Book Review: We Can Never Leave This Place by Eric LaRocca

When you’re given a gift, something else gets taken away.

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Release Date: June 24, 2022

Publisher: Trepidatio Publishing

Price: $12.95 (paperback)

PLOT SUMMARY:

A precocious young girl with an unusual imagination is sent on an odyssey into the depths of depravity. After her father dies violently, young Mara is surprised to find her mother welcoming a new guest into their home, claiming that he will protect them from the world of devastation and destruction outside their door.

A grotesque and thrilling dark fantasy, We Can Never Leave This Place is a harrowing portrait of inherited grief and familial trauma.

GRADE: A-

REVIEW:

I’m still trying to make sense of this fever dream that reads like a horror induced Alice in Wonderland tale. Mara has just lost her father, and she lives with her abusive mother who’s expecting a baby, while an unexpected visitor shows up and wreaks havoc in their lives. We’re frequently told that Mara is an expert storyteller throughout the novella (or liar as her mother likes to chide), so take what happens within the pages of this novella with a grain of salt. What is real and what is fantasy? And ultimately, does it really matter to know the difference? LaRocca weaves a dreadful tale soaked in trauma and grief that is easily gulped in one sitting, but that leaves the reader feeling a bit disorientated. If you’re a fan of Kafka, I think you might enjoy this horror novella very much.

*Thank you so much to Nightworms & the author for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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3 Terrifyingly Dark Books by AAPI Authors

In honour of APPI month, I wish to showcase three books from APPI authors that I think should totally be on your radar!

THE HALF-LIFE OF RUBY FIELDING BY LYDIA KANG

Brooklyn, 1942. War rages overseas as brother and sister Will and Maggie Scripps contribute to the war effort stateside. Ambitious Will secretly scouts for the Manhattan Project while grief-stricken Maggie works at the Navy Yard, writing letters to her dead mother between shifts.

But the siblings’ quiet lives change when they discover a beautiful woman hiding under their back stairs. This stranger harbors an obsession with poisons, an affection for fine things, and a singular talent for killing small creatures. As she draws Will and Maggie deeper into her mysterious past, they both begin to suspect she’s quite dangerous—all while falling helplessly under her spell.

With whispers of spies in dark corners and the world’s first atomic bomb in the works, the visitor’s sudden presence in Maggie’s and Will’s lives raises questions about who she is and what she wants. Is this mysterious woman someone they can trust—or a threat to everything they hold dear?

THE CHOSEN AND THE BEAUTIFUL BY NGHI VO

Jordan Baker grows up in the most rarefied circles of 1920s American society—she has money, education, a killer golf handicap, and invitations to some of the most exclusive parties of the Jazz Age. She’s also queer and Asian, a Vietnamese adoptee treated as an exotic attraction by her peers, while the most important doors remain closed to her.

But the world is full of wonders: infernal pacts and dazzling illusions, lost ghosts and elemental mysteries. In all paper is fire, and Jordan can burn the cut paper heart out of a man. She just has to learn how.

Nghi Vo’s debut novel, The Chosen and the Beautiful, reinvents this classic of the American canon as a coming-of-age story full of magic, mystery, and glittering excess, and introduces a major new literary voice.

SIX CRIMSON CRANES BY ELIZABETH LIM

Shiori’anma, the only princess of Kiata, has a secret. Forbidden magic runs through her veins. Normally she conceals it well, but on the morning of her betrothal ceremony, Shiori loses control. At first, her mistake seems like a stroke of luck, forestalling the wedding she never wanted. But it also catches the attention of Raikama, her stepmother.

A sorceress in her own right, Raikama banishes the young princess, turning her brothers into cranes. She warns Shiori that she must speak of it to no one: for with every word that escapes her lips, one of her brothers will die.

Penniless, voiceless, and alone, Shiori searches for her brothers, and uncovers a dark conspiracy to seize the throne. Only Shiori can set the kingdom to rights, but to do so she must place her trust in a paper bird, a mercurial dragon, and the very boy she fought so hard not to marry. And she must embrace the magic she’s been taught all her life to forswear–no matter what the cost.
 
Weaving together elements of The Wild Swans, Cinderella, the legend of Chang E, and the Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, Elizabeth Lim has crafted a fantasy like no other, and one that will stay with readers long after they’ve turned the last page.

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Book Review: The Reyes Incident by Briana Morgan

What really happened in that bunker?

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Publisher: Self-published

Price: $11.99 (paperback)

PLOT SUMMARY:

A local legend gone haywire.

A small-town cop.

An impossible eyewitness testimony.

