Category Archives: Reviews

Whatcha Reading? September 2016

September was… not the greatest. I hit the wall pretty hard, but I’d gotten off to a great start.

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I’m not one for Lovecraftian horror. Things from space and things from the deep dark sea generally don’t do it for me, but Cherie Priest’s “lowbrow” pitch of Lizzie Borden battling Cthulhu with an ax was pretty damn compelling.

The people of Fall River, Massachusetts, fear me. Perhaps rightfully so. I remain a suspect in the brutal deaths of my father and his second wife despite the verdict of innocence at my trial. With our inheritance, my sister, Emma, and I have taken up residence in Maplecroft, a mansion near the sea and far from gossip and scrutiny.

But it is not far enough from the affliction that possessed my parents. Their characters, their very souls, were consumed from within by something that left malevolent entities in their place. It originates from the ocean’s depths, plaguing the populace with tides of nightmares and madness.

This evil cannot hide from me. No matter what guise it assumes, I will be waiting for it. With an axe.

The best part is the Cherie took notes and records from Dr. Owen Seabury, the real physician for Abigail Borden, and she didn’t really need to do much other than add fish people. Truth is stranger than fiction. I really enjoyed Maplecroft and I look forward to reading Chapelwood.

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I got an ARC of this one to review, and I loved it. I’ve never read any of the original Sherlock Holmes books, but I was so excited to see this on the grab list.

With her inquisitive mind, Charlotte Holmes has never felt comfortable with the demureness expected of the fairer sex in upper class society.  But even she never thought that she would become a social pariah, an outcast fending for herself on the mean streets of London.

When the city is struck by a trio of unexpected deaths and suspicion falls on her sister and her father, Charlotte is desperate to find the true culprits and clear the family name. She’ll have help from friends new and old—a kind-hearted widow, a police inspector, and a man who has long loved her. But in the end, it will be up to Charlotte, under the assumed name Sherlock Holmes, to challenge society’s expectations and match wits against an unseen mastermind.

I’m working up my review for Criminal Element, but this was one of the best books I’ve read all year. I’m excited to continue with this series.

And really, those were the only two books I’ve read. I’m starting October with another ARC, one I like less well but fits into the theme of “women in pretty dresses with their backs turned.”

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On a quest to distract her lifelong friend Jeremy from his recent heartbreak, Lady Emily organizes a holiday in Greece. As a lover of all things Greek, she quickly finds herself occupied with tours of ancient ruins, lively debates with Margaret, a devoted Latinist, and slightly more scandalous endeavors with her dashing husband, Colin Hargreaves. But the pleasantries are brought to an abrupt halt when a man long believed dead greets the party at their island villa. Lord Philip Ashton, Colin’s childhood best friend and Emily’s first husband, has returned. But can Philip really be who he claims, even if he has the scars and stories to prove it? Where has he been for all this time? And will his undying love for Emily drive him to claim what’s his?

Intrigue mounts as Philip reveals that he has been plagued for the past few years by an illegal antiques trader who believes he is in possession of a piece of Achilles’ helmet, a priceless relic that was stolen from him moments after he unearthed it on an archaeological dig. Emily must employ all of her cunning and expertise to thwart thieves who threaten not only her own safety, but that of those precious artifacts she holds so dear. A trail of overheard conversations, murderous assailants, and dead bodies leads her on a chase to uncover more than one buried truth.

The voice is pretty good, but damn, the manpain and whining are extreme. I think she’s telling the wrong story, but that’s a conclusion for next month.

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Whatcha Reading? June/July 2016

Well, I sure fell off on these, didn’t I? June was an exceptionally trying month, reading-wise.

I started with Alison Goodman’s The Dark Days Club, which my friends had all told me was excellent.

They were not wrong. It was great.

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I don’t often read Regency-era novels, but this one is true to period, also mentions Lord Byron (whom I love), and presents a unique “superhuman” circumstance in giving super strength and the power to stop monsters to a titled society lady. Helen’s reluctance to accept her gift warring with thoughts of “Lord Carlston’s lips” was a fairly compelling story line. Goodman balances the era’s perception of women with opened-minded characters who encourage Helen to embrace her strengths. I really enjoyed this one, and I’m looking forward to book two!

Unfortunately, June took a deep nose-dive when I received an ARC of Arsenic with Austen for review. I believe in reading outside your comfort zone; though I’m not a big fan of the cosy genre, I thought this one had potential, and I was sort of hoping the title was an allusion to the debate on whether or not Austen died as a result of an overdose of arsenic. You know medicines in those days weren’t exactly… helpful.

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This book began decently and quickly dissolved into a massive train wreck. Set in 2013, Emily, a professor at Reed College in Portland, receives word that her great aunt has died. Okay. She’s left an inheritance. Okay. It turns out to her aunt’s estate, $6 million dollars, and half the town of Stony Beach. Okay.

