Book Review: Be Not Far From Me by Mindy McGinnis

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The world is not tame.

Release Date: March 3, 2020

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Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books

Price: $13.99 (hardcover)

Plot Summary:

The world is not tame. Ashley knows this truth deep in her bones, more at home with trees overhead than a roof.

So when she goes hiking in the Smokies with her friends for a night of partying, the falling dark and creaking trees are second nature to her. But people are not tame either. And when Ashley catches her boyfriend with another girl, drunken rage sends her running into the night, stopped only by a nasty fall into a ravine.

Morning brings the realization that she’s alone—and far off-trail. Lost in undisturbed forest and with nothing but the clothes on her back, Ashley must figure out how to survive with the red streak of infection creeping up her leg.

Review:

You can always expect Mindy McGinnis to deliver gritty, wild narratives. Although with her new novel she literally places her protagonist Ashley, in the wild. After she drunkenly discovers her boyfriend cheating on her, she runs away from the scene of the crime, stumbles and somehow really damages one of her feet and consequently manages to get lost in the woods.

Now, Ashley isn’t your typical girl. She loves the outdoors, hiking, and camping and knows how to survive in the woods better than anyone else. However, nature and the elements play against her, not to mention having to deal with an infected foot. All these things make for her journey to freedom to be quite laborious.

This is a survival story that doesn’t hold back. You get everything from trying to deal with finding food and shelter, to stumbling upon a meth camper (I know, it’s crazy, but it wouldn’t be a McGinnis novel if crazy shit didn’t happen). And because it is a McGinnis novel, you know that the protagonist’s life can always be at stake or that she’ll come close to death. Basically, anything terrible that you can imagine happening? It’s going to happen but twentyfold.

McGinnis’ usual sharp, sparse prose helps create tension in the novel and creating anxiety that will have you rooting for Ashley but at the same time, you know how difficult her chances of survival truly are, especially when several days pass by with no signs of being found.

I recommend this book if you love survival stories with a side of sarcasm, grit, and gore.

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My Top 5 Books By Irish Authors

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! What better way to celebrate the Irish than to celebrate its authors? Ireland has had many talented authors and many times people forget that certain authors are indeed Irish only because they either relocate to London or are lumped in with English literature (as Oscar Wilde often is). But Ireland offers a rich literary slew of authors and picking up a book from one of them as ultimately way better than getting drunk on green beer (at least you won’t have to nurse a terrible hangover the following day).

Here are my Top 5 Books by Irish authors, spanning from various genres and times. Pick which one strikes your fancy and curl up with a nice Irish coffee as you devour literary treats! Enjoy!

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The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

A beautiful young man wishes for his youth to remain eternal as his painting ages for him. Soon, what seems to be a blessing turns out to be a curse.

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Brooklyn by Colm Toibin

Colm Tóibín’s New York Times bestselling novel—now an acclaimed film starring Saoirse Ronan and Jim Broadbent nominated for four Academy Awards including Best Picture—is “a moving, deeply satisfying read” (Entertainment Weekly) about a young Irish immigrant in Brooklyn in the early 1950s.

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The Sea by John Banville

In this luminous new novel about love, loss, and the unpredictable power of memory, John Banville introduces us to Max Morden, a middle-aged Irishman who has gone back to the seaside town where he spent his summer holidays as a child to cope with the recent loss of his wife. It is also a return to the place where he met the Graces, the well-heeled family with whom he experienced the strange suddenness of both love and death for the first time. What Max comes to understand about the past, and about its indelible effects on him, is at the center of this elegiac, gorgeously written novel — among the finest we have had from this masterful writer.

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Room by Emma Donoghue

Held captive for years in a small shed, a woman and her precocious young son finally gain their freedom, and the boy experiences the outside world for the first time.

To five-year-old-Jack, Room is the world. . . . It’s where he was born, it’s where he and his Ma eat and sleep and play and learn. At night, his Ma shuts him safely in the wardrobe, where he is meant to be asleep when Old Nick visits.

Room is home to Jack, but to Ma it’s the prison where she has been held for seven years. Through her fierce love for her son, she has created a life for him in this eleven-by-eleven-foot space. But with Jack’s curiosity building alongside her own desperation, she knows that Room cannot contain either much longer.