Which is easier to believe—that killer mermaids exist, or that one person is worth risking everything for?

For fans of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo and Into the Drowning Deep comes a chilling horror story steeped in urban rumor.

GRADE: B+

REVIEW:

Killer mermaids is one of my favourite tropes, or in general, any story or film that has a mermaid already feels instantly cool so once I found out that this book had killer mermaids I knew I had to read it asap. In film form, I’m usually not a fan of found footage, but I do like the format in book form better (or at least ones I’ve read like World War Z or The Living Dead were awesome).

Having read the play Unboxed, I enjoyed the little Easter egg that the author placed in this book. The premise is pretty simple, a group of friends who have a YouTube channel decide to investigate an old military bunker in Georgia. What the group finds when going into the bunker is killer mermaids – and only one girl (Liv) survives to tell the tale. The police officer whom Liv is telling her story to Andie begins to catch feelings for her and readily believes her story. Although I don’t know if she believes Liv’s story because she’s blinded by her feelings rather than actually believing in the existence of mermaids. I don’t know why, but it seemed kind of unlikely that someone would readily believe such a far-fetched story, let alone someone in law enforcement.

We find out that the mermaids were being experimented on by the military, but I would’ve preferred the journal that they found to reveal a bit more as in a how they acquired the mermaids and how the military knew of their existence in the first place. I would really love a prequel to this novella to know the history of what actually went on in the bunker prior.

The story is very fast-paced and delivers all the slasher/gore needs a horror book should. I did like that the ending is ambiguous, but wasn’t a fan of everyone spilling their feelings for one another while they’re being killed (I can understand one person doing this, but then another does, and then the same person a couple of days later suddenly has feelings for another person, for a book so short, it just feels like they’re catching feelings way too fast). But other than that, the book is a fun, wild read and I recommend it for fans of horror who like gore.

*Thank you so much to Nightworms & the author for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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Book Review: Sundial by Catriona Ward

You can’t escape what’s in your blood….

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Release Date: March 1, 2022

Publisher: Tor Nightfire

Price: $18.99 (hardcover)

PLOT SUMMARY:

All Rob wanted was a normal life. She almost got it, too: a husband, two kids, a nice house in the suburbs. But Rob fears for her oldest daughter, Callie, who collects tiny bones and whispers to imaginary friends. Rob sees a darkness in Callie, one that reminds her too much of the family she left behind.She decides to take Callie back to her childhood home, to Sundial, deep in the Mojave Desert. And there she will have to make a terrible choice.Callie is worried about her mother. Rob has begun to look at her strangely, and speaks of past secrets. And Callie fears that only one of them will leave Sundial alive…The mother and daughter embark on a dark, desert journey to the past in the hopes of redeeming their future.

GRADE: A

REVIEW:

Unsettling. That’s the best word I can find to describe Ward’s latest novel. It’s told in multiple POV’s in a nonlinear narrative which some readers found hard to follow, but that I personally love because it allows for the story to slowly unfold, the secrets to slowly be revealed for the picture to finally come into view, although the reader’s perspective will continuously change because much like The Last House on Needless Street, the heroes and villains aren’t so easily distinguishable.

Ward takes us deep into the Mojave Desert (a place that I already find creepy due to all the real-life disappearances that occur there every year). Rob and Jack are twins living with their research scientist parents Mia and Falcon. They live a somewhat hippy-ish life, isolated from anyone of their own age. Something terrible occurred in that desert and initially the reader isn’t sure exactly what it is or how it all ties in with Rob’s present – now married to a professor whose equal parts charming and terrifying in his subtle cruelty. But what’s got Rob worried is her older daughter Callie, who displays the typical signs of serial killers and thinks that the only way she can save her daughter is by taking her to the one place she vowed to never return to: Sundial. And so a terrible family saga unfolds.

I read this book in a matter of days, because I was so invested with wanting to know what exactly happened at Sundial, because from the very first page the prose is steeped in blood and dread and you know that the journey you’re about to embark on will be a dark one. It’s difficult to use the word “enjoyed” in terms of reading this book because of the unsettling things that occur that leave you cringing or feeling sick, but I did want to know more so it kept me flipping the pages well into the night.

There’s a story within a story, and I wish I understood the symbolism behind it because I’m quite unsure exactly what it revealed (if it revealed anything at all).

Overall I loved the darkness of this novel but if you’re a reader who detests any forms of animal cruelty in literature, then steer clear of this read – you’ve been warned.

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

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3 Books To Take With You on Spring Break

Spring Break is upon us and if you’re planning a quick getaway here are three books that are perfect for poolside and beach reads!