Except the lawyer mailed the death notice to the college and if she “hadn’t checked her box, she might have gotten it next fall!” No. That’s not how that works. Emily has a peculiar habit of verbally speaking to her late husband’s ghost, like, in actual questions she’s mentally answering for him. Oh, and my favorite: the unrequited teenage romance she dare not think of, but mentions every five minutes. The writing is poor, coupled with what I assume were supposed to be “humorous” quips regarding how Emily’s aunt drilled proper grammar and diction into her from a young age. The author also makes a point to call out Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, not as retelling of Austen she didn’t care for, but for being a work she can’t fathom being published by a serious house, let alone how the indie and self pub works make it into proper bookstores.

Here’s a tip: maybe don’t insult indie and self pub people. The road is different for everyone. Don’t knock someone because they didn’t take the same path you did. Did I like P+P+Z? No, I don’t begrudge it being in Barnes and Noble. There’s no reason to kick someone else, especially when your work is also flawed.

Aside from the eye-roll worthy dialogue, there’s no actual plot. Whole chapters pass by in which Emily is actually taking a survey of the townspeople asking how they feel about increasing the tourist trade; of course, the mayor and a seedy vampire-esque realtor are totally trying to get Emily to sell, to the point where they may have murdered her aunt.

Yeah, no. The author needed to do more research on how dead bodies work and how to investigate a crime.

No one dies from “acute gastroenteritis.” If your housekeeper breaks her neck falling down the basement stairs twelve hours before you return, you won’t smell blood and rotting flesh. In fact, you won’t smell blood unless someone bleeds out, which breaking your neck does not cause.

Most importantly, real police don’t watch episode of tv shows wherein the guy you suspect murdered your aunt played a murderer to “see how he did.” What? And for some reason, Emily doesn’t know what Netflix is. Okay. My mother is also 51, and SHE knows what Netflix is.

It’s also not a murder “mystery” if all of your “suspects” turn out to be involved in the murder.

The unfortunate consequence of this book was that my well ran dry. I struggled to come up with something decent to say, ended up profiling the book, and scrabbled around trying to replenish myself. Bad books are draining.

I picked up Leanna Renee Hieber’s Strangely Beautiful as my reward for completing that daunting task.

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Leanna is a dear friend of mine, and this book is actually a re-release of her first two novels, The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker and The Darkly Luminous Fight for Persephone Parker. I’ve long been a fan of Leanna’s work, having come aboard with Darker Still. Hot guys trapped in portraits and needing rescuing by daydreaming heroines? Yes, please!

Strangely Beautiful was an interesting read, like the X-Men, but with ghosts. I really like the Guard, especially Elijah. It wasn’t so much the story that got me as seeing the progression in Leanna’s writing. It’s clearly her voice, her signature level of detail (especially regarding dresses!), and her flow, but it’s a rare opportunity to get to go back and see where she started, and since I was having difficulty regaining my own voice, it was a tremendous comfort and help. Plus, the image of Hades/Death unhinging his jaw and vomiting pomegrante is both horrific and delightful.

Following that, I got the chance to read Leanna’s next Eterna Files book, Eterna and Omega, before its August 9th release!

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Leanna gets the best covers. I read this book in three days and it only took me that long because I had to attend The Day Job. I even brought it with me to the gym. I wrote a review for Eterna and Omega for Criminal Element, so when that’s up, I’ll cross post it here.

If it wasn’t painfully obvious, I loved this book and I love this series. It needed more Lavinia, but that’s a personal issue and not one having to do with the book. The great thing about being a book reviewer is getting to read things before they come out. The bad thing about being a book reviewer is than having to wait until NEXT August for book three, which Leanna is still writing. Oh well.

So that’s it! Giant post, three good books, one book I deeply regret. On the slate for August is an ARC of Whispers Beyond the Veil, and my poor attempts to shuffle through my TBR.

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Pride+Prejudice+Zombies: A Review

Jane Austen and I have always had a tumultuous relationship. I’ve never liked Pride and Prejudice (not the first time I read it, not the second). Actually, I prefer Sense and Sensibility, but in general, my feelings about Jane Austen’s work reflect her feelings about the Bronte sisters’ work: she didn’t dig it.

I wasn’t too keen on the idea of throwing zombies into the mix either, but what can you do? I didn’t read that version, either, but I did take my little sister to see the movie over Valentine’s Day Weekend. If there’s one thing I can get behind, it’s celebrating a holiday I don’t care about with a movie about killing the undead.