Room is a tale at once shocking, riveting, exhilarating — a story of unconquerable love in harrowing circumstances, and of the diamond-hard bond between a mother and her child.

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The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

Berlin, 1942: When Bruno returns home from school one day, he discovers that his belongings are being packed in crates. His father has received a promotion and the family must move to a new house far, far away, where there is no one to play with and nothing to do. A tall fence stretches as far as the eye can see and cuts him off from the strange people in the distance.

But Bruno longs to be an explorer and decides that there must be more to this desolate new place than meets the eye. While exploring his new environment, he meets another boy whose life and circumstances are very different from his own, and their meeting results in a friendship that has devastating consequences.

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Book Review: Dear Laura by Gemma Amor

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Price: $6.99 (paperback)

Plot Summary:

Every year, on her birthday, Laura gets a letter from a stranger. That stranger claims to know the whereabouts of her missing friend Bobby, but there’s a catch: he’ll only tell her what he knows in exchange for something…personal.So begins Laura’s sordid relationship with her new penpal, built on a foundation of quid pro quo. Her quest for closure will push her to bizarre acts of humiliation and harm, yet no matter how hard she tries, she cannot escape her correspondent’s demands. The letters keep coming, and as time passes, they have a profound effect on Laura. From the author of Cruel Works of Nature comes a dark and twisted tale about obsession, guilt, and how far a person will go to put her ghosts to bed.

Grade: A-

Review:

When Gemma Amor’s novella appeared as a Bram Stoker nominee, I certainly piqued my interest (because it was self-published). The hype surrounding this book is worth it (unlike the hype surrounding A Head Full of Ghosts). The story follows Laura, a girl who’s boyfriend goes missing when she’s 13, but who’s kidnapper begins a pen-pal-ship with her, teasing details about her missing friend but only if she’s willing to pay the price. The requests start out small till they escalate to the grotesque. It’s a very binge-worthy novella (and seeing as it’s short you can absolutely read it in one sitting). My only gripe is the ending. Maybe my morals are skewed, but I wouldn’t have reacted the way Laura did. But overall, it’s a taut thriller, and one you’ll think about for awhile.

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Book Review: Lullabies for the Suffering: Tales of Addiction Horror

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Release Date: January 14, 2020

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Publisher: Wicked Run Press

Price: $14.95 (paperback)

Plot Summary:

Addiction starts like a sweet lullaby sung by a trusted loved one. It washes away the pains of the day and wraps you in the warmness of the womb where nothing hurts and every dream is possible. Yet soon enough, this warm state of bliss becomes a cold shiver, the ecstasy and dreams become nightmares, yet we can’t stop listening to the lullaby. We crave to hear the siren song as it rips us apart.

Six stories: three novellas, three novelettes, written by a powerful list of talent, all featuring the insidious nature of addiction–damaged humans craving for highs and wholeness but finding something more tragic and horrific on the other side.

Grade: B+

Review:

First of all, I’m going to admit that I absolutely LOVE how hauntingly beautiful the cover is. I would’ve noticed this anthology for the cover alone. Secondly, I’m a huge fan of the TV Series YOU, so knowing that Caroline Kepnes contributed to the anthology gave me the extra push I needed to pick it up.

All the stories in this anthology center around addition (something they’re drug-related other times it’s the addiction to something else that’s just as decremental to your health and turns you a slave). Most of the stories written for the anthology aren’t truly short stories but verge on the novella length, which I didn’t mind at all. With any anthology, there were some gems and some misses for me. Unfortunately, the anthology started off truly strong with “Sometimes They See Me,” by Kealan Patrick Burke, which is a tale about two addict and their crazy benders. There’s something truly haunting about it and one that will leave you questioning any painting or wallpaper you ever see again.

“Monsters” by Caroline Krepnes follows the same writing style as YOU (writing in the second person) at least when the story is narrated by a lonely young man who is accused of a crime he didn’t commit. I really enjoyed the story, but despite the narrator having been wronged, I still feel like he had very much Joe-vibes going on.

My absolute favourite story from the whole anthology was “Lizard” by Mark Matthews. It had everything I looked for in a horror addiction story. It showed the horrors of true addiction but it also had supernatural elements to it that I enjoyed very much. Also, it ends in a very ambiguous way ala “The Lady or the Tiger” where you’re left questioning what decision did the protagonist makes after all?