NOTES ON AN EXECUTION BY DANYA KUKAFKA

Ansel Packer is scheduled to die in twelve hours. He knows what he’s done, and now awaits execution, the same chilling fate he forced on those girls, years ago. But Ansel doesn’t want to die; he wants to be celebrated, understood. 

Through a kaleidoscope of women—a mother, a sister, a homicide detective—we learn the story of Ansel’s life. We meet his mother, Lavender, a seventeen-year-old girl pushed to desperation; Hazel, twin sister to Ansel’s wife, inseparable since birth, forced to watch helplessly as her sister’s relationship threatens to devour them all; and finally, Saffy, the detective hot on his trail, who has devoted herself to bringing bad men to justice but struggles to see her own life clearly. As the clock ticks down, these three women sift through the choices that culminate in tragedy, exploring the rippling fissures that such destruction inevitably leaves in its wake. 

BLOOD WILL TELL BY HEATHER CHAVEZ

Schoolteacher and single mom Frankie Barrera has always been fiercely protective of her younger sister Izzy—whether Izzy wants her to be or not. But over the years, Izzy’s risky choices have tested Frankie’s loyalty. Never so much as on a night five years ago, when a frantic phone call led Frankie to the scene of a car accident—and a drunk and disoriented Izzy who couldn’t remember a thing.

Though six friends partied on the outskirts of town that night, one girl was never seen again . . . 

Now, an AMBER alert puts Frankie in the sights of the local police. Her truck has been described as the one used in the abduction of a girl from a neighboring town. And the only other person with access to Frankie’s truck is Izzy.

This time around, Frankie will have to decide what lengths she’s willing to go to in order to protect Izzy—what lies she’s willing to tell, and what secrets she’s willing to keep—because the dangerous game that six friends once played on a warm summer night isn’t over yet . . .

CATCH HER WHEN SHE FALLS BY ALLISON BUCCOLA

Ten years ago, my boyfriend killed my best friend.

When Micah Wilkes was a senior in high school, her boyfriend was convicted of murdering her best friend, Emily, a star ballerina with a bright future. A decade later, Micah has finally moved on from the unforgivable betrayal and loss. Now the owner of a bustling coffee shop in her small hometown in Pennsylvania, she’s happily coupled up with another old high school friend, the two having bonded over their shared sorrow.

But when reminders of her past begin appearing at her work and home, Micah begins to doubt what she knows about Emily’s death. Questions raised on a true crime blog and in an online web sleuthing forum force her to reexamine her memories of that fateful night. She told the truth to the investigators on the case, but was there another explanation for Emily’s murder? A stranger in the woods. An obsessive former classmate. A domineering ballet instructor. Or the internet’s favorite suspect: Joshua, Emily’s outcast younger brother who hasn’t been seen since his sister’s death.

As Micah delves deeper into the case, she feels her grip on reality loosening, her behavior growing more and more secretive and unhinged. As she races to piece together the truth about that night ten years ago, Micah grapples with how things could have gone so wrong and wonders whether she, too, might be next to disappear.

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Book Review: The Agathas by Kathleen Glasgow & Liz Lawson

Who killed Brooke Donovan?

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Release Date: May 3, 2022

Publisher: Delacorte Press

Price: $17.99 (hardcover)

PLOT SUMMARY:

Last summer, Alice Ogilvie’s basketball-star boyfriend Steve dumped her. Then she disappeared for five days. She’s not talking, so where she went and what happened to her is the biggest mystery in Castle Cove. Or it was, at least. But now, another one of Steve’s girlfriends has vanished: Brooke Donovan, Alice’s ex–best friend. And it doesn’t look like Brooke will be coming back. . .
 
Enter Iris Adams, Alice’s tutor. Iris has her own reasons for wanting to disappear, though unlike Alice, she doesn’t have the money or the means. That could be changed by the hefty reward Brooke’s grandmother is offering to anyone who can share information about her granddaughter’s whereabouts. The police are convinced Steve is the culprit, but Alice isn’t so sure, and with Iris on her side, she just might be able to prove her theory.
 
In order to get the reward and prove Steve’s innocence, they need to figure out who killed Brooke Donovan. And luckily Alice has exactly what they need—the complete works of Agatha Christie. If there’s anyone that can teach the girls how to solve a mystery it’s the master herself. But the town of Castle Cove holds many secrets, and Alice and Iris have no idea how much danger they’re about to walk into. 