Pride+Prejudice+Zombies was as hilariously horrible as I expected it to be. Men and women are sent to China (for the poor) or Japan (for the elite) to learn to the art of fighting and combat. The costumes were lovely, the scenery perfect. Point: at least Jane, Lizzie, and the other girls wore respectable (if not entirely historically accurate) clothing. There was a shade too much decolletage, but what did I expect? At least they stuck to full-length dresses and not skimpy “battle attire.”Plus, the knife holsters were an excellent addition.

The storyline was not what I expected. It’s vaguely like Austen’s novel, and Lizzie still gets to be the snarky delight she is, but they didn’t really develop the other characters. I’m not sure if they were relying on viewers having read the original zombie-free version. There was also a glaring lack of transition. The narrative bounced back and forth like a loose brain. The casting was hit-and-miss: Matt Smith was an excellent and thoroughly annoying Mr. Collins, Lily James was a great Lizzie Bennett. I wanted Lady Catherine (Lena Headey) to be a villain, but she was not. I had been convinced she had a legion of zombies set to keep Lizzie and Darcy apart.

Jack Huston was the BEST Wickham I’ve seen. Well, the best version of Wickham.

And I know this is going to be shallow, but I felt that Darcy could have been… more handsome. Bingely was super pretty. Darcy… meh. Maybe it was the styling. I liked him way more as the crow-man in Maleficent.

I do feel like they gave us an homage to the BBC version, starring Collin Firth, as this Darcy also has a dramatic swan-dive into a pond, from which he rises in a dripping puffy shirt. I might have cackled in the middle of the theater. Okay, I did.

Darcy confessing his “inappropriate” and “horrifying” feelings for Elizabeth was definitely improved matching verbal sparring with a literal knife fight. It was probably my favorite moment in the whole thing.

The highlight of the film was how well they maintained Lizzie’s character. I might not like Pride and Prejudice, but I’ve always appreciated Elizabeth’s steadfastness and confidence in herself. The addition of zombies only allowed her to be stronger. Counterbalancing Darcy’s earlier… demand that Lizzie marry him, at the end, he asks not for her to be his wife, but if she’d allow him to be her husband.

Alright, maybe that was my favorite part of the movie.

I’m a bit upset I paid so much to see it in theaters, but my sister enjoyed it, so it was worth the cost. If you missed it on the big screen, well, you didn’t miss much. I’d wait to rent it. A dollar feels like a more reasonable price.

What did you think? More over, what do you think Jane Austen would think

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Whatcha Reading? February 2016

I’m sure I’ll think of a better name for these posts at some point, but I thought it would be interesting to talk a bit about the books I’ve read each month. I know people are always looking for things to read (I know I am), and while reviews are great and incredibly important to authors, I’d be here forever if I did an in-depth review on everything. Instead, here’s a brief tour of February’s books!

Finding Center by Katherine Locke

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I’ve never really been one for romance, but I absolutely adore Katherine Locke’s District Ballet Company series. I read Turning Pointe and Finding Center when they first released, and though I’d pre-ordered Finding Center, I didn’t get around to reading it until now. Sometimes I forget I have an eReader and even more books to go through.

The romance is flavoring on top of book devoted to portraying mental illness, therapy, and recovery in a positive light. It’s an incredibly accurate depiction, and the writing is gorgeous.

Zed and ballet are my two greatest loves

It took all of Aly’s strength to get them back after a tragic accident ripped them from her six years ago. A long road to recovery led to her return, dancing full-time for the District Ballet Company and carrying Zed’s child. But Aly is slipping. Each day becomes a fight to keep her career from crumbling under the weight of younger talent, the scrutiny of the public eye and the limitations of her ever-changing body. A fight she fears she’s losing.

I’m scared Aly is broken to her core

Zed recognizes the signs, but he doesn’t know how to fix her. The accident left him with his own demons, and while he wants nothing more than to take care of the woman he loves, it’s getting harder the farther downward she spirals. When Aly’s life is threatened and Zed’s injuries prevent him from saving her, he’s never felt so useless, so afraid he’s not capable of being the man Aly and their child needs.

With new life comes new hope. And with their fractured lives already hanging by a thread, Aly and Zed must discover if they have what it takes—both together and apart—to rebuild and carry on.

The prequel novella, Turning Pointe, is free if you want to check it out, which you do.

Second Line and Chasing Ghosts by Kira Butler

These two short stories are part of Kira’s Short Fictions and Curiosities series. I enjoy serialized fiction, and there’s a new story posted every month, for FREE.

Chasing Ghosts was essentially a dash through a time-capsual manor, where everything was left in media res. Second Line was a beautiful ghost story set against Katrina-ravenged New Orleans. I enjoyed both very much, and I can’t wait to read what’s up next.

The Damsel and the Daggerman by Delilah S. Dawson

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Remember when I said I sometimes forget I have an eReader? It’s always a nice surprise to find a Blud book I haven’t read.

