The Whispering Pines (Exit 13, Book 1)

The Whispering Pines (Exit 13, Book 1)
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Release Date
February 07, 2023
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The McGinns were supposed to be going on a perfectly normal family vacation. Sure, Ash's older sister Willow was a pain, their dog Daisy was a whiny scaredy cat, and their parents were being kind of lame. All of that was to be expected. Perfectly normal! But when the family decides to make an unplanned stop one night, it quickly becomes clear that this family vacation is about to get more than a little weird, because there is nothing normal about the EXIT 13 Motel.

Rooms and hallways that don't go where they're supposed to, a receptionist that looks like he came straight out of a horror movie, and creepy woods that Ash swears have some kind of monster lurking in them - maybe even more than one. Something has been going on ever since the McGinns checked in to this motel, and if Ash and Willow can't get to the bottom of it, they might never be able to check out.

Explore the weird and creepy world of EXIT 13 in this spine-chilling series. Whether you're a fan of mystery, a lover of horror, or even a graphic novel super reader, EXIT 13 is sure to grab you. This illustrated novel -- the first in a new series -- includes black-and-white comic pages throughout!

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Ash and Willow's family are on a long car trip, and as evening falls, they are caught in a dense fog. They pull over for a bit, and Ash walks their dog, Daisy. He thinks he sees a wolf off in the
forest, and feels an odd pull, but figures that the creepy atmosphere is playing tricks with his mind. Miraculously, even though there don't seem to be any motels in the area, the family soon passes a sign for the Exit 13 Motel, and pull in for the evening. Kristoff, the teen running the desk, is a bit Goth and mysterious, so Willow is drawn to him. Once checked in, Ash has some trouble sleeping, and thinks he again sees a wolf outside the window, as well as the mysterious Kristoff. Things look better the next day, except for the fact that their father is experiencing a lot of neck pain and doesn't want to continue their trip until he sees a doctor. When their parents go to town, Ash and Willow are able to investigate the area around the hotel and find nothing but creepiness! They also strike up a friendship with Justice, a somewhat younger Black girl with muscular dystrophy, who is also interested in exploring the motel while her parents are waiting for their car to be repaired. There's something in the woods, something odd about Kristoff and his mother, and something keeping Ash and Willow at the motel. What will The Spaces Between (August 13, 2023) bring?
Good Points
This was just the right amount of creepy balanced with a nice sibling relationship. Parts of the plot are delivered in illustrated panels, which was interesting and will appeal to readers who love graphic novels. Having been on a number of family car trips, including one that ended up in a horrible cabin down a secluded back road in Maine, I was immediately drawn into Ash and Willow's adventure. Willow was a great older sister, and her interest in Kristoff was amusing, but I also liked how she looked out for Ash. We didn't see too much of Justice, but her use of crutches was presented and dealt with in a very matter-of-fact and constructive way. I am a bit worried about Daisy, after an adventure in Whispering Pines, and am very eager to read the next book.

The nature of the family's travels was never fully explained, and this bothered me for some reason. Given the way the plot unfolded, they should have been traveling to a new town for a move! That way, it wouldn't have been as noticeable when they didn't make it there. I wasn't as keen on the climax of the book, but it makes more sense knowing that there is a sequel coming out very soon. Can't give away all of the excitement in book one!

This reminded me, oddly, of Naylor's 1998 Sang Spell or Cohen's 2022 The Shadow Grave, and I had to laugh when the father referenced Hotel California! Young horror fans will think twice the next time they go on a road trip with their families and have to check into a motel!
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