Member Reviews

Thank you to Quirk Books and NetGalley for the digital ARC!

This Wretched Valley is a horror that follows 4 people - Clay, Sylvia, Dylan and Luke. Clay is doing his PhD and believes he's found a new, undiscovered climbing area that he wants to study for his research. Sylvia is a botanist who also wants to do research in this area. Dylan is an aspiring professional climber who wants to be the first to discover new routes, and Luke is her boyfriend.

If you're wondering why Luke doesn't have more to him, it's because he doesn't. He's basically there to make sure she doesn't fall and whine about his dog.

The area they go to is unusual because it looks exactly like another climbing area and has somehow never been discovered. What is different about this book is that it starts out in the present, with the police finding the remains of Luke, Sylvia and Clay in bizarre ways that they can't explain. Sylvia has no flesh or organs yet Clay and Luke look like they've only just been killed - this is months after they went missing.

Everything seems normal when they get to the climbing spot, but pretty quickly things start getting odd. Sylvia notes the prevalence of deadly plants and plants that don't even belong I Kentucky, Dylan has an almost preternatural urge to climb the rock and Luke is obsessing over his dog, who runs off. Why they don't listen to Slade when he's quite clearly unhappy? No idea.

The first half of the book is very slow, and felt like a slog to get through. Luke was annoying and whiny, and Clay was annoying and egotistical. Dylan was okay, but just too obsessed with climbing. Sylvia was...fine...though I don't get why she was so normal about the weird amount of deadly plants when she's a botanist but sure.

The second half is when things get spicy. They start seeing things in the forest, they can't get out, everything seems to be looped and they get progressively more paranoid.

Overall, this was okay but it didn't do it for me. It was too slow and I found myself not caring about the characters. I didn't care if any of them lived, I didn't care if they didn't. You get little flashbacks of events that have happened over the centuries in this area, and I feel this would make a good horror film. It was just a bit too slow for my liking.

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In the tradition of THE DESCENT and THE RUINS comes THIS WRETCHED VALLEY, a horror novel set in uncharted woods south of Kentucky's famed climbing and hiking paradise, Red River Gorge.

The graphic descriptions of both the woods and what they find there will haunt readers. Or gross them out. And Kiefer doesn't ease into it: The first few pages in particular are straight-up gore-core. Don't make the mistake I made and read this right before bed. And definitely don't take it with you on vacation to a cabin in the woods. Read it on the beach, in the bright sunlight!

The four friends whose POVs we cycle through make poor choice after poor choice. Whether it's not packing an extra gear in case something fails (rope, hello?!?) or not carrying flashlights on some of their jaunts, they're constantly putting themselves in jeopardy. Some of this can be chalked up to the valley messing with their heads; some of it is just college kids being dumb. I can't say I was sad to see any of them go! (Not a spoiler, as their fates are foretold in the first chapter.) If you're looking for an entirely likable character to root for...there's the dog, Slade.

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Four climbers hike into the Kentucky wilderness. Seven months later, three mangled bodies are discovered. one body a stark, white skeleton; the second emptied of its organs; and the third a mutilated corpse with the tongue, eyes, ears, and fingers removed.

The cover and title of this book piqued my Interest and the synopsis sealed the deal!

The readers note added to my interest the book had me from the first page.

Everyone is stumped when they come across pristine bones a missing person and they go down the rabbit hole it of how on earth is the Skelton like that.

I love attention to detail! It’s keeping me very invested!

Can’t believe it was a debut! Will definitely need checking out more from this author.

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This one started strong but unfortunately it fell a bit apart about a third of the way in. The characters were never fully formed so when everything went awry with their trip, it was hard to feel sympathy. I was also a bit confused on the ghosts and flashbacks, as they seemed to detract from the story more than help it. Thanks to NetGalley for a chance to read and review this book.

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Ever since I read The Abominable, I fell in love with climbing horror stories. So when I saw this one, I HAD to have it. I finished the book in roughly two days, so that says something. Good pacing, good tension, it properly had me hooked, even though there was a dog and I was bracing myself for something traumatic (however, the dog lives! Half a star solely for that!).

Speaking of traumatic, as other reviewers have pointed out, I have issues with the first aid administered in this story. If this was something reflecting the effect of the valley on people (or simply Sylvia's limited knowledge- you don't give aspirin on head/crushing injuries, you never put warm compresses on anything broken/sprained etc), it should have been shown more clearly. I want to be clear that it's the <i>character</i> that doesn't know what to do, not the author.

