Book Review: Lock Every Door by Riley Sager

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The next heart-pounding thriller from New York Times bestselling author Riley Sager follows a young woman whose new job apartment sitting in one of New York’s oldest and most glamorous buildings may cost more than it pays.

Release Date: July 2, 2019

Pre-Order on Amazon

Price: $17.10 (hardcover)

Publisher: Dutton

Plot Summary:

No visitors. No nights spent away from the apartment. No disturbing the other residents, all of whom are rich or famous or both. These are the only rules for Jules Larsen’s new job as an apartment sitter at the Bartholomew, one of Manhattan’s most high-profile and mysterious buildings. Recently heartbroken and just plain broke, Jules is taken in by the splendor of her surroundings and accepts the terms, ready to leave her past life behind.

As she gets to know the residents and staff of the Bartholomew, Jules finds herself drawn to fellow apartment sitter Ingrid, who comfortingly reminds her of the sister she lost eight years ago. When Ingrid confides that the Bartholomew is not what it seems and the dark history hidden beneath its gleaming facade is starting to frighten her, Jules brushes it off as a harmless ghost story . . . until the next day, when Ingrid disappears.

Searching for the truth about Ingrid’s disappearance, Jules digs deeper into the Bartholomew’s sordid past and into the secrets kept within its walls. What she discovers pits Jules against the clock as she races to unmask a killer, expose the building’s hidden past, and escape the Bartholomew before her temporary status becomes permanent.

Grade: A

Review:

Soon after reading The Last Time I Lied, I picked up Final Girls (I still need to read it) and of course requested a copy of Lock Every Door the second it was available on NetGalley. Luckily, I managed to snag a copy. There’s something about Riley Sager that I just LOVE. He always manages to incorporate some horror aspect into his thriller novels. For example, with Lock Every Door, Jules is a recently laid-off worker, and finds work as a housesitter in the exclusive Bartholomew Building (in which she and her sister used to obsess about since their favorite book was set there), and for some reason the book gave me some serious Rosemary’s Baby vibes. Maybe because of the uber-rich, yet creepy neighbors, or the fact that it’s alluded that the building is cursed and witches may be involved. However, this being a Sager novel means that although it may give you horror vibes, it never ventures off into supernatural.

I found Jules to be very relatable, as I think we can all identify with her. She was a hard worker in college, received a degree thinking she could better her social standing, instead, she ends up working a crummy office job in which she gets laid off from, and in her desperation to find a new living situation (her loser boyfriend cheated on her), she falls for an ad on Craigslist that is looking for a housesitter. Now, if Jules economic situation hadn’t been so fire, she would’ve bailed at the first inkling of something being amiss at the Bartholomew, but since beggars can’t be chooser’s, she sticks it out even when us readers are yelling, GET THE FUCK OUT!

Some aspects of the story seem kind of over the top, but I feel like it works, or at least Sager has enough thriller cred to make it work. This book is perfect any of you who love mysteries, thrillers, or horror (cause even though it’s not horror it DOES have a lot of horror vibes running throughout).

I really enjoyed this book a lot and have a feeling that Sager will become one of my fave new authors.

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

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Book Review & Author Interview: Bright Burning Stars by A.K. Small

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Would you die for the Prize?

Release Date: May 21, 2019

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Price: $12.29 (hardcover)

Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers

Plot Summary:

Best friends Marine Duval and Kate Sanders have trained since childhood at the Paris Opera Ballet School, where they’ve forged an inseparable bond through shared stories of family tragedies and a powerful love for dance. When the body of a student is found in the dorms just before the start of their final year, Marine and Kate begin to ask themselves how far they would go for the ultimate prize: to be named the one girl who will join the Opera’s prestigious corps de ballet. Would they cheat? Seduce the most talented boy in the school, dubbed the Demigod, hoping his magic will make them shine, too? Would they risk death for it? Neither girl is sure.

But then Kate gets closer to the Demigod, even as Marine has begun to capture his heart. And as selection day draws near, the competition—for the Prize, for the Demigod—becomes fiercer, and Marine and Kate realize they have everything to lose, including each other.

Bright Burning Stars is a stunning, propulsive story about girls at their physical and emotional extremes, the gutting power of first love, and what it means to fight for your dreams.

Grade: A

Review:

For some reason I find books or films about ballet to be utterly fascinating and alluring. Maybe because I took ballet classes for a year as a kid (before realizing that I should give up cause there was no way I’d ever be a ballerina with my lack of grace). I’m so obsessed with ballet that I even made my protagonist in CUT HERE, Lena one. This is to confirm that I was absolutely excited when I was finally given the ARC for Bright Burning Stars (I had requested it months ago and had only been given it a few weeks prior to publication date).

