Book Review

The Lurking Collection- Book Review

Book Rating: ★★★★✰  (4 / 5 stars)

In this collection of short stories by Jaidis Shaw, we investigate some dark and chilling questions: is a sacrifice worth it? Is that boy in your class as kind as he seems? What secrets are we holding? Each story will chill you to the bones, and make you question your own life – for better or worse.

These stories are beautifully written, and each one will leave you at the edge of your seat…all for a different reason. My favorite one was definitely The Reluctant Seamstress. This one was jaw dropping, and I could have read an entire book about this character and her people. I sat up straight in bed as I devoured this tale, my heart racing…with a smile on my face at the end.

The other two stories, The House on Juniper Lane and Blind Justice, also had that same chilling atmosphere but they didn’t enchant me in the same way. These were much more closer to the real world (especially the last one), and reminded me more of traditional horror stories, similar to Stephen King or other similar authors.

That being said, all these stories are worth the read – they’ll leave you thinking about humanity, life, and all the secrets in the shadows. Definitely check it out.

What’s it about?

A collection of stories by Jaidis Shaw:

Is the sacrifice worth the reward?

The Reluctant Seamstress is an outcast among her people. Cursed to never set foot on land, she swims in the dark depths below the ocean’s surface. Now her life depends on making the perfect suit for her master. The only problem is that everyone knows human flesh is a fickle material.

Some family traditions must come to an end.

The House on Juniper Lane had always been a mystery. After a family was violently slain within its walls, it quickly became an attraction for teens looking for a thrill. It was just an empty house to Grace. So when the hottest guy in school wanted to take her there, she accepted. It was all fun and games until she woke up tied to a chair.

One night will change her life forever.

Blind Justice is what she provides. Molly wasn’t going to let blindness stop her from holding psychological criminals accountable for their actions. Now the bodies are piling up and Molly must identify the killer before her own secrets are brought to light and she becomes the next victim. 

Book Review

The Elite Wizard Games- Book Review

Book Rating: ★★★✰✰  (3 / 5 stars)

Melanie has been training for the Elite Wizard games for years. She yearns to be one of the five wizards that will win the battle royale and secure herself a place within the Elite Wizard Guilds. Yet, as a pernicious plot unfolds to destroy the Dragon Wizards, Melanie and her friends must join forces to stop the chaos. But will it cause her to lose her place in the guild?

Fast paced and action packed, The Elite Wizard Games is a fun afternoon read that will keep you on the edge of your seat. Filled with magic and battles, fairies and dragons, and friendships and enemies, there is something for everyone in this story. You’ll be on the edge of your seat routing for Melanie to both stop the plot to destroy the Dragon Wizard, as well as secure her place in the guild.

Yet, its fast speed comes at a detriment. So much happens in this book in such a short amount of time (I believe it took me 1.5 hours to read this book total). Personally, I didn’t have enough time to meet the characters or get a full understanding of the guilds. It felt like I jumped in halfway through the story, and really wish I had a chance to understand Melanie’s motivations and talents, as well as that of her friends. If this book had been 100-200 pages longer, I think we would have started to delve deeper into all of this, and create a much more well rounded story.

In addition, while I did not count this in my rating of the book, the cover confused me. The story read like a high fantasy, yet the cover made me think it was more urban fantasy or low fantasy. I couldn’t quite figure out if or where technology fit into this world, and while this didn’t impact my rating, it may impact how others feel.

Ultimately though, this was a fun book, and I think if you enjoy fast paced adventures, you’ll enjoy The Elite Wizard Games. It will keep you at the edge of your seat from start to finish, that I’m sure.

What’s it about?

The competition for a prestigious spot on an Elite Wizards Guild is at hand.
 
For years, nineteen-year-old Melanie has trained and worked for nothing else. More than anything, she strives to be one of the five wizards that will win the epic battle royale. Yet her plans shift in the midst of the games when she learns of a sinister plot to rob the Dragon Wizards of their ancient magic.
 
As the competition rages on, the stakes are upped to life or death. Teaming up with one of her competitors may be Melanie’s only chance to save the world. But will it cost her a place in a guild?
 
Game on. Are you strong enough to survive?

Book Review

The Sleep Tight Motel- Book Review

Book Rating: ★★★★✰  (4 / 5 stars)

Eve is on the run, and her only safe haven seems to be a quiet motel on the edge of the woods. In need of a place to sleep, she takes up the kindly manager’s offer to spend the night. But why does she keep hearing noises outside her wall? And will her violent lover come knocking on her door before the morning?

The Sleep Tight Motel is the exact type of horror story I love. Without giving too much away, this is a story about a crossroads and about coming to terms with one’s poor choices. If I delve further than that, it might give up the twist.

