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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Love or Hype? Michael Jackson’s Thriller Album

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Last year, I ran the segment Throwback Thursday where I rediscovered things that I appreciated in my youth and see if it passed the test of time when I reemerged myself in it. This year, I’ve decided to run a new segment, Love or Hype?, where for the first time I check out something that was immensely popular but I never took the time to check it out.

For my first Love or Hype? of the year, I’ve decided to take a listen to Michael Jackson’s Thriller album. Sure, I’ve heard a song or two from the album in passing (you’ve had to live under a rock to NEVER have heard a Michael Jackson song because he was simply that globally famous), but I’ve never listened to the album in its entirety. Up until now, Thriller is undoubtedly the most bestselling album of all time with 66-million copies sold worldwide. So obviously, it can’t possibly be a terrible album, right?

Let me preface that I’m not a fan of eunuch type male voices (which is the sort of voice that Michael Jackson had), but with the catchy tunes found within this album, there’s a reason why he was coined The King of Pop.

With hits like, Thriller, Baby Be Mine, The Girl is Mine, Billie Jean, and Beat It even the most reluctant dance can’t help but feel themselves itching to move their feet. And even after all this time, the album still proves to be fresh. I know that Michael Jackson’s legacy throughout the years has faltered (either by being too eccentric and weird to being accused of child molestation), listening to this album without thinking about those things makes you appreciate the man as a musician.

And after all these years, I can admit that I can see what the hype was all about. Even if his voice isn’t necessarily my cup of tea, 66-million people weren’t wrong in consecrating this album as the most sold album of all time.

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Excerpts from: Strange Girls: Women in Horror Anthology

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In five weeks, Strange Girls: Women in Horror Anthology will drop just in time to celebrate Women in Horror Month. The stories found within this anthology are very diverse. They range from slasher, psychological horror, sci-fi horror, Gothic, mythological, thriller, and speculative. But the common ground is that the girls presented in the anthology are all uniquely strange in their own ways with elements of horror.

If you’re a reviewer on NetGalley, the book is currently there for you to pick up in exchange for a review. For the rest of you, here’s a small sample of what sort of stories you’re bound to come across in the book:

Excerpt from “Tribal Influence” by Erica Ruhe

“Por favor! You don’t understand,” the terrified mother pleaded in Spanish. “My daughter needs special care. Only I can look after her.”
A guard stood stone-faced on the other side of the open chain link gate.
“Ma’am, the child needs to come with me.” He gestured the girl forward. “Vamos, chica.”
“Mama?” The little girl’s dark brown eyes grew wide. Her father stepped in front of his wife and child.
“No!” he demanded. “My daughter is staying with us.”
The overflowing detainment center hummed with apprehension. Confused conversation and the shuffling of feet hung heavy under the musty weight of acrid sweat and fear.
“Por favor, she is a very special girl,” the mother continued. “You must let me stay with her.”
The guard pulled out his baton.
“Sir, step aside. Ma’am—”
“My daughter needs me.” Tears rolled down the mother’s cheeks. “Por favor, let us stay together!”
“Hey!” An impatient supervisor called across the imprisoned throng of immigrants. “What’s the hold up, Sam? We gotta keep these cattle moving!”
“My daughter is not going anywhere,” the father insisted.
“Listen to me!” The guard pointed his baton at the young Guatemalan family. “Escúchame! Tu hija viene conmigo.”
“No, Mama!” the little girl clutched her mother’s neck. “No, Mama! No, no, no!”
The mother began to shake.
“Shh, shh, my love,” she cooed, suddenly sinking to her knees. A strange vacancy filled her face as the blood drained out of her cheeks.
“Mama!” the girl wept.
“Last warning.” The guard pushed the father aside with his baton. “Mueve tu culo.”
“Mama!”
But the father stepped in again, this time turning to his girls.
“Joaquina?” the father asked, tension in his voice. “Joaquina?”
“Enough dicking around!” the guard shoved the father aside. “C’mon!”
He grabbed the mother’s arm but he faltered and gasped.
“Let her go!” the father cried out. “Let her go!”
“What the hell?” the guard yelled, holding up a shaking hand to his face. “What the fuck is happening?”
The mother looked up from her crying child, tears trembling on the rims of her eyelids. She gazed in to the guard’s eyes with an eerie stillness.
“I can’t stop it,” she whispered.
“Sam?” the supervisor called, concerned.
The guard suddenly spasmed, as if stung. He grabbed his heart. Eyes rolled back. Jaw snapped wide. And in the next instant, his terrified scream consumed him.

Excerpt from “Sideshow” by Jude Reid

His tongue is in her mouth again.

Against her back, she can feel the fabric of the tent, the wet canvas smell mixing with the taste of ketchup and soda and Juicy Fruit gum. Her right hand is closed around a guy-rope; her left, for want of anywhere else to put it, is on Richie’s belt. He has taken hold of her right breast and is squeezing it rhythmically and not especially gently. This is your fault, she thinks to herself, eyes closed and mouth open. You didn’t say no.