Bad boy knife-thrower Marco Taresque is the hottest and most dangerous performer in the caravan. He keeps to himself until a pesky female journalist arrives, anxious to interview him about his checkered past—his last assistant disappeared under mysterious and bloody circumstances, earning him the nickname “The Deadly Daggerman.”

Unsinkable journalist and adventurer Jacinda Harville doesn’t take no for an answer, and she’s determined to wear down Marco no matter how threatening—or incredibly desirable—he might appear. He agrees to an interview—but only if she’ll let him strap her to a spinning table and throw knives at her body. How can she say no? And how can she resist him when he leans close for a kiss that strikes her more sharply than any blade? It’s the first time she’s let a man get the better of her, and she’s determined it will be the last…

Like all of Delilah’s Blud books, Damsel doesn’t disappoint. There’s a nice subversion of tropes, more caravan adventures, and some infuriating and sexy banter. Bonus: you don’t have to read any of the novellas in order.

Wake of Vultures by Lila Bowen

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This one I wasn’t sure about. Weird West, much like romance, isn’t exactly in my wheelhouse. When I found I was on the Diversity in Weird West panel, I pulled Wake from my shelf so I wouldn’t feel like a total poser. Touted as Lonesome Dove meets Buffy, I was sure what to expect.

Nettie Lonesome lives in a land of hard people and hard ground dusted with sand. She’s a half-breed who dresses like a boy, raised by folks who don’t call her a slave but use her like one. She knows of nothing else. That is, until the day a stranger attacks her. When nothing, not even a sickle to the eye can stop him, Nettie stabs him through the heart with a chunk of wood, and he turns into black sand.

And just like that, Nettie can see.

But her newfound ability is a blessing and a curse. Even if she doesn’t understand what’s under her own skin, she can sense what everyone else is hiding — at least physically. The world is full of evil, and now she knows the source of all the sand in the desert. Haunted by the spirits, Nettie has no choice but to set out on a quest that might lead to her true kin… if the monsters along the way don’t kill her first.

I should have expected an insanely intense ride. Nettie, a biracial, genderqueer bronc wrangler turned monster hunter, has an incredibly strong voice, and the pacing is phenominal. I can’t remember the last time I finished a book so quickly. Just go read it, okay? The sequel, Horde of Crows, comes out later this year, and I can’t wait.

The May Queen Murders by Sarah Jude (ARC)

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If you follow me on Twitter, you may have seen that I was commissioned to design eight character cards for this book. Though I spoke with Sarah about design, inspiration, and the personalities of her characters, I wasn’t going to get the chance to read it until May.

Until an ARC fell into my outstreched claws.

Stay on the roads. Don’t enter the woods. Never go out at night. 

Those are the rules in Rowan’s Glen, a remote farming community in the Missouri Ozarks where Ivy Templeton’s family has lived for centuries. It’s an old-fashioned way of life, full of superstition and traditions, and sixteen-year-old Ivy loves it. The other kids at school may think the Glen kids are weird, but Ivy doesn’t care—she has her cousin Heather as her best friend. The two girls share everything with each other—or so Ivy thinks. When Heather goes missing after a May Day celebration, Ivy discovers that both her best friend and her beloved hometown are as full of secrets as the woods that surround them.

The May Queen Murders, much like Wake of Vultures, blew me away. The setting echoes M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village, with plenty of twists and surprises along the way. I’m kinda of mad at myself for failing to puzzle out the mystery. Okay, I’m really mad at myself. It was great read, full of suspense and superstition, and it was so refreshing to see a Mexican-American main character. There’s plenty of diversity, and of course, my favorite–murder.

It’s available for pre-order, so get on it.

Follow @SarahEJude on Twitter to check out the character cards, and stay tuned to find out how you can get a set of your own.

And that’s it! That’s everything I’ve read in February. I think. This month is starting off with Cecilia Dominic’s The Mountain’s Shadow, and hopefully many more.

What did you read this month?

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Review: THE AWESOME by Eva Darrows

On the block today is THE AWESOME by Eva Darrows. Holy shit, did this book live up to my expectations. First off, can we talk about the cover please? 81DoelSgaMLI want an 11.5×17 poster of it on my wall right fucking now. It’s totally throwback B-movie magnificence, I love the acid green/hot pink combo, and I found it fit the vibe of the book.

Seventeen-year-old Maggie Cunningham is tough, smart, and sassy. She’s also not like other girls her age, but then, who would be when the family business is monster hunting? Combat boots, ratty hooded sweatshirts, and hair worn short so nothing with claws can get a grip, Maggie’s concerns in life slant more toward survival than fashion or boys. Which presents a problem when Maggie’s mother informs Maggie that she can’t get her journeyman’s license for hunting until she loses her virginity.

