Book Review: The Remaking by Clay Chapman

Inspired by a true story, this supernatural thriller for fans of horror and true crime follows a tale as it evolves every twenty years—with terrifying results.

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Release Date: September 15, 2020

Publisher: Quirk Books

Price: $9.99 (hardcover)

Plot Summary:

Ella Louise has lived in the woods surrounding Pilot’s Creek, Virginia, for nearly a decade. Publicly, she and her daughter, Jessica, are shunned by her upper-crust family and the local residents. Privately, desperate characters visit her apothecary for a cure to what ails them—until Ella Louise is blamed for the death of a prominent customer. Accused of witchcraft, Ella Louise and Jessica are burned at the stake in the middle of the night. Ella Louise’s burial site is never found, but the little girl has the most famous grave in the South: a steel-reinforced coffin surrounded by a fence of interconnected white crosses.

Their story will take the shape of an urban legend as it’s told around a campfire by a man forever marked by his childhood encounters with Jessica. Decades later, a boy at that campfire will cast Amber Pendleton as Jessica in a ’70s horror movie inspired by the Witch Girl of Pilot’s Creek. Amber’s experiences on that set and its meta-remake in the ’90s will ripple through pop culture, ruining her life and career after she becomes the target of a witch hunt.

Amber’s best chance to break the cycle of horror comes when a true-crime investigator tracks her down to interview her for his popular podcast. But will this final act of storytelling redeem her—or will it bring the story full circle, ready to be told once again? And again. And again . . .

Grade: B

Review:

The novel starts off with an exciting premise, two witches, a mother and a daughter duo are burned after a herbal remedy gone wrong and endangers the life of one of the villagers. Now, the town of Pilot’s Creek, Virginia is haunted by the ghosts of these two witches. The novel begins to be very repetitive when it introduces us to Amber Pendleton, the young girl that is going to play Jessica Ford’s ghost in the making of the horror movie, Don’t Tread on Jessica’s Grave. Initially, I found the repetition annoying, but once I realized that the author was purposely using repetition as a means to express the spiraled cycle that began with the witches and continues with Amber even as an adult, it made artistically sense and I wasn’t as annoyed by it. The author was trying to create the feeling of an ouroboros with the cycle going on and on, without a break.

I really enjoyed the first few chapters when we get to know Ella Louise Ford and Jessica Ford, the two witches. I love urban legends, so a town that is haunted by this legend (whether it’s true or not) was really fascinating. I also enjoyed the social commentary the author made about child stars and actresses in horror films.

Overall, this was a spirally horrific ride that’s just what anyone needs right now for the Halloween season.

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Quirk Books for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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Book Excerpt: The Wrong Kind of Woman by Sarah McCraw Crow