Things I loved about this novel:

Friendships: The two protagonists, Marine and Kate have a very strong friendship. It actually is the core of the novel and despite the fact that they’re both aiming for “The Prize” aka becoming the exclusive etoile at the Opera National de Paris. “Rats” as the studying ballerinas are referred to in the novel, are so focused on the prize that they’d do anything to obtain it, and Kate is even willing to die for it. Slowly, bestfriends Marine and Kate begin to grow apart as things get more competitive and each wanting to snag the prize title for their own.

Relationships: I love how the author explores various types of relationships, such as showing one romantic relationship as gradually growing into something much more passionate than it initially was, and another romantic relationship that becomes tragically toxic fast.

Setting: Ever since I was little (maybe because I was obsessed with Marie Antoinette & Versailles) I’ve been in love with Paris. So, I’ll automatically favor any novel that takes place in the City of Lights. I was just a bit sad that we, the readers never get a chance to experience the city because we’re always stuck in the dance studios with the two protagonists.

Minor gripe: I wasn’t a fan of how abortion was handled in this book. Not because one of the protagonists decides to go over and beyond to terminate an unexpected pregnancy, but because of how simplistic it was written out to be. Sure, maybe drinking odd toxic herbal teas *can* induce an abortion, but I don’t like how easy it all was for the character. Since this is a YA and intended for teens, I don’t want teens thinking that if you’re pregnant that you can just forego a normal abortion AT A CLINIC and just drink herbal tea and wish everything will get taken care of, because in most cases that won’t work. Just putting that out there for the kids.

The Ending: There were only two ways the book could’ve ended and I assumed both possible endings. Ultimately, the author aimed for the safest one. Which is not to say that is was bad, but probably tragic loving me would’ve opted for the other much more unsettling ending. But seeing that it’s YA I can see why the novel would end on a much more hopeful note than not.

Overall, the novel had very lush and alluring elements to it and I was completely consumed by the story. If you love Paris, ballet, and strong friendships, then this book is for you.

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

Short Q & A With The Author:

I read that you were a ballet dancer. Did you study ballet in Paris, as the characters in Bright Burning Stars did or did you study it elsewhere?

When I was five-years-old, I began dancing in Paris with a famous teacher named Max Bozzoni who taught and danced at the Paris Opera. Then I danced with L’Académie Chaptal where the teachers also danced and taught at the Paris Opera. And in my teens, I danced with the Richmond Ballet Student Company and did a summer at Pacific Northwest Ballet on full scholarship.

Why did you decide to set the story in Paris? Is it because it’s where ballet first began or because Paris is the perfect setting for a book about passion (both for ballet and love)?

I chose Paris because I began my dance adventure there and because I grew up obsessed and in love with the Parisian rats who became principal dancers. I knew I wanted to render homage to them specifically.

Do you think that female friendships are very important to girls in their teenage years and that’s why it’s particularly devastating when they end?

I think female friendships are always important, but when you are a teen you experience love with a particular type of intensity. I feel like those friendships are almost always tattooed in your heart somehow, which do make them hard to reckon with when they unravel.

The ballet world can be very cutthroat and dealing with physical pain is an every day occurrence for a ballerina. Do you think that’s why it’s hard for dancers to relate to others who don’t dance or don’t have a similar passion as their own?

To me, the dance world is like a monastery. You give yourself over to that vocation physically and mentally. Dancers are artists, but also athletes. Imagine a painter who wrestles, or a cellist who plays basketball, or a sculptor who sprints. The complexity of fusing art and sport. Very few people, I believe, know the rigor of ballet and, yes, that keeps the dancers separate from others for sure.

What actresses can you see in the role of Kate & Marine if anyone ever decides to bring Bright Burning Stars on the big or TV screen?

If I had it my way I’d want to see real dancers portray my girls, like Ava Arbuckle and Audrey Freeman whom I follow on IG!

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Book Review: The Quiet You Carry by Nikki Barthelmess

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None of us can understand what’s going on in another person’s life from the outside looking in. No one can really see the quiet you carry, unless you let them.

Release Date: March 5, 2019

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Price: $11.12 (paperback)

Publisher: North Star Editions

Plot Summary:

Victoria Parker knew her dad’s behavior toward her was a little unusual, but she convinced herself everything was fine—until she found herself locked out of the house at 3:00 a.m., surrounded by flashing police lights.

Now, dumped into a crowded, chaotic foster home, Victoria has to tiptoe around her domineering foster mother, get through senior year at a new school, and somehow salvage her college dreams . . . all while keeping her past hidden.

But some secrets won’t stay buried—especially when unwanted memories make Victoria freeze up at random moments and nightmares disrupt her sleep. Even worse, she can’t stop worrying about her stepsister Sarah, left behind with her father. All she wants is to move forward, but how do you focus on the future when the past won’t leave you alone?

