Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Review: Everything is Temporary by Jon Cohn

by Jon Cohn
Release Date: November 2, 2023
2023 Deadbolts Books
Ebook Edition; 252 Pages
ISBN: 9798988061939
Audiobook: B0CNDHHPGR
Genre: Fiction / Horror
Source: Review copy from author

3.5 / 5 Stars

After a tragedy strikes the Barnes family, Sarah's husband Tom begins acting strangely. It starts with wild mood-shifts and accusations at their thirteen-year old daughter, but quickly escalates to the attempted murder of an off-season mall Santa. From what Sarah can tell, Tom's only motive seems to lie behind a mysterious hatred for Christmas that burns year round. What's worse, Tom's only defense lies in a long-forgotten book he wrote detailing a traumatic event in his childhood that seems too far-fetched to be believed. His entire case revolves around the notion of talking Christmas trees, a living army of toys, and worst of all, a monster masquerading as Mrs. Claus.

My Thoughts
Everything is Temporary is a book within a book story, featuring Tom relieving a traumatic event from his childhood after seeing someone at the mall, and Tom as a child dealing with a traumatic event that almost had him and his friends killed. I'm not typically a fan of the book within a book scenarios, but this one worked for me and the author used the concept quite skillfully.  

The overall story was quite fun, and I loved the fact it revolved around Christmas. Creepy Christmas horror can be fun, and while I didn't find this one scary or creepy, I did find it engaging.  Sometimes though, you need something lighter and this fit the bill. The alternating POVs worked, and I liked seeing the multiple perspectives of Tom's erratic behaviour and the impact it had on his family. To be honest, I would think my husband was losing his mind if I was every in that same situation.  When your husband starts talking about talking Christmas trees and evil Hummels, do you respond to that? I did like the themes that were discussed in this book: trauma, loss, grief, bullying, redemption, and friendship. 
The characters were all interesting, but honestly, I don't think I connected with them all that much.  I just felt like they needed to be fleshed out a bit more so we could fully understand their motives and why they chose to do some of the things they did.  They were relatable however, and I definitely enjoyed the on-going references to Home Alone and Home Alone 2. I did feel like the kids acted a bit older than their 12 years and were quite quick to set up a home to kill like in the movie, something that took me out of the story a couple of times as it jarred with what was happening, but like children, there was no comprehension of the consequences until something happened.   I had to remind myself of their ages a few times.  
Everything is Temporary was a fun Christmas horror that was light and fast. I like how the author takes these things we associate with the holidays and turns them into little, or big, monsters that can be frightening, using something we treasure to kill.  I did think the characters and the story could have been fleshed out a bit more, but overall, if you are looking for something light, quick, and fun, then I recommend this book for you. 


Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Review: Into Misty Ruse by H.A. Growler


by H.A. Growler
Release Date: September 1st, 2023
2023 H.A. Growler LLC
Kindle Edition; 370 Pages
ISBN: 979-8988648604
Genre: Fiction / Juvenile Fiction / Fantasy
Source: Review copy from author
5 / 5 Stars
It has been thirty-seven years since the Big Boom blasted magic into the world of Harmonyca and nearly destroyed it. And it’s been almost two years since Zyk’s dad disappeared, for reasons unknown. The powerful institution of FAHLT says that Magic Is an Affliction and has strictly forbidden any association with magic or magical creatures. But twelve-year-old Zyk’s most fervent desire is to learn more about magical TOMBs (Treacherous Obstructive and Malignant Botanicals). Just when his dream feels completely out of reach, events start befalling Zyk, one after another. Now he’s stuck in a magical settlement, in hiding from FAHLT knights. Is magic truly an affliction? Are magical creatures really evil? If so, why are they helping him? And will he ever be able to cure the curse he’s been hit with and go back home to his mum?
My Thoughts
Into Misty Ruse is the first book in The Harmonycan Chronicles and I thought this book was fun and very creatively written. Even though it was aimed at a much younger audience, I was immediately engaged by Zyk's story as well as the story building.  To be honest, I had a hard time putting this down and pretty much read it in one sitting.  I
Zyk is a great main character and I loved following him on his journey as he becomes stuck in a magical settlement due to being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Making the best of a difficult situation, he is treated with kindness by those who find him as he learns to navigate a world very different from his own.  The secondary characters are as engaging as Zyk and I developed a huge fondness for Pitch and Eva as well as all of the others we meet. 