Chapter One

November 1970 Westfield, New Hampshire
OLIVER DIED THE SUNDAY after Thanksgiving, the air heavy with snow that hadn’t fallen yet. His last words to Virginia were “Tacks, Ginny? Do we have any tacks?”
That morning at breakfast, their daughter, Rebecca, had complained about her eggs—runny and gross, she said. Also, the whole neighborhood already had their Christmas lights up, and why didn’t they ever have outside lights? Virginia tuned her out; at thirteen, Rebecca had reached the age of comparison, noticing where her classmates’ families went on vacation, what kinds of cars they drove. But Oliver agreed about the lights, and after eating his own breakfast and Rebecca’s rejected eggs, he drove off to the hardware store to buy heavy-duty Christmas lights.
Back at home, Oliver called Virginia out onto the front porch, where he and Rebecca had looped strings of colored lights around the handrails on either side of the steps. Virginia waved at their neighbor Gerda across the street— on her own front porch, Gerda knelt next to a pile of balsam branches, arranging them into two planters—as Rebecca and Oliver described their lighting scheme. Rebecca’s cheeks had gone ruddy in the New Hampshire cold, as Oliver’s had; Rebecca had his red-gold hair too.
“Up one side and down the other,” Rebecca said. “Like they do at Molly’s house—”
“Tacks, Ginny? Do we have any tacks?” Oliver interrupted. In no time, he’d lost patience with this project, judging by the familiar set of his jaw, the frown lines corrugating his forehead.
A few minutes later, box of nails and hammer in hand, Virginia saw Oliver’s booted feet splayed out on the walk, those old work boots he’d bought on their honeymoon in Germany a lifetime ago. “Do you have to lie down like that to—” she began, while Rebecca squeezed out from between the porch and the overgrown rhododendron.
“Dad?” Rebecca’s voice pitched upward. “Daddy!”
Virginia slowly took in that Oliver was lying half on the lawn, half on the brick walk, one hand clutching the end of a light string. Had he fallen? It made no sense, him just lying there on the ground like that, and she hurtled down the porch steps. Oliver’s eyes had rolled back so only the whites showed. But he’d just asked for tacks, and she hadn’t had time to ask if nails would work instead. She crouched, put her mouth to his and tried to breathe for him. Something was happening, yes, maybe now he would turn out to be just resting, and in a minute he’d sit up and laugh with disbelief.
Next to her, Rebecca shook Oliver’s shoulder, pounded on it. “Dad! You fainted! Wake up—”
“Go call the operator,” Virginia said. “Tell them we need an ambulance, tell them it’s an emergency, a heart attack, Becca! Run!” Rebecca ran.
Virginia put her ear to Oliver’s chest, listening. A flurry of movement: Gerda was suddenly at her side, kneeling, and Eileen from next door, then Rebecca, gasping or maybe sobbing. Virginia felt herself being pulled out of the way as the ambulance backed into the driveway and the two para- medics bent close. They too breathed for Oliver, pressed on his chest while counting, then lifted him gently onto the backboard and up into the ambulance.
She didn’t notice that she was holding Rebecca’s hand on her one side and Eileen’s hand on the other, and that Gerda had slung a protective arm around Rebecca. She barely noticed when Eileen bundled her and Rebecca into the car without a coat or purse. She didn’t notice the snow that had started to fall, first snow of the season. Later, that absence of snow came back to her, when the image of Oliver lying on the bare ground, uncushioned even by snow, wouldn’t leave her.

Aneurysm. A ruptured aneurysm, a balloon that had burst, sending a wave of blood into Oliver’s brain. A subarachnoid hemorrhage. She said all those new words about a thousand times, along with more familiar words: bleed and blood and brain. Rips and tears. One in a million. Sitting at the kitchen table, Rebecca next to her and the coiled phone cord stretched taut around both of them, Virginia called one disbelieving person after another, repeated all those words to her mother, her sister Marnie, Oliver’s brother, Oliver’s department chair, the people in her address book, the people in his.
At President Weissman’s house five days later, Virginia kept hold of Rebecca. Rebecca had stayed close, sleeping in the middle of Virginia and Oliver’s bed as if she were little and sleepwalking again, her shruggy new adolescent self forgotten. They’d turned into a sudden team of two, each one circling, like moons, around the other.
Oliver’s department chair had talked Virginia into a reception at President Weissman’s house, a campus funeral. In the house’s central hall, Virginia’s mother clutched at her arm, murmuring about the lovely Christmas decorations, those balsam garlands and that enormous twinkling tree, and how they never got the fragrant balsam trees in Norfolk, did they, only the Fraser firs—
“Let’s go look at the Christmas tree, Grandmomma.” Rebecca took her grandmother’s hand as they moved away. What a grown-up thing to do, Virginia thought, glad for the release from Momma and her chatter.
“Wine?” Virginia’s sister Marnie said, folding her hand around a glass. Virginia nodded and took a sip. Marnie stayed next to her as one person and another came close to say something complimentary about Oliver, what a wonderful teacher he’d been and a great young historian, an influential member of the Clarendon community. And his clarinet, what would they do without Oliver’s tremendous clarinet playing? The church service had been lovely, hadn’t it? He sure would have loved that jazz trio.
She heard herself answering normally, as if this one small thing had gone wrong, except now she found herself in a tunnel, everyone else echoing and far away. Out of a clutch of Clarendon boys, identical in their khakis and blue blazers, their too-long hair curling behind their ears, one stepped forward. Sam, a student in her tiny fall seminar, the Italian Baroque.
“I—I just wanted to say…” Sam faltered. “But he was a great teacher, and even more in the band—” The student- faculty jazz band, he meant.
“Thank you, Sam,” she said. “I appreciate that.” She watched him retreat to his group. Someone had arranged for Sam and a couple of other Clarendon boys to play during the reception, and she hadn’t noticed until now.
“How ’bout we sit, hon.” Marnie steered her to a couch. “I’m going to check on Becca and Momma and June—” the oldest of Virginia’s two sisters “—and then I’ll be right back.”
“Right.” Virginia half listened to the conversation around her, people in little clumps with their sherries and whiskeys. Mainframe, new era, she heard. Then well, but Nixon, and a few problems with the vets on campus. She picked up President Weissman’s voice, reminiscing about the vets on campus after the war thirty years ago. “Changed the place for the better, I think,” President Weissman said. “A seriousness of purpose.” And she could hear Louise Walsh arguing with someone about the teach-in that should have happened last spring.
Maybe Oliver would appreciate being treated like a dignitary. Maybe he’d be pleased at the turnout, all the faculty and students who’d shown up at the Congregational Church at lunchtime on a Friday. Probably he wished he could put Louise in her place about the teach-in. Virginia needed to find Rebecca, and she needed to make sure Momma hadn’t collapsed out of holiday party–funeral confusion. But now Louise Walsh loomed over her in a shape- less black suit, and she stood up again to shake Louise’s hand. “I just want to say how sorry I am,” Louise said. “I truly admired his teaching and—everything else. We’re all going to miss him.”
“Thank you, Louise.” Virginia considered returning the compliment, to say that Oliver had admired Louise too. Louise had tenure, the only woman in the history department, the only woman at Clarendon, to be tenured. Lou- ise had been a thorn in Oliver’s side, the person Oliver had complained about the most. Louise was one of the four women on faculty at Clarendon; the Gang of Four, Oliver and the others had called them.
Outside the long windows, a handful of college boys tossed a football on a fraternity lawn across the street, one skidding in the snow as he caught the ball. Someone had spray-painted wobbly blue peace signs on the frat’s white clapboard wall, probably after Kent State. But the Clarendon boys were rarely political; they were athletic: in their baggy wool trousers, they ran, skied, hiked, went gliding off the college’s ski jump, human rockets on long skis. They built a tremendous bonfire on the Clarendon green in the fall, enormous snow sculptures in the winter. They stumbled home drunk, singing. Their limbs seemed loosely attached to their bodies. Oliver had once been one of those boys.
“Come on, pay attention,” Marnie said, and she propelled Virginia toward President Weissman, who took Virginia’s hands.
“I cannot begin to express all my sympathy and sad- ness.” President Weissman’s eyes were magnified behind his glasses. “Our firmament has lost a star.” He kissed her on the cheek, pulling a handkerchief from his jacket pocket, so she could wipe her eyes and nose again.