Grade: A

Review:

From the acknowledgments, the reader soon learns that the author herself, much like her character Victoria, was put into Foster Care in Nevada (although unlike her character she was much younger, at 12 yrs. old). I think this is why she’s capable of giving one of the best and authentic novelizations about how the foster care system works and how the kids who end up in them are treated by their foster parents and social workers. Unlike other books that I’ve read about foster care, the protagonist Victoria doesn’t end up in it due to an unexpected death, but rather because her own father delivers a lie about her to cover up a very scary truth about himself and what he did to his daughter. Some of you may imagine what that ugly truth could possibly be, but I’d rather keep this review spoiler free, besides, Victoria doesn’t fully reveal all the details of that fateful night till almost halfway through the novel.

Victoria’s journey was very heartbreaking, but I loved how the friendships in this novel were top-notch. I’m kind of over novels or films always depicting female friendships as being petty and mean, and I love how Christina was so full of love for Victoria and stuck by her through thick and thin. Even her boyfriend, Kale, was a gem, who truly loved her despite the odds being against them. What I loved about this book is that all the characters were layered so even people you may have perceived as awful when you first encountered them, turned out to be better people, and those that seemed okay at first were revealed to not be so. Again, this book isn’t for the faint of heart because of the subject matter that is very trigger-worthy so tread lightly if you’re someone who’s easily triggered by the following topics: sexual assault, abuse, suicide, and self-harm, as those, are only a few things that are mentioned and played out throughout the novel.

But despite the dark winding tunnel that we find ourselves in with Victoria, there’s some light at the end. And that light, that hope, is what makes this novel absolutely stunning.

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

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Book Review: The Stillwater Girls by Minka Kent

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Two sisters raised in fear are about to find out why.

Release Date: April 9, 2019

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Price: $15.99 (hardcover)

Publisher: Thomas & Mercer

Plot Summary:

Ignorant of civilization and cautioned against its evils, nineteen-year-old Wren and her two sisters, Sage and Evie, were raised in off-the-grid isolation in a primitive cabin in upstate New York. When the youngest grows gravely ill, their mother leaves with the child to get help from a nearby town. And they never return.
As the months pass, hope vanishes. Supplies are low. Livestock are dying. A brutal winter is bearing down. Then comes the stranger. He claims to be looking for the girls’ mother, and he’s not leaving without them.

To escape, Wren and her sister must break the rule they’ve grown up with: never go beyond the forest.

Past the thicket of dread, they come upon a house on the other side of the pines. This is where Wren and Sage must confront something more chilling than the unknowable. They’ll discover what’s been hidden from them, what they’re running from, and the secrets that have left them in the dark their entire lives.

Grade: B-

Review:

I devoured half of the book in one day, that’s just how fast-paced and easy to read this novel is. The premise was truly alluring about sisters living off the grid with a mother who bailed on them in search of medicines for the younger sister. I never truly warmed up to the character of Nicolette, because in Kent’s previous novel, The Thinnest Air, she had another similar character (pretty rich girl with a husband acting suspiciously). I’m sure it’s fun to write about rich people, but I always feel a bit disconnected when books only focus on wealthy people who have closets that are the size of a living room.

My only gripe about the book was the twist in the middle. I think the book could’ve done without the twist or at least made a twist that was less far-fetched. I wish to keep this review spoiler-free, but the twist involved a serious mental health issue that seemed to be taken lightly.

The writing in the book is somewhat simplistic which means that it’s an easy read (not saying it’s a bad thing). But it only took me a couple of days to be done because it was a really quick read (lengthwise and ease of word choice). It wasn’t overly descriptive or flowery, but the excessive foreshadowing grew tiresome at times.

The book had too much of a happy ending for me, which seemed a bit unrealistic, but I guess that’s what readers expect so maybe many won’t mind. Overall, it was an enjoyable read that kept me interested and had me invested in the characters, so I will def check out other books by this author.

*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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Jason Allen: Book Blog Tour Spotlight & Author Interview

I’m very excited to be hosting a spotlight and author interview on The Inkblotters with Jason Allen for his blog tour. This is the first time that I am hosting a blog tour stop so I’m incredibly thrilled to share this new amazing literary novel with all of you!

theeastend

A tragic accident threatens to unravel two families in this gripping novel of suspense and culture clash set in the Hamptons.

Purchase the novel on Amazon!

Plot Summary:

Corey Halpern, a local high schooler with a troubled home life, is desperate to leave the Hamptons and start anew somewhere else. His last summer before college, he settles for the escapism he finds in sneaking into neighboring mansions.

