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Written by Shawn Sarles with a foreword by James Patterson

Tapping into the best of horror movies, Shawn Sarles creates a thrilling new addition to young adult horror with his debut novel. Told with each story set apart in their own chapters, CAMPFIRE reminds us that sometimes there are reasons to be afraid of the dark.

Set deep in the mountains, we meet Maddie Davenport and her family as they head deep into the forest for a celebratory camping trip. Joined with their closest family friends, Maddie’s best friend, and only a single guide to lead them on their journey, everyone is determined to make nothing but memories before the older kids head off to college.

The trip quickly takes a turn for the terrifying as the stories being told over the campfire begin to come true. One by one, Maddie and her family find themselves being hunted by their worst nightmares. As they run for their lives, family secrets come to light, forcing Maddie to face a reality far more terrifying than she ever thought possible.

Like any good horror story, we are lulled into believing that this won’t be anything we aren’t prepared for. The prologue is shocking, which works against the reader, making us think the worst has already happened. We are given small frights, but the author masterfully explains them, lulling the reader into a sense of complacency. Even using the setting makes us on edge, seeing shadows in the woods and jumping at unexpected noise. We are ready for the things that are going to jump out at us. Or so we think.

"One of my favorite things about CAMPFIRE is how original the campfire stories are....This is brilliant writing and pulls the reader [in] deep..."

One of my favorite things about CAMPFIRE is how original the campfire stories are. We don’t get standard tales, redone or embellished for the novel. Even better, they aren’t summarized, or narrated through the characters, but are instead given their own chapters. This is brilliant writing and pulls the reader deep into each story, making the stories themselves a focus. The effect is that they feel far bigger and more frightening than if told in any other way. Honestly, these stories were incredible and I wish there had been more of them.

While the twist at the end is surprising and unexpected, it does rely a bit too much on the reader accepting the plot at face value. I felt that the character development for this twist to be believable was not quite there. There weren’t enough clues given in the beginning to really pack the emotional punch necessary for it to feel real.

The result was that while I enjoyed the ride CAMPFIRE took me on, it felt like a cheesy horror film. Fun, with lots of moments that made me jump, but not really terrifying. Readers who enjoy the thrill of the ride more than the destination will enjoy this book.

Readers should be aware that this is a violent book. There is a lot of gore and some fairly vivid descriptions of torture and murder. There is drug and alcohol use, and brief animal violence. It may be too graphic for younger or more sensitive readers.

CAMPFIRE will appeal to fans of movies like Scream and anyone who devoured R.L. Stine books. It will appeal to readers who enjoy horror and is perfect to read late into those hot summer nights.

Reviewed by Jena Brown on August 1, 2018

Written by Shawn Sarles with a foreword by James Patterson