Something about virgin blood turning vampires into pointy rage monsters. Blood and gore and insides being on the outside and all that.

Maggie’s battled ghosts and goblins and her fair share of house brownies, but finding herself a boy – fitting in with her peers – proves a much more daunting task than any monster hunt. Did you know normal girls don’t stuff their bras with holy water balloons? Nor do they carry wooden stakes in their waistbands. And they care about things like “matching” and “footwear.” Of course, they also can’t clean a gun blindfolded, shoot a crossbow, or exorcise ghosts from a house. Which means they’re lame and Maggie’s not. Because Maggie’s awesome. The Awesome, in fact. Just ask her. She’d be more than happy to tell you.

After she finds herself a date.

Let me tell you something about Maggie, okay? Maggie Cunningham is the foul-mouthed little sister to Chuck Wendig’s Miriam Black with a dash of Joss Whedon. I loved this girl. I love that the most terrifying, difficult, skin-crawling task she has to face is being a seventeen year old girl. As a former seventeen year old girl, I can tell you that it is, in fact, awful. I am with Maggie 100%. But you know what? Maggie is spitfire. She battles ghosts and zombies; she can totally take on being a teenaged girl.

That being said, Maggie has so much dimension. Yeah, she’s a badass and she knows it, but she’s squishier on the inside that she’d like to admit. She’s deeply devoted to her mom, she’s a good friend (which probably surprises her), and yeah, she gets scared and upset. But Maggie knows her own power and is sure as shit not afraid to use it.

The story itself is a wild romp. I couldn’t put it down. I love the world-building in that monsters are a known thing. No hiding behind lame excuses; monster hunting is a real job and that’s awesome. I hate the “hiding in the shadows” cliché. You so did not get lacerations that deep “falling off your bike.” The other characters–Janice, Jeff, Lauren, and Ian–are so well developed. And the monsters themselves are killer. I love Darrows’s vampires. The second she mentioned piranha teeth, I squealed because that’s how I’ve always envisioned them.

I have to admit I warred with myself over the whole “virginity” thing. I guess I get it, but at the same time my brain went on a “virginity is a myth. You’re sexually experienced or you’re not. No one’s summoning unicorns around here” rant. It might have made more sense if she’d done the Ginger Snaps period route and told Maggie to shove a tampon in it, but it is what it is. Honestly, though, I think what made it better in my mind is Maggie’s undaunted forwardness. She’s not in it for love and romance, she needs to drop her V-card like a hot potato to level up in her career.

I highly recommend this book. There are some great twists and turns, an abundance of sass and swearing, and it’s probably the most fun I’ve had reading in a while. I sorta wish there was a second one, but I’m selfish.

THE AWESOME is out May 26th, 2015. You can preorder from Amazon by clicking this link.

If you want other spooky scary stuff, check out MARY: THE SUMMONING by Darrows’s alter-ego, Hillary Monahan.

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Giveaway Winner and Review of DANGEROUS GIRLS by Abigail Haas

First order of business! The winner of the hardcover copy of SERVANTS OF THE STORM is Heather!

WinnerThank you all for entering, tweeting, sharing and most of all, reading. Not bad for my first giveaway.

So. DANGEROUS GIRLS. This was a book I picked up at DragonCon on whim, along with a few others.

411B21Tad+L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Looking at the cover, I doubt it’s one I would have picked up for myself if not for the recommendation of a friend. A recommendation I apparently hallucinated. I swear on my bookcase this person told me she’d devoured this book, but we know by now my brain isn’t always the most reliable.

It’s been a week since I finished it. I let it sit, exercised my book hangover cures, read something else (that also broke my heart because of course it did) and I think I’ve overcome my deep emotions.

On the surface, DANGEROUS GIRLS is about a group of friends who travel to Aruba on vacation, and one of them ends up murdered. The narrative centers around two best friends: Elise, the one who dies, and Anna, the one they suspect killed her.

This book messed me up, you guys. It’s a total mindfuck.

What I enjoyed most about this book was the structure. It’s a non-linear narrative, shifting from the 911 call after finding the body to the investigation, evidence, and Anna’s time spent in jail to how Anna and Elise met and formed the group involved in this crime. It felt like a realistic portrayal of high school friendship. The two girls have a very intense relationship. Their bond runs deep, which makes it so hard to believe that Anna is even a suspect.

Especially when there’s a jilted lover with no alibi and a spurned native known for break-ins on the list of people Elise pissed off.