One night just before Memorial Day weekend, he breaks into the wrong home at the wrong time: the Sheffield estate, where he and his mother, Gina, work. Under the cover of darkness, Leo Sheffield—a billionaire CEO, patriarch and the owner of the vast lakeside manor—arrives unexpectedly with a companion. After a shocking poolside accident, everything depends on Leo burying the truth before his family and friends arrive for the holiday weekend. Unfortunately for him, Corey saw what happened, as did other eyes in the shadows.

Secrecy, obsession, and desperation dictate each character’s path in this spectacular debut. In a race against time, each critical moment holds life in the balance as Corey, Gina and Leo approach a common breaking point. With an ending as explosive as the Memorial Day fireworks on the island, The East End welcomes a bright new voice in fiction.

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How would you describe your writing process? (Do you write at night? During the day? Alone or out in public at a cafe?)

On the best of days, I’m a marathon writer. I’m always most productive when I can devote an entire day to novel pages, ideally starting the moment I wake up, or right after the coffee is in the cup anyway, and then working until at least dinner time. I used to write very late at night, sometimes all night until the sun had risen and the birds reminded me I should finally sleep, but in the past few years, I’m more a morning writer overall. I also teach at a university and have a heavy teaching load, so some days I can only spend an hour or so working on my writing before grading papers or heading to campus. I’ve found that I can’t work on a novel in public. I have to be in total solitude and quiet, at least when working on a novel. For shorter pieces, especially essays or poems, I sometimes like the energy in a coffee shop or a diner because it can spark a new thread of strange associative thoughts or odd metaphors, but as far as the novels go, I need to be a hermit for large blocks of time in order to stay immersed in the prolonged dream of the fictional world.

What physical settings do you find most conducive to writing?  Where did you write the bulk of this novel?

I wrote a lot of the early draft of The East End while living in Upstate New York, mostly while on my old couch, looking out the window throughout a few full cycles of the seasons and many days while the snow was falling. I revised it while living in Atlanta and renting a first-floor apartment in an old decrepit house that had a porch. I usually brought my laptop outside to the couch that was on the porch. During the hottest, most humid, most mosquito-thick parts of the year in Atlanta, I worked way more at night when it was cooler and less buggy and quieter.

How did writing a novel compare to your previous experience writing poetry?

Writing poems is much more spontaneous for me than the novel writing process. The scale is also so dramatically different. A poem is a distillation of image and emotion, sort of like carving and polishing a figurine of a baby elephant from a palm-size piece of limestone, while writing a novel takes years of chiseling marble slabs, and then rearranging and questioning how all the animals in an acre of the African savannah should be positioned to tell their larger interconnected story. Most of the poems in my collection A Meditation on Fire connect to personal experience, the initial drafts written with a sense of urgency. The East End was a constant process of exploration until the characters felt so real to me that I truly cared about each of them.

What I love about writing poetry is that I can spend one day on a first draft and feel I have something that is at least close to finished. What I love about novel writing is that I can only plan so much, and at a certain point during the years it takes to reach the end, there is sure to be at least a hundred ah-ha moments, so many surprises, and overall it’s so satisfying to complete a work that took hundreds of days, sometimes thousands of hours, and to discover something about the characters’ journeys that makes me think more deeply about my own experience in this world. Whether it’s through the short form with poems or essays or short stories, or the long form with novels, I can’t consider a piece finished in any form until I feel the same sense of emptiness—and I mean that in a good way. Each medium allows me to empty my consciousness to a certain extent, to empty out the static of daily life that we all cope with in our own ways.

What inspired you to write THE EAST END?

Initially, I mainly wanted to illuminate the inner lives of the working class people of the Hamptons. I grew up there, and as a working class person in a seasonal resort area that attracts the wealthiest of the wealthy, as the Hamptons does, it’s impossible not to compare what “they” have versus what “we” have. I’d always been fascinated by just how extreme the disparity was between the multi-millionaire visitors and those of us who scraped by year after year, and that tension played out in so many ways each summer season. So I wanted to explore class, but also addiction, secrecy, obsession, and to do my best to write a complex story that highlights that tension among the disparate classes of people in the Hamptons. What I found over time, after delving into the depths of each character’s psyche, is that I truly believe that we are all more than the assumptions others might impose upon us.

What are some of the main themes in the book or some of the key takeaways?

The main themes are class (specifically class-divide), alcoholism and addiction, secrecy, obsession, loneliness and longing, and identity (including sexual orientation/ identification). The key takeaway, I hope, is that we should try our best not to judge any book by its cover. I had an easy time empathizing with the teenaged character, Corey, even as he starts breaking into houses, and also for his mother, Gina, even as she’s hitting bottom with alcohol and pills and is relatively absent from her two sons’ daily lives. I was surprised to find how much I cared about the billionaire character, Leo Sheffield, when in the past I could have easily written him off as just another greed-driven destroyer of the world, someone who deserves no empathy—but it was gratifying to care about them all, despite their flaws and bad decisions.

