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Gina Royal is the definition of average—a shy Midwestern housewife with a happy marriage and two adorable children. But when a car accident reveals her husband’s secret life as a serial killer, she must remake herself as Gwen Proctor—the ultimate warrior mom.

With her ex now in prison, Gwen has finally found refuge in a new home on remote Stillhouse Lake. Though still the target of stalkers and Internet trolls who think she had something to do with her husband’s crimes, Gwen dares to think her kids can finally grow up in peace.

But just when she’s starting to feel at ease in her new identity, a body turns up in the lake—and threatening letters start arriving from an all-too-familiar address. Gwen Proctor must keep friends close and enemies at bay to avoid being exposed—or watch her kids fall victim to a killer who takes pleasure in tormenting her. One thing is certain: she’s learned how to fight evil. And she’ll never stop.

I have read almost all books by Rachel Caine – and loved every single one. Most of her work though falls under the banner of urban fantasy.

The Stillhouse Lake series though, is different – a mystery that is equal parts horror and thriller, the books keeps you on the edge of your seat. 

The premise is rather straightforward: This is the story of the wife and kids of a serial killer – and what happens to them after he is discovered. 

This is not an easy story and these are not easy characters to create. Rachel Caine manages to do so flawlessly. Her characters are real, they have background stories, they have personalities, they have flaws and above all, they are human.  

Gina Royal had the ‘normal’ life – a stay-at-home mom of two kids with a ‘good’ husband. After all, if your husband is perfect all the time and the only thing you have to respect is his need for space – then it is a pretty good deal. Of course, the need for space involved giving up on the garage – but that was a small price to pay in Gina’s opinion.

But Melvin Royal was no normal, good husband and his ‘space’ was the place where he butchered young women. He was/is a serial killer and Gina and the kids were his unwitting camouflage. That all comes crashing down right at the beginning of Stillhouse Lake and the actual story starts a few years later.

The story is mostly told from Gina’s perspective and it is heartbreaking and brave in equal measure. She has picked up the pieces of her life, even though most of the world thinks she must have helped her serial killer husband even though the courts have exonerated her. 

She is no longer Gina Royal. She is Gwen Proctor, a fiercely protective mother who  will do anything to keep her children safe from the shadow of their father and his crimes.

It is from here that we move on, along with Gwen, as she and the kids, Lanny (15) and Connor (11), finally build a home in Stillhouse Lake. For the first time in years – they start putting down roots, trusting their surroundings and thinking that the past might finally be behind them.

Of course, that is when the murders start. The MO is the same as that of Melvin Royal – and the bodies are being dumped in Stillhouse Lake – practically Gwen’s backyard. And Gwen’s world starts crashing down.

I can actually wax poetic about how well this book is written, about how real it is – the characters, the setting and the situations – and I would still not do a good enough job.

The characters are real. The situations make complete sense. There is mystery, a hell of a plot and a sense of horror and foreboding throughout the book – because you know that this could have happened to anyone, that this could be anyone. And that is the biggest draw of all, to be able to see yourself in Gina and to hope like hell that we too can reforge ourselves into Gwen.

For Killman Creek, the second book in the series, I got the ARC from NetGalley.

BEWARE: SPOILERS AHEAD.

Killman Creek starts 12 days from where Stillhouse Lake left off.

Melvin Royal is on the loose and Gwen and the kids are on the run, again. There is just one major difference. They are no longer alone. Now they have friends – trustworthy, good people who proved themselves worthy of Gwen’s trust in Stillhouse Lake.

There is a lot on the line. Gwen needs to protect the kids – but she can no longer hide. After all, Absalom has betrayed her and she knows it is only a matter of time before Melvin catches up to her. No matter how far she runs, she just cannot seem to be rid of Melvin and so finally she makes a decision.

Gina ran. Gina was prey.

Gwen will stand and fight and hunt.

This book is different from the first – Gwen and Sam are working together. There are people who Gwen can trust and who trust her in return. But the suspense, the plot, is just as well executed as it was in the previous book – there are layers upon layers to the mystery.

Is it just about the cult following of one serial killer, or is it something much, much bigger than that? With the FBI involved, the hunt for Melvin is on – only problem is – Melvin is also hunting them and he too has friends in high places.