The writing is captivating. Haas obviously put a lot of work into establishing the legal world of a non-US trial. I loved the little unknown asides between characters (because there were no names mentioned/no tags, so it could have been anyone speaking), and how I felt that whirlwind friendship between the girls. I felt Anna’s heartache at the loss of her best friend and sister. I wasn’t sure how to handle Elise’s death until the end, but the ride to finding out the truth was a fun one.

It kept me up at night. I couldn’t stop thinking about. I had to get to the end, even though I knew what ending the book would lead to (the hangover.)

From what I’ve seen of other reviews, this is a book people either LOVED or HATED. I get that. For me, I think I read it at a time where I so strongly identified with Anna, the mindfuck of the whole thing slapped me across the face. I had my theories, which were ultimately proven incorrect, but that’s part of the fun of whodunits. I like the guesswork.

The ending destroyed me. I’ve never sobbed and pined over a book as hard as I did this one. The last book that really hurt me was IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS by Cat Winters.

I couldn’t even look at the cover without going all achy.

That being said, now that I’ve had time to wind down, I have a LOT of questions about the truth of this book. I just don’t know how it happened the way it did. The evidence doesn’t add up, and maybe that’s the point, but it still leaves an odd taste in my mouth. I still very much enjoyed this book, but it’s off the mark. I can see the why, just not the how. At the time, it didn’t matter, but now it’s an itch I can’t scratch.

Perhaps the narration hindered the killer’s reveal, but I just… don’t see it. And where the hell was the freaking necklace that whole time?

Give it a shot. I still think it’s a worthy book. Maybe you’ll see more evidence than I did. I’m off to heal from my recent bout of heartbreak, thanks to Susan Dennard and the conclusion of her A DARKNESS STRANGE AND DEADLY series. I’m not sure if I’ll write up a review of them or not, so if it’s something you’d like to see, leave a comment below.

Keep creeping, darlings.

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Review and Giveaway: Servants of the Storm by Delilah S. Dawson

I guess book review Sundays are a thing now.

I’ve had Delilah’s YA debut, Servants of the Storm, waiting on my bookshelf since its release in August. I have this weird quirk where I can’t read something until I’m ready. I think I’m half afraid I’ll ruin the magic too soon and I hate waiting to sink my teeth in more of Delilah’s gorgeous worldbuiling.

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Servants of the Storm takes place in Savannah, GA, which I have been to exactly once, in the fifth grade. I had little memory of what Savannah looked like, but Delilah does such a masterful job describing the city, you feel like you’re there. Which, given the sudden cold spell and the snow this week, I was more than grateful for the suggested heatwave.

I love the tilty girl on the cover. Just… yes. Dead and tilty.

You guys also know I love an unreliable narrator, and Dovey is everything I’ve wanted in a kickass heroine. She’s pretty fearless for a crazy girl, and her determination to save her best friend Carly propels her through a world twisted and manipulated by demons. Delilah infuses the whole narrative with creepy things in the dark, from people with fox ears and sharp teeth to devil dogs to haunted amusement parks. The questions is always “Is Dovey seeing reality?” or “Is this Dovey’s delusion?”

As a fan of her Blud series, I was pleased to find the same strong voice in a different tone. The relationships in this book felt real, and under duress, I may admit to crushing a bit on Isaac. I caught a definite Sleep No More vibe from Charnel House and I adored the little injections of humor. There’s a lot of mythology soaked into the origin of this story and I found it compelling. Once I started reading, it was difficult to stop. I wouldn’t call it fast-paced, but it was I had to take bites out of, always hungry for more

The ending left the story open-ended, with room for futher developement, but it provided a solid conclusion if Servants acts as a stand-alone. It reminded me of the “Normal Again” episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

I didn’t mind the love triangle, and I thought everyone seem pretty realistically teenaged. Maybe it’s because I have a demonically-possessed fifteen-year-old sister.

The paperback releases in April, stuffed with goodies like a “Which demon are you?” quiz, playlists, and a portrait of our main antagonist, Kitty. I really enjoy this cover, too.

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Want to take a trip to demon-infested Savannah? Well, tis the season of giving, and I’m giving away a hardcover copy of Servants of the Storm:

 

Well, there WAS a rafflecopter thing here but it seems to be having issues, so, just comment below with what sort of demon you’d be!

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I’ll pick a winner next week (Dec. 7). I’m a Coyote Earthquake. Sounds like a mixed drink. 🙂

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Review: MARY: THE SUMMONING by Hillary Monahan

Since I finished the rewrite on my manuscript last week, I’ve been devouring books like a woman starving. So far, one of my absolute favorites is Hillary Monahan’s Mary: The Summoning. Can we just talk about the cover for a hot minute here?

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Creepy mirror face, wax dripping like blood (Or actual blood). I love it. But wait, there’s more! I can’t stand to read books with the jacket on (because I’ll mess them up and weep forever). Having a blank hardcover is fun, but Mary goes a bit deeper.