What are the commonalities you discovered between the elite and the middle-class characters?

Everyone suffers. Everyone loves. Everyone longs for something or someone. We’re all so flawed, all bumbling along through our lives; we’re all having a human experience, no matter our socioeconomic status. It just so happens that it will always be a bit harder for working class people in general—hardest of all for the poorest of the poor.

What was the hardest part about writing your debut book?

Maintaining relationships, maybe? It’s understandable that it might not be easy for most people to be in a relationship with someone who wants to spend days off from work in their pajama pants, shut away in a room for hours at a time. The work itself, I honestly love it—even when it feels like hard work. It’s incredible that after many years of writing, now I get to work on my next novels as others are reading The East End. I guess the hardest part is what happens after the writing is finished. I want everyone to like it… haha.

Your author bio says you grew up in the Hamptons and worked a variety of blue-collar jobs for wealthy estate owners.  How much did you draw from personal experience when writing this book?

I mined lots of lived experience for both the setting of the novel and the characters. My mother worked for a millionaire family at their summer estate in Southampton for more than a decade, and while the plot and characters are fictional, the setting is closely based on the estate where she worked (and where I worked with her for one summer). I also worked for the mega-rich in the Hamptons as a pool guy, a carpenter’s helper, lots of labor jobs in my teens and twenties.

What is your favorite genre to read?  Have any authors you’ve read influenced your work?

Literary fiction is definitely my favorite, but all of the best genre fiction always transcends its genre, so I love discovering an especially strange novel with magical realism elements, or one that introduces a dystopian world in a new and fascinating way (think the original Twilight Zone episodes, Rod Serling’s brilliant social commentary through sci-fi). Whatever the genre, the characters will always matter most to me, but also I find that I’m most grateful when an author obviously took the time to pull me through the story with relatively constant plot complications and tension—all the books I love, all the ones I just couldn’t down, have so much character complexity and tension throughout. I’m sure that every author I’ve read has influenced my work to varying degrees, and I’m always looking for that next book that will trick me into forgetting that I’m reading—the best novels always achieve this seemingly impossible magic trick.

What are you currently reading and what’s on your TBR (to be read) list?

I’m currently reading an advanced reader copy of a debut novel called The Tenth Girl, by Sara Faring, which is a brilliant, funny, twisted gothic story that takes place in a haunted girls’ prep school in Argentina, and at the same time I’m in the midst of another advanced copy of a wonderful literary debut novel Goodnight Stranger, by Miciah Bay Gault. I’ve also just finished Winter Loon, by Susan Bernhard, and loved it for its rich characters and the author’s bravery to show the true struggles of working-class characters. Some other recent favorites include: The Boat Runner, by Devin Murphy (if you haven’t read that yet, buy it immediately—it’s amazing); Eileen, by Ottessa Moshfegh (so unique, both dark and funny in all the most interesting ways); and I just reread All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr, which I can only describe as a masterpiece, a novel in my top two or three of all-time.

Do you have plans to write more novels in the future?

Yes, absolutely. I plan to finish my second novel this summer. It’s a story set mostly in Portland, Oregon, where I also lived for ten years. It takes place during the winter of 2008, during the start of the Great Recession and the Housing Crisis, also during an especially cold winter. The characters are all down-and-outers, with addiction and family and desperation as the central themes. I’m also looking forward to revising my first memoir manuscript, as well as my first feature-length screenplay, and in the next year or so I will begin fleshing out my third novel. I have the novel-writing bug and realize now that I always have. I’m not hoping for a cure, either.

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Book Review: The Raven’s Tale by Cat Winters

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“The life still there, upon her hair – the death upon her eyes.” 

Release Date: April 16, 2019

Pre-Order On Amazon

Price: $12.32 (hardcover)

Publisher: Amulet Books

Plot Summary:

Seventeen-year-old Edgar Poe counts down the days until he can escape his foster family–the wealthy Allans of Richmond, Virginia. He hungers for his upcoming life as a student at the prestigious new university, almost as much as he longs to marry his beloved Elmira Royster. However, on the brink of his departure, all his plans go awry when a macabre Muse named Lenore appears to him. Muses are frightful creatures that lead Artists down a path of ruin and disgrace, and no respectable person could possibly understand or accept them. But Lenore steps out of the shadows with one request: “Let them see me!”

