Hemlock Island By Kelley Armstrong- Summary
Hemlock Island By Kelley Armstrong Goodreads Summary (Review below- there will be spoilers):
Laney Kilpatrick has been renting her vacation home to strangers. The invasion of privacy gives her panic attacks, but it’s the only way she can keep her beloved Hemlock Island, the only thing she owns after a pandemic-fueled divorce. But broken belongings and campfires that nearly burn down the house have escalated to bloody bones, hex circles, and now, terrified renters who’ve fled after finding blood and nail marks all over the guest room closet, as though someone tried to claw their way out…and failed.
When Laney shows up to investigate with her teenage niece in tow, she discovers that her ex, Kit, has also been informed and is there with Jayla, his sister and her former best friend. Then Sadie, another old high school friend, charters over with her brother, who’s now a cop.
There are tensions and secrets, whispers in the woods, and before long, the discovery of a hand poking up from the earth. Then the body that goes with it… But by that time, someone has taken off with their one and only means off the island, and they’re trapped with someone—or something—that doesn’t want them leaving the island alive.
*Yes, there will be spoilers, especially in reasons #4 and #5, because I had to talk about it, and there was no way to do so without spoilers.*
Reason #1 – Kelley Armstrong
Yes. Kelley Armstrong, in and of herself, is a reason to read Hemlock Island. This, her first full-length horror novel (correct me if I’m wrong, please), solidifies her as not a jack of all trades but a master of all trades. She is a prolific writer with multiple series across multiple genres. My first introduction to Kelley Armstrong was the Rip In Time Series (see review of Poisner’s Ring -linked), and I immediately wanted to interview her (interview linked). She writes fiction, historical fiction, historical fantasy, romance, and crime. Now add horror to the list. And add it to the list in bold type because she NAILED it.
So yes, just because Kelley Armstrong writes it, it should be an indicator to read the book. She is now an auto-buy for me (except for romance- which is a me thing).
Reason #2 – Ever Just Feel Your Spine Stiffen
Ever read a book, especially a horror novel, and literally feel your spine stiffen? Welp. It wasn’t my spine. It was the entirety of every cell that makes up my body. And it wasn’t one instance. During most of the second half of the book (not that there is anything wrong with the first half, not at all. It was just all leading to the second half, but I’ll get to the pacing in a bit). My entire body stiffened, and the boy kept looking at me and asking if I was okay. He said I kept grimacing. Every time he asked, that grimace became a scowl because he interrupted me. So, he went back to eating dinner. Yes, I did listen to Hemlock Island in one day, including through dinner. I just couldn’t stop it. Admittedly, I will say there were a couple of times I even jumped when he said something to me because of what was happening in Hemlock Island.
To go back to the first half of the book, you learn bits and pieces about each character’s past. On this point, I won’t spoil anything. Suffice it to say that the reveals about those bits and pieces add another layer of gasp factor to the horrors that come around. Kelley Armstrong dives straight into the deep end with Hemlock Island and doesn’t let you go.
Thank you to St. Martin’s Press and Macmillan Audio for an advanced copy of Hemlock Island, currently out in the wild.
Reason #3- Atmospheric/Claustrophobic
Oh, yes, it is both. Kelley Armstrong creates an atmospheric/claustrophobic atmosphere, not through just the obvious. The obvious is stranding them on the island, a storm coming in, and people dying. Oh. Before I move on, let me be clear that this isn’t some locked room/island getaway thriller. NOPE. This is entirely different from that trend, and it is horror, not thriller, back to the claustrophobic, atmospheric feeling. Kelley Armstrong brings Hemlock Island to life with in-depth descriptions of not just the look of the island but the feel of it. And. HOW the island feels.
Reason #4- The Main Character
Moreover, Hemlock Island is certainly not just the book’s setting. It is a whole-ass character. In fact, I would venture that Hemlock Island is the main character. And it is PISSED. This also adds to all the mysteries building up to the ending. Since Kit bought the island for Laney after it had been deserted for many years and their marriage fell apart, it adds a sense of mystery and a tidbit of clues. This is all provided THROUGH Hemlock Island itself.
Additionally, when you get towards the end (spoilers), you realize just how alive Hemlock Island is, which has caused so much pain. And it all goes back to when the island was bought by Kit for Laney. I am not going to spoil everything. You’ll have to read to get why.
Reason #5- When Nature Claps Back (MAJOR SPOILERS)
Okay. I’m not sure if I would call the ending paranormal, but I guess you could. I wouldn’t. This all comes down to mother nature being pissed off about being disturbed, desecrated, and unprotected. That might sound ho-hum, but oh hell, it is not. I’m not going to say why it felt that way. Again, I’m not going to spoil all things. But the why is EVERYTHING.
I’m not facing a person. I’m not even facing an evil entity. I know that whatever the spirit is, it goes beyond good or evil. It is above good or evil. It is nature, and its justice is blind.
And when Laney faces off with nature, it is not just horrific but wrought with emotion. Because Hemlock Island has been built up to the main character in the story, you feel its pain, disappointment, and sense of revenge. You don’t just worry about Laney, Madison, Kit, and Jayla. You fear for the island, and that is some kind of something.
*For audiobook fiends- Hemlock Island is narrated by Angela Dawes, who is always just brilliant. Here is a link to my interview with her. I’ve always loved her but never heard her do horror, let alone the necessary talent to pull off the ending, but she does it. She kills it.