At the reception, Aunt June kept asking Rebecca if she was doing okay, and did she need anything, and Aunt Marnie kept telling Aunt June to quit bothering Rebecca. Mom looked nothing like her sisters: Aunt Marnie was bulky with short pale hair, Aunt June was petite, her hair almost black, and Mom was in between. Rebecca used to love her aunts’ Tidewater accents, and the way Mom’s old accent would return around her sisters, her vowels stretching out and her voice going up and down the way Aunt June’s and Aunt Marnie’s voices did. Rebecca and Dad liked to tease Mom about her accent, and Mom would say I don’t know what you’re talking about, I don’t sound anything like June. Or Marnie. But especially not June.
Nothing Rebecca thought made any sense. She couldn’t think about something that she and Dad liked, or didn’t like, or laughed about, because there was no more Dad. Aunt Marnie had helped her finish the Christmas lights, sort of, not the design she and Dad had shared, but just wrapped around the porch bannisters. It looked a little crazy, actually. Mom hadn’t noticed.
“Here’s some cider, honey,” Aunt June said. “How about some cheese and crackers? You need to eat.”
“I’m okay,” Rebecca said. “Thanks,” she remembered to add.
“Have you ever tried surfing?” Aunt June asked. “The boys—” Rebecca’s cousins “—love to surf. They’ll teach you.” “Okay.” Rebecca wanted to say that it was December and there was snow on the ground, so there was no rea- son to talk about surfing. Instead she said that she’d bodysurfed with her cousins at Virginia Beach plenty of times, but she’d never gotten on a surfboard. As far as she could tell, only boys ever went surfing, and the waves at Virginia Beach were never like the waves on Hawaii Five-0. Mostly the boys just sat on their surfboards gazing out at the hazy- white horizon, and at the coal ships and aircraft carriers chugging toward Norfolk.
“You’ll get your chance this summer—I’ll bet you’ll be a natural,” Aunt June said.
Things would keep happening. Winter would happen. There would be more snow, and skiing at the Ski Bowl. The town pond would open for skating and hockey. The snow would melt and it would be spring and summer again. They’d go to Norfolk for a couple of weeks after school let out and Mom would complain about everything down there, and get into a fight with Aunt June, and they’d all go to the beach, and Dad would get the most sunburned, his ears and the tops of his feet burned pink and peely…
“Let’s just step outside into the fresh air for a minute, sweetheart,” Aunt June said, and Rebecca stood up and followed her aunt to the room with all the coats, one hand over her mouth to hold in the latest sob, even after she and Mom had agreed they were all cried out and others would be crying today, but the two of them were all done with crying. She knew that the fresh air wouldn’t help anything.