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Oh yeah, she’s printed on the hardcover too. I really love that they did this. Two great covers and it’s like a mini jump-scare before you even GET to the story. Props to you, art department.

The story itself is a new take on a very old legend. We all know that if you go into the dark bathroom and say “Bloody Mary” three times in the mirror, Mary appears to scratch your eyes out/haunt you/steal your soul, etc. Monahan takes it one step further:

There is a right way and a wrong way to summon her.

Jess had done the research. Success requires precision: a dark room, a mirror, a candle, salt, and four teenage girls. Each of them–Jess, Shauna, Kitty, and Anna–must link hands, follow the rules . . . and never let go.

A thrilling fear spins around the room the first time Jess calls her name: “Bloody Mary. Bloody Mary. BLOODY MARY.” A ripple of terror follows when a shadowy silhouette emerges through the fog, a specter trapped behind the mirror.

Once is not enough, though–at least not for Jess. Mary is called again. And again. But when their summoning circle is broken, Bloody Mary slips through the glass with a taste for revenge on her lips. As the girls struggle to escape Mary’s wrath, loyalties are questioned, friendships are torn apart, and lives are forever altered.

A haunting trail of clues leads Shauna on a desperate search to uncover the legacy of Mary Worth. What she finds will change everything, but will it be enough to stop Mary–and Jess–before it’s too late?

I’m a sucker for research and ritual. The fact that Jess tweaks their circle each time to summon Mary for different results is awesome. Let me tell you, Monahan pulls no punches. From the second Mary escapes that mirror, it is non-stop full-throttle scary. And Mary has rules, which is absolutely killer. All shiny surfaces are Mary’s domain. I’ve never been dared to summon Bloody Mary and now I never, ever, will. EVER. Let me tell you guys, I have never been more keenly aware of how many reflective surfaces are in my home.

There are 49 in my bedroom alone. Damn gallery walls.

If research and ritual weren’t enough, Monahan also uses history. Well, urban legend history. Her Mary is Mary Worth, one of the popular origins for the legend. Many claim she was a witch, and Monahan truly brings her to life through letters written from Mary to her sister, Constance. The way she ties it all together is perfection. The flaw I found is that book ended. However, I know she’s busy drafting Mary 2, so I can wait.

I finished the book in two days and it only took me that long because I had to go to work. It’s well-written, beautifully crafted, and pretty scary. It’s got that old school ghost story vibe I loved so much in Joe Hill’s Heart-Shaped Box.

If you guys love a solid and creeptastic horror story, I’d check out Mary: The Summoning as fast as your little feet can get you to a bookstore, library, or eReader.

Don’t read it at night.

Stay away from the mirrors.

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Gone Girl: Book and Movie Review

My first foray into Gillian Flynn’s work was Sharp Objects. I loved that book so much I immediately reread it. Flynn has a great voice, the story was compelling and gritty and I loved every moment. Dark Places was… well, a let down. My friend Cas had been telling me to read Gone Girl, but I was bit soured after Flynn’s second book hadn’t lived up to the first. When I heard Gone Girl was going to be made into a film, I broke down. The book had been sitting on my shelf for almost a year and every so often I’d think I should read that, and pass it up for something else. I started the book and finished it five days later. MV5BMTk0MDQ3MzAzOV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzU1NzE3MjE@._V1_SX640_SY720_ Holy fuck was I wrong. Gone Girl centers around Nick Dunne and his missing wife, Amy. Nick, of course, is accused of her murder. Things look bad for Nick; hell, things are bad for Nick. A diary filled with damning things, suspicious spending, a “too perfect” crime scene… and a treasure hunt, their anniversary tradition, leading to more than just the traditional gift.

I could not put it down. Well, I did, but it had to be pried out of my hands. I wasn’t expecting the emotional rollercoaster or how angry I’d be and how thoroughly impressed. Once the punches start rolling and the story blossoms into this tangled thicket of thorns and roses, you are HOOKED. I went from hating Nick to feeling sorry for him and that’s not a switch I make often. These characters are wonderfully compelling and the plotline is so clever, it’s sickening.

Seriously, I want to see Flynn’s mind map for this story because it must have taken so much time and energy and planning.

Obviously, I was just as thrilled for the movie. I’d been hearing nothing but excellent things and as I’m sure you know, fellow readers, it’s hard to get your hopes up when there’s a book involved. I admit to being more than a little worried when punk rock me walked into a theatre filled with older couples and moms. I know they billed Gone Girl as a “hot night flick” but… no.