Although, speaking of the twist, I did figure it out pretty early in the story. Sometimes that’s the problem with these short stories – things come too quickly, or the story needs something more to give it that extra pull. While this story was just the right length, I did wish that there was more of a “shock” factor in the discovery. But that’s just a personal taste.

Overall, The Sleep Tight Motel is one of the stronger stories in the Dark Corner collection. It caters to horror and suspense without being gratuitous…which is exactly what I enjoy. So if you check out any stories in this collection, definitely check this one out.

What’s it about?

A woman on the run finds refuge in a motel at the edge of the woods, with plenty of vacancies. Check in for the night with New York Times bestselling author Lisa Unger.

Eve has a fake ID, a .38, and a violent lover receding in the rearview mirror. He’ll never find her at the isolated motel, and its kindly manager is happy to ease her fears. But if Eve is the only guest, whom does she keep hearing on the other side of the wall? Eve won’t get a good night’s rest until she finds out.

Lisa Unger’s The Sleep Tight Motel is part of Dark Corners, a collection of seven heart-stopping short stories by bestselling authors who give you so many new reasons to be afraid. Each story can be read in a single sitting. Or, if you have the nerve, you can listen all by yourself in the dark.

Book Review

Miao Dao- Book Review

Book Rating: ★★★✰✰  (3.5 / 5 stars)

As Mia matures, her life changes. Her dad leaves. Boys grope her. And her stepfather pursues her. Her only friend is a ghostly white cat – who may as well be her protector. Can this cat protect her? Or will it come at a cost?

A creepy story with a dark twist, this tale left me shaken to my core – in both good and bad ways. First the good: the twist at the end of this short story left me both surprised and satisfied. It was exactly what I expected…but more. Mia finds her protection, and that in turn was the goal of the story.

Yet, this story needs a lot of content warnings. Murder, sexual assault, and other topics fill the pages. While I don’t consider myself a sensitive reader, this material could be very triggering. The way these topics were delivered served the right purpose: I felt uncomfortable, which very well might have been the authors goal.

Ultimately, I wasn’t a big fan of the writing style. I think the message could have been delivered better (or perhaps in more pages).

Yet, for a Dark Corners story, this definitely does it job of chilling the reader to the bones. If you do decide to pick it up, go in with this warning: it is not a story about a fluffy cat, but some much darker topics that may not be suitable for everyone.

What’s it about?

A girl comes of age with a vengeance—and help from a friend—in a tale of unnerving suspense from National Book Award winner and literary master Joyce Carol Oates.

Bad things have been happening since Mia began to mature. Her dad left. Boys at school can’t keep their hands to themselves. A lecherous stepfather has moved in. Her only refuge is an abandoned lot on her suburban cul-de-sac, crawling with feral felines—one of which follows Mia home. Ghostly white and affectionate, she is Mia’s new companion and—as Mia’s tormenters will soon discover—her fierce protector.

Joyce Carol Oates’s Miao Dao is part of Dark Corners, a collection of seven heart-stopping short stories by bestselling authors who give you so many new reasons to be afraid. Each story can be read in a single sitting. Or, if you have the nerve, you can listen all by yourself in the dark.

Book Review

City Spies- Book Review

Book Rating: ★★★★✰  (4 / 5 stars)

Sarah Martinez finds herself sitting for trial after hacking into the New York City foster care system. With the possibility of juvenile hall imminent, she is ready to resign to her fate, until a mysterious lawyer – dubbed “Mother” – shows up to save the day. He proposes a new opportunity for her: come to Scotland with him and join an elite group of adolescent spies. It seems like too good of an opportunity to pass up! But can Sarah fit in with her new brigade…while also stopping a villain from committing crimes on a global scale?

The moment I picked up City Spies, I knew I had to suspend disbelief. This is a book written for children, so some of the cartoonish aspects of the characters (and their unbelievable talent) have to be looked at through a less critical lens. Once I abandoned that, this book was a ton of fun. With nods towards the traditional heist stories, with a bit of James Bond and Harry Potter thrown in for good measure, City Spies takes us on a journey of not only espionage, but friendship and teamwork.

Not only are the characters in City Spies diverse – with different races, and even a character who is neurodivergent – but many children will see themselves in Sarah (or Brooklyn), Sydney, Paris, Kat, and Rio. They each have their own distinct personalities, and equally contribute to the team. I am sure in further books we’ll examine more than just Sarah/Brooklyn, but the others as well as they help Mother and team protect the world.