Excerpted from The Wrong Kind of Woman by Sarah McCraw Crow © 2020 by Sarah McCraw Crow, used with permission by MIRA Books/HarperCollins.

You can purchase the book here!

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Book Excerpt: “Baby Teeth” from Midnight in the Pentagram

“I had to do it,” I say. “I had no choice.” I pick at a hangnail, watch the blood pool beneath my thumb and press it against my mouth to suck on the blood. The taste of copper comforts me as I try to ignore an itch at the center of my palm. I adjust myself on the seat, although the handcuff on my right-hand keeps me tethered to the chair.

“I know you’ve said this before, Melissa. But I’m finding it difficult to understand.” The prison psychiatrist stares at me over her black rim glasses. Her dark hair is pulled back in a tight bun at the base of her neck. She sighs, tapping the pencil against her notebook, reading over the arresting officer’s scribbled notes about me. “It says here that you killed your daughter.”

“You’re not listening to me. I had to do it.” My voice is cold, unfeeling. Ana wasn’t my daughter. At least, not anymore. Something had taken possession of her. Something evil.

***

Excerpt of my short story, “Baby Teeth” out today in Midnight in the Pentagram, out NOW!

The other amazing authors:
Brian Keene
Graham Masterton
Jason Parent
Catherine Cavendish
James Newman
Tim Curran
Allan Leverone
PD Cacek
Todd Keisling
William Meikle
Chad Lutzke
Laurel Hightower
Owl Goingback
Tony Tremblay
Tim Meyer
Shannon Felton
Brian Moreland
Kenneth W. Cain
Armand Rosamilia
Charlotte Platt
Wesley Southard
JG Faherty
John Quick
Edward M Erdelac
Cameron Ulam
Kenneth McKinley
Michael Patrick Hicks
Bob Ford
Mark Towse
Mark Steensland
Amanda Niehaus-Hard

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Book Review: Loner by Georgina Young

What’s the difference between loneliness and being alone?

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Release Date: August 4, 2020

Publisher: Text Publishing

Price: $11.95 (paperback)

Plot Summary:

Lona has dropped out of art school and no one is quite sure why, least of all Lona. It’s just that nothing in her life seems to make sense anymore, including art. She spends her days sneaking into the darkroom at her old school to develop photographs and her nights DJ-ing at the local roller disco.

Her aimlessness terrifies her, but everyone else appears oblivious to her fears: her parents are bewildered by her sudden lack of ambition, her brother is preoccupied with his new girlfriend, and her best friend Tab seems to be drifting away. Even a budding relationship with a bass-playing, cello-shredding med student isn’t enough to shake her existential angst.
Lona knows it’s up to her to figure out what she wants to do with her life: the problem is, she has absolutely no idea where to start.

Grade: A-

Review:

Despite not being written in the first person POV, the short chapters and short sentences in Loner read how one would imagine its protagonist Lona thinks. The book begins with Lona having left uni because she feels like she doesn’t have to be in art school to be an artist. Throughout the book, she’s pretty aimless, but it captures the feelings that many people at her age (early twenties) feel. I liked how the book explored the sense of liking to be alone with the feeling of loneliness. Lona enjoys her own company best, and that of her best friend Tab. But like most introverts (especially the not so sociable kind) she struggles with being herself but also compromising with being who people wish she were for social interactions. Although I’m not as introverted as Lona is in the book, there are moments that were relatable to me, especially when she has to prep herself to be excited about an outing and how exhausting an afternoon out with strangers can feel whilst trying to pretend that you’re having fun cause that is more socially acceptable than showing fits of malaise in public. The novel explores friends, art, and love.