The tongue retracts back into his mouth, slick, fat and slug-like. She imagines it leaving a trail of thick mucus behind itself, and her stomach lurches at the thought, sending a tide of acid rushing into her mouth. Her own tongue flicks out and runs across her lower lip, as if it were possible to lick away every trace he had left behind.

Excerpt from “The Girl Who Never Stopped Bleeding” by Sam Lauren

Barb washed her panties in the bathroom sink between classes and the water ran pink. It stained her nails. She scrubbed them with hand soap and course paper towels but they never came clean. Neither did the panties.

It was her first time. Some of us knew how she felt. We didn’t give her advice; we teased her as if we didn’t have folded bits of toilet paper stuffed between our linens and our aching, leaking bodies.

By the fifth day everyone knew. Boys wouldn’t touch her. Girls claimed to smell her from lockers away.

The Bible says a bleeding woman is unclean. We thought it was funny, a myth, a lie told by parents to make kids remain chaste. It didn’t prepare us for Barb.

Two weeks in she killed a plant. We can’t prove it but they both sat by the window, wilting in their own filth. The plant hadn’t changed its dirt. She hadn’t changed her panties. Some say she touched the stem of the flower, turned it toward the light, but others say it died just from being near her.

A month later she was still scrubbing her panties after every bell.

Strange Girls: Women in Horror Anthology drops February 18, 2020 but is available for pre-order!

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Book Review: The Dead Girls Club by Damien Angelica Walters

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Red Lady, Red Lady, Show us your face….

Release Date: December 10, 2019

Pre-Order on Amazon

Publisher: Penguin Random House

Price: $26.99 (hardcover)

Plot Summary:

In 1991, Heather Cole and her friends were members of the Dead Girls Club. Obsessed with the macabre, the girls exchanged stories about serial killers and imaginary monsters, like the Red Lady, the spirit of a vengeful witch killed centuries before. Heather knew the stories were just that until her best friend Becca began insisting the Red Lady was real–and she could prove it.

That belief got Becca killed.

It’s been nearly thirty years, but Heather has never told anyone what really happened that night–that Becca was right and the Red Lady was real. She’s done her best to put that fateful summer, Becca, and the Red Lady, behind her. Until a familiar necklace arrives in the mail, a necklace Heather hasn’t seen since the night Becca died.

The night Heather killed her.

Now, someone else knows what she did…and they’re determined to make Heather pay.

Grade: A-

Review:

I’ll be honest, when I read the first chapter, I wasn’t too intrigued although it opened with a very disturbing admission, that the protagonist Heather had killed her best friend when she was a tween. It wasn’t until the following chapter reverted to the THEN portion of the story that I was hooked. The novel is sectioned in alternating chapters with a chapter in the present and the following chapter in the past. By far, the THEN chapters are way more interesting because it shows Heather as a twelve-year-old, and being best friends with Becca, and also with Rachel and Gia, whom like her and Becca also enjoy a fascination for the macabre. The girls are intrigued by deaths and serial killers so much that they decide to create the Dead Girls Club. A club made to share scary stories or true crime stories. The girls usually got together for these meetings at the basement of an abandoned house.

That summer though, Becca becomes obsessed with telling the story of the Red Lady, a witch who was killed in an atrocious manner. At first, the girls are intrigued by the stories, especially Heather, but she begins to resent the stories when she notices how it has begun to affect Becca. Because Becca is convinced that the Red Lady is real and the only one who can save her from her alcoholic, abusive mother.

In the present time, Heather receives a pendant that Becca was wearing the night of her death in the mail, which causes her to spiral in paranoia. Did somebody see her kill Becca? Is the Red Lady after her?

This book is so deliciously twisty that you find yourself questioning what’s real and what isn’t. I wouldn’t necessarily call Heather an unreliable narrator but more it’s an exploration of devout friendship and how often stories in our youth can begin to feel real if we allow ourselves to believe in them.

I honestly wish that we had gotten more chapters from the past or that we could’ve gotten a whole book about the Red Lady (the story was simply very fascinating as it was horrific). I suggest this novel to anyone who loves thrillers with a dash of supernatural spookiness into the mix.

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

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Book Review: Love, Heather by Laurie Petrou

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What you see isn’t always what you get.

Release Date: October 8, 2019

Pre-Order on Amazon

Publisher: Penguin Random House

Price: 18.99 (paperback)

Plot Summary:

Stevie never meant for things to go this far. When she and Dee–defiant, bold, indestructible Dee–started all this, there was a purpose to their acts of vengeance: to put the bullies of Woepine High School back in their place. And three months ago, Stevie believed they deserved it. Once her best friend turned on her, the rest of the school followed. Stevie was alone and unprotected with a target on her back. Online, it was worse.

It was Dee’s idea to get them all back with a few clever pranks, signing each act Love, Heather–an homage to her favorite 80’s revenge flick. Despite herself, Stevie can’t help getting caught up in the payback, reveling in every minute of suffering. And for a while, it works: it seems the meek have inherited the school.

But when anonymous students begin joining in, punishing perceived slights with increasingly violent ferocity, the line between villain and vigilante begins to blur. As friends turn on each other and the administration scrambles to regain control, it becomes clear: whatever Dee and Stevie started has gained a mind–and teeth–of its own. And when it finally swallows them whole, one will reemerge changed, with a plan for one final, terrifying act of revenge.