There were a lot of important themes running through this book, ones that I think would make great discussion topics in a classroom or with your own child, such as loneliness, loss, grief, friendship, acceptance, racism, judgment, pre-conceived notions, growth, separation, and consequences to one's behaviour.  There is a huge emphasis on different does not mean something to be destroyed, but that co-existence is necessary for everyone to thrive.  With that in mind, the way Zyk was treated as a newcomer to the society was used as a way to develop these themes, and I enjoyed all of the situations in which he found himself, from dealing with dangerous plants to dealing with difficult students and adults.  Everything was done with compassion and care.

One of the things I particularly enjoyed was the discussion around plant life as Zyk was very interested in plants, especially magical ones.  He has a huge affinity for them and this is one of the ways his magic first manifested without him realizing what had happened. I thoroughly enjoyed his predicaments when he got entangled in situations where he assumed plants that looked fine turned out to be extremely dangerous. The creative names given to these plants and the scenes involving them kept me riveted to the page, sometimes laughing out loud. I thought the whole magical system was quite whimsical and creative.  Personally, as a kid, I would have loved to visit this place.

Into Misty Ruse was a delight to read, and I loved the magic, the story, and the characters.  I was captivated by the world-building and enjoyed the descriptive storytelling. The characters were well-drawn out, each with their own unique personalities, and thought the mystery was perfect for a book for this age group.  I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good story, and I am definitely looking forward to the second book when it is released.


Sunday, November 26, 2023

Review: Murder Under the Mistletoe by Liz Fielding

by Liz Fielding
Release Date: October 31, 2023
2023 Joffe Books
Kindle Edition; 288 Pages
ISBN: 978-1835262252
Genre: Fiction / Cozy
Source: Review copy from publisher
3.5 / 5 Stars
Abby Finch heads to the old church hall armed with mistletoe and holly ready to help decorate in time for the festive season. But she arrives in time to witness a horrifying sight. Edward Marsh reaches to test the antique star at the top of the tree. There’s a fizz and the lights go out. Abby hears the sickening thud of a body hitting the ground. When the lights turn back on Edward is dead.

It soon becomes clear it was no accident.

The real victim should have been Gregory Tatton, a dapper silver fox, popular with the ladies of the seniors’ lunch club. And a known blackmailer . . .
My Thoughts
Murder Under the Mistletoe is the second book in the Maybridge Murder Mystery series and while I enjoyed it quite a bit, I did think the first book in the series was quite a bit stronger and much more interesting.  Abby is a reliable main character and while I understand that she and her family are going through a difficult time, I felt like the author was trying to create drama between her and her new romantic interest, something that didn't need to happen. The mystery was strong enough to stand on its own and so was the family dynamic the author described in this book. 
I liked Abby as a main character and enjoyed the relationships she had with those in her community. Due to the circumstances of her ex-husband's death, she has had to deal with some nasty rumours and fallout, but the community has come together to show their support to her and her family.  When she discovers that others are being threatened, she realizes there is a whole layer working beneath the town of which she was unaware and soon that threat affects her personally.  I enjoyed learning about the other members of the community through her interactions with them as she investigated the murders and really liked the fact she didn't put herself or anyone else in danger by doing so. She just took advantage of the opportunities when they arose. There are quite a few characters in this book and there seemed to be this assumption that the reader was familiar with the first book just by the way the characters interacted, as if you were already on intimate terms with them.
The mystery itself was quite good, but then I like a story about blackmail as I always wonder how far someone will go to protect their secrets, and that is exactly what this book was about.  Yes, I was able to figure out the mystery quite early, but enjoyed it for its own sake. I liked how the author intertwined Abby's family issues within the mystery as her kids were dealing with their first Christmas without their dad. I was not a fan of Abby's relationship as I felt like that was unnecessary drama, stirred up for the sake of just adding more drama and the whole thing felt forced.  Not my favourite part of the book.
Murder Under the Mistletoe is a good story about blackmail and how far you can push someone before they finally give in under the pressure. It's interesting as I was just watching a new Poirot film about this very same thing, and the result always seems to be the same, desperation.  The overall flow of the book was somewhat off, but the mix of dialogue and description was good, and I definitely enjoyed all the Christmas scenes.  I do feel that readers would benefit from reading the first book before reading this one however, so go, take a look, and enjoy Murder Under the Roses.

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Review: Bookshops & Bonedust by Travis Baldree

by Travis Baldree
Release Date: November 7, 2023
2023 Tor Trade
Ebook & Audiobook Editions; 352 Pages
ISBN: 978-1250886101
Audiobook: B0BVKT64RG
Genre: Fiction / Fantasy / Cozy
Source: Review copy from publisher
4 / 5  Stars
Wounded during the hunt for a powerful necromancer, she's packed off against her will to recuperate in the sleepy beach town of Murk—so far from the action that she worries she'll never be able to return to it.

