplished both of those tasks. I’m giving this one five stars. It’s not perfect, but it’s damn good. Donn’s Hill is on Amazon, and everywhere else too, I’m sure.
It starts off all innocent. Okay, not totally innocent, I think the cover is enough to reveal the spooky nature of the story, that begins on page on as Mackenzie rolls toward her destiny in the back of a pick-up truck. The prose however is very innocent looking. It’s not the kind of reading that makes you think that it’s going to suck you in, but sure enough, every time I started reading, I would look up hours later and wonder what happened. The story cruises along at exactly the right pace to keep you interested.
Mackenzie has a weird experience at the cruddy motel she’s chosen to stay at, the night before she walks into Donn’s Hill looking for a new life. She’s carrying a lot of baggage and stress. Her dad just died, and she returned from the funeral early to find her beau in bed with another woman. What a run of luck. That luck starts to return as a new feline companion decides to adopt her almost immediately. In this case, it seems the cat was the one to pick up a stray.
With the festival right around the bend, this creepy little town is gearing up to bring tourists in for ghost stories and séances, because what other kind of festival would you have in the most haunted town in America? She even finds the perfect place to crash, and makes a couple of new friends, as she struggles to pull herself out of the shell she’s been hiding in for so many years. She never suspects that things are about to get all too real, and things she once considered hocus pocus will soon be knocking on her doorstep.
Okay, so we all know that no story is perfect, and this one is no different. I loved the hell out of it, though. The characters are incredibly well-developed and carefully crafted. Even the shallow characters seem to have a decent amount of back story, just like shallow characters in real life. There was one old man that struck me as a sort of odd-ball that could have been done better, but everyone else, from the crafty cat to the standoffish deputy mayor came across real. No overacting or out-of-place behavior. The characters fully owned everything that they did.
If you hate loose ends, there will be one or two at the end, but the main story arc closes tightly. The story twists and weaves through a creative structure that makes sense, but Caryn still throws you for a good loop every once in a while. The ending makes sense, but it’s definitely not the ending you will suspect. I thought I had figured out one secret pretty early on, but even when it came to bear in the text, my theory was eventually shot down. It reads less like a horror novel and more like a mystery, making a solid composite of the two genres. The thing I really love is that nobody in this story, not even the ghosts, are inherently good or evil, they all have their reasons, as they should. Everyone has a motive, and a personality. Did I mention I liked the characters? In the end, there are one or two things that aren’t quite tied up, but they aren’t part of the core story line, and it’s just enough speculation to keep someone like me thinking for a bit after I put the book down. Maybe not for everyone, but I love having things to speculate about after the last page.
The writing was mostly good. I didn’t agree with the sentence choices and flow, but I can hardly call it bad writing. It was good, it held my attention, and even some redundant words here and there didn’t detract from the story. This is a personal thing. We all have writing that we fall in love with and writing that we hate, so a fair in this category isn’t enough to bump the star rating. Caryn did the job of telling an awesome story, but I would have preferred a few less pronouns and less reflection on the narrators part. The upside is that I wasn’t beat over the head with it. Just a couple spots that made me think, “Did you really need that sentence?” Again, it’s a style thing. I’m sure slower readers, or one-chapter per day types would love to get those little reminders, but like I said, the book is just hard to put down once you start reading, so they seemed redundant.
Overall, like I said at the top. I happily give this book five stars. I’m very picky about my fiction stories, and even then, I tend not to read them very fast (unless they are novellas). So just by the fact that I was entertained enough to keep turning pages, and put off other stuff to get reading time in, should speak volumes to the value of this story. It was wonderful, and I love reviewing great books. Well done Caryn.
A little about the author…
Caryn Larrinaga is a Basque-American mystery, horror, and fantasy writer living in Utah with her husband and cats. Despite obtaining a degree in Anthropology (which is much cooler than you might think), she explored several career paths before deciding that she had to follow her passion. Suddenly, writing fiction was the only thing that made sense.
Watching scary movies through split fingers terrified Caryn as a child and inspires her to write now. She lives in a 90-year-old house with a colorful history, and the creaking walls and narrow hallways send her running (never walking) up the stairs from her basement whenever she has no other choice but to go down there. Exploring her fears through writing makes Caryn feel a little bit less foolish for wanting a buddy to accompany her into the tool shed.
When her fingers aren’t glued to her laptop keyboard, Caryn also enjoys binge-watching superhero television shows, reading, playing video games, and filling up her phone’s flash memory with pictures of her cats. She loves music, and plays the bass guitar.
More about her on her website: http://www.carynlarrinaga.com/