“The Melting Point of Meat” by John FD Taff started off very strong for me, but kind of took a Clive Barker turn towards the end that I wasn’t a fan of. I would’ve enjoyed this story better if it had another ending.

After that story, the anthology started going downhill for me. I didn’t particularly enjoy “Beyond the Reef” Gabino Iglesias nor “Love is a Crematorium” by Mercedes M. Yardley. I know that addiction usually ends with the addict’s death, however, Yardley’s story was more real-life horror than anything else. It was truly gut-wrenching but I suppose I was still waiting for horror (as in psychological, supernatural, or slasher) to happen. And I had a HUGE issue with the male protagonist Kelly, whom we’re supposed to see as some kind of Romeo, but honestly, he seemed perfectly OKAY allowing Joy (the girl he loved) to prostitute herself for food money. I don’t understand why he never tried to resolve their lack of cash problem or actually be of help rather than just be there but not really doing anything for Joy. I wouldn’t have run away with this dude, he really provided no resource at all, not even emotional support.

I recommend this anthology if you’re into tales of addiction with a dash of darkness.

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Book Review & Author Interview: The Sun Under A Night Sky by Vontress Renae

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Exclusive collab with: VoyageLA(large inverted)

You are the sun and the center of your universe.

Order on Amazon & Paperback

Plot Summary:

In this collection of untitled thoughts, poetry, and affirmations; Vontress plants her powerful feminine energy and wisdom like a seed. Showing growth through struggle, and sharing stories of blooming into a flower. She shines her light like the sun into the darkest parts of her soul.

Grade: A-

Review:

The poems in this collection are often dark, but even in the darkest moments, there is a tiny light that glimmers with hope. And this is what makes this collection stand out from other poems that tackle similar topics like love and heartbreak. The message Renae seems to want to give with these poems is that happiness isn’t something you should search in someone else, or depend on someone else for your own happiness, but rather that happiness lies inside us all if we have self-love and that’s an essential and potent message to give. I recommend this book if you’re into poetry that explores life’s dark moments but that has an uplifting message in the end.

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Short Q & A with the Author:

What has inspired your writing?

The inspiration for my writing comes from day to day life. I wonder what people think and put it on paper, my own stories and sometimes the stories of those around me.

When did you first start writing?

I have always written things for as long as I remember, but it was not until recently that I felt comfortable enough to share it with others.

What tips would you give a novice writer?

My advice would be to remove all distractions. There are times that I sign out of social media and take a bit of a hiatus in order to gather my thoughts and get them down clearly.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve been given?

The best advice I was given would be to do what makes me happy. I feel that my writing can take me all the places I want to go in this world I just have to trust myself and believe in what I’m saying on my pages.

What are you currently reading or looking forward to reading?

I am currently reading ” The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F” by Mark Manson. It has definitely been a page-turner and I plan to take a view of the tips that I have learned while reading.

RENAE ON THE WEB:
Website: https://vontressrortega.com/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/writtenbyvontress
Twitter: https://twitter.com/byvontress
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/writtenbyvontress/

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Book Review: Open Book by Jessica Simpson

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You set my soul at ease, chased darkness out of view.

Release Date: February 4, 2020

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Publisher: Dey Street Books

Price: $18.06 (hardback)

Plot Summary:

This was supposed to be a very different book. Five years ago, Jessica Simpson was approached to write a motivational guide to living your best life. She walked away from the offer, and nobody understood why. The truth is that she didn’t want to lie.

Jessica couldn’t be authentic with her readers if she wasn’t fully honest with herself first.
Now America’s Sweetheart, preacher’s daughter, pop phenomenon, reality tv pioneer, and the billion-dollar fashion mogul invites readers on a remarkable journey, examining a life that blessed her with the compassion to help others but also burdened her with an almost crippling need to please. Open Book is Jessica Simpson using her voice, heart, soul, and humor to share things she’s never shared before.

Grade: A

Review:

Let me preface this with, I’m not a fan of Jessica Simpson. Sure I know of her from seeing her in teen mags in the late 90’s (who mostly focused on the fact that she was a virgin dating the much older Nick Lachey from 98 Degrees) than her music. In fact, I had never listened to any of her songs till recently (I wasn’t aware that MTV didn’t want to play her songs). But I was intrigued to read her memoir cause it seemed like a fun, spill-all type of book (yes, I’m nosy). And well, Jessica delivered on her promise to be an open book.