Not a lot happens in the novel but if you’re into literary novels that put existential crisis under a microscope then you may enjoy this one.

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Text Publishing for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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Book Review: Teen Killers Club by Lily Sparks

One goal, get out alive.

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Release Date: November 10, 2020

Publisher: Crooked Lane Books

Price: $18.99 (hardcover)

Plot Summary:

Seventeen-year-old Signal Deere has raised eyebrows for years as an unhappy Goth misfit from the trailer park. When she’s convicted of her best friend Rose’s brutal murder, she’s designated a Class A–the most dangerous and manipulative criminal profile.

To avoid prison, Signal signs on for a secret program for 18-and-under Class As and is whisked off to an abandoned sleep-away camp, where she and seven bunkmates will train as assassins. Yet even in the Teen Killers Club, Signal doesn’t fit in. She’s squeamish around blood. She’s kind and empathetic. And her optimistic attitude is threatening to turn a group of ragtag maniacs into a team of close-knit friends.

Maybe that’s because Signal’s not really a killer. She was framed for Rose’s murder and only joined the program to escape, track down Rose’s real killer, and clear her name. But Signal never planned on the sinister technologies that keep the campers confined. She never planned on the mysterious man in the woods determined to pick them off one by one. And she certainly never planned on falling in love.

Signal’s strategy is coming apart at the seams as the true killer prepares to strike again in Teen Killers Club.

Grade: A-

Review:

This YA was unique, as it was about a group of teen killers that are training to become assassins. The only caveat? Our protagonist Signal Deere didn’t kill her best friend, although she was framed for her murder. She’s innocent. The group is taken to a camp where they must train to take out other murderers, and the cast of characters we get are all uniquely different from one another. I really enjoyed the fast neck break pace, there was never a dull moment! Yes, the book is a little campy but once I found out that the author had penned the script for the new Heathers TV show (that sadly never aired) it all made sense. If you can simply sit back and enjoy the ride, then you’ll find this book entertaining, if you happen to nit-pick about how credible it could all be, then you Downer Debbie are gonna be sourly disappointed! The murder mystery was fun and the twist was something I didn’t suspect and it actually worked (I despise twists that just come out of the left-wing with no context). And for being someone that always complains about how books end, this one actually ended with a bang!

I couldn’t recommend this book enough if you love thrillers with a satirical spin.

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Crooked Lane Books for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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Book Review: Even If We Break by Marieke Nijkamp

Are you ready to play?

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Release Date: September 15, 2020

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Price: $14.99 (hardback)

Plot Summary:

FIVE friends go to a cabin.
FOUR of them are hiding secrets.
THREE years of history bind them.
TWO are doomed from the start.
ONE person wants to end this.
NO ONE IS SAFE.

For five friends, this was supposed to be one last getaway before going their separate ways―a chance to say goodbye to each other, and to the game they’ve been playing for the past three years. But they’re all dealing with their own demons, and they’re all hiding secrets.

Finn doesn’t trust anyone since he was attacked a few months ago. Popular girl Liva saw it happen and did nothing to stop it. Maddy was in an accident that destroyed her sports career. Carter is drowning under the weight of his family’s expectations. Ever wants to keep the game going for as long as they can, at all costs.

When the lines between game and reality start to blend with deadly consequences, it’s a race against time before it’s game over―forever.

Grade: C

Review:

I had written a longer review, but somehow I lost it and now you’re going to receive the condensed version of what I originally wrote.

Pros: Diverse representation. There is a non-binary character, a trans, someone with autism, and two characters that aren’t fully able-bodied. I liked that there was diversity, but it also felt a little forced. A group of misfits play a compelling live-action RPG game.

Cons: This book was touted as a thriller. There are no thrills. Someone is murdered and yet the murderer is so freaking obvious that you have to be kinda slow to NOT catch it. Also, I hated that it took forever to get to an ending after there was an essential ending four chapters prior. I read a previous book from this same author (This Is Where It Ends) and it was full of obsessive thoughts, exaggerated feels, and just drama for the sake of drama.

Overall, this book would be best suited for actual teens, because the overdramatization and overload of angst can only be tolerated by teen readers since they’re going through similar feelings. An adult reader will just roll their eyes and exclaim, “Get over it!” way too often.

The author is a talented writer, but I don’t think I’ll be picking up her next book.