This is an excellent book, a perfectly done sequel to Stillhouse Lake. The book is told from several POVs – all as unique as the characters that Caine has built. We understand motivations, thought processes and above all we can see what is happening as if it is literally happening in front of us. The read is as real and visceral as it can be.

There is a thread of horror woven through the thrill – the depths of human depravity bared for all to see. But there are the good guys – the ones who fight against ridiculous odds – and the struggle of one woman to reinvent herself, overcome her past and raise her children well. There is a scene (of both the kids separately) near the end – which felt poignant even though it is in the middle of escalating terror and horror – where you see just how far Gwen, and the kids, have all come. She has succeeded on many accounts but that felt like her biggest victory to me: She had managed to take those kids and make them independent, intelligent and brave individuals.
You cannot help but root for her!

I would highly recommend both books!

Killman Creek comes out in a month – so I would suggest reading Stillhouse Lake now and letting it simmer under your skin until then, or do a binge read of both together.

 
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Parrots: The Highlight Reel

https://static01.nyt.com/video/players/offsite/index.html?videoId=100000004330501

And the post, responses to which, led to this reel:

Parrots Are a Lot
More Than ‘Pretty Bird’

Video  —  Posted: September 13, 2017 by Arushi in Uncategorized

People do not change over night. You do not, you cannot, wake up one day and choose to be different than who you are. But you can change over time, gradually, sometimes so slowly, that you are a different person even before you realize it.

That realization comes later, from a word, a gesture or a thought. And it is quite profound when it comes.

I am a very open person. Whatever is happening in my life is known to multiple people at any given point in time. If they ever get together, they can weave a very detailed tapestry of my life.

It is here, on my blog, that I have been more reserved. People find it easier to speak out anonymously. I find it easier to share with people I know. No more. I made this blog so as to speak out. The only thing that has truly held me back is what I read somewhere – that once the words are out, they do not belong to the author, they belong to every reader and the interpretation is no longer what the author thought, but what the reader reads.

I have been depressed for nearly two years. It was a slide downhill ever since I got married. Discussing my marriage is not what I want to do today. But I learned a lot of things. I finally ‘grew up’. I lost the naivete and innocence I had had – without even realizing it. I was a shiny penny who thought the world only reflects yourself back to you. I learned that is not the case – and that I am a fool who trusts and loves too easily.

I am old school in all the wrong ways in a world which has moved forward. It sounds like so much self-justification but I am not listing my crimes or what was done to me. I have now felt real loneliness and I would never wish it on anyone. I have felt unrequited love and I hope no one has to go through this.

And I have changed. Today, I ranted on facebook:

To everyone wishing a #happywomensday and using said wishes to define women: a woman is a woman is a woman. Period. Its biology, not a mental state of being. Get over yourselves. I am a woman and I can celebrate that even if I am the worst excuse for a human being. Being a woman is not about being strong, managing family, having kids, having ANYTHING specific in fact, except ovaries (and not even that if you are trans). I will not celebrate getting out stronger when faced by problems, being the gentle and kind one. I refuse. Being a woman does not mean taking the high road. I am so so done with that.
Okay, rant over.

Because I am done. I changed. I am stronger, and it might be good in the long run – but I miss that innocence which I had. I miss my belief that the world was a genuinely good place – and that everyone has good intent, even if their actions do not match. I may have been a fool – but ignorance truly was bliss.

I have great friends. I have a very loving and supporting family. I have a doctor who listens to me. I have people who are willing to put everything aside and be there for me. I have that and now I know just how lucky I am to have it. I know that I was in situations where I could have been in real danger, except I was lucky that the people with me were decent human beings.

It is not about men vs. women. It is not about birth parents vs. in-laws. It is not even a husband vs. his wife. It is about nothing except fighting your own battles because no one else will do it for you. It is about growing up – because ignorance might be bliss, but at the end of the day, ignorance will only ensure that someone fools you.

I have grown up and it is today I am realizing that I have also grown a lot stronger. I knew the words, but now I finally believe: My happiness is my responsibility. My life is my responsibility. The world owes me nothing and it is up to me to make the best of the life I have been given.