What's a thwarted soldier of fortune to do?

Spending her hours at a beleaguered bookshop in the company of its foul-mouthed proprietor is the last thing Viv would have predicted, but it may be both exactly what she needs and the seed of changes she couldn't possibly imagine.

My Thoughts
Bookshops & Bonedust is the prequel to Legends & Lattes and I loved the early exploration into Viv's life and where she may have gotten her inspiration to open a shop of her own.  I love cozy mystery novels and I enjoy fantasy, so reading a cozy fantasy is something that I find really intriguing. While I enjoy my grimdark, heavy as hell, pull no punches fantasy, there are times when I want something much light, but still is in the fantasy genre, and this one definitely meets my expectations of a fun, wholesome story that has fun characters and an intriguing story. 

This book is a prequel to Legends & Lattes, but it in no way influences that book and the choices Viv makes in that book. It is meant for the reader to understand Viv a bit more as she begins her career as a mercenary soldier, one who two-months into joining the Ravens, gets hurt and has to take some much-needed rest. At first, she is restless and doesn't know what to do with herself as she can't train and do the things she normally does, so she ends up in the local bookstore. Having the time to read, something she doesn't normally do, makes her scoff at those who do read, but when she starts to immerse herself into those worlds, something unexpected happens. Viv realizes there is whole other side to her personality that she has been neglecting and begins to explore that other side to her.
I loved the characters we meet in this story and enjoyed learning more about them. Diverse and interesting, I couldn't help but compare Viv's experiences to those of the sequel and how these experiences may have shaped her choices in the other book. And this time we are dealing with a book store, a dream for all book lovers.  And my heart just soared as Viv opened herself up to reading more and exploring books and began helping to reshape the book store into what it could be. Now, I would have liked to have seen a bit more with regards to that as that is why we read these books, but it was still fun to see everything develop and grow.  And Viv discovers there is much more to life than just fighting and battles and killing.  And I couldn't help but laugh when Viv discovered the 'spice' in some of those books and her reactions to it. Hilarious.  
Bookshops & Bonedust was like a breath of fresh air.  The characters were charming and fun, and I liked comparing them to the ones in Legends & Lattes and seeing how they impacted Viv's choices later in life.  I don't think it had all of the same charm as the first book, but it was still interesting and I think part of that is I knew she wasn't going to stay. We know it will twenty years or so before Viv finally leaves the Ravens and opens up her coffee shop, so the relationships she develops, while influential, won't follow her on the road.  I did wonder if the epilogue would have better served as the prologue.  Anyhow, I definitely enjoyed the bookshop element to the story and naturally loved how the community came together when there was a major threat due to Viv's influence in the town. Definitely a fun read. Looking forward to reading the next standalone in this series as the author has already said there will be at least three more.  Yeah!!


Monday, November 20, 2023

Review: A Book Club to Die For by Dorothy St. James

by Dorothy St. James
Release Date: November 1st, 2023
2023 Berkley
Mass Paperback Edition; 320 Pages
ISBN: 978-0593098646
Audiobook: B0BKP6YWFL
Genre: Fiction / Cozy Mystery
Source: Review copy from author

3 / 5  Stars

The Cypress Arete Society is one of the town’s oldest and most exclusive clubs. When assistant librarian Trudell Becket is invited to speak to the group about the library, its modernization, and her efforts to bring printed books to the reading public, her friend Flossie tags along. Flossie has been on the book club’s waiting list for five years, and she’s determined to find out why she’s never received an invitation to join.