GRADE: A

REVIEW:

Fans of Agatha Christie will rejoice at rookie detectives Alice and Iris. Last summer Alice went missing for five days much like her favourite author – after she finds out that her ex-boyfriend and ex-bestfriend become a couple. Halloween night – Alice’s former bestfriend Brookes goes missing. Alice with a penchant for mystery decides to join forces with her tutor Iris and convinces her that they can solve this mystery. Much like an Agatha Christie novel, the twists and turns this novel takes are outrageous – almost too preposterous – however it’s a fun wild ride and I loved the unlikely duo, Alice and Iris are perfect teen protagonists.

I don’t know if this will be a series, but the ending pretty much alludes that there might be a sequel and I am here for it.

Check this one out if you love Agatha Christie and her oddball characters Miss Marple and Poirot.

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

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Book Review: Jagged Little Pill by Eric Smith, Diablo Cody, and Glen Ballard

Swallow it down, what a jagged little pill….

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Release Date: April 26, 2022

Publisher: Amulet Books

Price: $19.99 (hardcover)

PLOT SUMMARY:

Adopted Frankie struggles to see eye-to-eye with her mother—who would rather ignore a problem and preserve their “perfect” life than stand up for what’s right. Jo just wants her mom to accept her queer identity—and is totally crushed when Frankie, the only person who really gets her, finds herself infatuated with someone new. Phoenix tries to find his place at the new school and balance wanting to spend time with Frankie but knowing he also has to help out with his sick sister at home. Bella wants to enjoy the end of high school and just head off to college without a hitch. Everyone expects Frankie’s brother Nick to be the golden boy, but even though he just got into his dream school, he’s not even sure he’s a good person. Each of their stories intersects when Bella is sexually assaulted at a party, and it looks like the perpetrator might get away with it.

Moving, heartfelt, and raw, Jagged Little Pill: The Novel draws on the musical’s story and gives readers deeper glimpses of the characters. It’s a story about the power of voicing your pain, standing up for what’s right, and finding healing and connection.

GRADE: B

REVIEW:

If you grew up in the 90’s then you can’t help but have listened to Alanis Morrissette’s breakthrough album Jagged Little Pill. It recently became a musical too, and now there’s a book based on the musical. I wasn’t sure what to expect when it came to a book based off of a musical written around a 90’s album. Let’s just say that the story takes place in contemporary times and NOT the 90’s and it’s very woke riding high on the #METOO movement.

I enjoyed the various POV’s in the novel, as it gave a better sense of what happened when Bella, gets raped during a party. The book focuses on the downfall of trying to keep up appearances and how that often leads one to bury secrets about themselves that should’ve been dealt with instead.

As much as I enjoyed the overall story, I was also expecting a little bit more. I can’t quite explain. I liked the characters but they kinda felt forced at times.

I recommend this novel if you’re a fan of the musical or just want to check out what a novel based on such an iconic album could be like.

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

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Book Review: I’m the Girl by Courtney Summers

Come to Aspera, when you’re old enough….

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Release Date: September 13, 2022

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press (Wednesday Books)

Price: $18.99 (hardcover)

PLOT SUMMARY:

When sixteen-year-old Georgia Avis discovers the dead body of thirteen-year-old Ashley James, she teams up with Ashley’s older sister, Nora, to find and bring the killer to justice before he strikes again. But their investigation throws Georgia into a world of unimaginable privilege and wealth, without conscience or consequence, and as Ashley’s killer closes in, Georgia will discover when money, power and beauty rule, it might not be a matter of who is guilty―but who is guiltiest.

A spiritual successor to the breakout hit SadieI’m the Girl is a masterfully written, bold, and unflinching account of how one young woman feels in her body as she struggles to navigate a deadly and predatory power structure while asking readers one question: if this is the way the world is, do you accept it?

GRADE: A

REVIEW:

As a reader, I always know that going into a Courtney Summers book means that there will be no happy ending, in fact, you will be utterly devastated by the end of the journey. Now, does this make me back away from reading them? No. Maybe I’m a masochist or maybe I prefer unhappy endings in art (what can I say? Watching Romeo & Juliet at 4 has fucked up my expectations).

Georgia Avis has grand expectations for herself and she’s convinced that working at the exclusive resort Aspera will bring her in close contact with people who matter and will help her kickstart her dreams. Although life for her takes a dark turn when she stumbles upon the dead body of 13-years old Ashley James and the killer is still on the loose and has stolen Georgia’s modeling photos. In order to repay her brother back of the $4k she stole to pay for her modeling photos, Georgia gets a job at Aspera, but is sad when she’s not offered to become an “Apera girl” but rather is left to work in an office alone.