I plan to keep growing, keep learning. I will not regain that naivete, but I will rebuild my belief that the world is a good place. I have changed and change is neither good or bad, it just is.

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In a land governed by the cruel Frostblood ruling class, seventeen-year-old Ruby is a Fireblood who has spent most of her life hiding her ability to manipulate heat and light – until the day the soldiers come to raid her village and kill her mother. Ruby vows revenge on the tyrannous Frost King responsible for the massacre of her people.

But Ruby’s powers are unpredictable…and so are the feelings she has for Arcus, the scarred, mysterious Frostblood warrior who shares her goal to kill the Frost King, albeit for his own reasons. When Ruby is captured by the Frost King’s men, she’s taken right into the heart of the enemy. Now she only has one chance to destroy the maniacal ruler who took everything from her – and in doing so, she must unleash the powers she’s spent her whole life withholding.

Frostblood is set in world where flame and ice are mortal enemies – but together create a power that could change everything.

I actually liked Frostblood by Elly Blake quite a bit.

It is a fast read. The writing style is clean and the story flows very smoothly. There are many of the tropes generally associated with fantasy YA – magically powerful but untrained female protagonist, brooding male lead, end of the world prophecy and of course, an evil king. But it retains a freshness, mainly due to the author’s writing style and because the book is not gritty but rather has a fairytale-esque quality to it – which makes it charming rather than typical.

I had guessed the main twist quite early on in the book, but still the start of the second part brought some surprises. The book also has a feel good factor – most people, when given a choice – choose to be good. I think that makes the book feel lighter than it actually is. There is decent character development of the protagonist, and some nice touches in regards to the other characters as well. I would have preferred them to be more fleshed out, but they are more than caricatures – and the second book might have quite a few things in store. Plus, the book has a somewhat definitive, happy ending. That was so good to have.

It will be a definite favorite with people who have just gotten into this genre (or want to check it out) and also good for people who are a bit tired of all the brutality/murder/grit (you get the idea).

Stop!!

Posted: January 30, 2017 by Arushi in Thoughts
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What are we doing??

Can you not hear the screaming? The shouting, the wails? The voices going hoarse and yet not stopping?

History repeats itself, they say. But it is not history. It is us. We are making the same mistakes again.

There are so many of us, screaming, shouting, fighting, every way we can to make it stop! Stop!!! We cry, but so many others have turned deaf, mute and blind. They think this is the way. They have forgotten what history tells us. Maybe they have an alternate-history as well.

This is how it started. The pogroms, the segregation, the slights, the insults – veiled at first – but gaining momentum. It started with a few but it went on and and on and on… until it was no longer murder – until it became genocide.

How can we not see it coming? Once it starts, it does not just stop. You have to stop it. YOU have to MAKE it stop!

How did we forget our history so quickly? It has not even been a century since we let millions be murdered and swept it under the rug of genocide – because that word is still easier on the ears than the reality of the brutal, terrible deeds that were done in the name of the greater good.

For any who think it is not our problem, I say, not yet. But it will be.

The holocaust happened. It did.

War crimes still occur. Child soldiers still exist. Rapes are so common that I have no words. There is probably a mass grave being filled with rotting unclaimed bodies right now – no one left alive to even mourn.

This is happening.

Do not think we in our ‘sacred land’ will be safe. Do not forget. We have endured this too. Do not say we are natives while they are interlopers, we were interlopers once too.

First there was someone, then others came and pushed them down. They ruled, they crushed and centuries passed. We say we are of this earth – but we were interlopers. There was someone here before us. So we have no right to say it to others. When others came and conquered us – they did so with their might. We lost and they ruled. Why quibble about it now when more centuries have passed?

Now when we are a democracy – when we all rule – none of us is an interloper. Everyone we welcome, we gain something from. Giving home and hearth, welcoming someone who comes seeking aid – this is something embellished in EVERY ancient text, in EVERY religion.

It is now when we have to stand strong. Standing against a breeze is easy, but now the gale is coming and we have to stand up to it before it becomes a cyclone.

A cyclone does not pick and choose its victims, it brutalizes all in its path.

Asking for it.