But not long after Tru and Flossie arrive for the meeting, they’re shocked to find the club’s president, Rebecca White, dead in the kitchen. Rebecca was a former TV actress and local celebrity but was not known for being patient or pleasant. She’d been particularly unkind to the book club’s host for the evening, who also happens to be the mother of Detective Jace Bailey, Tru’s boyfriend. And Rebecca had made it clear that she didn’t think Flossie was book club material.
My Thoughts
A Book Club to Die For reminds me a bit of a cozy locked room mystery as we have a woman who is killed in a kitchen, with a variety of suspects and clues available to pursue if you know where to look.  All of the regular characters are present in the book, and while I do find some of them particularly annoying, including Tru herself, the overall mystery was engaging and I always enjoy a mystery that features a book at its core.
First of all, the main characters True and Jace, while I do like them, are kind of wimpy in my estimation. Tru is controlled by her mother while Jace is controlled by his relationship with Tru and some of her behaviours, something that always rubs me the wrong way. And to keep blaming everything on Southern manners and traditions drives me bonkers.  Tru is a grown-ass woman who can decisions for herself and to have her mother constantly nagging at her about what she eats, what she buys at the grocery store, and threatening to come to her house and clean out all her food is annoying. And to have to hide food in your own house from your mother? Maybe I don't understand southern thinking, but really?  And Jace. To threaten someone's position on a force because of your relationship? I did think the other characters were interesting and really enjoyed the relationship Tru has with her best friend.  
I did find the mystery to be interesting as there are book snobs to be found all over the world, and I love how the author includes that in her mystery.  To have the mystery focused around an elite book club was fun, and I definitely enjoyed the irony and sarcasm around the comments in the book about people's reading preferences and styles and what they should be reading.  And I liked how in a small town, such a book club could be incorporated into social status and be used to further one's career prospects.  Philosophical clubs were used this way in the past (elite men's clubs), so it's not surprising to see them used this way in today's society, and the pressure to conform would be enormous.  
The plot moved along rather quickly, and the pacing was even.  Because of the nature of the murder, Jace was not allowed to investigate, so Tru got involved simply because she was there when it happened and people like to talk to her.  The flow of conversations felt natural and Tru doesn't do stupid things like in other books or hinder the police in any way.  I did find the solution to the mystery to be a bit bland, and wished it had been more complicated than it was so I felt a bit let down. The book does suffer from repetition, especially concerning the hidden library, something I still find a little silly, but I do love that cat.  I think the discussions surrounding the use of technology versus the use of physical books to be quite fascinating, but the hidden library thing needs to be better developed. Anyone with an eye could figure out what was going on with that. And I'm still wondering if I should be upset at who died as she was a miserable piece of work. For the life of me, I just could have garner an ounce of sympathy. 
A Book Club to Die For is a light, cozy read that was fairly predictable and did have a tendency to ramble on at times, especially when it came to that secret library.  The characters were typical, no one actually stood out, although I think Flossie's job needs to be explored more as that kind of rankled, and the mystery was light, fun, but so, so easy to figure out.  If you are looking for a light, fun read, then this is definitely for you. 


Sunday, November 19, 2023

Review: The Great Vampiric Deception by Jolene Gettler

by Jolene Gettler
Release Date: November 16, 2023
2023 Stay Awkward Publishing 
Ebook Edition; 382 Pages
ISBN: 978-1738835638
Genre: Fiction / Romantic Fantasy / Urban Paranormal
Source: Review copy from author

3.75 / 5 Stars

Vampires exist. The use, abuse, and discard.

Victoria suffered unimaginable horrors and trauma from her four-year relationship with her vampire ex-boyfriend.  She was one of the lucky ones.

Years later, she enjoys a life of solitude and just wants to be left alone in her new mundane, uneventful life. Her quiet routine shatters to pieces when an unexpected guest joins her vampire victim support group, while an unknown danger stalks her from the shadows.

Who is stalking her? Are they connected to her past? Or did her newest member bring more than a century's worth of trauma into her life?
My Thoughts
The Great Vampiric Deception is not your typical vampire book, and that is precisely one of the reasons I enjoyed this book so much.  Vampires are not romanticized; in this book they are, for the most part, still relatively hidden from the human population, and those who do come across them are traumatized and abused, often for years, manipulated into doing a variety of things they do not wish to do. Personally, I prefer the dark, sleezier side of the vampire world than the romanticized one you see in Twilight, so this was much more to my liking. 

I really enjoyed the author's writing style and was immediately drawn into Victoria's world. I was honestly horrified at the things she suffered just in the Prologue and was honestly wondering what I was in for, considering the trigger warnings I was given before starting the book. For the most part, the author does not go into graphic detail about any of the abuse so a lot of it is left up to your imagination, and I have a lot of imagination so I don't know how Victoria managed to survive the four years she was with Lucas, her vampire boyfriend.  In order to cope with the trauma she experienced, she started a support group to have a safe environment to be able to discuss the traumas they suffered and to be able to cope with life after leaving the vampiric world. Despite the seriousness of the discussions, there was a lot of levity as well, and there were times I was openly chuckling when the group was trying to explain the difference between Interview With a Vampire or Twilight to one of the members who was somewhat clueless about the reality of vampire life.  These are the kinds of things that made this book really fun to read, and lightened the seriousness of the subjects/themes present in the book.

