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Friday, October 17, 2014

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Book Review: Famous Last Words

I myself am not usually a fan of scary things. I avoid scary movies at all costs, but I do find it easier to read something that I normally would never want to watch unfold in front of my eyes. This month, when the girls and I decided we would tackle a spooky book for the month of October, I was hesitant to pick something to read, knowing that whatever I chose might give me nightmares. Luckily, I was informed that a friend of mine, Katie Alender, had a new book out that perfectly fit the description of what I was looking for: a murder mystery with a supernatural edge aimed at teenagers. I figured I was safe in assuming that since I knew the author, I live in the city that the story takes place in, and I was older than the characters involved, I would come out nightmare free. I may have been wrong. 

Famous Last Words is the story of Willa, a high school student from Connecticut who we meet on the day that she is moving to Los Angeles with her mother to live with her new stepfather, who happens to be a famous Hollywood director. Willa is less than ecstatic about the move, but it becomes clear early on that she may be relieved to get away from “her old life” being that her father had passed away two years prior. In painstakingly polite dinner conversation with her new stepfather one night, she learns of a serial killer who is at large in Hollywood who is killing young actresses in theme of a few classic films. This is the start of Willa’s journey into this gripping murder mystery. 

She is not new to ghosts and the supernatural, as she has been obsessively trying to speak to her father’s spirit since his untimely death, which she witnessed (and believes that she caused). Desperate to clear the air between her and her father, she uses an old seance manual to attempt to speak to the dead. So far, she has had no luck, but she strangely suffers from mind numbing headaches. It is a headache that leads her, on her first night in a new home, to take a dip in the pool at her stepfathers mansion in the middle of the night. As Willa is swimming, she feels the presence of someone else in the pool, and soon she experiences a force attempting to pull her to the bottom of the pool. This is the first of many unexplainable, and very terrifying experiences that Willa has in her new home, much to the confusion of her mother and stepfather, who can never see the horrors she has witnessed. All of these events, including the visions that she begins to experience, lead her on an investigation into the Hollywood murders.

My favorite thing about this novel was Willa, and for that I can whole heartedly thank Katie Alender. Her voice, as an author, was visible through Willa and I really enjoyed how much of Katie's wit and charm came through in her protagonist. Willa is a very rational and realistic teenage girl, unlike the protagonist of many YA novels that I have come across. I liked that she was moody at times and defensive, but also kind and careful in the right moments. She was not controlled by her fear and she always went through very similar thought processes as I think I would in any of the situations she experiences in the story. I also really enjoyed the unique take on the romance in this novel, as it was used very appropriately to develop and continue the story. I never doubted the connection between the characters, especially between Willa and her partner in investigating, Wyatt. Their friendship had palpable chemistry, unlike some of the more popular novels in this genre. 

It was also very fun to hear callouts to a couple of places in LA that I frequent, being that I have lived here for two and a half years. I loved the treatment of the tourist attractions in Hollywood, as they are undoubtedly a nightmare to anyone who lives here. Two of the characters also had dinner at a diner, Du-pars, that I love. Although the familiar setting was comforting, it was also equally unsettling because I felt like I was right in the middle of the mystery, as if it could be happening right under my nose in my own backyard!

The reveal of the killer was definitely shocking, although the clues were all there. I think, with this novel, instead of obsessing over every detail along the way, I wanted to let the story play out on its own and reveal itself at its own pace, and I am very glad I did. 

For those who are picking up this book looking for a horror/mystery, I give you two warnings. Do not expect this book to have you sleeping with the lights on, and looking over your shoulder for days on end. That being said, this book was a lot darker than I imagined it would be, especially when we are presented with the serial killer and his methods. I was definitely spooked. 
Title: Famous Last Words

Author:  Katie Alender

Genre: Young Adult, Thriller, Supernatural

Recommendation: Yes

Best Reader Audience: YA readers looking for a mild spook

Final Rating: Four out of Five Bunny Bums!
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