We learn some interesting things about her. How she went to the Chuck Norris school of acting (it basically consisted of him taping down her eyebrows because his fave actor is Denzel Washington and apparently he doesn’t move his eyebrows when delivering his lines). I never really noticed that tidbit, but I’m sure as hell gonna focus on Denzel’s eyebrows next time I see him in a movie.

Jessica is the sort of good-hearted Texan gal that we all wish we had as a best friend. On many occasions in her memoir, I felt sorry for her. The girl can sing and yet Tommy Mattola kept trying to make her into the next Britney (with dire results) with Janet Jackson abs (this, in turn, lead her down a road of self-loathing, self-doubt, and diet pills). Let’s all remember the girl was just 18-19 yrs. old.

She also goes into detail about her high profile wedding with Nick Lachey and her turbulent romance with John Mayer (spoiler alert: Mayer’s as much of a creepo jerk that I had always suspected him to be but much much worse).

But one thing that I really loved most about the book was that Jessica is unapologetically herself, meaning that no one has managed to have her question her faith even when times were bleak. And her willingness to give back to people (especially service members) is really telling of her character. I also like that she doesn’t try to paint herself as a saint and her exes as villains. She merely lets us in on events and willingly admits her faults. Nick Lachey seemed to resent the fact that Jessica couldn’t transform into a doting housewife (and how could she? She was twenty-two and never taught any household chores since she spent her childhood going to voice lessons and performing). John Mayer was obsessed with her and was a total sociopath when it came to her (breaking up with her multiple times over email!) only to beg her to take him back.

I know that Jessica has a billion-dollar empire now with her Jessica Simpson Collection line, but the real tragedy is that she wasn’t allowed to be herself artistically speaking. Her managers kept wanting her to be more like Britney Spears that she just became a terrible copy of her. Unlike Spears, Jessica CAN sing, and her talent deserved so much more.

Open Book is the sort of inspiring celebrity memoir that you didn’t know you needed.

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Find out why this photo haunts Jessica

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Celebrating Black History Month: Top Ten Novels by Black Authors

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I wonder who thought it was a good idea that placing a book cover that displayed black characters on books that RARELY had any characters IN the book, and weren’t written by black authors, was the best way to celebrate Black History Month. How could’ve the CEO of Barnes and Nobles and the head of Penguin sit in meetings and think this was such a grand idea? I guess if you figure that the majority of the publishing world is made up of white men, then you can quickly see how this idea was ever conceived.

Personally, I think that the right way to Black History Month as a bookstore would’ve been to republish amazing classics written by authors because simply having classics written by white authors in blackface covers only shows how ignorant you really about what is being celebrated.

These are my top 10 classics written by black authors. I’m pretty sure someone on Penguin’s team could’ve come up with a similar list along the way (but I digress).

Kindred by Octavia E. Butler

Dana, a modern black woman, is celebrating her twenty-sixth birthday with her new husband when she is snatched abruptly from her home in California and transported to the antebellum South. Rufus, the white son of a plantation owner, is drowning, and Dana has been summoned to save him. Dana is drawn back repeatedly through time to the slave quarters, and each time the stay grows longer, more arduous, and more dangerous until it is uncertain whether or not Dana’s life will end, long before it has a chance to begin.

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave by Frederick Douglas

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass is an 1845 memoir and treatise on abolition written by famous orator and former slave Frederick Douglass. It is generally held to be the most famous of a number of narratives written by former slaves during the same period. In factual detail, the text describes the events of his life and is considered to be one of the most influential pieces of literature to fuel the abolitionist movement of the early 19th century in the United States.

Cane by Jean Toomer

First published in 1923, Jean Toomer’s Cane is an innovative literary work―part drama, part poetry, part fiction―powerfully evoking black life in the South. Rich in imagery, Toomer’s impressionistic, sometimes surrealistic sketches of Southern rural and urban life are permeated by visions of smoke, sugarcane, dusk, and fire; the northern world is pictured as a harsher reality of asphalt streets. This iconic work of American literature is published with a new afterword by Rudolph Byrd of Emory University and Henry Louis Gates Jr. of Harvard University, who provide groundbreaking biographical information on Toomer, place his writing within the context of American modernism and the Harlem Renaissance, and examine his shifting claims about his own race and his pioneering critique of race as a scientific or biological concept.