Georgia yearns for the life of the rich and famous, thinking that it will save her from her boring existence, but she doesn’t know the price one truly has to pay to sometimes get the things they want. There’s a particular scene in the book that is equal parts disturbing and horrifying as you see how a man in power manages to expertly manipulate Georgia into thinking that she actually has the power, while in reality she never did.

The thriller/murder mystery aspect of the novel was expertly executed and I loved how everything fell into place without feeling like it came out of the left field for the sake of a twist.

The ending will leave you feeling both frustrated and helpless, but knowing that in the circumstances Georgia was in, it was going to be a given that she’d never had the upper hand.

Another deliciously binge-worthy read that will have you flipping the pages as you get immersed in the decadent world of Aspera while leaving you with a serious case of FOMO like Georgia as she wonders what is going on the executive floor.

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press & Wednesday Books for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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Book Review: Daughter by Kate McLaughlin

If only Scarlet knew the truth about her father….

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Release Date: March 8, 2022

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press (Wednesday Books)

Price: $17.09 (hardcover)

PLOT SUMMARY:

Scarlet’s life is pretty average. Overly protective mom. Great friends. Cute boy she’s interested in. And a father she’s never known – until she does.

When the FBI show up at Scarlet’s door, she is shocked to learn her father is infamous serial killer Jeffrey Robert Lake. And now, he’s dying and will only give the names and locations of his remaining victims to the one person, the daughter he hasn’t seen since she was a baby.

Scarlet’s mother has tried to protect her from Lake’s horrifying legacy, but there’s no way they can escape the media firestorm that erupts when they come out of hiding. Or the people who blame Scarlet for her father’s choices. When trying to do the right thing puts her life in danger, Scarlet is faced with a choice – go back into hiding or make the world see her as more than a monster’s daughter.

GRADE: A

REVIEW:

I’m usually not a fan of serial killer books (either real or fictional) but I absolutely LOVED how the focus was shifted from the killer and the spotlight was placed upon the daughter of a serial killer and how finding out what her father had done affects her and how she perceives herself and the victims. This book was unflinchingly realistic and I loved it. Then I realized that this is the same author that gave us What Unbreakable Looks Like and I understood why we had such a kickass protagonist in Scarlet.

I loved that Scarlet refused to be damaged goods because of her psychopathic father, and instead tried to create something positive from the experience of getting to know him, by recording a web series that highlighted the lives of the victims and allowed people to get to know them rather than focus on her father’s hideous crimes.

This is both a chilling read and a realistic look into how a murder affects those who loved the victim and how to move on from that.

This book is perfect for fans of true crime and serial killers. You won’t be disappointed!

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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Book Review: Just Like Mother by Anne Heltzel

A girl would be such a blessing….

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Publisher: Tor Nightfire

Price: $26.99 (hardcover)

Release Date: May 22, 2022

PLOT SUMMARY:

The last time Maeve saw her cousin was the night she escaped the cult they were raised in. For the past two decades, Maeve has worked hard to build a normal life in New York City, where she keeps everything—and everyone—at a safe distance.

When Andrea suddenly reappears, Maeve regains the only true friend she’s ever had. Soon she’s spending more time at Andrea’s remote Catskills estate than in her own cramped apartment. Maeve doesn’t even mind that her cousin’s wealthy work friends clearly disapprove of her single lifestyle. After all, Andrea has made her fortune in the fertility industry—baby fever comes with the territory.

The more Maeve immerses herself in Andrea’s world, the more disconnected she feels from her life back in the city; and the cousins’ increasing attachment triggers memories Maeve has fought hard to bury. But confronting the terrors of her childhood may be the only way for Maeve to transcend the nightmare still to come…

GRADE: A

REVIEW:

I knew that I had to read this book the moment I saw the creepy doll on the cover. This book definitely delivers on all things creepy. Crazy cult. Check. Creepy dolls. Check. Psychobitches. Check.

Maeve hasn’t seen her cousin Andrea since the night she escaped the all-female cult The Mother Collective. Whilst Maeve is still dealing with the aftermath of the cult, Andrea seems to be doing amazing and has a multi-million dollar home and enterprise.

Throughout the book, you can’t help but feel this increasing sense of dread and you begin to notice that the book is a cross between Rosemary’s Baby and The Stepford Wives. Personally, this book is one wild ride and I enjoyed every crazy second of it.

I recommend this book to anyone who loves twisty cult stories that don’t focus on a cult led by a man and if motherhood has ever terrified you. You will find this read absolutely unsettling!

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

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