Mini reviews: popular horror books that didn’t work for me (but might for you!) — Kill River, Just Like Mother, and Strangers

July 17, 2023

TITLE: Kill River
AUTHOR: Cameron Roubique
GENRE: Horror
AGE RANGE: Young Adult? Adult?
PAGES: 348pg

They thought they had the whole water park to themselves. They were wrong…

In the summer of 1983, thirteen-year-old Cyndi and her three new-found friends Stacy, Zack, and Brad decide to sneak away from their summer camp in the middle of the night by rafting down the nearby rivers. After spending a tense night lost in the woods, the four teenagers stumble into a mysterious water park that appears to be completely empty.

At first, they are thrilled to have the rides all to themselves, at least until one of them disappears. Soon they discover that they are trapped in the park, and a dark figure is stalking them from the shadows, picking them off one by one. Once night falls, Cyndi will have to fight to escape the park, a masked maniac, and a living nightmare.

Kill River is a wild water park ride filled with blood, gore, and ’80s nostalgia. Slasher fans rejoice, old-school horror is back!

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Sometimes, you spend a long time anticipating a book on your TBR, convinced it’s going to be perfect for you, and you finally get to it… and it’s a total bust, and you hate every moment of it. Unfortunately, Kill River was one of those books for me.

I love campy 80s slashers, I love summer camp horror, and I love horror books involving theme parks/carnivals/etc., so honestly, this was a perfect formula, but something about the execution left me wanting so much more. Far too much time was spent on character development and build-up that was honestly annoying and didn’t matter in the end; I wasn’t here for watching a bunch of 13-year-olds fall in puppy love, I was here for hack’em slash’em bloody goodness!

Aside from how slow the book felt and how little of these 345 pages were dedicated to the action, I also generally didn’t enjoy the characters, writing, or action scenes much at all. I can see why this book works so well for a lot of people, especially with the 80s references woven throughout, but in the end, I was left wishing it had been about half as long and twice as scary.

content warnings →
WARNINGS (click to expand):

violence, gore, murder, ableism, slur usage

representation →

TITLE: Just Like Mother
AUTHOR: Anne Heltzel
GENRE: Horror/Thriller
PAGES: 320pg

A girl would be such a blessing…

The last time Maeve saw her cousin was the night she escaped the cult they were raised in. For the past two decades, Maeve has worked hard to build a normal life in New York City, where she keeps everything—and everyone—at a safe distance.

When Andrea suddenly reappears, Maeve regains the only true friend she’s ever had. Soon she’s spending more time at Andrea’s remote Catskills estate than in her own cramped apartment. Maeve doesn’t even mind that her cousin’s wealthy work friends clearly disapprove of her single lifestyle. After all, Andrea has made her fortune in the fertility industry—baby fever comes with the territory.

The more Maeve immerses herself in Andrea’s world, the more disconnected she feels from her life back in the city; and the cousins’ increasing attachment triggers memories Maeve has fought hard to bury. But confronting the terrors of her childhood may be the only way for Maeve to transcend the nightmare still to come…

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On one hand, I still can’t put my finger on what is inherently “wrong” with this book for me, aside from having predicted every single twist pretty far in advance.

On the other hand, this book singlehandedly put me into a terrible reading slump for over a week and I’m still having the hardest time figuring out why.

I’m not sure if I’ll ever give this a full review, tbh. It wasn’t a bad book, it just left me feeling incredibly conflicted and with a weirdly bad taste in my mouth. I originally gave it 3 stars, but after dwelling on it a while longer, have decided to lower it to 2.

Thank you to the publisher for the review copy! All thoughts are honest and my own.

content warnings →
WARNINGS (click to expand):

misogyny, forced pregnancy, forced parenthood, rape (multiple scenes), abuse, murder, imprisonment, child abuse, child death, grief, infant loss

representation →

BIPOC side characters

TITLE: Strangers (I Am Legion, #1)
AUTHOR: Michaelbrent Collings
GENRE: Horror
PAGES: 374pg

You wake up in the morning to discover that you have been sealed into your home. The doors are locked, the windows are barred. THERE’S NO WAY OUT.

A madman is playing a deadly game with you and your family. A game with no rules, only consequences. So what do you do? Do you run? Do you hide?


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I wish I had liked this book, especially because I love the home invasion trope and have been looking for a book lately with that theme that would hit the spot for me… but this wasn’t it. While the gore and violence were fairly intense at times, I never felt like the events playing out were “high stakes” enough because I couldn’t bring myself to be bothered by anything bad happening to any of the characters (especially Jerry, the father and main character).

While some of the problems I had with Strangers revolved around the writing and the unlikable characters, the major issue I had was with each family member’s big “secret” that the Killer was essentially punishing them for. The dad’s secret was played out way too long for a very predictable reveal, the son’s secret was not that big of a deal comparatively, and the daughter’s secret was steeped in so much misogyny it made me cringe. I won’t spoil it, but Jerry’s reaction to his daughter’s secret was honestly repulsive (even to the point of him thinking about how he doesn’t love his daughter anymore due to a COMPLETELY HARMLESS secret) and made me hate his character so much. #Justice4Sheri please.

Oh, and the mom’s secret and how she reacts to basically everything in that scene? Genuinely the most unrealistic, ridiculous thing I’ve read in a long time. I’m sorry, but I honestly don’t think 99.9% of mothers would make the mistakes that she makes in that moment (IYKYK) and I wasn’t able to suspend disbelief at all during any of it.

I hate to sound so negative because I’ve been wanting to read this author’s work for a while, he seems like such a nice guy and SO many of his books’ plots sound awesome, but this was just an all-around terrible reading experience. That said, Goodreads says Strangers was one of Collings’ first books, so I’m absolutely going to give a newer release of his a chance in hopes that I’ll enjoy his more recent work better. As far as this book goes, I sadly cannot recommend it.

content warnings →
WARNINGS (click to expand):

violence, murder, gore, suicide, family loss, grief, infidelity, vehicular manslaughter, sex work and anti-SW commentary, misogyny, drug abuse, home invasion, kidnapping, drugging without consent, torture, graphic descriptions of a dead pet

representation →



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More about Destiny @ Howling Libraries

Just a horror aficionado/geek girl trying to juggle motherhood, reading, blogging, gaming, and everyday life.

    1. No so sad to see about Kill River. I solely want to read it based on the cover & that it takes place in a water park. I too want a good bloody mess.

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