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Sourcebooks Fire for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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Book Review: Unboxed by Briana Morgan

unboxed

What would you do for fame?

Release Date: July 25, 2020

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Price: $9.99 (paperback)

Plot Summary:

Greg Zipper is a paranormal vlogger whose livelihood relies on his online popularity. When a fight between him and his girlfriend goes viral for all the wrong reasons, Greg purchases a dark web mystery box in hopes of restoring his audience’s faith in him and hitting one million subscribers. But when Greg opens the box, he gets much more than he bargained for, including a Boxer who’s determined to stop him from taking his loved ones for granted. Now Greg must do all he can to stop the Boxer, or else he’ll lose his livelihood—along with the woman he loves.

Grade: A

Review:

I’ve previously read other works from Briana Morgan, but I strongly believe that she excels as a playwright. Unboxed has everything you’d want a traditional horror movie to have, the anticipation of dread, creepiness, and an overlying lesson meant to be learned the hard way. Although this is a play, I can see it becoming a movie in the vein of many Blumehouse movies (putting this thought out into the universe cause you never know if wishing about it will make it happen!).

First of all, I’m not well-versed in the world of the dark web, but I enjoyed how Zipper explained it in the play to his girlfriend. I enjoyed the fact that the dialogue felt very realistic to how people speak and weren’t clunky or awkward at all.

The premise of the play is that a paranormal vlogger is so obsessed with reaching 1 million subscribers that the decides to film himself unboxing a mystery box bought from the dark web. Everything you can imagine about what could possibly grow wrong does in this play. It was a dark and twisted, but also packed an emotional punch where the protagonist had to learn a very difficult lesson, and would he be willing to lose everything he cared about for fame and fortune?

I enjoyed this very much and I don’t usually reach out to purchase plays, but the premise was intriguing and I wasn’t disappointed in the execution. Pick this up if you want to spend 45 minutes exploring the dark and twisted realms of the supernatural and the underbelly of notoriety.

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Book Review: Blood Victory by Christopher Rice

blood victory

On a cross-country journey to hell, fear is the engine and vengeance is the destination.

Release Date: August 18, 2020

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Publisher: Thomas & Mercer

Price: $14.99 (hardback)

Plot Summary:

As the test subject of an experimental drug, Charlotte Rowe was infused with extraordinary powers. As the secret weapon of a mysterious consortium, she baits evil predators and stops them in their tracks. But it takes more than fear to trigger what’s coursing through Charlotte’s blood. She needs to be terrorized. Serial killer Cyrus Mattingly is up to the task.

Cyrus is a long-haul truck driver, and his cargo bay is a gallery of horrors on wheels. To stop his bloodshed, Charlotte will become his next victim, reining in her powers so she can face each of his evils in turn.

As much as they know about Cyrus—his method of selecting victims, his prolonged rituals—there is something they don’t. What happens on the dark and lonely highways is only the journey. It’s the destination that’s truly depraved. Before she can unleash vengeance on a scale this killer has never seen, Charlotte and her team will have to go the distance into hell.

Grade: A-

Review:

Blood Victory is the third book in the Burning Girl series and by far my favourite of the series. We follow the same cast of characters that we’ve been introduced to from the very beginning, Charley the only woman who can withhold a strong drug that enables her to have superhuman strength for 3 hours, in which she uses those powers to take down serial killers, since her own mother had been a victim of a serial killer couple, Luke, Charley’s ex-high school bully turned boyfriend who now helps her on her missions to take down the serial killers, Cole, an uber-rich guy who pays for Charley’s missions, and Noah the mad scientist that discovered the drug that enables Charley to have extraordinary strength.

This third installment in the series is both very compelling and fast-paced. I was intrigued by the serial killers introduced in this book as opposed to the past ones, and I felt like our characters were a bit more fleshed out than in the previous books. I enjoyed being on the mission with Charley and wondering if she’d be able to take down the serial killers since she had so much going against her (I can’t say what, no spoilers!).

Initially, I thought this series was going to be a trilogy, but by the way it ended, I have a feeling there are going to be more Burning Girl series books, and I’m not complaining!

I highly recommend this if you’re into fast-paced action thrillers, this is Mission Impossible meets The Hulk with a dash of Silence of the Lambs. You won’t be disappointed!