Posted: January 4, 2017 by Arushi in Thoughts
Tags:

Until last night, I used to think I was a fairly liberal person. That I would never fall for the usual, that I knew what was right and what was wrong. That I understood the concept of consent, that I understood what was okay and what was not. I knew that no one asks for it.

And then yesterday happened.

On new year’s eve, at a party, a man kissed me. A man I did not want to kiss. I did not fight, I did not say no, I was so surprised and it was over before I even realized what was going on.

I walked out of that room and straight to my partner. But he was busy and I could not be alone. So I went to my friends who held me. Who told me it was okay. To ignore it all and not let it get to me.

Later that night, I did tell my partner.

Two days ago, we had that conversation again. He said he’d forgotten I told him anything of the sort. So I told him again. I answered what he asked. He said he’d talk to his friend ‘in his own way’.

Yesterday he did. The friend called me. Called us both, repeatedly. Said he was scared, he did not want to lose his friendship with my partner. That my partner was taking this ‘too seriously’, that it was nothing, that I had asked him for it.

I don’t know what happened to the person I thought I was at that time. I didn’t know what to say. I agreed I had teased him, I had said things, but those were outside, sitting with him on separate couches. I had never asked for it.

But I did not want to be the one to cause a rift in their friendship. The only refrain in my head was Yoko Ono. Again and again, that is all I heard. I did not want to be the one who became a reason for a friendship to end.

I felt terrible for telling my partner. I felt terrible in general.

He kept saying he had no ‘intention’ behind it. He kept saying I had asked for it. That I had said ‘it’s just a kiss’ in the conversation outside – something which I did not remember saying. My partner said there was a world of difference between ‘its just a kiss’ and ‘kiss me’. I didn’t say anything, so lost in my own misery at being put in this particular spotlight. My partner became so frustrated with me. “What do you want from me?” he asked when I kept saying I didn’t wanna be the reason their friendship ended.

I kept feeling guilty. I felt sick to my stomach. I wanted to just curl up under a blanket and for the whole world to go away. But that is not how things go. I was in office. There was work to be done. Afterwards, I just could not go home. So I went to my brother instead.

And as I parked my car, I realized what I was doing. I was blaming myself.

I was doing exactly to myself what I have been completely against others doing to anyone. It did not matter what I had said. Because if he was doing what I had asked, he should have done it when I had asked it. Why would he wait till I entered another, dark room where he happened to be. Instead of constantly claiming that I ‘had asked for it’ or that he had not had any wrong ‘intention’ he should have apologized.

I do not want to blame him. In fact, I actually don’t blame him. Maybe he did think I had asked him. Maybe his intentions were the purest they can be during such a situation. It did only last a few seconds. He hadn’t forced me in anyway, because well, he didn’t need to. By the time I had even realized what was happening, it was over.

Even now, it is so deeply ingrained in me that I am giving him the best of the benefit of the doubt, even when I showed myself no such mercy.

Yet, finally it has started to sink in. I read something that summed it up for me:

My delayed reaction had put the validity of my sentiment in question. I tried explaining that one can’t immediately confront a situation for which one is unprepared. One doesn’t want to be hasty; one has to be sure one isn’t misinterpreting things. And yet, every time a woman is harassed, physically, emotionally, or sexually, it comes up – If it is true, what took you so long?

I do not think I was harassed. I do not think I was abused. But I know something was not right.

Because I know, no matter what anyone said to me, ever, I would not do the same thing to them.

I didn’t know what to say, how to react. How do you react to something like this?
I could only feel. My heart was pounding, my breathing was starting to become erratic. This had to stop. I laid a hand on the center of his chest. I could feel his diaphragm expanding as he breathed me in. That was it, and I knew I was lost.

I took a step forward and he smiled. That smile that Nickelback wrote about in Rockstar – ‘They’ll get you anything With that evil smile ’.

And then he slipped away, ephemeral, a dream, an imagination.

But he was there, I could see him still. I moved forward again, the smile became wicked, I was in his arms but he had sucked his lips in. There would be no kisses for me. That was okay. My lips were painted red. We would have ended up looking like clowns. I held him tight, and he held me. I felt so safe and oh so warm inside.

With another smile he let me go, and I walked away.

Smiling at my dream, buoyed by the idea of a man who may not exist, but was terribly real in that one moment.