The characters were intriguing enough, if not overly developed, although in stories like this, the real protagonist is the sinister whatever that is hunting them. I liked the concept of <spoiler>a cursed pocket dimension</spoiler>, it would make the perfect backdrop for a series, actually, as we needed more; more resolution, more information, an ending as captivating as the exquisite opening.

All things aside though, This Wretched Valley is a solid book that will definitely keep you glued to the pages and (most importantly) make you ask for more. Definitely recommended!

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3.5 Stars

The Good:
- The writing is outstanding. Very vivid, often disgusting descriptions. The scenes in which Dylan is climbing are a highlight, especially if you're like me and you're terrified of heights.
- The pacing and tension are good enough that I read this over the course of three days. It's a short book, so it doesn't overstay its welcome.
- That first page! I understand why the editor says, in her note, that she was hooked from the first sentence. Between that and the comps to the Dyatlov Pass mystery, there was no way I WOULDN'T pick up this book.
- The dog lives!

The Meh:
- The characters were a little one-note, but I'm usually okay with this in horror novels. It was forgivable.
- Dylan is somewhat inconsistent. Sometimes she has a massive ego and need for recognition, other times she just wants to be left alone with her climbing. I didn't buy it AT ALL when she epicly free solo'd the rock face and then decided to just... not tell anyone about it. Again, not a huge problem, but it did make me go "hmm."
- There's a weird amount of emphasis toward the end on the fact that Dylan can do 10 pull-ups. The book seems to think this is a lot, so much that her boyfriend (also a proficient climber) can't compete. In fact, he can only do three pull-ups. I... have never met a single man who goes to the gym regularly, let alone a CLIMBER, who can't do at LEAST ten pull-ups. This is a nitpick that will probably not matter to most people.

The Bad:
- The "reveal" of what's happening in the valley is extremely underwhelming. That stellar first page? Basically gives away the whole story. Despite the wonderful set-up and evocative writing, in the end, this is just another generic "people go to the wilderness, hallucinate, and turn on each other." It's been done before, and done a lot better. I'd been hoping for something creative: an eldritch horror, a prehistoric curse, or maybe even a "Time Trap"-esque sci-fi twist, but... nope. Just "land/ghosts are evil, people go crazy, and we will not explain why."
- The first aid. Dear GOD, the first aid. #JusticeforLuke, because his friends do a better job of murdering him than the evil forest. First of all: if an ankle is "fractured", that does in fact mean it's broken. The book presents these options like they're two different things. Second: the idea that you can't fall asleep with a concussion is a myth. Third: They give him ASPIRIN. Aspirin is an antiplatelet, which you should never give to a person with a head injury because it can make that potential brain bleed much worse. It's also pretty useless as a pain reliever. Fourth: the best treatment for a concussion is rest and low levels of stimulation. I'm pretty sure "dragging you and your injured leg through the woods for hours while yelling at each other" is the opposite of that. Trying to haul Luke with them instead of leaving him in a nice quiet tent while one or two people (moving much more quickly!) went for help might be the stupidest choice these people could have made (they do take this approach later, to be fair, but by then the damage is done).
I get that the woods were making them all insane, but a lot of this happened well before shit started to hit the fan. The narration also does a lot of lampshading, like "if so-and-so had been thinking clearly, they would have noticed xyz," and there's none of this regarding the first aid stuff. I also get that they're not trained professionals, but the book presents them as "experienced hikers", and I'd really like to know where Sylvia got that first-aid training she claims she's had.

ANYWAY. I might have forgiven all the nitpicky stuff, even the first aid, if the ending had been more interesting. That was easily the biggest problem with this book, even though I know it looks like I had a lot more to say about dumb stuff like pull-ups and concussions. I will absolutely check out whatever this author does next, because, like I said, the writing was great and the set-up was fantastic.

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3 stars

This book started off pretty strong but became too repetitive too quickly. I found myself not really wanting to finish. I did and it wasn’t super satisfying. Overall it’s an average/slightly below average reading experience for me.

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Unfortunately a miss for me, but I'm sure this book can find its audience. I found the premise to be very enticing, but the execution didn't work. The plot was structured in a weird, clumsy way. The writing itself was just okay. However, as I said, I'm sure this story could be loved by many other readers.