Grade: C+

Review:

I really enjoyed the first 85% of this book so very much as it detailed the school life of Stevie who is on the verge of entering one of the popular cliques at school with her best friend Lottie when she makes a faux pas, and even her best friend of many years disowns her. That’s when the bullying begins. This is a very timely book as it discusses trans, transphobia, bullying, and school shootings. The book excelled in making teens sound like teens and having Stevie deal with bullying in a very realistic way for teens today (both in school and online).

But everything changes for Stevie when she befriends the loner, Dee who encourages her to rise up against the bullies and exact revenge. Soon, other kids are taking notice and the popular clique is getting what they deserve, although the author does explore the premise of the grey area where sometimes revenge becomes another form of bullying.

For anyone who has watched teen revenge movies ala Mean Girls, Heathers, and Carrie, you’ll love this book and cheer for our cinephile protagonist Stevie and Dee as they defy the high school hierarchy. My only issue with the book was that it got way too preachy towards the end of it. The message it was trying to convey was an important one, but it somehow sounded more like an after school special and so it took me out of the story.

I’m also confused by the fact that everyone keeps referring to this book as a thriller. First of all, we all know who started the Love, Heather revenge and nobody dies (I’m pretty sure there should be murder for a book to be considered a thriller, or at least a threat of murder, but that’s just me). Secondly, I’m getting really fed up with the plot twists for all books lately seem to be some form of mental illness. Mental illness shouldn’t be a plot twist, that’s just lazy writing! And lastly, Stevie never takes revenge on the one person that totally deserved it the whole time! Sure, they try to embarrass said person, but they never truly pay for their wrongdoings and that pisses me off when it’s a book about revenge.

I did enjoy the book a lot up to the plot twist and ending. The book is a page-turner because you do want to find out what is going to happen next, but all that climax for such a poor plot twist that was NEVER referenced in the conclusion since the protagonist conveniently decided not to mention it to anyone is what turned me off at the end. Which is sad, because I would’ve ranked this book higher had the last portion of the novel been better or more satisfying.

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

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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: 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

Order on Amazon

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: Blood Echo by Christopher Rice

bloodecho

A conspiracy that promises bloodshed and the only woman who can stop it…

Release Date: February 19, 2019

Purchase on Amazon

Price: $15.99 (hardcover)

Publisher: Thomas & Mercer

Plot Summary:

Kidnapped and raised by serial killers, Charlotte Rowe suffered an ordeal that made her infamous. Everyone in the world knew who she was. But no one in the world has any idea what she’s become…

Charlotte is an experiment. And a weapon. Enabled by a superpower drug, she’s partnered with a shadowy pharmaceutical company to hunt down and eliminate society’s most depraved human predators. But her latest mission goes off the rails in a horrifying way. Unsettled by her own capacity for violence, Charlotte wants some time to retreat so she can work on her new relationship with Luke, a sheriff’s deputy in the isolated Central California town she now calls home.
If only the threats hadn’t followed Charlotte there.

Something sinister is evolving in Altamira, California—a massive network of domestic terrorists with ties to Charlotte’s influential and corrupt employers. As a vast and explosive criminal conspiracy grows, the fate of Charlotte’s hometown hangs in the balance. With everyone she cares about in danger, Charlotte has no choice but to bring her powers home.
Charlotte Rowe has been triggered, and now she’ll have to take matters into her own powerful hands.

Grade: A

Review:

I’ve been a fan of Christopher Rice since 1999 when he released A Density of Souls. And yes, I’ll be honest, I did check him out solely because I am a huge fan of his mother Anne Rice (the brilliant mind behind The Vampire Chronicles & The Mayfair Witches sagas), but what has kept me picking up his books time and time again (I’ve read all of his, even his venture into erotica), is the fact that Christopher is a competent writer of his own and that he manages to put together taunt, fast-paced thrillers that you can’t help but speed read through them to try to get to the end.

Now, Blood Echo is the sequel to Bone Music, of the Burning Girl Series, and while I did like book one, there was something about it that it just didn’t make me crazy about it (maybe cause a lot of book one was spent setting up the premise for book two), however, book two is waaaay better, writing-wise and plot-wise. Also, I get the feeling that Rice has gotten to know his characters more, so Charley (aka Burning Girl since she grew up with adopted serial killer parents who tasked her turning on the incinerator that burned said bodies) is way more fleshed out and interesting in this sequel, not to mention that she completely kicks ass (think of The Hulk meets Silence of the Lambs).

This book has everything that a modern audience loves, a compelling mystery/thriller aspect to it, a superhero (or at least a character with superhero qualities, even though they’re drug-induced powers), and a strong female protagonist. With those three ingredients, you can’t possibly go wrong. I recommend this book if you’re into books with third-person omniscient narratives (which I love!) and if love to be taken for a wild ride, cause honestly, you’re gonna need to strap yourself for this high-speed thriller.

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

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Book 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

Purchase on Amazon

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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