The characters were well drawn out and I loved, loved, loved Grayson the most. He was a vampire himself, having survived his own abusive relationship within the vampire world, and joined the suppor group for help having no where to turn for help. Victoria was vehemently against the idea as she is prejudiced again the vampire population in general, but is vetoed by the other members. We now have a this yang/yang effect between the two of them where Victoria is trying to figure out the Grayson's motives and she is trying to decide whether she can ever have a relationship again. The results let to some interesting consequences, one of which entirely broke my heart. It also let to some issues I had with the book.
I've been thinking about this for days, but there are some things in this book that bothered me. First of all, while I understood Victoria's trauma and the abuse she suffered, there were some things in here that really send the wrong message when it comes to manipulation and the start of manipulative behaviours in relationships. Questioning your partner over why they do certain things is not manipulative behaviour, especially if the other partner drops the subject and never brings it up again as they were just asking where the behaviour comes from.  Grayson is over 150 years old, did it never occur to Victoria the behaviour he was questioning was something women never did during his time period and he may not be familiar with it? Gosh, my husband and I are always questioning each other. If you are afraid to question you partner, that is emotional abuse. And my biggest beef, which led to the biggest consequence of all, Victoria unable to deal with her own emotions and behaviour, so she does what she does and IT IS JUSTIFIABLE BEHAVIOUR? Never, in my book.  It left such a bad taste in my mouth, it spoiled what was to that point, a 5-star read. Was the author trying to show how twisted thinking can be when a person does not deal with trauma? Hard to say, but I am hoping that is what it was.
The Great Vampiric Deception was  a well-written novel of the effects and consequences trauma can have on relationships and on life in general. I loved how she described Victoria's daily routine and how a new person can impact established safe routines on a person who is dealing with the after-effects of an abusive relationship.  While the author didn't go into graphic detail, there was enough to be able to understand how horrific Victoria's life was when she was with her vampire boyfriend. I thoroughly loved Grayson and the novel did make me think about the themes of abuse, relationships, and consequences.  I chose to take it from the viewpoint of someone who is having difficulty dealing with their trauma, and the consequences of that, although I am not quite sure if that is what the author intended. 


Sunday, November 12, 2023

Review: The Reformatory by Tananarive Due

by Tananarive Due
Release Date: October 31, 2023
2023 Gallery/Saga Press
Ebook Edition; 576 Pages
ISBN: 978-1982188344
Audiobook: B0BRNYV5GM
Genre: Fiction / Historical / Horror
Source: Review copy from publisher
3.75 / 5 Stars
Twelve-year-old Robbie Stephens, Jr., is sentenced to six months at the Gracetown School for Boys, a reformatory, for kicking the son of the largest landowner in town in defense of his older sister, Gloria. So begins Robbie’s journey further into the terrors of the Jim Crow South and the very real horror of the school they call The Reformatory.

Robbie has a talent for seeing ghosts, or haints. But what was once a comfort to him after the loss of his mother has become a window to the truth of what happens at the reformatory. Boys forced to work to remediate their so-called crimes have gone missing, but the haints Robbie sees hint at worse things. Through his friends Redbone and Blue, Robbie is learning not just the rules but how to survive. Meanwhile, Gloria is rallying every family member and connection in Florida to find a way to get Robbie out before it’s too late.
My Thoughts
The Reformatory is a raw and emotional reminder of the Jim Crow era, one that should never be forgotten. This was an incredible read, and some of the things that were described were difficult to read about, as they should be, and I have to give credit to the author for the incredible amount of research that must have gone into this book. However, as much as I enjoyed it, it read much more as a historical fiction novel with a few paranormal elements to it as opposed to a horror novel. So the question to be asked here is, was it scary? No, not really. Was it psychologically disturbing? Yes, definitely, as it should be. But when you put it all together, it didn't quite work for me despite the incredibly strong first third of the book.  

First of all, the setting is amazing and I loved reading every description that was given about the reformatory school.  I definitely appreciated the level of research the author did in order for her to be able to describe the grounds and the buildings the way they would have looked in the 1950s.  And even getting a hint of some of the horrors those building contained was enough for me to read feeling tense wondering when we would visit those buildings and what we would find there when we did. And who in their right mind would name a whipping shed 'The Funhouse'. Twisted people. 

This is a long book, something I don't usually mind, but I did find the pacing was off which did affect the overall story.  I thought Gloria's story line was unnecessary, and she was annoying a lot of the time. I understand her panic and stress, but I think she was only used to show some of the racial issues that existed during that time period, otherwise her part could have been cut out completely without having any impact on the story. Personally, I thought it would have been better without the interruption.

Robert's story line was the more impressive of the two and I loved the paranormal element that was added to it. The things that Robbie and his friends endured are heartbreaking and absolutely terrible. Other than a couple of scenes though, the author didn't go into detail about what happened and the information was left to the reader's imagination.  This is the reason this felt much more like a historical fiction read rather a horror read; instead of feeling truly horrified, I was able to distance myself from what was happening rather easily as there were no descriptions of most of the things the boys went through, just the aftermath. When one of the boys has a broom and the Superintended gets mad because that is his special broom he uses with the boys, it is not as impactful as it could have been.  I am not complaining, but horror-wise, it could have been so much worse to read, and this is what I was expecting, even if I was hoping not to, if that makes sense.