Complete Writings by Phillis Wheatley

In 1761, a young girl arrived in Boston on a slave ship, sold to the Wheatley family, and given the name Phillis Wheatley. Struck by Phillis’ extraordinary precociousness, the Wheatleys provided her with an education that was unusual for a woman of the time and astonishing for a slave. After studying English and classical literature, geography, the Bible, and Latin, Phillis published her first poem in 1767 at the age of 14, winning much public attention and considerable fame. When Boston publishers who doubted its authenticity rejected an initial collection of her poetry, Wheatley sailed to London in 1773 and found a publisher there for Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral.

Iola Leroy by Frances Harper

Being very desirous that one of the race, so long distinguished in the cause of freedom for her intellectual worth as Mrs. Harper has had the honor of being, should not at this late date in life make a blunder which might detract from her own good name, I naturally proposed to await developments before deciding too quickly in favor of giving encouragement to her contemplated effort.

The Blacker the Berry by Wallace Thurman

This novel, associated with the Harlem Renaissance, is considered groundbreaking for its exploration of colorism and racial discrimination within the black community, where lighter skin was often favored, especially for women. The novel tells the story of Emma Lou Morgan, a young black woman with dark skin. It begins in Boise, Idaho and follows Emma Lou in her journey to college at USC and a move to Harlem, New York City for work. Set during the Harlem Renaissance, the novel explores Emma Lou’s experiences with colorism, discrimination by lighter-skinned African Americans due to her dark skin. She learns to come to terms with her skin color in order to find satisfaction in her life.

The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.D. Du Bois

This classic groundbreaking work of American literature first published in 1903 is a cornerstone of African-American literary history and a seminal work in the field of sociology.

W.E.B. Du Bois, who drew from his own experiences as an African-American living in American society, explores the concept of “double-consciousness”―a term he uses to describe living as an African-American and having a “sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others.”

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

A first novel by an unknown writer, it remained on the bestseller list for sixteen weeks, won the National Book Award for fiction, and established Ralph Ellison as one of the key writers of the century. The nameless narrator of the novel describes growing up in a black community in the South, attending a Negro college from which he is expelled, moving to New York and becoming the chief spokesman of the Harlem branch of “the Brotherhood”, and retreating amid violence and confusion to the basement lair of the Invisible Man he imagines himself to be.

Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison

Milkman Dead was born shortly after a neighborhood eccentric hurled himself off a rooftop in a vain attempt at flight. For the rest of his life he, too, will be trying to fly. With this brilliantly imagined novel, Toni Morrison transfigures the coming-of-age story as audaciously as Saul Bellow or Gabriel García Márquez. As she follows Milkman from his rustbelt city to the place of his family’s origins, Morrison introduces an entire cast of strivers and seeresses, liars and assassins, the inhabitants of a fully realized black world.

The Sport of the Gods by Paul Laurence Dunbar

In this extraordinary novel, Paul Laurence Dunbar tells the story of a displaced Southern family’s struggle to survive and prosper in early Harlem. “The Sport of the Gods” was one of the first novels to depict the harsh realities of ghetto life and the revolutionary truths it uncovered still resonate today.

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Excerpts From: Strange Girls: Women in Horror Anthology

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It’s officially Women in Horror Month and in less than two weeks, this anthology will be released (February 18!). You can pre-order the book in both ebook and paperback formats! If you’re from the Los Angeles area, then you can find signed copies of the book over at Skylight Books (1818 N. Vermont Ave.!).

Excerpt from Night Terrors by Angela Sylvaine

I wake up unable to move, pinned to my bed by an invisible force. I struggle against it but can’t even wiggle my little finger. Each beat of my pulse pounds through my veins. My eyes are wide open. I try to blink, but even my eyelids are frozen, immovable. With my head locked in place, I can only stare straight up at the ceiling. What’s holding me down? Why can’t I move?

The air is too thin. I can hardly breathe. Every muscle in my body tenses as I twist and strain, but it’s no use.