As much fun as this book is, the problems lie again in some of its silliness. While children will overlook this, as an adult reader it was something I had to note. These are extremely talented kids, but the real possibility of a twelve year old hacking into the New York State Foster Care System? Unlikely. But, children will be able to suspend disbelief over this and enjoy the story…as I did as well.

I may consider reading the next books in this saga in the future. It’s definitely a fun, quick read that I think adults and children alike will enjoy.

What’s it about?

Sara Martinez is a hacker. She recently broke into the New York City foster care system to expose her foster parents as cheats and lawbreakers. However, instead of being hailed as a hero, Sara finds herself facing years in a juvenile detention facility and banned from using computers for the same stretch of time. Enter Mother, a British spy who not only gets Sara released from jail but also offers her a chance to make a home for herself within a secret MI6 agency.

Operating out of a base in Scotland, the City Spies are five kids from various parts of the world. When they’re not attending the local boarding school, they’re honing their unique skills, such as sleight of hand, breaking and entering, observation, and explosives. All of these allow them to go places in the world of espionage where adults can’t.

Before she knows what she’s doing, Sarah is heading to Paris for an international youth summit, hacking into a rival school’s computer to prevent them from winning a million euros, dangling thirty feet off the side of a building, and trying to stop a villain…all while navigating the complex dynamics of her new team.

Book Review

Bacchanal- Book Review

Book Rating: ★★★★★  (5 / 5 stars)

After being abandoned by her family in Louisiana, Eliza Meeks is trying to find a way out of the swamps of Baton Rouge. With a magical ability to communicate with animals, she draws the attention of a talent prospector for the Bacchanal Carnival. While Bacchanal offers her a ticket to freedom, there in lies a deeper mystery: a demon feeds off of the weak, terrorizing the country, and hunting for its final foe. Is Eliza the key to ending this demon’s terror? Or unlocking further horrors across the US?

I knew right away that I would like this book. Drawn in by the picturesque descriptions, enchanted by Eliza’s magic and the unique characters, once I started, I didn’t want to put it down. It takes the best aspects of the Night Circus (which I admit I wasn’t a fan of), and couples it with the Depression-era South, Yoruba mythology, and magical realism. So much of this hits aspects that I love.

What it lacks in some of the character aspects (which is often something I enjoy in stories), it makes up for in its storytelling. Each character plays a vital role; one seemingly insignificant character, such as the baker, suddenly becomes a key player. I cried at certain deaths (which I won’t elaborate on here due to spoilers), and smiled when Eliza reunited with the one she’d been searching for.

There is so much to say about this book, but honestly I’ll just leave it at this: Bacchanal gives a new look at a depression-era tale. It is a story not only of magic, but of history and persecution. It was so easy to picture the events unfolding before me, to the point where I felt like I was there.

I cannot recommend this book enough.

What’s it about?

Evil lives in a traveling carnival roaming the Depression-era South. But the carnival’s newest act, a peculiar young woman with latent magical powers, may hold the key to defeating it. Her time has come.

Abandoned by her family, alone on the wrong side of the color line with little to call her own, Eliza Meeks is coming to terms with what she does have. It’s a gift for communicating with animals. To some, she’s a magical tender. To others, a she-devil. To a talent prospector, she’s a crowd-drawing oddity. And the Bacchanal Carnival is Eliza’s ticket out of the swamp trap of Baton Rouge.

Among fortune-tellers, carnies, barkers, and folks even stranger than herself, Eliza finds a new home. But the Bacchanal is no ordinary carnival. An ancient demon has a home there too. She hides behind an iridescent disguise. She feeds on innocent souls. And she’s met her match in Eliza, who’s only beginning to understand the purpose of her own burgeoning powers.

Only then can Eliza save her friends, find her family, and fight the sway of a primordial demon preying upon the human world. Rolling across a consuming dust bowl landscape, Eliza may have found her destiny.

 

Book Review

The Chrono Unit- Book Review

Book Rating: ★★★✰✰  (3 / 5 stars)

The Chrono Unit exists to keep time travelers in check. Yet, one of their star officers, Monday Moody, is a traveler herself. While keeping her abilities a secret, Monday plans to climb the corporate ladder and make changes…or so she hopes. With a homicidal traveller, Blayze Caden, on the loose, she is roped into a team to hunt him down. Yet this mission might be harder than she imagined, and it may in fact risk her life.

The idea of time travelers, a government organization, and a determined young woman really did appeal to me. I love a good sci-fi adventure, and that’s exactly what this book provided: a fun, entertaining adventure with time travelling, vampires, and more! Morgan W. Silver has created a world that has something for everyone in it, and in this fast-paced afternoon read, you’ll have a fun time!