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Thomas & Mercer for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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Book Excerpt: The Last Story of Mina Lee by Nancy Jooyoun Kim

mina lee

Margot
2014

Margot’s final conversation with her mother had seemed so uneventful, so ordinary—another choppy bilingual plod. Half-understandable.
Business was slow again today. Even all the Korean businesses downtown are closing.
What did you eat for dinner?
Everyone is going to Target now, the big stores. It costs the same and it’s cleaner.
Margot imagined her brain like a fishing net with the loosest of weaves as she watched the Korean words swim through. She had tried to tighten the net before, but learning another language, especially her mother’s tongue, frustrated her. Why didn’t her mother learn to speak English?
But that last conversation was two weeks ago. And for the past few days, Margot had only one question on her mind: Why didn’t her mother pick up the phone?

****

Since Margot and Miguel had left Portland, the rain had been relentless and wild. Through the windshield wipers and fogged glass, they only caught glimpses of fast food and gas stations, motels and billboards, premium outlets and “family fun centers.” Margot’s hands were stiff from clenching the steering wheel. The rain had started an hour ago, right after they had made a pit stop in north Portland to see the famous 31-foot-tall Paul Bunyan sculpture with his cartoonish smile, red-and-white checkered shirt on his barrel chest, his hands resting on top of an upright axe.
Earlier that morning, Margot had stuffed a backpack and a duffel with a week’s worth of clothes, picked up Miguel from his apartment with two large suitcases and three houseplants, and merged onto the freeway away from Seattle, driving Miguel down for his big move to Los Angeles. They’d stop in Daly City to spend the night at Miguel’s family’s house, which would take about ten hours to get to. At the start of the drive, Miguel had been lively, singing along to “Don’t Stop Believing” and joking about all the men he would meet in LA. But now, almost four hours into the road trip, Miguel was silent with his forehead in his palm, taking deep breaths as if trying hard not to think about anything at all.
“Everything okay?” Margot asked.
“I’m just thinking about my parents.”
“What about your parents?” Margot lowered her foot on the gas.
“Lying to them,” he said.
“About why you’re really moving down to LA?” The rain splashed down like a waterfall. Miguel had taken a job offer at an accounting firm in a location more conducive to his dreams of working in theatre. For the last two years, they had worked together at a nonprofit for people with disabilities. She was as an administrative assistant; he crunched numbers in finance. She would miss him, but she was happy for him, too. He would finally finish writing his play while honing his acting skills with classes at night. “The theatre classes? The plays that you write? The Grindr account?”
“About it all.”
“Do you ever think about telling them?”
“All the time.” He sighed. “But it’s easier this way.”
“Do you think they know?”
“Of course, they do. But…” He brushed his hand through his hair. “Sometimes, agreeing to the same lie is what makes a family family, Margot.”
“Ha. Then what do you call people who agree to the same truth?”
“Uh, scientists?”
She laughed, having expected him to say friends. Gripping the wheel, she caught the sign for Salem.
“Do you need to use the bathroom?” she asked.
“I’m okay. We’re gonna stop in Eugene, right?”
“Yeah, should be another hour or so.”
“I’m kinda hungry.” Rustling in his pack on the floor of the backseat, he found an apple, which he rubbed clean with the edge of his shirt. “Want a bite?”
“Not now, thanks.”
His teeth crunched into the flesh, the scent cracking through the odor of wet floor mats and warm vents. Margot was struck by a memory of her mother’s serene face—the downcast eyes above the high cheekbones, the relaxed mouth—as she peeled an apple with a paring knife, conjuring a continuous ribbon of skin. The resulting spiral held the shape of its former life. As a child, Margot would delicately hold this peel like a small animal in the palm of her hand, this proof that her mother could be a kind of magician, an artist who told an origin story through scraps—this is the skin of a fruit, this is its smell, this is its color.
“I hope the weather clears up soon,” Miguel said, interrupting the memory. “It gets pretty narrow and windy for a while. There’s a scary point right at the top of California where the road is just zigzagging while you’re looking down cliffs. It’s like a test to see if you can stay on the road.”
“Oh, God,” Margot said. “Let’s not talk about it anymore.”
As she refocused on the rain-slicked road, the blurred lights, the yellow and white lines like yarn unspooling, Margot thought about her mother who hated driving on the freeway, her mother who no longer answered the phone. Where was her mother?
The windshield wipers squeaked, clearing sheets of rain.
“What about you?” Miguel asked. “Looking forward to seeing your mom? When did you see her last?”
Margot’s stomach dropped. “Last Christmas,” she said. “Actually, I’ve been trying to call her for the past few days to let her know, to let her know that we would be coming down.” Gripping the wheel, she sighed. “I didn’t really want to tell her because I wanted this to be a fun trip, but then I felt bad, so…”
“Is everything okay?”
“She hasn’t been answering the phone.”
“Hmm.” He shifted in his seat. “Maybe her phone battery died?”
“It’s a landline. Both landlines—at work and at home.”
“Maybe she’s on vacation?”
“She never goes on vacation.” The windshield fogged, revealing smudges and streaks, past attempts to wipe it clean. She cranked up the air inside.
“Hasn’t she ever wanted to go somewhere?”
“Yosemite and the Grand Canyon. I don’t know why, but she’s always wanted to go there.”
“It’s a big ol’ crack in the ground, Margot. Why wouldn’t she want to see it? It’s God’s crack.”
“It’s some kind of Korean immigrant rite of passage. National Parks, reasons to wear hats and khaki, stuff like that. It’s like America America.”
“I bet she’s okay,” Miguel said. “Maybe she’s just been busier than usual, right? We’ll be there soon enough.”
“You’re probably right. I’ll call her again when we stop.”
A heaviness expanded inside her chest. She fidgeted with the radio dial but caught only static with an occasional glimpse of a commercial or radio announcer’s voice.
Her mother was fine. They would all be fine.
With Miguel in LA, she’d have more reasons to visit now.
The road lay before them like a peel of fruit. The windshield wipers hacked away the rivers that fell from the sky.