My vision is hazy as if my face is covered by a gauze veil. Blurred figures are visible in my peripheral. They wear light blue tops, surgical masks, hospital caps, and latex gloves. There are seven in all, three on each side of the bed and one at the foot. I want to open my mouth, to scream for help, but I can’t.

That figure at the foot of the bed speaks, his voice the low baritone of a man.
I strain to hear. Something about administering medication. The person closest to my head on the left responds, “Yes, doctor.” A woman. She has something in her hand. I focus on the object, try to see through the veil.

A syringe.

My breath catches in my throat. No. Leave me alone. Let me go!

Pain pricks the inside of my elbow, and a slow burn spreads through my veins, building into a raging inferno. Tremors shake my body, and a scream swells in my throat. Unable to open my mouth, the shriek stays locked inside, silently ripping through my brain.

Excerpt from Leda and the Fly by Marnie Azzarelli

But that noise, that thing on her wall was neither plain nor right. The thunder was spreading to her chest, walloping her ribcage with each loud boom. She got up achingly, her body accustomed to anything but her bed. She crouched when she got closer to the wall, her knees popping protest, but she knew she needed to be as quiet as possible.

She moved in closer to the ring of light and that terrible sound like a stalking cat ready to spring; her body taut and still, her eyes closed to slits. The thing started to flit in and out of the light, but Leda’s usually dulled senses were sharpening just by the sight of her prey. She could see it almost too clearly.

It was there staining her pristine wall with its filth covered feet, buzzing, buzzing, buzzing through the quiet of her mind.

A fly.
Musca domestica.

Six hair-covered legs, antennae, a small head with two compound eyes, prothorax, mesothorax, a large abdomen, and two transparent wings.

Its front two feet were probing the pure white of Leda’s wall, searching for sustenance only to buzz out its frustrations over the empty surface. Her frustration was built on its existence in her, once sacred, space. Her only solitude after her body had been hollowed out, wiped clean from the toxins and waste that fly thrived on.

She felt the storm rage throughout her and let it out with a low moan, her vocal cords cracking to attention after months of disuse. She groaned softly at first, her knees starting to shake slightly. She took another step towards the fly and her voice came out louder, her legs ready to give out on her in any second.

The fly buzzed louder, startled by the other presence in the room. Its movements became a little more frantic as it bounced to different parts of the lit wall. Leda tried to follow, but she was so focused on that one spot, she couldn’t imagine it going anywhere else. But it decided to move and ruin more and more of her wall.

She started to cry, small tears hot and salty falling down her tingling face. Her nerve endings were all firing at once and she suddenly felt like she was dancing on a thousand pins and needles. Each step was another sharp stab to her that almost broke the skin but didn’t. Her legs finally gave out on her and she fell keening to the carpet.

Patterns of Faerytales by Azzurra Nox

A dreadful chill ran down his spine. It was like having a million spiders crawling down his back. He shivered. The last thing he wanted to do was lose his soul mate.
“So what exactly am I supposed to do with this box?”
“Keep it locked and away from Olivia.”
“Why haven’t you just buried it then?”
The look she gave Cillian was that of disbelief, almost as though he had suggested torching the damn box.
“You must never do such a thing!”
“Why not?”
“Because this is part of her, and you can’t bury it like it’s a box of bones you’re trying to get rid of!”
“What would happen?”
“There could be fatal consequences.” With that, she got up and handed the box to Cillian. “Be careful, and remember….never let her see the contents of this box! Keep it locked.” And with those parting words, Lydia left as swiftly as she had entered.

STRANGE GIRLS: WOMEN IN HORROR ANTHOLOGY DROPS FEBRUARY 18, 2020 BUT IS AVAILABLE FOR PRE-ORDER!

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Top 5 Books I Anticipate Reading in 2020

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I love reading, and it’s the one thing I do at work during my breaks and lunchtime. This past year I’ve been reading a lot more, especially new releases since NetGalley has been hooking me up with ARCs. Spring-Summer 2020 has some very amazing releases. Below are my Top 5 New Releases that I can’t wait to read!

001. Darling Rose Gold – Stephanie Wrobel

For the first eighteen years of her life, Rose Gold Watts believed she was seriously ill. She was allergic to everything, used a wheelchair and practically lived at the hospital. Neighbors did all they could, holding fundraisers and offering shoulders to cry on, but no matter how many doctors, tests, or surgeries, no one could figure out what was wrong with Rose Gold.