Grade: A+

Review:

I first came into contact with Cat Winters’ writing in the form of the short story, Emmeline, from the thrilling Slasher Girls & Monster Boys. I loved her short story so much that I decided to check out her other works (this is why I love anthologies because it gives you the chance to discover new authors). As a reader, you can’t help but notice just how poetic and elegant Winters’ prose is in all of her writing (think Anne Rice if she were to write YA). So when I found out that Winters was writing a book about my favourite poet’s teenage years, I was beyond thrilled! Honestly, no one else could possibly be a better fit to write about Poe than Winters. I’ve been waiting to read this book for over a year now and was fortunate enough to have received a signed copy of the ARC from the author (a huge THANKS!).

From the very first page, one is completely immersed into the story of Edgar “Eddy” Poe and his beautiful, yet creepy looking muse, Lenore. I’m a huge fan of dual narration, so I loved that we got to know both Poe and Lenore. Most Poe fans know that the Gothic writer had a very tragic life, but to see it come alive in fiction almost makes one a spectator of his formative years. Plus, I really loved the idea of muses coming to life, it kinda reminded me of the Greek muses that were actual women and not just a notion. Not to mention that Winters’ impeccable prose fits seamlessly perfect with any of the Poe-inspired figures of speech.

This is a beautiful tale told beautifully, by a writer who clearly loves her subject as much as I do. You’ll be fascinated and enchanted by the characters and gorgeous prose, and maybe its magic will make you want to discover or revisit some of Poe’s works because that’s what amazing books do. They don’t end when the story ends, and Poe’s legacy is one that will continue forevermore.

Short Q & A With The Author:

What about Edgar Allan Poe’s life made you want to write about him?

I wanted to write about Poe precisely because I didn’t know anything about his life, other than the fact that he married his thirteen-year-old cousin when he was twenty-seven and was supposedly an opium addict (the latter of which has been disputed by scholars). Teachers introduced me to his work when I was in middle school, and he was assigned to me as my American author to study in my eleventh-grade English class. Gothic literature mesmerized me from a very young age, and Poe’s work was no exception.

A few years ago, after using solely fictional characters in my novels, I challenged myself to write about the teenage years of a real-life historical figure, and Edgar Allan Poe immediately came to mind as the perfect subject. Even though his macabre stories and poems are iconic, and he has one of the most recognizable faces in literary history, most people don’t know anything about him as a person. Originally, I didn’t even know where he lived as a teenager, so everything about him was new to me when I first dove into the research.

What is your favourite Poe short story? How about his poetry?

I really love Poe’s short story “The Masque of the Red Death.” To me, it reads like a sinister, Gothic fairy tale, and it’s an excellent example of how to create an atmosphere in fiction—and how to pack a punch with a story’s ending. I love Poe’s poetry even more than his stories, so choosing just one favorite it difficult. “Annabel Lee” was the very first work of his that I ever read, and I’ve always found it both beautiful and chilling. “The Raven,” of course, is a top choice, because it’s quintessential Poe. I’ve also become a big fan of “The Bells.” I wasn’t familiar with that particular poem before writing THE RAVEN’S TALE, but Poe’s rhythm and language—and the way his tone changes throughout the piece—is spellbinding. I love how the poem sounds like bells when read aloud.

After so many years left wondering, fans of Poe finally get a chance to meet Lenore in your novel. Do you think muses are indispensable to an artist, or can an artist create without a muse?

Well, there are both mythological muses and human muses. Both come into play in THE RAVEN’S TALE, and I think in some ways both versions influence all writers. My literary agent will frequently tell me to let my muse guide me, as if a supernatural being hovers around me, inspiring me and deciding when and how I should write. We writers tend to also complain about our muses turning stubborn and silent. I wanted to play with those ideas in THE RAVEN’S TALE, which is why I created the character of Lenore, a mystical, macabre muse who desperately needs teenage Poe to write Gothic works in order for her to survive. Unlike most muses, who remain hidden, she steps out of the shadows of young Eddy’s bedroom wall and demands to be seen. She represents the voice inside all creative souls that drives us to share our work with the world. It’s the same voice that fills our brains with new ideas, often when we’re not expecting ideas to appear, and it sometimes, sadly, falls silent when we truly need inspiration, leading to the dreaded “writer’s block.”

I think all writers tend to have real-life muses, too, whether we realize it or not. Many of my novels involve dark-haired leading men with emotional pasts, and I’m married to a dark-haired guy whom I met when we were both teens.

What part of researching for this novel did you most enjoy?

In 2017 I traveled to Virginia and explored the city of Richmond, where Poe lived the majority of his teen years, and Charlottesville, where he attended the University of Virginia at the age of seventeen. It’s one thing to read about people and places of the past in books and articles, but to actually walk in a historical figure’s footsteps brings a whole new dimension to research. Poe’s dorm room sits on display at the university, and it was incredible to map out my dormitory scenes while looking at and photographing his actual room.

