Mimi Jones Hedwig 

Writer, Editor, Animal Advocate

Book review blog

Holidays from Hell

Posted by mhedwig on June 18, 2020 at 2:45 PM

For lovers of stories about celebratory getaways gone fatally wrong, here are two books that may even make the reader see the upside of staying safe at home as we wait out the COVID 19 pandemic. 

The Return by Rachel Harrison is great fun, a praiseworthy debut in the grossout horror genre. Suspenseful and atmospheric. Four twenty-something friends whose post-college lives have taken them far apart from one another reunite in a quirky Catskill Mountain spa hotel. Each of the guest rooms has themed, over-the-top decor ("Lenore," with its Poe-inspired red and black furnishings, turns out to be an appropriate environment for Julie, who disappeared two years earlier and now is back, with no memory of where she's been or what happened to her. But she is disturbingly changed: once a vegetarian, now she devours meat at every meal, and her physical state is alarmingly unwell: she is odorous, emaciated, prone to losing hair and even teeth. The happy reunion weekend turns into a grisly nightmare.

The four friends are believable, individual. The main focus is on loyal  Elise’s intimate friendship with, and refusal to give up on, the grotesquely altered Julie. I look forward to this author’s next. (PS: just sayin’, I hope nobody is tempted to make a movie of this; ghastly visuals!)


The Guest List  by Lucy Foley merits, in my opinion, five stars in its genre: atmospheric ensemble murder mystery. Other reviews have compared it to Agatha Christie‘s Murder on the Orient Express.

Just about everyone in the wedding party for magazine editor Jules and “Survive the Night” TV star Will has a reason to hate the person who, during the stormy wedding night on a remote Irish island, gets murdered. The real surprise is the one who winds up committing the deed. 

Evocative setting, well drawn characters with interesting backstories, and clues so deftly placed that I wanted to go back and reread it just to see how Foley brought it off, all add up to an immersive read. 

Both books go down as easy as tart, sweet lemonade on a summer day -- and yet each treats serious themes. The Return examines the intense friendships of young women and asks what the appropriate boundaries of caring and loyalty should be. The Guest List probes the secret chambers of the human heart where grief, resentment, jealousy, and the urge for revenge reside, as perfectly preserved as the ancient corpses entombed in the peat bog of the wedding venue's eerie Irish landscape.  

Categories: Fiction