Yet, despite how much fun I had reading this book, I had a few personal hang ups with it. The most prominent one, and the reason why I ultimately rated this book 3 instead of 3.5 or 4 stars, was how the book seemed to fit the “Smurfette” trope. The Smurfette Trope is basically when there is one female character who all the male characters are infatuated with. In Monday’s team, while searching for Blayze, it felt like every man had either 1) dated Monday or 2) wanted Monday. While this trope might not bother everyone, it is one of my least favorite tropes, and often causes me to knock a story down by half a star.

The story itself is quite fast paced, as I mentioned above. While a lot of people will like that, I wish I got a chance to learn a bit more about the world and the Chrono Unit, before diving into the chaotic life of Monday Moody. This is a personal choice though. Other people might like to jump head first into this action.

While this story didn’t check off all the boxes for me, it is still a fun sci-fi adventure with a range of characters, an entertaining protagonist, and a bit of mystery. If you enjoy fast-paced, action packed stories…then this might just be for you!

What’s it about?

Working for the Chrono Unit isn’t all bad. Despite the terrible coffee, the possibility of death, or the boring paperwork, there is the satisfaction of knowing that dangerous time travellers are kept in check. Except that CU officer Monday Moody is secretly a Traveller herself. In a world where time travel is either forbidden or exploited, Monday has plans to climb the corporate ladder and make changes. That is, if she lives long enough to reach those goals.

When the homicidal Traveller Blayze Caden, who also happens to be her childhood friend, is after her life, she forms an unlikely team to hunt him down. She also has to juggle the fact that a deaf girl, who is also a Traveller, shows up on her doorstep for help. Monday now has two secrets to keep. Hiding the truth gets harder as she’s getting close to the mayor of Sheffield, an influential vampire who has ties to the UA and is at war with rebel Travellers, as well as when Blayze decides to try and out her in between murder attempts. Not only does she have to decide which secrets are worth fighting for, but also whose side she is on. 

Book Review

How We Met With Our Ghosts- Book Review

Book Rating: ★★★★✰  (4 / 5 stars)

A wonderful collection of dark poetry, we delve in Jennifer Hudgen’s mind and soul. There is a sort of narrative going on throughout the entire collections: about an individual struggling to find purpose in life, family, school, etc. In such a collection, you search for these similarities, and whether the author is intentional or not, you put them together into a sort of story.

Of all the poems, the one that stuck the most with me is the second one in the collection, Holes. There was something picturesque but dark about this poem, while also being creepy. It transplants you in the arms of a killer, digging a hole…reflecting on life. While it’s dark and macabre, it also a moment of understanding.

Ultimately, How We Met with Our Ghosts is a dark but beautiful collection of poems. Definitely worth reading, whether it’s just one poem or many.

What’s it about?

“In this collection, Jennifer Hudgens dares to haunt the ghost back, and does so with measured calm and electric narrative. Longing manifests into a tangible and languid thing inside these poems – and everything is alive in the haunting: the slow stretch of bruised childhood, the complicated relationship with grief and the ones left behind in its shadow, a few unlucky highway deer, the Oklahoma ground in summer – all ghosts Hudgens introduces to us with flowing imagery and more than a little bite. These are the kinds of poems that make a nest of you, a delicate and mutable possession. You won’t regret inviting her inside.” – Melissa May-Dunn 

Book Review

Widow’s Lace- Book Review

Book Rating: ★★★★★  (4.75 / 5 stars)

Edward Barrington disappeared without a trace in 1888. With him, he left a labyrinth of mysteries: what happened to him? Why did he leave behind his wife? And how did his disappearance impact his poetry? These questions continue to haunt a select few over the course of a century, including Archie Hargraves…as well as Ellie Cannon, 130 years later. With no evidence as to what happened to Edward Barrington, Ellie dives into the mystery. Can she finally solve the mystery of Barrington’s disappearance? Or will she end up just as lost as his body?

I’ll be honest, reading this book…I thought it was going to be a 4 star book. It was good, well written, with embedded mystery. Some parts were slow, or I would put the book down and not pick it up again for a few days (at no one’s fault but my own). But then I reached that ending…wow! I did not expect that in the slightest.

Widow’s Lace is a literary portrait of how one event can link multiple people together, similar to a spider web…or lace. The loss the characters suffered, followed by the connections they have over more than a century, shows the true impact that one moment can have. Grief can transcend decades, and not only does this story uncover the mystery behind Edward Barrington’s body, but takes time to understand the grief of the widow as well. All of these together create a well rounded story that transports the reader into each time period. Not every author is successful in investigating this, so this in itself is phenomenal.