Turns out her mom, Patty Watts, was just a really good liar.

After serving five years in prison, Patty gets out with nowhere to go and begs her daughter to take her in. The entire community is shocked when Rose Gold says yes.

Patty insists all she wants is to reconcile their differences. She says she’s forgiven Rose Gold for turning her in and testifying against her. But Rose Gold knows her mother. Patty Watts always settles a score.

Unfortunately for Patty, Rose Gold is no longer her weak little darling…

And she’s waited such a long time for her mother to come home.

*This book reminds me so much of The Act and Gypsy Rose and since that story is so intriguing to me I can’t wait to read this novel.

002. My Dark Vanessa – Kate Elizabeth Russell

2000. Bright, ambitious, and yearning for adulthood, fifteen-year-old Vanessa Wye becomes entangled in an affair with Jacob Strane, her magnetic and guileful forty-two-year-old English teacher.

2017. Amid the rising wave of allegations against powerful men, a reckoning is coming due. Strane has been accused of sexual abuse by a former student, who reaches out to Vanessa, and now Vanessa suddenly finds herself facing an impossible choice: remain silent, firm in the belief that her teenage self willingly engaged in this relationship, or redefine herself and the events of her past. But how can Vanessa reject her first love, the man who fundamentally transformed her and has been a persistent presence in her life? Is it possible that the man she loved as a teenager—and who professed to worship only her—may be far different from what she has always believed?

Alternating between Vanessa’s present and her past, My Dark Vanessa juxtaposes memory and trauma with the breathless excitement of a teenage girl discovering the power her own body can wield. Thought-provoking and impossible to put down, this is a masterful portrayal of troubled adolescence and its repercussions that raises vital questions about agency, consent, complicity, and victimhood. Written with the haunting intimacy of The Girls and the creeping intensity of Room, My Dark Vanessa is an era-defining novel that brilliantly captures and reflects the shifting cultural mores transforming our relationships and society itself.

*As a teenager I loved the book Lolita, so I’m down with forbidden loves and the moral complications those spur.

003. Burn Our Bodies Down – Rory Power

Ever since Margot was born, it’s been just her and her mother. No answers to Margot’s questions about what came before. No history to hold on to. No relative to speak of. Just the two of them, stuck in their run-down apartment, struggling to get along.

But that’s not enough for Margot. She wants family. She wants a past. And she just found the key she needs to get it: A photograph, pointing her to a town called Phalene. Pointing her home. Only, when Margot gets there, it’s not what she bargained for.

Margot’s mother left for a reason. But was it to hide her past? Or was it to protect Margot from what’s still there?

The only thing Margot knows for sure is there’s poison in their family tree, and their roots are dug so deeply into Phalene that now that she’s there, she might never escape.

*I had the pleasure to read Rory’s debut novel and really loved it, and she was also a pleasure to interview, so I can’t wait to see what sort of craziness she has brewed up this time.

004. Home Before Dark – Riley Sager

What was it like? Living in that house.

Maggie Holt is used to such questions. Twenty-five years ago, she and her parents, Ewan and Jess, moved into Baneberry Hall, a rambling Victorian estate in the Vermont woods. They spent three weeks there before fleeing in the dead of night, an ordeal Ewan later recounted in a nonfiction book called House of Horrors. His tale of ghostly happenings and encounters with malevolent spirits became a worldwide phenomenon, rivaling The Amityville Horror in popularity—and skepticism.

Today, Maggie is a restorer of old homes and too young to remember any of the events mentioned in her father’s book. But she also doesn’t believe a word of it. Ghosts, after all, don’t exist. When Maggie inherits Baneberry Hall after her father’s death, she returns to renovate the place to prepare it for sale. But her homecoming is anything but warm. People from the past, chronicled in House of Horrors, lurk in the shadows. And locals aren’t thrilled that their small town has been made infamous thanks to Maggie’s father. Even more unnerving is Baneberry Hall itself—a place filled with relics from another era that hint at a history of dark deeds. As Maggie experiences strange occurrences straight out of her father’s book, she starts to believe that what he wrote was more fact than fiction.

*Riley Sager has become the sort of author that I automatically read anything he writes. I’ve enjoyed all of his novels so far and am really intrigued to read this one!