I enjoyed Robbie as a main character, and wished more of the other characters had been more fully fleshed out; there was certainly room to do so at 500+ pages.  I did wonder at times if the author was unsure if she wanted to focus more on the historical ill-treatment of children at this school or on the paranormal aspect of the story as the two did not always blend together well.  

The Reformatory is one of those novels over which I have mixed emotions; one the one hand, I loved the descriptions of the school and thought the unjust Jim Crow laws were definitely something that need to be highlighted again, especially with regards to what is currently happening in Florida. However, I did feel like Gloria's story line was unnecessary and the pacing was off which affected the overall tension of the story.  I would have liked the secondary characters to have been more developed as they were fascinating in themselves, and although I really enjoyed the paranormal element to the story, I did feel like it conflicted with the main story line at times.  Well worth the read just to learn about the school on which the story was based. 


Monday, November 6, 2023

Review: Santa vs. Satan: Extreme Horror by D.W.Hitz

by D.W. Hitz
Release Date: November 3, 2023
2023 Fedowar Press LLC
Ebook Edition; 185 Pages
ISBN: 978-1956492392
Genre: Fiction / Extreme Horror
Source: Review copy from author

4.5 / 5 Stars

All Danny Robinson wants for Christmas is a drone to help make his first horror movie. He has a few friends who can join him if they survive the holiday season. What Satan's general wants is a way to bring her army to Earth. But is Christmas the best time for world domination? What Santa wants is a new Mrs. Claus. Some of that old bedroom magic's gotten a little mundane, and her elf pot pie isn't as good as it used to be.

Can Danny get his drone, or will Satan run free? And will Santa be able to save Christmas or be stuck with the same old pie?

Santa Vs. Satan is EXTREME HORROR containing graphic SEX, VIOLENCE, and GORE. 
My Thoughts
Santa vs. Satan is the fourth installment in the Custer Falls Extreme Horror series, and will definitely take you on a bloody and depraved ride, one from which you will never view Santa Claus the same way again.  I have not read the previous books in this series, but it didn't seem to matter as I had no trouble understanding what was happening. 

For such a short book, this was a complex story, well-written, fast-paced, full of fascinating characters, and a fantastic plot. At first, I had no idea how the characters connected to each other, but as the book progressed, it all made sense.  Because the story focuses a lot on body horror as well as graphic sex, the story does revolve around some pretty depraved and graphic descriptions around different scenarios involving all the characters, including Santa.  So many vile images that will take a while to get out of my head.  

I don't think I've ever read a book with such a vile Santa before, one who is looking for a new Mrs. Claus, and who brutalizes his elves and other workers with such ease and contempt. And poor Danny, all he wanted was a drone so he could film an amateur horror film with his friends, but got caught up in the depravity because he went where he should not have gone, against his instincts. If there is a lesson in this story, don't go where you should not go and if it's glowing and it looks like a pentagram, stay the hell out.  

Santa vs. Satan has definitely ruined by childhood version of Santa, but this was such a fun and twisted read.  The dual story lines blended seamlessly, coming together in an epic showdown that I couldn't even guess the resolution, with supernatural elements, rituals, monsters, and a conclusion I loved, made this a book you will want to read if you love extreme horror.  I have read worse when it comes to extreme, but it was the writing style that made it so epic.


Sunday, November 5, 2023

Review: Night Will Find You by Julia Heaberlin

by Julia Heaberlin
Release Date: June 8, 2023
2023 Flatiron Books
Kindle Edition; 368 Pages
ISBN: 978-1250877079
Audiobook: B0BFFNYMQB
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

2 / 5 Stars

When she was ten, Vivvy Bouchet saved a boy’s life by making an impossible prediction. Ever since, she has been in a life-long battle between the urgent voices in her head and the science she loves. Now a brilliant young astrophysicist, she wants nothing more than to be left alone with the stars in the Big Bend country of Texas.

But the boy she saved, now a Fort Worth cop, is begging her to help solve the high-profile cold case of a little girl who disappeared in broad daylight from the kitchen of her old Victorian house. A body was never found, and her mother sits in prison still loudly proclaiming her innocence. Vivvy reluctantly agrees to try.