I could not have been happier. The filmography is to die for and they kept a lot of the lines from the book. I cannot praise Rosamund Pike enough as Amy Elliot Dunne. She was brilliant and almost exactly as I’d pictured Amy. Ben Affleck was great as Nick. He really captured the character’s inappropriate charm. Neil Patrick Harris took me by surprise as Desi Collings. I’d seen more as the Ezra Miller type, but NPH was excellent. Subtly dangerous. Slightly creepy.

The only change I was uncertain of was Tyler Perry as Tanner Bolt, but he played the role magnificently. I was a bit sad to see the lack of Tanner’s wife, but they kept the jellybean/gummy bear scene, which I found hilarious in the book. The narrative was spot on, with a slight number of changes to make it work on film. I adored the little vignettes of Amy writing in her diary, the masterful switches in point of view. At 2 hours and 30 minutes, I was worried it would be too long, but I don’t think I’ve seen a more perfect adaptation of book to movie.

The only slight difference was the ending, which didn’t vary from the book as much as I thought it would. It added to the feel. I loved it. Of course I have to spare a moment for the soundtrack, which I bought immediately upon leaving the theatre. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross knocked it out of the fucking ballpark. If you loved the book, you’ll love the movie. If you haven’t read the book, I suggest you do so, but it’s not necessary as long as you know that it’s not a feel-good movie and there are no happy endings. It’s a thriller and I am thrilled I got the chance to see it on the big screen. Nick and Amy are so fucked up and absolutely perfect for each other.

I sat in my seat as the credits rolled and just smiled. I don’t remember ever walking out of a theatre grinning like that, that sort of haughty, deeply self-satisfied smirk. I can’t wait to own it on DVD. This is definitely one you don’t want to miss.

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Review: DEADLY DEBUT ANTHOLOGY

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The New York/Tri-State chapter of the Sisters in Crime have put out their newest anthology, DEADLY DEBUT, seven stories that walk the line between horror and cosy, with a dash of murder thrown in. I’m sure what to expect from anthologies and I am delighted to say this is one solid collection. Guys, there’s even a belly dancer story.

For those who don’t know, I’ve been a belly dance for a little over five years. But we’ll get to that.

“Death Will Clean Your Closet” by Elizabeth Zelvin is probably my favorite from this collection. It’s got that creepy vibe I love so much, a dash of unreliable narrator, and it’s just a little bit darkly hilarious.

“On the Saturday morning, when I finally got around to cleaning my apartment, I found a ton of mouse droppings, seven enormous water bugs, and a body. The body lay crumpled like a Raggedy Ann in the back of the walk-in closet. That closet was the jewel in my rent-controlled crown. It made me the envy of all my friends with one-year leases in the overpriced shoeboxes that had replaced most of the old-law tenements and crumbling brownstones on the Upper East Side. The white, working-class neighborhood of Yorkville had fallen prey to developers, who put in high-rises with Sheetrock walls as thin as a corned beef on rye in a greasy spoon.”

If that doesn’t make you want to start reading, I probably can’t help you. This one’s got a bite. I might be my favorite of the series.

Okay, it is.

“Murder in Aladdin’s Cave” by Lina Zeldovich is the second stand-out for me, and not just because of the belly dancers. I was thrilled to see some diversity, especially a portrayal of Middle Eastern dancers that doesn’t assume we’re all whores.

Can I just say how thrilled I am when writers use correct dancing terminology? Bonus: at our last show, we had a shamadan. I was not the wearer, but I can tell you that thing generates a lot of heat and fire is incredibly heavy. Which makes me believe some of the moves in that story are not, in fact, possible. Please do not toss lighted, flaming headwear from your head. It’s a bad idea.

Terrie Farley Moran’s “Strike Zone” serves as a nice ending to this collection. What better way to wrap up seven tales of murder and misdeeds then by mentioning Edgar Allan Poe. We all know how I feel regarding Mr. Poe.

Edgar Allan Poe killed him.

That’s not what they wrote in the Journal-American or any of the other New York dailies, of course. Those newspapers got carried away with gang violence and how maybe it was the Fordham Baldies did the deed. The papers called the Baldies the most dangerous gang the Bronx had ever spawned. But Edgar Allan Poe was the one who killed him. I know. I was there.

Though I’ve never been to Poe Park (I begged my dad, who grew up in the Bronx, to take me and he declined), the images Moran paints are basically everything I’ve ever imagined. I like her feisty gal narrator and just how she relays how “Edgar Allan Poe killed him.”

I very much enjoyed spending the afternoon immersed in this anthology. It’s about 125 pages printed (249 according to my Nook), and well worth looking into. Murder New York Style has two more anthologies launched and ready: Fresh Slices and Family Matters. If you want to check out all three of these collections, head over to the Murder New York Style website.

I look forward to seeing what the rest of these collections have in store.

Seriously, though how does one became a Sister in Crime because I want in! Talk about coolest name ever

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