005. The Southern Book Club’s Guide To Slaying Vampires – Grady Hendrix

Patricia Campbell’s life has never felt smaller. Her ambitious husband is too busy to kiss her good-bye in the morning, her kids are wrapped up in their own lives, and she’s always a step behind on thank-you notes and endless chores. The one thing she has to look forward to is her book club, a close-knit group of Charleston women united by their love of true crime and suspenseful fiction.

This predictable pattern is upended when Patricia is viciously attacked by an elderly neighbor, bringing the neighbor’s handsome relative, James Harris, into her life. Sensitive and well-read, James makes Patricia feel things she hasn’t felt in twenty years. But there’s something…off…and then Patricia’s senile mother-in-law insists she knew him back when she was a girl.

When local children go missing, Patricia has reason to believe that James may be more Bundy than Beatnik. But once she and the book club members investigate further, the true monster emerges—and he’s far more terrifying than any serial killer they’ve ever read about.

*I read Grady’s book We Sold Our Souls last year and it was one of my fave reads of the year, and seeing that this new book also has vampires, I’m totally jumping on this bloodsucking bandwagon!

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What are some of the books you’re looking forward to in 2020?

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Book Review: The Twin by Natasha Preston

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Ivy finds out that her twin sister, Iris, is trying to push her out of her own life–and might be responsible for their mother’s death.

Release Date: March 3, 2020

Pre-Order on Amazon!

Publisher: Delacorte Press

Plot Summary:

After their parents divorced, 10-year-old twins Ivy and Iris were split up–Ivy lived with Dad, Iris with Mom. Now, after a tragic accident takes their mom’s life, the twins are reunited and Iris moves in with Ivy and their dad. Devastated over Mom’s death, Iris spends the first few weeks in almost total silence–the only person she will speak to is Ivy. Iris feels her life is over and she doesn’t know what to do. Emmy promises her twin that she can share her life now. After all, they’re sisters. Twins.

It’s a promise that Iris takes seriously. And before long, Ivy’s friends, her life at school, and her boyfriend, Tyler, fall under Iris’s spell. Slowly, Ivy realizes she’s being pushed out of her own life. But she’s just being paranoid, right? And Mom’s accident was . . . just an accident. Right? It’s not like she–or Dad–or Tyler–are in any danger. . . .

Grade: C

Review:

The blurb for The Twin sounded utterly fascinating as I’m always on board when it comes to creepy, evil twins. Plus I know this author for the bestselling series The Cellar (admittedly I haven’t read said series but I figure if you reach the NYT bestselling list then you can’t possibly be a bad writer). So what could possibly go wrong? Apparently, a lot.

I’m not here to bash a book or an author, but this book truly moves at a snail’s pace. Sure, there’s some gaslighting by Iris (the supposedly evil twin) but it doesn’t really escalate till you’re 75% in the book. I was tempted many times to simply give up on this book, but I only prevailed cause reviewers who made it through claimed it was worth the wait.

Sure, Iris acts strange and like Ivy, we’re left questioning her strange bi-polar personality, but other than that, we can’t see her as being purely evil. And for being a YA, it is very tame compared to other edgier books I’ve read in the genre. I’m also baffled by all the reviews that claimed this was a fast-paced thriller. Using short sentences and barely any description doesn’t easily equate to fast-paced. And there’s some suspense but then again since not much happens that I found to be too alarming, it doesn’t really elevate the stakes at hand.

Is Iris really trying to take Ivy’s place? And if so, why? That’s the central question and it would be an interesting one if it had merely moved at a faster pace or had some truly terrible things happen to Ivy. Now I know that this author used to post their writing on Wattpad (I’m not judging since I do enjoy A.V. Geiger’s books a lot and she used to be on there as well) but I can’t help but feel as though Preston’s writing is too simplistic and that her thrillers aren’t even on par with middle-grade thriller books (I mean a lot more happens in a Goosebumps book than what occurred throughout this one).

The dialogue was a bit stilted in this book, especially anytime Iris spoke. I get that she’s weird but the way she speaks doesn’t even sound like a normal teen or one that is popular anyway.

I really wanted to love this book or at least enjoy the ride, but instead, I was bored witless and wish I could’ve been Ivy binge-watching Riverdale instead.

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*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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