When a popular Texas conspiracy theorist podcaster named Bubba Guns finds out about her involvement, he spews conspiracy theories about the case and muddled truths about Vivvy’s murky past. As his listeners spin dangerously out of control, and with her career and the people she loves on the line, Vivvy decides to fight back.
My Thoughts
Night Will Find You had an interesting concept, but I think I would have liked this book a lot better if I didn't have a scientific background.  It did require you to suspend belief in certain things or just let things go, and while I tried, eventually it just became too much for me to ignore.  And while I did think the overall story line had potential, I wasn't necessarily a fan of the characters and the way it got there.
First of all, the overall plot in this book was actually interesting. Discovering what actually happened to that little girl was a fascinating story and if the plot had focused on that, my rating would probably have been a lot higher.  The twists and turns as well as the difficulties to the resolution of that mystery were fascinating and it made me pause and think about all the innocent people involved and the effect it would have on their lives once they discovered the truth.  I don't think the author went deep enough and explored the issues enough with regards to this plot line because of the secondary things that were going on which really distracted from the overall impact of the main story.
Vivvy is an astrophysicist as well as a psychic and she struggled with the idea that there are some things in this world that you just can't explain with scientific principles.  I'm not sure how much science background the author has, but I couldn't help but roll my eyes quite a few times whenever Vivvy got into her science mode as her take on it is rather annoying and not very realistic.  Honestly, scientists don't have to constantly look at ingredients in order to prove they have scientific backgrounds nor do they constantly read ingredients off packages to shame other people if they think they are using harmful items such as makeup and candles.  You learn to keep a lot of that knowledge to yourself because people get easily offended.  I didn't mind her struggles over being psychic however, as I could see how difficult this would be to accept, for anyone.  
I don't really feel like a lot of the secondary characters were very well developed and honestly, the issue between Mike, Vivvy, and her sister had me groaning in frustration.  She had this unhealthy obsession with this guy and when you read the book, you will understand why. I really wish the author hadn't gone there.
Night Will Find You was a long-winded, rambling story that had many secondary plot lines instead of just focusing on the main story line. It did have some interesting moments, the plot moves along quickly, but the plot holes leave many questions unanswered asking the reader to simply suspend belief and just continue on reading.  If you like books about psychics helping out with police investigations, this one might be for you, but the inconsistent narrative and lack of character development was a disappointment. 


Saturday, November 4, 2023

Review: Dead Eleven by Jimmy Juliano

by Jimmy Juliano
Release Date: June 27, 2023
2023 Dutton
Kindle & Audiobook Editions; 439 Pages
ISBN: 978-0593471920
Audiobook: B0BL8V2BCG
Source: Review copy from publisher
Genre: Fiction / Horror

3.5 / 5 Stars

Clifford Island. When Willow Stone finds these words written on the floor of her deceased son's bedroom, she's perplexed. Determined to find answers, Willow sets out for the island.

High schooler Lily Becker has lived on Clifford her entire life, and she is sick of the island's twisted mythology and adhering to the rules. She's been to the mainland, and everyone is normal there, so why is Clifford so weird? 

Five weeks after Willow arrives on the island, she disappears. Willow's brother Harper comes to Clifford searching for his sister, and when he learns the truth--that this island is far more sinister than anyone could have imagined--he is determined to blow the whole thing open.
My Thoughts
Dead Eleven had an intriguing concept, a cover page that looked interesting, and since I am always attracted to a book that involves the lure of 1980's and 1990's nostalgia, this certainly had a lot of elements that I like in a horror novel.  And as I was given both a copy of the audiobook and a kindle edition, I both listened to it and read it at the same time. I will honestly say that I preferred the audiobook version as it was read by a large cast of narrators, all of whom did a fantastic job. 
Harper travels to Clifford Island to look for his missing sister, Willow, who disappeared several weeks back. They were not on the best of terms, but she was his sibling and he had this feeling that something was terribly wrong.  The plot was unique and interesting, but the execution was the weakest part of this book. I don't mind slow-burn mysteries, but this took a really long time to get going with a conclusion that didn't really pay off in the end.  I didn't personally find this book to be scary or frightening, just really weird.  There were several themes explored in this story, one of them being grief, and while I thought the author did a credible job exploring these themes, that exploration actually took away from the suspense / tension in the story as it went on and on, almost to the point of boredom.  I did like how the author used different writing techniques to tell the story, but I like it when I see an author explore different things in order to enhance the story and this was something that was well done.  
The story was also told from multiple POV, and the author used mixed media in a rather interesting way, including letters, audio recordings, news articles, letters, videos, and so on, to further the story in a fun and different way. It almost had the feel of lost footage novels without being a lost-footage book. And I like those kinds of books so this was right up my alley. 
I did enjoy the characters and thought they were interesting.  However, for a book that's almost 450 pages long, I would have liked a bit more development regarding the characters and a bit more struggle dealing with the things they were going through and having to accept what was happening.  And having this big network of people all over the world watching everyone's every move and ensuring that the things about Clifford Island stay secret seemed a little over the top to me.  
Dead Eleven definitely had some great elements to it, but the story took way too long to really get going focusing on things that took away from the tension / suspense of the story.  I don't mind a slow-burn, but this was too slow-burn for me.  There were quite a few themes that were explored in this book that were well done, but because there was so much repetition of these themes, they actually interfered with the horror elements in this book.  There were a lot of elements in this book that I did like that I would definitely read another book by this author in the future.