When teaching poetry, I was asked by a student why so many poets and writers seemed to have had experienced some form of tragedy. Do you think that suffering is essential for the artist or can an artist still create relateable material without experiencing pain?

Some artists, including Poe, certainly endure more tragedy than others, but I think most everyone experiences some degree of pain in their life, whether it’s death, loneliness, injury, oppression, bullying, or anything else that leaves a mark on a person. For creative individuals, that pain often works its way into art, just as they also pour their loves and passions into their projects. I don’t think a person has to suffer a horrifying tragedy in order to turn into a great artist, but I think all artists use a version of their tragedies (and fears and challenges) in their works, including comedians, who often cite their pain as the source of their material.

 

 

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Book Review: Squad by Mariah MacCarthy

squad

A Cheerleader loses her squad but discovers herself.

Release Date: March 12, 2019

Purchase on Amazon

Price: $12.88 (hardcover)

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Plot Summary:

Jenna Watson is a cheerleader. And she wants you to know it’s not some Hollywood crap: they are not every guy’s fantasy. They are not the “mean girls” of Marsen High School. They’re literally just human females trying to live their lives and do a perfect toe touch. And their team is at the top of their game. They’re a family.

But all that changes when Jenna’s best friend stops talking to her. Suddenly, she’s not getting invited out with the rest of the quad. She’s always a step behind. And she has no idea why.

While grappling with post-cheer life, Jenna explores things she never allowed herself to like, including LARPing (live-action role-playing) and a relationship with a trans guy that feels a lot like love.

When Jenna loses the sport and the friends she’s always loved, she has to ask herself: What else is left?

Grade: B+

Review:

After embarking on a creepy, twisty journey with Will Haunt You, I decided I needed a moment of respite from all things horror (at least in books) so I decided to give this book a try. Although when I told a friend of mine that I was reading a book about cheerleaders he said, “Why would you do that? They’re scary!” So I wasn’t sure what to expect. From the first page, I was hooked. Not because anything compelling was really happening (there wasn’t much action throughout the whole novel), but I just loved Jenna’s voice and her way of telling a tale of friendship gone awry. How one single social misstep can instantly make you the outcast of your own group (which I’m sure most of us can relate to, to some extent if you’ve ever been in high school or ya know, just been a teenager).

So Jenna finds herself having to learn to navigate school life without her best friend Raejean, and not being part of the cheerleading squad anymore (something dramatic happens, that’s all I can say as to why she’s no longer in the squad). But I love how this novel explored bullying in a way that wasn’t so over the top, but rather how ignoring someone can in itself be its own form of bullying too. Also, kudos for the author for including a transgender (female to male) character. I haven’t seen that many transgender characters in YA novels, so that was refreshing. The book overall was an easy read and although it wasn’t one of the best I’ve read this year, I did enjoy it, mostly for the realism of teenage relationships with their parents and siblings, dating, and friendships.

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Farrar, Straus and Giroux for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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Book Review: Will Haunt You by Brian Kirk

haunt

You don’t read the book. It reads you. 

Release Date: March 14, 2019

Purchase on Amazon

Price: $11.91 (paperback)

Publisher: Flame Tree Press

Plot Summary:

Rumors of a deadly book have been floating around the dark corners of the deep web. A disturbing tale about a mysterious figure who preys on those who read the book and subjects them to a world of personalized terror.

Jesse Wheeler―former guitarist of the heavy metal group The Rising Dead―was quick to discount the ominous folklore associated with the book. It takes more than some urban legend to frighten him. Hell, reality is scary enough. Seven years ago his greatest responsibility was the nightly guitar solo. Then one night when Jesse was blackout drunk, he accidentally injured his son, leaving him permanently disabled. Dreams of being a rock star died when he destroyed his son’s future. Now he cuts radio jingles and fights to stay clean.

But Jesse is wrong. The legend is real―and tonight he will become the protagonist in an elaborate scheme specifically tailored to prey on his fears and resurrect the ghosts from his past. Jesse is not the only one in danger, however. By reading the book, you have volunteered to participate in the author’s deadly game, with every page drawing you closer to your own personalized nightmare. The real horror doesn’t begin until you reach the end.

That’s when the evil comes for you.

Grade: A

Review:

Let me start off this review by saying that this book is creepy. But not creepy in the slow burn atmospheric way that The Exorcism of Emily Rose was (or A Head full of Ghosts at its best before the dismal downfall of an ending), but rather it’s creepy in the way that only Rob Zombie and Eli Roth movies know how to be. Meaning, we’re creeped out because we can envision these horrors happening to us, and we squirm and wish that we could do something to save the protagonist. And yet, we’re also kinda worried for our well being, after all the book is about a cursed book, and the cursed book in question is the one you’re holding in your hands right now. Don’t have chills yet?