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Excerpted from The Last Story of Mina Lee by Nancy Jooyoun Kim, Copyright © 2020 by Nancy Jooyoun Kim Published by Park Row Books

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Book Review: Five Total Strangers by Natalie D. Richards

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She thought being stranded was the worst thing that could happen. She was wrong.

Release Date: October 6, 2020

Pre-Order on Amazon!

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Price: $10.99 (paperback)

Plot Summary:

Mira needs to get home for the holidays. Badly. But when an incoming blizzard results in a canceled layover, it looks like Mira might get stuck at the Philadelphia airport indefinitely.

And then Harper, Mira’s glamorous seatmate from her initial flight, comes to the rescue. Harper and her three friends are renting a car, and they can drop Mira off on the way home. But as their trip begins, Mira discovers her fellow travelers aren’t friends like she thought—they’re total strangers. And every one of them seems to be hiding something dangerous.

Soon, Mira is in a panic. The roads have gone from slippery to terrifying. People’s belongings are mysteriously disappearing. Someone in the car is clearly lying…and Mira beings to suspect that one of them is sabotaging the trip. If she wants to make it home alive, she’ll need to uncover the truth about these strangers before this nightmare drive turns fatal.

Grade: B-

Review:

Fast-paced is the saving grace for this novel. But let me backtrack a moment. I hate snow. So the idea of being stuck in a car with four other strangers during a snowstorm feels like my idea of hell. And since I find snow to verge more on the creepy than beautiful (after all, notice how bright blood looks in the snow!), I was eager to read this book. The fact that the novel mostly takes place within the confines of the car makes for some masterful claustrophobia. Not to mention the fact that if it weren’t for it being the dead of winter, any of these characters could’ve just taken their changes on walking to the nearest house instead of staying inside a car where they each were becoming suspicious of the other, especially when things start to go missing.

If you love movies along the lines of I Know What You Did Last Summer and the hit TV series YOU, then you will love this fast-paced novel where not only does the protagonist Mira, have to contend with dire weather and a creepy drifter than continually see at all their rest stops, but also one of the four in the car with her has been stalking her for a year. All those things line up to create one hell of a thrill ride.

I didn’t enjoy any of the five characters in the novel and sometimes I was tired of Mira because while yes she was in a car with four strangers, a lot of her assumptions towards one character seemed plain our judgmental. And that she automatically assumes that her stalker is the one person she has been judgmental about during the whole trip is just plain annoying. Sure, the character in question wasn’t the best person out there but he wasn’t the worst either.

I recommend this book if you love YA novels that read like a Blumehouse horror. If they hurry up and turn this book into a movie, Lucy Hale could still pull off playing high school senior, Mira.

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Sourcebooks Fire for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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