Wednesday, November 1, 2023

Review: Hearts of Ice and Stone by Martin Dukes

by Martin Dukes
Release Date: July 23, 2023 (Originally published November 20, 2022)
2023 Independently Published
Ebook Edition; 460 Pages
ISBN: 978-8853116375
Genre: Fiction / Alternate History / Fantasy
Source: Review copy from author

3.5 / 5 Stars

Laura DeLacey never realised that she was different to those around her, or that she was touched in some way by the heavens, until she first set foot, contrary to all law and tradition, within the grim portals of Darkharrow. Here, in the remote Eastings of Britannia, far from the wealth and power of London, the dead lie sleeping beneath the ancient towers and cloisters of the great abbey. For some of these, destiny dictates that their long slumber shall endure until the last trump sounds and all of the dead rise from their graves at last, but a fortunate few are fated to reawaken well before that day. No one has ever been able to look upon the countenances of the departed and tell whether they may be awakened, whether their hearts are of ice or of stone, and none have been able to summon them forth once more- until now.

Caught between the competing affections of those who love her, threatened by those who would destroy her, Laura finds herself enmeshed in a web of conspiracy that draws upon her deepest resources and enforces choices upon her of the most momentous kind.
My Thoughts
Hearts of Ice and Stone is the first book in this series, and I enjoyed the theological and philosophical themes that were highlighted in this story. The writing style was different, but I think it suited the type of story being told as it was set in an alternate 18th century Britain known as Britannia, with enough similarities to our historical world that I was constantly comparing characters to historical figures if I thought they were based off them. I don't know if I would necessarily call this book a Gothic fantasy, but more of an alternate history fantasy.  
The setting is one of the things I highly enjoyed about this book. Having a history background, I have always liked alternate histories, especially ones that delve into the horror element of the 'What if?'.  In this book we have a society built around the dead, but one where dead bodies can reanimate, and no one knows why this happens. Naturally, an entire religious sect has developed around this circumstance, and only certain people are allowed within the hallowed sanctums where the dead lie, so it is inevitable that corruption and legends and traditions would build around such a thing.  This developed into a complicated society where even kings are just stewards in this land as previous kings and queens could rise up again and reclaim their thrones.  The possibilities for intrigue and treason abound, and although the author touched upon these topics, they were not really developed and I did find this a bit frustrating. There were discussions about the amount of money spent on these dead halls while people were starving in the streets, rebellions forming, discontent happening, and while the main characters were part of some of this, I don't feel the discussions went deep enough or went hard enough to really show the main issues or how horrible were the lives of the people.  

This leads to the theological and philosophical themes that were present in this book. The main character developed these powers to literally raise the dead, an event that shook the very foundations upon which the world was built. Naturally, the powers that be were terrified of what Laura would eventually be capable of, therefore everyone wanted her blood.  But what I especially enjoyed was Laura's power and the consequences of that power. I thought that was exceedingly well done as so many fantasy novels just give their main characters these great powers, but rarely have them suffer from its use. 

I did enjoy the plot, but I wasn't crazy about the ending.  I don't necessarily need a happy ending, per se, but the one in this book just didn't seem to match the rest of the book which was a disappointment. And while I liked the characters, I did think some of the character development was lacking especially in terms of motivations. I would have liked to see both the Bishop and Edward, for example, struggle quite a bit more with their decisions, and not have them used as convenience decisions just to move along the plot.  I also thought the revenants could have used a bit more explanation. However, Laura was a great character and I loved her fighting spirit.

Hearts of Ice and Stone had a unique alternate setting and I loved the author's writing style.  While I may have wished for more development on the themes in this story as the theological and philosophical ideas were quite intriguing, the plot was still quite interesting and moved rather quickly.  I am looking forward to reading the sequel to this book, Well of Souls, and perhaps delving more into those themes in which I am intrigued. I definitely recommend this book if you are looking for an interesting alternate fantasy to 18th century Britain.