Now, if you’re not a fan of Rob Zombie films, I can see how this may not be the kind of horror book for you. This book was very much reminiscent of Zombie’s newest film, 31, with its bizarro villains, and the location of being enclosed in one of the creepiest mansions known to man.

I’m not sure why I have a penchant for has-been rock star stories (of any genre), but when it’s combined with a cursed book, it just amps up the interest level for me. This book has you questioning everything and everybody, but mostly it will leave you wondering who are the real monsters, the others? Or yourself?

Must read for those who love strange, gory tales with a writing style of an enraged demon on speed.

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

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Book Review: The Winter Sister by Megan Collins

winter sister

“The green and flowering land was icebound and lifeless because Persephone had disappeared.”

Release Date: February 5, 2019

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Price: $17.10 (hardcover)

Publisher: Atria Books

Plot Summary:

Sixteen years ago, Sylvie’s sister Persephone never came home. Out too late with the boyfriend, she was forbidden to see, Persephone was missing for three days before her body was found—and years later, her murder remains unsolved.

In the present day, Sylvie returns home to care for her estranged mother, Annie, as she undergoes treatment for cancer. Prone to unexplained “Dark Days” even before Persephone’s death, Annie’s once-close bond with Sylvie dissolved in the weeks after their loss, making for an uncomfortable reunion all these years later. Worse, Persephone’s former boyfriend, Ben, is now a nurse at the cancer center where Annie is being treated. Sylvie’s always believed Ben was responsible for the murder—but she carries her own guilt about that night, guilt that traps her in the past while the world goes on around her.

As she navigates the complicated relationship with her mother, Sylvie begins to uncover the secrets that fill their house—and what really happened the night Persephone died. As it turns out, the truth will set you free, once you can bear to look at it.

Grade: A

Review:

The Winter Sister is a lush, atmospheric mystery thriller that will delve under your skin. I don’t know what it is about winter or Christmas, (maybe it’s due to utter isolation of The Shining or Dario Argento’s Deep Red with the creepy Christmas carol being sung before someone gets stabbed to death), but I always find books or movies in the horror or thriller genre to be that much more effective when placed in a cold environment.

There’s something utterly haunting in the book when you think about Persephone, the murdered sister, lying in a bed of snow, her red coat a stark contrast to the stillness of the night. From the very beginning of the novel, I was sucked into the story. And I know that some reviewers have complained that the plot isn’t original (dead sister, alcoholic grieving mother, troubled traumatized adult sister), but I think one can easily cast that aside with this book, as it’s not truly plot-driven, but rather more of a character study of what grief causes to a family (much like in The Lovely Bones) and since I found the characters likable in their own ways and most genuine and real, I couldn’t help but want to know more about what had happened, and who could’ve possibly have done Persephone harm.

The writing lingers with melancholy and for this piece, it works perfectly well. I truly enjoyed delving into the mystery and honestly, if I didn’t have so much going on in my personal life (ya know, work, editing a short story, keeping up with my blog, and promoting my new book) I probably would’ve finished this much sooner, cause it was THAT GOOD. The Winter Sister is the perfect read for a cold, wintery evening in which you can curl up with this delicious thriller as your snuggled with your warmest Sherpa.

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

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Book Review: Lord of the Butterflies by Andrea Gibson

butterflies

That night when you kissed me, I left a poem in your mouth.

Release Date: November 27, 2018

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Price: $13.01 (paperback)

Publisher: Button Poetry

Plot Summary:

Andrea Gibson’s latest collection is a masterful showcase from the poet whose writing and performances have captured the hearts of millions. With artful and nuanced looks at gender, romance, loss, and family, Lord of the Butterflies is a new peak in Gibson’s career. Each emotion here is deft and delicate, resting inside of imagery heavy enough to sink the heart while giving the body wings to soar.

Grade: A

Review:

Andrea Gibson has been one of the most potent voices in poetry for the LGBTQ community at large. Although since this genre of poetry (spoken poetry) is best consumed if heard live (or watching a video of one of their readings), I suggest that in conjunction to reading this book that you also see them live, because they’re a force to be reckoned with. The poetry comes alive in ways that wouldn’t be able to on print, making you feel just how raw, visceral, and gut-wrenching this experience can truly be.

Many of the topics they explore are things that society is still dealing with such as gender identity, gun control, homophobia, and mental illness. I’m usually not a huge fan of contemporary poets as for someone who majored in Classics, I’ve got a penchant for the likes of Charles Baudelaire, Poe, John Keats, and William Blake. However, much like Sylvia Plath in her days, Andrea Gibson has the courage to shed her skin and allow us to see what’s inside and challenging us to do the same.

I recommend this book if you’re okay with having to nurse a cracked heart afterward because Gibson’s poems cut deep.

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

 

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