Personally, I’m taking off 0.25 stars more so because of how long it took me to read, and because I feel like there was just a tiny bit missing at the end. Perhaps a longer internal reflection? Or something else? I’m not entirely sure. I was so enamored by the ending (which I won’t give away here), that I couldn’t pinpoint it. I just knew it was missing something.

Nevertheless, Widow’s Lace is a hidden gem that historical fiction, and perhaps even mystery, lovers will adore. If you want to read a story with a shocking twist at the end, I encourage you to check it out. I’ll definitely be checking out more of Lelita Baldock’s work soon!

What’s it about?

A hundred year old mystery, the widow left behind, a fallen soldier, an unnamed body and a young student determined to find the truth.

In 1886 famous English poet Edward Barrington moves from Derbyshire, England to a farm on the Finniss River, in South Australia. Two years later he disappears.

25 years later Archie Hargraves abandons his fiancée Clara and travels from England to meet with Edward’s widow, Rosalind. He plans to write a biography and make a name for himself, independent from his wealthy father. Returning to England in 1914 he abandons his work to join the war in Europe. His journal of notes from Australia is never released.

Ellie Cannon, a young PhD candidate at Sydney University, is writing a thesis on one of Barrington’s last known poems, The Fall. It’s not going well. Struggling with her relationship with her mother and loss of her father, Ellie is on the brink of failure.

Then a body is found by the Finniss River, 130 years after Edward’s disappearance. Could it be the famous poet?

The discovery draws Ellie into the worlds of Edward, Archie and Clara, taking her across Australia and England in her search for the truth.

Covering life in remote South Australia, the social pressures of 1900s Britain and the historical role of women, Widow’s Lace is an historical fiction, mystery cross-over dealing with themes of obsession, fear, love, inner-secrets and regret. But also the hope that can come from despair. 

Book Review

In Cold Blood- Book Review

Book Rating: ★★★★✰  (4 / 5 stars)
Audio Book Performance: ★★★★✰  (4 / 5 stars)

In 1959, the Clutter family was murdered. No motive. No witnesses. The town of Holcomb was left with their jaws hanging open. In the famous novel, In Cold Blood, Truman Capote reconstructs both the murder and the investigation, as well as the trials and implications that followed. What led to the murder of the Clutters? And could the killers really be human at all?

Being a lover of true crime novels and psychological thrillers, I knew one day I had to pick up In Cold Blood. Already, I was aware of some of the controversy around whether or not Capote made up details, so I went in with that knowledge. After all, so many true crime novels leave aspects to the imagination.

I think one of the most frightening thing with In Cold Blood is how you almost (with an emphasis on almost) sympathize with the killers. Capote paints Perry and Dick as human – and that’s terrifying. You come to understand why they committed the crime, and in some aspects feel sorry for them. That alone is a question of the human condition as a whole, isn’t it? We are drawn to the darkness.

But, when you take a moment to step back, you remember that Perry and Dick aren’t the villains in some fantasy. These were real men, who committed horrible actions, with little remorse. The fact that Capote can paint them so elegantly is frightening…because how many people have we trusted or liked, then realized were terrible? It’s a frightening aspect of reality.

Part of this is based on the narrative. While the fourth of the book, we meet the Clutter family, and later on we meet the investigators, the true story we follow are that of Perry Smith and Dick Hickcock. A part of the human condition is trying to understand these individuals, but in the process we might just scare ourselves.

I’ll admit, there were some parts that moved slowly (and it might also have been because of the audiobook narrator). It took me a bit to get into the book. The beginning, going through the Clutter’s lives, wasn’t particularly interesting. Although, that might have been the point. There was nothing scandalous about the Clutters. They just fell victim to a merciless crime.

Overall, I think if you enjoy true crime, then it’s pertinent to read In Cold Blood. This was basically one of the first well known true crime novels. It shaped much of what we read today. Did Capote lie or stretch the truth? Absolutely. Did his narratives negatively impact the families? Possibly. But that is the fallout of these sort of stories.

Overall, really, it was some stellar reporting.

What’s it about?

On November 15, 1959, in the small town of Holcomb, Kansas, four members of the Clutter family were savagely murdered by blasts from a shotgun held a few inches from their faces. There was no apparent motive for the crime, and there were almost no clues.

As Truman Capote reconstructs the murder and the investigation that led to the capture, trial, and execution of the killers, he generates both mesmerizing suspense and astonishing empathy. At the center of his study are the amoral young killers Perry Smith and Dick Hickcock, who, vividly drawn by Capote, are shown to be reprehensible yet entirely and frighteningly human. In Cold Blood is a seminal work of modern prose, a remarkable synthesis of journalistic skill and powerfully evocative narrative.