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I loved the premise and the start of the book had me absolutely hooked..... however..... it got a bit repetitive woth the whole characters stuck in a loop thing and the weird ghosts that just came to stare at them. Like what is your purpose weird falling apart ghosts?! It did such a good job of being all threatening and creepy and ominous and you don't know what's happening and then there's just an army of the dead who keep playing peekaboo? It got weird and killed the vibe. Also who drinks weird unidentified liquid from an old jar in the woods?! You know someone peed in that. Had potential but maybe should have left more to the imagination. Also not a lot of actual scary stuff happened..... other than going in circles and seeing the army of the dead spying on them every so often

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Thank you to NetGalley and Quirk Books for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Where do I start with This Wretched Valley? I enjoyed it so much that I read it in one sitting, in just a few hours because I could NOT put it down.

This Wretched Valley starts off with three dead bodies, all in different states of mutilation and decay. These bodies come from a group of four hikers who head to a valley in the Kentucky wilderness to explore the possibility of a new rock climbing trail. Clay is looking to conduct some research to finally get his PhD. His friend Sylvia, agrees to come along to help with his research. Newly-professional rock climber Dylan joins the trip so she can pioneer this new climbing trail, and boost her fledgling career. Her boyfriend Luke accompanies her to belay and provide moral support. As they begin their research, the quartet start to realize the forest is unsettlingly different from others they have visited.

Kiefer does not hesitate to introduce the suspense into the story, nor does she let her foot off the gas as the story progresses. While immediate danger is obvious- given that our introduction to the novel includes mutilated bodies- there is still an intensity to the more mundane motions the characters go through. This book will very much keep you on your toes!

The horror elements of this novel are also very well written. Without getting too much into spoiler territory, there’s no shortage of bloodiness or brutality. If you’re a fan of body horror or extreme gore you probably won’t find it too intense, but for me it was just enough.

My only nit-picky thing is that I found it to be a little trope-y at one point, where we find out early on that Native Americans knew to avoid the ground the group is venturing to, but they were happy to let colonizers utilize the land. It felt like it took a bit of the mystery of the land away, and I think the rest of the story would have been just as impactful if that were to be omitted; I don’t think we need to be told so outrightly that the land is dangerous and almost sentient.

Overall I immensely enjoyed this book, and would definitely recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good, atmospheric horror novel!

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Easily one of my most anticipated books.

First off - look at that cover. Are you kidding me? Looking at the cover fills me the same mortal dread as I had watching Alex Honnold scale the face of El Capitan sans rope in Free Solo. As a kid that struggled to do a single pull-up in gym class, nothing to date has terrified me more than the idea of climbing, even with the ropes, so diving headfirst into a book that explores that particular horror is RIGHT up my alley.

Here's the deal: Clay's in school, majoring in geology. He charts an unknown rock face and calls up his burgeoning climbing insta-influencer to see if she wants to be the first to scale it. Having freshly inked a deal with a sponsor and feeling anxious to prove herself, she says yes and so Clay, Dylan, Dylan's boyfriend Luke, and Sylvia embark off into the wilds of Kentucky with Luke's sweet little dog, Slade.

A note: the very first part of this book makes it very clear what the outcome of this excursion will be. From the jump we're introduced to corpses and an infamous skeleton; this book is about unpacking how it happens and why.

What this book leaves until the end: the dog LIVES. Yes, the dog lives. Not going to lie, there was some animal stuff that I personally found upsetting, then there's a whole baby death that was also really traumatic, but the actual dog Slade who you will find adorable, he is FINE.

Now, on to plot. The first thirty percent of this was a great example of building tension. First, weird things start to happen. Batteries go dead fast. Maybe they each start to see things. Signal is spotty, but that's to be expected, right? The suspense that was built gave me the feeling of watching Yellowjackets for the first time. You know SOMETHING is going on, but you don't know what it is. You don't know if it's human or if it's supernatural. That chunk of book for me was the best part, the not knowing was eerie. Sort of like a masked villain you don't know is a lot more terrifying than understanding it was the gardener stabbing you because you forgot to pay him or something. I wish that eerie tension had gone on longer, BUT ALAS, we had to move on.

The last half of the book reminded me of American Horror Story, season 1. If you know, you know. Was it good? Yes - and a speedy part of the reading experience for me, too. Was it as good as the first part? No. Tension was still there and when stuff started to hit the fan even the random flashbacks didn't cause a breakdown in pace of the story.

I didn't love how gendered the violence felt nor did I feel like the writing of this skewed a bit young for an adult novel, but ultimately I had a great time and this was a perfect spooky summer read for me.

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